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Müller-Catoir

Crazy Diamonds: Iconic Riesling, Scheurebe & Rieslaner from a Pfalz Beacon

Stuart Pigott hits the nail on the head when he writes, “You can drink more trendy than Müller-Catoir, but hardly better!” Given a choice between the two, we’re confident which option Catoir’s enigmatic winegrower, Martin Franzen, would take.  

There are several reasons this producer remains under the radar for many Riesling lovers. Firstly, at 20 hectares, this is a small estate by regional standards and one whose discreet owners have been happy to keep out of the limelight. There’s never been a strong emphasis on export, and its star vigneron, Martin Franzen, is never more comfortable than when cloistered within his vineyards. Franzen may be one of Germany’s more progressive winegrowers, though one could imagine him thinking that ‘Marketing’ is a small town in rural Austria.

Then there are the wines themselves. Under the Mosel-born Franzen, this historic Estate has become known for producing some of Pfalz’s most ethereal and fine-boned wines: tightly packed, unshowy Riesling that can take years to uncoil. A far cry then from Pfalz’s upfront, stand and deliver norm. That said, without dialling down Catoir’s traditional “calmer mineral style” to quote Stuart Pigott, the wines here have been gently evolving towards a more expressive, textural and intense style.

Catoir’s wines are a bundle of energy and detail; dense, sculpted and crystalline fruits vibrate atop exuberant acidity and Haardt’s distinctive, intense core of smoky minerality

With organic and biodynamic work in the vines, new pruning techniques (Poussard), and more and more traditional practice in the cellar, “I’m now making wine like my father used to”. In the cellar, he’s introduced warmer ferments (never inoculated) and, for the single-site Rieslings, five-year-old 600-litre Halbstück ovals. Crucially, the wines are also more accessible when young, a fact that is no mean feat. Trendy or otherwise, there is no debate to be found in Muller Catoir’s recent releases.

For those new to this Domaine, Müller-Catoir became legendary during the ‘70s and ‘80s under former manager Hans-Günther Schwarz who, supported by the Catoir family, refused to industrialise the Estate, despite the strong trend in that direction in Germany at that time. The wines were one of the few bastions of authenticity and quality in an ocean of mediocrity. Today the quality of the wines is even higher. Müller-Catoir owns roughly 20 hectares of vines in and around the village of Haardt, in the hills outside Neustadt. The yellow sandstone that dominates here (differing significantly from the red sandstone typically found in Pfalz) delivers a distinctive, smoky kind of minerality. The wines are more yellow fruited and more smoky/mineral. The Estate has long been managed organically (and has been certified since ‘15) and retains its pioneering legacy of low yields and minimal intervention, no inoculation, etc. 

The outstanding vineyard practices, low yields and hand harvesting of only perfectly ripe fruit is the starting point. After that, you have natural ferments, without any yeast addition and no SO2 (until racking/bottling) and long slow aging. This all results in wines of deep fruit, high extract, ripe acidity and powerful vineyard expression. We believe they are amongst the very finest Rieslings coming out of Germany. They are a bundle of energy and detail; dense, sculpted and crystalline fruits vibrate atop exuberant acidity and Haardt’s distinctive, intense core of smoky minerality. And in the context of fine wine today, they are unmitigated bargains.

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Müller-Catoir Gutswein NV (2022) (1000ml)

Müller-Catoir Gutswein NV (2022) (1000ml)

Organic. Gutswein is the base classification in the VDP for house wines that are blended from a variety of estate fruit. Müller-Catoir does not typically export this wine, rather bottles it in one-litre format to sell to local restaurants. Some years ago, we spied some bottles in the winery and insisted on tasting. After years of asking, we were finally delivered our first small parcel of this juicy offering in 2011. To this day, on every visit, Philipp Catoir reminds us that we are lucky to receive an allocation! Drawn from the 2022 vintage, this wine is a blend of Riesling (at least 85%), with lesser amounts of Rieslaner, Scheurebe and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc). 

Even at this level, the fruit is hand-harvested, mainly from the estate’s valley floor holdings, and as always this offers great value. Crammed with pithy lime citrus, rocky salinity, and lovely white floral notes, it’s a fleshy one, with surprising depth of flavour and texture balanced by whiz-bang vibrancy and mouth-watering structure. This will be magic with oysters and other shellfish.

Müller-Catoir Gutswein NV (2022) (1000ml)
Müller-Catoir Bürgergarten Riesling 2020

Müller-Catoir Bürgergarten Riesling 2020

Organic. This terrific Riesling comes from the renowned Bürgergarten vineyard on the lower slopes of the Haardt Mountains. It’s a site rated as Grosses Gewächs (or Grand Cru) and was first planted over 700 years ago, making it one of the oldest vineyards in the Pfalz. When a vineyard survives this long, it usually tells you something. While Müller-Catoir does make a GG from a small parcel in this sloping vineyard (the Im Breumel), the lion’s share—culled from the Gehren and Aspen micro-terroirs—makes its way into this Erste Lage (or classified first growth) offering. The topsoil of Bürgergarten is sandy and deep, with yellow sandstone bedrock below. It’s a soil that brings power, perfume and intense mineral freshness. In terms of winemaking, the wine was naturally fermented and raised in a mixture of steel tanks and five-year-old 600-litre Halbstück ovals (25%) for 10 months. Franzen finds this combination—allied with extended lees aging—results in more expressive, less reductive wines that are more approachable on release.  

As expected, the Bürgergarten shows more orderly restraint than its neighbour Herrenletten, but only just. It remains, however, a potent Riesling marked by dense, compact fruit and phenolic tension, with a crest of beautifully crystalline acidity driving the wine to a striking finish. It radiates with the generosity of the vintage, cut through with stunning clarity: a GG in all but name.

“Deep stone-fruit and citrus aromas with some blossom notes. Stunning balance of ripe yet finely nuanced fruit and elegant acidity that then tightens to a long and pointed mineral finish that takes your breath away.”
95 points, Stuart Pigott, James Suckling
Müller-Catoir Bürgergarten Riesling 2020
Müller-Catoir MC Riesling 2021

Müller-Catoir MC Riesling 2021

Organic. Few German estates produce an entry-level Riesling of this depth and structure. It is made entirely from hand-harvested, estate-grown Riesling, cropped at an incredibly low 35 hl/ha to mitigate the younger-vine origins. The source vineyards are all on the sandstone slopes of the Haardt hills, Mussbach, Gimmeldingen and Haardt itself.Cool and linear, with lovely palate tension between the texture and acidity, this wine again lives up to it’s billing as one of our portfolio’s all-star values. It’s pure and fragrant with vibrant stone fruit and citrus-pith flavour. There’s a hint of savoury spice and iodine on the long, buoyant finish.

Cool and linear, with lovely palate tension between the texture and acidity, this wine again lives up to it’s billing as one of our portfolio’s all-star values. It’s pure and fragrant with vibrant stone fruit and citrus-pith flavour. There’s a hint of savoury spice and iodine on the long, buoyant finish.

“The aromas of yellow apples, pears and white peaches make this sleek dry riesling very attractive. The crispness of the vintage is married to attractive fruit and impressive substance at the long, very harmonious finish. From organically grown grapes.”
91 points, Stuart Pigott, James Suckling
Müller-Catoir MC Riesling 2021
Müller-Catoir Grosses Gewächs Bürgergarten Im Breumel Riesling 2021

Müller-Catoir Grosses Gewächs Bürgergarten Im Breumel Riesling 2021

Organic. Im Breumel is a historic walled section (a ‘clos’ in other words) within the Haardter Bürgergarten vineyard. Müller-Catoir’s legendary former winegrower, Hans-Günther Schwarz, always insisted this parcel was the most important single site of the Mittelhaardt (or central Pfalz). Today, it gives us Müller-Catoir’s only Grosses Gewächs bottling.Exclusively owned by Müller-Catoir, this uppermost parcel of the Bürgergarten is protected by a sandstone wall that creates a warmer microclimate. The area, which faces towards the southeast, warms very quickly in the mornings and, due to its proximity to the forest, cools soon after sunset. The soil here is more impoverished than the lower section of Bürgergarten, consisting of pure mottled yellow sandstone gravel with a high ratio of decomposed stone. The fruit here is cropped at a very low 35 hl/ha. In most years, one-third of the wine is fermented and matured in 1,000-litre oak vessels.Expect a steady procession of flavours and structures building through the palate, anchored to tensile, nervy energy. When it gets going, the finish roars towards an extraordinarily long, complex and potent close. For those without the patience or inclination to wait, a decant and food will help this youthful siren sing.

Expect a steady procession of flavours and structures building through the palate, anchored to tensile, nervy energy. When it gets going, the finish roars towards an extraordinarily long, complex and potent close. For those without the patience or inclination to wait, a decant and food will help this youthful siren sing.

“Still extremely youthful, this 2021 riesling GG is going to take a while to come out of its shell. However, the combination of concentrated citrusy fruit and fresh herb finesse is already very apparent. Bone dry, but beautifully balanced and polished at the very long finish. Drinkable now, but best from 2024.”
96 points, Stuart Pigott, jamessuckling.com
“The result is a classic style, very elegant and fine, with candied peach fruit combined with lemongrass and a suggestion of vermouth. The texture is creamy and enrobes the taut acidity. A timeless beauty.”
95 points, Decanter
“Balanced on the generous and spicy palate; juicy layers spinning between the exotic perfume of quince, kumquat and green pineapple. Lingering spice moves in a foxtrot-like step through the dance of sweet and sour. Playful, nuanced and long.”
17.5 points, Paula Sidore, jancisrobinson.com
Müller-Catoir Grosses Gewächs Bürgergarten Im Breumel Riesling 2021
Müller-Catoir Haardt Riesling 2021

Müller-Catoir Haardt Riesling 2021

Organic. With Müller-Catoir’s Haardt Riesling, we hit the ‘village’ level of the German VDP classification. As in Burgundy, these commune-level wines can incorporate fruit from several sites, including declassified fruit from classified vineyards. Müller-Catoir’s version includes young-vine material from the legendary Grosses Gewächs Bürgergarten vineyard and the classified sites of Herzog, Mandelring and Herrenletten. The fruit was slowly crushed (allowing for some skin contact) and raised in steel tank, resulting in a lithe wine with racy, salty/mineral personality. There’s a beautifully poised mouthfeel and lip-smacking tension; think of it as a scaled-up version of the MC Riesling with a touch more overdrive and sustain. We can’t really improve on Pigott’s note below, but will add that to drink this well, at this price, is far from common these days.

“A very elegant and racy wine for the warm Pfalz with a wonderful range of aromas from yellow peach and melon through to red apple and Amalfi lemon. Ample fruit in spite of the relatively sleek body. Long, very vibrant and crisp finish. From organically grown grapes.”
93 points, Stuart Pigott, Jamessuckling.com
Müller-Catoir Haardt Riesling 2021
Müller-Catoir Gimmeldinger Schlössel Rieslaner Trockenbeerenauslese 2008 (375ml)

Müller-Catoir Gimmeldinger Schlössel Rieslaner Trockenbeerenauslese 2008 (375ml)

“Even had one not tasted the corresponding Beerenauslese, the deep bronze color; notes of leather and dried mushrooms; and nasal prickle of Muller-Catoir’s 2008 Gimmeldinger Schlossel Rieslaner Trockenbeerenauslese would make clear that you’ve traveled far deeper into the realm of botrytis than this grape will normally take anyone. Orange marmalade, peach preserves, and fresh lemon inform a plate of Eszencia-like, almost gelatinous viscosity, with a correspondingly uncanny sense of lift and of huge residual sweetness practically canceled out. The sharpness of citrus, pungency of citrus oil and botrytis spice; and piquancy of toasted nuts lend indelible and invigorating intensity to the finish, while nut brittle, glazed apricot, and peach preserves uphold a confectionery yet not hugely sweet persistence. At 400 grams residual sugar and 19 grams of acid, your mind can scarcely wrap itself around the analysis of this concentrate, much less around its performance. It’s almost too early to treat it as wine. There have been other remarkable examples of such Rieslaner essences in this estate’s history – though perhaps never one this intense – and experience suggests it will be worth following this one for more than three decades.” 96 points, David Schildknecht, The Wine Advocate (tasted 2010)

Müller-Catoir Gimmeldinger Schlössel Rieslaner Trockenbeerenauslese 2008 (375ml)
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“Franzen quickly bought quality back to that level which had for three decades made Müller-Catoir a Pflaz beacon, and his wines have reflected both continuity and subtle innovation, displaying refinement and clarity of expression equalled by few others.” David Schildknecht

“Showered with praise during the last decade, this estate is now widely recognised as one of the country’s best … Each wine is like an essence of its grapes yet, however dense and powerful, Müller-Catoir wines possess an excellent harmony.Stuart Pigott

“… if you’re a buyer looking for kinky wines without sacrificing basic cleanliness, can you really do better than Muscat or Scheurebe from Catoir? Nah.” Terry Thiese

Country

Germany

Primary Region

Pfalz

People

Winemaker: Martin Franzen

Availability

National

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