Riesling is the grape that says "I'll be your mirror." It will reflect what you feel when you drink it as much as it will reflect the land that nurtured it and year it bloomed in. I say, don't skip any vintage, it will always have something to offer. Because it's not just a mirror. In the right hands, it will produce a work of art, every year.
Willi Schaefer has the right hands.
2018 was a dry summer and considered very good plus. Arguably even better for those that picked early. That's the way the year worked out. it seems like Schaefer didn't wait too long and picked right. 2017 was sort of the opposite: cold year, early harvest, played into the hands of those who waited to pick. 2016 seems like a classic German vintage, starting out troublesome and somehow improving in summer.
For me, that's a bit moot. One, I enjoy each Schaefer vintage in its own right as it comes out. On their own, they're always great, it's only cross-vintage comparisons that "ruin" the fun. Two, by the time they peak, time will prove the great equalizer. Sure, the great vintages will be spectacular, but even the average vintages will pop your eardrums. Anyway, I don't think there's been a vintage since I got into German Rieslings that was so terrible that I decided to skip it (2003 was before my time).
So that's my take on Willi Schaefer in general and on vintage comparisons. But there's terroir at play and Riesling reflects terroir so well that it's always a shame to skip any vineyard. My advice is to buy as much as you can afford and that local importer Eldad Levy has to sell. But since money and stocks are always at a premium, here's what I have to say about the vineyards:
Himmelreich across the pradikats has the best nose, but as comparisons with the other vineyards show, except for the 2016, I feel there was always some stuffing missing. Not something that I'd notice drinking it on its own, but in a cross tasting, the gap is obvious. Moving on, it's almost heresy to admit it, because Dombprobst is the star and has the greatest depth and breadth, but the Sonnenuhr has the best balance and focus and an ethereal touch.
Finally, before moving on to the wines: what I love about Schaefer in the years I've been drinking the stuff is that the wines are ripe enough to show notes of white and yellow and tropical fruit in the mix, as well as the Mosel signature granny apples, yet still display the tense structure that the acidity of green apples can provide. It's a tightrope job that is the sign of a master artist.
Graacher, trocken, 2016
Never a wine I particularly go for, because dry Mosels don’t do as much for me as the sweeter wines, but it's very mineral-infused, floral on the palate, tons of green apples. It's pretty great for a Mosel entry-level trocken, it's just that it's never a style I really need in my life.
Graacher, feinherb, 2018
I would always pay more and go for a Kabinett, but it will satisfy my family and I won't suffer. The minerals are there, the flowers are there, the apples and spices are there. What's missing is peacock tail of flavors that needs a bit more sugar to unfold.
Himmelreich, Grosses Gewaches, 2018
Five, six years ago, I'd have written that the only thing worse than a dry German Riesling is a dry Mosel Riesling. But I swear to God I've mellowed. And this is fucking Willi Schaefer so you're pardoned if you buy this, but it's still good money you could have spent on the Ausleses or even the crown jewels priced Beerenauslese. The nose is great and dry Riesling will always show more minerals than the sweet versions, where the sugar seems to release sweet, apple pie spiciness, but that there is often a high-octane mineral drive that strikes me as one-dimensional when I actually sip it. The grip is very good here, but the nose has more complexity and friendliness than the palate. Of course, it might improve in a decade, but I've tasted mature, dry Rieslings from producers of Schaefer's class and they remain more impressive than actually moving.
On to the classic styles. We tasted three vintages of the Himmelreich, Kabinett, 2016 through 2018, and the Dombprobst, Kabinett, 2018. All three Himmelreichs show better and riper on the nose than the palate, the 2018 actually showing riper than the Dombprobst. The palate always has a lot of grapefruit, which can make for a lean impression, but the 2016 also has pink grapefruit, which mellows the impact and makes for the best balance here. The 2018 has some guayava in it and I have to say that I drank it on its own, and without a basis for peer comparisons, its a knockout. You should take that into account, since you're likely going to drink it without another Kabinett to compare it to. The Dombprobst, in comparison, is deeper and more harmonious and is almost the perfect Kabinett.
Dombprobst, Spatlese #10, 2018
Dombprobst, Spatlese #5, 2018
Supposedly, the different pradikats only offer different styles, but ripeness and body reflect quality. So with the Spatlese coming after the Kabinettes, the differences in depth and vibrancy are quite obvious. The #5 has the more complex nose and is more expressive there as well as on the palate. I went back and forth and each time the #10 caught up, the #5 pulled ahead.
Himmelreich, Spatlese, 2018
This is fuller and more complete than the Kabinetts, but, even here, the nose is better than the palate, although the tropical notes on the finish are both refreshing and endearing. Not a wine to overlook, if Eldad still has any bottles left.
Sonnenhur, Spatlese, 2018
Even though the Dombprobst is the big name in this house, this is the most elegant and focused of the Spatleses.
Himmelreich, Auslese, 2016
A luscious candy, yet well formed, wirth great depth and length, all that sweetness kept in check by great acidity with the botrytis spices adding complexity and drive.
Murderers' Row Territory
Dombprobst, Auslese #11, 2018
Wow. A minty coolness. Perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. The nose isn’t obviously more complex than the previous wines but there’s a magic there that’s hard to transcribe.
Dombprobst, Auslese #14, 2018
Same as the above, but with a couple of differences. It's more tropical, for one, a hint of guayavas maybe? The most important difference, the great wonder of it all, is an intriguing, pronounced layer of minerals.
Dombprobst, Beerenauslese, 2018
One of the most intense, concentrated botrytis dessert wines I’ve ever tasted, yet cool and elegant at the same time. Like its brethren, it manages to retains tons of freshness and minerals, which is all the more miraculous given the extremely high sugar levels. Only a master could pull it off.