History in the Making

The quintessential intensity and delicacy of the 1971 and 1975 Mosel vintages wines is legendary among German wine connoisseurs, and a high-water mark for the growers that made them. There has been almost nothing like them over the last 40 years—until 2015.

As John Gilman notes, the wines made in this near-perfect year will ultimately “be spoken of with the same reverence as vintages like 1961 in Bordeaux, 1978 in Burgundy or 1971 and 1975 in Germany—it is simply that magnificent.”

Intense demand has followed, with the domaines selling out their rarest cuvées in record time. And, for Hanno and Dorothee Zilliken, the first wine to go was their dry Riesling Rausch Grosses Gewächs, of which less than 250 cases are made.

But according to John Gilman, the 2015 is not the only monumental Rausch Riesling Grosses Gewächs Zilliken has made this decade. He writes that while 2015 “may well prove to be the very greatest vintage ever produced” by Zilliken, the 2011 is at least as impressive, and “a tour de force of dry Saar Riesling!”

A Providential Site in Two Perfect Vintages

The Rausch vineyard was made for Riesling with its nearly vertical south-facing slope of Devonian slate and volcanic diabase. And in 2011 and 2015, the site delivered Zilliken perfect fruit with which Hanno and Dorothee knew just what to do.

In their three-story-deep, 100+ year old cellar that maintains a constant 48 degrees and nearly 100% humidity, fermentations are long and slow in only 1000-liter oak fuders, just as was done nearly 275 years ago by their ancestors. Few other German winemakers have the patience or the diligence to work this way, and even the Zilliken’s acknowledge that it would be easier to modernize.

But how can they? The resulting wines are some of the region’s most bracing and intensely focused, yet delicate, emblematic of the Saar’s incomparable tension of perfume and structure. Yet words can’t reveal that little bit of extra magic that emerges from this stalactite-studded cellar.

Suffice it to say, they’ve got the touch and the world is noticing. Gault Millau named the duo the 2017 Winemaker of the Year and promoted the winery to their highest status, awarded to just a dozen other German superstars, like Müller, J.J. Prüm, and Keller.

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