It’s a glittering time for German-speaking wines. As we culled our top wines of 2023, we found ourselves fabulously spoiled for choice. This ‘best of’ highlights the bottles that shone brightest, sorted by country, not ranking. It could easily have been ten times longer and still felt incomplete.
We put on a few guardrails: the wines (if not the specific vintages) had to be relatively findable both in their country of production and internationally, generally affordable — and incontrovertibly delicious. If they are also farmed responsibility, made thoughtfully, keep alive a thread of tradition, or introduce a new element of promise, so very much the better. If you need help sourcing them, let us know. We are, as ever, delighted to help.
2019 “Monolith” Pinot Noir, Weingut Obrecht, Jenins
This luminous Pinot is the calling card of Swiss biodynamic stars Christian and Francisca Obrecht. On seven hectares across Jenins and Malans in the northern Swiss region of Graubünden, the Obrechts cultivate just a few native (e.g., Completer) and traditional (e.g., Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) varieties. Despite the gravity of its name, “Monolith” is ethereal and vital. Late-June cherries, subtlety accented by a bark-like earthiness and crystalline minerality, spring from the glass. The fruit is sourced from 50+ year-old vines on slate and limestone soils; this provenance is gloriously evident. Swiss Pinot Noir is where it’s at.
2019 Schweigen Chardonnay, Weingut Friedrich Becker, Schweigen, Pfalz
A shining example of what German Chardonnay is today: +/-25 y/o vines on shell limestone, practicing organic farming, a deft hand in the cellar. It was hard to refrain from draining the bottle on the spot, but fortunately enough was saved to allow the experience of this wine’s profound evolution over a day or two. It’s elegant and structured, with a charge of acidity and wash of salinity that keep the concentrated palate on point.
2020 “Treibgut” Spätburgunder, Weingut Bertram-Baltes, Dernau, Ahr
When the majority of Julia and Benni’s Dernau wine cellar succumbed to the 2021 flood, precisely 2,533 bottles were spared. This is one of them. A reductive Venn diagram of fruit, rock, and flowers propelled on a lightning-fast flavor current. Cool tension, textured grip, and herbal charm aged in barrels of regional oak. Like the olive leaf to Noah, this bottle is both an honor and a messenger of hope.
2020 Weissburgunder, Wasenhaus, Staufen im Breisgau, Baden
A shattering, radiant expression of a grape better known for quiet neutrality. Alex Götze and Christoph Wolber out-Burgundy the Burgundians with this crystalline, kaleidoscopic Pinot Blanc. The secrets? Loess and volcanic soils from the Kaiserstuhl, small-scale organic farming, whole-cluster pressing in screw-press, a year in 600L wood casks and a few months in steel. The rest is noise.
2016 Kupfergrube Riesling Sekt Extra Brut, Gut Hermannsberg, Schloßböckelheim, Nahe
Love at first sip. The smells of summer, of drying hay bales, and the living, breathing, dancing flora of the prairie. Aromatic opulence is wrangled into a bone-dry palate of salt and spice, tart apple and cardamom. Everything coiled tight and fueled with the audaciousness of youth. Leave it long enough though, and catch a fleeting glimpse of the future, a rich and soulful stony solo of brioche, baked lemon, and dried flowers. Mindblowing purity, precision, patience, and length. Sourced from two dedicated and contrasting parcels on the Kupferberg, 60 months on the lees before disgorgement in July 2023.
1998 Niederfeller Kahllay Riesling Spätlese, Lubentiushof, Mosel
This is the magic of Riesling. An enchanting, petrol-laced and sugar-be-gone 25-year-old spell transformed into salted caramel, forest honey, burnt crust on creme brulée, lemon juice woe and baked marshmallow dreams. Simultaneously toasted and fresh. Yes, it has forsaken the enthusiasm of youth for quiet balance, for sitting next to each other reading a book, for regulating one breath to the other. Enduring, true, and complicated. The taste of time, of becoming, worth waiting for and choosing again. Every time anew.
NV Blanc de Noir, Cuvée No. 203 Christmann & Kauffmann, Gimmeldingen, Pfalz
As elegant as any champagne, this is biodynamic balance and momentum at its best. Twenty-five months on the lees and a structured dreamscape of herbs, red fruit and spice; a texture more silk than linen; the finest-strung, barely there bead imaginable.
2018 Fledermaus Rot, 2Naturkinder, Kitzingen, Franken
Easy-drinking, low-alcohol natural wines compel immediate consumption. But how do they hold up over time? It was a delight to uncork an old favorite — this organically farmed, semi-carbonic Schwarzriesling grown on shell limestone — and find it still nervy and poppingly fresh. The tight tangle of quinine, red currants, and juniper has lost none of its edge, but picked up a welcome and intriguing layer of depth.
2022 Rosé “Löss,” Weingut Stefan Meyer, Rhodt, Pfalz
We’re crushing on this savory, chalky, textured blend of Sankt Laurent and Pinot Noir from Stefan Meyer, a long-time favorite under-the-radar organic grower. With a nose and notes of rose hips, strawberries, and fresh herbs, this is exactly the kind of seriously gluggable fun the Pfalz does so well.
2021 Riesling, Fritz Haag, Brauneberg, Mosel
Here the legendary Haag family bring their Riesling-only focus to bear on steep-slope slate sites in Brauneberg and two neighboring villages. Incisive and energizing, this is a Riesling of striking concentration and intensity, especially at the entry level. Notes of lemon oil, ginger, quinine, and salt reverberate along a line of ripe acidity to a finish of surprising length. The ‘21 is drinking nicely now and could easily be enjoyed through 2030.
2020 “Hautnah” Roter Traminer, Nico Espenschied, Flonheim-Uffhofen, Rheinhessen
Land of a thousand hills, Rheinhessen brings its softer side to this Traminer of spice and blossom, dried papaya, grated ginger, and rose. Old barrel aging and 33 days on the skins make for a creamy, bright, and bone-dry expression marked with bittersweet red fruit. Loess approachability atop limestone complexity; an eight-count Lindy Hop that continues to reveal its deep talents the longer the music plays.
2022 Neumagener Rosengärtchen “v.d.T.,” Riesling, Günther Steinmetz, Brauneberg, Mosel
Everything Stefan and Sammie Steinmetz do is in service to a better expression of the ancient vines and terraced vineyard that make up this special site. High density, single stake planting, low yields, and even lower intervention. A high-octane race car balanced on two wheels between gravity and speed, hugging the tightest curve, the thinnest edge. Delicate, drying flowers, salt, spice, and pure slate power. Thrilling, complex, with an open horizon ahead.
2020 “Sand & Schiefer” Gelber Muskateller, Weingut Tement, Ehrenhausen, Südsteiermark
It’s that Styrian magic formula: take a grape you know — Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, or in this case Gelber Muskateller — give it a cool, lush climate plus unusual soils, and watch the wine leap into new dimensions of texture and freshness. Here an orange blossom nose contrasts with a bone dry, chalky, saline palate of chiseled delicacy and refreshment. The ideal aperitif and a food wine par excellence.
2019 “Ried Spiegel” Grüner Veltliner, Mantlerhof, Gedersdorf, Kremstal
Lit from within by a rich, complex, golden glow flickering with a bright filament of acidity, this radiant and alluring wine is bone dry, with notes of dried honey, yellow plum, herbs, and tell-tale piquancy. Little here suggests the heat of 14% stated alcohol. Rather, concentration and density, vitality and elegance, speak clearly of its warm, broad, terraced-loess origins and long-term organic farming. Nearly all of Mantlerhof’s wines are single-vineyard designates. The Mantler family has vinified Ried Spiegel separately for decades. Almost all of the vines are selection massale, with a small portion of own-rooted stock.
2021 Limited Edition Grüner Veltliner, Weingut Herbert Zillinger, Ebenthal, Weinviertel
A perfect year, they said. A perfect wine, we say. Vibrant, wild, and deep, circling the polarities of bitter and rich like a tire swing in a hurricane. Elegant spice, ripe fruit, white flowers, endless salinity. Sweeping and complex; a Tolstoy novel conjuring whole worlds in a single sip.
2020 “Frau Welt Blanc,” Von der Vogelwaide, Mitterarnsdorf, Wachau
What started with little more than an ad – “vintner seeks vineyard” – has transformed into 3 ha of cool, gneiss-dominated biodynamic vines and thrilling Wachau edginess. In this sublime blend of Neuburger, Grüner Veltliner, and Riesling, a delicate herbaceousness flies high on fresh wings of acidity and nuance, stone and fruit even as a firm, nutty balance steadies the finely textured, saline grip.
2020 Ried Hannersberg Eisenberg DAC Reserve Blaufränkisch, Weingut Löffler-Winklhofer, Welgersdorf, Burgenland
The sassy red fruit verve of newcomer Pirmin Winklhofer’s Blaufränkisch is impossible not to love. Smoky toast accents, elderberry, and juniper; all at once bitter, bright, and balsamic. Chalky finesse surrounds the juicy center like the salt-crusted, tensile weave of a fisherman’s net.
2021 Pulse Rosé, Weingut Reinhard Muster, Grubtal, Steiermark
A wild, invigorating expression of Blauer Wildbacher (70%), Merlot (20%) and Zweigelt (10%) from Gamlitz winegrower Reinhard Muster. Swinging between cool and creamy, stormy and supple, and carried by Wildbacher’s pulsating acidity and the cool influence of the Alps. Shapely and soulful and — like the best things in life — just enough delicate bitterness to merit a true savoring of the “sweet” (in this case ripe) Styrian fruits at the center. Eclectic, electric, and true.
NV Petillnt Naturel Quitte x Apfel, Weingut Harkamp, Leibnitz, Steiermark
If we had to pull one wine to drink all autumn and winter long, this would be it. Crisp, saturated with burnished quince and heirloom apple flavors, enlivened with asperity and perfectly judged perlage, this Demeter-certified sparkler is seasonality sina qua non.
2021 Gschleier Alte Reben Vernatsch, Cantina Girlan, Girlan, Alto Adige-Südtirol
For Alto Adige, Vernatsch is both albatross and savior, a red wine of contrasts: traditional and modern; dark and fresh; cherry and balsamic; vibrant and deep. As dichotomous as the region itself. The variety is planted to 556 ha on wooden pergolas that mark Alto Adige like colonies of tiny leafy umbrellas The 34-ha historic Gschleier site with its calcareous soils and its 80-110 year old vines sits at an elevation of 450 meters.
For Girlan’s bottling, the fruit from these ancient vines is destemmed then undergoes a slow fermentation in stainless steel, aged for 9 months in large barrel and a further six months in bottle. The result is wild elegance, silken texture, and floral freshness – with accents of regret at my own impatience in opening it far too young.
2016 Sylvaner, IGT Weinberg Dolomiten, Weingut Garlider, Alto Adige-Südtirol
Solace from Germany’s low winter skies was found in the cool, floral stylings of this organically farmed Sylvaner from the Eisacktal. Freistil member Christian Kerschbaumer’s lo-fi approach harnesses the high slopeside beauty of Feldthurns. Creamy, saline, subdued: a compelling, whispered question to Sylvaner’s traditionally vocal, accented proclamation.
2012 Sankt Anna R, Weingut In der Eben, Bozen, Alto Adige-Südtirol
In der Eben has existed since 1384. The Plattner family acquired the tiny farm, high above Bozen, six centuries down the line. Sankt Anna R is only made in select vintages, from old-vine, pergola-trained Vernatsch (with a small percentage of a Lagrein-Pinot Noir field blend) is whole-cluster pressed, spontaneously fermented , given four years in large, old oak and bottle unfined and unfiltered. The wine is vital and improbably fresh. At the same time, magnificently layered and concentrated, savory with a delicate herbaceous-spice tinge.