Monthly Archives: March 2014

Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 5 – Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread, or the Story of Peter Klann – Part I

It was almost exactly a decade ago to the day that I began to think about bread actively for the first time and became aware of its relationship to wine (which only begins with the fact that both are the result of alcoholic fermentation). It was almost exactly a year ago that the news of the sudden death of the man who set me thinking about bread, Peter Klann of Soluna Bakery in Berlin, reached me. It was a terrible shock and the shockwaves are still reverberating within me. Perhaps it sounds melodramatic, but nothing will ever be the same.

Since Peter’s death my relationship with bread has only become more intense, as documented by the photograph above. It was taken in The Tasting Kitchen in Venice Beach/LA in June 2013 and shows what you get there when you order “bread and butter” for $5. Of course, there’s something provocative about charging that much for three slices of bread and a knob of butter. Clearly either it was going to be a complete rip-off or a revelation, and it turned out to be some of the best white bread I’d ever eaten. The whole meal was great and very much in the spirit of this appetizer, but it is the bread which sticks in my mind, reminding me of Peter Klann’s words as it does so: “you have to give yourself up to the dough when you are kneading it, rather than try to dominate it. You have to work upon it with your soul, then you get back a piece of yourself in the bread.” It might seem absurd that someone in LA of all places should work upon a piece of dough with their soul (isn’t that so 16th century?), but clearly someone at the La Brea bakery had taken the trouble to do so!


The bread I ate today was Spezial from Weichardt Brot in Berlin pictured above, a mixed wheat and rye bread which is dark in color, dense in texture, rich and slightly tart in flavor. There’s a clear connection here, because when about 20 years ago Peter Klann finally decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and learn the baker’s craft it was from Heinz Weichardt that he did so. By then Heinz Weichardt had long since become a follower of biodynamics, which back then was regarded with scorn as a kind of black magic by almost everybody. It was the high point of the technocratic attitude to food and wine, but as Weichardt and Peter Klann show, even then there were people willing to risk derision and ostracism to explore paths far removed from the Cartesian form of scientific thinking which insists on focusing on small parts and all but ignoring the far more complex whole. The problem with that is the fact that the world is a “network” composed of an untold number of interconnected “strands” and never remains still while we observe it, but is constantly changing. Our observing it changes it and we the observers are not static or unchanging either.

Of course, today, many more people are open for biodynamics on the basis that although science can’t explain how it functions it does (or at least some parts of the system do) indeed have an effect. The contemporary willingness to first judge the results, rather than prejudged them through a rejection of the theory behind them, also enabled Peter Klann to gain recognition through breads like his petit pain obscure pictured above. In this case he took something as banal and everyday as a white roll and completely reinvented it. What the photograph can’t show you is the amazing texture which it had that I could already sense the first time I broke one with my hands, and fully appreciated the first time I put a piece in my mouth. There was Peter’s “soul”, or whatever you want to call it, and from his bread I got a feeling for it before I ever met him (which that meeting confirmed). That petit pain obscure a decade ago was also the beginning of my obsession with bread. More about that very soon!

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 2 – Submerged, but Coming to the Surface

When stuff happens it often happens by the bucket-load. I’ve been back in Berlin 48, but I still feel lost in something like the dead-end pictured above. Don’t worry it really isn’t anything like as bad as this image makes it look! A story about bread and wine that has been a long time in the metaphysical waiting room and will be arriving online at this location in cyberspace soon. It would have landed already, but I’m still not back to normal after a bout of flu. Please be a little more patient!


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 43 – Night Flight to Germany

John Lennon famous said that life was what happened while you were making plans. In my case it was sickness – a viscous bout of flu that left me weak and delirious – that happened and screwed almost all the plans for my last few days in New York Wine City NYWC). The only things I managed were to see the first proofs of my book, BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH – The Riesling Story (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, coming early June) from the printers for color correction, then take part in a planning meeting for the second RIESLING ROAD TRIP (RRT II) which begins in Key West on May 5th. Luckily, I recovered just in time to be able to pack my suitcase for my night flight to Germany tonight and a long, eventful stay in NYWC comes to an end.  Forgive me this brief and scrappy message, but given the circumstances more wasn’t possible. Watch this space for more extensive reporting from the ProWein trade fair in Düsseldorf from Sunday.

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 41 – The Wine Times they are a Changin’ in California, Austria and New York’s Finger Lakes

My apologies for the delay in getting this posting online, but I am sick with some kind of flu-type bug and struggling with everything as a result. Here it finally is!

As noted just a few days ago, a sea change in wine styles is taking place in California and this has been most obvious in the field of Pinot Noir, where a bunch of producers have been pulling back from the 15% plus alcohol, a sweet taste from over-ripe grapes and 100% new oak. The In Pursuit of Balance group (scroll down for more about them) are the public face of this, but there are also other producers not in the group like Jeff Fischer (pictured above) of Habit Wines in Santa Barbara County. I loved Jeff’s 2012 Pinot Noir from the La Encatada Vineyard for its vibrancy of flavor and dry, fresh finish when I tasted it yesterday at the A.I. Selections portfolio tasting here in New York Wine City (NWYC), but it is his white wines which are truly revolutionary.

The 2012 Chenin Blanc from Habit – we all have habits, this could be a new one you to acquire, try to kick the destructive ones first though!  – weighs in at just 12% alcohol and is dangerously refreshing with a kind of whiplash acidity I normally associate with Riesling. When Jeff started making this kind of dry white wine not five years  ago it was totally wrong, that is a perfect example of cultural incorrectness (cultural correctness is perhaps more widespread than political correctness, but less frequently commented upon because it sells luxury goods). Now he seems to be right on the cusp of becoming a Somm-Sation due to the all the good and famous restaurants which have been giving him listings lately. I tasted cask samples of cask samples that will push that process of acceptance along further, the still slightly yeast, but delicately spicy and super-bright but less acidic 2013 Grüner Veltliner and the2013 Sauvignon Blanc, which is so far removed from any norm for that grape except in terms of freshness that I’d call it an Anti-Sauvignon Blanc!

Patrick Proidl of the Proidl winery in Senftenberg/Kremstal is following in the family tradition of daring to do things radically different. Due to climate change some Austrian Rieslings of recent vintages have had a problem with too much ripeness and alcohol plus too little acidity. The Proidl dry Rieslings always dared to have more natural acidity than those from the more famous competition. His 2012 Riesling Reserve from the steep, terraced  Ehrenfels site below the eponymous ruined castle is a dazzlingly vivid Austrian Riesling with more than enough concentration to be considered in the first league for that category and great mineral freshness too. Patrick has been spreading his wings trying all kinds of unconventional stuff in the cellar, like stopping the fermentation of one lot of Riesling 60 grams per liter / 6% grape sweetness unfermented to give a wine in the German Spätlese style (and the 2013 is in that first league as well!) In the picture he’s holding a bottle of his latest creation, the 2012 Generation X Riesling which did wild ferment for 8 months in a new 500 liter barrel and carries that oak better than any other experiment with Riesling and oak I’ve encounters so far. There’s still plenty of apricot aroma and there’s a serious textural complexity. This is daring stuff for conservative Austria!

Kris Matthewson made his first Rieslings at Bellwether Wine Cellars in the Finger Lakes (FLX) in 2012 and tasted a year ago they were wild and crazy wines (with quite some reduction, for those of you into the technical stuff). Since then they have mellow just enough to drink well without losing their positive edginess. The 2012 Dry Riesling from the A+D Vineyard manages to square the circle of having just 11%, plenty of the acidity typical for the FLX and yet have an attractive lemon blossom aroma and a good harmony.  His 2013 Pét Nat sparkler is very yeast, because it is still fermenting slightly in the bottle, but manages to be juicy and pretty dry. This will be another dangerously refreshing wine once spring arrives in NYWC. I predict that by the time the wine is sold out this will be another Somm-Sation, because mega-cool Donkey & Goat winery of Berkeley/CA already established this category of product with their impressive Chardonnay Pét Nat, but the Bellwether is drier and more expressive.


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 39 – New York State Wines in New York Wine City (NYWC) plus a Pink Elephant !

Today I was at the NY DRINKS NY Grand Tasting of New York State wines here in New York Wine City (NYWC) and although I’ve been exploring the state’s wines quite intensively for almost a decade there were still some eye-popping surprises today, not least at the stand of 21 Brix Winery in Portland/New York. Not only does 21 Brix have a life-size pink elephant on the property they also make dry Riesling, of which the 2012 was light with 11% alcohol and crisp in the Finger Lakes mold, but more delicate in flavor. Congratulations to winemaker Kristopher Kane (pictured left) for distinctiveness as much as for quality! He also makes a remarkably deep-colored, powerful red in 2012 from the Noiret grape that I’d never come across before. To be honest, I’d never tasted any wines from the south shore of Lake Erie before!

Although I was feeling pretty weak today as a result of some virus hitting me hard my nose was clear, so I tasted all the dry, medium-dry and sparkling Rieslings I could find at the tasting, which was 34 wines.  The great majority of them were 2012s from the Finger Lakes (FLX) and they underlined just how good – aromatic, juicy and lively, but seldom stridently tart – this vintage is. There were not enough 2013s there for me to form a clear opinion of the latest (mostly unbolted) vintage, but Kelby Russel the winemaker of Red Newt/FLX had showed me a couple of single-vineyard wines from their cellar the other night which were impressive. Let’s say it certainly tasted better to me than the slightly lean and tart 2011 vintage, some wines form which are aging rather fast. There was one innovative Riesling from 2013, the ‘Bubble’ Secco type sparkling from Atwarer/FLX. They’ve produced this before, but now it has that simple catchy name and they’ve cracked the balance apple and lemon pie aromas, crisp acidity, a touch of sweetness and added bubbles. It is a great Riesling party wine. The packaging is also really cool too. No wonder Katie Marks looks so pleased!

Some of the wines I enjoyed the most were just a shade too sweet to qualify for the designation “dry”, like the confusingly labeled, but delightfully floral and elegant 2012 Dry Riesling from Glenora. The 2012 Riesling from Lakewood Vineyards is a charming wine with quite a long creamy finish, but doesn’t tell you straight up on the label if it’s dry or not. Then there’s the confusing “Semi-Dry” designation which is not legally defined and can mean almost anything. I found just one wine labelled “Medium-Dry”, a designation quite precisely defined by the International Riesling Foundation (IRF, see www.drinkriesling.comfor more info). Congratulations to Leslie Arduser-Brogan of Casa Larga for having the self-confidence and for the chambering wine. The argument that it is an unsexy description that won’t move bottles off shelves doesn’t hold up, because Pacific Rim in Washington State turned their “Sweet” Riesling (theoretically an even more unsexy designation) into a million bottle brand! I think people like knowing where they are and the IRF taste profile mostly tells them quite or very accurately. Please Riesling producers everywhere, drop “Semi-Dry” NOW!

Wagner Vineyards, one of the winemaking giants of the FLX, surprised me with their charming, but also substantial dry 2012 Caywood East Vineyard Riesling, the best wine I’ve ever tasted from them. Their Sparkling Riesling is one of three wines of this type from the Finger Lakes that prove this category has a great future (together with the Célèbre from Dr. Frank and the Riesling Cuvée from Swedish Hill). I wondered why I couldn’t remember tasting the Rieslings from Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards before, because their 2012 Homestead Reserve was one of the best single vineyard wines I tasted today, topped only by the medium-dry 2012 Red Oak Vineyard Riesling from Mark Wagner.

Mark also poured my favorite red wine of the day, his 2010 Caberent Franc (which like his single vineyard Rieslings costs about $20). It was full of floral aromas (including violets, if that isn’t too pretentious), not a whisker of green bell pepper and has great balance of ripeness and freshness; a joyful red wine with lots of character! The 2010 Cabernet Franc form Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards was in a rather similar style, also sporting bright fruit and gentle tannins. Even lighter and less tannic, but with a bright redcurrant note and a hint of pepper was the 2012 Cabernet Franc/Lemberger from Anthony Road. You certainly can’t say the challenging 2010 Lemberger from Fox Run had moderate tannins, but it pumped out the pepper aromas like a factory working overtime: a love it or loathe it wine! I will pass over the seriously interesting red wines and eccentric whites made by Alie Shaper of Brooklyn Oenology Winery based in Williamsburg and wait to write a full report on them later in the year. It was as loud as in a cool NYWC restaurant towards the end of the tasting and I feel beat. Please excuse me so I can crash on the sofa for an hour or two to recover!



New York Riesling Diary: Day 38 – The Strange Drinks Laboratory that is Brooklyn

Brooklyn was the subject of enormous foodie (and other) media hype in recent years, and you could be forgiven for thinking that this is the Holy Land of world gastronomy (and many other things). The images linked to this aura are of streets of treelined brownstones, small stores and cafés with world-class restaurants occupying alternative spaces in places like the basements of supermarkets and displaying no sign at the entrance. From then beginning Red Hook was the Outer Limits of this myth, its distance from the nearest subway station adding to its cool edginess (even if it’s home to IKEA). That Red Hook can also look like the pictures above (note the Statue of Liberty in the distance) is something few hipsters realize.

Warm sunshine and some time on my hands was a combination too good to miss, so yesterday I headed out on a long expedition to Red Hook. To some of you this might look like a failure, because I didn’t get to Red Hook Winery at Pier 41, but that strikes me as being a story in itself. However, what drew me to Red Hook was not only the uniquely sprawling landscape and dynamic architectural diversity, but also that this is one of the homes of the distilling revival in New England during recent years. There are too many new gins, bourbons and rums being produced in the Northeast of the US to attempt a complete list. However, with its rich but delicate flavor and silkiness there’s no question  in my mind that Widow Jane 7 year old is one of the best new bourbons.

Oddly, it is made by a company called Cacao Prieto, that’s also specialized in chocolate. It opened it’s doors in a historic red brick building at 218 Canover Street in 2010 and has been distilling on this site since 2012. Distiller Dillon Mafit grew up in Sonoma County/CA and worked at wineries there, in New Zealand, South Africa and Spain before the distilling bug bit him. And I think it’s fair to say that behind his work as a distiller lies a wine ethos. Sure that invites the cynical comment that spirits are the new wine (and, of course, wine was the new sex), but so what! He surprised me by saying that he was, “more of a rum guy than a whisky guy,” then pouring me a sample of his rum. It was even more complex in flavor than the Widow Jane Bourbon, and suggests to me that this might become a future focus of the distillery.

That would be a logical move, because during the 18th century the main export of the more northerly American colonies (where high quality tobacco couldn’t be grown) was rum. The molasses for this its production imported from the Caribbean and this lead to the first serious dispute between the colonists and the government back in London. In 1733 the Molasses Act attempted to force the American colonists to buy molasses from the British Caribbean colonies rather than from the French islands (where it was much cheaper) by imposing a duty of sixpence per gallon on the importation of molasses from all non-British colonies to New England. This lead to much smuggling of molasses and the colonists were so successful in evading the Molasses Act that the number of distilleries in New England grew rapidly. For example, in Boston there were just 8 distilleries in 1738 and 63 in 1750! In spite of the failure of this clumsy attempt by London to impose its will on the New Englanders it was widely resented by them and the beginning of their disenchantment with the authorities back in Old England. The revolution started with rum and not with tea. The distilling of corn to make bourbon didn’t develop until after the War of Independence. As you can see from the photo below not just any corn is used for Widow Jane, rather it is made exclusively from heirloom indian varieties.

There is much else that I liked about Red Hook, and that in spite of some serious coolness and the correspondingly high hipster density in certain localities. The fact is that it still feels like it’s on the edge. That has a lot to do with the number of bus depots, warehouses and workshops situated on what was marshland until well into the 19th century and the fact that Hurricane Sandy put almost of all of it briefly back under several feet of water. That scenario could easily be repeated, which has at least put the brakes on gentrification, leading to a mad mix of self-important New Architecture next to empty plots, (mostly) renovated older houses and ugly light industrial facilities. It’s the tensions between these contradictory architectures that  makes the place so fascinating in its present phase of development. Another big storm would be a double-edged sword for Red Hook…

After a long walking back towards Downtown Brooklyn I was unexpectedly confronted by the Sorel liquor produced by Jackie Summers of Jack from Brooklyn; surely the most surprising new drink in the borough. It is based upon an old Caribbean recipe, which  requires steeping a pound of dried hibiscus flowers, ginger, nutmeg, cassia, clove per gallon of spirit. Instead of using the traditional rum – this product is related to what we are familiar with as “spiced rum” – Jackie uses organic grain spirit. That must have been a difficult decision when you consider his roots are in Barbados and Rum, originally called Rumbullion, was invented on Barbados back in the late 163os or early 1640s. What makes Jackie’s Sorel so original is not so much this though, rather the fact that it has a moderate alcoholic content of just 15% (like a strong modern red wine) for a liqueur, and a  startlingly dry balance. The considerable acidity derives from the hibiscus flowers (which also give it the color) is responsible for the impression of dryness at the finish, although the first impression is predominantly of clove and slightly sweet. Sure, Sorel can be mixed with everything from Blanc de Blancs Champagne  (which I tasted with Jackie) to gin and vodka, but the longer I lingered over it in the straight form the more exciting nuances of flavor I found in it. And the packaging Jackie developed has a timeless beauty that makes many new products from the major drinks companies of the world look tacky or plain dumb!

I not only bumped into Jackie at Brooklyn Wine Exchange on Court Street (one of the best stores in New York Wine City!), but also Cava producer Marcel Sabaté of Castellroig in the hills behind Barcelona, pictured above. The great thing about his sparkling wines is their totally distinctive aroma profile and very dry balance. I really enjoy the effusive fruit and straightness of the regular Brut, which is blend of the local varieties based on 60% of the Xarel Lo grape. Sure the Reserva Brut Natur with its fennel, beeswax and candied citrus peel bouquet, and a great balance between creaminess and crispness, then a long salty mineral finish is more exciting. However, to appreciate this fully you need to give it your full attention. (Mine was flagging after many hours of walking!) It is 75% Xarel Lo and Marcel also makes a great pure varietal still wine from this grape that is the most exciting new dry white I’ve tasted from Spain in a long time. All those herbal notes and that mountain freshness with just 12% alcohol is quite an achievement. I was revived enough to make the subway back to my sofa in Manhattan.


New York Riesling Diary: Day 35 – Climate, Weather and Wine Paradoxes (New York, Michigan, California)

Yes, today maybe the last day of winter in New York Wine City (NYWC) and things like this which sat in front of the door to tha apartment building on West 16th Street that I live in when I’m in NYWC for what seemed like an eternity may soon be just memories. The last time there was a winter like this in my other home city, Berlin, some people started doubting there was such a thing as climate change, and I hope nobody here makes that mistake. Perhaps all the terrible storms of the last months will make it clear to them that it was just a particularly cold winter. There is certainly a fundamental difference between weather (short term phenomena) and climate (long-term patterns). However, that is small cheer to those winegrowers who’s vineyards have suffered frost damage this winter. That could seriously reduce the size of the 2014 crop and we are also talking Riesling east of the Mississippi.

This dramatic picture of Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes (FLX) from the air recently was supplied to me by Jim Trezise of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation. It shows that the lake was almost completely frozen, which means that for a while it ceased to function as a natural frost amelioration system. Bob Madill, one of the founders of Sheldrake Point winery on Cayuga Lake (the northern part of which also froze over) in the FLX reported that about 18% of the vines’ buds had been killed this winter, which is rather less than I’d feared. The Riesling vines will probably compensate for most of that loss. I haven’t heard  yet what the figure on the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas in Northern Michigan where most of the lake appears to have frozen over this winter. Of course, this is all science fiction and finding out how the 2013 vintage wines taste in the two major Riesling producing regions on the eastern side of the US, plus the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario/Canada, comes first for me.

In California a paradoxical, if not bizarre, situation has developed. The state is suffering what is probably its worst drought since the white man first set eyes on the West Coast of North America and this is seriously impacting agriculture in the state. That’s important because, for example, the state grows virtually the almonds, pistachios and walnuts in North America. In fact, it grows most of the world’s almonds and prices for them are already rising. However, the state’s wine industry had two big crops in 2013 (4.23 million tons) and 2012 (4.02 million tons). In contrast, the 2011 and 2010 wine harvests were both short. Excepting a few politicians, California seems to have a healthy grip on the reality of the drought though, perhaps because this is far from being the first drought the state has suffered in living memory. The first 2013s I’ve tasted from California (see the posting below for one example) were impressive and across the board the 2012s shine as long as they weren’t over-oaked and other winemaking stupidities were avoided.

In Western Europe there was hardly any winter at all and recent days have seen warm spring weather that make an early bud-break of the vines inevitable opening up the very real danger of spring frost damage to the delicate young shoots. Now that would lead to enormous crop losses, because the vines cannot compensate for that. Of course, what kind of growing season the wine regions will get in 2014 and what kind of summer we’ll get this year in NYWC is anybody’s guess.


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 34 – How different the World of Wine (including that strange place called California) can be

One of the things which came out of the big wine tastings of the last days in New York Wine City is just how hard California is trying to convince the wine world that its wines aren’t all massive gooey hulks resulting from over-ripe grapes from excessively stressed vines that were then over-extracted and finally tweaked (grape juice concentrate rears its ugly head) to squeeze out yet another Parker point. This search for a different range of flavors that are more harmonious and appealing is definitely to be welcomed, because the ambition of many California winemakers went to their heads precisely as technology put another powerful set of tools into their hands and (almost) the whole winemaking show got completely out of hand. Rudder? What rudder? Who needs a rudder? It’s important that a group like In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB) exits as this gives the new movement a public face, even if IPOB is limited to Pinot Noir (with which some of the most egregious exaggerations occurred). For more info go to: The recent appearance of Jon Bonne’s book The New California Wine gives much needed exposure to this movement and its main protagonists and it shots from the hip when it analyses their wines. For more info on it or to purchase it click on this link:

For a long time Chardonnay seemed to me one of there varieties California was doing least well. Sure there were a few seriously impressive high-end wines that are difficult to find and expensive to buy, but where were the delicious wines at more reasonable prices? Generally the wines which should have filled that niche – a niche in which Riesling shines spectacularly well in – seemed to end up getting too much oak and too creaminess from the combination of malolactic fermentation (which converts “unripe” malice acid from the grape into softer-tasting lactic acid) and yeast contact (most particularly the stirring of the deposit of “lees” after fermentation) with high alcoholic content and low acidity levels (i.e. high pH). The cellar treatment that would ideally suit a high-end Chardonnay weighs down a regular quality wine, making it turgid, blunt and plain dumb – exactly what Riesling winemakers have learnt to avoid (although in their case the problems are different ones like too much sweetness and poorly managed sulfite additions).

Yesterday at the Michael Skurnik portfolio tasting I met Joel Gott, pictured above, and tasted his excellent range of moderately-priced wines including his 2012 unoaked Chardonnay, a masterpiece which many California winemakers need to learn from. Instead of pulling back a bit from the conventional winemaking practices in pursuit of balance Joel has rethought the entire gig and come up with a wine that is at once lively and supple, has wonderful peach and melon aromas and succulence of flavor, but remains so fresh and bright I could drink the whole bottle. And it usually costs under $15 plus tax! Just to prove that I’m not on some kind of crazy crusade against barrel-fermented California Chardonnays with oak aromas I was also very impressed by the elegant and highly individual Chardonnays from Peay Winery and Ramey Winery in Sonoma plus Morgan in Monterey County. They all cost something, but strike me as being well worth the price. However, for refreshment for mind and body I prefer the sleek, racy and mineral dry 2013 Albarino from Bonny Doon (mostly below $20 plus tax), and that taste profile brings us back to the Riesling & Co Wall of Sound.

The tasting of artisinal German, Austrian and American wines from the program of Frederick Wildman the day before Skurnik’s big splash was perhaps less spectacular, but there were some very interesting wines that I’m still thinking about like the 2012 Pinot Blanc from Francois Baur in TurkheimAlsace. It had a good do more ripe aromas (orange) than is the norm for this grape in this region, but still a nice freshness at the finish, so it really is a serious competitor for all those slightly over-done California Chardonnays in the moderate price range. The 2012 vintage dry Grüner Veltliners from Fritsch in the Wagram region of Austria were the best wines I’ve ever tasted from this producer, with more spicy character and subtlety than pervious vintages. Even the enormously concentrated 2011 Grüner Veltliner Schlossberg from Fritsch which has 14% tasted elegant rather than massive. And his medium-bodied dry 2012 Riesling had a lemon blossom aroma that was a joy to inhale. Every time I bump into the dry Riesling from Chateau Béla in Slovakia I find new nuances in this genuinely complex wine and the 2011 never tasted better than it does today. It is also a great value for this price (for example, $17.99 plus tax thru

And now for the really good news, which is of  the biggest surprise of this spring for me here in New York Wine City: the red wines from Boxwood Winery in Middleburg/Virginia. I’ve tasted a great many Virginia wines and probably more of them were reds from the Bordeaux varietals. None of them came close to the 2010 Boxwood (a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot). There was no bluster to this beauty, but more than a little mystery beyond the wonderful balance of big, but soft tannins and considerable richness. Thank you Rachel Martin! Some California winemakers could learn something from this wine too…but not perhaps Joel Gott! For more info go to:


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 33 – OUTRAGEOUS! What should a Proper Gentleman think of what Mr. Randall Grahm (of Bonny Doon) has been up to in New York Wine City Today?

Normally I describe, comment and analyze. Today I am so flabbergasted that all I can do is to say how the sequence of photographs below came About. It all began harmlessly enough at the Michael Skurnik portfolio tasting today on West 18th Street/Manhattan. Suddenly a large coffin-sized box was delivered at the stand of Mr. Randall Gram (of Bonny Doon in California). David Skurnik proceeded to unpack the contents causing shock on all sides. What should a proper gentleman think of all this???

PS Have no fear, a proper story will follow tomorrow!

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 32 – The Chardonnay Problem and the Danger of a Global Chardonnay Meltdown

Yes, this blog is about Riesling, but because it’s about Riesling seen from a global perspective, because Riesling grows peacefully along side all manner of other grape varieties red and white, and because it is in competition with their wines in various ways and to differing degrees, this blog is also about the whole world of wine, of which Riesling is a part. I am radically open for all styles of wine from all manner of grape varieties anywhere in the world, and this openness gives me great pleasure, rather than being a burdensome task in some way. Much of my pleasure in wine is the pleasure of discovery, I always say that my favorite wine is the next discovery, and sometimes it happens to be Chardonnay. The other day Volker Donabaum of A.I. Selections poured me the 2011 Chablis from Château de Béru, which is on their program, and I was seriously impressed. This is a bone dry, but elegant dry white with a pronounced smoky character and a nice mineral freshness at the finish. $28 retail is not expensive, but not exactly a deal either. See their website for more info:

Of course, like every wine drinker I have my personal likes and dislikes. I enjoy an enormous range of grape and yeast aromas and flavors, and I also understand how they are intimately linked (for example, most of grape aromas only get “released”, that is take on a form in which we can perceive them, inside the cells of the yeast that ferments the wine). In contrast, oak flavors strike me as clearly extraneous to the fundamental interaction of gapes and yeast (i.e. they are aromas and flavors resulting from the interaction of oak barrels or “chips” with the wine) and certainly not a necessary component of wine, as wines made in amphora prove no less conclusively as those made in stainless steel tanks. However, that’s just me debunking a widespread wine myth, and the simple truth is that I don’t like wines with strong oak aromas and flavors and this rules out a lot of Chardonnays straight away. For me, honesty goes hand-in-hand with openness and there really can’t be one without the other.

All of this is of great and immediate relevance, because it has often been claimed (though not by me) that Chardonnay is a direct competitor of Riesling, even that Chardonnay is the reason that Riesling isn’t as popular as it deserves to be. I have always said that Riesling is a cool wine with a potentially broad niche in the way that Pinot Noir is. Chardonnay’s problems in the American market and the potential Chardonnay meltdown in California, where 90% of American wine is produced, derive from the fact that during the 1980s Chardonnay expanded far beyond its previous broad niche position.  22% of all Californian vineyards for wine production doesn’t sound that extreme until you see that it means 95,074 acres / 38,325 hectares, making it the most widely planted grape in the state and the US as a whole. Just the other day Donald Patz of Patz & Hall winery in Napa told me that the market in New York Wine City (NYWC) is seriously over-saturated with Chardonnay brands and even the best Californian wines from this grape don’t have an easy time. Patz & Hall do better in Florida than in NYWC!

At least in the most “sophisticated” parts of the US market Chardonnay is no longer the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow,  This is also true of many other markets around the world, because as mentioned in my New York Riesling Diary on Day 29 (see below) many other countries are also producing a lot of Chardonnay. Most notable amongst these are Australia, Chile, South Africa, Italy and France, but there are a slew of other wine producing nations with a significant Chardonnay production. These wines are all trying to grab the same markets around the world, but at present most of the products chasing those store shelves and restaurant listings are still economically viable, because the demand for Chardonnay remains strong in many markets. However, that doesn’t mean everything is hunky dory, as becomes clear when we compare the situation of Riesling, which is still growing and developing in most markets around the world, with that of Chardonnay. The latter long ago peaked in most markets, the current fashion for wines from this grape dating back to the late 1970s/early 80s in many places! So, the marketing struggle is therefore to try and keep sales on a plateau instead of them dropping off, but that’s not easy given the huge quantity of product in the sales and distribution pipeline!

This is where the danger of a Global Chardonnay Meltdown lies. Back in the 1970s and early ’80s Riesling and the white wines consumers perceived as benefiting from Riesling’s Germanic image (e.g. Liebfraumlich, but also products like the Austrian white wine brand ‘Schluck’) had seen many years of almost uninterrupted growth. Then came the perfect storm of wine scandals and changing consumer preferences. It is this kind of fate which may well be in store for Chardonnay, although the cause of a such a crisis may be very different to what almost killed Liebfraumilch and (incidentally) knocked Riesling back a long way. Who knows, maybe there will be a health issue with a Chardonnay from one of the major producing countries. The problem with that is the way “Chardonnay” functions like a brand in the minds of many consumers, which will inevitably lead to major contagion. Suddenly inventory would back up, triggering a massive wave of discounting that would push the image of Chardonnay into the crapper. As noted, California Chardonnay is BIG and this is what makes that scenario so dangerous for the state’s wine industry, but it’s not a bank that’s too big to fail though and will therefore get bailed out by somebody.

I write all of this with a heavy heart, because there are a few California Chardonnays that I really love,mine more so than the Mount Eden from the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Francisco. For more info go to: htpp://

I’ve been following this wine and its makers Jeffrey and Ellie Petterson (pictured left) since the late 1980s. Not only has the quality only improved during that time, but these are properly dry whites which are delicious drunk fairly young (2-5 years of age), but can age magnificently, actually gaining in elegance and subtlety as they age. That’s very rare amongst California Chardonnays some of which – even quite expensive ones – fall apart after a few years in the bottle. They have a loyal following who are buying this wine because its a Mount Eden more than because its a Chardonnay, and those wines will of course survive a market meltdown. Many Californian Chardonnay producers will, however, pick up the tab of having made that old mistake my mom warned me about so many times: putting all your eggs in one basket. They won’t be alone though because wine producers around the globe also made the same mistake!

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