Back when I got interested in wine some 23 years ago, Müller-Catoir would be on most Riesling afficionado’s lips if they were to mention their top five estates of Germany. Then something happened. And while Riesling during the same time had a revolution, Müller-Catoir slept like Dornröschen, almost into oblivion. But Phoenix has not only rissen. It has now landed, and that on a level amongst its peers.
It is a different expression. It is not the pure fruity intense marvel of playful elegance of Robert Weil, it is not the intense fruit driven power of Keller, the mineral focus of Joh. Jos. Prüm or the unparalleled focus, playfulness and transparent power of Egon Müller. No, this is the balance of all elements, and I mean all. Rieslings where the acidity feels refined and integrated, alcohol is a sublime part of the body, never showing its slightest touch, harmony all over. This is the Lafite Rothschild of German Riesling. The one that doesn’t show all its cards at once, impeccably dressed, a cunning smile, silk scarf, yet has royal street flush on its hand. But being a gentleman, may not show the hand if not called for. God is in the details. This is Saville Row Riesling.
Yesterday I published on Facebook that this is Pfalz with a Mosel touch. An hour later I got a notification from the Norwegian importer that the winemaker is in fact from Mosel. Well, I had no idea, but you can taste it. It has that double address. You see, I don’t follow German wines that closely. Not because I don’t want to, but there are just 365 days a year. I was in Germany in November, invited to an event at Geisenheim organised by the University of Geisenheim and Prowein. I haven’t been in a German vineyard since 2016 before that. For the last three years I have only set foot on German soil at Frankfurt and München Airports. The wine world is too big to be able to focus on everything you want to.
The ripe richness of fruit and body (Pfalz), so impeccably tamed by someone who loves balance and transparency in all levels (Mosel), as someone from the Mosel is likely to do. Well, likely to do. That makes it sound simple. To tame the ripeness of Pfalz in this way is borderline witchcraft. Have you ever tried Schätzel from Rheinhessen? Same thing if not from Mosel, the inspiration is from Mosel. Or how about Wittmann? Again, not from the Mosel. But his wife is. Does that give Wittmann’s wines the energy that is rare in Rheinhessen? I’m not sure, but the energy is there. And both are amongst my very favourites in Rheinhessen.
You see, Dornröschen was asleep in a manor house in Pfalz, or the Palatinate as the English calls it until not only one prince, but two woke her up. Sometimes it takes two princes to make the difference. Everything isn’t fairytale all the time. Sometimes even two princes has to sweat and pull like Atlas to get the sleeping princess out of bed. Great wine is not made by itself, especially if you were not handed the reins with proper knowledge. Even if today’s owner is the ninth generation since 1744, the ownership came abruptly. Philipp David Catoir was not quite prepared to be lord of the manor when he had to take the helm. Together with winemaker Martin Franzen from the Mosel and graduate from Geisenheim they have climbed the highest mountain as they say. Stone by stone.
I have not followed Müller-Catoir that closely, or Germany for that matter for quite a few years now, so I will quote Stuart Pigott, one of the doyens of German Wine writers;
First, in 2002, then owner Heinrich Catoir appointed the very talented, still young Martin Franzen winemaker; then in 2007 Heinrich’s som Philipp took over as owner director. Under them, the wines have become drier and more mineral, but unlike Hans Gunther’s wines, which would sweep people off their feet less than six months after the harvest, the contemporary Müller-Catoir wines are often underrated because they don’t reach their youthful peak form until they are a year or two old. That might not sound like such a big difference, but today most of the critics are judging all white wines at 6 to 10 months of age. This has turned Müller-Catoir from being a producer whose wines were idealized by the critics into one whose wines they regard with skepticism and even disdain.
Give them enough time, though, and they shine like sunlight glittering on a collection of precious stones, none more so than the Breumel in Bürgergarten Riesling GG, a wine of breathtaking brilliance. The words of Stuart Pigott in Best White Wine on Earth: The Riesling Story.
This is world class Riesling’s that won’t suck up to you. It demands your attention like a Bruckner symphony. They demand education to understand them. Riesling version 2.0 as they say. Or actually. It isn’t. No, it is the other way. This is your grace....
All wines tasted from Riedel Vinum Riesling except the Spätburgunder that was tasted from Riedel Extreme Cabernet actually, that I felt really brought the purity of the fruit forward. The only Norwegian critic to taste these in one flight.
2018 Müller-Catoir M-C Riesling
Pale lemon yellow. Primary nose of apples, pears, still a bit yeasty, faintly floral behind. Fresh acidity, apples, minerals behind, pears, elegant texture, a bit more body for a gutswein, good length. Lovely focus. 88
2018 Müller-Catoir Haardt Riesling trocken
Pale lemon yellow. Apples, lemons, minerals, nuanced and detailed, floral, faint of orange blossoms, pears behind. Lovely, somewhat subdued nose. Fresh acidity, smooth palate, beautiful balance, this is so elegant for a dry ortswein, meaning village wine. Some lacks just that bit of concentration to fill up for the acidity, that is not an issue with this one. Linear finish, long. Needs air to open. A truly graceful dry Riesling. Superb balance of all elements. 92
2018 Müller-Catoir Herrenletten Riesling Erste Lage
Pale lemon yellow. Some citrus, apples, orange blossoms, pears, fine tuned minerals note, whiff of candied lemons nose. Fresh acidity, apples, lemons, nuanced, pears, starting out firm and linear before it gets a peacock tail from mid palate to the finish, broadens up getting complex and long indeed. A stunning Erste Lage. This would impress as a graceful style GG even. So delicate yet powerful. Ethereal. Like a song from Aurora. 94
2018 Müller-Catoir Bürgergarten Riesling Erste Lage
Pale lemon yellow. Fruit driven, apples, some lemons, pears, floral behind, faintly spicy towards cinnamon and cardamom, subdued minerals nose. Fresh acidity, apples, lemons, nuanced, detailed, citrus, minerals, sublime balance, more power than Herrenletten, maybe a touch less graceful and feminine, another hugely impressive Erste Lage. 95
2018 Müller-Catoir Bürgergarten «Im Breumel» Riesling GG
Pale lemon yellow. Apples, subdued minerals, some pears, touch of gunpowder, touch floral, ripe lemons, faint, very faint grapefruits, some orange and orange flowers nose. Fresh acidity, smooth texture, apples, lemons, incredible balance of power, concentration and freshness, this is no Mustang. This is that comfortable Jaguar XK8 with just enough V8 power and torque to be incredibly quick yet never dramatic on twisting country roads, yet comfortable enough to swallow all the bumps. It will change the scenery very quickly, and you will be surprised at the speed it can do it. This is that sort of unparalleled effortlessness. So effortless you might very well miss it. You need to pay attention. A stunning GG. Truly long finish. This is all about refinement. If you seek power, go somewhere else. This is sophistication and dry Riesling at its best. So easy to overlook. 97
2016 Müller-Catoir Haardt Spätburgunder
Bright ruby. Strawberries, some spices, scented, bright, intense, some vanilla, almost a peppery touch, floral, stunning nose. Fresh acidity, ripe tannins, bright, red fruity, elegant, nuanced, detailed, playful, incredible balance, detailed and layered, beautiful mix of spices, red fruits, depth and wood. Blind you would be hard pressed not to put this in Premier Cru level in Burgundy. But commune would be difficult. The day all German Spätburgunder’s show this finesse, balance and fruit quality, Burgundy needs to look over their shoulders. This is a beauty! Long finish. Turns a bit herbal in the finish with air, so if you are sensitive to that, might not be for you. I think it gives lift. At this price point, a steal! 92
2018 Müller-Catoir Herzog Rieslaner Auslese Erste Lage
Demi. Towards lemon yellow. Rich of apples, some peach, apricots, faintly spicy nose, touch of orange peel. Fresh acidity, quite rounded, fresh, apples, lemons, lemon curd, faintly spicy, some minerals, fairly intense, lovely balance, long. 91
2018 Müller-Catoir Herzog Rieslaner Beerenauslese Erste Lage
Demi. Towards golden. Apricots, leach, ripe and overripe yellow apples, pears, some spices, quite rich and deep nose. Fresh acidity, spicy, apple cake, almost some nuts, peach and pineapples, spices, rich and fruit driven, gently grilled pineapples finish. Long. 94
2018 Müller-Catoir Herzog Rieslaner Trockenbeerenauslese Erste Lage
Demi. Deep golden. Rich, intense nose, apricots and pineapples, fine tuned spices, faint raisins and sultanas nose. Exotic and rich yet has a lightness like a silk veil just touching you gently. But probably more colourful like a Hermes shawl. Fresh acidity, intense, layered, tropical, bright, incredibly playful and refined, superb balance, mouthwatering, pineapples, apricots, raspberries, intense long finish. Just a touch hollow in the finish to be very picky. Incredible Rieslaner. 96