Why is this Wine so Yummy?
Justifying $1,200 for the epic Keller G-Max Riesling is a tough call for most. Luckily the Keller’s produce a superb range of dry and off-dry Rieslings from their Rheinhessen vineyards at more affordable prices!
‘2018 takes its place in a series with 1911, 1959 and 2001. These wines were the driest years in our region in the last 100 years, and can be counted among the greats.’ KP Keller
Getting a last minute phone call to attend a tasting of Germany Rieslings, saw me running through the rain, arriving late to a room full of wine lovers engrossed in a set of glasses filled with what turned out to be Rhienhessen’s nectar from the gods!
Amongst the wines were a flight of wines from Keller. A name I’d heard a lot about, but, never, tried. Four dry and one Kabinett (fresh off-dry style). As I tasted through the bar just kept getting raised wine after wine. Then it happened, the G-Max!
The G-Max is one of those wines that makes your heart race. I don’t believe in wine scores for the consumer, they lack context, ability to meaningfully relay quality to the consumer, and, fail to effectively differentiate that quality. I’d simply rate this wine as perfect. The room literally went quiet as I drank it. That’s happened on but a few occasions before. I think somehow my sense of smell, taste, and touch were so overwhelmed that sound wasn’t being processed! Sounds like crap, but, it’s the best explanation I have.
The room literally went quiet as I drank it. That’s happened on but a few occasions before. I think somehow my sense of smell, taste, and touch were so overwhelmed that sound wasn’t being processed! Sounds like crap, but, it’s the best explanation I have.
‘This is unquestionably another brilliant series of wines, the Rieslings in particular keeping a remarkable balance of freshness and ripe fruit during a very hot run-up to the harvest when it would have been easy to get richness yet lose the vital, energising acidity, even with a high-acid variety like Riesling.’ Julia Harding, jancisrobinson.com
Understanding German Riesling
Having trouble getting your head around German Riesling check out this post by Wine Folly “Understanding German Riesling” They’ve done a solid job in explaining the German style and quality system. There are a couple of vagaries when they talk about VDP (“Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter”). Don’t worry too much about those just recognise that as you move up the ladder things get tastier!
Weingut Keller and its inspired head, Klaus-Peter Keller, are amongst the very finest estates in all of Germany.
It’s interesting that Klaus-Peter trained with Hubert and Romain Ligner, and, Eric Rousseau in Burgundy. The parallels between the domains are worth considering. Meticulous care of the vineyards, low yields, wines of great harmony and texture. It’s the last, texture that has always fascinated me as a winemaker. It’s the one that often separates the great wines of Europe from their Australian counter parts, and, the one I was heavily focused on refining at Yarra Yering.
Keller has been in the family since 1789. Thier 18ha holding consists of 15ha of Grand Cru sites. The Limestone and Von der Fels Rieslings are blessed to incorporate GG fruit!
“For me the best riesling is not supposed to be a monster riesling. The word high quality in combination with riesling is for me precision, finesse and minerality. When the glass is finished I must be eager to drink the next one- only then do I know that the wine is good.” Klaus-Peter Keller
Since taking the reigns in 2001 Klaus-Peter has gradually increased the proportion of dry Riesling produced by the estate, and, it is these wines that have brought critical acclaim.
I’ve not had the fortune to meet Keller. When you read from those who have it’s clear that Klaus-Peter has the kind of detailed approach that is common to many of the great estates of the world. John Gilman gave a fascinating insight into Weingut Klaus-Better Keller for the 2006 release in his critical and historical commentary “Weingut Klaus-Peter Keller- Germany’s Answer to Clos Ste. Hune.” It shares the deep thinking and detailed approach Keller takes in both vineyard and winery. It’s safe to say that since it’s writing Keller’s wines have continued to go from strength to strength. The following passages are from Gilman’s commentary.
Weingut Keller is actually one of the latest riesling harvesters in all of the Rheinhessen, with the Grosses Gewächs sections of their vineyards often brought in the first few weeks of November! And yet these are not high alcohol and burly wines, as the potential alcohol of the dry wines is normally no more than 12.8 to 13.2 percent (which is significantly below what most top growers in the Wachau are attaining these days for their rieslings). To achieve this the Kellers take active steps to slow the vegetative cycle of the vine during the course of the growing season. First of all, they choose low-yielding clones for their new plantations, typically which have small bunches of small berries, and which usually come from cuttings of their best old vines or those of their winemaking friends. With the older vines, and the Kellers do have plenty of these, there is less need, as nature serves as an active limit on yields. However, Klaus-Peter and the rest of the Keller vineyard team take active measures to slow down the ripening process during the course of the summer, which includes pulling a couple of leafs per grape shoot on each vine at regular intervals starting in early June to slow down the plant’s photosynthesis, pruning the vines to keep the grapes nicely shaded through much of the growing season (to keep the grapes from getting sunburned during their prolonged hangtime) and keeping good spacing between bunches to aid air flow and retard botrytis (and other forms of rot) forming in the Riesling bunches targeted for making dry wines. This is a viticultural methodology that should be studied and emulated in many more wine regions in the world that today are struggling in vain to produce world class wines with excessive ripeness and dizzying sugar levels.
In the cellars Klaus-Peter has made a few changes as well from his father’s time, but the vast majority of the focus continues to be on the vineyard work. The white wines now (particularly the Rieslings) are fermented more in old oak fuder, rather than in stainless steel tanks than was the case for his father, and indigenous yeasts are relied upon whenever possible for the fermentations. The one relatively novel approach that Klaus-Peter has adopted for many of his white wines is to allow the grapes to macerate on their skins for thirty or forty hours prior to pressing them and running off the juice to fuder for fermentation. This is a bit of a risky maneuver that requires perfectly pristine fruit, and so selection in the vineyard and at the winery before the grapes go to the press is a fundamental tenet of the Keller philosophy. The basic bottlings of the white wines are fermented at slightly lower temperatures than the Grosses Gewächs, and they are bottled earlier as well. The riesling Grosses Gewächs and the G-Max bottling (Klaus-Peter’s top, old vine dry riesling cuvée) are allowed to rest on their fine lees until March after the harvest, prior to being prepared for bottling, which is done with a very light filtration. Additionally, some of the cuvées are also held back in bottle an additional six months prior to being released to allow the wines to fully harmonize.
Finding the balance of physiological (flavour and tannin) and sugar ripeness in the vineyard, without compromising freshness, has been the key to achieving greatness across the wine world.
In the Vineyard and Winery
Klaus-Peter now uses a small, old-fashioned basket press for almost all of his wines these days, as he feels it is so much superior to a pneumatic press that it is worth all of the additional time it takes pressing, so there are plenty of near-sleepless nights as the grapes come in, but the results in the last few years clearly speak for themselves!
2018 yielded highly concentrated wines, more so than usual. Keller continues to pick ever so slightly earlier than the norm to make finer wines.
2018 wines are made via multiple passes in the vines, firstly for acid vibrancy and later picks for a creaminess to the wine.
Any fruit from vines under 5 years old was not used for any Keller wines at all and was sold off.
The flic below is in German, it gives you a great feel for Keller’s Vineyards
Klaus-Peter Keller has once again made an absolutely brilliant range of 2018ers, and though this is no surprise, it was interesting to see how the lineup was shaped by the style of the vintage here. The 2018 lineup from Weingut Keller has its full array of dry wines this year, as the vintage characteristics were very good for making top flight dry wines (and no one in Germany these days does this better than Klaus-Peter Keller), but the surprise in 2018 is that there are no Prädikat wines above Kabinett this year. As Klaus-Peter commented about the Prädikat wines, ‘the conditions were absolutely perfect for making great, great Kabinetten, so this is what we focused on this year.’ Klaus-Peter and Julia Keller and their picking team generally made two passes through each vineyard this year for each separate cuvée for which they were selecting, with the first one designed to get “a bit more acidity and energy” into the blend and more structure, and the second pass a few days later to get just a touch more “creaminess to the fruit” component in every wine. It is a painstaking process, but the brilliant results here in 2018 are self-evident. As Klaus-Peter observed, “we did not use any fruit from vines that were five years of age or younger this year, choosing to sell these off, and we increased the average age of the vines used for all of our cuvées quite a bit in 2018 to make better wines this year.” John Gilman, View from the Cellar.
Where in the World are Keller’s Wines Made?
Keller’s home is in Flörsheim-Dalsheims lies on the rolling hills on the Rheinhessen-Rheinpfalz border, in the area of the Rheinhessen known as the Hügelland, centered around the towns of Flörsheim-Dalsheim and Westhofen. Here the soils are dramatically different from those that lie along the river, with many of the best lying on outcroppings of chalky marl, which recall the Trimbach family’s great Clos Ste. Hune more than they do the slate of the Mosel.
In this, southern part of the Rheinhessen, all of Keller’s GG vineyards rest within 10km of their home. This area of Germany is home to their great wine regions.
Vintage Notes from the Kellers
‘Whenever the Rhine runs low on water in the autumn due to low rainfall, the old vineyards have to work hard in the battle for nutrients and produce small-berry, complex, highly aromatic grapes, which are the prerequisite of a vintage with outstanding ageing potential. Only old and densely populated vineyards benefit from these conditions. Only where the roots are deeply anchored in the limestone or slate, it is possible even in such dry years as 2018 to transport exciting ingredients in the berries.’
‘….[from my experience] in Burgundy, the care and preservation of old and densely planted vineyards have become even more important to me… Quite simply, because we believe that such vines provide us with particularly high-quality grapes and lead to unique quality through their often root-deep roots.’
‘We can place 2018 in-line with 1911, 1959 and 2001, the three rainiest years in our region in the last century. These vintages ripened excellently and are among the greats! …The winter of 2017/2018 brought as much rain as in a long time. In the hill country we had more than 250 mm of precipitation, an important reserve that was later to benefit the vines. After the cold January and cool February and March, [temperatures] did not pick up until April, when the thermometer jumped. From the end of April, the constant summer temperatures accelerated sprouting and shoot growth of the vines, and already at the end of May the first vines began to bloom. Until then, the 2018 vintage was the exact opposite of the 2017 vintage. While it was dry in the winter of 2017 and humid in the summer, 2018 after a wet winter now seemed to be sunny and rainy.’
‘The very best wines of 2018 are simply stunning, and there are indeed hundreds and hundreds of these to be found dancing across the horizons of the three regions that I visited on my annual spring trip: the Nahe, Rheinhessen and the greater Mosel river valley. And in the tasting rooms and cellars where I settled down my tasting book and picked up my glass, the 2018 vintage was truly, truly brilliant!’ John Gilman, View from the Cellar