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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FLX Wine Diary: Day 1 – Knapp’s Reinvention and the 2016 FLX Wine Harvest

Belinda & Jerry

I just arrived in the FLX (Finger Lakes in Upstate New York) where the wine harvest has been briefly interrupted by some rain showers that are actually a welcome change from the long dry summer. It would take several inches more rain to pull the region out of the drought it’s in, but that seems rather unlikely. It wouldn’t be good for the quality of the fruit either, since it could lead to both dilution and rot. Of course there’s a lot of anticipation as to how this vintage will turn out for the FLX after much of the 2014 and 2015 crops turned out so well. That’s why today I leapt at the chance to taste some fermenting wines at the Knapp Winery on Cayuga Lake together with the General Manager Belinda Venuti and the new winemaker Jerry van Vort (pictured left and right above).

Jerry previously worked at wineries in Connecticut and Santa Barbara County, California. As different as the growing conditions in those locations on opposite coasts of the United States are, working in those divergent cool climate regions seems to have prepared him very well for the conditions and general types of wines made here in the FLX. Of course, wines that are still fermenting or have only just finished their alcoholic fermentation shouldn’t be judged in the same way as finished wines in the bottle. Tasting embryonic wines is like reading science fiction. However, it struck me that Jerry’s done a very good job so far at mastering grapes from quite a challenging growing season. Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and the Lemberger (a.k.a. Blaufrännkisch and Kékfrankos) red pictured below all made a very good impression. Just look at that color. No filter was used to enhance it, in fact the photograph makes it look paler than it did seen directly.

Knapp Lemberger


Knapp is part of the Glenora Group of wineries and getting their own winemaker is important for reasons that go well beyond potential improvements in wine quality. Previously the Knapp wines were made by Steve DiFrancesco of Gelnora Wine Cellars and this lead to the widespread impression that this was just a second label for Glenora, although in recent vintages many of the Knapp wines (particularly the Rieslings) had their own distinctive style. That made a lot of sense, because Knapp has almost 40 acres of their own vineyards and they are located close to Cayuga like, while Glenora Wine Cellars is on the west bank of Seneca Lake. With Jerry’s arrival not only should that style become yet clearer, the independence of Knapp as a winery is finally immediately and easily comprehensible. The winery’s reinvention, which Belinda has been working at for 7 years has entered a new and decisive phase!

PS I continue to be astonished how many people, also people in the FLX, remain unaware of the existence of my e-book (for Kindle – all you need to read it is to download the free app onto your device) about the region and its wines: ROCK STARS OF AMERICA #3: FLXtra with KJR. This was only published a few months ago and it is by far the most up-to-date in depth report on the subject available. Here is the link to it:





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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



Berlin Wine Diary: Day 3 – How The Hipster Somms Could Get Away With Murder And How We Can Stop Them

Never are the hipster as cool or perfect as when sipping the right “natural” wine!
How The Hipster Somms Could Get Away With Murder And How We Can Stop Them

Yes, Part 4 of my series of outrageous stories about the hipster somms of NYWC (New York Wine City) was just published on the Grape Collective website and the flack has been flying in my direction. Needless to say, some readers were sure before they read a single word – some of them didn’t seem to bother to read a single word! – that they hated what I’d written and they hated me for having written it. Others seem incapable of grasping the idea that I am trying to describe a concrete phenomenon in the smallest number of words (i.e. an article, that is a series of them, not a damn fat book) and through the use of satire to make this seriously entertaining to read. You see, I really do want you to read it and make up your own minds if, as I hope, I have come rather close to describing the true situation in NYWC. Part 4 tries to analyze how the wine city functions as an ecosystem which competing organisms cohabit; a food web! I gratefully acknowledge the inspiration of Jonathan Swift and William Hogarth (18th century Britain), along with that of Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolf (late 20th century America). As we Brits say, the truth will out, and if I’ve done my job well, then I have been its medium. As with the publication of Parts 1-3, I am in Berlin, and it is a weird experience to be on the other side of the Big Pond to where the action is. So be it!

Here is the link to the Grape Collective story:


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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 11 – ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA Celebrates It’s First Anniversary

The humble beginnings of ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA in Brooklyn

Exactly one year ago today I began work on my e-book series (for Kindle) ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA. The photo above shows what that looked like. At that point I was de facto homeless both in NYC and Berlin, so this was a bold decision and I had no idea where this serious commitment to gonzo wine journalism in the land of the free would lead me and an unsuspecting world.

Since then I’ve published three volumes: #1, describing my first trip to the US – Baltimore – in September 1985, described as if it happened yesterday; #2, a report of my encounters with Maynard James Keenan – the singer of Puscifer & Tool – and the other pioneer winemakers of Arizona, most notably Kent & Lisa Callaghan and Kelly & Todd Bostock; #3, the story of the new community of young winemakers in the FLX (Finger Lakes, Upstate New York) including Peter Becraft, August Deimel, Julia Hoyle, Nancy Irerlan and Bruce Murray. #4, about the non-Pinot Noir wines of Oregon is a work-in-progress, publication date to be announced.

It all feels good now, although there was some difficult moments along the way. The sexually explicit material in both #1 and #2 was widely criticized and #3 was damned for the lack of sexually explicit material!  Many thanks to everyone who bought and/or read and/or talked bout this radical new form of wine literature. Also a special thank you to Kate Fitzgerald-Groby for allowing me to house, garden and cat sit for her in Brooklyn while I started work on this project. I greatly appreciate all your support. By the way, not only is no end in sight, but I intend to continue working on this series for the rest of my days, so help me God!

The strange looking link below takes you to the ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA page at the Kindle Store. Once again, you don’t need a Kindle to purchase or read, just download the free Kindle app onto your device. The iPhone and iPad both display these texts in a form that makes them easy to read.


Online shopping from a great selection at Kindle Store Store.
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New York Wine Diary: Day 6 – Maybe I’m Amazed by Günter Seeger’s New York Restaurant!

I’m frequently asked what the best wine in the world is, what my favorite wine of all time is, which the best of this or that category of wine, food, restaurant or bar is. The first couple of these questions are completely absurd, because how a wine tastes depends enormously on how you feel, your mood, what you just ate or are currently eating, and the entire situation. Therefore, what feels perfect one day won’t the next. However, even the latter questions that are much more specific are often not easy to answer, because even within a seemingly arrow category like Chinese restaurants there are great differences. In this instance they begin with the fact that there are eight main schools of Chinese cooking and each of these has many local variations. However, occasionally something comes along that is so sensational that I end up saying something like my words at the end of yesterday evening: “that was the best meal I ever had in a New York restaurant!”

I had been invited by a couple of friends to a new restaurant in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan called Günter Seeger after the chef and patron. I first heard about Seeger and his new restaurant a good year ago, long before it opened. Rudi Wiest, a German wine importer based in Southern California with a great feeling for fine cuisine, told me that it was coming and it would be something special. I made a mental note, but did no more about it. I was therefore hardly well prepared for what came. Perhaps that was a good thing though, because the element of surprise definitely added something to the whole experience.

Since I had my first fine dining experiences as a teenager I’ve loved the buzz I get when I walk into a restaurant where hedonism hangs heavy in the air, but I don’t feel that I’m in a temple where I shouldn’t laugh loudly and must show some kind of exaggerated respect for the food on the plate beyond what I show any artist or crafts(wo)man with a special talent and the determination to develop its potential to the full. That’s exactly what it was like last night when I stepped into Günter Seeger’s restaurant, and as the evening progressed the precise, but friendly and unfussy service confirmed my impression this is an establishment that completely rejects all the show, glitz, tricks and BS that so many other fancy NYC restaurants are crushed under the weight of. The problem with all that fancy stuff which has nothing whatsoever to do with the food on the plates and the wine in the glasses is that I also feel crushed by it!

The next thing that stunned me was the wine list, a single large sheet of paper on one side of which were German wines and on the other a selection of wines from all kinds of other places. Finally a German chef in America who isn’t pretending that he’s some vague kind of European, but not actually German. There’s a great German word for that: Lebenslüge, or a life-lie, i.e. being in denial big time. This wine list has a smattering of famous names, but also a healthy number of excellent wines from small producers at friendly prices. For example, amongst other things, we drank the 2013 Spätburgunder from Shelter Winery, a start-up in the Baden region of Germany founded in 2003 by a young couple from the beer-drinking north of Germany.

The reason that I come to the food first in paragraph five is that this is the nature of the restaurant experience when you dine at a high level; a lot happens before that first plate arrives. The Ceviche of Kona Kampachi with Cilantro and Habanero was hardly a radical innovation, but the texture and super-fresh flavor of the fish, together with the balance of the citrus and chilli flavors was exactly spot on. Optically, the food itself was very simple, but the presentation on a porcelain bowl by the Berlin-based ceramicist Stephanie Hering that looked like a snowstorm of diamonds was stunning. This was the moment when I thought to myself, why didn’t I find out more about this chef before I came out tonight? That was the best ceviche I ever had!

Summer Salad with Tomato Sorbet – the second dish of the six course menu – sounded like a cliché, and I feared it might be a nod to vegetarian PC, and possibly even be a filler. How wrong I was. Every type of tomato, the long red pepper of a familiar kind, a piece of perfectly ripe white peach, and the eggplant of a variety I’d never encountered before each had a completely distinctive taste. The intensely flavored tuna sauce (think Vitello Tonato) and tomato Sorbet added decisive accents that unlocked new flavor dimensions from the fresh tomatoes. This is the summer I was missing until that moment.

Grilled Solette Grenoble style is not really my mind of dish, also because normally a punch of caper flavor this powerful is too much for me. However, the fish was also no slouch and dodged that potential blow with the butterfly deftness like that of Mohammed Ali when he was right at the top.

Then came the next sensation. I thought the 50-dayDry Aged Creekstone Farm Beef, Local Chanterelles with Marrow would be a rather conventional dish – hell I cook stuff vaguely like that and I’m not a particularly talented hobby cook – and when it arrived on the table the only unconventional thing about it was the thinness of the steak. What was Günter Seeger doing serving steak? One bite was enough to persuade me that this was the most complex steak I’d ever eaten. The thinness of the steak meant that almost the whole of it was external surface, dramatically increasing the roasted flavors to weight ratio. The marrow added richness to the texture and I felt like I was melting in my own mouth!

I will omit description of the excellent local cheese and the great dark German style bread served with it, but only for reasons of space. The Balivet Bubbles with Rose Petal scented Raspberries was so very delicate and literally almost lighter than air. Then I realized how soothing the interior décor of the restaurant was, although I couldn’t do more than point to the well-judged subdued lighting if asked to explain that more. I had been somewhat distracted by the “action” in the open kitchen, because we were at the Kitchen Table right next to it. What I saw there was exactly the opposite of the Gordon Ramsey mud-wrestling-style theatrical violence. Instead Seeger’s kitchen is a place of Zen-like calm.

Finally, came one of the simplest and most satisfying deserts I’ve had in a long time. However, I have to warn you that the Wild Blueberry Soufflé Glacé with Candied Lemon Peel and Spearmint is packed with heavy cream, but its there for a purpose (a seriously erotic texture). How could the humble blueberry become the basis of a desert at once so rich and so pure in flavor? Right now I can only begin to explain it. Indeed, those words describe Seeger’s cuisine as a whole. And unusually, I felt like the best thing that I could do tonight would be to return and savor those things once again. Neither was I physically over-satiated, nor was there any sense of sensual overload as so often is the case after eating at restaurants working at this level. Maybe I’m amazed by Günter Seeger!!!

For further information see: www.gunterseegerny.com

Günter Seeger NY, 641 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014

Tel.: (1) 646 657 0045

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New York Wine Diary: Day 5 – The Sea Change in the FLX and the Vineyards Behind It

Harlan Fulkerson, “the man, the myth, the legend!”

Why write yet another blog posting about developments in the FLX (Finger Lakes in Upstate New York) wine industry, and why begin with this photograph? Both are the result of reactions to my previous posting (scroll down to the bottom of this story to find it). You see, some people in the FLX reject my view that the top 2015 Rieslings from the region are great wines, instead considering them “atypical” and therefore inferior to the wines from “normal” vintages. Of course, they’re entitled to their opinion, but I’ve been to this place before and saw what happened.

This situation reminds me strongly of the reception that the 2003 vintage German Rieslings received both at home and abroad.  They too, were rejected as atypical because they were rich, ripe wines, many with a considerable amount of power, but only moderate acidity. It was often said that they couldn’t age although they closely resembled the 1959 vintage, the best wines of which have aged magnificently. And sure enough the best 2003 German Rieslings are aging very gracefully. Of course, if you desperately wanted light, sleek, crisp wines, then the great majority of German 2003 Rieslings didn’t fit the bill, and either the 2002s or 2004s were far more likely to please. However, the whole point of Riesling is the extremely wide spectrum of wine types and styles that this remarkable grape makes possible. Anyone who insists on Riesling wines conforming to one narrow taste profile is rejecting that diversity, but even supposedly sophisticated wine professionals who praise that ability of Riesling to be versatile do this!

Back to the FLX though. 2015, like 2014 before it, was a vintage that can’t be described in just a few words, not least because it has two distinct sides: success and failure with rather few wines in the middle between them. In spite of the differences between the two growing seasons, in both cases success was all about excellent viticultural practices that prevented rot gaining an early foothold on the grapes. When that enabled they could  hang on the vines ripening further well into October, and in 2014 sometimes into November. For reasons that probably relate to the small size of the crop, the ripeness in 2015 was even higher than in 2014, the aromas of the best wines often heading in the exotic fruit direction, rather than the peachy and citrusy directions that dominated in 2014. Exotic fruit aromas in young FLX dry Rieslings is something many people in the industry aren’t familiar with, although, for example, some of the 2001s showed this kind of character.

The two things which have changed since then, since I first visited the region in October 2004, are the winemaking and the viticulture. The former has been written about at considerable length (though often inadequately), but the role of the latter in the sea change that’s occurred in the FLX is rarely more than mentioned in passing. However, it is cleaerly the more crucial factor responsible for the leap in quality at many producers.  That’s the reason I put a photo of leading grape grower Harlan Fulkerson of Lahoma Vineyard on the west bank of Seneca Lake at the top of this post, and another picture of him with Kelby Russell (right), the winemaker of Red Newt Cellars on the opposite bank of the lake.

Harlan has just shy of 100 acres of vineyards of which almost 40% is planted with vinifera grape varieties, of which the most important is Riesling. He was encouraged to plant this grape by Dave Whiting, the owner of Red Newt, and the first vines went into the ground in 2007 (internally referred to as the “7er block”). Harlan, or The Big H as he is often referred to, is a larger than life personality who combines great determination to perfect grape growing in the FLX with a wicked sense of humor. For example, the last time I visited Lahoma Harlan said that 2016 was, “the driest goddamn year I ever saw. The corn is so short a racoon has to bend down to pick it!” A typical Harlanism! More important for the subject of this posting though was the impeccable state of the vineyards when I saw them last week. There was no sign whatsoever of the powdery mildew I saw in some other vineyards, and the balance of canopy to fruit at Lahoma was just about ideal.

Nobody can quite figure out how Kelby and Harlan make such a great team, maybe it’s because their both unconventional perfectionists. Two of the most important new Rieslings in the region, the dry The Knoll (first vintage 2013 recently released) and medium-dry The Big H (first vintage 2014, set for fall release) from Red Newt Cellars are sourced from Lahoma Vineyard and are therefore the result of this collaboration. Like so many of the other new wines in the FLX they represent radical stylistic innovations. No attempt has been made to imitate the elegant and finesse of the Hermann J. Wiemer wines, instead Kelby has sought the maximum of expression and not shied away from radical aromas and flavors that will polarize opinions: yellow grapefruit including a hint of the pith and smoke of the kind that wafts long distances so you can’t figure out exactly where it came from. This is spirit also fits the 2015 vintage like a glove. You have been warned!

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New York Wine Diary: Day 2 – More About the Awesome 2015 FLX Rieslings

It has been suggested that I should supply much more information about the 2015 vintage Rieslings in the FLX (Finger Lakes in Upstate New York), also that I should come out and say which are the best wines sooner rather than later, if possible right now. “Stop pussyfooting around! You didn’t do that when you wrote about the hipster somms on Grape Collective, so don’t do it now!” This thirst for information is understandable, and given the title and content of my last posting I can fairly be accused of having encouraged this thirst, these expectations. However, accommodating them is not as easy as it might seem. Let me try and explain.

Even at the FLWA (Finger Lakes Wine Alliance) event at the Three Brothers winery that I reported on the other day there were a number of wines that had just been bottled and were seriously closed up and therefore difficult to taste as a result. Just imagine how you would feel if someone had pushed you into a narrow prison cell, then slammed the door shut! In some of those cases – Boundary Breaks and Sheldrake Point – I’d tasted the wines from tank before bottling, and therefore had more to go on than the immediate taste impression. I feel confident they’re really good wines, but to nail them with a precise description and/or a rating would have been unrealistic the way they currently show. On top of that there were also a couple of cask samples from Heron Hill that were still hazy due to suspended yeast. That makes it even more difficult to make a professional judgment, but I’m not going to risk it because the impression the wines made was good. However, it was so much easier to see the quality of wines that were bottled and already open like the Dry Riesling and Semi-Dry Riesling (full of citrus, apple and tart peach aromas, the cidity crisp but not piercing) from Fox Run on the west side of Seneca Lake.

That was the wines that were at Three Brothers. However, several FLWA members had decided (possibly for entirely practical reasons) not to take part in this event. Here I’m thinking particularly of Lamoreaux Landing and Red Newt, both on the eastern side of Seneca Lake. When I tasted the Dry Riesling, Semi-Dry Riesling and the three medium-dry single vineyard 2015 Rieslings from Lamoreaux Landing with owner Mark Wagner (pictured above) back in early June they were still in tank, but ready for bottling. That’s an ideal moment to taste, because nothing is getting in the way of the wine showing you everything it has (particularly if you are a patient taster), and they were an impressive group of wines. In fact, the Red Oak Vineyard may well be the best Riesling Mark Wagner has ever made. In spite of the ripe pineapple and kiwi aromas there was nothing exaggerated about this wine, and it got better and better as it aerated and warmed in the glass (always a very positive sign for very young wines).

In spite of that it’s always good to remember what leading dry Riesling winemaker Martin Tesch of the Nahe in Germany says: “tasting cask samples is science fiction”. However, convinced you are that the future of the wine lies in a particular direction the real test is to sample the finished wine. That means the fact that Mark Wagner has been the most consistent Riesling producer in the FLX in recent years is not a cast iron guarantee that these wines will turn out as good as I think, any more than tasting cask samples at the Bordeaux 1er Grand Cru Classé Château Margaux is (an example I give as a result of some disappointing experiences with those wines). In the world of wine there really are no cast iron guarantees.

In the case of Red Newt the top Riesling wines of the vintage won’t be bottled until late August. This is a daring move on the part of winemaker Kelby Russell, but it looks like the right call to me. I got to taste them the day before the FLWA while they were still in tank sitting on the full deposit of fermentation yeast (technical term: lees). A handful of them are hot candidates for the title of best wine of the 2015 vintage, most notably the Dry Riesling and the dry The Knoll, both sourced from Lahoma Vineyard on the west side of Seneca Lake, and the dry Tango Oaks Vineyard bottlings. However, these are wines that will need some time in the bottle to show their true colors, that is for the grapefruit and passion fruit aromas to unfold and for the interplay of fruit, acidity, lees and mineral character to become apparent. That’s the technical way of saying that I’m expecting them to be like tuning forks vibrating on my palate when they’re released next year.

Not every FLX winery is a member of the FLWA and a couple of non-members need to be mentioned if the picture is to even halfway complete. The 2015 Dry Riesling from Red tail Ridge on the west side of is an “oddball”, because the limestone soil hear leads to wines that are significantly softer than the norm. The floral and candied ginger aromas of this wine are also positively untypical. It’s another wine that needs some time to unwind. There are a bunch of other wineries, particularly small producers who would deserve a mention here, but either they haven’t let me taste any 2015 Rieslings yet, or I couldn’t find the time to visit them. My apologies to the latter group. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten you!

In early June I also tasted Hermann J. Wiemer’s 2015 vintage wines and apart from some of the components for the Dry Riesling they were seriously embryonic wines, and a couple of them were still fermenting! Here I have to trust what my intuition tells me, and hope that it doesn’t fail me in this exercise in science fiction. Certainly these are remarkably concentrated and complex wines that retain the hallmark elegance of Fred Merwarth and Oskar Bynke’s wines. Let me risk a great deal and say that I think they – from the regular Dry Riesling up to the Josef TBA – will become the best wines this producer ever made! Add up all these impressions and I think you can see why I’m so excited about the 2015 vintage in the FLX.

For those looking for a more in-depth report on the FLX region please consult my e-book ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra with KJR – This is a Love Story. Here’s the link to the page on Kindle Store on Amazon where you can find it:


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