If visiting Dönnhoff was like heading to a venerable opera house to watch an established virtuoso perform, visiting Weingut Günther Steinmetz is like sitting in on jam sessions at the studio of a genius indie jazzman. Equally intriguing, the former is a standard bearer flawlessly executed, and the latter is about improvisation and pushing the boundaries of expectation. Stefan Steinmetz, the capable steward of the legacy created by his father Günther, showed me an accomplished and eclectic collection of both whites and reds.
The experience at Weingut Steinmetz is an intimate one. Stefan was kind enough to accomodate my request for a visit on a weekend morning because of my tight schedule, and upon our arrival he led me into a tasting room within the family home; we are introduced to his mother,and our kids play together while we taste the wines. In contrast to the sleek and modern tasting rooms I found at Weil and Donnhoff, the tasting room here is cozy and homey – characterized by warm woods, classy and traditional furnishings, and Zalto glassware that allows the terroir-driven minerality of the Steinmetz wines to really shine through. Here are some notes from my visit in late May:
2012 Pinot Gris – has a bit of pinot blanc mixed in; not sold in the US. Very nice, neutral oak treatment, fresh, slightly golden in color. Shows typicity, in a light-to-medium-bodied package. Really quite nice.
2012 Brauneberg Riesling – shows a really fine slate minerality. From a single site, but Stefan chooses to label simply as Brauneberger. Look for this one as an overachiever in its price class.
2012 Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett Feinherb Riesling – from the top part of Juffer, this showed lots of minerality.
The 2012 Geierslay Trocken Riesling is very stony on the palate; the 2012 Piesporter Goldtropfchen even more so (and moreso than Piesporter
Goldtropfchen bottlings I’ve had from other producers); has an earthy minerality and a pine needle menthol note that Stefan pointed out to me.
2012 Hofberger Trocken Riesling – From gray-slated soil. Has a different kind of minerality, very fine; a little bit more body on the palate, a touch less dry than the other bottlings tasted so far but retains the signature minerality of Steinmetz.
2012 Juffer “HL” Riesling – taken from the old name for the vineyard, Hasenlaufer. Some gravel and sand at this site gives the wine a touch more bite on the palate. Very pretty fruit on this one – a slight perfumed quality on the nose.
Fruity white wines
2012 Kestener Paulinsberg Spätlese Riesling – a nice, very balanced style of spätlese, 60 g/L of sugar; still a touch spritzy at this point. Still has the Steinmetz minerality coming through on the palate. My kind of spätlese, not
over the top. Very very nice. Stefan notes that in 2012, this has a bit of red apple character to it. In less ripe years, this bottling takes on yellow and green apple notes. 92-93 points
2012 Sonnenlay Spätlese Riesling – a bit more opulent on the palate than the Paulinsberg. Pretty, fatter but again has plenty of fine slate (from blue slate I am told) on the palate that is recognizable for this estate. In most years, this comes out lighter than the Paulinsberg according to Stefan Steinmetz, but he agrees it came out richer than usual in this vintage. A few weeks prior, this wine was showing more effects from a blocked fermentation he says, but shows well today. 92-93 points.
2011 Pinot Meunier - From a site called Veldenzer Grafschafter Sonnenburg (also source of Steinmetz’s Alte Reben riesling), this is an interesting red with a slightly herby quality on the nose; very pretty. Appearance is light red with a touch of cloudiness, due to being unfiltered. On the palate, nice touch of sweetness to the fruit, with some juicy-tart acidity to go with it.
2010 Kestener Herrenberg Pinot Noir Trocken Unfiltered – on the nose right away, shows pretty sweetish fruit and some oak, with more development than the ’11 pinot meunier. Really interesting palate – lively and electric. Has sweetness to the fruit, and transparency, but the dominating characteristic is that liveliness. Some good, significant tannin lends impact to the flavor and bodes well for ageability here. 91-92 points.
2011 Kestener Herrenberg Pinot Noir Trocken Unfiltered – a slightly higher alcohol vintage than 2010 according to Stefan Steinmetz, but I don’t really feel it on the palate, not heavy at all. Has a touch of spice that adds interest.
2009 Merlot Trocken – Also from the Veldenzer Grafschafter Sonnenburg site, this is recognizably merlot – has plenty of nice earthiness, with good leafy varietal character. 13.5% in alcohol, this doesn’t show as ripe as most St. Emilion. Retains earthiness really well, would be fun to throw into a blind tasting someday. 91-92 points.
2010 Merlot Trocken Unfiltered – a little richer than the 2009, with fine tannins. Shows less minerality than the 2009 at this stage.
Late for my next appointment, I find myself wishing for more time – Stefan has so many more wines he wants to show me. He’s an edgy winemaker with a vision of what he’s trying to do. One aspect of this is to make wines that are truly transparent and terroir-driven. Everyone and their brother in the wine industry cites terroir as a goal, but at Steinmetz the wines actually reflect this. Another aspect of his vision seems to involve pushing the envelope to show what can be done with dry rieslings as well as other varieties that are less well known internationally as German wines, including pinot gris, pinot meunier (as a red), pinot noir, dornfelder and merlot. I appreciate that Stefan is not content to merely continue the traditions established by his father, but to forge new and sometimes surprising roads ahead. The high quality of the wines I tasted on this trip have me looking forward to tasting future results.