Today is my 61st birthday and anniversaries are useful moments to look back. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the 1921 vintage for German wines, which is celebrating its centenary. It was not only a great vintage, but was the turning point for the nation’s wine industry in the direction of modern winemaking methods.
I searched and searched for information that went beyond general observations and was free of platitudes. Finally, I found something in the book Könige des Rieslings an Mosel, Saar and Ruwer, or Kings of Riesling from the Mose, Saar and Ruwerby Peter Sauerwald & Edgar Wenzel (1978, Seewald Verlag, Stuttgart) about the 1921 vintage at the Kathäuserhof estate in the Ruwer (now part of the Mosel wine region). My guess is that the first text below was written by Hans Wilhelm Rautenstrauch, the then owner of the estate, in August 1921:
“There was just one rainy day each month in May and June, apart from that burning heat. In July the heat and drought intensified. Occasional thunderstorms didn’t bring the hoped for cooling or the necessary moisture. Thursday, 28th July was the hottest day of the year, bringing enormous heat: 39° C in the shade and 50° C in the sun. At 10pm in the evening the thermometer still stood at 32° C. However, the vineyards look good and we expect a very good crop…”
That sounds rather reminiscent of the 2018 vintage in Germany. However, the Average Growing Season Temperature for 1921 in Geisenheim/Rheingau (sorry, but I don’t have historic figures for the Mosel) was 16°C and for 2018 it was 17.8°C! The books authors also give a rather detailed description of the 1921 wines from Karthäuserhof. Please note that a Mosel Fuder barrel contains 1,000 liters of wine, so the crop was about 120,000 bottles:
“The 1921 crop was 85 Fuder and the wines were bottled around 1925-27. Four of these Fuders from the 1921 vintage survived World War II in bottle. In contrast, the other 81 Fuders were more or less full-fermented out to dryness and those wines were therefore passé after 15 to 20 years of age. In contrast, the four top Fuders of Auslese had between 35 and 76 grams per liter sweetness. Only for this reason do they survive in great shape to this day…”
Today, 76 grams per liter sweetness in a Riesling Auslese would be considered low! The authors go on to give their tasting note for the 1921 Karthäuserhofberg Kronenberg feinste Auslese, the best Fuder of the vintage at the estate. Not only do modern wine critics write florid notes!:
“In spite of the great vintage this 1921 Karthäuserhofberg is a total Ruwer original. The deep colour speaks of its age and shimmers red-sapphire like a sunrise. It smells of an entire bouquet of flowers, also of pineapple and strawberry. The body is full, but not fat, the sweetness noble, the acidity mild, yet still piquant. Its temperament is harmonious, but still far removed from flatness or tiredness. A regal wine from which parting is painful, since one will probably never meet it again.”