Author Archives: Stuart

Israel Riesling Diary: Day 10 – Revelation in Tel Aviv

Many apologies for the long radio silence, which was not planned. Unfortunately there were internet problems at my hotels in Jerusalem and on the Dead Sea. Then I got back to this internet paradise in Even Yehuda too late last night to put this posting online. 

During my ten days in Israel there have been many surprises, the great majority of which were positive or at least amusing, and there were also some unexpected Israel Riesling Moments (IRMs). However, none of these came close to the moment of revelation yesterday in the Tel Aviv restaurant Hashulhan at the global Riesling tasting organized by Eldad Levy of Boutique de Champagnes. I always enjoy sharing good and great Riesling with a group of interested wine drinkers, but this was just one aspect of the evening. The 2013 Riesling which winemaker Doron Rav Hon, pictured above, brought with him from his Sphera winery was nothing short of mind-blowing and third Ultimate IRM made my entire trip to Israel worth while.

If you had told me before I tasted this wine that it would be possible to produce a delicately aromatic Riesling with enormous freshness and a Mosel-like balance of juicy sweetness and racy acidity in the Mediterranean climate of Israel I would have told you that this must be completely impossible. However, Doron Rav Hon has succeeded in doing exactly this by finding a really cool site, precise use of irrigation water to encourage aroma formation, and picking early enough to have a ton of natural acidity. This wine, which is the first vintage of Riesling, from his all white wine winery (in Israel!), has notes of floral and dripping leaves, which for me are amongst the most noble Riesling aromas. It is so delicate and filigree in flavor, the balance of sweetness, acidity and those great aromatics so expertly judged that I guessed its alcoholic content to be 10% or below, although it is actually 13%.    I can’t wait to taste his other white wines. A star is born!


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Israel Riesling Diary: Day 5 – The Other Wine Israel

No doubt, I’m not the first to comment upon the way a lot of Israeli wines are now well made, but taste pretty much like a bunch of wines made in the so-called “New World”. The modern Israeli wine industry isn’t as old as those of California, Australia or Chile, never mind South Africa (founded in 1659), and given how recent the reorientation towards the production of dry table wines here, perhaps it’s not surprising that much of the industry adopted models from over the seas and far away instead of from the nearby nations around the Mediterranean that have a broadly similar climate. This is the main reason why the fruit-driven and lush wine styles that dominate in most of the “New World” wine countries also dominated here until recently. It was also easier to focus on the grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay that are well-known to consumers at home and around Planet Wine, rather than to take the more risky path of committing themselves (vines live 30 years plus) to more obscure grape varieties that are possibly better-suited to the Israeli climate. However, that is now changing fast.

There was a pioneer for this, and for much else, who remains at the cutting edge of the process of redefining what Israeli wine can be. He is the larger-than-life Zeev Dunie, the founder of Seahorse winery in Moshav bar Giora up in the Judean Hills, pictured  above. I say all this although Seahorse produces a number of exciting wines that have nothing directly to do with the Mediterranean region, like the ‘James’ dry Chenin Blanc, one of the best wines I’ve tasted made from this grape outside it’s homeland in the Loire/France. I can’t begin to explain how barrel-fermentation and extended lees contact leads to a dry white this fresh, as well as texturally exciting and aromatically complex. No less remarkable is the ‘Lennon’ Zinfandel, which has more vitality than this variety has in California, with which it is most closely associated, but every bit as much spice as a Zin from Sonoma or Paso Robles. Every wine from Seahorse that I’ve tasted here, regardless of its color or type, had as much personality as their maker, even if I wasn’t wowed by every one of them. In fact, I think it’s ridiculous to expect that from any winemaker and if it did happen, then it would make me a bit skeptical.

The photograph of Zeev above shows the former film director in front of his freshly harvested Counois grapes, a “lesser” Southern Rhône variety that he feels may have an important role in adding subtlety to his Grenache and Syrah-based red blends. He’s also exploring the possibilities of Cinsault, another grape that features in many Chateauneuf du Pape reds. Our visit was the first time I’d tasted both of these varieties as grapes, rather than as elements of blended red wines. The Cinsault grapes had surprisingly little flavor, while the Counois were off the other end of the taste-intensity scale and reminded me a bit of certain North American wild grapes I’ve tasted. Somebody has to do this practical research and Zeev Dunie’s non-intervention winery seems to me to be an ideal place. Before this work is done nobody will know if ignoring these grape varieties has meant a significant loss to the Israeli wine industry. It is part of the long, elliptical and exciting process of figuring out what grape varieties works best here, that is what gives the most interesting and distinctive top quality wines, as well as what gives the most pleasing everyday wines. At the moment many of those new wines aren’t well-known, much less mainstream, but they are making waves that will expand on the surface of the global wine pond and, in the long-term, completely change the image of Israeli wines.



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Israel Riesling Diary: Day 3 – The Taste of the Future

This blog rarely devotes a great deal of space and praise to red wines based on Cabernet Sauvignon and the other so-called Bordeaux grapes, because many of those wines are already showered with (well-earned or ill-deserved) praise, and some of them are also grossly over-priced due to their prime role as the fetish objects of wine cults and investment commodities. Today at the cellars of the Margalit estate in Binyamina I encountered the best Israeli wines I ever tasted, and they were all made exclusively or primarily from those Bordeaux red grape varieties. Pictured above is the father (Dr. Yair Margalit, right) and son (Asaf Margalit, left) team responsible for these remarkable wines.

What makes them so special? As the Margalits explained to me, the problem in Israel is not to ripen the grapes, rather to avoid getting jammy over-ripe aromas and flavors in the wines, but to end up with beautiful ripe flavors, and in the case of red wines, the right kind of tannins. On the basis of today’s tasting I’d say they have been doing this with great success since 2000, the oldest vintage we tasted. All the Margalit red wines have great harmony and subtlety, never being even slightly rustic, much less loud or overly demonstrative. At one point I asked myself, which do I really prefer, the  2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2012 Petit Verdot or the 2011 Cabernet Franc? Not only did I fail to reach a decision by the end of my visit, the list of those favorites had grown to include the super-elegant 2008 ‘Enigma’ ( a cuvée of those Bordeaux grape varieties). However, by that time I had realized how Margalit Snr. and Jr. have thought through and explored a great many of the possibilities of this wine style. Their answer to the question how wines of this kind should taste is one of the most convincing on Planet Wine, not just in Israel.

The Margalits have opened up new possibilities for Israeli winemakers, not least the possibility not to define themselves solely as Kosher wine producers (I have nothing against Kosher wines), rather to see themselves firstly as makers of excellent Israeli wines. This is something which inspires the new generation of winemakers like Yael Sandler of nearby Binyamina Winery, one of Israel’s largest producers of Kosher wines. 2014 is her first vintage in Israel after getting into wine while working in one of Gordon Ramsey’s restaurants in London, then studying winemaking in Australia, and finally working both in the Australian and in South African wine industries.

Like many of her generation, she is trying to make wines with more freshness and vitality than those of the past, and from the cask samples (some still fermenting) of the 2014s I tasted at Binyamina (where it is her first vintage) I’d say that she is already well down the path to that goal. This will surely help Israeli wines achieve wider international recognition, since it will make them taste less like correctly made “New World” wines and more like wines from an old land with a new and distinctive personality. I can’t wait to taste her 2014s after they are bottled. Watch out Wide Wine World, Israel is coming!

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Israel Riesling Diary: Day 2 – They Don’t They Make Them Like These Anywhere Else on Planet Wine?

Why don’t winemakers elsewhere make Cabernet Franc Blanc de Noir or blend Gewürztraminer with Sauvignon Blanc like Tulip Winery does?

This is David Bar-Ilan, the winemaker of Tulip winery since the 2012 vintage. He didn’t come up with idea of blending Gewürztraminer with Sauvignon Blanc to make the bone dry ‘White Tulip’ of Tulip Winery with it’s wonderfully vibrant bouquet of grapefruit and discrete tropical fruit notes, but he was the man who perfected it’s seriously refreshing personality (with just 12.5% alcoholic content!) that perfectly fits the Mediterranean climate of Israel. He also didn’t come up with the idea of making a Blanc de Noirs from Cabernet Franc and a dash of Sauvignon Blanc to add crispness to ‘White Franc’ and balance the hint of grape sweetness in this wine from Tulip Winery, but he perfected the style and color (see the photo below) of that wine too.

Actually Tulip Winery, an hour’s drive north of Tel Aviv on the inland side of the northern tip of the Carmel Mountains, is best known for its red wines. Quite rightly so, for they are technically impeccable and full of personality right across the range from the fruit-driven and supple, modestly-priced 2012 ‘Just Merlot’ right up to the imposing and tannic, but still elegant (in spite of 15.5%) 2011 ‘Black Tulip’, a red blend that doesn’t quite fit into any of the established international stylistic categories.

It was a difficult tasting for David, because his right-hand man in the press house kept bringing samples of the 2014 red wine that was being pressed right then for him to follow the progress of the pressing, and he had to make some important decisions about it. Then, just as we reached the last of the red wines in the tasting, a truck loaded with French Columbard grapes (some of the last of this year’s harvest) rolled up. That’s the reality of the sharp end of winemaking!

All of this was quite a contrast to my first Israeli Riesling Moment (IRM) and an astonishing choc-non-choc experience at the Imperial Craft Cocktail lounge in Tel Aviv. Not that I expected any of this when we parked the car, because this bar is in the Imperial Hotel located in an odd part of Downtown Tel Aviv. The electrical system of the building next to the parking lot where we left the car was hanging out all over the facade like so much spilled guts. Across the road was an historic building that was in a depressing state of dusty decay and boarded up as a result. That nullified the effect of the astonishing news that this had just been voted the best cocktail bar in the Middle East and Africa – interesting, but so what? Once I got into the imperial all of this was instantly forgotten.

This photo is one of my many attempts to capture the atmosphere in the Imperial, I think the best, because other images my be slightly sharper (I mean more in focus), but they don’t quite capture the civilized, urban hedonism of this remarkable bar. Not being a cocktail person, and being too thirsty to risk refreshment through a high-alcohol cocktail, I decided to order a glass of white wine before I moved on to one of their complex creations. Then the IRM happened. “Do you want Sancerre or Riesling?” asked the barman and, of course – what else could I do? – I went for the latter. It turned out to be the ‘Dr. L.’ from Dr. Loosen on the Mosel, and it was indeed as titanically refreshing as I had hoped it would be. Then I was in exactly the right mood to move on to the ‘Tobago’ cocktail pictured below.

Although the ‘Tobago’ contains no chocolate at all it had an aroma which reminded me totally of the best Venezuelan bitter chocolate (e.g. Domori Puerto Mar). And I loved the presentation which half-pretended that it was a cup of coffee, and half-pretended that it was some kind of exotic chocolate-based chai. I apologize for the quality of the photo, but the low lighting in the Imperial pushed my new camera (an Olympus Pen EP-5) to the limits of its capability. This comes with the territory if you are a hard-core blogger trying to capture things as they happen in their full unruly and mind-bending “thisness”. If you want to do that seriously, then you need to roll with those punches and hit those curveballs, somehow. But, to be honest, that’s great training for life as a whole.

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Israel Riesling Diary: Day 1 (Part 2) – Living Together

This is the sunset at Jaffa, on the southern edge of Downtown Tel Aviv, and as you can see it has an orange glow. That makes complete sense to the child in me, because when that child was all of me in London during the 1960s one of my absolute favorite things was the Jaffa Cake chocolate and orange biscuit. As beautiful as this image is, it cannot compare with the most beautiful thing that I experienced today, but no single photo, or even, a short series could do that. I’m referring to the entirely peaceful intermingling of (mostly young) Israelis and Arabs on and around the Tel Aviv beach. This is something that none of the countless press reports about Israeli life I read during the months between deciding that I would come to Israel and stepping out of the plane just over 24 hours ago. The only aggression I experienced was between two Israeli car drivers trying to go in opposite directions along the narrow harbor side road in Jaffa who got stuck into a stupid macho face-off.

By lunchtime I’d realized that the Israelis and  the Palestinan Arabs are about as different as oranges and lemons – two fruits that are so closely related that some varieties of one look more like the other – so above is a picture of lemons. They’re preserved lemons at Manta Ray Restaurant where we had a delicious lunch. With it we drank a glass of the ‘Cuvée Blanc’ from Flam winery, which I’ll be visiting later on during my visit. It is the perfect answer to those people who say things like, “Israel can produce some good reds, but the climate is totally wrong for white wines.” In just 24 hours I’ve come to the conclusion that although Israel may be a small country (about the size of New Jersey, I think), it is far too complex to be reduced to any simple description along the lines of, “Israel is…”

Even the oranges and lemons metaphor I introduced above is way too limiting, so I thought I’d throw another fruit into the mix. I drank the sweet, tart and slightly tannic juice of these pomegranates as a mid-morning refreshment outside the Baroque Catholic Church of Jaffa. While I drank it, and thought about how the apple in the Garden of Eden was probably actually a pomegranate, I noticed that on the recently modernized square in front of the church I saw a sculpture by the British artist Henry Moore from the 1950s and a cannon that had been used in Jaffa during the Ottoman period (1515 – 1917). Here the religions and historical periods mingle in a way they don’t either in New York or Berlin. And in spite of all these realizations, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of this crossroads of so many cultures and eras.


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Israel Riesling Diary: Day One – UNIS Spectacular!

Last night I arrived in Israel for the first time. It’s my worst jet lag in years, perhaps because I’m used to those 6-8 hour flights back and forth across the Atlantic. Flying east for more then 10 hours threw me, and it’s a long time since I’ve been in a mediterranean-type summer. Then we headed to the local gas station in Even Yehuda, a short drive north of Tel Aviv, but not for gas, to put more air in the tires or even a car wash. No, we were there for a restaurant called UNIS, and the local food was spectacular!

The humus (the plate with the chick peas swimming in olive oil) was the most delicious that I ever had, delicate in flavor with a creamy-dreamy texture.

I feel sorry that the bread is only partially seen in this image, because it was also something special. No doubt, I ate too much of it and everything else on the table too!

Yes, these are a kind of shish kebabs, or rather several kinds of them. The one I liked best was the chicken hearts, something I’d never had cooked this way before.

And, no, yesterday I drank no wine of any kind. Two small beers plus all this food were enough to knock me out for almost 11 hours.

The wine tasting starts tomorrow, so please be patient! My apologies in advance for any names I spell incorrectly. This is bound to happen.


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WEINHIER – Gunderloch 2013 Rothenberg GG über Alles

Martin Zwick führt in Berlin einen Wein-Salon, in dessen Rahmen aus Fachleuten und Weinfans zusammengesetzte Jurys die jahrgangsbesten Riesling GGs, Gutsrieslinge, Riesling-Kabinett-Weine und Spätburgunder GGs küren. Außerdem  schreibt Martin Zwick für seinen Wein- und Genussblog Heute berichtet er als Gastautor über den BerlinRiesling Cup 2014, bei dem einige der besten 2013 GGs  blind verkostet wurden. Meine Meinung deckt sich nicht immer mit der von Martin Zwick.

Stuart Pigott

Am 28. September fand wieder der alljährliche “BerlinRieslingCup” statt. Ich präsentierte 36 Top Trockene Rieslinge des Jahrgangs 2013 einer Gruppe von Sommeliers, Journalisten, Weinhändler, Blogger und Riesling-Liebhaber.

Aber wie hat alles angefangen?! Es begann in 2007 mit einem Probenpaket vom Weingut Keller aus Rheinhessen. Natürlich wollte ich die Grossen Gewächse nicht alleine trinken, sondern hab mir dann Freunde dazu eingeladen. Über die Jahre sind es dann mehr Weine geworden und auch die Jury hat sich verändert. Sie wechselt jedes Jahr aufs Neue. Die flights werden übrigens inzwischen von einem externen Experten zusammengestellt, zuletzt Caro Maurer/MW, David Schildknecht/Ex-WA, Sascha Speicher/Meininger Verlag, Carsten Henn/VINUM etc. Die Weine werden blind in 2er flights serviert und jedem Verkoster stehen 2 ZALTO Universalgläser zur Verfügung. Die Weine werden in der Regel ein Tag vor der Verkostung geöffnet, einfach nur die Korken gezogen.  Die Weine suche ich auf Basis meiner Verkostungen bei der VDP-GG-Vorpremiere Ende August in Wiesbaden und Berlin aus. Dazu kommen noch Anregungen von Freunden bzw. Journalisten und unbekannte Jungwinzer gebe ich auch immer die Chance sich zu bewähren.

Beim “BerlinRieslingCup” präsentierten sich sämtliche Großen Gewächse 2013 durch die Bank als würdige Vertreter ihrer Gattung und in der Spitze sind ein paar richtig große Weine entstanden.  Es sind präzise, pure, bodengeprägte Langstreckenläufer mit prägnanter Säure. Niemand am Verkostungstisch klagte über zu viel Säure oder zu wenig Extrakt. Der Jahrgang reiht sich ein in die Reihe großer kühler Jahrgänge wie 2004&2008&2010. Alle drei Jahrgänge brillieren immer wieder bei großen Vertikalen. Zuletzt vor einem Monat bei einer GG-Vertikale der Weingüter A. Christmann, Rebholz, Wittmann und auch vor 1-2 Jahren bei Keller in Rheinhessen.

Gewinner-Region war eindeutig Rheinhessen. Interessanterweise scheint dieser Jahrgang ein Jahr des Rotliegenden zu sein. In vielen Jahrgängen zuvor waren stark kalkhaltige Böden die Top-Scorer beim Berlin Riesling Cup. Dieses Jahr gingen die Gold-, Silber- und Bronzemedaillen an Rieslinge, die auf rotem Schiefer / Rotliegendem gewachsen sind. Diese Böden heizen sich tagsüber richtig auf und geben in der Nacht die Wärme wieder ab. In heißen Jahrgängen ist das gelegentlich zu viel des Guten, doch in kühleren Jahrgängen wie 2013, wo Trauben und Winzer um ihre vollständige physiologische Reife kämpfen müssen – ein klarer strategischer Vorteil.

Klarer Gewinner  war das rheinhessische Weingut Gunderloch mit dem 2013 “Rothenberg” GG. Der junge Johannes Hasselbach stürmt mit Verve nach vorne.

Hier die Ergebnisliste der besten 20 Trockenen Rieslinge aus 2013:

1 Gunderloch Rothenberg GG

2 Kühling-Gillot Rothenberg GG

3 Emrich-Schönleber Frühlingsplätzchen GG

4 Wagner-Stempel Höllberg GG

5 Kühling-Gillot Pettenthal GG

6 Keller Westhofen (Ortswein)

7 von Winning Kalkofen GG

8 Karl Haidle Pulvermächer GG

9 Keller Morstein GG

10 Wittmann Brunnenhäuschen GG

11 Dönnhoff Hermannshöhle GG

12 Keller Pettenthal GG

13 Pfaffmann-Wageck Goldberg

14 Jakob Jung Siegelsberg GG

15 Dr. Loosen Erdener Prälat GG

16 Reichsrat von Buhl Ungeheuer GG

17 Emrich-Schönleber Halenberg GG

18 Robert Weil Gräfenberg GG

19 Schlossgut Diel Burgberg GG

20 Heymann-Löwenstein Uhlen Laubach GG

Es gab natürlich auch Weine die sich an dem Abend nicht so stark präsentierten, wie zuletzt noch vor 3-4 Wochen. Aber so ist das manchmal mit großen Weinen bzw. wie der österr. Winzer  Lucas Pichler es mal so treffend formuliert hat  “Große Weine müssen nicht immer und zu jeder Zeit gut sein”. Zu erwähnen wäre da der  ”Schwarzer Herrgott” von Battenfeld-Spanier, “Morstein” von Wittmann, “Burgberg” von Schlossgut Diel,  ”Idig” von A. Christmann etc.  In 10 Jahren könnten sie allerdings vorne mitspielen. Es gab auch Weine die an dem Abend polarisierten, wie jedesmal das “Felseneck” von Schäfer-Fröhlich. Dessen Sponti-Noten sind typisch für die Rieslinge von Tim Fröhlich, in diesem Jahrgang treten sie noch prägnanter auf wegen der niedrigen pH-Werte des Jahrgangs. Aber keine Sorge, das Kind schielt nicht, es muß so gucken. Die Rieslinge von Schäfer-Fröhlich sind extreme Langstreckenläufer und werden sich bestens entwickeln.

Die Jungwinzer haben sich ebenfalls  prächtig geschlagen, Platz 8 für das Weingut Karl Haidle mit dem “Pulvermächer” GG aus Württemberg, Platz 13 für Wageck-Pfaffmann “Goldberg” aus der Pfalz und auch Katrin Wind “Kalmit” ebenfalls aus der Pfalz wird noch für viel Furore sorgen.  Positiv auch das Erscheinungsbild der Region RHEINGAU. Da geht jetzt endlich die Post ab. Die Weingüter Achim von Oetinger, Jakob Jung, Balthasar-Ress und auch die Etablierten wie Weil, Schloss Johannisberg etc. geben richtig Gas.

Und noch ein paar Worte zum Jahrgangs- bzw. GG-Verriss. Vollkommener Quatsch! JA, die 2013er sind in diesem frühen Stadium nicht einfach zu verkosten, sie wirken manchmal doch recht unnahbar bzw. abweisend. Und natürlich ist nicht alles Gold was glänzt, aber in der Spitze gibt es herausragende Rieslinge in 2013.

Fotos: Markus Vahlefeld

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 26 – FLX Top Secret

However well you think you know the wines of a region there’s always another surprise out there waiting to make you fall off your chair, and that’s the real reason that I do this strange, ridiculous, arduous and fantastic job. As those of you who follow me on twitter (@PigottRiesling) already know, last weekend I was in the Finger Lakes (FLX) on a Top Secret mission, and this involved exactly zero wine tasting. After I arrived on Friday afternoon, I had to concentrate on that mission to the exclusion of all else, and thankfully it appears to have been successful. All will be revealed when I know if that impression turns out to be correct. When I’d done all I could, I realized that there were a couple of hours “free”, so I headed out to Red Tail Ridge winery between Geneva and Penn Yan on the western bank of Seneca Lake. I’d already tasted a couple of good wines from this producer, but I hadn’t got a clear picture of the winery and its products, because the time interval between those experiences had been rather large. In my experience, this always makes it difficult to come to a conclusion, so there was no substitute for tasting a long row of the wines in all one go at some point; better sooner than later.

At 3pm on Saturday afternoon the Red Tail Ridge tasting room was hopping and I was lucky they could fit me in at one of the three tasting tables. I was already impressed by the 2013 “Sans” unoaked Chardonnay and the barrel fermented Chardonnays, which are both very honest and well made wines with far better balance than a slew of the competitors from the West Coast. Then, when I got to the Rieslings they figured out who I am and suddenly there was the winemaker Nancy Irelan (pictured above with her husband Mike). Together we tasted the 7 different (!) Rieslings ranging from properly dry up to dessert and they were all pristine, aromatic and elegant.

How many FLX winemakers are equally talented at making dry Riesling as making sweet wines from my favorite grape? Very few and Fred Merwarth of Hermann J. Wiemer heads that short list, which means that Nancy is in the very best company! How does the California native who founded this winery just a decade ago do that? Attitude and attention to detail are the answers, I think. As she told me, “drinking a glass of wine should be seamless. It shouldn’t interrupt the conversation or anything else you’re doing.” Note Nancy’s omission of the obsessive-compulsive, pseudo-science of wine pairings and her mention of that old-fashioned analog activity, conversation.

Then she poured the 2012 Pinot Noir and 2012 Blaufränkisch, which were two of the most expressive and polished red wines I ever tasted from the FLX. There were no green aromas in either of these wines, no edgy tannins (Blaufränkisch easily gets those in regions as cool as this), no inkiness or chewiness due to over-extraction (frequent Pinot Noir problems in this region) that distracted from the positive aromas and flavors, much less excessive oak masking those things. Red winemakers of the FLX please take note that this is your stairway to red wine heaven; forget power, go for balance and fragrance!

On top of this, Red Tail Ridge is the most energy-efficent winery I ever saw (I mean anywhere on Planet Wine), exclusively using geothermal energy. The investment in that technology was considerable, which requires a leap of faith that few are willing to make, but the payback can be enormous. This system paid for itself in just two and a half years and the monthly energy costs for the cellar are below $500. That’s something not only the local wine industry could learn from.

PS If you already found out what my FLX secret, either by chance or deduction, please don’t spread it around, but please spread the word about these joyful FLX wines!


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 22 – My Answer to Jancis Robinson’s Question, “Will Riesling ever catch on?”

Riesling grapes in Cave Spring Vineyard in Ontario, Canada. Riesling is in the process of overtaking Chardonnay to became the No. 1 white vinifera grape variety in Ontario.

Jancis Robinson’s just posted a story called ‘Riesling – will it ever catch on?’ that addresses the central theme of this blog and of my recently published book BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH – The Riesling Story (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) and therefore has to be answered. From the title it’s clear that she feels deeply skeptical about our favorite grape’s chances, an impression the full text completely confirms.  Coincidentally, during the last weeks I was thinking a lot about why Riesling hasn’t been doing better recently in certain markets, so I’m glad to have been prodded into getting my thoughts out there.

It seems to me that just as Riesling is a many-sided wine in terms of its taste characteristics – from feather-light to ton-heavy, from bone-dry to honey-sweet and every conceivable combination of those things – it is also many different things to many different people in many different places. A glance at the vineyard statistics confirms this on the production side, the numbers telling a very different story in each winegrowing region and nation where Riesling plays a significant role.

In Australia, for example, in spite of all the changes in image, marketing and styles for the entire wine industry during the last decades, (which enormous fluctuations up and down), the Riesling vineyard area has remained remarkably stable for almost half a century. Bone-dry wines have also remained the dominant style for the grape. Riesling seems as firm a feature of the Australian landscape as Uluru, and no other country on Planet Wine confirms to this pattern.

The situation in the US is an utterly different one, Riesling having been completely overtaken by the explosive growth in the popularity and vineyard area of grapes like Chardonnay and Merlot during the 1970s and ‘80s. Then, largely under the radar, Riesling has grown remarkably since the turn of the century due to dramatically improved winemaking, grass roots interest (also far outside the cool East and West Coast cities) and a healthy dash of guerilla marketing. This story is all about the American spirit of innovation.

Pictured below is Mike Beneduce of Beneduce Vineyards in Pittstown, New Jersey for whom 2013 was the first vintage of estate vineyard Riesling. I did his Blaufränkisch too!

Sure, there are global trends in wine consumption, but even when exactly the same wines are being drunk around the globe, they are drunk in different ways in different cultures and mean different things to those very diverse drinkers.  This strikes me as being at odds with Jancis Robinson’s conclusion that a world-wide Riesling bubble, which was only ever partially inflated has burst, because, “Riesling just has too strong a personality to appeal to enough consumers to gain global traction.” Sure, Riesling hasn’t grown in every market lately and has fallen back a bit in some places as moods and fashions have changed, but even in those places it isn’t hard to find elements of the global Riesling network. That, as much as the wines from the best white wine grape on earth, is the subject of this blog and my book.

Globalization, in the sense of truly global trade, dates back almost exactly 450 years, (see Charles C. Mann’s book 1493). However, its new instantaneous electronic form has obviously radically changed what that word means very fast. Even in the 21st century wine is a cumbersome product to transport, so it’s remarkable how it has become part of global-social-media-pop-culture. Even more extraordinary to me is how “little” Riesling (not quite 1% of the global vineyard area) has been particularly successful at this. In contrast, Cabernet Sauvignon has not done well as a social media phenomenon, rather the wines of that grape seem locked in rigid hierarchical structures that prevent them creating a viral buzz. I feel sure that the lack of a global community of Cabernet winemakers (unlike either Pinot Noir or Riesling) and the high prices and elitist image of many of the wines reinforce this effect.

My guess is, that it is precisely because Riesling is so open to different uses and interpretations that it has been able to connect with so many people in so many places. The generally modest prices and free global exchange of ideas amongst winemakers clearly encourage the feeling that Riesling is a democratic wine to spread. Only older consumers who have a fixed notion of Riesling as sweet and bland, and younger status-orientated consumers who take their cues from the older generation (in order to feel secure in their judgments, I think), seem completely unable to find a new use or positive interpretation for Riesling. As Jancis Robinson rightly notes, she and other writers can only have a rather modest influence upon these deeply-seated prejudices.

Why do those consumers cling to an outdated idea of what Riesling is? I think the answer is that it is often linked to a macho conviction these mostly male consumers have that they knows about wine in some decisive or even absolute sense. What they actually know is a particular conception of wine that more or less fitted reality at some now rather distant point in time, usually the late 20th century which was dominated by Chrdonnay, then big reds. All those Parker points only reinforced this, even after wine fashions and styles had begun moving in very different directions (elegant, more aromatic dry whites and fresher less inky reds). As the Canadian media philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously said, most of the time most of us see the world within the comforting frame of the rear-view mirror, rather than through the windshield.

Pictured right is Peter and Brigitte Pliger’s ‘Kaiton’ Riesling from the Eisaktal/Val d’Isarco in Südtirol/Alto Adige. Anyone who wants to know how minerality in wine tastes is recommended this Italian Riesling (and yes, it is a real Riesling, not a Riesling Italico). I was never able to buy a bottle of this wine from the them, because it was always sold out, so I was bowled over to find it on the list at Hearth Restaurant in New York where this picture was taken.  Seen through the bottle is Janie Brooks Heuck of Brooks Wines in Oregon, one of that state’s leading Riesling producers. The 2003 Willamette Valley dry Riesling from Brooks was one of the most exciting white wines I tasted this year!

I think there’s a logical conclusion to all this, which is that the more an individual, group or culture is open to the taste of wine (and what it can do for the drinker) the better Riesling tends to do.  The more they are ruled by ideas of status and/or ”face”, the greater the uphill struggle that the wines will have, and in extreme cases that might be like the North Face of the Eiger. Perhaps this is why, as Jancis rightly points out, Riesling does so well in Norway.

Let’s have a closer look at Norway. On the 2014 United Nations Human development index it places first (compare with the US fifth and the UK 14th). The Economist Intelligence unit produces a Democracy Index every two years and in the 2012 edition Norway was first (compare with UK 16th and US 21st). Reporters Without Border publishes a world press freedom index and Norway is 3rd in the latest edition (compare with the UK 33rd and the US 46th). When I went to Norway in 2007 I certainly didn’t like everything I found, but the openness of many, many people was remarkable. That is the kind of air which Riesling likes to breathe and in which it flourishes.

By the way, none of the world’s leading Riesling producers have much problem selling out each year and even I have to be sharp in order to buy some wine directly from German winemakers like Helmut Dönnhoff in Oberhausen, Nahe and Klaus-Peter Keller in Flörsheim-Dalsheim, Rheinhessen, or their colleagues in Australia like Jeffrey Grosset of Clare Valley and Hermann J. Wiemer of the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York.



WEINHIER – Wie zwei Moselwinzer die Herausforderungen des Jahrgangs 2013 meistern von Frank Ebbinghaus

Man mag es ja nicht ständig wiederholen, obwohl man ja doch immer mit der Nase drauf stößt, wenn man sich einen Wein des aktuellen Jahrgangs eingeschenkt hat: 2013 war schwierig, sehr schwierig sogar. Was eigentlich nichts anderes bedeutet als: ziemlich unübersichtlich. Da gibt es brachiale Interpretationen von Terroirweinen, die derzeit keine Freude bereiten. Dann aber auch Weingüter, deren Erzeugnissen man nichts anmerkt von Reifeproblemen, Säureschauern oder Fäulnisdruck. Winzer, deren Kollektionen wunderbar strahlen, keinen Schwachpunkt aufweisen und jedem Weinfan nur dringend ans Herz gelegt werden können. Obwohl diese Erzeuger von sich nicht behaupten können, 2013 meteorologisch begünstigt gewesen zu sein. Nein, auch sie mussten große Opfer in Kauf nehmen. Aber sie haben dabei vor allem an ihre Kundinnen und Kunden gedacht. Und alles daran gesetzt, ihnen die bestmögliche – und genussreichste – Qualität zu offerieren.

Die Opfer sind womöglich dort am größten (und schlagen betriebswirtschaftlich am schwersten ins Kontor), wo die Rebfläche am kleinsten ist. Small mag ja beautiful sein. Aber 2013 war es der Horror. Christoph Schaefer (rechts im Bild oben, links sitzt Vater Willi), Junior-Chef des renommierten Weinguts Willi Schaefer (Graach/Mosel) hat das bei meinem Besuch im Juni 2014  so nicht gesagt, aber ab und an vielsagend süß-sauer gelächelt. Ein Blick auf die Weinpreisliste spricht Bände: Sie stammt von März 2014 und trägt hinter jeder Position den Vermerk „ausverkauft“, obwohl die Weine erst ab 1. Juli 2014 verfügbar waren – ein dramatisches Zeichen großer Ertragseinbußen. Das Große Gewächs oder überhaupt einen trockenen Wein sucht man vergebens. Das ist das Resultat einer Qualitätsphilosophie, die im Krisenjahr auf die Kernkompetenz eines  Betriebs setzt, dessen Rebfläche gerade mal vier Hektar beträgt: Rieslinge mit natürlicher Restsüße, welche die heftige Säure des Jahrgangs balanciert. Eingriffe im Keller, die die Säure mindern, sind hier verpönt. Die klassische Mosel-Nummer also, die sich bereits bewährte, als man in Zeiten vor dem global warming bei der Weinlese mitunter im Schnee stand.

Immerhin gelang es, aus den beiden Graacher Lagen Himmelreich und Domprobst je einen Kabinett, eine Spätlese und eine Auslese zu erzeugen. Dazu kommen noch der Graacher Riesling feinherb (halbtrocken) sowie eine zweite Auslese aus dem Domprobst. Das alles – wie gesagt – in Kleinstmengen.

Wenn man die 2013er Rieslinge von Willi Schaefer probiert, dann spürt man den kalten Hauch des Jahrgangs. Aber mehr Krise findet im Glas definitiv nicht statt. Alle Weine haben neben ihrer säurebetonten, zupackenden Mineralität herrlich reife Fruchtnoten und eine wunderbare Balance – klassische Mosel-Rieslinge von großer Eleganz. Die Weine aus dem Graacher Himmelreich sind im Moment offener, verführerischer, sie schmecken mitunter etwas reifer als die aus dem Domprobst. Das ist eigentlich in jedem Jahrgang so, den ich bisher verkosten durfte. Aber in so einem kühlen, säurestarken Jahr wie 2013 zeigen die Himmelreich-Weine doch mehr Eleganz als in heißen Jahren – das gefällt mir sehr gut.

Die Zeit der Domprobst-Weine wird freilich kommen – soviel ist sicher.  Sie wirken noch sehr verschlossen, selbst der Kabinett, lassen jedoch keinen Zweifel daran aufkommen, was in ihnen steckt: echte Größe. Die 2013 Graacher Domprobst Spätlese riecht extrem mineralisch, fast erdig und überrascht am Gaumen mit sehr reifer Weinbergspfirsich-Frucht , Schiefer- und Kräuteraromen. Da ist viel Leben in der Bude, das sich im Moment schwer in Worte fassen lässt. Es geht ständig hin und her. Die 2013 Graacher Domprobst Auslese -11- duftet ebenfalls etwas erdig, aber auch nach Orangen und ihren Schalen, verfügt über eine hohe Reife und eine enorme Länge, wobei Säure und Gäraromen (noch) deutlich spürbar waren. Ein großer Wein ist die Graacher Domprobst Auslese -14-, die viel Frucht andeutet, vor allem aber mit ihrer aromatisch sehr klaren und hoch eleganten Stilistik besticht, die Säure war bereits perfekt in ein mineralisches Geschmacksbild integriert – großes Kino.

Die Gesetze der Marktwirtschaft sind bei den Schaefers außer Kraft gesetzt. Denn  eigentlich müssten die Weine mit ihrer herausragenden Qualität aufgrund der sehr geringen Menge um einen erheblichen Faktor teurer sein. Aber so funktioniert das Geschäft mit deutschem Riesling – Mosel-Riesling zumal – eben nicht. Die Vor- und Nachteile sind hier klar verteilt. Aber bei den bescheidenen Preisen für diese Weine muss man hoffen, dass ein winziger Qualitätsbetrieb wie dieser in naher Zukunft von einem ähnlichen Desaster verschont bleibt.


70 Kilometer moselaufwärts standen Ruth, Dorothee, Hanno Zilliken (links, rechts und mitten im Bild oben) vom Weingut Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken (Saarburg/Saar) vor ähnlichen Problemen, kamen aber zu anderen Schlüssen. Der Elf-Hektar-Betrieb verfügt zwar über mehr Wein. Doch die jahrgangsbedingten Lücken klaffen erheblich: Es gibt kein 2013 Rausch GG, keinen feinherben Spitzenwein Diabas und – was für diesen Spezialisten für Weine mit natürlicher Traubensüße besonders schmerzlich ist – keine Spät- und Auslesen oder noch höhere Prädikate. Lediglich sieben Weine stehen auf der Liste. Teuerste Abfüllungen sind der 2013 Bockstein Riesling Kabinett und der 2013 Rausch Riesling Kabinett. Sie kosten geraden mal 14 Euro ab Weingut. Und doch zeigte Hanno Zilliken, den ich im Juni auf dem Weingut besuchte, keine Anzeichen von Enttäuschung oder Bitterkeit. Als „alter Hase“ unter den Saar-Winzern hat er gewiss schon andere Katastrophen erlebt. Aber vor allem kann er sehr stolz sein auf die Qualität seiner 2013er Rieslinge. Der 2013 Zilliken Riesling trocken gehört mit seinem feinen Blütenduft, der reifen, stoffigen Pfirsichfrucht, die von einer rassigen Säure balanciert wird, zu den besten Gutsrieslingen des Jahrgangs in Deutschland.

In die beiden Ortsweine, den 2013 Saarburger Riesling trocken und den 2013 Saarburger Riesling feinherb, sind die wenigen Liter des Großen Gewächses bzw. des Diabas eingeflossen. Was mit dazu führt, dass diese Weine für ihre Qualitätsstufe schlicht superb sind. Wobei die trockene Version noch etwas verschlossen wirkt, mit betonter Rasse, aber großer Harmonie, der halbtrockene Wein super-süffig im besten Sinn, mit Blütendüften und ausgeprägtem Weinbergspfirsich-Aroma.

Wieder eine Bank für Genießer, die Riesling am liebsten inhalieren würden, ist der 2013 Zilliken Butterfly – ein Maul voll Wein und dennoch zart und schwebend, schade, dass der Sommer vorbei ist. Der 2013 Saarburger Riesling Kabinett macht mächtig was her für einen Ortswein, hat aber zwei Lagenweine als Konkurrenten, von denen zumindest einer noch besser ist. Während der 2013 Bockstein Riesling Kabinett betont reif und üppig auftritt, ohne seine Rasse zu verleugnen, und jetzt bereits viel Spaß macht, ist der 2013 Rausch Riesling Kabinett für die Zukunft eine Bank. Auch er ist sehr reif (für einen Kabinett eigentlich zu reif), verfügt aber über so viel kühle Rasse, dass im Moment noch alles sehr fest zusammen ist. Ich habe den Wein zu Hause über drei Wochen aus der offnen Flasche getrunken und kann sagen: Das letzte Glas war das allerbeste.

Die Zillikens sind große Freunde gereifter Rieslinge. Und sie halten ihren Kunden immer einige Abfüllungen vor, die sie erst dann verkaufen, wenn sie den Zeitpunkt für gekommen halten. Allein dafür kann man sie nicht hoch genug wertschätzen – man stelle sich das mal im Burgund vor. Den dortigen Top-Winzern sind ihre Privatkunden unterhalb einer gewissen Yacht-Länge scheißegal.

Die Zillikens aber haben Lücken im 2013er Sortiment durch große Saar-Rieslinge älterer Jahrgänge kompensiert. So gibt es aus dem Vorgängerjahrgang eine unglaublich verführerische, nach Tropenschwüle duftende und schmeckende 2012 Rausch Riesling Spätlese. Aus einem für Weine dieser Art großen Jahrgang bieten sie eine 2010 Rausch Auslese -6- und eine 2010 Rausch Auslese -4-, die aromatisch schwer und schwebend zugleich den ganzen Wahnsinn dieses Jahrgangs perfekt verkörpern. Weit älter, aber sehr jugendlich schmeckend landete die 1995 Saarburger Rausch Auslese 1-96 auf der Karte, welche die ganze Sinnlichkeit und Finesse eines ausgezeichneten, klassischen Saar-Riesling-Jahrgangs verkörpert.

So wird aus der Not eines knappen Angebots eine Tugend. Und mancher Wein-Fan hat nun endgültig keinen Grund mehr, um gereifte Rieslinge einen Bogen zu machen. Zu was doch so ein schwieriger Jahrgang gut sein kann.



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