It’s not typical that a white wine would inspire you as the months grow colder and we find ourselves only days away from the start of the holidays, but that’s simply because most white wines have very little in common with Riesling. In fact, it’s at this time of year that I typically start to add more Riesling to my cellar. Not to mention, it’s probably the perfect white wine pairing for rich foods and the variety of flavors that we typically find on our holiday table.
Precise, layered, satisfying on so many levels, and able to age for decades, Riesling is often referred to the white wine for red wine lovers, as it has presence on the palate that incites intrigue and a desire to dissect and understand. What region, vineyard, soil, and producer did it come from—and how can they be so immediately appealing, while also evolving for decades? These are the wonders of Riesling.
In Germany, as we bypass the well-known region of Mosel and look to the lesser-known Nahe, or in this case, the Upper Nahe, we find a diversity of soil types, the result of this region’s volcanic origins. Sandstone, slate, melaphyre and porphyry can all be seen within a single vineyard. It’s in this sleepy region that we find the Schäfer-Fröhlich estate, which has become one of the premier producers of Riesling over the last decade.
This is far from a new name in the Nahe, with nine generations of family winemaking under their belt. However, it was in 1995 that Tim Frohlich, with no formal education and only in his early twenties, approached his parents with the proposition that he take control of the vineyard and winery. This fact seems almost implausible, yet Tim excelled through his dedication, passion, experience, and willingness to experiment and go against the grain.
Of course improvements didn’t happen overnight; in fact it took ten years for Schäfer-Fröhlich to begin receiving high acclaim throughout the industry and in wine publications. Much of their success was the result of a number of smart acquisitions made by Tim in some of the best vineyards in the region, which nearly doubled the family’s original holdings. He then went on to become a terroir fanatic; developing the best methods to extract the perfect expression of fruit from each of his six Grosses Gewachs classified vineyards. Of considerable note are the blue slate, loess (fine silty sediment) and loam (sand, silt, clay blend) soils of the Felseneck vineyard, considered one of Tim’s most prized holdings, and a virtually unknown location before he started working with it.
Tim is also a practitioner of spontaneous natural yeast fermentation, which can be apparent upon first opening a bottle of Schäfer-Fröhlich, yet these savage and sometimes animal aromas blow off quickly, and what remains is a precise, crystalline, pure, and mineral-intense expression. In fact, I’ve yet to have a bottle that didn’t gain tremendous depth and complexity after remaining open over night. This begs the question of just how good Schäfer-Fröhlich Riesling would be if we could hold off from finishing them so quickly.
In their youth, these are remarkably intense, saline, and savory, while also remaining fruit intense and refreshing to the core. Balance is the key, which Tim is a master of achieving. I’m reminded of this as I taste the 2014 Felseneck Kabinett; the fact that it retains 45 grams of residual sugar per liter, yet shows hardly a hint of sweetness, is remarkable.
You have to taste them to believe them, and I assure you, working through a selection of Schäfer-Fröhlich Riesling will be one of the most pleasurable exercises you’ve ever embarked on. I also can’t think of a better way to spend the holidays, as these wines will pair with nearly anything you can put on the table. Enjoy!
On to the tasting notes:
2014 Schäfer-Fröhlich Riesling trocken – The nose was intense, showing crush stone, tart lemon, cheese rind, and saline-minerals. The palate displayed a rush of minerality up front followed by tart citrus, green apple and herbs. The finish showed intense tart citrus with gum-searing acidity, yet in the best possible way. (89 points)
2014 Schäfer-Fröhlich Pinot Blanc trocken – The nose was restrained and youthful; yet with time in the glass, it opened up to reveal aromas of young peach with yellow floral tones and crushed stone. It coated the senses with tart citrus and apricot fruit, along with a wave of mouthwatering acidity, which refreshed the senses. The finish showed rich pit fruits with contrasting tart citrus. This was very pretty and remarkably refreshing. (90 points)
2014 Schäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling Kabinett – This showed amazing minerality on the nose with wet and crushed stone, olive, herbs, tropical citrus, lemon zest, and hint of wool–it’s almost savory. On the palate, it displayed tremendous energy and verve with a remaining hint of Co2, which blew off quickly to reveal rich citrus tones offset by vibrant, pulsing acidity and mineral thrust. It is a beautiful Kabinett, in perfect balance, and hard to put down. (92 points) @Morrell
2014 Schäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Riesling Vulkangestein Riesling trocken – The nose was savory and mineral-driven with smoke, crushed stone and cheese rind. On the palate, it was focused and intense, showing lemon-tinged apple and minerals with masses of inner floral tones. Long and saturating on the finish with tingling acidity, which seemed to touch upon all the senses. (93 points) @Morrell
The Schafer-Frohlich Vulkangestein hails from parcels of younger vines in the Felsenberg and Stromberg vineyards. The soil here is volcanic, which you can literally smell and taste in the glass.
2013 Schäfer-Fröhlich Schloßböckelheimer Felsenberg Riesling Großes Gewächs – The nose was intense, with earth and floral tones up front followed by wet slate, smoke, cheese rind and a hint of peach. On the palate, there was tremendous depth with young mango, green apple, a spritz of citrus and dazzling inner floral tones. It finished long with palate-coating citrus and minerals, yet tight, like a bomb waiting to explode. This was gorgeous. (94 points) @Morrell
2012 Schäfer-Fröhlich Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen Riesling Großes Gewächs – An impressively fresh, yet rich bouquet of spicy floral notes, grapefruit, kiwi and an intense wave of minerals reached up from the glass. On the palate, it seemed poised to attack yet held back in its youthful state, showing rich and supple textures with flavors of young peach, kiwi and minerals. However, you can sense the tension in this wine. On the finish, notes of grapefruit and exotic spice lingered long. (94 points) @Morrell
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido