Wallufer Walkenberg Riesling Spätlese Trocken Alte Reben
We struggled with a more elegant way of introducing this estate, some poignant lines contrasting the manicured lawns of the aristocratic estates with the dirty-fingered, weathered-skin, mess-of-a-tasting-room aesthetic at J.B. Becker.
Yet Hans-Joseph’s (call him “HaJo”) winemaking has less to do with a condemnation or critique of the noble establishment (even if it deserves either or both) and more to do with a vision that is so singular and steadfast that it feels totally irrelevant whether you or I or anyone thinks Becker’s “aesthetic” is genius or folly. It just is.
The wines have an in-your-face, love-it-or-hate-it sensibility. They are unfailingly honest. They present a bizarre vocabulary: dried earth and rocks, herbs, something vaguely subterranean, a savory, briny, smoky atmosphere that slowly reveals fine layers of bright citrus. For all this depth and mysteriousness, Becker’s white wines are like Becker himself: angular, tensile with awkward elbows and muscle and sinew pulled tightly over a lean frame. They flaunt a rather prominent acidity that recalls the more nervy wines of the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer, though there is a weight, a density that speaks of the Rheingau. They seem to have more to do with great Chablis than with what we often think of as German Riesling.
The overall effect, one must say, is bewildering and inspiring. Becker seems to relish the paradox. If there is any grand system here, it is inscrutable.
Consider, on the one hand, that Becker (and his father before him) has worked the vineyards organically for many, many years (they have been certified since 2011). On the other hand, this rather important fact is mentioned exactly nowhere so far as I can tell. Not on the labels, not at the estate. HaJo mentioned it to me exactly once, almost as an aside. The life of the vineyard, at all levels, is profoundly important to Becker and he thinks about it deeply. He just doesn’t talk about it much.
Becker is a strong advocate of wild-yeast fermentations. This practice puts the graying wild-statesman of German winemaking right next to the young German hipster-growers, as obsessed with natural yeasts as anything else. On the other hand, since vintage 2003 Becker has bottled his wine with glass closures, which of course alienates him from this same population.
Becker prefers to use pressurized tanks for fermentation, relishing a quick, warm fermentation (a similar method is used at places like J.J. Prüm, Keller, etc). Then he racks the juice into the traditional barrels of the Rheingau for at least two years of barrel age before bottling. In other words: Gun the shit out of it and then slam on the breaks and wait out all the others.
Nearly 50 years later, Becker’s glorious wines are finally getting the attention and the praise they deserve. So far as I can tell he anticipated the dry wine movement in the Rheingau a few decades before anyone else. I asked him how all the new-found attention made him feel. He said, rather quietly and matter-of-factly, “it’s nice.”
The nose here is just a shade riper, with tart citrus flirting with barely ripe apricot, heading toward the peach register though highlighted by lemon curd and lemon zest, pretty citrus elements to brighten it up, even the riper twang of a lime. This has more density, for sure, more richness, though it has plenty of definition. Thinking of these wines in the context of the Rheingau is just crazy; my teeth are aching. The whole collection has acids – I should get the numbers here, if Eva hasn’t already sent them [note to reader: I never got any numbers on the acids b/c I’m just too buried in work right now]. There is a limey quality to this, sticky but fresh, gripping, that I really like. These are very damn good. Both Spätlese Trockens clock in at 13% alcohol yet they hold it really well. Holy acids for real. This is crazy good and while the Auslese Trocken is the grander wine, for me this is the top dog in the dry collection for 2019, period.