Gunderloch Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett 2020

The Gunderloch estate has been a favorite of mine for almost 40 years, starting with a trip to Germany after my senior year in high school – Hunterdon Central ‘79 if you’re interested! It was a trip that changed my life and set me on a career in wine that I still love today as much as I did back then.

Traveling through the steep river valleys of the Rhine and Mosel vividly brought to life all that I had been reading about and tasting back home. Waves of vines on vertiginous slopes, each with their own signature soils and character that shine through in the complicated wine labels of the region.

Ever since I have had a soft spot for Riesling, from bone dry to sweetly concentrated and everything in between, it is truly one of the most versatile, food friendly and underrated grapes in the world. Today’s offer of the Gunderloch Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett simplifies the label, named simply Cuvee Jean Baptiste it is actually a blend of grapes from the lower terraces of Gunderloch’s three top vineyard sites: Nierstein Hipping, Nierstein Pettenthal and Nackenheim Rothenberg (all grand cru sites). No wonder it is so delicious – and for the price you can’t beat it!

Decidedly off-dry, this wine starts off with a burst of stony apple fruit, wrapped in crisp acidity that keeps it focused and snap. With its source in those Grand Cru sites it’s pedigree shines through in every aspect of this wine except the price! It is a perfect aperitif, great with Asian, Thai, salads, cheeses, Indian cuisine, mild fish, shrimp or lobster and so much more! This is the thirtieth vintage of this delicious wine, and with the next generation (Johannes Hasselbach) at the helm since 2016 it looks like this estate in sound hands! Some of the steps he has taken to improve on these historically superb wines include the following – all part and parcel, along with their spectacular Grand Cru vineyards sites, in making this one of Germany’s top estates.

$15.98

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– Less handling of the wines and less “winemaking” overall in favor of hard work in the vineyards. This can be called his guiding philosophy.

– The previously all-reductive cellar is now seeing more barrels, longer maturations, and more skin contact on the wines. This is having a profound impact on the house style.

– Spontaneous fermentations are now the norm; all the estate wines are fermented with native yeasts. Johannes is also doing groundbreaking work starting his fermentations in the vineyards before bringing the wines into the cellar. His experimental wine called VIRGO is entirely fermented by vineyard yeast started outside during harvest.

– The estate has been practicing organic farming for five years. Johannes is currently considering certification. He has also become one of the "young guns" leading the charge for studying and promoting chemical-free viticulture at the VDP.

– The wines at Gunderloch have all been VEGAN since the 2017 vintage.

– The wines are getting drier, more focused, and less baroque. Lowering his alcohol levels on the dry wines is a priority for him–and a challenge, given the warming climate and placement of his vineyards. His residual sugars across the board are starting to skew lower as well, which of course reflects the general trend in German winemaking.

In sum, Johannes is actively directing his steps forward at Gunderloch, not passively staying with past practices or assumptions. He feels that with changes to the ecology and culture around him, this is not only a good idea but crucial to the success of his family’s estate.

Meanwhile, the Rieslings here, particularly those from the Rothenberg, remain among the finest and most important in the Rheinhessen and in Germany. Taste them and it is obvious why: these are rich, elegant wines full of yellow fruits, great structure and fine acidity for long aging. But it is their newfound balance and the intrinsic energy within them–a direct reflection of their winemaker’s youth, vitality and new ideas–that we find so compelling.

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