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Some email offers write themselves: wines you've drunk for years, maybe you've visited the growers, or it's a benchmark wine and the name alone will have people rushing to buy! buy! buy! Sometimes there's a wine that just needs a little more attention (and isn't this the year that Condrieu finally gets the love it deserves?). And then there are times where you taste a lineup of wines that so excedes your expectations (or even the genre) that you are compelled to order a bunch of bottles and hope your enthusiasm translates to the page—or screen, as it were.
Which brings me to the singular and frankly thrilling (albeit idiosyncratic) Rieslings of the young Jakob Tennstedt. He farms 1.4 hectares of essentially reclaimed vines located in a side valley off the Mosel behind Tarben-Trarbach. And the wines are majestic, unexpected, and certainly wild, each possessing stature and concentration along with a deeply savory character derived from a bit of skin contact, botrytis, and lengthy elévage.
While there are a number of fine young growers in the Mosel who are carrying on their family's work in exciting fashion with improved viticulture and fine-tuning, there's also a handful of outsiders who are reclaiming isolated and often abandoned vineyards as they are still affordable, but for the effort to farm them. In a forested side valley of the Mosel, Tennstedt is certainly putting in the work to create an exciting domaine. Viticulture is organic and biodynamic, with certification coming this year. The vines, nestled into the woods contain a riot of vegetation and flowers to encourage biodiversity and healthy soils. Farming is without any chemical inputs and the wines are made without the addition of sulfur.
And while these are natural wines made with extended aging and even a bit of skin contact, they don't seem to be "natty" or hew to the glou-glou aesthetic. Rather they are majestic and at times baroque expressions of Riesling and the blue slate terroir of this cooler side valley. Wine-making is more by intuition and taste than numbers with healthy botrytis encouraged even as the wines are fermented dry. And malolactic fermentation occurs by happenstance—neither encouraged, nor prevented. Likewise, bottling occurs when Jakob deems the wine ready, often after 2 years. The resulting wines aren't the filigreed and crystalline (not to mention sulfurous) expressions typically associated with Mosel Riesling, instead rather deeply textured, profoundly savory, and layered. And while the wines are idiosyncratic, they are deeply affecting and I think truly great, even if I can't quite articulate why. John McIlwain
Though this is bottled under the name Perlmutt,this derives from the cool Taubenhaus parcel that has Tennstedt has subsequently given up as too much work even on this small scale. The 2018 has a yellow-golden robe (some skin contact, one presumes). The nose is redolent of bee pollen, bees wax, chamomile, spearmint, and bergamot. Decidedly dry and sinuous, with stone fruit and apple skin flavors underlain with salty and iron-like mineral structure and striking acidity for the vintage and a long incandescent finish. What is so surprising is the dynamism and energy here. There's an aliveness that's hard to describe, but it's compelling and beckons the next sip. John McIlwain
One of two small parcels (.05 hectare on the Ungsberg), Musari named for a type a type of buzzard) is from an "old-vine, terraced parcel higher in the vineyard, per Vom Boden. The 2019 Musari has a high-toned and spicy nose with peach skin, curry leaf, and musky aromas. The palate is textured and and taut with savory herbal notes and a flush of orange oil running thru the core culminating in a briny, mouthwatering, propulsive finish. As with the Perlmutt bottling, the Musari manages to balance ripe fruit and umami character with deftness. An utterly fascinating wine and something of a boundary-breaker in terms of what one expects in a Mosel Riesling. John McIlwain
From a lower parcel in the Ungsberg, Valke, named after the Kestrel, is perhaps the wildest and most profoundly umami of the Tennstedt wines. The robe is a more burnished than the Musari from just up the hill. The nose offers aromas of acacia, dashi, orange oil, iron, and a touch of Chenin-like wooly notes.The palate is concentrated, and for lack of a better word intense, with a steely attack and a broad, muscular, mid-palate that offers a nearly operatic flurry of both savory and pure fruit notes. The concentration here begs for attention and that attention is rewarded as the wine seems to shapeshift between stone fruit and pungent earth and even gamy flavors. It's a bit overwhelming yet truly compelling, akin to hearing Ornette Coleman or Schoenberg for the first time and recognizing the greatness of what you are hearing even if you don't quite get it. One of the most singular wines I've tasted and one that I can't quite get out of my head. John McIlwain