While Dr. Ulrich "Ulli" Stein’s wines are not widely known in the U.S., he has nothing less than a fanatical following in Europe. He could likely sell every last bottle to his friends in Germany alone, yet there are places of some importance, like Noma in Copenhagen, that put in sizable orders for Stein wine. He farms meaningful parcels of land that have a few important things in common: They are not easy to work. They are commercially unknown. And, most importantly, Ulli loves them. In fact, Stein is more than a winemaker – he is a passionate advocate for the traditional, steep, slate vineyards of the Mosel. In 2010, Ulli published a manifesto warning of the threats to the region’s 2000-year-old viticultural tradition. Winemaking with Ulli is refreshingly light on “style,” instead focusing on what the vineyards say to him. Certainly there is a focus on wines that are dry; lightness and zip are more important than gobs of fruit. Complexity is good, but not at the expense of the whole – better to be simple and well done than overdone and, well, a mess. Cut is more important than size.
Riesling Feinherb Trocken
Largely sourced from 80-year-old un-grafted vines, this is, despite being delicious and easy to drink, a very serious wine – head and shoulders above past vintages. “Blauschiefer” means “blue slate” and blue slate tastes good. The nose is fresh and green, a tart granny smith apple bite. More than anything else, though, what one gets here is blue slate, in all its salty, mineral-water greatness. On the palate, there is impressive concentration for such a fine, delicate wine – it has a tenacious grip, a delicate peach edge and even a limey, sappy play. The wine is super-unified, perfectly put together, crispy and delicious. This is a serious value.
Stein’s take on Pinot Noir is truly an uncommon one. The grapes come from old vines that grow on 100% steep, slate slopes, then the wine is aged in old, used Mosel Fuder. It’s basically red Riesling, and a smoky, earthy, high-acid version at that. High-toned red fruits like cranberry, raspberry and tangy black cherry are at the fore, with a sturdy, slate-drenched finish reminding you that this wine couldn’t come from anywhere else. Ulli Stein has been a huge advocate for reviving the long-faded traditions of red-grape-growing on the steep slopes of the Mosel and his unique vision of Pinot Noir is not to be missed.