Category Archives: STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL

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

 

 

Posted in Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | Leave a comment

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

 

Posted in Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | Leave a comment

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!

 

 

Posted in Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | Leave a comment

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!

 

Posted in Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | 1 Comment

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!

 

 

Posted in Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | 1 Comment

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!

Posted in Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | 1 Comment