Winery Profile: Peter Jakob Kühn, Oestrich, Rheingau (Germany)

By John Szabo, MS

March 22nd, 2018

It’s the second day of spring and it’s snowing in Oestrich, which is pleasing to German winegrowers. Last year’s unusually early, warm spring, which saw buds bursting several weeks ahead of the norm, is far more worrisome than a few snowflakes. The danger is spring frost, and indeed much of last year’s vintage was lost during a spring cold snap in late April. This year’s cooler weather should delay vine growth until after frost danger passes. Hopefully.

Sadly, most of the excellent 2016s reviewed below are already sold out, so apologies in advance, but a few bottles might trickle into Canada.

Peter Jakob Kühn and wife Angela took charge of this multigenerational estate – roughly 230 years in the family – in 1978. Forty years later, their three children share the same vision and are slowly being integrated into the day-to-day operations, the 12th generation.

The estate’s 20 hectares of vineyard, around Oestrich and Hallgarten in the central Rheingau on the north shore of the Rhine River, are planted to 99% riesling, with a tiny planting of Pinot Noir. Since 2004, the estate has been certified organic and biodynamic (Demeter), a philosophy of wellbeing that permeates everything at the estate, down to what the Kühns feed their children. Kühn has also been a member of the VDP since 2001, Germany’s most prestigious association of winegrowers that includes some 200 top producers around the country.

Snow in the Kühn vineyards March 2018-0131

Snow in the Kühn vineyards March 2018

The wines of Kühn are marvelously precise, finely detailed, aimed at finesse rather than power, with moderate alcohol levels but full flavour development, thanks, believes Angela, to their biodynamic farming practices. Malolactic fermentation is generally allowed to proceed in cask, but since the malic-tartaric proportion is usually low, little lactic character is noted and wines remain lean and pure. As with all VDP member wines, everything except the prädikat wines (auslese and up) are dry, rarely with more than 2-3 grams of residual sugar, and are bottled with relatively low free sulphur, around 30ppm.

The 2016 vintage according to Angela Kühn

“We were happy that the vintage found a good end. We suffered during the summer through wet and rainy weather – a lot of effort – manual labour – was required to stay on top of vine health. Peronospora [downy mildew] was an issue, and lots of sorting was also required at harvest. But the weather stabilized towards the end of the season, and all of our sites could be harvested as desired, without weather pressure. The vintages when you have to fight hard are the ones closest to your heart. You’re proud to show off the effort invested.”

Rieslings emerged particularly elegant and fine, mid-weight, with marked but ripe acids. They are for fans of finesse and delicacy, wines of grace and charm, and the entire range is excellent.

The penetrating gaze of Angela Kühn expounding on biodynamic winegrowing-0123

The penetrating gaze of Angela Kühn expounding on biodynamic winegrowing

Village (“Orstwein”) Wines

2016 Hillgärtner Riesling Rheinschiefer Trocken

A village at about 300m elevation, and thus a little cooler and steeper than most of the Rheingau. Soils are slate-based, which gives “elegant, light and spicy” wines, according to Kühn. Bottled one year ago. Elegant, aromatic, textbook. Bright acids, bone dry palate, lean, tight and precise. Citrus, apple and green orchard fruit lead in a cool climate style to be sure. Solid length A fine introduction to the region and Kühn style. 89

2016 Oestricher Riesling Quarzit Trocken

Attractively ripe and sunny, fruit sits comfortably in the ripe-fresh orchard fruit spectrum, the quarzite gives a warmer impression, softer than the slate-derived example, with decent fat, weight and extract. It’s bone dry, and particularly stony on the palate, firmly chiseled and well defined. Loads of finesse. ¾ stainless, ¼ large cask-aged. 91

Premier Crus (Erste Lage)

2016 Oestricher Klosterberg Riesling Trocken

A former monastic vineyard (nunnery), at 200m a.s.l. at the height of an ancient sea shore, where a layer of loess lies over sand and quarzite, very well drained, which was helpful in this cool, wet vintage. 100% fermented and aged in large cask, 2400l, one year. Lovely nose, showing some oxidative evolution from its sojourn in wood, and fruit has started to shift into the ripe, yellow orchard range, lightly honeyed. The palate shows a little tannic grip with high extract and very good to excellent length, and full ripeness at just 12% alcohol with ripe, marked acids. Still several years away from prime drinking, best after 2020. 92

2016 Hallgartener Hendelberg Riesling trocken

This vineyard sits at one of the highest elevation in the Rheingau at around 300m, protected by the forest at the crest of the Tanus Mountains, on ‘bundschiefer (coloured slate), very stony. 100% fermented and aged in large cask, 2400l, one year. It shows quite ripe, with light marmalade and quince paste, honey and flowers, orange blossom flavours, impressive complexity overall. The palate is fullish, succulent with a rather creamy texture, flowing and expanding as it evolves. Excellent length. A stunning wine, best after 2021. 95

Grand Cru (“Grosses Gewächs” or “GG”)

2015 Doosberg GG

Two years in cask; fermentation can last over a year, with malolactic. A mid-slope, quarzit-based site. The vintage shows through in this sharp and powerful GG, a late season, with late-harvest-like character, grilled peaches and lemons, withered and smoky fruit, saffron, with a decidedly more oxidative style overall and excellent complexity. On the palate it’s a wine of huge extract and also high acidity, particularly spicy, firm and edgy, very dry, which will take considerable time to unravel in the bottle. Best after 2022 or so.  93

2016 Lenchen Auslese Riesling Grosse Lage

A cool, more humid site with higher incidence of botrytis. 7% alcohol. Really stylish and elegant on the nose, delicate botrytis character, orange oil, blossom, succulent apricot and peach with fine acids and excellent length. Gorgeous; pure grace and finesse. 96