Category Archives: STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL

Berlin Wine Diary: Day 4 – In Wine There is Freedom

Freedom!

What the hell has wine got to do with the current trend to nationalism and authoritarianism of myriad kinds that’s sweeping the West and some parts of the East too? This isn’t a rhetorical question I’m posing to introduce some of my recent thoughts about wine, it’s also a question that was asked of me in response to my two last blog postings (scroll down to read them). Of course, the implication of that question is that politics has nothing to do with wine and I have been poking my nose into matters that don’t concern me, at least matters that have no place on this blog.

To my mind that’s ridiculous, because my political stance is one of opposition not to any political party or any particular politician, but to political actions that threaten or erode constitutional freedoms. However, after the question was repeated several times it got me thinking about all of this more seriously and it wasn’t long before it struck me that the pleasure of wine contrasts dramatically with the New Politics in DC, London, Moscow, Ankara, etc. Let me explain.

What all forms of nationalism, authoritarianism and fanaticism have in common is the conviction that there’s a rigid set of unquestionable truths – the core of the particular dogma – and these are above and beyond discussion or debate. Devotees of those dogmas often demonize those who dare to discuss and debate their core beliefs as heretics, because they dare to doubt. In the European dictatorships of the 20th century al these features were all very clear, and although the contemporary versions of them are all (so far) less extreme, they may be every bit as dangerous due to their insidious nature.

Some of you may already be familiar with the name of the prime weapon used by the “true believers”: the thought-terminating cliché. This term was developed by the psychologist Robert Jay Lifton (who’s complete works are highly recommended) in his 1956 study of totalitarianism in Maoist China, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. Examples of thought-terminating clich#es are, “I’m in charge, that’s why!” is no less a thought-terminating cliché than, “it’s God’s will!” or “everything is relative!” I chose those three because the devotees of contrasting forms of nationalism, authoritarianism and fanaticism use them.

Nothing could be further from my experience of wine than all this, because the taste of even the cheapest and least-pretentious wine is open to endless discussion and debate. The very nature of wine is that the contents of one bottle taste different to different people and there is never any question that someone might be right and all the others wrong even if sometimes claims are made that this is the case. Our differing preferences lie behind our contrasting reactions to the same wine, and they are rooted in our personal experiences, memories and habits and preferences.

This is related very closely to the fact that each of us finds a particular smell either appealing or not, and more loosely related to the way each of us finds a joke funny or not, another person sexually attractive or not, and we either wake up in a good mood or we don’t. There’s no point in discussing any of these things either, because no amount of discussion afterwards can change the way we reacted (thank you Immanual Kant for pointing that out). Apart from the freedom to draw breath this is the most basic kind of freedom and no form autocracy has been able to change any of this.

Just the other day my girlfriend and I had radically contrasting reactions to a handful of 2015 dry German Rieslings from a new producer, Materne & Schmitt in Winningen/Terrassenmosel. They are daring products are far-removed from the fruity and fresh norms most wines conform to, and that kind of wine inevitably polarizes opinion. Put simply, either you dig their kind of funk (technical term reduction) or you don’t!

On paper, I’ve got more professional experience of wine than my girlfriend does, but that is not the point, because personal preference and pleasure are not dependent upon professional experience. I was not right and she was not wrong. We simply reacted differently to the same wine and we both understand that when it comes to personal pleasure in wine there’s never any right or wrong. In wine there is freedom!

I always find it very sad when colleagues or regular folks want to learn from me which wines are right and which are wrong, rather than wanting me to help them intensify and expand their pleasure in wine. It means that person wants some kind of certainty where none is to be had. The only certainties when it comes to wine are the analytical parameters (alcohol content, degree of oxidation, etc.), but they can’t tell you if you will like a wine or not. You have to find that out practically.

It is the hunger for certainty and absolutes and the yearning for a radical break from the continually shifting nature of experience that stoke the fires of nationalism, authoritarianism and fanaticism of all kinds. Give me wine any day. It is the opposite of them!

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global

 

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Bordeaux Wine Diary: Day 1 – The Fast Approaching Danger and My Big Decision Part 1

Peace

Although it feels strange to be posting this from Bordeaux this is perhaps not so inappropriate, since Marine Le Pen of the Front National is a candidate in the French Presidential election later this year. I should point out that I’m here to taste the 2014 vintage in bottle for JamesSuckling.com. Watch out for these reports!

For the first time in the 10 year history of this blog I feel forced to take a clear and unambiguous political position, and I must do so urgently because the situation is developing so fast. One reason for this is the rapidly approaching Inauguration of the new President of the United States, and the other is the decision I’ve just taken to submit an application for German citizenship. This was promoted not only by the Brexit decision, but also also due to subsequent developments in my homeland, the UK. Although I didn’t comment on this directly at the time, the fact that as a long-term ex-pat I was barred from participating in the UK Brexit vote was a major infringement of my civil rights.

I’ve been criticized a number of times for taking political positions on this blog although its main subject is wine, and I always answered these accusations in the same way: by pointing out that I never supported a particular political party in any posting nor am I/was I ever a member of a political party. My only political commitment is my membership of the Peace Pledge, an organization that has campaigned for and end to all war and its replacement with non-violent conflict resolution. The pursuit of peace is not specific to the members of any political party, social group or nationality, but is above them all.

The difference between then and now is that previously when I published political comments I was defending particular civil rights, most notably freedom of speech, and/or the free press, and/or the right to privacy in one’s own home that are theoretically guaranteed by the constitutions of many the Western nations. This time I’m writing in defense of all civil rights, because they are now threatened as we seem headed approach a terrible climax to the events that began unfolding during 2016.

The problem is not really the program of any political party, although some of them contain proposals that strike me as highly dangerous, rather a new style of politician, or perhaps I should call them the new-old type of leader. A dangerous beast we thought we’d finally vanquished during the 20th century – the totally unscrupulous and narcissistic demagogue – has recently returned. There are different grades (soft, medium and hard) of every types of political leader, and the worst of the new-old style leaders seem to have a paranoid streak, a psychopathic lack of empathy for anyone beyond their immediate circle, and an obsession with revenge reminiscent of the most evil demagogues of the 20th century. Every intelligent person should know that each of them murdered many millions of people, along with oppressing a very much larger number of millions.

Spooky

Of course, one of the new type of political I’m thinking of is Donald Trump, the President Elect of the United States. I sometimes called him Trump Elect, because clearly he doesn’t just want to be President. The way that he repeatedly insists all the normal rules don’t apply to him makes it clear how he wants is to become a leader unencumbered by the constitutional checks and balances that the Founding fathers so carefully built into the constitution to prevent the rise of autocratic leaders. However, he’s simply the most obvious of the new-old style leaders. Almost every Western country and some other countries too have these kind of autocrats or have would-be autocrats impatiently waiting to grab power for themselves at the first opportunity. Worse still, these leaders are supporting and enabling each other in many ways. Although some of them seem laughable oafs at times, others clearly have great intelligence and nerves of steel. Vladimir Putin of Russia clearly falls into this category.

In spite of the many obvious differences amongst them it is what they all share that forces me to write. They are all ruthless manipulators of the media who don’t give a damn about independent reporting, or even pour scorn upon it, and none of them really care one jot for the civil rights of ordinary citizens. They have introduced political spin of a new-old kind, one that doesn’t just twist the truth, rather replaces it at will with a fully-formed pseudo-truth (that will be revised as they deem necessary). This works because of the retrurn of old-fashioned nationalism and the demonization of entire groups of millions of people (as if any such group could ever be homogenous!) that comes with it. All of this shocks and dismays me; makes me fear where it will all end.

I’ve made a decision for Germany, because it will remain part of the EU as long as the EU continues to exist, but also because Germany has been much less effected by these developments than most other Western nations. It feels like some kind of safe haven, and although this may later turn out to be illusion, I am following that feeling for now. Whatever happens around the world during 2017 and beyond, my commitment to civil rights for the whole population of each of the Western countries remains unwavering. Regardless of the many compromises made in these matters, those rights remain the foundations of free and open societies and of a Western world largely without war.

Those things are the basis for reading. Also, without them the kind of writing that has filled this blog for a decade, regardless of whether the subject was wine or freedom of the press, wouldn’t be possible. So, they are also the basis of writing.

Riesling Global

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Eppstein Wine Diary: Day 12 – Who is My Riesling Heroine of 2016? Read on and Find Out!

Who is my Riesling Heroine of 2016?

Who is my Riesling Heroine of 2016? Who is hiding behind those hands?

Read on and find out!

The title of Riesling Heroine / Hero that I award each year, no less than my choices of the best dry, medium-dry, medium-sweet and sweet Riesling of the year (scroll down to the the previous blog posting to see these), is all about daring and innovation. These are the most exciting new wines and the most exciting wine producer of the year. Sometimes the award winners were wonderful surprises for me, but often I saw them coming and followed their rise to the point where it became necessary and inevitable that they should be singled out for special praise.

Eva Fricke is my Riesling Heroine of 2016!

Eva Fricke of the eponymous winery in Eltville/Rheingau is my Riesling Heroine of 2016!

Exactly a decade ago she began commercial wine production from just a quarter of a hectare of Riesling vines in the then unknown Krone site of Lorch. Although she was not alone in committing to the steep vineyards of Lorch at the northern tip of the Rheingau at this time, it was her name that become synonymous with the Krone, Schlossberg and Seligmacher sites (the last of these in neighboring Lorchhausen). The reason this happened is also the reason that she must receive this award this year: the originality, brilliance and purity of aroma and flavors of her Rieslings. They are amongst the finest in the Rheingau region, and that’s saying something when you think that it is the most famous wine region of Germany and the most renowned Riesling wine region in the world.

I first heard of Eva Fricke back in 2003 when she worked for J.B.Becker in Walluf/Rheingau. Hajo Becker sang the praises of a 26 year old women from the Bremen area of Northern Germany, that is from a non-wine background, who had studied at the nearby Geisenheim wine university. However, I didn’t meet her until shortly after she had moved to Josef Leitz in Rüdesheim/Rheingau in 2004. There she was the winemaker responsible for a string of excellent vintages that built the international reputation of this winery. During that period this estate grew substantially both in vineyard area and bottled production.

It was while working there that she made the 2007 dry Riesling from the Krone site that turned me and a bunch of other people in the German wine scene onto her wines. It had aromas of lemon balm, white peach flint and wild herbs and somehow packed a stunning concentration of flavor into a breathtakingly sleek silhouette. It tasted like nothing else in the region. Getting from there to where she is today was a steep and stony path, littered with practical and personal challenges. Eva Fricke finally left Josef Leitz and went fully solo in 2011. Since 2015 she has made her wines at a brand new facility on the edge of Eltville, having previously worked in a historic cellar in Kiedrich. These kind of abrupt changes are rather typical for a successful German wine start-up though.

One of Eva Fricke's organically cultivated vineyards in Lorch

2015 – pictured above are some of those Riesling grapes – is Eva’s most consistent vintage to date, and every Riesling wine shines like a diamond. Although she has a reputation of being pricey, the 2015 Lorcher Riesling trocken is a stunning wine for just Euro 15.50 direct from the winery (via the email address below). If you want the stars of the vintage from Eva Fricke, then you will have to pay Euro 27 to 36 for the Schlossberg, Seligmacher and Krone single vineyard wines. They are on a par with the best Riesling GGs in the region, and 2015 is a great vintage for the Rheingau.

Congratulations Eva Fricke!

Weingut Eva Fricke,

Elisabethenstraße 6

D 65343 Eltville

Tel.: (49)/0 6123 703 658

Email: info@evafricke.com

Internet: www.evafricke.com

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 8 – My Best Rieslings of 2016

Andrew Hedley

Dr. Andrew Hedley

As each year this is the season when I pick my Riesling wines of the year in each of the four categories of the IRF Riesling Taste Profile: dry, medium-dry, medium-sweet and sweet. This year the best sweet Riesling is so amazing that it must come first. It is amazing value for money costing just 1% of what a Riesling TBA from Egon Müller-Scharzhof, the world’s most expensive (and possibly also most delicious) white wine would cost, so this isn’t a wine only for billionaires. Once again Riesling’s democratic and inclusive spirit triumphs!

Best Sweet Riesling: 2015 Riesling TBA “F” from Framingham Wines in Marlborough/New Zealand

Dr. Andrew Hedley, the winemaker of Framingham since 2001, really is the Dr. Riesling of New Zealand and this may be the most amazing of the many great sweet Rieslings he has made. There’s not a hint of the dried fruit aromas that usually dominate wines of this kind, instead it smells of fresh grapefruit, pear, acacia honey, jasmine and white tea (and normally I don’t write that kind of string of adjectives!) The freshness of this wine must be tasted to be believed, and the brilliant acidity masks much of the 25% natural grape sweetness that it contains making the wine uplifting. How can a wine this concentrated taste this light and refreshing? Theoretically that acidity should taste at least slightly rasping at this young age, however, the doesn’t-want-to-ever-end finish is positively silky. What more can I say? The wine is $49.99 for 37.5cl from www.klwines.com and if that’s too expensive, then the 2015 Riesling Auslese “F” from Framingham is also breathtaking and costs just $29,99 for 37.5cl.

August Deimel

August Deimel

Best Medium-Sweet Riesling: 2015 Vignoles from Keuka Spring Vineyards in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York/USA

For a couple of years August Deimel was the rising star winemaker of the FLX with worst ration of media attention to wine quality, but all that changed this year so I have to refer you to my e-book for Kindle Rock Stars of Wine America #3: FLXtra (see below) published before all that happened in order to stake some kind of shaky claim to having “discovered” August. The new wines from Keuka Spring that have made the most noise are his Gewürztraminers, closely followed by his unoaked Cabernet Franc red, then the Rieslings. For once I’m breaking my own rules in an utterly unacceptable manner and giving this award to a non-Riesling, because August’s 2015 Vignoles has a stunning pineapple nose and on the palate the kind of acidity-driven racy power that I usually associate with great Riesling Spätlese wines from Germany. Savor the erotic tension of this medium-sweet white, then swallow and count how outrageously long the finish of this beauty is! Just $14.99 from www.keukaspringwinery.com.

Chris Williams

Chris Williams

Best Medium-Dry Riesling: 2015 Brooks Estate Riesling from Brooks Wine in the Eola-Amity Hills in Oregon/USA

Chris Williams has been the winemaker of Brooks Wines since the sudden death of founder Jimi Brooks back in 2004. Although the main focus of the winery remains bone dry wines in the style that Jimi pioneered, in recent years he has successfully developed a range of additional wines that are less uncompromisingly dry. The 2015 Brooks Estate Riesling is not only the best of those, but also the most exciting Riesling I ever tasted from Oregon. The nose of white peach, fresh quince and herbs leaps out at you, but it is also dangerously subtle (beware all ye who enter, because it could suck you right in!) The concentration and hardcore minerality of this wine means that you barely notice the few grams of unfermented grape sweetness that are hiding in there somewhere. It’s a huge mouthful although it weighs in at a very conventional 12.5%, and the finish is rolling thunder! This wild beast from the volcanic Jory soil of the winery’s Estate Vineyard is only just beginning to stretch its wings and will soar for the next decade or more. $24 from www.brookswine.com.

Kelby Russell

Kelby Russell

Best Dry Riesling: 2015 The Knoll from Kelby Russell of Red Newt Cellars in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York/USA

No doubt I will be criticized for picking yet another wine from Kelby Russell as my Dry Riesling of 2016, but The Knoll is the most deliciously radical Riesling innovation in the FLX and the 2015 is the best vintage to date (2013 was the first). Beware the grapefruit and smoke that emanate from this glass! In spite of the gigantic energy of this wine that makes it seem to vibrate on your tongue, it is super-delicate and diamond-bright; another Riesling paradox! This won’t be released for about a year so you I’m afraid that you’ll have to be patient. However, the 2013 is drinking beautifully now and you can find it out there, for example for $35 at www.vintryfinewines.com in NYWC. For more about Kelby Russell and the new wines of the FLX see my Rock Stars of Wine America #3. Here’s the link to the Kindle Store. To read it all you need to do is to download the free Kindle app before ordering. ENJOY!

https://www.amazon.com/ROCK-STARS-WINE-AMERICA-FLXtra-ebook/dp/B01FBI0STS?ie=UTF8&keywords=stuart%20pigott&qid=1462714774&ref_=sr_1_1&s=digital-text&sr=1-1

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Eppstein Wine Diary: Day 7 – Caroline & Sylvain Reinvent Schlossgut Diel in Burg Layen/Nahe

img_1738I sometimes tell people that, “I’m a living fossil with the emphasis on living.” What this means is that I’ve been doing this job in more or less this way for around 30 years. This year in May was the 30th anniversary of my first visit to Schlossgut Diel in Burg Layen/Nahe, and my second visit followed 30 years and a few days ago. During those days Armin Diel not only introduced me to the wines of Schlossgut Diel, but also to the first German wines matured in small new oak barrique casks that I ever tasted and to the wines of the Nahe in general. (Although it was clear that Barriqueweine were no less a fashion back then than Naturweine, i.e. Natural Wines are now, it was equally obvious that something lasting would develop out of them and enrich the wine culture of Germany.

Since the fall of 2006 Schlossgut Diel has undergone a subtle, but far-reaching transformation under the current winemaker Armin and Monika Diel’s daughter Caroline (left in the photo), and during the last years she has been supported in this by her French husband Sylvain Taurisson Diel (right in the photo). Sylvain previously held a senior position at Valrhona, and is the only example I know of someone sidestepping from chocolate to wine. He didn’t drink his first glass of wine until the summer of 2009, but this has given him a fresh view of the world of wine that is very different from that of living wine fossils like myself. That has been complimentary to Caroline’s approach, which was decisively been influenced by her experiences of French wines and the French high-end wine industry (amongst other places she did a stage at DRC in Burgundy). The wines she is making now show how well she learned those lessons. For some reason this is a story that hasn’t been well told so far, perhaps because of the long shadow of Armin Diel, and that’s the reason I have to tell it here.

Of course, any wine story is only really interesting if the wines it is associated with taste good, and I tasted more than 30 wines when I visited Schlossgut Diel in order to get a clear idea of what is being produced there today. Most of the Rieslings along with the Pinot Blancs and Pinot Gris (all dry) were 2015s and they were almost all of excellent quality. However, the more important thing is the distinctive new Schlossgut Diel style – powerful and intensely mineral, but never heavy or loud – and the spot-on balance of almost all the wines. The dry Rieslings are never too tart, phenolic or too alcoholic, and when they get some bottle age, as the superb 2014 Goldloch GG had, they acquire a serious elegance and a complex spicy-mineral finish. The Pinot Blancs and “Cuvée Victor” (now mostly Pinot Blanc) are amongst the best examples of this grape from a cool climate that I know, and I was also very taken with combination of charm and character that the Nahesteiner Pinot Gris possesses.

The highlight of the tasting though were the stunning 2015 sweet Rieslings. This has long been a strength of Schlossgut Diel as the dramatic and still impressive 1990s and 1993s show. However, just as Caroline has given the dry wines an elegance they often missed before, so she has given the sweet Rieslings a precise balance that makes them much more charming as young wines than they used to be. My gut tells me that these wines will also age even better too. Here I recommend two relatively new additions to the range as an ideal introduction to these wines. They are the light and still very fresh 2014 Riesling Kabinett (a so-called Gutswein without a vineyard designation) and the more luscious 2015 Dorsheim Riesling Auslese (a cuvée from the estate’s three top sites) that is also available in half bottles. Here is all the succulence that makes these categories so appealing, but combined with floral and herbal notes, the acidity and minerals making the finish light up.

And I will shortly be writing something about the sparkling Sekt in the the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung so will only say now that this is one of the top Sekt producers, with a style closer to the Krug and Bollinger champagnes than any German sparkling wines. And although still rather closed the 2014 Pinot Noir “Cuvée Caroline” is by far the most elegant and sophisticated red wine I ever tasted from the Nahe.

Please note: I know that some of you would like a lot more detail, but that is what I am now doing on JamesSuckling.com since September 1st this year, and it would be a terrible mistake to duplicate. The process of adjusting to this change continues.

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global

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New York Wine Diary: Day 3 – Martin Tesch, Master of Light

Martin Tesch

Light is not exactly the coolest word in the wine scene and it hasn’t been so for a long time. Many years ago it was rudely pushed aside by “concentrated”, “powerful”, “gobs of fruit”, “mineraly”, “authentic” and, finally the most holy of them all, “natural”. However, light has a long-term German champion in Martin Tesch of Langenlonsheim/Nahe, pictured above. Since the 2001 vintage he has been systematically promoting the idea that dry Riesling should not only actually taste dry, but that it should also be a wine with a certain lightness. I know it sounds like contradiction in terms, but Martin Tesch is radical and uncompromising in all that he does, however, he is not an extremist.

What do I mean by this? Martin Tesch has found that the range of 11.5% – 12.5% alcoholic content fits ideally with the bracing natural acidity and bone dryness of his Rieslings. He doesn’t want to push it any lower than that though, because in his view this would mean sacrificing balance. Martin Tesch has no interest in getting into a numbers game, much less in being holier than thou. Instead, by sticking to this range and this type of balance he has been able to perfect one of the great food wines of the world. It has also enabled him to become one of the most consistent producers of dry whites in the world, regardless of grape variety and region. Since the 2007 vintage every wine I tasted from him was excellent, and every time I encountered one of those wines a few years after release it was every bit as delicious mature as it had been when released. The contrast to some other well known producers of dry Riesling is striking, but even more so if you take some well known producers of Chardonnay. Martin Tesch’s wines have no problems at all with premox (i.e. premature oxidation) of the kind that are widespread with white burgundies.

Tesch 2015 Rieslings

There is, however, one area in which Martin Tesch wants to push the numbers lower and that is the weight of the bottles he uses. It is a little-known fact that by far the largest part of the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine is the glass bottle itself. This is why almost a decade ago the Champagne industry developed a new bottle that is 65 grams lighter than the 900 gram bottle they were previously using. It’s use became standard from the wines of the 2010 vintage and non-vintage blends based on this vintage. With the 2015 vintage Martin Tesch has switched to a 370 gram bottle, down from the 420 gram bottle he used for the previous vintages. (Please note, bottle weights for sparkling wines are higher than for still wines because of the 6 atmospheres pressure in the bottle). The 12% drop in bottle weight at Weingut Tesch may not seem that significant, but compare those 370 grams with the 700 grams weight of the bottle used for Germany’s new high-end dry GGs (Großes Gewächs) wines and it is 47% lower. That is a lot of carbon emissions saved. VDP please take note. And don’t forget, there are even heavier and more fancy bottles out there!

Of course, the wine in the bottle is the most crucial thing for the drinker and 2015 is, by a modest margin (over 2012), the best vintage Martin Tesch has made to date. The wines are not only impressively fresh and vigorous, they are also delightfully delicate and subtle, and, of course, wonderfully light. If you are able to buy direct from their maker they cost from Euro 9 for “Unplugged” up to just Euro 14,90 for the St. Remigiusberg. These are very friendly prices for wines that are this well made and have this much individuality.

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global

 

 

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 10 – James Suckling and I

James Suckling

Pictured above in a brief break during a hard day of wine tasting recently at his HQ in Southern Tuscany is James Suckling, the CEO, guiding spirit and main author of www.JamesSuckling.com, one of the most important internet publications about wine in the world. I point this out, because there are still a good number of wine fans out there who’ve heard of Suckling, but are not aware of his influence in Asia, America, Europe and beyond. James gives every wine he tastes a score on the 100 points scale, but as you can he see from the photograph he’s a very different guy to Robert Parker.

The reason that I’m introducing him to you today is that yesterday the first of four stories by me about the dry white 2015 GGs from the members of Germany’s elite VDP (Verband deutsche Prädikatsweingüter) was published on James’s website. It focuses on Rieslings from the Mosel and the Nahe, the best of which are sensational dry whites that you should definitely try if you like elegant and complex dry whites. Beyond announcing the appearance of this report I have to let you know that on September 1st I became  James Suckling’s correspondent for wines of the German-speaking world (i.e. Germany, Austria and Alsace), and will also write about some other subjects for him. I am very optimistic that this is the beginning of a long and fulfilling association between James and I.

The reason I’m so convinced about that is that I’ve known James Suckling since the fall of 1986 when we met at a wine auction in the Rheingau and hit it off right away. For ten years we collaborated until our paths amicably parted again in 1996. I was then a freelance contributor to Wine Spectator where he was the senior editor for Europe. When I visited James a few weeks back we spent two days tasting together and were both rather amazed how closely our views of more than a hundred wines lined up. (Alsace whites are familiar territory for me, but Sicilian whites certainly aren’t and the convergence of views and scores was clear there as well.) This is because we share a deep-seated belief that wines is there for drinking so balance is more important that sheer power and intensity.

My story about the 2015 GGs of the Mosel and Nahe includes tasting notes for 39 wines from the former region and 24 from the latter. It doesn’t report on all the wines of this category produced in those regions in 2015, but 63 tasting notes is a lot to digest, and we felt this is about the limit a single story can successfully carry. You will have to take out a premium subscription to read this story now, but I make no apologies for earning a living, neither does James. Creating this kind of content demands a lot of experience, and a serious investment of time and effort. Those things cannot be offered for free, and anyone who claims they can be should be treated with skepticism.

Please note that the less comprehensive type of material that appears here at www.stuartpigott.com will continue to be available for free. However, the addition of advertising to this site is under review, because currently it costs me money to run and generates no income whatsoever. That policy has only been possible, because I had well paying employers and the losses were written off as the largest item of my publicity budget.

I am convinced that these facts in no way obstruct or diminish the enjoyment and appreciation of wine, indeed the fact that journalists like James Suckling and I have to think about what the wines we report on (because also we can’t afford everything we want) strikes me as a positive thing. Let’s get excited about wine, but also be critical and realistic! I am sure that this is the right basis for good wine journalism and that’s the spirit behind my work both on this blog and www.JamesSuckling.com. WATCH THESE SPACES!

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global

 

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 1 – Simone Schiller & Stefanie Brösel – Wine & Spirits Could Also Just Taste Really Good!

Sometimes during the last months it felt like all the young somms of the world were lined up in closed ranks facing me like an army. It seemed that I had catastrophically lost touch with them, because I wasn’t head over heels in love with “natural” wines of all kinds as they seemed to be. Had I become a backward-looking arch-conservative or even the “Trump of Wine”, as one of them recently described me? Sometimes it felt like it!

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t care about how people think of me or describe me, rather I was worried by the thought that young people working with wine and spirits might no longer be interested in fruit aromas and flavors. That would be sad, because it would mean the end of a great tradition along with all the scientific and other progress made during its development.

Yesterday I stepped virtually straight off the flight from New York to Berlin and ran straight into two talented young women in the Berlin wine scene who gave me a completely new perspective on their generation. Simone Schiller (left) who comes from Regensburg in Bavaria is the chief sommelière of Das Stue restaurant in Hotel Berlin here in Berlin, having previously worked as the somm at Hotel am Steinplatz, also here in the city. She’s just launched two wines with her name on the label in collaboration with Y Sommelier, a new wine producer based in the Rheingau I’d never heard of before. That strikes me as quite an achievement considering that she’s just 24 years of age.

She suggested we meet at the gallery-come-wine-store of her friend Stefanie Brösel, 32 (right) who comes from the wine region of Südburgenland in Austria, and because I’d walked past several times without going in it seemed like an excellent idea. She founded her own wine company in Berlin six years ago, then added a range of spirits she distills herself and opened her gallery-come-wine-store Fräulein Brösel directly behind Café Espresso in the Manteufelstrasse 100 in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin two years ago.

When I walked through the cafe and into Fräulein Brösel at 11am yesterday I found Stefanie sitting on a swing (!) behind her small desk deep in conversation with Simone who was sitting on a low chair that looked more like a child’s stool. Stefanie immediately suggested that I join her on the swing and when I did, I wondered what that was all about. I asked her if she knew the French 18th century painter Fragonard’s work The Swing. When I showed it to her on my iPhone she clearly didn’t recognize it, and from her reaction it became clear to me that the swing was playful in an Alice in Wonderland kind of way, rather than erotic as the French painter’s work is.

Perhaps the Alice in Wonderland feel of this unique room (one wall of it forms the background to the above photo) explains how during the good hour that we drank coffee, talked, tasted Simone’s two wines, then two distillates from Stefanie time seemed to stand still. Maybe it was just my jetlag though?

Simone is one of the brand ambassadors of Y Sommelier, a kind of “flying winery” founded by the Turkish-German Ahmet Yildirim (hence the Y) in Elville/Rheingau. He works with a number of well known Rheingau producers such as Altenkirch in Lorch and Hans lang/Urban Kaufmann in Hattenheim.  That’s a pretty revolutionary concept for the conservative Rheingau!

“Rheingau wines are often too astringent for the charming and smooth style I wanted,” Simone explained. For that reason she chose to have her wines made at the Gutzler estate in Gundheim/Rheinhessen. The Simone Schiller 2015 Riesling is already very open and was brimming with fruit (most of ripe pears!) Although it is juicy in the way most of the dry whites from Gutzler are, it is also properly dry and has a pleasantly crisp finish. At just 11.5% alcoholic content it’s light enough to quaff without any food to accompany it. In contrast, the Simone Schiller 2012 Pinot Noir will definitely show better with food (particularly with fatty meat dishes) than on its own because of the wine’s dry tannins and a subtle earthy quality as well as some spice from oak and plenty of berry fruit aromas

“My wines are optimistic, they should speak to you very directly in a way that is hip,” she explained, and in that moment it struck that what she meant was that for her ripe fruit aromas, freshness and charm in wine are hip for her. From everything I’ve seen and heard about Y Sommelier and Simone Schiller they don’t hesitate for one second to bring the worlds of good food, wine, fashion, music and party culture together, and that’s why the word “hip” seems very appropriate. As she pointed out, fruity wines fit far better into that picture than challenging skin-fermented and more or less oxidative “natural” wines.

I am not the world’s best spirits taster, because I don’t try them neat very often. However, I was very impressed with the clarity, expressiveness and the great harmony of Stefanie’s Haselnuss (hazelnut) and Schwarze Johannisbeer (blackcurrant). In both of them (35% and 32% alcoholic content respectively) the alcohol was barely perceptible and the character of the nuts/fruit from which they were made was dominant. Of course, no artificial aromas were added. To my mind this is the most important quality high quality schnapps should have. The design of the bottles is part Alice in Wonderland, part Tim Burton and like nothing else I ever saw . In fact everything about Fräulein Brösel is like nothing I’ve encountered before. Yesterday was a day of discovery!

The Simone Schiller wines can be purchased for 13 Euros (white) and 15 Euros (red) from Fräulein Brösel. Half liter bottles of the schnapps are 35 Euros, liter bottles 62 Euros. Fräulein Brösel is open from 2pm – 7pm Monday to Friday. Enjoy the fruit!

 

 

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New York Wine Diary: Day 4 – Welcome to Urban Wine Life at “Château Lüttmer” in Berlin!

“The urb it orbs,” wrote James Joyce, and that’s oh so very true of wine, at least since the Spanish conquest of the Canary Islands in 1402 and the Portuguese discovery of Madeira in 1419. Wine growing is a thoroughly rural pursuit that during the 21st century has counterintuitively made a strong connection with cities right around the globe. Urban wineries are now nothing new, but it would be hard to find a more grittily urban winery than that hardly of Klaus and Christiane Lüttmer in the very unfancy Wedding district of Berlin. It is solidly blue collar/working class with a high proportion of immigrants, most of them Turkish. This is not what most middle class white people would consider an ideal place for their kids to grow up, although artists and other creative types long ago discovered the combination of low rents and good mass transportation infrastructure. I did that back in the spring of 1994 when I moved there for a stay of almost five years (thanks again to the developer of that building, Johannes Schwarz!) Likewise, the Winzerei Lüttmer is not trying to be cool, rather to make the best possible wine from a challenging vineyard location and to make a modest living from that undertaking.

I have a special connection to the Lüttmers and their wines because I often stay with them when I’m in Berlin. On top of that Klaus Lüttmer, a film cutter and editor for the RBB and Deutsche Welle stations in Berlin, also took those responsibilities – as time went on he took on more and more responsibilities, until he was also the producer – for my 65 minute movie Watch Your Back: The Riesling Movie (Part 1). He’s also the one who does the hard work of winemaking, while Christiane concentrates on the vineyards. There’s therefore no way that I’m claiming any regular grade family pack size journalistic objectivity with regard to either of this husband and wife team, and they wouldn’t claim to be unbiased about me either. We know each other far too well for that, but that is the whole point of Gonzo journalism: to know your subject as well as the back of your hand.

Let’s start with the facts. Winzerei Lüttmer, as they call their micro-winery, effectively began its existence with the planting of 0.5 hectare / 1.25 acres in Weischutz in the Saale-Unstrut region (in the Ex-East Germany) in the spring of 2008. The grape variety was Frühburgunder an early-ripening mutation of Spätburgunder a.k.a. Pinot Noir. A couple of years ago they planted a further 0.6 hectare / 1.5 acres half with Riesling and half with Spätburgunder in Vizenburg (in the same region). That might not sound like much, but these are steeply sloping vineyards, think Mosel Valley steep and rocky and backbreaking vineyard cultivation work. So far the barrels used to mature the Lüttmers’ Frühburgunder were all purchased used from the famous Rebholz estate in Siebeldingen/Pfalz, but a 600 liter / 158 gallon neutral cask from the top Austrian cooperage Stockinger has just been added for the 2016 vintage. 2010 was the first Fürburgunder red wine vintage and the first small crop from the new vineyard is expected this year. That makes it a seriously long-term project rather than just a hobby or a route to hippdom.

Good as the first vintages were, the 2014 wines are a watershed and by far the most exciting reds I ever tasted from the wine regions of the Ex-East Germany. After having harvested very late in 2013 to get high ripeness in spite of the poor fall weather the Lüttmers took the risky step of moving forward the date for the 2014 harvest forward with the goal of getting a wine with more freshness. The results of this seemingly small stylistic change were spectacular, as if a photograph that had been slightly fuzzy was suddenly in sharp focus and the scene it depicted therefore recognizable for the first time (there are two wines, a regular bottling and a richer reserve one called “S” for selection, bottlings, because it is a barrel selection). At first I found it hard to reconcile this super-elegant and subtle wine with the non-designer cosiness of the Lüttmers apartment that is also sometimes my eccentric home in Berlin. Maybe there is an odd connection though, because both strike me as being radically alive in a totally unpretentious manner. For that reason, and because she is depicted on one of their new labels that way, I chose a photograph of Christiane Lüttmer smoking a cigarette to give you an idea what it’s like at what I call “Château Lüttmer”. That image on the label has already seriously shocked some people in the Berlin wine scene, but as I said at the beginning none of this is a pose, rather it’s all true to their everyday life in the vineyard and at their home in Berlin.

The final photo shows Fritzi, perhaps the most important member of the Lüttmer pack and the source of much of the emotional glue that holds this most unusual trio, or perhaps I should say quartet, because I’m now a part-time member of the pack! By the way, although I know Château Lüttmer like the back of my hand I have to admit that I’ve never seen the vineyards except in photos (of precision hand-cultivated rows of vines resembling the best manicured vineyards in Burgundy). Fritzi is rather upset about that and if I don’t solve that problem soon I think he’ll give me the cold shoulder in the future!

The Lüttmer wines are still quite difficult to get, but that will change fast as the 2014s make their way into the market. That word also refers to NYWC (New York Wine City) where Vom Boden (Stephen Bitterolf) is the importer, and they are about to arrive. Be prepared to be amazed!

 

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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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