Author Archives: Stuart

New York Diary: Day 6 – RIP Roy Metzdorf of the Weinstein Wine Bar in Berlin

Roy Metzdorf

I have to tell you about a friend of mine who just died that was one of the most wonderful people I ever knew. Nobody I’ve encountered was more generous, open and supportive than Roy Metzdorf. From the fall of 1993 until his sudden death yesterday he ran the Weinstein wine bar in the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin, Germany where I took the above photograph on February 20th, 2013. Roy did so much for me there’s no way I can list even the most important things in a couple of paragraphs, never mind explain what that all really means. Roy was a total original and, in no particular order, a remarkable Berliner, East German, Riesling guy, explorer of the big wide world of wine and food, and a thinker who continually stunned me with his penetrating observations. I’m glad that I was able to give some things back to Roy, for example, by introducing him to America beginning in Califronia in 2003. After his first couple of weeks there he only half-jokingly declared that he would become an illegal Mexican immigrant in order to say! I would need to tell a lot more stories like this for those of you who didn’t know Roy to grasp what he was really like. It’s only a metaphor and probably a very bad one, but it feels as if the most beautiful vase in the world has just been smashed. RIP Roy! NAMU AMIDA BUTSU

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New York Wine Diary: Day 2 – Is Michel Rolland of Bordeaux the Darth Vader of Wine?

Bildergebnis für darth vader photos free

What is that spooky sound that reminds me of someone breathing through a helmet? Part 3 of my series on red Bordeaux – BDX: Falling in Love Again? –  was just published on GrapeCollective.com and in it I wrote that Michel Rolland is the Darth Vader of wine. Maybe you’ll find it hard to believe, but when I wrote those words I was not attacking the famous consulting winemaker, rather I was trying to adequately describe the way a large section of the wine scene sees him. Undoubtedly the most common perception of Rolland in contemporary New York Wine City (NYWC) is that he is the most dangerous prophet of the Dark Side of the Force in BDX, and a mover and shaker of oenological evil in the dozen other countries Planet Wine where he exerts an influence upon winemaking. But the truth is that’s not at all what he is!

Rolland is an oenological consultant and blender who has an approach to that field of endeavor as distinctive as your, my or his handwriting. The week I spent in January tasting hundreds of 2014 red BDXs with James Suckling proved conclusively to me that Rolland is not responsible for the currently dominant style of red BDX (see JamesSuckling.com for more about the new style), rather he plays a role of varying importance in the making of a small proportion of these wines. My gut tells me that the same applies in all the other countries on Planet Wine where Rolland works. The fact is that if you don’t like Darth Vader wines then there are plenty of alternatives and it is easy to find them. And if you join the Rebels, then you don’t need to worry because this time the Empire will not strike back!

Beyond this, the wines from the producers Rolland consults for are not nearly as uniform as his critics suppose. Château Léoville Poyferré in St. Julien/Médoc is an excellent example of a BDX producer for whom MR consults, but who’s wine does not have the opulent, over-ripe and one-sidedly oaky character the Rebels say all Darth Vader wines have. Unquestionably Rolland exerts some influence upon the wines of this BDX Second Growth, but he is not the decisive factor that shapes them. What he has done is to help the owning Cuvelier family create a style that is completely distinct from those of the other two other Léoville chateaux in St. Julien (Léoville Barton & Léoville las Cases). To my mind this stylistic diversity is one of the strengths of Bordeaux alongside the fact that many Médoc châteaux like these are producing large volumes of very good wine. It is the latter that makes global distribution possible. Read the full story for more about all this.

The one way in I see a negative effect emanating from Rolland is that the Darth Vader profile he has acquired in certain circles has aggrivated the image problems that the region as a whole now has. Today in the West red BDX is widely perceived to be an expensive wine that doesn’t fit into the modern world with its faddy eclectic dining and its fickle social media coolness. However, I fear that if Rolland hadn’t been there, then someone else would have been demonized in much the same way by the same people. Before he became so famous Émile Peynaud – widely regarded as the inventor of modern consulting winemaking – was often accused of having modernized away the true character of red BDX. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s he was the Darth Vader of wine.

The question my story concludes with is a big one that has been too little asked and it  concerns the future of red BDX here in NYWC, America and the West as a whole. I hope that many of you will take the trouble to read the story and the two preceding stories in this series to find out more about all this. Quo vadis Bordeaux?

https://grapecollective.com/articles/bdx-falling-in-love-again-part-3-new-bordeaux-money-secrets-and-michel-rolland

Please note that I selected the image of Darth Vader above that was presented to me as being copyright free. If this is not correct please let me know and I will remove it.

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New York Wine Diary: Day 1 – New York / New York (FLX)

Fog over Seneca LakeI just made it to New York City (NYC), but of course the photo above isn’t of NYC, or even what I call New York Wine City (NYWC). Instead it shows a particularly spectacular part of what I sometimes call the “other New York”, that is the Finger Lakes (FLX) where many of the most exciting white wines being produced in North America are grown. I’m talking about the new (generally) dry Rieslings of the beautiful FLX region. They are the work of a new generation of winemakers obsessed by this grape (often also Cabernet Franc and sometimes Gewürztraminer too). They are the subject of my major report on the FLX just published on JamesSuckling.com. In fact, I was just about to get on the plane from Frankfurt to NYC when I realized it had appeared. Here is the link to it:

https://www.jamessuckling.com/wine-tasting-reports/new-yorks-finger-lakes-riesling-revolution/?mc_cid=a00824d156&mc_eid=0765a4a47d

I first visited the FLX back in fall 2004 when things didn’t look so good unless you visited one of the handful of genuinely quality orientated producers. I’ve been giving the region my concentrated attention since the summer of 2013, because about then it was like a turbocharger was connected to the region and change suddenly accelerated. I’ve never seen anything quite like that happen before and I humbly recommend you to taste a few of the best new FLX dry Rieslings if you don’t already know these wines. Expect to hear some winemaker names you never heard before, and remember where you read them first!

Steve Matthiasson

NYWC, by which I mean the city’s wine scene, is always full of surprises and just hours after I stepped off the plane yesterday I met Steve Matthiasson (pictured above) at Flatiron Wines on Broadway. Steve has the reputation of being an Anti-Napa winemaker in Napa Valley, however, after tasting his wines I would say that he has a radically alternative vision of what the wines of California’s and America’s most famous winemaking region could taste like. Therefore I’m only up for the “Anti-Napa” label if it’s used in the same way as the “Anti-Folk” label that refers to a wide range of music that is rooted in folk, but twists folk in an unexpected direction that hits a nerve regular folk almost never does.

Part of me us most impressed by Steve’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, which he rightly describes as, “being inspired by the Napa Valley Cabernets of the period 1985 – 1995,” something that I can very well identify with having experienced the wines of that period close up in Napa. There’s a gentleness and gracefulness to this wine in spite of its (restrained) ripeness and power, and the aromas (ranging from pencil shavings to redcurrant to plum) are more delicate than the majority of contemporary wines from Napa Valley. I honestly think that the region needs more wines of this kind if it is going to win over a wider audience.

The other part of my was more delighted by the 2015 “Tendu” red for $19.99 at Flatiron Wines, or a shade over a quarter of the bottle price for Steve’s Cabernet. This blend of the Montepulciano, Aglianico and Barbery grapes is light, crisp and juicy with a red cherry note and a hint of something earthy. “I’m trying to recreate the experience I had with Gallo Hearty Burgundy when I was at college,” Steve commented, and the jaws of some wine geeks at Flatiron Wines fell mightily! By the way, this wine and its equally light and crisp white counterpart (a blend dominated by Vermentino and French Colombard) are filled in liter bottles with crown corks. “I’m trying to get the wine ritual our and replace it with something like the beer ritual.” Amen!

This and much, much more all happened within the space of 24 hours in NYWC. Watch this space for more reports from the city too busy drinking wine to ever sleep.

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 4 – In Wine There is Freedom

Freedom!

What the hell has wine got to do with the current trend to nationalism and authoritarianism of myriad kinds that’s sweeping the West and some parts of the East too? This isn’t a rhetorical question I’m posing to introduce some of my recent thoughts about wine, it’s also a question that was asked of me in response to my two last blog postings (scroll down to read them). Of course, the implication of that question is that politics has nothing to do with wine and I have been poking my nose into matters that don’t concern me, at least matters that have no place on this blog.

To my mind that’s ridiculous, because my political stance is one of opposition not to any political party or any particular politician, but to political actions that threaten or erode constitutional freedoms. However, after the question was repeated several times it got me thinking about all of this more seriously and it wasn’t long before it struck me that the pleasure of wine contrasts dramatically with the New Politics in DC, London, Moscow, Ankara, etc. Let me explain.

What all forms of nationalism, authoritarianism and fanaticism have in common is the conviction that there’s a rigid set of unquestionable truths – the core of the particular dogma – and these are above and beyond discussion or debate. Devotees of those dogmas often demonize those who dare to discuss and debate their core beliefs as heretics, because they dare to doubt. In the European dictatorships of the 20th century al these features were all very clear, and although the contemporary versions of them are all (so far) less extreme, they may be every bit as dangerous due to their insidious nature.

Some of you may already be familiar with the name of the prime weapon used by the “true believers”: the thought-terminating cliché. This term was developed by the psychologist Robert Jay Lifton (who’s complete works are highly recommended) in his 1956 study of totalitarianism in Maoist China, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. Examples of thought-terminating clich#es are, “I’m in charge, that’s why!” is no less a thought-terminating cliché than, “it’s God’s will!” or “everything is relative!” I chose those three because the devotees of contrasting forms of nationalism, authoritarianism and fanaticism use them.

Nothing could be further from my experience of wine than all this, because the taste of even the cheapest and least-pretentious wine is open to endless discussion and debate. The very nature of wine is that the contents of one bottle taste different to different people and there is never any question that someone might be right and all the others wrong even if sometimes claims are made that this is the case. Our differing preferences lie behind our contrasting reactions to the same wine, and they are rooted in our personal experiences, memories and habits and preferences.

This is related very closely to the fact that each of us finds a particular smell either appealing or not, and more loosely related to the way each of us finds a joke funny or not, another person sexually attractive or not, and we either wake up in a good mood or we don’t. There’s no point in discussing any of these things either, because no amount of discussion afterwards can change the way we reacted (thank you Immanual Kant for pointing that out). Apart from the freedom to draw breath this is the most basic kind of freedom and no form autocracy has been able to change any of this.

Just the other day my girlfriend and I had radically contrasting reactions to a handful of 2015 dry German Rieslings from a new producer, Materne & Schmitt in Winningen/Terrassenmosel. They are daring products are far-removed from the fruity and fresh norms most wines conform to, and that kind of wine inevitably polarizes opinion. Put simply, either you dig their kind of funk (technical term reduction) or you don’t!

On paper, I’ve got more professional experience of wine than my girlfriend does, but that is not the point, because personal preference and pleasure are not dependent upon professional experience. I was not right and she was not wrong. We simply reacted differently to the same wine and we both understand that when it comes to personal pleasure in wine there’s never any right or wrong. In wine there is freedom!

I always find it very sad when colleagues or regular folks want to learn from me which wines are right and which are wrong, rather than wanting me to help them intensify and expand their pleasure in wine. It means that person wants some kind of certainty where none is to be had. The only certainties when it comes to wine are the analytical parameters (alcohol content, degree of oxidation, etc.), but they can’t tell you if you will like a wine or not. You have to find that out practically.

It is the hunger for certainty and absolutes and the yearning for a radical break from the continually shifting nature of experience that stoke the fires of nationalism, authoritarianism and fanaticism of all kinds. Give me wine any day. It is the opposite of them!

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global

 

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Eppstein Wine Diary, Day 1: The Fast Approaching Danger and My Big Decision Part 2

I love America

In case there’s any doubt, I wrote the following lines as a friend of America and a strong believer in the principals enshrined in the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Today (Sunday, January 29th) I have added an extra paragraph, the third before last, in order to complete the analysis of our current situation.

 Don’t worry about me, I’m doing just fine. That is as long as I don’t think about the dramatic developments of the last few days in Washington D.C. The latest massive shock came in a story the New York Times published Thursday (January 26th, 2017) entitled ‘Trump Strategist Stephen Bannon Says Media should, ‘Keep it’s Mouth Shut’’. Reading it convinced me events are already lurching towards a climax the shape and hue of which nobody can yet discern, but which will undoubtedly be fearful and loathsome.

The title of that New York Times story referred to something the former head of the right-wing Breitbart News website said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. He stated that because the media were surprised by the result of the recent presidential election they “should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” Silence would be self-censorship, a particularly insidious form of censorship since it is invisible to the reader/viewer/listener. For example the censorship of communist East Germany functioned almost entirely by this method.

To this Bannon added “The Media has zero integrity, zero intelligence and no hard work,” which is tarring thousands of reporters and editors who’s work is extremely diverse, with the same brush. Then he went much further, insisting that, “I want you to quote this. The media here is the opposition party.” My theme may only be wine, but since American wine and wine in America are some of my major subjects I too am pushed into that role.

The fact that Bannon peppered his comments with expletives and ironically referred to himself as “Darth Vader” does nothing to cloud the real reason his attacks on the media and pushing us collectively into the role of the enemy. His anger is stimulated when we report something – absolutely anything at all! – that doesn’t align with President Trump’s vision of America, the world and himself.

In this parallel universe Trump is the sole source of these “alternative facts” as the president’s advisor Kellyanne Conway famously called them last Sunday on NBC television’s Meet the Press. I congratulate the show’s anchor Chuck Todd for correctly and courageously identified them as falsehoods. Bannon regards these as the only “facts” that deserve reporting by the media. Period.

At first glance the last week in Washington D.C. might look like a series of ghastly ad-libs by Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip spin doctors, including the statements of his spokesman Sean Spicer, but there’s nothing haphazard about them at all. They were all made in pursuit of the new administration’s prime goal: the wholesale replacement of the true facts with Trump’s vision of “American carnage” and himself as the messiah come to pull the crippled nation out of the mire and make it great again.

There’s nothing new with the basic idea of circumventing reality like this. Hitler & Goebbels, Stalin & Beria were 20th century masters of this art, combining it with genocidal goals so far missing from Trump’s white supremacist ideology. In modern America this goes back at least to when President George W. Bush and how his administration sought to radically reshape reality in theatres of action like Afghanistan and Iraq.

It’s worth looking back to October 2004 when Karl Rove, Bannon’s predecessor in the role of chief ideologue to the president, said to Ron Suskind of the New York Times that he belonged to, “what we call the reality-based community,” that is Suskind was part of that group of people, “who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernable reality…That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

Trump’s vision of American Empire is clearly different to Rove’s, but the family resemblance is clear. “Alternative facts” is simply another way of saying “create our own reality,” meaning substitute a self-serving fantasy for the reality any sane and halfway rational person can easily discern. President Trump doesn’t have a running war with the media, as he’s repeatedly asserted, rather he has a running war with reality.

For President Trump reality is lies and his fantasies are the truth. He’s convinced that they trump (verb) all the cards of every suit that reality could ever play. This is what makes the current situation so dangerous, because regardless of what anybody wants or imagines reality always holds a tall stack of trump cards that it can play at any moment.

For the new administration the media’s “crime” has been to doggedly stick with demonstrably true facts in the face of attacks and intimidation. However, we will soon see that they are only the first group to land in Trump’s firing line for being reality-based. Soon this will extend to other many groups, who will also be demonized as, “amongst the most dishonest human beings on earth.”

I accept this insult, because it clearly places me on the right side of this fundamental divide. Regardless who is posing the question which side I’m on my answer will be the same, “I’m with reality!” From Day Zero that’s been the program of this blog and is the guiding principal of all my work. I’m grateful to have employers like James.Suckling.com and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung who see things the same way.

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Bordeaux Wine Diary: Day 1 – The Fast Approaching Danger and My Big Decision Part 1

Peace

Although it feels strange to be posting this from Bordeaux this is perhaps not so inappropriate, since Marine Le Pen of the Front National is a candidate in the French Presidential election later this year. I should point out that I’m here to taste the 2014 vintage in bottle for JamesSuckling.com. Watch out for these reports!

For the first time in the 10 year history of this blog I feel forced to take a clear and unambiguous political position, and I must do so urgently because the situation is developing so fast. One reason for this is the rapidly approaching Inauguration of the new President of the United States, and the other is the decision I’ve just taken to submit an application for German citizenship. This was promoted not only by the Brexit decision, but also also due to subsequent developments in my homeland, the UK. Although I didn’t comment on this directly at the time, the fact that as a long-term ex-pat I was barred from participating in the UK Brexit vote was a major infringement of my civil rights.

I’ve been criticized a number of times for taking political positions on this blog although its main subject is wine, and I always answered these accusations in the same way: by pointing out that I never supported a particular political party in any posting nor am I/was I ever a member of a political party. My only political commitment is my membership of the Peace Pledge, an organization that has campaigned for and end to all war and its replacement with non-violent conflict resolution. The pursuit of peace is not specific to the members of any political party, social group or nationality, but is above them all.

The difference between then and now is that previously when I published political comments I was defending particular civil rights, most notably freedom of speech, and/or the free press, and/or the right to privacy in one’s own home that are theoretically guaranteed by the constitutions of many the Western nations. This time I’m writing in defense of all civil rights, because they are now threatened as we seem headed approach a terrible climax to the events that began unfolding during 2016.

The problem is not really the program of any political party, although some of them contain proposals that strike me as highly dangerous, rather a new style of politician, or perhaps I should call them the new-old type of leader. A dangerous beast we thought we’d finally vanquished during the 20th century – the totally unscrupulous and narcissistic demagogue – has recently returned. There are different grades (soft, medium and hard) of every types of political leader, and the worst of the new-old style leaders seem to have a paranoid streak, a psychopathic lack of empathy for anyone beyond their immediate circle, and an obsession with revenge reminiscent of the most evil demagogues of the 20th century. Every intelligent person should know that each of them murdered many millions of people, along with oppressing a very much larger number of millions.

Spooky

Of course, one of the new type of political I’m thinking of is Donald Trump, the President Elect of the United States. I sometimes called him Trump Elect, because clearly he doesn’t just want to be President. The way that he repeatedly insists all the normal rules don’t apply to him makes it clear how he wants is to become a leader unencumbered by the constitutional checks and balances that the Founding fathers so carefully built into the constitution to prevent the rise of autocratic leaders. However, he’s simply the most obvious of the new-old style leaders. Almost every Western country and some other countries too have these kind of autocrats or have would-be autocrats impatiently waiting to grab power for themselves at the first opportunity. Worse still, these leaders are supporting and enabling each other in many ways. Although some of them seem laughable oafs at times, others clearly have great intelligence and nerves of steel. Vladimir Putin of Russia clearly falls into this category.

In spite of the many obvious differences amongst them it is what they all share that forces me to write. They are all ruthless manipulators of the media who don’t give a damn about independent reporting, or even pour scorn upon it, and none of them really care one jot for the civil rights of ordinary citizens. They have introduced political spin of a new-old kind, one that doesn’t just twist the truth, rather replaces it at will with a fully-formed pseudo-truth (that will be revised as they deem necessary). This works because of the retrurn of old-fashioned nationalism and the demonization of entire groups of millions of people (as if any such group could ever be homogenous!) that comes with it. All of this shocks and dismays me; makes me fear where it will all end.

I’ve made a decision for Germany, because it will remain part of the EU as long as the EU continues to exist, but also because Germany has been much less effected by these developments than most other Western nations. It feels like some kind of safe haven, and although this may later turn out to be illusion, I am following that feeling for now. Whatever happens around the world during 2017 and beyond, my commitment to civil rights for the whole population of each of the Western countries remains unwavering. Regardless of the many compromises made in these matters, those rights remain the foundations of free and open societies and of a Western world largely without war.

Those things are the basis for reading. Also, without them the kind of writing that has filled this blog for a decade, regardless of whether the subject was wine or freedom of the press, wouldn’t be possible. So, they are also the basis of writing.

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Eppstein Wine Diary: Day 12 – Who is My Riesling Heroine of 2016? Read on and Find Out!

Who is my Riesling Heroine of 2016?

Who is my Riesling Heroine of 2016? Who is hiding behind those hands?

Read on and find out!

The title of Riesling Heroine / Hero that I award each year, no less than my choices of the best dry, medium-dry, medium-sweet and sweet Riesling of the year (scroll down to the the previous blog posting to see these), is all about daring and innovation. These are the most exciting new wines and the most exciting wine producer of the year. Sometimes the award winners were wonderful surprises for me, but often I saw them coming and followed their rise to the point where it became necessary and inevitable that they should be singled out for special praise.

Eva Fricke is my Riesling Heroine of 2016!

Eva Fricke of the eponymous winery in Eltville/Rheingau is my Riesling Heroine of 2016!

Exactly a decade ago she began commercial wine production from just a quarter of a hectare of Riesling vines in the then unknown Krone site of Lorch. Although she was not alone in committing to the steep vineyards of Lorch at the northern tip of the Rheingau at this time, it was her name that become synonymous with the Krone, Schlossberg and Seligmacher sites (the last of these in neighboring Lorchhausen). The reason this happened is also the reason that she must receive this award this year: the originality, brilliance and purity of aroma and flavors of her Rieslings. They are amongst the finest in the Rheingau region, and that’s saying something when you think that it is the most famous wine region of Germany and the most renowned Riesling wine region in the world.

I first heard of Eva Fricke back in 2003 when she worked for J.B.Becker in Walluf/Rheingau. Hajo Becker sang the praises of a 26 year old women from the Bremen area of Northern Germany, that is from a non-wine background, who had studied at the nearby Geisenheim wine university. However, I didn’t meet her until shortly after she had moved to Josef Leitz in Rüdesheim/Rheingau in 2004. There she was the winemaker responsible for a string of excellent vintages that built the international reputation of this winery. During that period this estate grew substantially both in vineyard area and bottled production.

It was while working there that she made the 2007 dry Riesling from the Krone site that turned me and a bunch of other people in the German wine scene onto her wines. It had aromas of lemon balm, white peach flint and wild herbs and somehow packed a stunning concentration of flavor into a breathtakingly sleek silhouette. It tasted like nothing else in the region. Getting from there to where she is today was a steep and stony path, littered with practical and personal challenges. Eva Fricke finally left Josef Leitz and went fully solo in 2011. Since 2015 she has made her wines at a brand new facility on the edge of Eltville, having previously worked in a historic cellar in Kiedrich. These kind of abrupt changes are rather typical for a successful German wine start-up though.

One of Eva Fricke's organically cultivated vineyards in Lorch

2015 – pictured above are some of those Riesling grapes – is Eva’s most consistent vintage to date, and every Riesling wine shines like a diamond. Although she has a reputation of being pricey, the 2015 Lorcher Riesling trocken is a stunning wine for just Euro 15.50 direct from the winery (via the email address below). If you want the stars of the vintage from Eva Fricke, then you will have to pay Euro 27 to 36 for the Schlossberg, Seligmacher and Krone single vineyard wines. They are on a par with the best Riesling GGs in the region, and 2015 is a great vintage for the Rheingau.

Congratulations Eva Fricke!

Weingut Eva Fricke,

Elisabethenstraße 6

D 65343 Eltville

Tel.: (49)/0 6123 703 658

Email: info@evafricke.com

Internet: www.evafricke.com

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 8 – My Best Rieslings of 2016

Andrew Hedley

Dr. Andrew Hedley

As each year this is the season when I pick my Riesling wines of the year in each of the four categories of the IRF Riesling Taste Profile: dry, medium-dry, medium-sweet and sweet. This year the best sweet Riesling is so amazing that it must come first. It is amazing value for money costing just 1% of what a Riesling TBA from Egon Müller-Scharzhof, the world’s most expensive (and possibly also most delicious) white wine would cost, so this isn’t a wine only for billionaires. Once again Riesling’s democratic and inclusive spirit triumphs!

Best Sweet Riesling: 2015 Riesling TBA “F” from Framingham Wines in Marlborough/New Zealand

Dr. Andrew Hedley, the winemaker of Framingham since 2001, really is the Dr. Riesling of New Zealand and this may be the most amazing of the many great sweet Rieslings he has made. There’s not a hint of the dried fruit aromas that usually dominate wines of this kind, instead it smells of fresh grapefruit, pear, acacia honey, jasmine and white tea (and normally I don’t write that kind of string of adjectives!) The freshness of this wine must be tasted to be believed, and the brilliant acidity masks much of the 25% natural grape sweetness that it contains making the wine uplifting. How can a wine this concentrated taste this light and refreshing? Theoretically that acidity should taste at least slightly rasping at this young age, however, the doesn’t-want-to-ever-end finish is positively silky. What more can I say? The wine is $49.99 for 37.5cl from www.klwines.com and if that’s too expensive, then the 2015 Riesling Auslese “F” from Framingham is also breathtaking and costs just $29,99 for 37.5cl.

August Deimel

August Deimel

Best Medium-Sweet Riesling: 2015 Vignoles from Keuka Spring Vineyards in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York/USA

For a couple of years August Deimel was the rising star winemaker of the FLX with worst ration of media attention to wine quality, but all that changed this year so I have to refer you to my e-book for Kindle Rock Stars of Wine America #3: FLXtra (see below) published before all that happened in order to stake some kind of shaky claim to having “discovered” August. The new wines from Keuka Spring that have made the most noise are his Gewürztraminers, closely followed by his unoaked Cabernet Franc red, then the Rieslings. For once I’m breaking my own rules in an utterly unacceptable manner and giving this award to a non-Riesling, because August’s 2015 Vignoles has a stunning pineapple nose and on the palate the kind of acidity-driven racy power that I usually associate with great Riesling Spätlese wines from Germany. Savor the erotic tension of this medium-sweet white, then swallow and count how outrageously long the finish of this beauty is! Just $14.99 from www.keukaspringwinery.com.

Chris Williams

Chris Williams

Best Medium-Dry Riesling: 2015 Brooks Estate Riesling from Brooks Wine in the Eola-Amity Hills in Oregon/USA

Chris Williams has been the winemaker of Brooks Wines since the sudden death of founder Jimi Brooks back in 2004. Although the main focus of the winery remains bone dry wines in the style that Jimi pioneered, in recent years he has successfully developed a range of additional wines that are less uncompromisingly dry. The 2015 Brooks Estate Riesling is not only the best of those, but also the most exciting Riesling I ever tasted from Oregon. The nose of white peach, fresh quince and herbs leaps out at you, but it is also dangerously subtle (beware all ye who enter, because it could suck you right in!) The concentration and hardcore minerality of this wine means that you barely notice the few grams of unfermented grape sweetness that are hiding in there somewhere. It’s a huge mouthful although it weighs in at a very conventional 12.5%, and the finish is rolling thunder! This wild beast from the volcanic Jory soil of the winery’s Estate Vineyard is only just beginning to stretch its wings and will soar for the next decade or more. $24 from www.brookswine.com.

Kelby Russell

Kelby Russell

Best Dry Riesling: 2015 The Knoll from Kelby Russell of Red Newt Cellars in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York/USA

No doubt I will be criticized for picking yet another wine from Kelby Russell as my Dry Riesling of 2016, but The Knoll is the most deliciously radical Riesling innovation in the FLX and the 2015 is the best vintage to date (2013 was the first). Beware the grapefruit and smoke that emanate from this glass! In spite of the gigantic energy of this wine that makes it seem to vibrate on your tongue, it is super-delicate and diamond-bright; another Riesling paradox! This won’t be released for about a year so you I’m afraid that you’ll have to be patient. However, the 2013 is drinking beautifully now and you can find it out there, for example for $35 at www.vintryfinewines.com in NYWC. For more about Kelby Russell and the new wines of the FLX see my Rock Stars of Wine America #3. Here’s the link to the Kindle Store. To read it all you need to do is to download the free Kindle app before ordering. ENJOY!

https://www.amazon.com/ROCK-STARS-WINE-AMERICA-FLXtra-ebook/dp/B01FBI0STS?ie=UTF8&keywords=stuart%20pigott&qid=1462714774&ref_=sr_1_1&s=digital-text&sr=1-1

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Bordeaux Wine Diary: Day 4 – The Blank Sheet

Léoville BartonI’m sitting in an office that looks like countless other offices in rural France – cream colored walls, filling cabinets and desks, a framed map of the company property on the wall – but I’m not just anywhere in rural France, I’m in Bordeaux (BDX), and I’m not anywhere in BDX either. The commune of St.Julien at Château Léoville Barton, one of the elite Grand Cru Classé properties in the Médoc; fame and fortune! I just finished a two-hour tasting of only six wines, Château Léoville Barton of the vintages from 2010 through 2015. What made that tasting absurdly time consuming? Why didn’t I just suck up all that good juice down, then wallow in it, instead of hunkering down and hammering away on my ageing MacBook Air in a corner of this office?

The simple answer is that shortly after I arrived in BDX I resolved I would treat the region and its wines as a blank page. That was at the breakfast early on Monday morning at Château Mauvesin Barton in the AOC of Moulis where I have been staying since Sunday evening. In fact, that isn’t anything else than my regular determination to treat each glass of wine I encounter as just that: another glass of wine that either tastes good or doesn’t. I was once told told by a rather important colleague that this is “empiricism”, a term thrown out with a pejorative tone, as if to say, “OK, young man, you might have a bunch of experience and be reasonably intelligent, but I can’t take you seriously!” For me empiricism means nothing but acknowledging how I experience the world – my truth – also that part of it in the wine glass – my truth in wine.

It felt good to make that resolution and I was quietly confident that I wouldn’t find it difficult to keep, because it isn’t difficult for me to do so on a regular basis in Berlin or New York. However, as soon as I started tasting I found it was much more of a struggle here in BDX. The problem is all the baggage in my head. Lugging that around is real hard work. In my case, this is the residue of all the great BDX red wines I drank during the last 35 years on the positive side, and various negative experiences I had in this region and with its wines, on the other side. At almost every moment I felt torn more in one direction or the other, and it was a real challenge to simply merely calm.

There will be more about both those things in the first of my forthcoming series of stories for the Grape Collective website about BDX, but in the meantime let’s continue along this diversion I’ve taken. Watch that space soon!

There’s also plenty of baggage just lying around this place, for example, the famous classification of the wine châteaux of 1855. The proposals various colleagues of mine made for a new classification or for an updating of the existing would only perpetuate the hierarchical structure that pervades the BDX wine industry. Undoubtedly, there are places in the region where it is much easier to make a great wine than others, because some vineyard locations make a sensational grape quality possible that can’t be obtained elsewhere, however well you tend the vines. However, the hierarchy of the 1855 and other classifications of the wines have nothing to do with nature and everything to do with the traditional nature of BDX and French society, in spite of the French Revolutionary principle of Égalité. Although the rigidity of that society has been significantly loosened in recent years you still bump into it. If I look at the way my colleagues are judging these wines, then I have to say most of them are following it some degree.

Jean-Pierre Foubet, Chasse Spleen

Given all that it was appropriate that the best discovery I made during this trip was Château Brans Grand Poujeaux in the AOC of Moulis en Médoc. It’s not even a Cru Bourgeois, the lowest rung of the hierarchy of wine estates here, but the wines are rich and subtle. Moulis has a history of bucking the system and to good effect. One of the first exciting young red BDX wines I tasted was the 1978 Château Chasse Spleen, also an unclassified wine estate in Moulis. While exploring Moulis yesterday it was striking how the wines of Chasse Spleen have maintained an astonishing stylistic consistency since then, always being sleek, fresh and dry and the quality slowly inched up too thanks to the work of director Jean-Pierre Foubet (pictured above) and his team. Around the corner at Château Poujeaux quality is also and the wines have a completely different style again, one that’s suave and elegant. With the 2011 vintage Château Mauvesin Barton became the fourth top producer in this AOC. Even the best recent vintage of all these wines can be found for under Euro 30 a bottle, or a slightly higher number if you’re paying in US$. See www.wine-searcher.com.

Another piece of baggage lying around is the global prejudice that BDX reds are expensive wines, but that turns out only to apply to about 3% of the production of this region: the famous and classified growths. However, even there the differences are huge. 2015 is an excellent vintage here (and most of the better wines will be bottled in a few months time) and the Léoville Barton I just tasted has a combination of ripe black fruit aromas, concentrated dry tannin and fresh acidity that creates an elegant and ravishing whole. You can buy it on futures for a little over Euro 60, and although that’s not cheap it’s certainly not wildly expensive.

Let’s put that in the crazy local context though. The rather lusher and slightly softer, more immediately appealing 2015 from neighboring Château Léoville Poyferré is also a very impressive wine in a more “modern” style for perhaps Euro 5 more per bottle. That seems like consistent pricing until you turn to the other Léoville in St. Julien: Château Léoville las Cases. It’s 2015 sells for about Euro 100 more than that per bottle. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you about that vintage, because the Château wouldn’t give me an appointment although I have only written positive things about their wines. That’s not the point here though. In BDX pricing is all about the classification (all three Léovilles are 2eme Grand Cru Classé) and reputation – Léoville las Cases has the highest of the trio. The Médoc Château with the best combination of classification – 1er Grand Cru Classé – and reputation is Lafite Rothschild in the commune of Pauillac immediately to the north of St. Julien. For a bottle of the 2015 vintage of that wine you’ll have to pay another Euro 300 more than the Léoville las Cases of the 2015 vintage. These situations only apply to the top 0.3% of Bordeaux wines though. As Abba famously sung, “Money, money money / Must be funny / In the rich man’s world.”

An old saying says that the higher you climb the further you can fall, and this is very true of this kind of wines. The effect on me of those highs (in wine prices) and those falls (when the taste doesn’t measure up to expectations) multiplied over 35 years are what I’ve been struggling with. The struggle has been well worth while though, and I managed enough calm to gather a lot of new impressions and get a lot of new ideas. However, time is running out to write the first of my BDX stories for Grape Collective…see you there soon.

ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 1 – WATCH YOUR BACK the Riesling Movie (Part One)

WATCH YOUR BACK

Although work on my movie was completed several months ago my thoughts have returned to it, because my producer and I recently submitted it for the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. We feel this would be an ideal venue for it given the unconventional nature of the work. Here is a brief introduction to the project which I began planning in 2013, and for which shooting and editing began in earnest early in 2014. Before leaving New York I did a small private screening for a group of friends and it was encouraging to hear how they found the result funny, but also informative and to see how well they responded to its distinctive style and tempo. Of course, not everyone will love it!

Of course, even the title of the documentary movie I made together with producer, editor and cameraman Klaus Lüttmer of Berlin in Germany will strike many people as abnormal. Either half of the title looks fine on its own, but the combination of the two halves is downright strange. That’s because the 65 minute movie tells a seriously strange story, and we felt it would be cruel to make viewers expecting a regular movie of the kind Hollywood churns out, when it’s actually light years removed from them.

Making this kind of movie wasn’t our intention at the beginning though. Then our goal was to make an entertaining 20-30 minute film about the Riesling grape, its wines and the global network of fans who drink and celebrate them. I’m a British wine journalist living in Berlin and New York and Klaus, who also makes wine in the Ex-East Germany, felt that I would provide a colorful anchor. Believe me, we wanted to tell a seductive tale of wine and food, funky winemakers and beautiful wine regions scattered around the world. However, the unexpected and shocking events that unfolded during the shooting swept us along in a gonzo direction far removed from our original plan. Or would you call it normal that some fans of one kind of wines threaten the lives of certain fans of another kind of wine?

We live in strange times and WATCH YOUR BACK – The Riesling Movie (Part 1) explores this situation with brutal honesty. When Klaus and I began shooting in New York City and Berlin in 2013 Klaus Lüttmer and I were rather naïve, but it wasn’t long before we realized that our movie could only end up being a dark and disturbing tale drenched in fear and paranoia. Sometimes that made it exciting to work on, but at other times I literally feared for my life as a group of fanatical Chardonnay fans pursued me across America from Venice Beach in LA to Manhattan in New York. Were they only trying to frighten me off promoting Riesling, or were they seriously intending to rub me out? It wasn’t clear.

A number of things made that last possibility seem plausible. The booming American wine market of the early 21st century was the scene of battle for market share and Riesling enjoyed a sustained renaissance there that culminated in a “Summer of Riesling” being celebrated each year in bars and restaurants coast to coast. On the other hand there are almost 100,000 acres planted with Chardonnay in California and the producers of the big brands of these wines form a lobby who didn’t welcomed any of this. No doubt they would have been delighted if all the Riesling advocates had been spooked into silence. Maybe the fanatics making up the self-styled Chardonnay International Army (CIA) were operating without industry support or financing, but their actions appeared to meet with the tacit approval of the Chardonnay lobby.

The prime motive of Klaus Lüttmer and I was to record these events in a form that accurately reflected their nature. Shooting “from the hip” with cameras small enough not to attract attention was often a matter of necessity, but as this strategy developed we quickly came to relish the edgy look it gave our movie. The fact that I ended up shooting large sections of the movie myself – I have a BA in Fine Art from a London art college, but I’m not a trained cameraman – accentuated the grungy aesthetic we locked ourselves into.

However discrete I tried to be about that material my activity with the camera was noticed by the thugs who were trying to intimidate me. To our horror this inspired them to send us a series of videos that made their threats gruesomely explicit. Fearing that it would only enrage them further we bit the bullet and included this material in our movie. It makes an extreme counterpoint to the thoughtful analysis of the development of the global wine industry provided by experts like economist Dr. Karl Storchmann of NYU, but this also seemed to say something important about the contemporary wine world. Wanting to include all those facets made the movie stretch and stretch until we reached 65 minutes.

The result is totally different from other recent documentaries on wine subjects such as Somm (dir. Jason Wise, 2013) or American Wine Story (dir. David Baker, 2014). Nor is there much similarity between our movie and the feature films Sideways (dir. Alexander Payne, 2004) or Bottle Shock (dir. Randall Miller, 2008). Our recommendation is that you see it and if you end up cheering for Riesling, then watch your back!

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