New York Riesling Diary: Day 6 – FLX Launches a Great Riesling Vintage!

I am really not a fan of vintage tables, much less the declaration that this or that year is a Great Vintage, because every vintage varies considerably in quality from winery to winery, and sometimes no less from one plot of vines to the next wine. However, if we accept those facts as given, then I’m willing to stick my neck out and say that 2014 is a great vintage for Finger Lakes (FLX) Riesling. That was amply demonstrated this afternoon at the Riesling Vintage Launch of the FLX Quality Alliance at the Scandinavian Center on Park Avenue in New York Wine City where wineries large and small with widely contrasting winemaking styles shone.

Of course, some shone brighter than others, none more so than the tiny Boundary Breaks with their dry 2014 Riesling “239″, one of the wines of the new vintage that will help to change professional and public perception of what an FLX Riesling is like. You see, there are still plenty of people out there ranging from the somnolent to the somms who think that dry FLX Riesling is a light, tart and austere wine only for acid hounds and Riesling geeks. This kind of full ripe stone fruit aromas and elegant freshness just isn’t what most people expect from the region – some somms and journalists will be seriously disappointed because the acidity doesn’t bite! -  but I strongly believe it’s the taste of the future. In a less extrovert form it was also strongly present in the medium-dry 2014 Round Rock Riesling from Lamoreaux Landing on Seneca Lake, and in the sleek and mineral dry 2014 Estate Riesling from Thirsty Owl on Cayuga Lake. However, it was more or less present in all the 2014 Rieslings shown at today’s tasting.

In some ways, the most remarkable achievement showcased today was the leap in quality that the wines from Wagner Vineyards on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake have made recently.  They were represented by marketing director Katie Roller, who is one of the tight team lead by John Wagner that has steadily cranked up the quality at this large producer (225 acres of vineyards) over the last five years. She had good reason to smile, for not only was the 2013 Dry Riesling from Wagner recently declared Best in Class of the dry Rieslings at the 2015 Finger Lakes Wine Symposium, but the 2014 vintage of the same wine is at least as good as the 2013. Here is a prototypic new style FLX Riesling with a vibrant acidity and more than enough fruit aromas to carry it, a hint of spitz to lift the wine’s juicy, surprisingly full body and a very clean, beautifully balanced finish that draws you back for more. And we are talking about a wine that retails for just $15!  This combination will further push the reputation of the FLX as the premier Riesling producing region on the Eastern Side of America, and of Riesling as the premier grape of the Finger Lakes. Wagner’s rise is seriously good news for the FLX and for wine drinkers in the United States of Riesling!



Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 6 – Wu are You? Introducing ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA

Here in Berlin I’m still struggling with that virus in my lungs, but I’ve been trying not to let it get me down. One of the best things about being back in Berlin is being able to visit Hot Spot,the Chinese restaurant known to almost all of its customers by the name of its remarkable manager  and guiding as Wu or Mr. Wu. Here an astonishing synthesis of Chinese culinary culture and German wine culture has been achieved that is, as far as I know, unique in the entire world. Not that Wu considers his own achievements to be in any way remarkable, for he would say that all he has done is to take the logical step of combining worlds of flavors that belong together. That may be true, but before he did it nobody else saw it that way, or at least if they did they didn’t do anything about it.

Regardless of the field of human endeavor, that is the decisive question, not who believes to some degree in a certain idea, but who acts upon their belief and does so in a way that cannot be ignored by their contemporaries. It’s sometimes been suggested to me that somehow I was responsible for the renaissance of Riesling since the last turn of the century, but this is complete nonsense. If I’d died back in 2000, then the developments of recent years in Germany and elsewhere on Planet Riesling would all have happened very much as they did. The one thing I can rightly claim is that pre-2000, before the new and mighty wave of enthusiasm for my favorite grape and its wines was visible, I sang the praises of what was then an almost completely forgotten and horribly misunderstood category of wines. I did this decisively and in way that couldn’t be ignored here in Germany, and this certainly sent a signal out into the world that was received by many.

Wu’s achievement at Hot Spot is the uncompromising way he runs his restaurant according to his unique culinary concept. He has proved that you can mix food and wine cultures in ways previously regarded as impossible, or at the least totally improbable. And that is very much what my next project is all about.

Yesterday, after 8 months of work on and off I just completed the first in a series of e-pamphlets (available shortly for Kindle through Amazon) on the subject of America, wine and I. The above logo will appear on the cover of all these publications and stands for the spirit of a generation of winemakers scattered across America in unlikely locations who are daring to make remarkable wines where most people would consider this impossible, or at least totally improbable. My role is that of the traveler who dares to take the new underground Rock Star winemakers of America seriously, visits them with an open mind and the desire to understand their world, then reports on their achievements. It is, of course, bizarre that I an Englishman should be doing this rather than patriotic American wine journalists, but it seems to me that this mix of cultures is an important part of the entire project. That’s why #1 in the series tells the outrageous story of my first journey of discovery to America and how that set me on my present path. Watch this space for more information very soon!

Important note: Dear German winegrowers, Dear fans of German wines, the fact that I will be writing a series of e-pamphlets about the wines and winemakers of America does not mean that I will be taking the wines of Germany any less seriously than during the last decades. This is not a matter of either / or!

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 2 – Mosel Unplugged inc. staring Niels Frevert & Unforgettable Riesling

Because maybe / You’re gonna be the one that saves me…

Note: Many apologies that it’s been such a long time since the last posting, but a horrible virus made its home in my lungs, and it was a struggle to manage even the most urgent work. Thankfully, I could still taste and smell, because I traveled to the Mosel and tasted some great wines there. Here’s the story:

Niels Frevert, pictured above, is one of the stars of Germany’s answer to Brit Pop. You can hear at least a hint of Oasis or Blur in all of his songs, at least I thought I could last Saturday evening when he played at Weingut Immich-Batterieberg in Enkirch, Mosel. Of course, this is not what the world associates with Germany or with Mosel Riesling, nor is it what normally happens when a rising phoenix producer on the Mosel presents it’s new vintage. However, this “unplugged” style concert in the garden of this producer really did fit the spirit of modern Mosel Riesling very well: wines that are at once rather serious, but with a playful and gentle side. At least, that’s how I’d describe the way that Niels Frevert played songs like Waschmaschine last Saturday evening.

I also played a part in this event, following classical pianist Yorck Kronenberg – a very hard act to follow! – the previous evening with a talk about what terroir really means, both in general terms and specifically in relation to Immich-Batterieberg, a producer who’s wine already had bundles of terroir (vineyard site) character under the last of the original owner family, Georg Immich (I met him back in ’89 and he sold the property in ’92). I received a fee for giving that lecture, but that doesn’t alter the fact that under the present owners Dr. Volker Auerbach and Roland Probst, and director-winemaker Gernot Kollmann (since 2009) this estate has bounced back and rightly been showered with praise. To my mind, it makes striking wines with a lot of terroir / vineyard character. However, I suggest that you taste and make up your own minds about that.

Although time was very short I also managed to visit three other producers with my old school friend Richard Aczel, a lecturer on English literature and related subjects at Cologne University. He’s just purchased a house on the Mosel and begun an in-depth exploration of the regions wines. Our visits to the historic Weingut Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch (VDP) in Bernkastel, then Daniel Vollenweider and Martin Müllen, two pioneers in Traben-Trarbach, were discoveries for him.

Sofia Thanisch is currently making the best wines of her career and has developed a style that remains true to this house’s commitment to the filigree style that most of the wine world considers “classic” Mosel with an impressive amount of backbone. Although the majority of the wines are in sweeter styles there are two impressive new dry wines from the 2014 vintage, the Graben Riesling GG and the Lay Riesling feinherb. Normally I don’t attach much importance to numbers, but in the case of the Lay they are particularly interesting. Although this wine is dry enough to accompany savory food (it would be great with all kinds of moderately spice dishes too) it weighs in at 11.5% and costs only Euro 14,50 direct to private customers from the estate.

As far as I know, Daniel Vollenweider was the first complete outsider to found a winery in the Mosel when he purchased just over 3 acres of vines in the forgotten top site Wolfer Goldgrube back in 2000. Although Vollenweider comes from the wine producing canton of Graubünden in the German-speaking East of Switzerland there were no wine growers in his family. Since then he has expanded his holdings fourfold and built an excellent reputation for both sweet and dry Rieslings. He proved that you can start with almost nothing and become a Mosel winemaker with your own vineyards, and within five years he had his first imitators. Those in this part of the Mosel now have their own club, for more info see:

Even Vollenweider’s basic, bone-dry 2014 Riesling Felsenfest is packed with aroma and has great vitality, and single vineyard wines like the 2014 Goldgrube Riesling “GG” and 2014 Goldgrube Spätlese are seriously concentrated without in any way being massive or in any other way willfully overdone.  Thankfully, you can say the same about his prices! The painting pictured above hangs in his tasting room and depicts the Traben-Trarbach section of the twisting Mosel Valley in a manner rooted in tradition, yet is also strikingly original just like these wines.

Martin Müllen is definitely not star material, because what interests him is growing and making the wines, not dancing in the spotlight on the wine and gastronomic stage, nor unleashing Twitter-storms on a world already jaded by their frequency and repetitiousness. And I think that the photo above confirms that very well. One of his focuses is light, dry wines and at their best – e.g. the 2014 Hühnerberg Riesling Kabinett trocken * – they weight in under 11% alcohol, but have great herbal and floral aromas, the acidity crisp rather than biting (often a problem in low-alcohol dry Riesling). However, it is his dry, and medium-dry Spätlese wines that blow my mind with complex spice and mineral freshness combined with enough power and discretely succulent fruit. Most of them lie in the Euro 13 – 20 range if you buy direct from him as a private customer, and for this they represent outstanding value for money. Perhaps the best value on the list at present is the 2014 Riesling Revival feinherb for Euro 11,90, a typical Müllen wine with the special character of the Hühnerberg already described above. A lot of younger newer winemakers tell me that they make their wines like a century ago. Usually, this means that they are inspired by what they think the style of those wines was and use modern equipment. Müllen actually uses an old basket press and does wild ferments in the traditional Fuder barrels of the Mosel (263 gallons, neutral oak) for all his wines! Hence the name of this wine and the slogan on the label: Unforgettable Tradition.

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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.


@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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