“The absolute top of German wines” – Summaries from the 2020 VDP GG tasting

Every year, end of August, a select group of wine traders, journalists, and bloggers is invited to a grand tasting – the Sneak Preview – of the top dry wines produced by members of the VDP. The VDP is a winemakers’ association aiming at bringing together the very best estates of Germany. Its very own wine classification is built on a quality pyramid that puts dry wines classified as Grosses Gewächs (GG – corresponding to Grand Cru in French) at the very top. As per VDP regulations the white wine GG’s can only be released on September 1rst in the year after the vintage, the red wine GG’s the second year after vintage. With that this year’s GG Sneak Preview tasting covered German whites from 2019 with some late releases from 2018, and red wines from 2018 with late releases from 2016 and 2017. Altogether up for tasting were 477 wines from 200 VDP member winemakers, from all wine regions in Germany.

What's left from the Grand VDP GG 'Sneak Preview' winetasting 2020
What’s left from the Grand VDP GG ‘Sneak Preview’ winetasting 2020 – (c) Peter Bender

Corona complications put a big dent into international participation, but the top echelon of German wine critics attended, amongst them Stephan Reinhardt (writing for Parker, but also for one of Germany’s most important dailies),  wine author Stuart Pigott (who is freelancing for James Suckling), Felix Bodmann and Christoph Raffelt (each very respected wine critics, bloggers and podcasters), and many more.

So, what’s the experts’ consensus after 3 days of intensive tasting? Here comes a summary of the highlights: 

2019 an excellent wine vintage

All agree that the vintage 2019 offers absolutely fantastic wines, possibly some of the very best in recent years. The critics also agree that the acidity of the whites 2019 is extremely pleasant. Compared to 2018 the vintage 2019 blends the ripeness of a warm year, with the acidity of a cool year, according to Reinhardt. Stuart Pigott (via the VDP’s pages): “Many wines from 2019 have an incredible finesse, despite the enormous heat waves and the inconsistent weather. This constant change has given the wines their special tension.”

Inconsistent quality amongst the VDP members

All while there is agreement that 2019 is an outstanding vintage there is also a consensus, that the spread of quality within the VDP’s GG classification is much too wide, meaning many of the submitted wines performed below par – especially given GGs represent what the VDP calls ‘absolute top of Germany wines.’ This criticism shows between the lines of many of the reviewers, but it is Christoph Raffelt’s tasting summary that puts on the finger very explicitly (- to much agreement in social media).

Rheinhessen Rieslings leading the pack

If there’s unanimity amongst the wine critics, it is over the 2019 GG Rieslings of Rheinhessen. Both Bodmann and Raffelt are full of praise for the great Rieslings of of this region. If Bodmann attributes Rheinhessen vintners ‘the biggest balls’, he’s probably much in line with Raffelt’s assessment that the GG’s of Rheinhessen showed most character. Also, in his article for the FAZ Reinhardt narrows down his favorite Rheinhessen Riesling GGs to those from the rolling hills around Westhofen.

Red wines: German Pinots / Spätburgunders

The 2018 Spätburgunder GGs are apparently a bit hit and miss. With Burgundy still being referred to as the ultimate benchmark, the wine critics preferred to emphasise single Spätburgunders that really stood out. If a region performed well as a whole it seems to be the Ahr River wine region with its Spätburgunders and its Frühburgunders.

Achtung! Silvaner 2019

If you have not yet bothered too much with silvaner, you should change that with the 2019 Silvaner GG’s from the Franconia wine region of Germany. Silvaner as a varietal seems to be making a comeback in Germany altogether, and the hot summer of 2019 has well played into its hands grapes. Warmly (pun intended) recommended – by broad consensus.

What about Mosel wines 2019?

The Mosel Riesling GG’s 2019 seem to get sidelined. Either by specifically no mention at all (Reinhardt); by cryptic remarks (Bodmann: “There are Riesling GG’s and there are Mosel GG’s”); or by Raffelt’s comment towards Mosel that Riesling GG’s are not only supposed to be dry but that they ought to taste dry as well.

On the upside 2019, according to Reinhardt, is a very good year for sweet and noble rot wines. Sweet Rieslings is a category in which Mosel usually shines brightest –  but these were not up for tasting, since the VDP classification covers dry wines only.

‘Kaufbefehl’ – Which are the estates to stock up from?

The following list summarises estates that got repeatedly mentioned by wine critics for their outstanding GG wines. For the specific wines refer to the original articles linked here: Raffelt’s review, Bodmann’s, and Reinhardt’s – all articles are fine to read using Google translate.

Wine region Nahe –  Diel, Dönnhoff, Schäfer-Fröhlich, Emrich Schönleber

Wine region Rheinhessen – Wagner-Stempel, Kühling-Gillot & Battenfeld-Spanier, Wittmann, Bischel, Keller, Gutzler.

Wine region Pfalz – Rebholz, Rings, Wehrheim, Christmann, Bürklin-Wolf, Acham-Magin, von Winning

Wine region Franken – Rudolf May, Wirsching, Rudolf Sauer, R Fürst,

Wine region Württemberg – Schnaitmann, Aldinger

Wine region Rheingau – Peter Jakob Kühn, Weil, Künstler, Knyphausen

Wine region Baden – Franz Keller, Huber, Heger

The German 2019 wine vintage was about a third smaller than 2018… so stock up on your favorites soon – top wines will sell out quickly!