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With Fall cooling down things are heating up in the Greman section with new arrivals from Baden Spätburgunder/Weissburgunder wunderkinds Wasenhaus and a trio of soulful releases from longtime Chambers Street favorites Weiser-Künstler.. Both growers work organically in the vines (no mean feat in these days of weather extremes) and with restraint in the cellar.
In a short time Wasenhaus has become a darling of fans of Baden Pinot Noirs and Weissburgunders. It almost sounds like a nerdy wine joke: two Germans walk into an oenology school in Burgundy and after striking up a friendship decide to make the best Pinots in Baden. Except, this did happen with Alex Götze and Christoph Wolber. The pair met in school and after working in vines and cellars of the top domains in Burgundy including Comte Armand, Leflaive, Pierre Morey, and De Montille, started a small estate in Baden dedicated to producing the finest Pinots (both Weissburgunder and Spätburgunder) in the region with distinctive old-clone parcels of old vines. The operation is tiny with just 1.33 hectares. The estate's various parcels are comprised of limestone, clays, loam, loess, gravel, and volcanic soils. They supplement their small holdings with bought-in grapes from organic neighbors.
The whites are pressed whole directly into neutral barrel, and age on the fine lees (as reported by their importer), there is a moderate addition of sulfur after malolactic fermentation occurs. The wines are bottled without filtering or fining. The reds see varying degrees of stem inclusion and are fermented (except for the Nouveau) in open top vats then aged in mostly neutral barrel.
The whites are bright, mineral, layered, and long. The reds are precise and filigreed, with pure fruit enrobing serious soil notes. With oak and sulfur kept to a minimum there is a startling clarity and detail to the wines, and each is a luminous expression of its variety and terroir. Sadly, as with Burgundy, quantities are miniscule.
It goes without saying that for such a young estate, the wines of Weiser-Künstler are seemingly timeless expressions of what we adore in the Mosel—terroir, tension, and energy. Founded in 2005 by Konstantin Weiser and Alexandra Künstler beginning with a parcel of vines in the Ellergrub from the old Immich estate, this soon expanded to other very steep, largely ungrafted, old vine holdings in Ellergrub, Gaispfad and Steffensberg with the later addition of Trarbacher Schlossberg. This fine array of grand and premier cru sites is farmed organically and biodynamically by hand (the vertiginous slopes make mechanization unrealistic).The grapes are fermented with ambient yeasts after gentle pressing and aged in a combination of stainless steel and old fuder. They make ethereal dry and off-dry Rieslings that favor filigree and nuance, favoring energy and mineral cut over mass or baroque concentration. Today's offers includes a trio of vibrant, expressive pradikat wines that balance light sweetness with a nearly salty earthiness. Each is brimming with charm, but a fine core of stoniness runs within. All are charming now, but have significant potential for aging.
Finally, we are pleased to have a bit more stock of the brilliant pair of 2020 Kabinetts from Ulli Stein from our last German offer: the lilting Stein 2020 Himmelreich Riesling Kabinet Feinherg Alte Reben and the chiseled Stein 2020 St. Aldegunder Palmberg Terrassen Kabinett Trocken.
Pale green/yellow robe. A bit of dissolved CO2 and a touch of reduction (more than sponti), but a brisk decant and this blows off. The nose offers cool toned aromas of lime zest, lemon blossom, cool herbs—is that fennel?— and sea spray. The palate shows a bit of the ripeness of the vintage, not screaming with acidity, but a bit of dry extract that takes a minute (or 20) to settle in before a punchy mineral/salty core reveals itself. On the palate there’s plenty of white fruit and a faint nectar-ish sweetness, but there’s a sapid bitterness (Champagne grower Olivier Horiot terms mineral expression in Riceys), rather than acidity, which seems apt in the the glass. And while this doesn’t display leanness of cooler vintages, it comes off as “complete.” If one were to insist upon a vintage comparison in recent-ish memory, 2005 comes to mind. It was a year that didn’t struggle for ripeness, but seemed a bit fleshy relative to the tangy 2004s. That said, anyone who has opened a 2005 recently, can probably affirm there is beautiful balance between ripeness and terroir expression on the wines currently and I can’t imagine they’re looking to unload any bottles they’re holding. There’s real depth here and this is deeply satisfying with a salad of smoked salmon and cucumbers with an herb mustard crème fraîche dressing. John McIlwain
Organically farmed Weissburgunder from loess and volcanic soils on the Kaiserstuhl. Whole cluster pressed. Aged for 12 months in neutral barrel, followed by 6 months in stainless steel with minimal sulfur addition after malolactic fermentation, per importer.
A kabinett trocken positively begging for superlatives and far-fetched analogies Uli Stein's 2020 Palmberg Alte Reben is sourced from steep parcel of 90+ year-old un-grafted vines. Decidedly pale yellow robe. The most ebullient nose of the wines: white flowers, bee pollen, apple blossom, honeysuckle nectar, underripe white peach skin, a faint hint of acacia honey (were it not sweet) and salt (whew!). The palate is the most dynamic and concentrated, seeming to reach skyward and plumb firmly the mineral depths of the site simultaneously. The mid-weight, dry palate offers flavors of salted plum, peach pit, orange oil, salt, and lady apple, girded by a firm slatey core and imbued with wave upon wave of white and yellow orchard fruit flavors, giving way to a savory, palate-staining finish. This is excellent but only revealing a hint of what’s to come. This is showy and long without seeming flashy and cries out more time in the cellar to allow the dry extract and fruit to knit with the crystalline structure. Beautiful stuff and worth tucking away for the 5-10 years and beyond.
Ellergrub is a top flight site, comprised of blue and grey slate soils, planted with very old, low-yielding, ungrafted vines. Konstantin Weiser and Alexandra Künstler farm their steep parcels organically and biodnamically by hand, ferment with indigenous yeasts, and produce wines of nearly crystalline structure and startling purity. The 2020 Ellergrub Kabinett shows delicacy, pinpoint balance, and tension. The wines has pale greenish yellow robe. The nose is delicate and a bit circumspect upon opening, but with a few minutes in the glass aromas of barely ripe pineapple, apple blossom, and apple skin emerge. The palate is light, elegant, and gently sweet with stone fruit and tangerine notes and a hint of creaminess that enrobes a distinctly mineral core that gains prominence on the long, juicy, filigreed finish. The balance here is impeccable and this shimmers in the glass. Highly recommended. John McIlwain
The Ellergrub is a top-tier vineyard site with an extremely steep grade and ample amounts of dark blue and gray slate at various states of erosion. The old vines here give grapes that are perfectly suited for wines that exemplify Weiser-Kunstler's pursuit of tension and structure. This year's Ellergrub Kabinett struck me as one with incredible aging potential. Pale green yellow robe. The nose is Spring fresh, and redolent of white flowers, white peach, and orange flower water. The palate has similarly vivid white stone fruit and citrussy flavors, with a firm salty core of slatey soil notes. And though this shows Spätlese ripeness and a bit of residual sugar, this is cloaking a deeply soil-driven core that lends an electric drive to things and leaves the mouth watering. Really tasty and nervy. And though already displaying fine depth, there is nothing but upside here and it will be a genuine struggle to keep one’s hands off this to give it a chance to knit (it's just that delicious). A shimmering Ellergrub and a testament to Konstantin Weiser and Alexandra Künstler's work in the vines and cellar. John McIlwain
From 30 year-old biodynamically farmed vines. 50% direct pressed into barrel, 50% of the grapes fermented on the skins. The 2020 Gutedel has a buttercup yellow robe. Yellow and white flowers dried chamomile, and pollen on the nose; summery smelling, but not in the sense of warmth. The palate has vibrant orchard fruit flavors (russet apple, Seckel pear, a whisper of quince), just a bit of texture enhanced by the skin contact displays a pebbly little rill of mountain water freshness on the finish. Makes for a splendid aperitif; this was delicious with smoked salmon and a mustard herb butter on rye crackers. Just lovely! John McIlwain
Organically farmed Pinot Noir from 25 year-old vines, from different soils and orientations across the Kaiserstuhl;south of Staufen. Hand harvested and pressed 10% whole cluster. Fermented in open top vats and aged in neutral oak barrels.
Pinot Noir grown on volcanic soils partial whole cluster pressed, fermented in open-top wood casks; maturation is one year in neutral wood, followed by six months in stainless, and low sulfur added at bottling.
Comprised of multiple small parcels on the Himmelreich in blue slate soils. 100% ungrafted vines averaging over 75 years old. Ulli Stein, the mineral magician of the Mosel somehow lives up to his stellar 2019 Himmelreich Feinherb with this glorious 2020. Less flamboyant, but somehow more knit and balanced, this still displays the Stein energy. Just off-dry, with lifted aromas of Meyer lemon zest, apple blossom, white cherry, and rock dust on the nose. The palate is focused and stony, with white stone fruits fanning out from a sneakily substantial mineral core, yet this intensity is seemingly weightless—quite a feat. This is a joyful feinerb, wearing its whisper of sweetness deftly and electric acidity and minerality with confidence. Fabulous. John McIlwain