Rheingau Riesling Diary: Day 1 – The Grapes Begin to Soften ! (Technical Word: Verasion)

After the hottest summer in Western Europe since 2003 & 2006 and the driest summer in Western Europe since 1961 how do the grapes look? I have to admit the combination of hot and dry made me worry that a lot of the vineyards in Germany and elsewhere would look yellowed, maybe wilted, or even sometimes close to collapse. However, I just got back from an intensive tour of the vineyards in the eastern end of the Rheingau with Hajo Becker of J.B. Becker in Walluf, Rheingau and was very pleasantly surprised by what I saw. By no means is 2015 doomed to be a problem vintage, in fact the great majority of vineyards that were well cared for looked very good.

The photograph above shows the plot in the Eltviller Rheinberg site from which J.B. Becker regularly makes a dry Riesling and harvests the base wine for the sparkling Riesling Sekt. As you can see, it lies right on the bank of the Rhein and that makes it a warm location. The soil is very sandy, which means it can hold little water. This together with the heat and drought has resulted in the grass between the rows completely browning (something it rarely does in the generally moist climate of Germany), yet the vines are obviously in excellent health. Only in one small corner of the vineyard did I see any drought stress, and I saw absolutely no sign whatever of fungal disease. I also found the first berries that were beginning to soften (technical word: verasion), a sure sign that  the final ripening process is beginning.

This softening is accompanied by a change appearance of the grapes. White wine grapes become translucent, but this is very difficult to photograph (my Olympus EP-5 is great, but I don’t usually have a tripod with me or all the time in the world). Red wine grapes turn color at verasion, and this is much easier to photograph. The picture above shows grapes on Hajo Becker’s oldest Spätburgunder / Pinot Noir vines in the Wallufer Walkenberg site that were planted in 1959. As you can see, the change of color is almost completed, and they look extremely healthy. This is the ideal state for red wine grapes at this point in the year year, and it suggests that as long as theres on heavy rainfall between now and the harvest this could be an excellent red wine vintage for Germany. Don’t forget, Germany has the third largest area planted with Pinot Noir in the world!

Riesling dominates in the Rheingau where it accounts for about 70% of all the vineyards (only the tiny Mittelrhein region has a higher percentage of Riesling in Germany, or indeed the world). From what I saw here yesterday and today there is clearly variation between the vineyards of one commune to the next, because summer storms brought rain in some places and not in others. In a few places, like the Rüdesheimer Berg vineyards, the intensity of the storm (more than two and a half inches of rain in about half an hour!) was so great that it actually reduced the size of the crop. These factors, and differences in cultivation methods, have lead to widely varying crop levels. That and the longer time until the late-ripening Riesling grapes are ready to pick, makes it yet more difficult to predict the result. However, the general good health of the vines and the fact that serious drought stress has only occurred in a few corners, suggests that a positive result can be expected as long as the pre-harvest period and the harvest itself aren’t plagued with heavy rains.

Famously, those who predicted the end of the world fell became a laughing stock, and it’s the same with those who dared to predict to a great vintage many weeks or even months before the first grapes were picked. On the West Coast of America some wine producers have foolishly been playing that game this year, basing their prediction on the exceptional advanced development of the grapes. Excuse me, but this is complete BS! My experience says that vineyards like the plot of old Riesling vines in Hajo Becker’s holdings section of the Wallufer Walkenberg site, pictured above, give very good to exceptional wines year in, year out. There are many, many examples of this in Germany, Western Europe and the world of wine as a whole. The excitement about the new vintage each year is a good thing, but even good things can be carried too far! A good wine in your glass is the main thing!


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 13 – Graham Tatomer and the New Aromatic Dry Whites of Santa Barbara County, CA

I have to admit that when I first tasted the dry Rieslings from Graham Tatomer’s eponymous winery in Los Olivos, Santa Barbara County in California I hesitated. They were so different from anything else I encountered during the research for my 2014 book BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH – The Riesling Story (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) that I wasn’t sure what to make of them. And what I’ve tasted several times recently, the three single vineyard dry Rieslings of the 2013 vintage, are also way outside the conventional Riesling box. For those seeking Rieslings with effusive fruit aromatics and a bright interplay of acidity and sweetness this is not the place to go, except for reasons of curiosity. However, if you aren’t afraid of some tannins and plenty of yeasty (technical term lees) character, nor of a hint of bitterness and a lot more power, then you should  find them fascinating and impressive.

There is a very special backstory to these wines and the equally distinctive Grüner Veltliners from Tatomer Wines (Meeresboden and Paragon Vineyard, both $28 direct from the winery), and it begins in the village of Loiben in the Wachau, Austria where Graham, pictured above, went to learn and work in 2003. There a love of Grooner was added to his fascination with Riesling. After he returned to California he founded his winery in 2008 and since then he has roughly tripled production to about 14,000 bottles per year. He uses grapes from some of the coolest sites in the entire county to makes his three single vineyard Rieslings ($22 to $35 direct from the winery), and the result is some of the most daring whites being made in this part of the state.  Although I’m sure that the development of Graham’s white wine style hasn’t reached an endpoint, after making seven vintages of dry white wine from these grapes he’s already become something of a role model in the region.

Just the other day at the offices of Soilair wines in New York Wine City (NYWC) Volker Donabaum showed me an impressive handful of wines from the tiny Solminer winery in Santa Barbara County that included these delicious 2014 dry Riesling and Grüner Veltliner ($28 and $30 direct from the winery). Anyone who finds the Tatomer style too extreme and not fruit-driven enough is strongly recommended these vividly aromatic and expressive wines. The Riesling has a lot of lemony and some floral character, the Grooner has a very authentic white pepper and green apple aromas. NYWC will surely go for this pair, and Anna and David deLaski have only been doing this since 2012! No doubt it helps that she’s originally from St. Pölten in Lower Austria, however, I’d say that they must be doing a lot of things right in the vineyard, choosing good picking dates (the alcohol levels are modest), and that the 6 months in neutral oak before bottling is enabling the wines to develop at their own pace.

This isn’t the end of the story of the new aromatic dry whites of Santa Barbara County though, for although Jeff Fischer’s Habit Wines doesn’t yet produce Riesling, it does produce a good Grooner and a great Chenin Blanc. Here is another aromatic grape that dislikes oak and really gains something from prolonged contact with the yeast after fermentation; the twin secrets of Jeff’s distinctive wine style. Although their orientation point is Northeastern Italy Steve Clifton of Palmina (and Brewer-Clifton) is also making aromatic dry whites in this vein under that label. I love the Malvasia Bianca from Palmina and the Pinot Grigio is very good too. All of which says to me that an era of major innovation is beginning in this part of California and this is something I have to explore there at the first opportunity.

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 9 – Remembering Hiroshima and Facing the Truth about Hiroshima (George Orwell Part 3)

There is a theory which has not been accurately formulated or given a name, but which is very widely accepted and is brought forward whenever it is necessary to justify some action which conflicts with the decency of the average human being. It might be called, until some better name is found, the Theory of Catastrophic Gradualism. According to this theory, nothing is ever achieved without bloodshed, lies, tyranny and injustice, but on the other hand no considerable change for the better is to be expected as the result of even the greatest upheaval. History necessarily proceeds by calamities…

George Orwell wrote those words lines for the in November 1945, and in spite of the timing he was not thinking particularly of the atomic bombings of Japan just three months before. However, his words also well describe that situation. I took the above photograph of the Atomic Dome in Hiroshima, Japan on April 15th, 2007 during the month I spent researching wine, sake and Japanese culture. It was the only one of my photographs that didn’t turn these ruins into just another historical landmark, but showed them as one of few surviving reminders of the almost five square miles of complete destruction caused by the atomic bomb dropped by the USAAF on the city 70 years ago today.

On August 6th, 1945 about 70,000 of the city’s 340,000 citizens were killed by the direct effects of the bomb’s explosion, a figure which had doubled by the end of the year mainly due to radiation sickness; more than 40% of the entire population! The great majority of the dead were civilians, and in Nagasaki (the target of the second atomic bombing three days later) where the corresponding figures were almost 40,000 dead on the day of the atomic bombing and close to 80,000 by the end of the year more than 99% of the victims were civilians. But what do numbers really tell us? They are necessary to give a sense of scale to the most terrible events from the atomic bombings of Japan to the Holocaust, but they also mask the identities of the individual victims. For a detailed description of what those number meant in terms of human suffering I recommend John Hersey’s book Hiroshima first published in the August 31st, 1946 issue of The New Yorker, which it almost entirely filled. It describes in a matter of fact way what 6 survivors experienced, but I warn you that in spite of that and the distance in time it’s not an easy read.

Of course, it is important not to forget the wider contexts of the Pacific War and the Second World War as a whole. Almost all of Japan’s major cities were destroyed by USAAF firebombing during the last six months of the Second World War, most terribly in the raid on residential Tokyo of March 9th, 1945 that killed about 100,000 civilians. Of course, the Japanese also conducted air raids on urban centers in China and committed many other war crimes, of which the Nanking massacre was the worst. And then there are the 6 million Jews and 5 million Slavic people murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in Europe, plus smaller (but still very large numbers) of European civilians of many nationalities killed by all sides in that conflict. This isn’t the place to try and catalogue all the genocidal horrors of the global conflagration. Professional historians are better equipped for this task. There is extensive literature about all of these events for anyone who is interested. I just read Elie Wiesel’s Night, his autobiographical description of the Holocaust, which spells out what that enormous genocidal crime meant for the victims. It only confirmed my feeling of compassion for all victims of war and genocide.

The first reason for covering this subject is my personal connection to Hiroshima, where in 2007 the Yoshinaga family, including one Hibakusha (survivor of the A bomb), showed me great hospitality and generosity. Then there are the results of my research over almost a decade that leads me to the conclusion that the first atomic bombing was unquestionably a deliberate attack on a civilian target and no warning was given precisely in order to better study the effects upon the, “Hiroshima urban industrial area”. Already that wording in Order Nr. 13 of August 2nd, 1945 signed by Acting Chief of Staff General Thomas T. Hardy make the non-military nature of the bombing’s target rather clear.

I first saw a facsimile of that order in the Peace Memorial Museum of Hiroshima, but it was not at the beginning of the exhibit as you might have expected. Instead the museum began by telling the history of Japanese militarism and Hiroshima’s role in that. There was no attempt there to, much less deny, the wider context of the Second World War, or the wars that preceded it. This is did not align with how the international media portray Japan as nation of revisionists determined to play down the crimes of the past, and it is a lesson from which we could learn. For example, although the Manhattan Project was American controlled, it was actually British-American joint venture that enjoyed considerable material support from Canada. The Quebec Agreement of July 1943 gave British Prime Minister Winston Churchill a veto over the use of the atomic bomb. Instead, he approved its use against Japan and consulting with none of his cabinet before taking that decision. Which Churchill biography tells you that though? As George Orwell also wrote in November 1945:

There are always the most excellent, high-minded reasons for concealing the truth, and these reasons are brought forward in almost the same words by supporters of the most diverse causes…So often it seems a positive duty to suppress or color the facts! And yet genuine progress can only happen through increasing enlightenment, which means the continuous destruction of myths.

The second reason for devoting a long posting to a subject so far from this blog’s core theme is to make the observation that if atomic weapons are ever used in anger again, many of them will undoubtedly be dropped on civilian targets. For my entire lifetime this was the genocidal threat of the nuclear arsenals on both sides of the Cold War, and as a child and young person I felt this in a visceral way, particularly in 1983, the second terrifying high point of the Cold War after the so-called Cuba Crisis of 1962. (It was about Russian nuclear missiles on Cuba, but also about American nuclear missiles in Turkey, Italy and Britain). My parents told me all about their fears in October 1962, and I relived them 21 years later.

The thousands of nuclear weapons retained to this day continue this intimidation, even if the chances of them being used have thankfully reduced since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. That doesn’t alter the fact that in August 1945 the principal was established that the use of atomic weapons against cities is legitimate, even if the number of victims is enormous. This was an extension of the legitimacy the Allies gave to their firebombing of entire cities in Germany and Japan, but achieved more quickly and economically. Of course, we were lucky that deterrence worked, and it is worth nothing that no Soviet leader or American President ever seriously considered starting a nuclear conflict, although some generals on both sides were in favor of this at several points.

On my last morning in Hiroshima I went for a run, passing the Hypocenter, the point above which the bomb exploded, the brown stone obelisk next to the apartment building) picture above. As I was returned to my hotel I had to wait for a traffic light to cross the road. Suddenly, on the other side of the busy street from me I saw one of those large clocks decorated with flowering plants that you see in public parks around the world. It had been sponsored by the Japanese watch manufacturer CITIZEN, and at that moment it said the time was 8:15 am. This was exactly the time the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th 1945, and one of the most potent symbols of that day are watches and clocks stopped forever at the moment of the explosion. Of course, it was the citizens of Hiroshima who paid the price for this act the American and British governments still have not properly acknowledged for what it was. The claim that the atomic bombings ended the War in the Pacific has been well refuted by professional historians, so this argument is spurious. Anyone who thinks it is possible to deny such acts with impunity is directed to Hiroshima in America by Robert Jay Lifton & Greg Mitchell who describe the psychological consequences of being in denial for decades.

This blog posting does not seek to assign blame though, rather it promotes facing the past, so that we aren’t doomed to repeat it. For if we do repeat it there will be no pleasure in wine, or a thousand other beautiful things we take for granted. With the next posting this blog returns to its core subject: the beauty of wine.



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@CityofRiesling Diary: Day 4 – Tonight’s the Night (of 100 Rieslings in Traverse City, Michigan)

Other wines have their annual day and Riesling used (in theory) to own the summer, but actually most people enjoy wine as part of a great night out, and I’m not arguing with that. It may be a simple observation, but if Riesling is the Best White Wine on Earth (the title of my book on the subject published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang), then it could well be the best wine to drink tonight. And this will be particularly true here in Traverse City, Michigan, because tonight the second @CityofRiesling festival kicks off with the Night of 100 Rieslings downtown close to the shore of Lake Michigan. Normally I don’t kick off a posting with a landscape image, but this picture shot from the deck of a boat on the lake last night was so spectacular I wanted to give you an idea of what the backdrop will be tonight. If you are unable to join us tonight, I suggest you scroll up to this shot and open a bottle of Riesling, or maybe two or three.

Although the @CityofRiesling is all about celebrate the wines of my favorite grape it has a serious purpose as well and, hard as it may be to believe, the above picture illustrates that. It shows Sam Smith of Smith Madrone winery in Napa Valley, California relaxing in the waters of Grand Traverse Bay last night. He’s one of the many winemakers who travelled large distances to be here, to pour their wines and to exchange ideas. The dry 2014 Riesling from Smith Madrone has as much vitality and elegance as this winery’s better known Cabernet Sauvignon reds (the 2012 is a beautiful example of this), and likewise proves that even that region so associated with massive, opulent and sweetish tasting wines has a completely different side of which Riesling is a part. This proves that it wasn’t the Great God of Wine who ordained that Napa should produce Big Cabs, but men and women, consumers (who I regard as co-producers) no less than producers.

The most important thing about Riesling is that it is a seemingly endless source of surprises. I’ve been studying, tasting and drinking it for 30 years, but I still get a rush of excitement from realizing that I’ve just bumped into another new star in the Riesling firmament. Or would you expect to find that there’s a producer of high-end dry Riesling wines in Pennsylvania? Sarah Troxell of Galen Glen winery in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania is another participant of the @CityofRiesling and yesterday was the first time we’d met, so already the event has provided me with one very pleasant surprise.



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New York Riesling Diary: Day 6 – Almost Famous 2013 Dry Rieslings from Tim Fröhlich & Vincent Bründlmayer

Yesterday, at the the Rudi Wiest Selections tasting of German wines here in NYWC (New York Wine City) I bumped into Tim Fröhlich of the Schäfer-Fröhlich winery in Bockenau in the Nahe. Tasting some of his 2013 and 2014 Rieslings reminded me what a great winemaker he is, how that fact still isn’t widely realized in many places around the world, and as a result the reputation of the Nahe is also not always what it should be. One reason for all this is that Tim’s top dry Rieslings (what he’s best known for in Germany) can be pretty funky during their first year in bottle, sometimes even stinking a little. This is what winemakers refer to as reduction, which is the opposite of oxidation. Doing wild yeast ferments and allowing his top dry wines to go into the bottle with a slight reduction results in this youthful awkwardness. However, when I taste a wine like Tim’s 2013 Felsenberg Riesling GG (from a steep south-facing site with very stony volcanic soil), then I have no problems at all. This wine now has intense grapefruit and smoke aromas, is powerful but still quite sleek, and has almost impossibly intense mineral freshness at the finish. During the better part of a year in the bottle the funk this wine initially had has blown off completely. This wine must be tasted to be believed!

Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera with my to the Terry Theise Selections tasting in NYWC  just two days before, so there’s no photograph of Vincent Bründlmayer to accompany my description of his sensation dry 2013 Riesling Heiligenstein ‘Alte Reben’. This wine is so concentrated, yet has a supermodel silhouette and an amazingly long aftertaste that literally took my breath away. I haven’t tasted an Austrian Riesling which did quite that to me in quite a few years and it was the high point of this tasting. The other important conclusion I drew here is that in 2014 the dry Grüner Veltliners from Austria are a bit more consistently successful than the dry Rieslings.

What both tastings made clear was, that although there are some pretty poor 2014 vintage German and Austrian white wines out there on the market, the top producers in both countries were able to pull off a minor miracle and their 2014 wines are more charming than their 2013s. Any rumors that 2014 is a poor vintage in Germany and Austria are unfounded and based on ignorance. Cheers!

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 14 – The New Hugel

Maison Hugel of Riquewihr long seemed like the bastion of tradition in Alsace/France, but last night at the tasting dinner they and their US importer Frederick Wildman staged at Zuma Restaurant at 261 Madison Avenue that image cracked, dissolved and began to coalesce in an entirely new form. The agent of this metamorphosis from old to new was Jean Frédéric, 27, son of Etienne Hugel, the Hugel brother in charge of marketing. Two points need to be stressed here to prevent the wrong impression being given: 1) this is a genuine metamorphosis in which the same creature changes from one form to another, 2) it is still in progress.

Jean Frédéric likes saying some radical things like, “the biggest drama of Alsace is that we’re losing our style. 20 years ago people knew they would get a dry Riesling, a dry Pinot Gris an a food friendly Gewürz, but now there are too many easy-drinking sweet wines. This is a terrible mistake.” However, they are all deeply rooted in what it’s fashionable to call the brand DNA. I use this expression, but Jean Frédéric said, “I prefer to say family than brand, because it’s been a family company since 1639.” “You don’t look that old!” somebody heckled. “We’re all getting older!” he quipped back. That’s the sense of humor he displayed all evening, but that joke doesn’t alter the fact that some serious rejuvenation isn’t happening to the Hugel wines and some aspects of the way they are marketed.

One of the biggest changes Hugel are making became apparent when one of the first wines was poured, the 2012 Pinot Gris Classic showed. I could describe the label which features a Ralph Steadman cartoon of an Alsace winegrower in tradition costume (now rarely seen), but it makes way more sense to who it to you, see above. Superficially, the only thing the new Hugel label has in common with the old one is the yellow background color and the company name in that very distinctive red script. However, when the old label was introduced back in 1921 it embodied the very latest thinking in brand marketing, and was based upon the design of the Maggi spicy cooking condiment; a huge brand at the time. Maggi had conducted modern-style consumer testing of alternate designs and found that a red brand name on a yellow background was most easily recognized by them. A member of the Hugel family who worked for Maggi for  a while brought that discovery with him to Riquewihr. Now they are taking a similarly radical step for their Classic range of varietal wines, which will all switch to the label above. By the way, that Pinot Gris is a delicious wine, with the richness and suppleness of the variety when the grapes are picked ripe (and the vines weren’t over-cropped), but properly dry and clean.

It made complete sense staging the tasting at Zuma, because the Asian-fusion cuisine matched the dry Hugel whites beautifully. The excellent sushi and sashimi really lit up the 2013 Riesling Classic, that had seemed a little sullen (too young) when first poured. As you can see from the above image, the affinity of their wines for this kind of food is a card that Hugel is now playing big time and with some panache. No doubt this also aligns with Jean Frédéric’s personal taste, for otherwise he couldn’t have spoken with such enthusiasm about this subject. And this is by no means the end of this story. At the end of the summer Hugel will launch their first wine with a Grand Cru vineyard designation on the label, the 2007 Riesling Grand Cru Schoenenbourg. Watch this space!

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Ontario Riesling Diary: Day 3 – Let me be Franc with You

As regular visitors are aware, this blog is devoted primarily to the wines of the Riesling grape, just like my book BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH (pub. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2014), but I occasionally throw a sidelong glance in another direction completely, (as a journalist I’m interested in journalism and everything relating to it), or, more frequently, to the wines of other grape varieties. This is one of the latter type of blog postings, because good and great Ontario wine is certainly not only made from Riesling.

Yesterday’s tastings proved that Cabernet Franc isn’t just another interesting variety for the Niagara Peninsula, rather a big part of the future for the region’s red wine production. As the photograph above taken in the vineyard at Stratus close to Niagara on the Lake, my favorite producer of Cab-based red wine blends in this region, shows Cabernet Franc comes through the hard winters here remarkably well. Last winter was the coldest ever recorded, and yet this vine still looks good. The thing that you can’t see from this photograph is that the team lead by director J-L Groux will prune each of these vines three times instead of one in order to optimize the crop for the growing season that’s just begun. That is an awful lot of work and it requires skill. I’ve pruned vines a number of times, but never done this kind of patient, step-by-step pruning spread over several weeks watching which buds produce shoots and which of those shoots will actually bear fruit; the whole point of viticulture!

The 2010 Cabernet Franc from Stratus is cast-iron proof of this grape’s potential to give world class wines here, because it tastes neither like a red Loire wine from this grape (there is only the merest hint of green, a hint of parsley rather than green bell pepper) nor like a red Bordeaux (the tannins are rich, but silkier than is normal there), much less like a American West Coast interpretation (it has some violet aroma, but not the opulence of California & Co). Instead, it is entirely itself and beautifully balanced. This grape also plays a role, it was 15% in the 2010 vintage, of the Stratus red blend, adding freshness and aroma to help this powerful wine remain light on it’s feet in spite of all it’s tannic power. A grape that manages a great solo performance and can play in a quartet like this (with 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot and 15% Petit Verdot) clearly makes a lot of sense in this special wine growing location.

However, the great thing about Cabernet Franc is that it you can produce a range of different styles from it. For example, the 2010 Cabernet Franc ‘Whimsy!’ from Southbrook (not far from Stratus) is quite powerful, but already charming and graceful with a hint of bottle age, but plenty of fruit showing. Here, Cab Franc makes up fully 31% of the blended 2010 ‘Poetica’ red that is conceived by owner Bill Redelmeier as the region’s answer to Bordeaux’s Léoville Las Cases, (one of my favorite wines from the Médoc area, as long as it has some bottle age. The ‘Poetica’ also needs some bottle age to mellow its bold dry tannins, but as the 2007 (the first vintage of this wine) showed, it doesn’t take as many years to mellow this wine as it does Léoville Las Cases. At this point in the day I was about as far away from Riesling as you can get!

Cave Spring are most famous for their CSV Riesling, pictured above, and that was the main reason they were my last appointment yesterday evening. However, they also make some excellent Chardonnay (ranging from Blanc to Blanc sparkling to the elegant, discretely oaken ‘Estate’), and some Cabernet Franc that has a perfume, vibrancy and lightness of touch that no other producer in Ontario quite achieves. The 2013 vintage ‘Niagara Escarpment’ bottling will be a great introduction to this style for many people, and the more concentrated ‘Estate’ bottling makes a serious statement that will impress others. These wines are just about to be bottled, so please be patient. Patience will also be needed for the top Cave Spring Rieslings from the 2014 vintage. The 2014 ‘CSV’ Riesling has intense peach and citrus aromas (not just lemon, but mandarin too) and marries terrific concentration with a tingling mineral freshness, the hint of residual sweetness (technically it is medium-dry) perfectly balancing the generous acidity. The 2014 ‘Estate’ is a smaller scale version of this wine, and the 2014 ‘Adam’s Steps’ is a more succulent (a lot of orange, some pineapple and passion fruit) wine with serious mineral saltiness at the finale. Normally, I don’t do tasting notes here, but let me be frank with you, these are some of the best Rieslings cave Spring ever made and deserve this attention. Maybe they’ll age as well as the great 1999 ‘CSV’ I drank here last time.


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 2 – Where the Next Story is to be Found (Welcome to the Corner of West 16th and 6th Ave)

I often ask myself where the next story is to be found, particularly when I’ve been in one place for a long time and familiarity has made me contemptuous of my surroundings, so that I have ceased to take them in properly. Let’s be frank, that means I’m less alive than I could be and ought to be. Then life gives me a jolt and brings me back to my senses. That happened most recently on Thursday when I flew from Berlin to New York, then I was suddenly confronted again with things like the corner of West 16th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan, just a few yards from where I live when I’m in New York Wine City (NYWC). As you can see, even the closest and most familiar street corner can still be full of surprises. However, this time I hardly have the time to take all this in, because tomorrow (Sunday) I’m flying up to Toronto for the 2015 Terroir Symposium on Monday, May 11th. I would be able to write more here if I hadn’t spent much of the day figuring out exactly what I have to say on Monday afternoon, and I’m still not entirely sure…but as you can see from the picture above, my heart is in the right place.

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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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