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Eppstein Wine Diary: Day 8 – Alsace is a Pinot Paradise!

Maurice Schoech Pinot Noir

Working for JamesSuckling.com is really exciting and I’ve been learning so much so quickly, but the speed things move at takes some getting used to. This is a website with an almost continuous stream of new content, not a monthly magazine with regular publication dates and deadlines that automatically gives you moments to draw breathe. The last three weeks I was on the road in Alsace, then Rioja, then the Rheingau for JamesSuckling.com and the dense schedule left little time for reflection. In spite of that, our tastings in the cellar of Restaurant Villa Lalique in Wingen (the home of the Lalique crystal company) forced me to do some serious thinking about the way Alsace has changed in the 30 years since I first travelled there to taste the wines occupied most of my thoughts. Finally I found a moment to put all this down on what I still call “paper”.

Ever since that first inspiring visit in January 1987 I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what makes it so different from any other wine region in the France and neighboring Germany (of which it was part several times in it’s modern history). Some of these things are climatic, the heart of the wine region just west of Colmar is the driest place in France, and is significantly warmer in the summer than the German wine regions of the Pfalz to the north and Baden to the east, also Burgundy to the southwest. The geological complexity of the region is staggering and that makes it difficult to generalize about Alsace wines beyond the vital fact that the climate makes for big dry whites. For example, basic Alsace dry Rieslings seldom have less than 13% alcohol, whereas the leading Pfalz producers try to keep even their top dry Rieslings just below that figure.

Alsace underwent stylistic changes of seismic scale during the time I’ve been following it. The photograph above documents the recent rise of high quality reds from the Pinot Noir grape, which is a dramatic change from the light and pale colored reds that were the norm into the early years of this century. I’d never heard of Maurice Schoech of Ammerschwihr until a couple of weeks ago James Suckling pushed a glass extracted by coravin from the bottle pictured above in my direction. The name “Cuvée Arthur” hardly inspired confidence, and the 2013 vintage was not a great Pinot Noir vintage anywhere in Western Europe. However, the wine had subtle aromas, a stunning elegance. It tasted as good many Premier Crus from top domaines in Burgundy, but was a sleeker and more athletic. I found it exciting and totally distinctive: this is no Burg-Clone!

This development has barely been registered by the international wine scene, which continues to regard Alsace as a white wine region specializing in Gewurztraminer (there written without an umaul over the U). The truth is that Riesling overtook Gewurz as the most widely planted grape in the region many years ago and now accounts for about 4,000 hectares of the total 15,550 hectares. Alsace Pinot Noir has also grown significantly and now accounts for about 1,600 hectares. The striking thing is the rapidly increasing proportion of this which belongs in the Global Pinot First League, most notably the wines of Domaine Paul Blank in Kientzheim, Domaine Muré in Rouffach and Domaine Valentin Zusslin in Orschwihr.

Because they are the best that Alsace has to offer I will be leading seminar tastings of these wines at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville/Oregon on the afternoons of Friday, July 28th and Saturday, July 29th. See you there!

For more information see the IPNC website:

www.ipnc.org

For the full Alsace story on JamesSuckling.com see:

https://www.jamessuckling.com/wine-tasting-reports/alsace-charges-back-great-2015-vintage/?mc_cid=6bef749dfa&mc_eid=0765a4a47d

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global

 

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Eppstein Wine Diary: Day 5 – Germany’s Miraculous Mosel Duo 2015 & 2016 on JamesSuckling.com

At Egon Müller-Scharzhof

I make no apologies for using this photograph again, because here I am tasting one of the three 100 point wines, the 2015 Scharzhofberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese from Egon Müller-Scharzhof in Wiltingen on the Saar, in my extensive report on the miraculous 2015 and 2016 vintages on the Mosel for JamesSuckling.com. You need to be a subscriber to read the tasting notes and see the individual scores, but anyone can read the opening text and see which wines we tasted – there were almost 700. Here’s the link:

https://www.jamessuckling.com/wine-tasting-reports/germanys-miraculous-mosel-duo-2015-2016/

I’ve been tasting the young wines on the Mosel and its tributaries the Saar and the Ruwer since the 1983 vintage and I never tasted such a stunning range as those from the last two vintages during the long week I spent in the region last month with the managing editor of JamesSuckling.com Evan Mah. Firstly, the number of disappointing wines was very small although we spread our net wide to take in world-famous producers and rising stars, small estates and the largest in Germany’s most famous wine region. More important though is the slew of wines that scored 95+, including a couple of dry wines and six Riesling Kabinetts. The names of some of the producers up in that exalted realm may well be new to you, and the name on the label of one of those 100 point wines will come as a shock to many: Carl Loewen in Leiwen on the Middle Mosel. Congratulations to all the Mosel producers who have dedicated themselves to quality, originality and individuality in this complex and fascinating region. You made this report possible!

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 3 – An Evening in Memory of Annegret Reh-Gartner in Weinstein Berlin

Thank you for the Riesling and for everything else, Annegret!

2011 GGs from Kesselstatt

The work of remembering is never over and done with. So, from 6pm on the evening of Thursday, June 15th I will once again be working as a wine waiter in the Weinstein wine bar in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg and this time the evening will not only be in memory of Roy Metzdorf, the recently deceased guiding spirit of Weinstein. Instead it will have a double function, as I will be pouring the above quintet of dry Riesling GGs from the Reichsgraf von Kesselsatt estate based in Schloss Marienlay in the Mosel  in memory of the estate’s director Annegrat Reh-Gartner who died five months earlier at the beginning of October 2016. These wines (pictured on my desk) are all from the 2011 vintage, and for me the represent the apogee of what Annegret achieved with dry Riesling at Kesselstatt.

She had just become the estate’s director when we first met in May 1984 and we quickly became friends. Unlike some journalists who think that critical distance also needs to be physical and the air occupying it must be icy I never had a problem being friends with winemakers. However, some of them had a serious problem with my friendship when it wasn’t accompanied by rave reviews. Of course, if a winemaker’s friendship would mean that I never criticized their wines or (worse still) only gushed praise for them regardless of how they tasted, then I would be an extremely bad wine journalist. Annegret never expected anything like this, and always wanted to know what I thought about each wine.

Now I am very interested to know what you think about these wines. On June 15th in Weinstein you can taste just one or two of them or you can order a flight of all five. The sites are: Scharzhofberg (Saar), Nies’chen (Ruwer), Juffer-Sonnenuhr, Sonnenuhr and Josephshöfer (all Mittelmosel). I promise you that they are strikingly different from one another and that it really makes sense to try all five. Here is the link to the Weinstein website for more information:

http://weinstein.eu/

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global

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Eppstein Wine Diary: Day 6 – Riesling Reload

Because the Spirit of Riesling is ever renewing itself

At Egon Müller-Scharzhof

Please excuse me. I would have written earlier, but the last weeks my feet barely seemed to touch the ground. My first long and intense tasting trip to the Mosel (and its tributaries the Saar and Ruwer) in several years was the main reason for this. Above you see me pictured at Egon Müller-Scharzhof where the 2015 vintage is spectacular and the 2016 great for the Estate Riesling and Kabinett quality wines. On a very high level this reflects the overall picture of these two vintages, but for the detail you will have to wait a couple of weeks for my forthcoming report on this subject with almost 700 tasting notes on JamesSuckling.com. Suffice to say here that I think the Mosel hasn’t looked stronger in the 35 years I’ve been following it.

I will be away for the next few days around my birthday when I return to Eppstein for the International Riesling Symposium at Kloster Eberbach in the Rheingau on May 29th and 30th. I hope to see you there too, because attending this event will not only give you the opportunity to meet dozens of the world’s best Riesling winemakers, but also to taste some of the finest young and mature, dry and sweet Rieslings in the world. For more information see:

www.international-riesling-symposium.com

Above and beyond this a reorientation of this blog is in the planning. Given the way my own life and the way the world are developing there is no alternative, but to adopt a more personal approach and state the truth the way I see it. In retrospect, I feel that during the last couple of years I sometimes worried too much about being artistic. There’s no time for that kind of stuff any longer. Please be patient as a number of pieces must fall into place before I can implement this plan. Until then may the Riesling Force be with you!

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 5 – The Big Virginia Story, including Trump Winery (owned by the family of President Trump)

Me with Trump wines!

My big story about the wines of Virginia on the East Seaboard of the USA was just published on JamesSuckling.com and ought to cause a stir for a variety of reasons. It is not only the first in-depth report on the wine industry of the state where Thomas Jefferson famously failed to found a wine industry (this process actually began with the arrival of the first colonists from Britain in 1607) by a non-American journalist I’m aware of, it also the first to place the Trump estate winery – the biggest in Virginia – within a wide-ranging state-wide context.

Yes, that’s the winery owned by the family of President Donald Trump, and unlike many of his pronouncements my Virginia story is composed of fully-formed statements that are free of alternative facts. My training as a wine journalist, part of which was under James Suckling when he worked for Wine Spectator magazine, taught me that facts are facts, and quotes are quotes. The policy of JamesSuckling.com is that wine ratings should never be influenced by politics and there was therefore no discussion that the Trump wines would be included in my report and they would be treated exactly the same as all the other couple of hundred wines I encountered during a week of blind tastings and visits to leading producers.

I was very pleased that although there wasn’t time to visit Trump winery I got the chance to taste Trump wines on four different occasions and I also got  to talk at some length with the winemaker, Jonathan Wheeler. He’s very serious about what he’s doing at Trump winery and from this encounter I’m convinced that he has the talent and experience necessary for his considerable winemaking responsibilities. During that discussion he told me that sales at Trump winery are rocking (the same is true of many of the other leading wineries in Virginia), not least, “because of all the publicity.” That was certainly interesting to learn, particularly in view of the controversy about whether the businesses owned by the Trump family are benefiting from the fact that he’s the President of the USA, but in no way influenced but in no way did it influence how I rated and described the Trump wines.

Of course, you are all now wondering whether the Trump wines are amongst the highest-scoring in my report, or if they bombed out. I’m sure that how many of you feel about the results of our tastings will be colored by your opinion of the 45th President of the United States of America, and that’s your privilege. Although I cannot reveal all the results of my week discovering the exciting new developments in the Virginia wine industry, I can tell you that several Trump wines rated 90+, but one was far below that level. Will Trump’s critics fry me for praising the former, and will his followers demonize me for criticizing the latter? And how will the Trump family themselves react to the report? We will see.

The cellar at Boxwood in Middleburg

Meanwhile, I strongly recommend you to read the report and consider that a couple of Virginia wines rated 95+. Those are scores that JamesSuckling.com is very cautious about giving and this therefore represents a milestone for the state’s wine industry. There is now not only much beauty in the landscapes of Virginia, but also in its wines (the photo above is of the barrel room at Boxwood in Middleburg, one of the new red wine stars.) Thomas Jefferson has finally been proven right!

Here is the link to the full story:

https://www.jamessuckling.com/wine-tasting-reports/thomas-jefferson-proven-right-virginia-wine-comes-age/?mc_cid=0c790a51a1&mc_eid=0765a4a47d

 

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Eppstein Wine Diary: Day 9 – READ THIS BOOK! Bianca Bosker’s CORK DORK is the Best and Most Innovative Wine Book of the 21st Century!

Cork Dork

Maybe this is the first time that the category’s existence been openly declared, but I have no doubt that something worthy of the name New Wine Journalism is out there and that it came into existence shortly after the last turn of the century. Anyone who thinks that these are yet more Alternative Facts should buy and read Bianca Bosker’s brilliant new book Cork Dork, for it is irrefutable proof that this is not bullshit.

Let me give you a brief introduction to the intoxicating nitty-gritty of the New Wine Journalism. It is never directly concerned with which wine of a particular type and/or vintage is the best and it never uses numerical or other ratings of the conventional kind, e.g. five star system. Instead, just as New York-based Bianca Bosker does in Cork Dork, it delves into the guts of the wine world and after the writer’s deep immersion in it she returns to what is oh so glibly referred to as the “normal world” to report on this strange and still largely unknown – to “regular folks” – other reality just around the corner.

Of course, the name I’ve given to this new category is deliberate plagiarism of the New Journalism that developed in America during the 1960s and flourished there during the 1970s. I’m claiming that this theft is fair game, because the proponents of the New Wine Journalism – let me be straight with you in case you didn’t guess, I’m one of them too – make liberal use of the tools that were developed by Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe & Co. Bianca Bosker does this with aplomb in Cork Dork, but these are far from being the only means she employs to explore widely differing aspects of obsession with wine, and how it changes those who befall this terrible infectious disease. By the way, as the story of her 18 month long deep immersion in wine unfolds she too develops all the symptoms and becomes a sufferer. That, more than anything else about Cork Dork, is truly gonzo!

One of things that makes Bianca Bosker’s book such a racy read and an impressive piece of journalism is the way her texts morph with each change of viewpoint, for example from her review of the science of olfaction (Chapter Four, The Brains) to how dinners are treated by the somms in top NYC restaurants (Chapter Five, The Magic Kingdom), then on to the hedonism of wealthy wine collectors (Chapter Six, The Orgy). As she flips with agility from one side of the wine world to another her writing style effortlessly changes to fit her new subject. As a result almost every chapter in the book can be read as a self-contained work with its own logic. In spite of that, each of them has one or more stunning surprise for you, like  the story of the scent of her grandmother in The Brains or that of “normal somm” Annie Truhlar of Virginia Beach, VA in The Trial (Chapter Ten). I didn’t see the end coming either. The things that holds the wild and fascinating human cocktail of Cork Dork together are Bianca Bosker’s sociological / anthropological approach to analyzing each individual and sub-culture she encounters, and the way she does so both with compassion for her subjects and an eagle eye for the absurdities of their lives.#

All this makes Cork Dork much funnier, more compelling and richer than any other work of New Wine Journalism I know (including my own Rock Stars of Wine America e-books). How, then, can I adequately describe it in a short review like this? The best I can do for you is to say that Cork Dork is the journalistic equivalent of a great 10 course tasting menu in one of the NYC restaurants Bianca Bosker investigated. Even if you have even only a little curiosity about wine her book will pull you along then suck you in, as it did to me.

Cork Dork is published in paperback by Penguin Books, New York and costs $17.

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Eppstein Wine Diary: Day 7 – Farewell Roy Metzdorf!

Roy Metzdorf

Farewells always ripped me up, but sickness not inner struggles is the only reason that this photographic record of the farewell for Roy Metzdorf (pictured above) of the Weinstein wine bar in the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin took two weeks to post. Thanks to Andreas Baldauf for these photographs that so beautifully capture the mixed emotions of that evening. My selection reflects what I saw, and no doubt others would make a different selection with good reason. How could I write anything that could add to what these images say? No idea, so I’ve decided to present them without captions or commentary of any kind. If you are pictured here, but don’t want to appear in this way, then let me know and I will replace the relevant photograph(s). Roy would not want to be idealized here or anywhere else, nor would he want us to be sad (though I’m sure he would entirely understand our grief). I hope the following succeed in reflecting this spirit and something of Roy’s practical and inspirational generosity. Last words: NAMU AMIDA BUTSU

Weinstein, March 29th 2017

Weinstein, March 29th 2017
_g8b1203-2Weinstein,March 29th 2017Weinstein, March 29th 2017Weinstein. March 29th 2017

Weinstein, March 29th 2017

Weinstein, March 29th 2017_g8b1266-2Weinstein, March 29th 2017

Weinstein. March 29th 2017

Namu Amida ButsuWeinstein, March 29th 2017Riesling Global

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Eppstein Wine Diary: Day 3 – Dear Roy, Everyone is Invited to the Bottle Party in Your Memory in Weinstein/Berlin on Wednesday Evening, and We Hope You Will Join Us in Spirit

Portrait of Roy Metzdorf by Andreas Baldauf

Dear Roy,

Sorry it’s been so long since I was last in touch and now it’s too late for you to read this in the normal way, because on March 4th you died of heart failure. I therefore don’t expect that you know I was in New York City on March 8th when I received an email our good friend Max Krull telling me the sad news. Like many of your other friends I was plunged into a pit of grief, but a few days later I pulled myself out of it, because I knew you wanted me to do that. I feel very glad that we had a couple of great evenings together in Berlin in February, because neither you nor anybody else guessed what was coming. Of course, I regret not having been able to say goodbye, but the way you lived your life without the slightest hesitation and the minimum of compromise made it clear to me that one day it would suddenly all be over. I just didn’t expect it to happen anything like that soon.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 28th I’m taking the train from Eppstein close to Frankfurt back to Berlin for your funeral the following day, Wednesday, March 29th. That will be a rather private and somber event, but from 6pm that evening there’s a bottle party in Weinstein, the wine bar that you ran from the fall of 1993 until your death to celebrate your life. (For those who have forgotten where it is, the address is Lychener Strasse 33, 10437 Berlin and the nearest subway is Eberswalder Strasse on the U2 line). I’m writing this not only to invite anyone and everyone reading this to attend, but also to ask if you can join us in your remarkable spirit, which lives on. I know that because I can sense a small piece of it in me. Everyone needs to bring at least one bottle of wine, if possible something  special, i.e. last bottle of a favorite wine or simply a rare and/or expensive bottle according to your principal of GSKR, Geld spielt keine Rolle, or who cares about the price!

Of course, I still feel your loss. There will be no more wonderful evenings in Weinstein, which you ran with a flair that almost nobody else in the German wine and gastronomic scene could. There will be no more amazing conversations with you from which I learned how, in spite of all the differences in temperament, background, language, upbringing, education and sexual preferences between us, we had so much in common. There will be no more mind-expanding adventures with you in wine regions near and far during which your curiosity helped open my eyes to things that went far beyond the details of winegrowing and winemaking. And from now on I will only be able to see the look in your eye that said, “all walls can and will fall!” in photos like the one above.  It was taken in Weinstein on April 19th last year by Andreas Baldauf and more photographs from that evening can be seen at:

Stuart Pigott im Weinstein Berlin

Enough of the sad stuff though, and on to the positive things which I know you want me to concentrate upon. I’ve been a storyteller since my teens, and all those years of storytelling taught me that every story has a backstory. Now that you’re gone the part of your life I was able to share has become an essential part of the backstory of the rest of my life. I’m only just beginning to discover what that really means, but I feel sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. Exzellent serviert! or excellently served was another of your principals, and although your life was tragically cut short until that moment you excellently served yourself to all of us.

Thank you for the unforgettable service of wine, food, inspiration and love!

RIP, much love and all the best,

Stuart

 

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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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