300 Years of Kabinett | Wine Enthusiast
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300 Years of Kabinett

Kabinett, a term associated with light German Riesling, celebrates its 300th anniversary this year, and its commemoration affords a fascinating glimpse into German wine history.

The place? Schloss Vollrads in the region of Rheingau, where vines have been cultivated for more than 1,000 years. The year? 1716, when Count Johann Erwein of Greiffenclau commissioned a small “cabinet cellar” for the very best wines of his estate.

The estate’s ledgers document that a local bricklayer was paid to hew a small cellar into the ground, construct air ducts, a vaulted ceiling and install a small oven, chimney and staircase. For this, the bricklayer was compensated 150 florins, 10 measures of grain and two measures of beer.

The “cabinet” was indeed small—a separate chamber from the larger cellars where the best, most precious wines could be set aside. At the time, and well into the 20th century, the term “cabinet” referred to these small treasure chambers and their wines.

This was not a contradiction. It was only in 1971, with the introduction of Germany’s controversial wine law, that this ancient term denoting quality was appropriated as a Prädikat.

The most famous “Cabinet-Keller” (cellar) was at Kloster Eberbach, a short distance from Schloss Vollrads in the Cistercian monastery, which served famously as a backdrop for the film adaptation of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. The first documented mention in 1716, however, belongs to ancient Schloss Vollrads.

Schloss Vollrads“Cabinet was used as a designation for the best wines of the vintage,” says Dr. Rowald Hepp, managing director of Schloss Vollrads. “It was given as an additional attribute to great wines. Before 1971, you would call a wine a Spätlese Cabinet or Auslese Cabinet to show appreciation of what the winemakers thought to be of very special quality.”

This was not a contradiction. It was only in 1971, with the introduction of Germany’s controversial wine law, that this ancient term denoting quality was appropriated as a Prädikat. It denotes the lightest, earliest picked Riesling, made in a dry, off-dry or sweet style. Until then. Cabinet, or Kabinett in German, represented long-matured wines from those special cellars.

Today, Vollrads still makes Kabinett, according to the 1971 law.

“Today, Kabinett reflects a delicate style of wine at moderate alcohol levels,” says Hepp.

To mark the anniversary, we suggest these sprightly bottles of Kabinett.

Schloss Vollrads 2013 Riesling Kabinett (Rheingau); $25, 92 points. Green floral notes and lemon zest perfume this pristine, pretty kabinett. Zesty lemon-lime acidity lends a breathless elegance, brightened by sweet-tart streaks of mango and tangerine that pucker and delight. Drinks gorgeously now, but will continue to improve through at least 2020.

Reichsgraf-von-Kesselstatt 2014 Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett Grosse Lage (Mosel); $26, 93 points. Hints of dusty mineral and caramelized sugar lend complexity to deep, penetrating layers of honey, peach and yellow plum in this light-footed, yet resounding, kabinett. Delicately sweet and puckering with lemon-lime acidity, it’s a deftly balanced wine that resonates long on the finish. Drink now through 2021.

St. Urbans Hof 2014 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett Erste Lage (Mosel); $22, 90 points. Lifted honeysuckle and jasmine perfume abound throughout this textbook Mosel Kabinett. Sun-kissed apricots and peaches burst on the palate, yet maintain a graphite edge of minerality and acidity. It’s a crystalline fruity wine that’s irresistible now for its youthful exuberance.

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