Wine Delights: Two Brilliant Kabinetts

2020 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Kabinett                      93+    
2020 Schloss Lieser Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett                        93 
by Robert Millman

2020 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Kabinett                              93+       


2020 Schloss Lieser Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett                        93                           

I begin with an admission: I love well-made German Kabinetts as much as any wines on our planet. But there has been a problem for some time: Warming trends have made it increasingly difficult to produce genuine Kabinetts as opposed to Spatlese declassified as Kabinetts. Sugars are higher. Proper Kabinetts have to walk the fine line between ripe and very ripe. This is no longer easy for the growers in the Mosel. When a Kabinett is true to type it is one of the most delightful—perhaps the most delightful— of all white wines. Light in body, sprightly and balletic, undulating between crisp and juicy, a successful Kabinett has no equal among wines with modest residual sugar. Alcohol levels of Kabinetts range typically from 9.5 to 10.5%, and they are highly digestible. As an aperitif wine, a good Kabinett is unbeatable.

In the past few months, I have tasted three true Kabinetts from the 2020 vintage which inspire confidence that it is still possible for the best German vignerons to make genuine Kabinetts. After a tasting of serious, weighty, demanding dry white wines, a good Kabinett is a joyous relief! Not unlike someone telling a really good joke after a long, sober lecture.

The two 2020 Kabinetts I tasted mostly recently are the Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst and the Schloss Lieser Brauneberger Juffer. These two villages are separated on the winding Mosel River by perhaps five kilometers. The soil structure of Graach and Brauneberg are significantly different: In Graach the weathered grey slate is mixed with more clay than in surrounding Mosel villages. The wines have a certain density, more so than the airer wines from Wehlen, for example. Brauneberg means ‘brown hill’: The name derives from the reddish-brown color of the local soils – drawn from high levels of iron oxide in the decomposed slate. It is this believed that this particular soil composition gives a certain richness and structure to Brauneberger wines. Even if one knew nothing of these significant terroir differences, a few sniffs and tastes would be all one would need to experience the delightful contrast. The Graacher elevates the taster from the soil into the sun and air while the Brauneberger pulls you right down from the sun into the earth below. It was an amazing experience to taste these two superb Kabinetts side by side.                The Schaefer estate has been making simply fantastic wines for many years. It is, alas, a very small estate of a mere 4.45 hectares yielding fewer than 3000 cases annually. While on paper the Himmelreich is the best vineyard in Graach, the Domprobst in the hands of Will and Christopher Schaefer is one of the glories of German viticulture. In 2020 the Kabinett sparkles on the palate with scents and flavors of white peach, almond extract, apple and a hint of anise. The fullness in the middle is a hall mark of the Schaefer Domprobst. The finish lingers a as long as the taster wishes. I would say drink this now to 2026. Does wine really get better than this?

The Schloss Lieser estate has been utterly transformed in the last thirty years by the redoubtable Thomas Haag who took a small run-down estate and lifted it to unknown levels of excellence. In 2002 he and his wife Ute acquired holdings in Brauneberger Juffer and its couer de fillet the Sonnenuhr. The 2020 Kabinett bathes the palate in spicy, mineral accented ripe fruits cut through with the wonderful acidity of the vintage. The savory essence of the vineyard is evident in every sip; I’d say drink this now to 2027. How lucky I was to taste these two gems one after the other!

Robert Millman

Robert Millman’s wine career began in the early 1980s, when he began working from Morrell & Company, one of the USA’s top wine retailers. During that time, he co-founded Executive Wine Seminars (EWS) with Howard Kaplan, which over the years became one of NYC’s most highly regarded wine events companies. EWS organized and conducted over 1000 wine events during its prestigious thirty-three year history. High points included Robert Parker being a regular guest presenter at the tastings, and through 2011, the results of the tastings were published on the Wine Advocate website. Having reached an age where taking a step back from the wear and tear of life in the wine fast lane made sense, Millman currently enjoys being a taster and wine writer for Grapes the Wine Company, an excellent, leading e-retailer based in Westchester (NY). 

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Robert Millman