Although I’ve made it back to Berlin physically and I’m writing this at my “home” desk surrounded by familiar stuff, my head is still full of a hotch-potch of New York things like this sign which says everything about my state of disorientation. I could really do with some help readjusting to what we all call “normality” most days, and hope that the German Rieslings (famous and non-famous names from Rheinhessen) that I’m about to taste are going to provide it. What made returning really strange was that my flight left JFK in a snowstorm and when I arrived in Berlin the weather conditions were almost identical. “Have I moved at all, or was I just shut in a series of metal cylinders (airplanes and trains) with flat screens instead of windows and subjected to varying g-forces? Am I the victim of a virtual reality experiment?” I asked myself. Of course, the answer was no as I discovered when I went for a run, did some shopping and took out the trash. Also the snow is melting fast. This definitely is East Berlin and not the East Village of Manhattan. This situation is not without advantages, for example roughly half the wines I’m about to taste aren’t imported into the US. Even the top sommeliers of America are still lagging behind developments here due to the limited number of professional and ambitious importers of German wines. I feel sure their ranks are about to swell though, as the exciting new producers offer too many good opportunities for smart young wine merchants. If these two groups hook up over the next couple of years as I expect them to do, then the perception of German Riesling in the US will undergo a serious shift and this, in turn, will alter the image of Riesling altogether. In the other direction things, sadly, look much less promising. Where are the German wine merchants interested in importing Riesling from the Finger Lakes in New York State or the exciting new wines from North Michigan? I just don’t see them.
Marcarthur Baralla, the young Brooklyn-based documentary filmmaker who filmed my farewell party in New York just sent me the link below to a time-lapse sequence he shot of the event which compresses one long evening into under a minute. I’m easy to spot because I’m wearing a long red jacket from Neodandi (about which a story will shortly follow): https://vimeo.com/58109940
Goodbye New York Wine City (NYWC). I shall try not to be sad as my plane takes off from JFK this evening and I hope that you won’t either. You were so full of surprises, including many wonderful Riesling surprises, these last 60 days. Regular readers will have already found out about many of them. Now it’s time to change perspective and tone. Until I return to NYWC on March 4th this will be a BERLIN RIESLING DIARY, but stay in American English and, of course, stay true to this site’s core theme. However, in Berlin no less than in NYWC I will have my eyes peeled for the unexpected, the absurd and the beautiful, whatever it might be. For example, I found the below on a sidewalk in the Lower East Side and couldn’t help laugh. As some of you found out during my stay in NYWC I often can’t help laughing, and the sound of my laugh can be heard at a great distance. This is also the work of the Riesling Force that moves not only in the wines of best white wine grape on earth, but in many other things that either connected to Riesling in a logical or inexplicably way. Many thanks to all those who helped me and were so generous in so many ways. Thanks to all of you I was in a very favored position almost all the time I was in NYWC. May the Riesling Force be with You!
My two months in NYC are drawing fast to a close and it seems appropriate that finally I get a short blast of icy winter weather. While I’ve been staying at the Hotel of Hope in the East 7th Street of the East Village/Manhattan I’ve pursued many lines of long-standing Riesling inquiry and completed many Riesling stories that have gestated in my mind for months or even years. However, the most important aspects of my stay were the unexpected ones, the fruits of serendipity, what washed ashore when I went with flow and let the tide take me where it willed.
My companions in this most unusual “Hotel” were a vital element of this process and I therefore have to introduce them to readers properly. Above is Birgitta Böckeler from the north of Germany who worked the last two years and two months for a software development company here in NYC and has now moved to another company in the same field in Hamburg. At first she was a bit disorientated that I, the “wine expert”, was not telling her what to think of the wines I poured in her glass, but once she got used to this idea we had a lot of fun drinking wine and a bunch of other things together. I also learnt a lot of new ideas from her, such as the IT expression, “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature!” That describes very well a lot of what I’m trying to do in my writing. Just before she left for Germany we went out to see the new Quentin Tarantino movie, Django Unchained, which I might not have bothered with if she hadn’t insisted. In ways she couldn’t have imagined this movie – in my view Tarantino’s best since Jackie Brown – had a wonderfully liberating effect upon me. Thanks again Birgitta for helping to open my mind!
Jürgen Fränznick, who’s work for the ARD public service TV channel in Germany as a reporter in NYC for the past five years, had to leave for a stay in the Fatherland a couple of weeks back and hasn’t been the same without him. Again and again he would surprise me with his suggestions and observations, always having a different perspective on how this city ticks and how the media tick. When you’re trying to push ahead new and daring projects in several different media simultaneously in a foreign city as I am that kind of help is vital. For this, but also for purely personal reasons, I look forward immensely to seeing Jürgen again when my NEW YORK RIESLING DIARY and I return to the city on March 4th.
Since the party I’ve been catching up with all kinds of work relating to it and a bunch of domestic chores here at the Hotel of Hope, because after my lunchtime meeting tomorrow I have to head out to JFK and fly back to Germany. I’ve also been thinking back over my time here and trying to decide what it is about New York Wine City that made my stay here so incredibly helpful to developing the various STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL projects. Certainly I’ve sometimes encountered people who’s convictions about wine get in the way of their clear perception of the truth in wine, but that’s something you find everywhere on Planet Wine. Far more often I have been stunned by the openness, particularly of Young Upwardly Mobile Wine Professions (Yupwips?) in New York. It is surely this, in combination with a long-standing culture of excellence, which keeps the city pushing the wine envelope. And my bet is that exactly the same combination of factors is behind Riesling’s rise, which clearly has some way to go before it reaches its zenith. That is reason enough to return!
Here’s Vincent Bründlmayer of the Bründlmayer estate in Langenlois/Austria being interviewed on camera by Brooklyn-based documentary filmmaker Marcarthur Baralla for Watch Your Back (a Riesling movie). My party at American Flatbread TriBeCa (205 Hudson Street at Canal Street) was a blast, also because it was the first day of shooting for my feature-length movie. Marcarthur and his assistant interviewed dozens of our guests, including Paul Grieco of Hearth & Terroir, Harmon Skurnik of Michael Skurnik Wines who generously provided a slew of exciting wines from their program, and winemakers like Bründlmayer and Johannes Selbach from Selbach-Oster in the Mosel/Germany. Towards the end it got pretty wild, but that gave us some spectacular material for one of the opening scenes of the movie. Thanks to everyone who stepped up in front of our green screen! In the finished product that green will be replaced by the Manhattan skyline by night. Sadly, you will have to wait some months for the finished product, but I guess something will go up on You Tube much sooner. Watch this space!
On a serious note a number of guests spoke to me about the New York Riesling Diary Story ‘ What is in the Feiring Line’. I had worries that this story which explored the role of sulfur in winemaking and in our own bodies was too science-heavy, but everyone who spoke to me yesterday evening felt that the science had been not only easily comprehensible, but also necessary to break through the emotionalism which so often colors the treatment of this issue is usually handled in the wine media. As somebody said to me, “opinions are not the same thing as scientific arguments and you showed very clearly the difference between the two when it comes to sulfur in wine.” Thank you New York Wine City for taking me so seriously!
As you can see I am in party mood and I hope that you are too if you are coming to the STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL Party (in association with Michael Skurnik Wines) from 9pm this evening at American Flatbread TriBeCa, 205 Hudson Street at Canal Street in Downtown Manhattan. If you want to come, but don’t yet have an invitation, then you must quickly email Suzanne Winter at Suzanne.email@example.com
I was just at the big Michael Skurnik Wines tasting at TriBeCa Grill and at the preview screening of Terry Theise’s movie about German wine, Leading Between the Vines. He packed an enormous amount into the movie and let the growers he featured speak at considerable length without interruption and with only minimal prompting. This was a daring thing to do and the gamble paid off. Having myself worked with a shaky camera and had some other technical issues when making my first experimental wine movie (click on Riesling Global above to reach the link to it) I am not really the right person to question the technical side of things, however, extreme wind noise was sometimes distracting. Cameraman Tylor Bohlman must be congratulated on having worked so well with the growers and having had such a good eye for what makes the Mosel, Rhine and Nahe so special.
Tonight at American Flatbread I will be shooting the first material for my own wine movie with the help of Brooklyn based documentary filmmaker Marcarthur Baralla (who took the photograph of me above). The working title is Watch Your Back (a Riesling Movie) and tonight we are shooting one of the opening scenes of the movie. Please if you don’t want us to point a camera at you then tell us as soon as you arrive. We don’t want to be impolite or invasive.
At the Michael Skurnik event I tasted a slew of great German and Austrian wines (not just Riesling), but some very funny things also happened. I hadn’t tasted a single wine when a highly intelligent looking young woman asked me, “are you Eric?” “Eric?” I answered completely fazed. “Yes, Eric Asimov of the New York Times,” she insisted and I had to gently point out that actually I was just Stuart Pigott. “Eric doesn’t dress like this, does he?” I asked her, looking down at the bright red corduroy trousers and Vivienne Westwood bondage shirt I was wearing. “I don’t think so,” she replied, “but you do look a lot like him.” Then there was another case of mistaken identity when Gabriel Clary of Michael Skurnik Wines (pictured below) told me that, “Caroline Diel couldn’t make it, so today I’m Caroline Diel.” I hope that you agree with me that although it may not be as good an impersonation as mine of Eric Asimov he certainly made a good impression for Schlossgut Diel of Burg Layen/Nahe. You can also meet Gabriel at the party. See you there!
Riesling keeps teaching me lessons, keeps showing me how many of my own convictions are just so much baggage, so many boundaries I’ve consciously and unconsciously put up in front of myself. As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “convictions are greater enemies of truth than lied”. Some lucky moments the wine in my glass just sweeps away all the detritus which has become encrusted on my mind and I feel a wave of joy – freedom! – sweep over me. May the Riesling Force be with you too!
Yesterday evening brought such a moment of joy. Dinner with Robin Schwartz of Garnet Wines and Volker Donabaum from A.I. Selections seemed like the perfect moment to open the bottle of mature Riesling from Dönnhoff in the Nahe/Germany pictured above. When the wine was young it changed my understanding of what a sweet Riesling Spätlese from Germany could taste like. It was like someone taking an elegant townhouse and adding a huge ballroom at the back. For the first time in my life I uttered the fatal words, “I don’t give a damn what it costs, I want a whole case!”
After mentally trying to extrapolate how it would taste in my 2013 NYC Here and Now I bought some blue cheese (English Stichelton and French Fourme d’Ambert from Formaggio in Essex Street Market) to augment the cheeses I already had in the refrigerator and set off for Robin Schwartz’s apartment. As usual Volker Donabaum came with a couple of bottles and the first, the dry 2011 Ehrenfels Riesling from Proidl in Senftenberg/Kremstal was powerful, but graceful and delicately spicy. Astonishingly its 14% alcoholic content were not a problem! The red Shiraz-Grenache-Mourvèdre blend from a small winery on California’s Central Coast (no names mentioned!) was an example of hi-end winemaking that was completely self-defeating. The wine didn’t taste alcoholic in spite of weighing in at 15.5%, but after just a couple of sips we already started to feel drunk. I thought that was bourbon’s role in life! Wondering if we could enjoy any more wine after this Californian steamroller had flattened us we gingerly sipped Dönnhoff’s 1998 Riesling Spätlese “Gold Cap” from the Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle site and wave of hugely refreshing Riesling washed over us, invigorating, delighting, tantalizing us. Sure it was a rich and concentrated wine, but the subtlety of flavor which just 8.5% alcohol content helped to accentuate was almost literally breathtaking and the wine tasted amazingly youthful and vibrant for 15 years of age.
As those two Rieslings showed, the wines of the best white wine grape on earth can be so many different things and just when you think you’ve nailed Riesling down with one or more definitions you discover a wine that doesn’t fit them, because the possibilities are ”endless”. Are they really endless? At moments like this they seem to be, and that’s the important thing, for it is this which leads to the unloading of baggage, the breaking down of artificial boundaries, and the resulting feeling of freedom. The cheese also brought some surprises, for as well as the wine went with the blue cheeses it went even better with a “leftover” of Humboldt Fog, a goat’s milk cheese from Cypress Grove in Northern California. The two just seemed to melt into one great joyful whole. Perfect, by which I mean, one of the many, many kinds of Riesling perfection out there.
A couple of hours ago I was making my way along Bleeker Street/Greenwich Village in an easterly direction – facing the lost world of Europe! – when suddenly close to the junction with Thompson Street a young guy beamed at me and said, “Hey Stuart, it’s Vincent, Vincent Bründlmayer.” Only on Tuesday the students at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park/NY had been knocked out by Vincent’s 2011 Heiligenstein Riesling. It was the way the wine was simultaneously rich and cool, smooth and minerally that made it stand out amongst the dry wines in the tasting I put together with Jim Trezise of the International Riesling Foundation (IRF). And over the holidays I’ve frequently served the elegant, creamy 2007 Brundlmäyer Brut sparkler here at the Hotel of Hope where I’m staying. Everybody enjoyed it, even those who aren’t normally keen on sparkling wine.
So I invited Vincent for a coffee at Caffe Reggio on MacDougal Street where the coffee turned into a beer. He admired my camera and just to show him how well it copes with low lighting situations like inside Caffe Reggio I took the photograph above. He told me all about the new Bründlmayer cellars which were completed just in time for the 2012 crush and how he thinks this has changed the wines in a positive way. Then I told him all about the coast to coast trip I will be taking for the German Wine Institute in June, and how I will be shooting a feature length road movie of that trip. He suggested that the vehicle I’ll be traveling in will be a kind of bat mobile of Riesling and that, at least for the duration, I’ll therefore be a kind of Batman of Riesling. That’s something I need to chew over seriously – if I ‘m Batman, then who is Two Face and is Paul Grieco the Joker? – and I wonder if some of you have some thoughts on that subject? Either way Vincent is one of the group of Austrian and German winegrowers who will be attending my party on Tuesday night at American Flatbread TriBeCa (see the diary entry for Day 53 below for contact info to obtain an invitation). I’m really looking forward to seeing a bunch of you there. Until then may the Riesling Force be with you!
After almost two months in New York Wine City I will be heading back to Berlin shortly. Fear not, I shall return with this diary and much else on March 4th. To celebrate the end of my longest stay to date in the US I will be throwing a STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL party from 9pm on Tuesday, January 22nd at American Flatbread’s new TriBeCa Hearth restaurant (205 Hudson Street at Canal Street). The photograph shows the basement space where all the action will be Tuesday night. This event is a joint venture between Vermont-based American Flatbread, New York wine importer Michael Skurnik and I. Because Skurnik’s Terry Theise Selections of German and Austrian wines are presented that day in the city, a long list of top growers including Cornelius Dönnhoff from the Nahe/Germany and Vincent Bründlmayer from the Kamptal/Austria will also be attending Tuesday evening. Admission is free, but entry is strictly by invitation only. If you have not yet received an invitation, but wish to come then please send an email to the following address: Suzanne.firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note: we will be filming parts of the evening for a feature-length film which I am working on. If you attend you may well appear with other people in group shots simply because of the nature of the event. If you don’t want to be interviewed or for the camera to come close to you, then please let us know either before you arrive or immediately on arrival. We don’t want to be invasive, but the opportunity to film so many leading Riesling producers and Riesling fans together is just too good to miss.
Here is Paul Grieco of restaurant Hearth and the Terroir wine bars in New York in full flight during one of two tasting-lectures on Riesling we gave yesterday at the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA). The CIA campus is a kind of gastronomic Harvard, and therefore in certain ways a bubble disconnected from the $10 – $12 per hour reality of the cooking jobs most of the students will take when they leave. Their interest and enthusiasm was wonderful to experience though and reminded me of my two semesters as a guest student at the Geisenheim wine school in Germany 2008/9.
Paul was right when he said that the age group of the students, some of whom were not yet 21 and therefore only allowed to sample alcoholic beverages at the CIA because it’s for educational purposes, is America’s Generation Riesling. They approached the wines with almost no preconceptions and the great majority responded immediately and strongly to the Rieslings from Michigan to the Mosel via New York and Austria which Jim Trezise of the International Riesling Foundation (IRF) had organized. The older group of predominantly local people who came to the consumer tasting and dinner that followed were obviously carrying some baggage in terms of convictions about Riesling – as Nietzsche famously said, “convictions are worse enemies of truth than lies – but it was striking how they responded to the exciting new Rieslings being produced in this continent no less than “classics”like the dry “Silberlack” from Schloss Johannisberg in Germany’s Rheingau.
I’d gone up from the City on Monday night and stayed in neighboring Poughkeepsie in order to meet Bob Madill of Sheldrake Point winery in the Finger Lakes. We spent several hours that night tasting through a big range of 2011 vintage Rieslings from Bob’s region. This was really quite a difficult vintage for the Finger Lakes because of fall rains, but about one third of the wines were still really good and there were only a couple of slightly problematic wines (premature oxidation being the cause). That confirmed the leap forward this region has made in quality consistency. It was also great to see how the once small Ravines winery has grown and moderated its once austere, steely wine style. At 42,000 bottles its impressive 2011 Dry Riesling (smoky bouquet, bold and substantial with moderate acidity) was the largest bottling represented in the tasting.
Once again the wines from Fox Run, Lamoreaux Landing, Red Newt and Sheldrake Point stood out. Still very young, the Sheldrake Point ‘Reserve’ Dry Riesling is surely one of the wines of the vintage with great concentration and great elegance. A few tank samples from 2012 suggested that this is match superior vintage that we should look out for when the wines begin coming onto the market in a few months time. Then we will really see what the Finger Lakes can do with Riesling!
As you can see I just took part in a very fascinating that explored the outer limits of cool climate grape varieties. It took place in the cellar of Rouge Tomate Restaurant at 10 East 60th Street and the wines all came from cool and high altitude regions in France, Italy and Switzerland. The idea was to identify which varieties might have a future in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, most specifically at the vine nursery run by Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards. This process was seriously complicated by the roller coaster ride which all the different winemaking styles took us on. From oxidative and vinegary 2006 Savagnin white from Michel Gahier in Arbois/Jura in France to the reductive (opposite of oxidative) funk of the red 2008 from the Petit Rouge grape from Grosjean Frêres in the Vale d’Aoste in Italy all kinds of strange smells and tastes were on offer. Most exciting of the odd-ball whites was the 2008 Cour-Cheverny from Francois Cazin in the Loire made from the Romorantin grape which was still vibrant and crisp with a fascinating mix of apple and dill pickle notes. Amongst the reds the wine which grabbed me was the 2010 Mondeuse from Louis Magnin in Arbin/Savoie, the interplay of cherry and wild berry flavors and the slightly sappy dry tannins very distinctive and surely predestined for all manner of fatty foods. However, I still preferred the fragrant and elegant, but self-confidently dry and vivid 2010 Cabernet Franc ‘Reserve’ from Hermann J. Wiemer that set a very high benchmark for the tasting.
Now I must dash to Grand Central Station for a train to Poughkeepsie because of my all day and evening appearance at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park tomorrow. First I have a date this evening with Bob Madill of Sheldrake Point in the Finger Lakes for a Riesling tasting. What else?