Author Archives: Stuart

Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 8 – Very Long-Term Planning

Most of my work is horribly short-term stuff. I taste a wine/various wines in order to write about it/them here or in my column in the Sunday edition of the FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG (German language) on the same day, or within a few days at most. Rarely can I chew over these impressions for months, in fact only in books like BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH / PLANET RIESLING or in my quarterly column in FINE magazine (German language) can that happen. Today’s main task was in stark contrast to this very short-term turnover of material and deserves the description “very long-term planning” because it has implications that potentially stretch decades into the future. I just purchased a small, but extremely centrally located apartment in Berlin where this eternal student of Riesling will reside (when in this city) for the foreseeable future. As you can see from the picture above, it is currently under construction, and I won’t be moving in until the end of 2015 or very early 2016. I will, of course, keep you posted and the short-term turnover of wines tasted and things experienced will continue unabated. By the way, I don’t intend to stop doing this until I die, and given that my grandmother lived to be 101 that could mean several decades more!

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 6 – $196,000 for a Bottle of Smith-Madrone Riesling from California

Pictured above are Stuart (left) and Charles Smith (right) of the Smith-Madrone winery on Spring Mountain in Napa Valley, California. They’ve got good reason to look happy, because a bottle of their dry 1997 Riesling just sold at auction for the staggering sum of $196,000. If you think this is absurd, then I must point out that this is a delicious wine now at the peak of maturity. For the full exciting story click on the link below.

To my mind, this is not a triumph for the Smiths’ dedication to this grape and their dramatic, but challenging vineyard location (pictured below) since the early 1970s, but also a fitting answer to the Riesling bashing that some American journalists and somms have been engaging in recently. Much of this has been driven by envy of the success of Riesling advocates like Paul Grieco of the Terroir wine bars in New York Wine City (NYWC), but some of it has been plain old-fashioned bad blood.

If you can’t afford $196,000 per bottle – I certainly can’t! – then I strongly recommend you the Smith-Madrone 2012 Riesling (a bit closed and worth cellaring for several years before opening) and the youthfully effusive 2013 Riesling. You should be able to find both of them on the shelf for under $30 per bottle. By the way, this was the only American wine included in the hit list of the world’s best dry Rieslings in my book BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH (pub. Stewart, Tabori & Chang in NYWC)!

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 4 – Can You See the Real Me?

Can you see the real me? Can you? 

I first heard The Who’s Quadrophenia album in November 1976 just over three years after it was released, and that line from the song The Real Me instantly etched itself into my consciousness. It’s been going through my mind again during the last days, because a new rumor about me has been going around here in Berlin. The fact that I’m about to buy a small apartment in an ultra-downtown location has lead some people to start saying that, “Stuart’s moving back to Berlin!” On one level this is all good clean fun, but it’s factually incorrect and therefore demands an answer. The fact is, that although I spent a lot of time in New York Wine City (NYWC) from the end of November 2012, and since I moved into my present apartment there in September 2013 it has felt like home, I never left Berlin. It has always remained my official place of residence and with good reason. Most of my work is published in German in Germany, Berlin is my base for reporting on the wines of Europe, and this is the country where I have paid the majority of my taxes since 1994. Buying my own place will cement my connection with Berlin as my long-term base in Germany and also give STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL a European HQ. The location close to Alexanderplatz in East Berlin’s Mitte district also means that I’ll be within walking or cycling distance of some of the world’s best wine bars!

So, you see, I feel at home here in Berlin and in NYWC. That situation is what many of the rumor-tellers can’t cope with and that’s the reason this explanation is necessary. Far more than the inhabitants of NYWC, those of Berlin want to put every person into one pigeonhole and get deeply frustrated when this isn’t possible. Ten years ago when I was developing a career as a painter (which sadly failed) alongside my continuing journalistic this double identity caused many of my acquaintances in Berlin a lot of trouble. Now my double allegiance to this city and NYWC is stressing the same people and some others too. Their reaction is that of the child who tries to force the square peg into the round hole come what may, rather than accepting that only a round peg will fit that hole. Like that child they will get over this in time and, reluctantly, accept the reality of the situation. I am what I am. Can you see the real me?



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On the Riesling Road: Day 3 – 2014 in Germany is Up in the Heavens & Down to Zero

The Mainzer Weinbörse, the annual major presentation of the new vintage by the German VDP producers association is just about to end after two grueling days. They weren’t grueling only because of the sheer number of wines on show (more than a thousand, I think, but I didn’t try to taste them all), but also because 2014 is a vintage that spans the entire range from Up in the Heavens all the way to Down to Zero. Even a few of the VDPs almost 200 members, theoretically the elite of Germany’s wine producers, managed to present wines that I considered so bad that they were incompatible with the designation Qualitätswein, or quality wine. They now need to do some serious soul searching and figure out if they really want to put world-famous vineyard names on bottles of Riesling that smell of wishy-washy rotten grapes and taste drab and bitter. There is also more general problem with bitterness in many of the Riesling wines from the Saar sub-region of the Mosel. Exactly why that is I can’t figure out, but it was a clear pattern.

At the other end of the scale are those winemakers, like Martin Franzen of Müller-Catoir in Neustadt-Haardt in the Pfalz (pictured above), who managed their vineyards so well and were so on top of the harvest that they had no problems at all. His dry Rieslings were probably the most exciting wines I tasted during the last two days, and the other varieties (Rieslaner, Scheurebe and Weißburgunder) were also striking. Other serious highlights were Diel, Dönnhoff, Emrich-Schönleber and Gut Hermannsberg on the Nahe, Flick, Franz Künstler, Prinz and Spreitzer in the Rheingau, Groebe, Wagner-Stempel and Wittmann in Rheinhessen. The Mosel was confusingly heterogenous, although the wines from von Othegraven (who only showed sweet Rieslings) Dr. Wagner on the Saar stood out. Franken is an even more mixed and confusing picture, but with many exciting wines, and I will return to this subject at a later date after more tasting.

Of course, even these days were not totally dominated by wine tasting and the highlight of yesterday evening was meeting the young chap pictured above, Gustav, a tame baby wild boar. I was having a relaxed and delicious dinner at retired top chef Franz Keller’s Falkenhof farm high in the taunts Mountains to the north of the Rheingau’s vineyards and suddenly there was Gustav playing games and generally being the life and soul of the party. The highlight of dinner was thankfully not wild boar, rather the filet of a recently slaughtered Charolais from the fields of the Falkenhof. I’m not a big fan of beef filet, but this one had an up in the heavens flavor!



Erich Machherndl und die ganz andere Wachau (Österreich) von Frank Ebbinghaus

Wer Erich Machherndl reden hört, schaut ihm beim Denken zu. Man spürt, wie Energieströme in Lichtgeschwindigkeit durch die Neuronen und Synapsen seines Gehirns rasen, um als Schallwellen mehr ausgestoßen als sorgsam artikuliert zu werden. Die salvenartige Suada wird in dem Tempo gesprochen in dem sie gedacht wird: impulsiv, aber doch keineswegs ungeordnet. Machherndl, der ein kleines Familienweingut in Wösendorf/Wachau (Österreich) betreibt, hat sich so ziemlich über jedes Detail der Weinbereitung seine Gedanken gemacht. Und lässt seine Zuhörer, die sich in der Berliner Weinschenke „Weinstein“ zur Probe zusammenfanden, keineswegs darüber im Unklaren, dass sich seine Weine detaillierter Überlegungen versanken, die selbst vermeintlichen Kleinigkeiten größte Bedeutung beimessen, wobei der Winzer sehr aufmerksam die Produktionsweisen seiner zum Teil hoch berühmten Kollegen beobachtet.

Knochentrocken und Null Botrytis: So lautet Machherndls Kredo. Er gehört zu einer neuen Generation Wachauer Winzer, die auf einen klaren, mineralischen Weinstil schwört. Und tatsächlich gibt es an diesem Abend einige beeindruckende Weine in diesem Stil zu probieren. Aber die besten Weine sind doch ganz anders.

Was wie ein Widerspruch wirkt, ist doch nur Ausdruck einer urwüchsig kreativen Energie, die diesen Winzer auch dazu antreibt, seine Überzeugungen nicht in Dogmatismus erstarren zu lassen. Aber der Reihe nach. Es gab an diesem Abend die Gelegenheit, neben dem aktuellen Jahrgang auch gereifte Weine zu probieren. Erich Macherndl selbst führt seit 1998 das Weingut, betont aber die große Kontinuität zu seinem Vater, mit einem Unterschied: „Im Gegensatz zu meinem Vater bin ich richtig charmant.“

Das durfte er ruhig aussprechen, denn die gereiften Machherndl-Weinen bestachen mehr durch ihren kompromisslos mineralischen Charakter als durch Charme. So wie der 1992 Kollmütz Grüner Veltliner Smaragd, der, nachdem er eine unangenehme Kellernote abgelegt hatte, nach nassem Stein und feuchtem Laub duftete, unter Lufteinfluss zulegte und vor allem als Essensbegleiter gute Dienste leistete.

Noch lebendiger war der 2001 Jochinger Steinwand Grüner Veltliner Smaragd mit seinem Duft nach grünen Walnüssen, die sich auch im Geschmack wiederfanden, als eine leicht medizinale Aromatik in den Hintergrund trat. Wie gesagt: Fordernd, uncharmant, aber charakterstark und mit Trinkfluss ausgestattet – was für Fans.

Welche Überraschung aber bereitete uns der 1990 Kollmütz Riesling Smaragd? Feine Bienenwachsnoten mischten sich mit Melonenduft, die frische, feine Frucht klang am Gaumen in einer leichten Nougatnote aus. Der Wein verfügt über eine spürbare Süße, die ihm einen gesetzten Alterscharme verleiht, der freilich einer pointierten Lebendigkeit und Eleganz den Vortritt lässt. Gerne würde ich wissen, welcher trockene deutsche Riesling aus diesem vormaligen „Jahrhundertjahrgang“ es mit diesem Wein noch aufnehmen könnte.

Deutlich süßer schmeckte der 2007 Kollmütz Riesling Alte Reben halbtrocken, der schon recht gereift wirkte und einem Eindrücke von mürbem Apfel, Orange und Orangenzeste über den Gaumen schickte bis einen das steinige Finale wieder erdete. Besonders bemerkenswert: Dieser Wein hatte versehentlich einen biologischen Säureabbau vollzogen. Rieslinge können dann oft schlapp und fett schmecken, sie verlieren mit der Äpfelsäure oft ihre Spritzigkeit und Brillanz, was bei diesem Wein aber überhaupt nicht ins Gewicht fiel.

Noch einen spektakulären „Ausreißer“ aus der Produktphilosophie erbrachte die Verkostung des aktuellen, noch nicht abgefüllten Jahrgangs 2014. Denn der erst am Vortag filtrierte 2014 Kollmütz Riesling Smaragd, der mit seiner knochentrockenen, von einer laserstrahlartigen Säure getragenen Art geradezu bestach, weil der Wein eine tolle Harmonie und beeindruckende Länge aufwies, hatte einen noch eindrucksvolleren Zwillingsbruder. Dieser Riesling gleichen Namens wurde am 26. Oktober 2014 gelesen, als sich auf den sehr reifen Trauben gerade ein wenig Botrytis bildete. Eben so viel, dass sie die vielschichtige Frucht des Weins zum Tanzen brachte, während die kräftige Säure ein salziges Finale beschert – ein Meisterwerk im Werden.

Dass auch Erich Machherndls Neuronen und Synapsen gelegentlich ein heißes Tänzchen hinlegen, bewies zum Abschluss ein Experiment. Die Trauben für das 2014 Grüner Veltliner Federspiel waren erst am 26. November 2014 gelesen worden! Der Most lag ganz zehn Tage auf der Maische. „Mein leichtester Wein,“ grinste Machherndl als wir probierten und von einer Wahnsinnsaromatik, die grüne Nüsse, weißen Pfirsich und vieles andere enthielt, hingerissen wurden. Leicht waren hier nur der Alkoholgehalt von 11,6 Prozent und die Gedanken, welche die Entstehung dieses Wunderwerks ermöglichten.

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 20 – Billy Wagner’s Restaurant Nobelhart & Schmutzig is Some-thing/where Else (Part 2)

The photograph above is a Portrait of the Gastronomic Artist as a Young Man, which is to say the previous incarnation of Billy Wagner just before he started seriously planing what became his new restaurant Nobelhart & Schmutzig (N&S) on the wrong part of the famous Friedrichstrasse in Berlin (the section in the Kreuzberg district, rather than the much cooler one in Mitte). I was not in good shape health-wise the evening I visited N&S for the first time on Friday evening, which had the advantage that I didn’t take a very active a part in conversation and therefore had plenty of time to think. Watching Billy Wagner zipping around the restaurant, opening bottles, pouring wines and changing the vinyl on the record player it struck me that N&S is not only the stage on which the new Billy Wagner performs with the grace of a gazelle in its natural habitat, it is the stage which gave birth to the new Billy Wagner! If you doubt this, then I suggest you compare the above picture with the one in Part 1 below and see if you really find no difference.

We return to the Mahlzeit, or meal, just as the oh so very noble, hard and dirty soup course was served. Like many other dishes, you can’t tell what is actually from the “menu”, because it only tells what the main ingredients are and where they came from. In this case it said celery, leak and lamb fat from Bauer Zielke (farmer Zielke). Exceptionally, I think my photo conveys very well what this dish looked like. Either you’ll love this soup’s very low key, delicately rooty and mellow flavor, or you’d find it way too bland and ask for Tabasco or some other form of chili to pep it up, as someone in my group did! (Billy Wagner just laughed at that comment). Every dish at N&S has this potential for controversy to a greater or lesser degree, and if that idea doesn’t excite you I suggest that you don’t go there. Maybe this was a shock for some of the “young and beautiful people” who made up the majority of the guests last Friday, but if so they weren’t showing it. Maybe the pervasive aura of coolness surrounding N&S at this early stage in it’s life distracts some guests from this situation, but that’s an effect that will wane in a short time. Then we’ll see how they take these gastronomic slaps in the face. Not everyone can say, “hit me”, and very few can say it and mean it.

Meat was a single course and – if you really wanted to see things this way – was just about recognizable as a “main course”. I forgot to take a picture of my plate when it arrived and when I was able to take a picture of another plate of this dish later in the evening (the photo above) the piece of meat was much larger than the one I got. I guess that I got about 75 grams / <3 ounces, but feel I should point out that this is all any of us need per day to obtain the protein our bodies need. I’m actively in favor of this portion size, also if it’s goal is to make this dish less of a conventional “main course”. Democracy for dishes and wines is something I strongly believe, but am sometimes not thorough enough about.

This piece of Mangalitza pork neck from the Landwerthof farm was delicious thanks to the exact preparation and the intense flavor of the fat. The caramelized onion with it made it even more schweinisch, or piggy, as Billy Wagner called, and the hint of camomile added a light touch to this fat bomb of a dish. The 1975 Kiedricher Gräfenberg Riesling Spätlese – a 30 year old sweet Riesling from the now defunct Rheingau estate of Schloss Groenesteyn – was also the most daring and exciting wine pairing of the evening. The combination of fat and delicate sweetness landed spot on the pleasure center of my brain and I could have wallowed in this dish like a Mangalitza pig in mud. By the way, there is a pig in my name, Stuart deriving from styward, or warden of the pigsty.

Also only slightly sweet was this combination of flower pollen sorbet with elderberries and yoghurt and for my palate this would have been the perfect happy ending to the meal, because the sweet dishes I like are anti-desserts like this. That’s a personal preference though, and not to be taken too seriously if this is a serious review who’s purpose is to assess how good N&S really is according to the motto, “two stars or three?” Before I go any further I have to take that purpose and heave it into the dustbin of history though, because what this story is actually about is figuring out what N&S stands for and what the food, drinks and everything else about it says to us. “I’m not a critic, I’m a free thinker!” Let’s leave this subject right now though, so that the dustbin doesn’t get too full of what seem to me rubbishy ideas before this posting ends.

The other end of the scale to personal preferences are those things that once we taste them immediately make us want to retch. I started eating this dish with the Elstar apple ice and liked the “odd” – an ugly little 3 letter word – contrast with the grains. Then I tried the oat mass and, although I eat quite a lot of oats, the flavor was just too intense for me and I wanted to retch. I consider that quite an achievement by chef Micha Schäfer, because most chefs are so dependent upon being praised, admired, talked about and generally loved to death that they only put stuff they know almost everyone will like on the plate. That narrows down the range of gastronomic possibilities before even ingredients are bought never mind prep begins. Don’t get me wrong, other people in my group loved this stuff. It’s me that was the problem, and the good thing is that Micha Schäfer doesn’t shy away from this kind of collision. As I wrote yesterday, N&S is a gastronomic collision chamber!

With the considerable help of his friends the team, the new Billy Wagner has made N&S this. Everything from the David-Lynch-dim lighting to his own wine selections fits into this dangerous, rag-bag whole without anything ever drifting off in the direction of familiar well-rounded harmonies. I dislike them as much as I like well-rounded answers to difficult questions. That makes this is the Berlin restaurant for me.

For more details go to:


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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 19 – Billy Wagner’s Restaurant Nobelhart & Schmutzig is Some-thing/where Else (Part 1)

I don’t normally do restaurant reviews, but occasionally my visits to restaurants were so exciting that I ended up writing some kind of “review”. This is such a case thanks to restaurateur Billy Wagner (left), dishwasher Samuel Teye-Osom (centre), chef Micha Schäfer (right) and the rest of the Nobelhart & Schmutzig team (sadly invisible in this “group” photo).

Before I pressed the bell of Nobelhart & Schmutzig’s (N&S) front door in an unlikely off-centre location in Berlin-Kreuzberg I already knew a great deal about the personality behind this new restaurant that dares to declare itself to be oh so noble, hard and dirty. I first met Billy Wagner when he became the sommelier of Weinbar Rutz in Berlin-Mitte a few years back. That was “late”, since many other people in the wine and gastro scenes knew him from his previous job in Düsseldorf. At first I didn’t know what to think of this larger than life Natural Born Waiter, then we slowly became sort-of-friends, although contact was always erratic, and my observation that I’m old enough to be his father (me vintage 1960, he vintage 1981) repeatedly annoyed him. More importantly, many waves of mostly positive comment crashed over his new restaurant even before it opened, then a rogue wave of immense proportions hit immediately after it opened. I haven’t read what people wrote on the social media, blogs and in newspapers, although some of it was reported to me by friends. As the door opened I tried to forget all this stuff before going, and what I could remember certainly didn’t prepare me for the experience.

I stumbled into the dingy space, and immediately felt dazed and confused in this small-town bar on steroids in the wrong location, turned around and saw I was actually in an over-sized Japanese restaurant (all the best places in Japan are small), then sat down at the enormous three-sided bar and felt sure I was actually sitting in the lovechild of Noma (Copenhagen’s most famous joint) and New York’s Momofuku Ssäm (David Chang’s luxurious street food emporium). It is all of this, but also defies any simple description. Then it was clear that the long gestation process before the lovechild’s birth wasn’t due to any problems, but had been necessary for all of these facets to align in this precise pattern. Diamonds and movies both have to be cut, and N&S had to be cut too.

Not that every aspect of the evening was “perfect” in the conventional sense of that nasty little 7 letter word. The two surprising, but playful amuse bouche – ramps roots with mayonnaise, then goats milk cheese nuggets coated with elderflower – along with the delicious white bread and butter (from Stettin in Poland) count as dishes in the 10 course Mahlzeit, or meal, that is the only solid nourishment on offer. I’m all in favor of breaking down the hierarchy of dishes, so it is seriously inconsistent of me to now “complain” about these details. And let me say right away that whatever other criticisms I have – the wine list is too complex for me to read, but maybe I’m just way too linear? – the 80 Euros which the N&S Mahlzeit costs is a wound I will inflict on my credit card as often as I can.

The super-delicately flavored trout from Müritz in the state Mecklenburg served with potato purée and almost raw chicory (pictured above) announced that regional products are not a fad here, much less a politically correct reflex, but are at the very heart of what N&S aspires to be. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that this restaurant is trying to reinvent the regional identity of this city, and with dishes like this Micha Schäfer has already got a long way along down that path. Yes, this dish doesn’t look like that much if you’re used to all the clever fancy stuff that passed for gastronomic creativity before the Age of Noma, but I think even my so-la-la photo does communicate something of the Geist or spirit (it is, of course, a Zeitgeist) of N&S.

“Too many vegetables!” was one comment I heard, but realizing the untapped vegetable potential of the landscape around Berlin (mostly flat with sandy soils, many meandering rivers and lakes – lush green in summer, grey-brown in winter) is a noble cause, which has its hard and dirty sides. So, I was all in for the gherkin with emmer wheat and rowan berries. The combination of textures was as exciting as those of flavor, and all of these ingredients have deep roots in this landscape. In some way, that I can’t adequately describe this fact gave the dish an inner logic behind the interplay of textures and flavors. To some degree you could say that about all the dishes.

Radish is one of my favorite root vegetables and like parsley it feels at home in this region. Blood sausage is something fundamentally German with many subtle regional  variations and personal interpretations, as any genuinely national dish must have. It looks so right, elegant, but also so very down to earth, and that’s exactly how it tastes. I can imagine that this dish is something of a shocker for some of the guests, just as Billy Wagner’s wine combinations sometimes are. His drive to surprise and his delight in astonishing is one of his best traits, and N&S is a collision chamber where all of this takes place within its own space-time. And, I say that although I wasn’t “pleased” – another nasty little 7 letter word – by every beverage and food combination he presented me during the evening. I was always surprised and often astonished.

Now, I’ve reached the halfway point and I’m wondering if this is the right way to tell this very fascinating story. Have I managed to fascinate you, that is to communicate something of the knot of impressions and feelings I had during my hours in N&S? Part 2 – hopefully – tomorrow will therefore not only be a description of the second half of the meal, but a second attempt to nail this story which keeps running away from my hammer and nails. Watch this space!


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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 17 – The Vanishing Wine Journalist: Good, Bad or Flaky?

As you can see from the title of this posting it’s Day 17 for me in Berlin this time around, but sometimes it felt like Day minus 17. Several times I’ve walked into wine stores, wine bars or wine tastings and someone here I’ve known for many years said something like, “Oh look who’s here, the vanishing wine journalist!” What they’re referring to is the fact that the Wine Metropole of Berlin used to be my sole home and now New York Wine City also feels like some kind of home to me. They always try to make it sound as if those words are a joke about my new situation as a “bi-polar” journalist, but every time there was something judgmental about their tone, and it was this I didn’t like.

I think what they feel is that I’ve somehow let them down by spending so much time away from the city in recent years, or through my more limit presence here than in the past I’ve forfeited my membership to the Club of Proper Berliners of which they are fully payed up members. They are annoyed with me for behaving in a way that seems to cast doubt on their own commitment to this city. Of course, the doubt is all in their minds, for I have never questioned the importance of this place. As a whole Berlin is the most creative, relaxed and liberal city in the German-speaking world, but their attitude doesn’t fit into that. However, theirs is a highly parochial and narrow-minded attitude that demands people be divided up into neat groups (including those of the Good, the Bad and the Flaky – in their eyes I belong to the latter group). This is definitely the worst side of Berlin, and clear proof that the city still has some way to go before it’s fully cosmopolitan in the way New York is. I am doing my best not to let it get me down, much less cramp my style, because there’s so much else about Berlin that is so positive!

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 15 – Unsmiling Faces of Berlin

Achim von Oetinger is not a Berliner, at least not normally. After looking very carefully at this photograph of the winegrower from Erbach, Rheingau I took the other evening at Berlin wine merchant Planet Wine I’m not sure how to describe him, except to say that obviously, he isn’t smiling. Not being able to smile would certainly be some kind of problem, and might well indicate some deeper psychological issues, but blindly insisting on smiling come what may would surely be no less strange and inappropriate. Likewise, when it comes to wine what makes the taste fascinating isn’t the bright, ripe fruit flavors, rather the less obviously attractive characteristics that set up a tension with the immediately appealing elements. At least, this seems to me to be a good description of what his new wines are like. My gut feeling is that we’ll be hearing a lot more about Achim von Oetinger and his Rheingau Rieslings that are both attractive and fascinating.

Michael Hoffmann, pictured above at the Markthalle Neun in Berlin-Kreuzberg where he runs the Kantine (or cantine), is one of Berlin’s most talented chefs, but actually he’s far more than that. Even when he was running the now closed restaurant ‘Margaux’ his reputation was primarily made though the unconventional path of a spectacular vegetarian menu. During the latter years of that restaurant’s life a large part of the produce which went into that menu was grown in his own garden just outside the city. He continues to cultivate it, last year growing 15 different varieties of Kraut, cabbage, and two tons of tomatoes. I think those two figures give an idea both of how serious this is, and the importance Hoffmann attaches to growing varieties outside the box. No less important for him is the Soluna Bakery, also in Kreuzberg, that he took over after the death of it’s founder Peter Klann, about which there will be a separate story shortly. The ‘Rundling’ bread from Soluna is nourishment for my imagination.

Last, but not least of today’s unsmiling faces is that of Portuguese wine journalist Rui Falcao who yesterday held a Madeira masterclass in the Ellington Hotel. I never learnt so much about a category of wine as I did about Madeira during the hour he spoke before the first wine was served. Since this will almost certainly be the subject of my column in the FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG on the first Sunday in May I will save what he said. However, the way he said it proved that passion and clear thinking certainly don’t need to get in each other’s way. Likewise, it was all undoubtedly great promotion for Madeira in a city that doesn’t begin to understand or appreciate these wines, but to do that he didn’t need to smile all the time.

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Jay Somers: Winemaker / Lead Guitar von Frank Ebbinghaus

“Pinot-Noir-Musik die meinen Herz trifft aber bezahlbar ist!” Stuart Pigott 

Nina ist so eigenwillig und kompromisslos wie man es von einem Winzer oder einer Winzerin erwarten kann. Für sie gibt es nur ein Ziel, das sie mit Geduld und äußerster Beharrlichkeit verfolgt. Alles andere ist untergeordnet. Egal, ob Wetterkapriolen, Hunger, Schmerz oder völlige Erschöpfung: Kein Hindernis und keine Qual sind groß genug, um Nina auch nur ein Jota von ihrem Weg abzubringen. Wie wohl die Pinot Noirs von J. Christopher (Oregon/USA) schmecken würden, wenn Nina für ihre Erzeugung zuständig wäre? Die Antwort bleibt hypothetisch. Denn Nina ist die deutsche Schäferhündin des Weinmachers Jay Somers (im Bild oben). Und ihre einzige Leidenschaft, die in dieser totalen Hingabe selbst unter Caniden nicht eben häufig zu beobachten ist, liegt im Apportieren von Bällen.

Aber über die Wesensähnlichkeiten von Herrn und Hund kursieren ja die unterschiedlichsten Mutmaßungen. So darf man fragen, inwieweit der Herr nach seinem Hund geraten ist. Und was das für die Pinots des jungen Weinguts J. Christopher bedeutet. Zielstrebigkeit mag man Jay Somers durchaus unterstellen, bedenkt man, dass er seine Winzerkarriere 1996 mit zwei Eimern Trauben im elterlichen Haus begann. Und heute über über 10 Hektar eigene sowie 16 Hektar  zugekaufte Reben gebietet sowie über eine stattliche Winery, deren Fasskeller in die Felsen der Chehalem Mountains getrieben wurden.

Und doch würde man prima vista nicht behaupten wollen, Jay Somers sei einer dieser super-ehrgeizigen Masterplan-Winzer. Er wirkt wie ein Künstler, der die Empfindsamkeit seiner sensiblen Seele mit einer Prise Selbstironie bestäubt. Und Künstler ist er in der Tat, einer von hohen Graden sogar, sehr begabt, wie man hier sehen und hören kann:

Der Ziegenabart am Bass ist übrigens Tim Malone. Der hat am feinen Berklee College of Music in Boston studiert und ist im Weingut so was wie Jays rechte Hand. Zwei Musiker, die Pinot Noir erzeugen: Das klingt recht romantisch. Und vielleicht würden die beiden auch heute noch in irgend einer Garage handgemachte Preziosen kreieren, die die Welt nie erreichen, wenn nicht ein deutscher Riesling-Winzer und Burgunder-Aficionado auf Jays Weine aufmerksam geworden wäre und in ihnen die burgundischsten in Oregon gesehen hätte. Eine steile These, gewiss. Aber wenn man weiß, dass sie aus dem Mund von Mosel-Winzer Ernst Loosen stammt, der neben Riesling auch Pinot Noir liebt wie sonst nichts auf diesem Planeten: Dann wird man doch neugierig.

Ernst Loosen wollte immer schon Pinot Noir erzeugen: Das Burgund war ihm zu teuer, die Pfalz, wo er mit seinem Weingut Villa Wolf auch sehr guten Spätburgunder herstellt, für seinen Ehrgeiz zu wenig. Aber die Weine von Jay Somers faszinierten ihn von Anfang an. Und weil Loosen nicht nur das Duracell-Häschen unter den deutschen Weinmachern ist, sondern in puncto kompromissloser Fokussierung auch der wahre Wesensverwandte von Jays Schäferhündin Nina, wurde die Idee eines gemeinsamen Weinguts schnell in die Tat umgesetzt. Dabei war Loosen völlig egal, dass das Mini-Weingut J. Christopher bis dato in den USA keinen Ruf hatte. Loosen dagegen verfügt über einen nicht eben geringen, seit er im Rahmen eines Joint Ventures mit Chateau Ste. Michelle (Woodinville/Washington State) Riesling erzeugt und auch mit seinem Mosel-Marken-Riesling „Dr. L.“ in Amerika gut im Geschäft ist. Dass es riskant ist, wenn ein Riesling-Star in einer anderen Region plötzlich Pinot Noir (ko-)produziert, weil die Marken-Identität Schaden nehmen könnte:  Das ist Loosen völlig wurscht. Und der Erfolg scheint ihm Recht zu geben. Die Weine sind von der Kritik positiv aufgenommen worden.

Kürzlich haben Loosen und Somers einige Pinot Noirs von J. Christopher in Berlin präsentiert. Schnell wurde deutlich, dass Jay Somers, der für Weinstil und -erzeugung verantwortlich ist, sehr klare Ansichten hat. Er holte erdgeschichtlich weit aus, rief die urzeitliche Überschwemmung des Columbia Valley durch die Missoula Flood in Erinnerung, folgte der Entwicklung von Gesteinsmassiven und Böden, räumte mit ein paar Vorurteilen über Neue-Welt-Pinots auf (von wegen breit und fett. Oregon ist kühler als das nördlich gelegene Washington, das Klima ist ziemlich unberechenbar, die Jahrgangsunterschiede groß). Dann erklärte er ausführlich die unterschiedlichen Terroirs und ließ zur Anschauung Bodenproben durch die Zuhörerschaft wandern. Dass die Trauben mit Füßen gestampft und mit Schalen vergoren werden (bringt Struktur und Eleganz), ist kein PR-Gag, ebenso wenig das Bekenntnis zu biodynamischen Produktionsmethoden, die die Böden lebendig und gesund halten. Und klar, spontanvergoren wird auch. All das sollte heißen: Hier weht der Geist von old Europe.

Aber wie schmecken die Weine? Mitgebracht hatte Jay Somers je drei Pinots der Jahrgänge 2011 und 2012, kühl der eine, der andere sehr warm. Man merkte die Unterschiede freilich kaum. Stil des Hauses ist ein kühler, straffer, sehniger und eleganter Pinot-Stil mit viel Struktur und Mineralität. Alle Weine wirkten embryonal und reduktiv. Sie sind komplex, verbergen ihre Frucht aber im Hintergrund. Wer sich jetzt mit ihnen beschäftigen will, braucht Zeit, Geduld und einen großen Decanter.

Und doch schmeckten die Weine sehr unterschiedlich: Während sich der vulkanische, sehr eisenhaltige Boden (ähnlich der Mosellage Ürziger Würzgarten) im 2012 Pinot Noir Dundee Hills in einer fast „blutigen“ Aromatik widerspiegelt, während von Ferne Johannisbeeren und Kirschen grüßen, gibt sich der auf felsigem Meeressediment gewachsene 2012 Pinot Noir ‚Nuages’ (Jazzfans wissen, woher der Name kommt) noch vornehm zugeknöpft, ein eleganter Gentleman, dessen Unnahbarkeit nicht über seine Sinnlichkeit hinwegtäuschen kann. Noch kühler, aber weniger tanninhaltig wirkt der 2012 Pinot Noir ‚Lumiere’, kein Wunder, ist ja auch die kühlste Lage, der Wein wirkt klar und präzise, die süße Kirschfrucht kündigt sich mit viel Finesse an.

Ein sehr warmer Jahrgang? Kaum zu glauben. Die Alkoholwerte liegen bei jedem Wein unter 14 % und damit auch unter den Werten (14,5% – 16%), die im Burgund in einem sehr reifen Jahr erreicht werden.

Die Pinots des Jahrgangs 2011 wirken nur wenig entwickelter. Ein kühlerer Jahrgang, aber auch einer, in dem die Trauben langsam reiften. Gelesen wurde erst im November. Der 2011 Pinot Noir ‚Bella Vida’ trägt dem Jahrgang durch seine kühle Aromatik Rechnung, die aufgrund des eisenhaltigen Vulkangesteins wieder diese eigenartige Blut-Aromatik aufweist, aber auch den Geschmack von Veilchen und kleinen Waldersbeeren. Etwas aus dem Rahmen fiel der 2011 Pinot Noir Lia’s Vineyard, dem Aromen von schwarzer Schokolade und Nougat entströmen, aber auch Kirsche und vieles andere, das noch recht ungeordnet wirkt. Eleganz auch hier, aber auch große Expression. Bevor wir den 2011 Pinot Noir Olenik verkosteten, hatte Jay Somers vernehmlich geseufzt: In richtig warmen Jahrgängen würden die Weine aus dieser Lage locker mehr als 16 % Alkohol aufweisen – eine echte Herausforderung. Aber 2011 war kühl und der auf Basalt und Sandstein gewachsene Olenik zeigt sich wie seine Geschwister sehr fein und elegant, Säure und Tannin sind gut integriert, die Veilchen-, Kirsch- und feinen Orangenaromen deuten auf eine reiche Frucht.

All diese Weine zeigen sehr gute Entwicklungsperspektiven. Das galt erst recht nach der Verkostung des 2007 Pinot Noir Dundee Hills, den ich vor ein paar Jahren schon mal sehr fein und verführerisch im Glas hatte, an diesem Tag aber sehr verschlossen fand. In den USA sei der schwer zu verkaufen, meinte Jay Somers. Das kann man auch als Kompliment für den Wein betrachten.

Und hier noch Musik mit Jay Somers:


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