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2021 did not make it easy for the winegrowers. The cool spring meant that budding was up to four weeks later than in previous years, which could not prevent damage from late frosts everywhere, but in the end turned out to be a great advantage. But that was not known at the time.

© Nik Weis Winery - St. Urbans-Hof

The warm June allowed the vines to catch up on some backlogs, but the weather remained predominantly wet - and that deep into the summer. The result was massive disease pressure in many places. Downy mildew in particular took its toll on the vineyards. But the problems were anything but evenly distributed. While some vineyards suffered total losses, at least with certain varieties, elsewhere the winegrowers were pleased with yields that were far above those of the previous years, which had been affected by considerable drought and sometimes devastating frost or hail damage.

But the winegrowers had to fear for their success for a long time. It was not until late summer and autumn that the weather was largely stable, allowing the grapes to hang in healthy vineyards until well into the autumn. Finally, the late budding proved to be a stroke of luck: for a long time, the grapes had not been able to ripen as late as they did in 2021. The producers were able to relax and watch the aromas develop in the warm, dry days and cool nights, without acids going into the cellar and the sugar levels going through the roof.

So all's well that ends well? It is not quite that simple. Although there was quickly talk of a great and, above all, long-lived vintage, this assessment applies at best to only part of the harvest. Without the appropriate effort in the vineyards, luck with the location and the right instinct in the cellar, convincing results could not be achieved.

We don't want to talk at length about the real failures that also occurred in 2021, the dull, thin, dull, sometimes bitter, sometimes cuttingly sour, sometimes completely lifeless wines. For the most part, the results at Riesling are extremely pleasing. Ideally, the wines of the vintage combine brilliance and juiciness with firm structure, crisp acidity, backbone, density and depth. But it is precisely the latter that is sometimes lacking. Many 2021 Rieslings are already a lot of fun thanks to their liveliness, their slender yet juicy appearance, but real concentration and depth are missing on closer inspection. This hardly detracts from the drinking pleasure, but whether these extremely animating wines can develop positively for a long time must at least be cautiously doubted. For that, real substance is much more important than a lot of acidity. And this is quite independent of the alcohol content: a light wine that lacks substance may be nice to drink, but it is not only light and animatingly slender, but also rather narrow to thin. This is also noticeable in the Kabinett wines that are so much in vogue at the moment In Focus. Many of these wines are extremely animating in their lightness of foot, fresh juice and lively acidity, but on closer inspection they often (not always!) lack the density, complexity, tension and length of truly first-class vintages. Here, later-harvested, higher predicates, which receive relatively little attention alongside the celebrated Kabinett wines, often have advantages this year.

The fact that the final depth is sometimes lacking, and that the wines do not always have quite the concentration and emphasis of great vintages, is also noticeable in the dry top Rieslings. The vintage offers an abundance of wonderful, partly sophisticated, partly just particularly easy-drinking local wines or first sites, and sometimes even the estate wines are very convincing. However, the absolute top wines from the great sites cannot always stand out as clearly in terms of quality as is the case in other vintages. In addition, many producers apparently felt they had to buffer the high acidity of the vintage with more residual sugar. Apart from the fact that this has never made the wines much more harmonious, because the wines then taste sweet and sour, the sugar is often more noticeable this time than usual for another reason: where there is a lot of water, the mineral content of the grapes also increases. The minerals have an alkaline effect. This not only counteracts the acidity much more effectively than sweetness, but also increases the pH value in the wine. This in turn can lead to wines unintentionally slipping into biological acid degradation (BSA). Signs of this can be found in quite a few dry 21 Rieslings. In principle, there is little to be said against BSA in dry Riesling, but residual sugar is rarely a good idea in this context. Whether with or without BSA: the vintage conditions ensure that even relatively low amounts of residual sugar can taste quite obtrusive and sometimes throw the wines unnecessarily off balance. This is by no means always the case, but it happens much more often than necessary, especially in 2021.

However, those who had everything under control and were able to resist some temptations in the cellar were able to fill outstanding 2021s. Concentrated, incredibly tightly woven, brilliant wines with enormous concentration, tension, depth and a mineral expression that we were hardly able to experience in the drought-plagued vintages of the near past. In contrast to the animatingly fruity, crisp fun wines that make up the vast majority of Rieslings from this vintage, however, most of them are completely unapproachable today and are therefore possibly underrated at the moment. It is also strongly discouraged to give in to curiosity too soon here. They will be worth the patience. Among them are some of the greatest dry Rieslings that have been made in the last 50 years - and thus probably ever.

We have tasted more than 1,200 Rieslings from Germany in the past months. We can only present the very best in each category here, which is why we strongly recommend that you also take a look at the many other results. As always, you will find links to all the ratings, the wine descriptions and the producers at the end of the lists.

In Focus: German Riesling Riesling dry, vintage 2021

In FocusGerman Riesling Riesling dry, vintage 2020