Category Archives: STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL

New York Wine Diary: Day 1 – Castello di Morcote is One of the World’s “Grand Crus” for Merlot

This is Gaby Gianini the owner of Castello di Morcote, and although those names will be unknown to most readers I am convinced that this place is one of the world’s great Cru for red wines from the Merlot grape. I call it “Anti-Petrus”, because Chateau Petrus in Pomerol/Bordeaux – the most famous Cru in the whole world for Merlot-based red wines – is almost flat and has a heavy clay soil that retains a lot of water, whereas Castello di Morcote’s vineyards are on steep slopes with a weathered porphyry soil that retains very little water. The contrast could hardly be more striking, but it goes much, much further than these facts, however fundamental they are for the business of winegrowing.

Due to their location on the plateau of Pomerol from the vineyards of Petrus you can barely see beyond the immediately neighboring properties where the vineyards look much the same. “Dull” was the first word that occurred to me when trying to describe this location. And no, I’m not anti-Bordeaux, for example, the nearby town of St. Emilion and the surrounding vineyards are stunning in comparison. Castello  di Morcote stands on an isthmus projecting into Lago di Lugano from which the views are truly spectacular. On three sides of the property lie the waters of the lake lie and, depending which way you look from which location on the property, you can see for somewhere between several miles to some tens of miles. Most of what you see is densely forested hill country that is unchanged since thousands of years (see below). I know of no other vineyard location in the world exactly like this, although the bluff of Keuka Lake in the FLX of Upstate New York kind of resembles it.

Then there’s the architecture. The Chateau at Petrus is little more than a 19th century farmhouse, and it still looks like that although a great deal of money having been poured into making it look grander (and avoiding some taxes). In contrast, Castello di Morcote is a massive fortress dating back to around 1450, and although it is partially in ruins this only adds to the impressive effect. However, the age of this place is much greater than the fortress you see when you arrive, for it was built around the remains of a Roman tower that are still visible (the Roman well is pictured below).

I’m going to stick my neck out a considerable distance and say that there’s no department in which Morcote lags behind Petrus except in wine prices, although it does that by a huge margin: the latter is one of the most expensive wines in the world. Morcote costs between 5% and 10% of the price of Petrus depending on the vintage (for the latter).  Of course, the statement of with which this paragraph begins means that I consider the red wine from Castello di Morcote to be remarkable and extraordinary. In my opinion, since the 2011 vintage it has joined the L’Apparita of Castello di Ama in Chianti Classico as one of the two most elegant Merlot red wines in the world. They both come from high altitude vineyards with rocky soils that are not only a great contrast to Chateau Petrus, but also to the almost flat vineyards with loam-based soils from which Masseto (Italy’s most famous and expensive Merlot red) is produced in Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast.

This is all down to the vision of Gaby Gianini who was convinced that her family property was capable of producing special wines when she took over responsibility for the vineyards and winemaking in 2009. In Michele Conceprio (pictured above) she has found an ideal oenologist for this project, not only because he has great experience growing Merlot around the Lago di Lugano, but also because he is fanatical about turning vineyards into complex eco-systems through bio-dynamic methods. It has been this and more rigorous selection of the grapes used for red wine (the property also makes interesting dry whites based on Merlot) that have moved quality up and up since 2009. Already the 2011 wines (the current vintage) have the dry elegance and subtle fragrance that is Gianini’s goal, but the 2013s take this a step farther having even more energy (that which Merlot generally misses), and the 2015s that are still in barrel are sensationally expressive and unbelievably vibrant considering how hot last summer was.

The idea of Cru, that is of unique locations in each of which a particular type of wine achieve both a remarkable quality and a high individuality of flavor is not new, although it is less old than is commonly supposed (it very rarely goes back much more than 300 years). However, this idea is often only applied to a few select regions, as if in the distant past the Great God of Wine had written in stone that terroir could only exist in a handful of places. In fact, the way the Cru idea has spread very considerably during the 30 plus years of  my career, most obviously in the German-speaking world, but also, for example, in Piemont. Back in the 1970s there were very few single-vineyard Nebbiolos from that region and they were often considered oddities. Since then there has been a great blossoming of the culture of single-vineyards in Piemont. I am sure that this will also happen in the region that is Castello di Morcote’s home.

Where is that? Although the names are all Italian, it is just the other side of the border in the Italian speaking Swiss province of Ticino. Yes, I’ve been talking about a Swiss wine the whole time! And how could a Riesling lover get so excited about Merlot of all grapes, because here too are elegance and vitality, subtle aromatics and a balance that draws me back to the glass again and again.

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New York Wine Diary: Day 5 – The Fragrance of Austria

Last night at Jadis wine bar on Rivington Street in the Lower East Side I had a Close Encounter of the Third Kind with the wonderful fragrance that Austrian wine is capable of. I’m not talking about the in-your-face kind of aromas that many so-called Icon Wines from around the globe have – they are often so over-concentrated that they slams into you like rogue waves  - much less the kind of overwhelming artificiality that many modern fragrances (for men and for women!) display. No, I’m talking about the aromatic delicacy that is possible in various parts of Austria, particularly with indigenous grape varieties like the white Grüner Veltliner and the red Blaufränkisch (aka Kékfrankos / Lemberger), or well-integrated immigrants like the white Riesling (from Germany) and Sauvignon Blanc (from the Loire in France).

Let’s start with tannic red wines, because this is the category of wine that many consumers imagine cannot ever be fragrantly aromatic. Blaufränkisch isn’t the only grape that proves this is possible (Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo in the right location are also examples of this), but it is a very important one. Nowhere that I know of does it give more fragrant wines than on the slopes of the Spitzerberg in the small region of Carnuntum (named after the ancient Roman city there). Dorli Muhr of the Muhr – van der Niepoort estate winery, pictured above, is the most important producer of these wines and in the 2013 vintage she made the finest Spitzerberg Blaufränkisch I ever tasted. Even the regular bottling, the 2013 Samt & Seide meaning velvet & silk, has a fragrance in which lemon freshness mingles with all manner of summer flowers. In common with all Spitzerberg Blaufränkisch, this is a sleek wine with a forthright acidity, but also carries a generous load of dry tannins that give it power and the ability to age at least 5 years, maybe much longer. For under $25 retail this is a very serious wine.

Dorli’s 2013 Spitzerberg has the same basic characteristics, but there’s an earthiness behind the floral charm. The one thing that is eye-popping about this it is how vivid and energized it tastes, a dramatic contrast to many warm climate reds with their high alcoholic content and low acidity levels. In common with the best Blaufränkisch from Moric (in Mittelburgenland) and Uwe Schiefer (in Südburgenland), this wine has enormous depth and serious dry tannins, yet great balance and delicacy.  For me, those are the hallmarks of world-class wines from this grape. If you are longing for red wines that make bold statements that can be fully understood with the first sip, move on somewhere else fast (Welcome to Cabernet Country!), but if you want the wine to tease, tantalize, fascinate and astonish you, then this is a wine you must try. Red Burgundies or Piemonte Nebbiolos that do all this cost several times this wine’s price tag of about $50. Those seeking a slightly more fruity version of this experience are recommended the 2012 vintage of both these wines. They are also a little more supple and fleshy.

By the way, none of the Muhr – van der Niepoort reds have any directly perceptible oak character (although there is a hint of it in there if go hunting for it and are really sensitive to these aromas), in common with the wines from Moric and Uwe Schiefer. This is all a great achievement considering that this estate winery was founded in 2002 and Dorli is a self-taught winemaker. Her main profession is public relations (at her Wine & Partners company in Vienna).

How is this freshness and elegance possible in a region with rather hot summers like the Carnuntum? “The summer isn’t only warm it’s also usually very dry and I think the vines shot down for periods, that is the drought slows the ripening process down,” Dorli explained, “in 2013 the summer was very dry it turned very cool in September and that slowed the ripening down again.” These therefore qualify as genuinely slow wines.

The better-known side of Austrian wine fragrance is that of the dry whites, but these days those wines are often richly aromatic, rather than delicate and subtle. That’s not a criticism, rather it’s an observation about how climate change has made some Austrian dry whites bolder and more imposing. Ilse Maier, pictured above, has been making dry whites with great freshness and fragrance at her family’s the Geyerhof estate winery in the southern part of the Kremstal region (directly neighboring the Wachau on the right bank of the Danube). Here the secret to the wines’ special personality is the altitude of the vineyards that all lie between 270 and 300 meters / 885  - 985 feet above sea level. Even in the age of climate change these are cool climate wines in the full sense of those words. However, to capture that special character the winemaker must decide to go with what nature gives her, then adapt to that in the vineyard, press house and cellar. That is what Ilse Maier has been perfecting at Geyerhof during the last decade.

Her 2014 Steinleithn Grüner Veltliner has a kaleidoscopic fragrance that spans the entire range of white and yellow fruits along with many fresh herbs. It has none of the exotic fruit aromas or the lushness of flavor and texture that many high-end Grüner Veltliners have in their youth, and it is stunningly light on its feet for a dry white with this kind of flavor concentration. It weighs in at just 12.5% alcohol and under $30, yet has a great future ahead of it, assuming that you can resist it’s abundant charms. The striking thing about the recently bottles 2015 Rosensteig Grüner Veltliner (herbal and citrusy with great vitality) and the 2015 Hoher Rain Grüner Veltliner (wonderful interplay of sweet vegetal aromas and spring-like freshness) is how bright their acidity tastes although analytically it is clearly lower than in the previous two vintages. Often when Grooner has lowish acidity it becomes a bit broad, but not these wines. Then there’s Ilse Maier’s 2015 Sprinzenberg Riesling (subtle peach and spice aromas) that has an athletic energy and vibrancy that wouldn’t be possible if the acidity was too low. Of course, these 2015s are still super-young and will show much better in a few months time, or a few years if you have the patience.

No doubt some readers will ask why I didn’t start with the observation that these are two women winemakers. To me, it is obvious that women can make excellent wines just like than man, or vice versa. Only in latently sexist societies is there ever any doubt about that fact or any need to talk about this subject!

 

 

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New York Wine Diary: Day 25 – Hugel’s New Star Rieslings

It might sound absurd to talk about innovation at a company founded in 1639, but that’s what Jean- Frédéric Hugel (left) and his father Etienne (right) were doing today in New York, and they brought the wines along to prove it. Hugel of Riquewihr in Alsace was already an extremely well established producer around the world when I first visited the family company in 1987, but there was a period when I found their wines extremely dependable (stylistically too – they were always dry wines that worked on the dinning table), but rather seldom inspiring. That has very definitely changed, at the latest since Jean-Frédéric’s generation began exerting some influence on the company, but I am sure that Eteinne’s generation has also done some important rethinking too. Now the fruits of this are reaching the market, most obviously in the form of Hugel’s new star Rieslings.

Before we get to those new wines I have to point out that the Classic range of varietal wines that is the foundation of Hugel’s business has also seen some changes. The 2014 Riesling Classic is made from just over half from Hugel’s own grapes and a bit less than half from bought in grapes, and during the last years some of the weaker sources for the latter were weeded out and replaced. This along with a modest change of emphasis in the cellar towards more fruit make the 2014 vintage of this wine – the aromas range from yellow apple to fresh pineapple, the taste is at once juicy and fresh with a silky finish  -  the best I’ve ever tasted. I feel confident that this joyful wine will switch some consumers who don’t yet know them yet on to dry Riesling, Hugel and Alsace.

The difference between the 2014 Riesling Classic and the 2012 Riesling Estate is very clear, the latter being far more about texture than aroma. There’s a considerable amount of power and weight to it that comes from the just over 50% of this bottling that grew in the Grand Cru Schoenenbourg vineyard site of Riquewihr. Already in 1643 the Swiss cartographer Merian declared this vineyard site to produce the most noble wines of the entire Alsace region. I was glad that Etienne pointed out that at this time Alsace exported more wine than it does today, most of these exports having headed north by boat along the Rhine. The impressive architecture of Riquewihr from that period was paid for with the profits from this business. The top dry Rieslings from Hugel always came from this site, just as the best Gewürztraminers always came from the Grand Cru Sporen site, but since 1945 those names didn’t appear on any of the labels.

You might think that this great tradition would be good reason for Hugel to proudly write those vineyard names on the label, but they weren’t due to the scars left by the Second World War. After what the Nazis put Alsace and the Hugel family through between 1940 and 1945 Germanic names were suspect, although the Alsatian dialect is actually one of German, not French, and Riquewihr was called Reichenweier until 1945! So, it took a long time for the region and the family to find its way back to this tradition. They have done so with the just released the 2010 Riesling Grossi Laüe (“Grosser Lage”, or great site, as pronounced in the Alsatian dialect) and it is so successful with this first vintage I can’t imagine this decision could be reversed. Etienne promised that in time the vineyard names would also appear on the labels of the Grossi Laüe wines, of which there are four: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Please note, that to taste the first three of these in the US you will have to wait until they arrive in April/May.

This wine is the most impressive new dry Riesling from Europe that I’ve tasted in quite a few years. Somehow this 100% Schoenenbourg Riesling manages to marry all the depth and power of this vineyard site (due in good part to the clay-rich marl soil) with a fruit that’s at once rich and subtle. The wine has near-perfect balance and from the first sip it captivated me, but every further sip revealed more nuances of flavor so that I was busy with it for quite some time. It really deserves a large wine glass of the kind you’d normally serve red Burgundy in as I found out when I moved the 2010 Grossi Laüe into that type of glass and the wine instantly expanded to wide-screen format!You should be able to find the Grossi Laüe for  under $100 per bottle. To put this in context, that’s the high end of same price category as the Grosser Gewächs dry Rieslings from the top German producers.

Hugel’s new top dry Riesling, the 2007 Riesling Schoelhammer, needs a big glass and a lot of air even more than the Grossi Laüe! Although it has a rather conventional 13% alcohol for a top dry Riesling this is a massive wine that is still rather austere, although it’s more than eight years old. It really demands both time and space to breathe. If I had some bottles – this one is an extremely limited production wine and it will set you back about $150 – then I would definitely hold on to them for a few years. Both these wines have at least a couple of decades aging potential of them, and the Hugels proved that too by pouring their astonishingly lively 1981 Riesling Reserve (another 100% Schoenenbourg wine) from magnum.

Another thing which has changed are the labels. Although the yellow and red color combination used since 1921 has been retained along with the family crest showing the three hill vineyards of Riquewihr (Hugel means hill in German). However, the company name has been changed to Famille Hugel, and the redesign makes it easier to immediately see exactly which bottle from the Famille Hugel you have in front of you. This is an obvious change that’s easily visible. The more important ones are those of vineyard management, harvesting strategy (most importantly the grapes from every single vineyard parcel are now vinified separately), and vinification. To grasp them you must taste the wines, and I strongly recommend you to experience the new star Rieslings from Hugel.

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New York Wine Diary: Day 12 – Schloss Joahnnisberg and Elite of Germany in New York Wine City for Rieslingfeier

Saturday, February 20th is Rieslingfeier in New York Wine City (scroll down for the link to obtain one of the last tickets to The Gränd Tasting) and already a slew of the winemaking elite of Germany has arrived in the city to make the most of this event that focuses attention upon the wines of my favorite grape from it’s European homeland. Christian Witte the director of Schloss Joahnnisberg in the Rheingau was one of the first to arrive and is pictured above during the tasting he lead at Terroir Tribeca last night. In some respects Schloss Johannisberg is an unusual German Riesling producer, because all the wines come from one 90 acres vineyard site that is a monopole of the estate, and it bears the same name as the estate. However, in every other respect I can think of Schloss Johannisberg is the archetypical German Riesling producer.

This begins with the history, because in 1720/21 this became the first vineyard in Germany to be completely replanted as a Riesling varietal monoculture and therefore stands at the beginning of the trend to varietal wines that we now take so much for granted (not just for Riesling, think also Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon!) Then followed the first, albeit accidental, Spätlese or late harvest wine in 1775. This was also an event of momental significance that spanned two years for it was in the spring of 1776 that the cellarmaster of Schloss Johannisberg realized that late harvesting and nobly-rotten grapes were twin keys to a new and extraordinary type of sweet wine. From this developed the practice of selective harvesting (successfully employed in 1787 in the production of the first Auslese) leading to the range of wines of differing amounts of body and sweetness used at the estate, and almost every other leading estate in Germany to this day.

Christian Witte presented just five wines but within this small selection there was the dramatic variation typical for the Riesling grape that some people find so confusing. The 2013 Silberlack GG was a seriously dry wine with a Grand Cru Chablis-like personality, the dominant aromas being herbal, lemon balm, camomile and green tea rather than fruity. It had quite an austere and slightly salty taste that is certainly not what most consumers associate with Riesling. Already the second wine, the 2014 Gelblack had a completely contrasting style, being full of citrus fruit flavors, rather full, juicy and crisp; a medium-dry extrovert who’s charms it is hard to resist! No wonder this is the estate’s most important wine for exports to the US and the rest of the world. As Christian Witte pointed out, “the history of Schloss Johannisberg is sweet, but we can also make dry wines of a very high quality so we also do that.” This applies to much of Germany too, and Rieslingfeier therefore showcases both the nation’s finest sweet and the dry wines from this grape.

Those names I put in italics raise a question, and one of the guests at the Terroir tasting last night rightly asked what they mean. Silberlack is best translated as silver capsule – silver because it is the estate’s top dry white wine – and Gelblack means yellow capsule. In the above photo of Christian from his previous visit to New York last fall you see him wearing a yellow cap of another kind. They make it real easy to remember what your favorite Schloss Johannisberg wine is, for example, the one I reach for most often is the Rotlack. The 2013 Rotlack Kabinett  was another medium-dry wine, but much sleeker in body than the Gelback with enormous mineral freshness and a bright peach aroma. Each of these wines comes from a different part of the vine clothed conical hill of Schloss Johannisberg, the Gelblack coming from the flat vineyards at the foot of the hill where the soil is up to 27 feet deep and the Rotlack comes from the top of the hill where the soil isn’t even 3 feet deep and the roots of the Riesling vines go into the quarzitic slate directly below that. The Silberlack  comes from a section of the hill between these two. This is the rather simple logic of the estate’s wines contemporary drier style wines.

Then came the two sweet wines, the 2014 Grünlack Spätlese is already familiar to regular readers of this column, and once again it had an enormously wide spectrum of aromas ranging from peach to exotic fruits with many herbal and spicy nuances, new ones emerging with each swirl of the glass. Sure, your first impression of this vividly youthful wine is of pronounced sweetness, but then an acidity of fresh pineapple-like intensity charges through with a ton of minerals in tow and washes that impression away. The 2013 Rosalack Auslese is an altogether bigger wine with much more of the dried fruits character, particularly dried apricot and mango, from shriveled nobly-rotten grapes. It was as undeveloped as the 2013 Silberlack with which the tasting began and if you are lucky enough to have a bottle or two of this sleeping beauty don’t kiss it too soon, unless that is you find it impossible to resist!

The astonishing thing about these stunning wines is that when Christian Witte took over the direction of Schloss Joahnnisberg in 2005 the estate was seriously under-performing and he was not quite 30 years old. Within very few years the wines had dramatically improved and since then they have continued to do so in smaller increments each year. Why did the pace of improvement slow? Well, when you get close to 100% of the maximum quality that’s possible, then there isn’t much scope for further progress left, and each further  % becomes so much more arduous to achieve than those rather simple steps that lifted the quality from 60% of what’s possible to 70%, and from there to 80%. Christian did all this through team work and team motivation, and apart from having a mastery of Riesling wine growing and winemaking, this is his greatest talent.

Paul Grieco of Terroir is very good at talking about Riesling, or all kinds of other wines for that matter, but he’s also one of New York Wine City’s best listeners. As you can see from the above photo he also did some serious listening last night, and listening means thinking. One of the great unsung virtues of German Riesling is that although it is a wine you think about and talk about, analyze in minute detail if you want to geek-out about it, on the other hand you can just drink it and let it sink into your senses, submerge yourself in it so that you forget all your everyday cares. If you give in to it’s seductive pull like this, then, in spite of all the intensity of its character, it is so gentle and delicate that it leaves you fresh and invigorated rather than satiated and tired, as many other great wines do. I will go one stop further and say that you can extrapolate from the type of the wines to the personalities of Riesling fans. They have absorbed enough of the Riesling Spirit that they mirror their favorite wines to some degree.

Gathering a large number of the top German Riesling producers together with a crowd of their biggest fans is what makes Rieslingfeier so exciting and truly unique on Planet Wine. No wonder tickets for the dinner at 7pm on saturday at the Wythe Hotel, 80 Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg are long since gone, and the The Gränd Tasting at Back Label Wine Merchants, 111 West 20th Street are selling out fast. Hurry, hurry, hurry!

www.rieslingfeier.com

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 4 – Kallstadt, Germany Origin of The Donald and Home to One of the World’s Great Dry Whites

That Kallstadt remains unknown to everyone except some wine geeks is a little bit bizarre when you consider that the parents of Donald Trump’s – yes, I’m talking about The Donald – come from this small wine town in the Pfalz, Germany. That becomes even more incomprehensible when you think that the Heinz family – yes, I am talking about the canned soup people – come from the same place. I humbly suggest what we have here is a classical example of Americans denying their own German roots and/or other Americans’ German roots.

This wouldn’t be worth mentioning here if it weren’t for the fact that Kallsatdt is home to one of the greatest dry white wines in the world. Yes, I’m talking about the dry Saumagen Riesling from Koehler-Ruprecht. The Saumagen – the word refers to a haggis-like dish of meat, potatoes and herbs cooked in a pig’s stomach – and the vineyard seems to have acquired this name because of the shape of this ex-Roman chalk quarry. The Saumagen Riesling and I go back a long way. My first visit to this producer was in May 1985, and in May 1986 a number of colleagues and I took part in a tasting there that spanned the vintages 1985 – 1932. That was truly remarkable, because in spite of all the terrible events of those years, and the Cold War was still ongoing, those wines possessed a resilient consistency, no, an I-am-what-I-am attitude that was truly breathtaking. Those wines were made by just two people, the multi-talented larger-than-life Bernd Philippi and his grandfather.

Since then this estate has changed hands, and changed winemaker too. Some people in the German wine scene didn’t like these changes and there was some talk of a stylistic sell-out or less professional winemaking. However, on the basis of the vertical tasting this afternoon at Martin Zwick’s wine salon in Berlin that spanned the vintages 2014 – 1996 I have to say that this producer has not wavered at all, rather, under the direction of Dominik Sona and Franziska Schmitt (pictured above), it has remained true to it’s unique wine style yet also moved an important step in the direction of more elegant wines.

What makes these wines so special? It is a combination of weight and delicacy, liveliness and mellowness, plus a properly dry balance. When most dry white wines reach the age of five to seven years they start to head downhill rather fast, but that is the age that the Koehler-Ruprecht Saumagen Rieslings start to become really enjoyable to drink (assuming you like the taste of mature wines), and begin standing out from the crowd of self-important, but interchangeable wines that dominate the market. That’s why this tasting that looked backwards in time in order to look forward to the pleasure of drinking the wines of the vintages Dominik Sona has made (he has been the winemaker since 2008) when they have had even more time to show their hand..

As exciting as the 2014s were – it is probably Dominik Sona’s best vintage to date and the best wines from it haven’t even been released yet! – and as impressive as the 2012s were – this is one of the producers who shone in that vintage – it was with the 2009 vintage that we began to see what the Saumagen Riesling is really all about. This is the age when the magic starts to happen, the point where the wines become winey in a sense that goes far beyond the regular meaning of that word. Then they turn to face us frankly in a way that seems thoroughly old-fashioned compared with all the fashion wines of today that throw all kinds of simplistic obviously aromatic stuff at us in the hope that we will freak out about it. There is nothing showy about a Saumagen Riesling, and this is a reason that they aren’t yet world-famous like The Donald, or even Heinz soup, and for this reason it may still be the most underrated dry white wine in the world. For those of you seeking a more concrete orientation in the form of a direct comparison with another well-known wine, it bears quite a similarity to Trimbach’s Clos Set Hune, the most expensive dry white wine from Alsace, France.

Thankfully sometimes there are tastings like today at which some people get the chance to see things as they are, and there are also a bunch of good restaurants in Germany and America where you can order these wines for rather friendly prices and find out for yourself. That is exactly as it should be! The glass is neither half-full, nor half-empty, rather however much there is in it there is enough for anyone who wants to drink!

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New York Wine Diary: Day 31 – Rieslingfeier Returns to New York Wine City February 20th, 2016!

This is a photograph of the second Rieslingfeier, or Riesling Celebration (the direction translation of the German) that I attended on the evening of Friday, February 21st, 2014 in the private function room of the old Rouge Tomate Resaturant in NYWC (New York Wine City). On Saturday, February 20th 2016,  thanks to Stephen Bitterolf of the importing company VOM BODEN the event’s founder and dedicated organizer, Rieslingfeier returns with two big events in one action-packed day. For more information and to book tickets go to: http://rieslingfeier.com

What makes Rieslingfeier so special? The same thing that makes a great story: the people and their interaction. It’s not just that a great many of the most important people involved in the Riesling grape and its wines (for a list of the 18 participating winemakers scroll to the bottom of this story) come together, they do so in a way that’s entirely free of the nagging self-doubt and neurotic self-searching that plagued Riesling during its years of crisis a decade and more ago. The Rieslingfeier euphoria also has to do with the presence of some very serious Riesling fans – I mean people not professionally involved with the wines – and the way they can connect with the producers, top somms etc. That doesn’t happen in this way at many wine events of any kind anywhere, and I hope that the photographs below communicate some of that free-flowing, high-energy interaction. The first of them shows Paul Grieco, aka The Chairman (of Riesling) of the Terroir wine bar in TriBeCa, NYWC on the right with Gernot Kollmann of Immich-Batterieberg in Enkirch/Mosel. It would be hard to imagine a greater contrast of personalities than these two, but as you can see at Rieslingfeier they connected big time. The resulting inspiration is what it’s all about!

The problem for a writer to describe the atmosphere of such an event without rapidly falling into a series of clichés that give no more than a vague idea of how the Rieslingfeier dinner at 7pm at the Wythe Hotel at 80 Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn will really be. $330 plus tax is quite a price, of course, but what you get is not only a great meal with remarkable wines from the participating winemakers and you’ll get to sample a bunch of high-end Rieslings brought along by the guests. At the 2014 event I suddenly had three vintages of the Scharzhofberger Riesling TBA from Egon Müller-Schazhof in Wiltingen on the Saar (Egon Müller is attending again this year!) For those of you who cannot put up that kind of money there’s The Gränd Tasting from 11am through 3pm at Back Label Wines on West 20th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan. The VIP ticket for this which gets you exclusive access to the 12 producers and their wines during the first hour costs just $50 plus tax. That is a steal and I’m making a “buy” recommendation!

All of this has a personal aspect that it would be indiscrete of my to reveal in full, and I have to admit that this kind of situation cramps my style as a writer. However, I can tell you that I had a most remarkable conversation with a most remarkable person at the 2014 Rieslingfeier, and I hope very much to speak to them again at the 2016 event. That one conversation lead to many others, much reading and thinking, and as a result I am living very differently now to how I did back then. That means I striving to be a more positive, open, compassionate and loving person, rather than often narrow, sometimes closed and judgmental one I was before. How well I’m succeeding at that is another matter, but all meaningful change starts with the decision to change, the growth of the determination to change, and potting that into practice is almost never as easy as it sounds. I humbly suggest that if Rieslingfeier could not only stun me with many amazing Rieslings, but also introduce me to someone who changed my life, then it could do so for you too!

Top of my personal list of participating winemakers is Katharina Prüm of J. J. Prüm in Wehlen on the Mosel. We haven’t been able to talk in quite some time, although I have no illusions about the fact that there will be several other people at Rieslingfeier with the same idea! Here is the list of winemakers who will be attending and pouring:

Jochen Beurer of the Beurer estate of Stetten in Württemberg, who makes some remarkable dry wines in this rising star among Germany’s wine regions.

Caroline Diel of Schlossgut Diel in Burg Layen in the Nahe makes brilliant dry and sweet wines that have made her one of the region’s top winemakers.

Gernot Kollmann took over the direction and winemaking at Immich Batterieberg in Enkirch on the Mosel in 2009, and within very few years he has turned it into one of the region’s leading producers of dry Riesling.

Florian Lauer of the Peter Lauer estate in Ayl on the Saar, who since 2005 has taken this small estate from anonymity to international star status with complex wines ranging form bone dry to aromatically sweet.

Johannes Leitz of Josef Leitz in the Rheingau, who since the turn of the century firmly put Rüdesheim back on the map for top quality dry and west wines, and transformed this producer from being a name known only to insiders into a global Riesling brand.

Ernst Loosen of Dr. Loosen on the Mosel is an unlikely Riesling Hero. Completely unknown when he took over control of his family estate in 1987 he is now a German Riesling Superstar and one of the nation’s most successful quality wine exporters.

Egon Müller IV of Egon Müller-Scharzhof in Wiltingen on the Saar continues the tradition of this producer for world-class sweet Rieslings that range from the delicate to the unctuous and honey-sweet.

Roman Niewodniczanski took the almost literally crumbling van Volxem estate, also in Wiltingen on the Saar, and turned it into one of the region’s largest, best and most acclaimed producers in just 15 years.

Katharina Prüm of J. J. Prüm in Wehlen on the Mosel has already been introduced. This producer is synonymous with Mosel elegance and finesse!

Hansjörg Rebholz of Ökonomierat Rebholz in Siebeldingen in the Pfalz producers some of the best and most original dry wines on Planet Riesling; character and elegance rather than raw power are their hallmarks.

Dr. Carl Ferdinand von Schubert has directed Maximin Grünhaus in Mertesdorf in the Ruwer since the early 1980s and today this famous estate is once again right at the top of its game, making uniquely aromatic and strikingly racy wines.

Dominik Sona does things the traditional way at Koehler-Ruprecht in Kallstadt in the Pfalz, just as his predecessor Bernd Phillipi did, and that makes for deep and complex dry Rieslings.

Christian Witte has taken world-famous Schloss Johannisberg in the Rheingau out of a period of erratic performance back to the very top since he took over there in 2005; great dry and sweet Rieslings!

Stefan Steinmetz of Günther Steinmetz in Brauneberg on the Mosel is one of the rising stars of this region.

Johannes Weber of Hofgut Falkenstein on the Saar, has made a major commitment to traditional winemaking techniques is also one of the stars of his region.

Wilhelm Weil of Robert Weil of Kiedrich in the Rheingau has taken that estate from the  mid-field of that famous region to the top since he took control of it in 1987; world-famous desert wines!

Konstantin Weiser and Alexandra Künstler jumped into deep water in 2005 when they purchased their first steep vineyards with slate soils and launched Weiser-Künstler in Traben-Trarbach on the Mosel.

See you there!

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 4 – Kelby Russell of Red Newt Cellars in the FLX is My Riesling Hero 2015

How quickly do things really change on Planet Wine? Often if you look past the headlines that try keep trying to persuade us the winemaking wheel has just been reinvented again, then take a thoughtful and probing look at history you find that many of those supposed game-changing innovations are not really that new. However, every now and again a young wine region really does take a massive leap forward within the space of a few years, and sometimes that leap is in good part the result of one person’s remarkable efforts. The FLX (Finger Lakes) of Upstate New York is a young region with just over 50 vintages with vinifera grape varieties behind it, and currently it is being shaken up by a group of dynamic and often young winemakers. One of them stands out for what he has done with Riesling during just the last couple of years. Kelby Russell (right in the above photo) will be 28 years old on December 19th this year and he began his winemaking career only six years ago, but what he has achieved in that time is truly revolutionary for the FLX and for the world of Riesling.

Kelby became the winemaker of Red Newt Cellars of Hector on the eastern bank of Seneca Lake at the end of the 2012 vintage. The wines he made that year are all nice stuff, but many of them are rather cautious and few of them are really exciting. However, with his 2013 and 2014 vintage Rieslings he has done things I never expected from this region, and he has taken Red Newt high into the FLX first league. Much as I appreciate the recent leap in quality at Red Newt, particularly for the winery’s larger production wines like the medium-sweet Circle Riesling (scroll down to my Riesling Revelations 2015 for more about the latter wine), the radical stylistic innovations strike me as being even more important. They are most clear in the new high-end wines that Kelby has created with the considerable encouragement and support of winery owner Dave Whiting (left in the above photo).

I never came across FLX Rieslings before with the striking nose of yellow grapefruit and smoke that the 2013 and 2014 vintages of the Red Newt Dry Riesling have. They also have a racy energy that reminds me of James Joyce’s observation that, “white wine is electricity,” and we are talking about a wine that costs just under $20! They do the kind of things most somms will tell you only top quality European Rieslings can do, and it is surely significant that Kelby has studied those wines very intensively and tried to learn everything he could from them. The grapes for this wine came from Harlan Fulkerson’s Lahoma Vineyard on the western bank of Seneca Lake, a new fruit source for Red Newt. The winery’s new top dry Riesling The Knoll comes from one particular block – it is indeed a knoll – in that vineyard and debuts with the recently released 2013 vintage. It has even more of the smoke aroma than the 2013 Dry Riesling, and this is combined with a fresh pineapple note. On the palate there’s great concentration for this generally rather wishy-washy vintage (due to high crop levels that winemakers didn’t see coming until it was too late) and it lacks the Botrytis note that slightly mars many 2013 FLX Rieslings. The even drier 2014 The Knoll is still science fiction, by which I mean that it will be almost a year before it reaches the market, however, it is surely one of star wines of this often great vintage in the region. For all its intensity and despite having some serious tannins (yes, tannin can be positive in Riesling!) this is a very elegant wine with flavors of way too complex to be adequately described with a few standard winetasting terms. So let me stick my neck out and say that it’s an intricately patterned tapestry of acidity, fruit, spice and minerals.

There is also medium-dry pendant to this with the working name of The Big H (as the photo right shows Harlan Fulkerson is a big guy in every sense). It has more exotic aromas, is more succulent and weighty, but is also graceful and subtle. With just 18 grams of residual sweetness in the 2014 vintage, this too is very much a gastronomic wine. Kelby is also responsible for making the excellent Dry Riesling for Boundary Breaks winery (again see my Riesling Revelations 2015 below) and almost equally striking Empire Estate Dry Riesling launched with the 2014 vintage by the Nomad Hotel group. These are also both stylistic innovations for the FLX. Then there are the wines that he makes under his own Kelby James Russell label, but they deserve separate description at a later date so they don’t get lost in the crowd of all these other wines.

Given all this you are probably wondering why you haven’t heard Kelby Russell’s name before. Winemakers who don’t continually blow their own horn are often overlooked and underrated, and Kelby is anything but a loud mouth or  24/7 self-publicist. Of course, he hasn’t been up at full speed for very long, and this is also a reason for the modest crop of high praise he has gathered to date. However, it’s a journalist’s job to see what’s going on, and regions where so much is moving so fast (many more stories on the young winemaker of FLX will follow and ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3 will be devoted to them) ought to excite journalists. Dear colleagues, it is high time that you woke up to what this young man is doing, because he is changing an entire region!

Of course, that statement prompts the question how it is possible for someone so young to get so far in such a short period of time. Part of the answer is the way that Dave Whiting spotted his talent and almost immediately gave Kelby the freedom he needed to turn his vision into such exciting wines. However, you have to have a vision and the necessary knowledge to be implement it before that kind of mentorship will work. Kelby graduated from Harvard in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in government and a minor in economics, both subjects enormously far removed from wine. He had been planning to go into orchestra or choir management, but a little taste of winemaking in Italy in 2008 made him change his mind. On the first day of the 2009 harvest he turned up at Fox Run Vineyards and became one of the “students” at the “school” of winemaker Peter Bell. Many other young FLX winemaker have done the same, and Peter helped any number of them thoroughly grasp the foundations of their craft. Somebody should give Peter a medal for what he has done for the entire FLX wine industry!

In 2010, ’11 and ’12 Kelby worked two harvests per year by going to the Southern Hemisphere in the Northern Hemisphere spring, working at Whitehaven in Marlborough, NZ, then Piper’s Brook in Tasmania, before finally graduating to Nightshift Red Winemaker at Yalumba in South Australia. Not surprisingly, he’s also doing exciting things with the Cabernet Franc reds at Red Newt. From the 2014 vintage there’s a joyful, fragrant fruity tank-aged Cab Franc and the 2013 Glacier Ridge single vineyard bottling is the best Cab Franc the winery has made to date with a floral elegance that puts it in the first league of FLX reds. Other remarkable and sometimes daring new creations are about to emerge from Red Newt Cellars! These exciting other wines show that this year’s Riesling Hero is by no means limited to his and my favorite grape variety!

Anyone who regularly reads this blog will already know that Kelby is also a good friend of mine and that I have been his house guest several times. That closeness has enabled this young winemaker to have a mind-expanding effect upon my awareness of Riesling in the FLX and beyond. Only a couple of other winemakers of his generation did that for me, and they are world-famous names. READ MY LIPS: TASTE THESE WINES!

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 2 – John Winthrop Haeger’s Excellent New Book “Riesling Rediscovered”

2015 was not an easy Riesling year, and I’m not talking about the vintage (probably great in Europe, possibly less exciting in many parts of North America). During the last year I’ve been told any number of times but people who are convinced that they know for sure that Riesling has quite simply run out of steam, that in spite of the considerable growth in Riesling sales since 2000 the grape never topped a 1% market share and therefore doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously, was turned into a fashion by the Summer of Riesling promotions and is now oh so very 2013, also that the Summer of Riesling made a catastrophic mistake in not focusing totally on dry Riesling and the grape as a whole now paying the price for this. There is a grain of truth in all of this, but the whole truth is so much more complex and more positive than these gibes suggest.

2016 will be a very different Riesling year, not least because John Winthrop Haeger’s book Riesling Rediscovered (University of California Press) appears and is a great answer to all of this negativity. It both takes Riesling extremely seriously and enthusiastically celebrates the great dry wines made from the grape around the Northern Hemisphere of Planet Wine (for reasons of time and space the Southern Hemisphere was excluded). It also examines the prejudices that still clings to Riesling – most importantly that Riesling is a sweet wine in an ugly negative sense – and exposes their surprising deep and historical roots. Nobody has told that story anywhere near as well as Haeger, and along the way he provides a lot of fascinating insights into the development of the wine industry and wine market between the Middle Ages and the present day. Even if you are not particularly interested in Riesling this is a great read. If you are Riesling obsessed, then you will need to read the chapter on clones, because it is the only place this information is available in this thorough and complete form.

However, all this only prepares the ground Haeger’s in-depth survey of the contemporary world of dry Riesling. That spans roughly 200 pages, and to read this mass of detailed description of the best dry Riesling in Europe and North America you certainly need to feel some fascination for the enormous diversity of wines made from this chameleon among white grape varieties. What makes those 200 pages worth working your way through is the wealth of information about the top vineyard sites and the producers who are responsible for the wines that made and make them famous. The complex interaction of natural and human factors that lies behind all great wines is Haeger’s real theme, and the world of dry Riesling is just as fertile a subject for him as the Pinot Noirs of North America were beforehand. Some prior knowledge of winegrowing and winemaking methods will certainly help you to follow all this properly, but if you are halfway intelligent and fascinated by the subject you shouldn’t have much trouble.

Of course, although 200 pages is a lot it isn’t nearly enough to describe the many hundreds of top producers of dry Riesling in the Northern Hemisphere, and Haeger therefore concentrated on a personal selection of the best. It is here that the book can most easily be attacked, particularly due to the omission of detailed description of a few famous high-end producers like Dönnhoff in the Nahe, Germany. In a few regions that are experiencing rapid change like the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York Haeger’s last visit was clearly a year or two prior to completion of the manuscript, and he therefore seems to have missed some new developments with long-term implications (see my Riesling Revelations 2015 below). However, these small weaknesses don’t significantly detract from the enormous value of the book as the single serious guide to this subject. My own Best White Wine on Earth (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2014) took a very different approach by looking casting a wide net that took in the entire range of Riesling wines from both hemispheres, and rarely went into this kind of detail. If you want that then Haeger’s new work is the sole reliable and thoughtful source. It is highly recommended to anyone interested in Riesling, and to all somms who are genuinely interested to have an overview of the entire world of wine, and to all those who have been throwing those anti-Riesling gibes around recently. To pre-order it click on the following link or contact your local bookstore. The price is just over $30:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0520275454?keywords=John%20Winthrop%20Haeger&qid=1449928268&ref_=sr_1_3&s=books&sr=1-3

 

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 11 – My Riesling Revelations 2015

Ein deutschsprachige Version von diesem Text wird bald folgen. Ich bitte um Geduld!

Late last year the announcement of my Riesling Revelations for the year caused quite a stir, so there was never any doubt in my mind that I would have to repeat the giving of these awards at the same time this year. The first time the winners were all North American wines, but this year I decided to simply pick the most exciting and innovative Riesling wines I encountered during the last year in each of the four categories of the IRF (International Riesling Foundation) taste profile: Dry / Medium-Dry / Medium-Sweet / Sweet.  Sometimes the choices were very difficult and that’s the reason there’s an official runner up in the Dry category. I am, of course, very interested to hear all your reactions. My apologies that it’s impossible to list all the importers for these wines around Planet Wine, but this information should be easily accessible on the Internet.

RIESLING REVELATION 2015 DRY:

2014 Watervale Riesling

from Mitchell in Clare Valley, South Australia

Not without some reason do somms and consumers in America and elsewhere sometimes accuse Australian Riesling producers of making extreme wines. Often the bone dry, high-acidity style combined with the intense lime character of these wines makes them challenging in their youth, which is why I often refer to them as Bladerunner wines. It is the intense sunlight, the enormous day-night temperature differences and very dry summers in Australia that are responsible for that acidity and that aroma. The normal suggestion is that the wines need some sweetness, but this always struck me as the easy way out. This wine proves that greater elegance can be achieved in this style without resorting to sweetness, or in any way changing the fundamental personality of these wines. This dry Riesling is the best that the Mitchell family made since the first vintage back in 1977. The aromas of lime, passion fruit, melon and citrus blossom are only made more exciting by the slightly funky note from the wild ferment. However, you have to feel the textural complexity, succulence in your mouth, then savor the elegant, delicately mineral finale in order to find out why this wine had to win in this category.

Typical retail price: AUS$22

US importer: Red Earth Wines, contact www.redearthwines.net

UK importer: Merchant Vintners, contact www.merchantvintners.co.uk 

Runner up RIESLING REVELATION 2015 DRY:

2014 Riesling “239”

from Boundary Breaks in the Finger Lakes, New York

Until recently when I tasted the dry Rieslings of the FLX (Finger Lakes) in Upstate New York I almost always felt that they lacked enough ripeness to claim a place in the global first league for wines of this category. The only frequent exceptions were the wines of Hermann J. Wiemer on the west side of Seneca Lake (who made some great wines in 2012 and 2014). With the last couple of vintages a small handful of other winemakers have proved that they too can pull this off through the combination of excellent vineyard cultivation and late-picking. Bruce Murray’s first vintage at the vineyard he planted while still a market researcher in NYC was 2011, so this wine comes from the 4th crop of his vineyard on the east side of Seneca Lake. By waiting until October 28th he picked perfectly ripe golden Riesling grapes that were entirely free of rot. Then Kelby Russell of Red Newt (see below) vinified this mold-breaking creamy and delicately spicy FLX dry Riesling with a great feeling for balance. The result is a wine so far outside the FLX box that it is sure to both praised and damned when it is released March 16th,2016.

Typical retail price: $19 (release March 16th 2016)

New York distributor: Polaner Selections, contact: www.polanerselections.com

Winery contact: info@boundarybreaks.com, www.boundarybreaks.com

RIESLING REVELATION 2015 MEDIUM-DRY:

2014 Riesling Kabinett Feinherb “Rotlack”

from Schloss Joahnnisberg in the Rheingau, Germany

How can a Riesling from the most famous producer of wines from this grape in the world be a revelation? Schloss Johannisberg is best known internationally for sweet Spätlese type wines, and since Christian Witte became the estate director back in 2005 (aged under 30!) they have once again shone very brightly in this category (look out for the amazing 2013 Riesling Spätlese “Grünlack”!) More recently, the estate’s Riesling GG “Silberlack” has moved into the first league of dry Rhine wines (the 2014 vintage is probably the best so far). Less sought after or loudly acclaimed are the “regular” wines from Schloss Johannisberg like this masterpiece of peachy filigree with a brilliance and tantalizing dry mineral finish that makes it the perfect beverage for seduction or polite conversation. With just 10.5% this is a great wine you can drink and entire bottle of and still feel up to anything that the seduction or conversation might lead to.

Typical retail price: Euro 23 / $ 32

US importer: Mionetto USA, contact www.mwimportsusa.com

UK importer: Hallgarten Druitt, contact www.hallgartendruitt.co.uk

Winery contact: www.schloss-johannisberg.de

 RIESLING REVELATION 2015 MEDIUM-SWEET:

2014 Riesling “Circle”

from Red Newt Cellars in the Finger Lakes, New York

Let me be completely frank with you. The reasons I picked this wine for this award is the combination it’s excellent quality, the production quantity of 36,000 bottles and the astonishingly friendly $13 retail price. How could Red Newt Cellars’ biggest production and lowest-priced Riesling be this good? The fact that most of the vineyards supplying grapes to this winery that doesn’t own a single vine have a high standards of viticulture was certainly key (Harlan Fulkerson deserves a mention because he was the main supplier for this wine). Then came the excellent fall weather and winemaker Kelby Russell’s decision to delay picking until late October even for this “basic” wine. It fermented very slowly, and remained on the full fermentation lees for fully 10 months before racking, filtration and bottling. It won’t be released until about May/June 2016 and that should mean that it hits the market in optimum form. The aromas range from peach and apricot to smoke and grapefruit, the wine is only just sweet enough to demand inclusion in this category, but has a mouth-filling succulence, then a super-clean finish. In short, it is a beauty that the entire team lead by Dave Whiting must be congratulated on!

Typical retail price: $13 (release May/June 2016)

New York distributor: Verity Wine Partners, contact www.veritywines.com

Winery contact: www.rednewt.com

RIESLING REVELATION 2015 SWEET:

2014 Wolfer Goldgrube Riesling Spätlese

from Daniel Vollenweider in the Mosel, Germany

Back in 2000 Swiss Daniel Vollenweider became the first non-German winemaker in the Mosel Valley. I will never forget how a decade ago a German colleague asked me to name an exciting new Mosel winemaker to him and when I recommended this young Swiss guy he asked in a tone heavy with scorn, “who is Daniel Vollenweider?” However, when he tasted the wines he immediately praised Daniel as the new star of Mosel Riesling. Of course, he isn’t so new anymore, but he continues pushing the envelope both for dry and sweet Mosel wines, and this is one of the most exciting young Riesling Spätlese from the region I ever tasted. Packed to the brim with all manner of white and yellow fruit aromas, floral notes and bristling with both ripe acidity and juicy sweetness it is already delicious. However, just like The Force, this wine also has a dark side, and that’s what gives it a dangerous kick other wines of this category lacked.

Typical retail price: Euro 20 / $30

US importer: Vom Boden, contact www.vomboden.com

UK importer: Howard Ripley, contact www.howardripley.com

Winery contact: www.weingut-vollenweider.de

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New York Wine Diary: Day 17 – Dry Austrian Riesling Past & Present, and Nearly Always Great!

Although Austria is one of the most important producers of dry Riesling on Planet Wine the profile of these wines varies enormously from market to market, and here in the USA is well below the relative prominence and popularity of Grüner Veltliner. This was no doubt the reason that the Austrian Wine Marketing Board staged a very ambitious tasting of these wines that covered all the significant producing regions, and spanned the vintages 2013 back to 1990. The 1990s was the period of fastest growth in the vineyard area planted with Riesling in Austria (and it still continues to grow, if at a slightly slower pace), and was also the period of my most intense involvement with these wines, so there was a personal reason for me to be seriously interested to taste these wines.

Although just 4.06% (2009 figures from Statistics Austria) of the nation’s vineyards compared with Grüner Veltliner’s 29.4%, much of the latter produces everyday quaffing wine and almost nobody is making that kind of wine from Riesling in Austria (here the contrast with Germany is striking!) With Riesling Austrian winemaker are focusing on producing good to top quality. Combine this with the fact that, in contrast to just about every other Riesling producing nation/region, Austria is making almost exclusively dry wines and you can see why these are way more important for the nation than that 4.06% suggests. However, there are also massive differences in the degree of commitment to Riesling of the various regions. 16.4% of the Wachau’s vineyards are planted with Riesling, the figures for the Kamptal, Kremstal and Wien (Vienna) are 9.4%, 10.3% and 13.7% respectively. At the other end of the scale in Mittelburgenland – the heart of the homeland of the red Blaufränkisch grape – it is just 0.16%, or about one hundredth of the regions specializing in Riesling!

Of course, the important thing is how the wines taste, and the excellent 2013 vintage is the right place for those Riesling drinkers unfamiliar with these wines to start. 2013 was a cool vintage, but those growers with a good standard of vineyard cultivation who picked late ended up with wines around 13% and a bright acidity . The 2013 Heiligenstein “Atle Reben” from Jurtschitisch in Langenlois, Kamptal is a beautifully elegant example with great subtlety of aroma and flavor, entirely drinkable now but with many years of life ahead of it. The 2008 Heiligenstein “Alte Reben” (old vines) from Willi Bründlmayer also in Langenlois showed how brilliantly wines like this can age. It still had bright peach and grapefruit aromas, and a racy finale with serious mineral intensity.

In warm years like 2011 dry Austrian Rieslings like the Steiner Kögl from Salomon Undhof in Stein, Kremstal can push 14%  alcoholic content with the power and richness that brings, also the much softer acidity that comes with those things, but still have a really satisfying balance. Those wines can also age very well as the 2003 Reserve from Müller-Grossmann in Palt, Kremstal, a wine from a very hot year that still has great citrusy freshness. It is this style that is more widely associated with Austrian dry Riesling and Germany very rarely come up with wines of this type, so there is something unique about it in Europe.

Inevitably, it was the older wines in the tasting that took the limelight. For Willi Klinger, head of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, the 1997 Achleiten “Smaragd” from the Domaine Wachau – it is that region’s co-operative winery – was particularly significant, because he was the director of that winery when this wine was made. Although this was quite a warm year that wine had a moderate 13% alcohol and at 18 years of age was delicate and filigree in flavor with a had impeccable balance. No less exciting and lively were the more powerful and concentrated 1999 Loibenberg “Smaragd” from F.X. Pichler in Loiben, Wachau (conclusively disproving the rumor this producer’s wines don’t age well), and the 1997 Steinrigl “Smaragd” from Prager in Weissenkirchen, Wachau that was simultaneously mellow and energizing. I vividly remember these wines when they were young and they have kept all the promises they made back then when Planet Wine was a very different place to what it is today.

What more do you want from mature dry white wine?

Photo of the Achleiten & Klaus sites of Weissenkirchen, Wachau by Gerhard Elze

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