Several months ago, David Schildknecht proposed a new direction for his column. He wanted to highlight contemporary producers who “strive to bottle wines that exemplify stylistic virtues of an earlier era.” Schildknecht pointed out a number of growers who are looking to classical models, working with their vines in a way that accounts for current realities of climate while sustaining a vision of a style once idealized in a very different time.
The idea intrigued Tara Q. Thomas, our executive editor, and fascinated me as well. But we both insisted that Schildknecht focus on one specific example, to bring it to life with the kind of depth and dimensionality that would make us want to taste the wines. Several months and several variations later, Schildknecht turned in a 4,000-word story on German Kabinett. Neither Thomas nor I was expecting a story on riesling, but it did coincide with our annual riesling review, so we read it with interest. In it, Schildknecht introduces a renegade band of growers, determined to produce the kind of light, delicately sweet, terroir-specific rieslings that growers in earlier times once coveted—enough to have given the wines an honorary place in the best “cabinet” of their cellars. As it turns out, not only has Germany’s climate changed since the days of these classic Kabinett rieslings, but German wine laws have since redefined Kabinett and restricted its production. Meanwhile, the rules of the VDP, Germany’s elite growers’ club, have denied the right of such light wines to the status awarded the currently fashionable Grosses Gewächs (or grand cru) wines.
For an outsider, it’s a complicated history to grasp, given the intricacies of German wine law and the convoluted relationship we, as wine drinkers, have with ripeness and residual sugar. But when Schildknecht started describing the wines, we were hooked. We wanted them, and we wanted to find a way to share their story with as much directness and depth as Schildknecht could muster. Thomas was able to focus him on 2,500 words, and we’re excited to present the tale of “the Kabi as hero” in this issue, perhaps with more stories of classic revivals to come.
In fact, we have a parallel story in this issue —on Barolo from the long-forgotten commune of Verduno. It’s a high spot in the northern corner of the Barolo zone, where close proximity to the Tanaro River cools the vineyards at night. Stephanie Johnson, our critic for Italian wines, ventured to Verduno to untangle the branches of the Burlotto and Alessandria family trees, meeting the denizens of the town who trace their roots back to the origins of Barolo as a dry red wine in the 19th century. They never bowed to fashion when the bigger, richly oaked wines of other Barolo communes began to take o in the 1980s and 1990s. And now their land and their light, refined style of Barolo are gaining attention around the world.
Is it just a matter of looking back into history? Perhaps it’s more about looking back to better understand what kind of wine a vineyard can produce now. For us, these reimagined classics are the wines we want to drink in the future.
This story appears in the print issue of December 2016.
Like what you read? Subscribe today.