SLP’s Top 10 still wines ProWein 2024

Mixed, that's how the conclusion of ProWein 2024 can be summarized. At least from the traditional wine perspective. This is because wine seems to be losing ground to both high-proof spirits and NoLo drinks in the public's favor. Nevertheless, the Düsseldorf trade fair still offered experienced visitors the opportunity to enjoy numerous first-class tastings.

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It is not only the competition with Wine Paris and home-made deficits that are currently undermining the image of what is still the world’s leading wine trade fair. It was also the grim outlook for the global wine sector that lay like dark clouds over the mood in Düsseldorf. In addition, according to the Italian “Gambero Rosso”, the historical market situation is “increasingly influencing the character of the fair”, as Northern Europe is “historically a market where the average price comes before quality”. The magazine predicts that Düsseldorf will “emerge as a trade fair for large companies, while Wine Paris is geared more towards medium-sized and small companies.” Volume in Germany, fine wine in France – that would of course be a fatal separation of tasks and a roll-back to the 1970s in terms of wine culture. This is another reason why we are celebrating ten exceptional wines here. Even if, of course, there were also numerous small discoveries in Düsseldorf. Such as the Unfiltered OrangeWines (= UFO) by Sven Nieger from Baden shown in the lead photo.

1 Best white Bordeaux: Château Pape Clément 2021

A key event in Düsseldorf is the annual presentation of the recently bottled vintage by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB). For the first time, this took place in a special area in the middle of the general French presence at the fair and not outside the actual exhibition halls. I was very happy when Denis Abraham from Business France confirmed to me that the UGCB presentation in Paris had not been a success. The decision had therefore been made to maintain the annual Düsseldorf presentation as a global flagship event. 2021 was admittedly a difficult year. My favorite among the whites was Pape Clément Blanc (70% Sauvignon and 30% Sémillon, aged in only 18% new wood). To the surprise of the sales manager, by the way. He rated the wine as mediocre at best compared to the vintage. However, like other critics, I liked the classically precise, mineral rather than opulent style very much (96 p.). This year ahead of Smith Haut Lafitte and Domaine de Chevalier (both 95 P.)

2 Best red Bordeaux: Château Canon 2021

Unfortunately, the top red wines on show are getting thinner and thinner. The Premier Grands Crus have not been traveling to the Rhine for what feels like an eternity. This year, the Châteaux Figeac, Pichon Baron and Haut-Bailly, among others, were missing compared to previous years. All the more remarkable was the presence of Château Canon, owned by the fashion and perfume house Chanel since 1996. Château Canon owes its name to the corvette captain Jacques Canon, who bought the estate in 1760. His compass must have been well adjusted, because the vineyards on the limestone plateau of Saint-Émilion are first-class. In any case, the quality has risen significantly in recent years. British magazine Decanter named the strong predecessor “Wine of the Vintage 2020” from the Right Bank. The 2021 performance is also absolutely remarkable. With a wonderfully nuanced bouquet, relatively lean on the palate, but vertical and multi-layered (97 P.).

3 Best Austrian white wine: Muster.Gamlitz Ried Grubthal Sauvignon Blanc 2020

The starting wine already signals this: A lot is different here. Reinhard Muster lets me taste a Welschriesling first. Vinified as it was in the seventies and with a retro label, it would be a hit in any Berlin wine bar. Crystal clear, bone dry and incredibly drinkable. A wine that has not followed some of the wrong paths of oenological progress – enzymes and pure yeasts – and leaves the taster contemplating the future of the past for a while. Muster’s Sauvignon Blanc 2020 from the Grubthal monopole vineyard in Gamlitz shows that he not only understands authentic country wines, but also the craft of fine wine. Situated at an altitude of between 280 and 320 meters, the vineyard is characterized by soils of shell limestone and sandy loam, but above all by the Illyrian climate between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea. Perhaps these unique weather conditions are responsible for the brilliant acidity and the superb balance between fruit and minerality. A wine that has no reason to hide from any Sauvignon in the world (95 P.).

4 Best white Burgundy: Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Combettes 2021

I don’t like to repeat a wine in my reviews, but in this case I couldn’t help myself. I had already presented the Puligny-Montrachet Les Combettes last year, then from the 2020 vintage (see here). Needless to say, the opportunity to taste great Burgundies at ProWein has not increased in 2024. This time, Vincent Girardin brought along the 2021 vintage. This wouldn’t really be worth mentioning if Burgundy hadn’t had a minimal but great harvest for white wines in 2021. The result: astronomical prices for top premium crus with very limited availability. According to Girardin, this is precisely why he brought this wine to Düsseldorf. So that these great wines could be tasted and not disappear as an investment on the secondary market. It is perhaps Girardin’s best Combettes to date. For all its power and stature, it has a wonderful freshness. The wood is used precisely, the wine is multi-faceted and very long (96 p.).

5 Best Italian white wine: Cantina Tramin Epokale Gewürztraminer 2016

At the end of August 2018, a thunderclap went through South Tyrol. Wine critic Monica Larner had awarded the first Italian white wine 100 points in Robert Parker՚s Wine Advocate. And that for a wine from the Alto Adige(!), a Gewürztraminer (!!) of all things, and from a winegrowers’ cooperative (!!!). Since then, Epocale has naturally become a legend. Also because of its history, as the wine matures for many years in an old, cool mine tunnel at 2,000 meters above sea level. Despite its futuristically designed label, the wine is indeed reminiscent of the Belle Époque. With 64 grams of residual sugar, it is noticeably in the sweet range, but is aromatically extremely complex. Roses and mango can be found on the nose, as well as plenty of spice. And a good acidity, which is due to the vineyard altitude of over 400 meters (96 P.). Unfortunately, the price is enormous (> 300 euros) and availability is minimal (2,100 bottles).

6 Best German white wine: Egon Müller zu Scharzhof Scharzhofberger Kabinett #2 2023

One of the highlights of this year’s ProWein was the private tasting that Cristophe Brunet, the Secretary General of Primum Familiae Vini, made possible for me. Miguel Torres and Robert Drouhin founded this association of twelve international wineries in 1993. The aim is to pool and exchange the knowledge of the world’s best winegrowers. Two of the wines made it into my top 10.

Among the white wines, it was a freshly bottled 2023 Riesling Scharzhofberger Kabinett from Saar winemaker Egon Müller. Even the simple estate wine Scharzhof 2023 is a pleasure. After “grenades” such as Drouhin Clos des Mouches 2020 and 2019 (in the magnum) and Roussanne Vielles Vignes 2022 from Beaucastel, it immediately cleared the palate. The Kabinett from 2023 is one of the strongest I have ever tasted from Egon Müller. Crystal clear and electrifying, perfectly balanced with 8 percent alcohol. Simply world class (96 P.).

7 Best Italian red wine: Il Caggio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Ipsus 2019

Italy once again made a strong showing at ProWein and has been the number one exhibitor for years – despite the triple bill of ProWein, Wine Paris and Vinitaly in the spring. Düsseldorf can hope that it stays that way, because even if many exhibitors were not very enthusiastic: In Paris, the enthusiasm was not exactly bubbling over either. Just a few years ago, Italy could still feel like the Germans’ favorite. Today, as one exhibitor put it, “the magic has disappeared”. Many countries are now showing outstanding wines and Italy is now just one producer among many. However, the enormous quality still being produced beyond the Alps is exemplified by the latest 2021 vintage of Cepparello from Isole e Olena, presented by the new estate director Emanuele Reolon (96 P.). Even more impressive (but also three times as expensive): Ipsus 2019, a Chianti Classico Gran Selezione from Il Caggio, owned by the Mazzei family since 2006. In addition to their Chianti classics from Fonterutoli, they also produce Supertuscans such as Siepi.

Ipsus is probably the family’s most ambitious wine. The grapes from Il Caggio near Castellina in Chianti went into the Fonterutoli wines for nine years. Then the quality of the central 6.5-hectare vineyard became abundantly clear. No wonder, as Il Caggio had been owned by oenologist Ezio Rivella, one of Tuscany’s leading oenologists, since 1968. The first Ipsus (“himself”, made from 100 percent Sangiovese) was bottled in 2015, and 2019 is the fourth vintage. In his explanations, which Giovanni Mazzei gives me during our tasting, it becomes clear what incredible attention to detail is put into this wine. The tasting also makes it clear that this wine is the culmination of over 50 years of searching for the perfect expression of Sangiovese. With an overwhelming mouthfeel in which the first impression, the “midpalate” and the long finish are seamlessly combined. Very structured, multi-layered and with the cultivated sensuality of a great Sangiovese (97 P.). Bravo!

8 Best French red wine and “Best Wine in Show”: Château de Beaucastel “Hommage à Jacques Perrin” 2018

The series of great red wines that I tasted at Primum Familiae Vini deserved an in-depth review. Especially as they were presented in magnums, like the impressive Tignanello 2019, Sassicaia 2018 and the wonderfully mature Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild 2009. But then came a wine that took me completely by surprise: Hommage à Jacques Perrin 2018 from Château Beaucastel. My last tasting was the 2015 vintage in the fall of 2022. Dense, opulent and overwhelming, but not my Châteauneuf style. And the news about the 2018 vintage from the Rhône wasn’t great either. Harvest losses of a good 50 percent due to mildew and rather obvious wines that were ready to drink early. This Hommage, however, was simply sensational and my wine of the fair. The Mourvèdre-accented blend (75 percent) was extremely dark in the glass and characterized by a spicy fruitiness that almost took my breath away. Not to mention the velvety texture and the minute-long finish (100 p.)

9 Best red Napa classic: Shafer Vineyards Hillside Select 2019

California continues to be one of the most important guests at ProWein. This year there were 220 wineries, a record in Düsseldorf. It’s easy to lose track. Of course, Ridge was part of the must-see program (still very closed 2021and powerful 2017 Montebello in the magnum). As was Chappellet, who had brought along his iconic Pritchard Hill from 2021 (dramatic, cool fruit, velvety tannins). Two other great classics were new this year. Firstly, Heitz Cellars with a fine Cabernet Sauvignon Lot C91. And then Chateau Montelena, who brought the historic Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from 2019, but above all from 2009 in the beautifully matured Library Edition, to Düsseldorf.

While the latter could be found in the large Napa Valley Vintners presentation area, you really had to stumble across premiere guest Shafer Vineyards to find it, so hidden was the mini stand in Hall 14. Among other things, there was Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay from 2022 and the Stags Leap classic One Point Five from 2021, but above all one of Napa Valley’s great cult Cabernets: Hillside Select 2019. Aged for 32 months in new French wood, the wine was enormously concentrated. Already easy to drink, powerful and with lots of ripe, sweet fruit (97 p.).

10 Best Napa newcomer: Cliff Lede Vineyards Poetry 2021

Cliff Lede Winery also exhibited for the first time. Founded in 2002 in the Stags Leap District, the winery is one of the high-flyers in Napa Valley. Cliff Lede also presented the 2021 vintage; as is well known, hardly any red wines were bottled in Napa in 2020 due to the wildfires. Out of love for music, Lede has named vineyard blocks after song titles.

The Rhythm from 2021, bottled for the first time, comes from a vineyard around the winery and consists mainly of Cabernet Sauvignon with a smaller proportion of other Bordeaux grape varieties. The Poetry 2021 from a steep, west-facing vineyard higher up in the hills is a real showstopper. First planted in 1970, the famous David Abreu replanted it between 2005 and 2007 with a high density planting of heritage clones. The wine (production: 1,900 cases) will only be released in September, but with its enormous intensity and dazzling complexity, it already shows why many Napa Cabs are wines to dream about (98 P.).

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All photographs: Stefan Pegatzky / Time Tunnel Images

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