Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 3 – UPDATED Terry Theise: Fair Comment or not? You decide NOW including a long additional text from Mr. Theise

Since August 22nd when the New York Times printed a quote from the text below which stands on page 8 of the Terry Theise Selections German wine catalogue (thank you again Eric Asimov for drawing our attention to it) a controversy has raged about whether “the omnipresence of dry wines in Germany is a dubious example of this country’s temptation to do things in large implacable blocks” is a fair statement about German wine culture and the German national character or not. Further to this in various emails Terry Theise has called dry German wines an “invasive species” and said of the new culture of dry winemaking here, “to me, at times, it seems more like a cult than a culture,” and “what I am seeing doesn’t look at all healthy”. I have attempted to point out the logical conclusions of such statements, for example that the last quote suggests German wine culture is sick. However, I have said more than enough. Here, to give Terry Theise the chance to make his case is the longest quote I ever published. This is the text from which his New York Times quote was drawn. I encourage you to read it very carefully and to make up your own minds as to whether this is fair comment or not.  

IS IT A DRY-WINE CULTURE OR
A SWEET-WINE CULTURE OR BOTH?

Within Germany it is decidedly a dry wine culture. I’ll limn this point in detail in a subsequent essay about dry German wines, but for now it’s enough to say that the omnipresence of dry wines within Germany is a dubious example of this country’s temptation to do things in large implacable blocs. There’s a kind of “totalitarianism of taste”—in Florian Weingart’s perfect phrase—that is a little unnerving, because everyone’s taste is (or should be) particular, and yet every German likes just one type of wine: dry. Likes, or supposes he does. Or thinks he must. Either way, if you were dropped from the sky and landed in Germany you’d conclude it’s a dry wine culture.

Outside of Germany it is a not-dry wine culture, because we in other countries can perhaps see with greater perspective that the not-dry German Rieslings are a singular and precious gift to the world and to the cause of beauty. So we cherish and nurture those wines, to try and ensure they don’t vanish. This isn’t because we’re stubborn, conservative or digging in our heels to refuse to move with the times. It’s because the times are fucking wrong. Both styles can and ought to exist together. This isn’t a last-man-standing fight to the death. So the answer to the question, in truth is: It is both a sweet and a dry wine culture, but not if the Germans themselves have anything to say about it. Other than a few token dessert-wines they’d just as soon see the sweet wines go extinct.

Terry has asked me to append this text to the above, which I gladly do. Once again, I suggest that you read this carefully and make up your own mind:

To readers of the foregoing essay: This text is written almost immediately upon my return from Germany in late March, a time when I am awash in high emotion. I have connected to my taproot, the loveliest wine culture I have ever known; I have spent time with friends new and old, I have tasted hundreds of beautiful wines, and I have seen, yet again, a serious threat to a type of wine unique in the world, singularly lovely, and not enough appreciated – by its countrymen most of all.
Before I continue, let me emphasize again – I  LOVE dry wine, and I love many dry German Rieslings. The estate I nominated as “Winery Of The Vintage” in my 2013 offering, Von Winning, produces nearly 100% dry wines. I offer no fewer than 66 dry white German wines to my customers, a larger number than the number of Austrian Rieslings I offer. It is self-evident these wines belong, they improve each year, and they have a place not only in the market at-large, but a cherished place in my own cellar.
That place is, fundamentally and categorically, alongside all the other idioms in which Riesling can be expressive and delicious. This includes wines you would see labeled “Halbtrocken” or “Feinherb,” and it certainly includes the many apple-sweet non-botrytised wines that are – I will argue – Germany’s greatest contribution to the wines of the world.
Some years ago Stuart himself wrote, “We don’t call wines with an oak component oak wines, so why should we call wines with a sweet component sweet wines?” He was right then, and still is. I used the term “apple-sweet,” and this is what I mean: We do not eat applesbecause they are sweet, but if they weren’t sweet we wouldn’t eat them.
By all means let the proportion of dry Rieslings increase, to its proper proportion as part of a broad range of possibilities. But to cite just one example, the Bechtheim estate Dreisigacker, whom Stuart singled out for praise just a few posts ago (and from what I hear, deservedly so), offers a range of fully dry Rieslings (and other varieties) plus a few Auslesen. To quote my colleague David Schildknecht, this is as though a pianist sat down at the instrument and said “I’m not going to play the octaves immediately above and below middle-C, but only the extreme ends of the keyboard.”
To the extent this becomes typical of the modern German Riesling grower, I am gravely worried. It is why I use a polemic term like “invasive species” to describe what I see. With very few exceptions – nearly none anywhere south of the Nahe and Mosel-Saar-Ruwer – there is only one flower in the bouquet, one color on the pallett, and this ought to concern any person who loves wine for its infinite variety, and loves Riesling especially for its virtuosity in expressing balance and deliciousness across the range of residual sugars.
Thanks again to Stuart for permitting me to express these ideas on his blog, especially insofar as I had angered him in the first place. His is the act of a gentleman.
Terry Theise

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On the Riesling Road: Day 5 – UPDATED Dry Fear and Loathing on the Rhine for Theise & Co.? NOW including quotes form Jochen Dreissigacker

The last couple of days I was tasting, tasting, tasting like all the other journalists, experts, somms and geeks gathered on the Rhine to attend the various presentations the high-end dry wines of the 2012, a large portion of which go on sale in just four days (September 1st). The day before yesterday I bumped into Chris Miller of Spago Beverly Hills (see my coverage of the Riesling Road Trip below) came all the way from LA to attend the VDP producers associations “premiere” of the 2012 ‘Grosse Gewächse” (GGs) in Wiesbaden and he clearly felt that this effort was worthwhile. So did everyone who had a shorter drive, plane or train ride. But while we were all tasting, tasting, tasting and I, like everyone else, was trying to figure out which were the best wines and what the overall standard was (more on that in a moment) a storm burst over me as a result of the two posts below. Much of the thunder and lightning took the form of emails, some of which I was asked not to publicize, but there’s no way I can just let this whole thing go. Extreme as this might seem what is at stake is not only the international perception of German wines, but also the Germans themselves.

It all reminds me of a situation at a tasting of German wines in London where an older colleague of mine suddenly and loudly exclaimed, “Oh my God, they’ve all been trockenized!”  Everybody heard it and turned around to see what had happened. What she meant was that all the German wines she loved, which in her mind had been sweet at least since time of Noah (because that’s the way she remembered them) had suddenly been turned “trocken”, the German word for dry. Some of the wines were indeed a bit lean and sour, so some criticism was called for. However, for her there was no doubt that certain people – the German winegrowers standing on the other side of the table – had committed an odious crime and should be held responsible for it. Call the United Nations right now!

That was almost exactly 25 years ago and since then a lot has changed. However, Terry Theise, one of the leading importers of German wines to America was quoted in the New York Times of August 22nd 2013 as saying, “the omnipresence of dry wines within Germany is a dubious example of this country’s temptation to do things in large, implacable blocks.” That makes it sound as though German wines – particularly those which the Germans drink - are stuck in some terrible dry rut that was a mistake from the beginning, but has only become deeper the further they drove into it. This implies stupidity, blindness or a combination of both. Worse still, Terry Theise suggests that this is part of some fatal flaw in the German’s national character, of which this is merely the latest in a long series of examples. Only the most superficial knowledge of modern history is necessary to spot one such large, implacable block in German history, even though it was only 12 years long.

During all the email correspondence a bunch of other stuff came up which suggested this view of German wines and the Germans isn’t limited to Terry Theise, which makes it all the more important to offer an alternative view. Yesterday I visited a handful of specialists for dry Riesling in this part of the Rhine Valley: Carl Erhard and Gunther Künstler (pictured above) of the Franz Künstler winery in Hochhein/Rheingau, Jochen Dreissiacker (pictured below) of the Dreissigacker winery in Bechtheim, Klaus Peter Keller of the Keller winery in Flörsheim-Dalsheim and Philipp Wittmann of the Wittmann winery in Westhofen. Although Künstler is longer-established (he first made a splash 25 years ago), all are extremely ambitious and dynamic producers and the wines I tasted ranged from very good to mind-blowing. More importantly, each of these producers has his own distinctive style and the wines of each vineyard site had their own personalities. In short it was an exhausting, but inspiring day of tasting which gave me a wealth of material for columns and stories. However, I mention all of this only because it all stands in stark contrast to the tone of Theise & Co.

The problem for me with their attitude is that they talk and write as if “dry” German wines were some kind of large, implacable block, have always been that way and will ever remain so. I feel no hint of appreciation for the diversity of this micro-cosmos of wine that has been developing longer than I’ve been following it (about 30 years), becoming ever richer in color and tone as it did so. Such has been the improvement in quality that the best dry German wines now unquestionably amongst the world’s finest. However,  Theise & Co. insist on presenting “dry” as a stark alternative to “sweet”, even if they are at pains to make clear that their championing of the “sweet” underdog (as they see it) doesn’t mean that they believe the sweeter the wines are the better. That is really the only hint of nuance I get in their argument. I have the strong impression that they aren’t really interested in the achievements of winegrowers like those I visited yesterday, or at best grudgingly so. Instead, they project a dull and monolithic quality on this richness. For them the Rhine seems to be a place that inspires fear and loathing.

That is all in stark contrast to the attitude behind my work, which is all about embracing the enormous diversity of Riesling, German wine and wine in general. As I made clear in my posting on August 23rd the Germany I experience to day is far more open-minded and far less inclined to behave in large, implacable blocks than it was ten or twenty years ago. I enjoy the company of the “Flexi-Germans”, as Roger Cohen of the New York Times christened young Germany back in 2006 during the soccer World Cup, and it is a pleasure for me to drink the wines made by some of them. Many of them are dry, and wonderfully so. There are of course better and least good examples, just as there are everywhere that wine is made. That’s the reality I encounter here.

Jochen Dreissigacker had some important thoughts on this subject, which got lost in my hurry to post this story very early in the morning while on the road. When he asked him how he saw the situation he said, “they slammed the door that was open in from of them, then put a lock on it!” His tone and the past tense made it plain that he thought this had happened many years ago and that Theise & Co. have no intention of unlocking and reopening it. Personally, I’m all in favor of unlocking all the doors of perception  (to quote Aldous Huxley), regardless whether they were closed by someone else or I stupidly closed them myself). And about his own generation, the “Flexi-Germans”, also known as Generation Riesling, he said, “for us there’s only one question: does the wine tastes good or not!”

 

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On the Riesling Road: Day 2 – Multicultural Wine Germany

The last years there was a lot of discussion in the German media about the failure of multicultural society in Germany, and if you only looked at certain sections of the large immigrant communities from Turkey and ex-Yugoslavia, then there was clearly something in that. However, the truth is that Germany has become much more broadly multicultural than either the media or politicians acknowledge. I got thinking about this yesterday evening when I had dinner at Restaurant Miyagi directly opposite the railway station in the small Rheingau town of Walluf Tel.: (49) / 0 6123 / 934 94 59.

If a couple of years ago you would have told me that shortly one of the best Japanese restaurants in Germany would open at this location I would have told you that you are absolutely crazy. However, since October 2011 the Miyagi family has been running their restaurant in Walluf with considerable success attracting a surprisingly mixed crowd. As Akira Myagi (right in the picture) told me, “some nights we have all Japanese customers, some nights all European, some mixed, sometimes only local people, sometimes from the Frankfurt area.” What makes this place so remarkable? For a start, the excellent food. Last night the deep fried fish of various kinds (best of all were the sardines), the sashimi, and the octopus salad were all super-fresh, delicious and beautifully presented. To this must be added the joyfully eccentric effect created by putting a traditional Japanese restaurant into what used to be a traditional German Weinstube, which the picture below gives an idea of. That’s what I call successfully multicultural!

Immediately after dinner (it was planned beforehand but delayed by rain) Hajo Becker from Weingut J.B. Becker in Walluf took me for a tour of his vineyards. He’s lucky to have 13.5 acres / 5.5 hectares in one black in the best part of the Wallufer Walkenberg site. Much of this is old vines, including the Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) vines pictured below that were planted in 1959. Becker also has some Riesling vines in the Walkenberg that are even older, and many that are thirty and forty years old. The Becker method for Riesling and for Spätburgunder is to have the fruiting zone lower than is the norm today and to explore it on the morning sunlight side for the final phase of ripening. Above it is a tall vertical canopy, to give the vine the largest possible “solar panel”. Together with the low crop level – my guess is a mere 20 – 30 hectoliters per hectare (under two tons per acre) – this results in an optimum situation for ripening. By the way, he’s also an organic winegrower.

Some in the German wine scene dismiss the J.B. Becker wines as old-fashioned, although the only evidence they can provide for this is the combination of vilification in neutral wooden casks and late bottling (the 2012s Rieslings are all are still in barrel!) However, that’s the way a lot of Jungwinzer, or young German winegrowers make at least their hi-end single vineyard Rierslings. Much more interesting than this discussion is the way the J.B. Becker wines have become a cult in recent years, particularly with young consumers who like the style of the dry wines (discretely aromatic, racy and complex, developing very slowly over many years in the bottle). Restaurant Miyagi in Walluf has some other wines available and they continue to search for interesting wines, but Akira told me that it is the J.B. Becker wines which go best with their Japanese cuisine.

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On the Riesling Road: Day 0 – UPDATED The World, including Germany, changed. Did Terry Theise get that? NOW with an answer from him about the “invasive species” of dry wines in Germany

Today I was going to give you a glimpse of the stories I’ll be posting here after I deliver the manuscript for my new Riesling book ‘BWWOE’ to my publisher, Abrams in New York City November 1st, but I just read Eric Asimov’s report on dry German Riesling in the New York Times of August 22nd. There’s nothing about Eric Asimov’s story -’Germany’s Rieslings on the Tip of the Tongue’ – which I wish to argue with, and the results of the panel’s blind tasting reflect how the wines showed that day and in that situation; of course!

My problem is with a quote from Terry Theise, since decades one of the leading importers of German wines in America, and I must thank Asimov for putting it in there so it can be discussed. What Terry Theise said or wrote was, “the omnipresence of dry wines within Germany is a dubious example of this country’s temptation to do things in large, implacable blocks”. That’s not just a sweeping statement, but also has an accusing tone. It suggests that the Germans have (with few exceptions) collectively changed direction like a herd that recently charged in the wrong direction. That this isn’t really the case is revealed by a quick glance at the statistics for Germany wine production and consumption, but I fear that in spite of that Terry Theise is totally convinced he’s right.

Sure, if you spend some time in Germany’s winegrowing regions, or even big cosmopolitan cities like Cologne and Berlin, and you judge the wine market solely on the wine lists of restaurants there you could get that impression. However, that way you only get to see one side of the German wine market. Also, isn’t it only logical that in regions like Rhienhessen, the Pfalz and Baden where the climate (accentuated by climate change) and other factors (holy terroir!) create better conditions for dry wine production than sweet winemakers concentrate on the dry style? Of course, there are other regions where the production of sweet wines is much larger, because conditions are ideal for it. Maybe Terry Theise realizes all that (although it doesn’t sound like it from that quote), but he clearly hasn’t experienced the open-mindedness of young Germans for wines of all styles. Their, “if it tastes good I’ll drink it!” pragmatism reminds me of many young American consumers.

That is disappointing, but what really upsets me is something Terry Theise left unsaid, but which his words strongly imply. The most obvious large, implacable block in modern German history is the slightly more than 12 years of Nazi dictatorship and all the heinous crimes committed under it, of which the Holocaust is the largest. As a long-term resident of Germany I’ve closely followed the (usually) very serious attempts by the Germans to come to terms with their past. The all-encompasing sense of moral obligation behind this, has sometimes made them tend towards black and white thinking about all manner of things.  However, I use the past tense, because what has changed in Germany more dramatically than anything else since I started observing the country from close up in my mid-teens (1975 -76) is the recent waning of that tendency.

It wasn’t without good reason that during his coverage of Germany during the FIFA soccer World Cup staged in Germany in the summer of 2006 that New York Times columnist Roger Cohen christened the nation’s young people “Flexi-Germans”. I’m not a soccer fan, but I was swept along by it all too. It was clearly a turning point for Germany, and not only because journalists like Cohen saw Germany for how it was without projecting the past onto it. It was also the moment the majority of Germans realized how fundamentally their country had changed.  People from all over the world filled the Germany’s major cities and a celebratory mood that was free from any hint of strident nationalism, much less violence, was omnipresent. Flags were everywhere, German flags, Brazilian flags (!), French flags, and dozens of others. It was utterly different from those pictures of the Berlin Olympics of 1936 when the city was swathed in swastika flags.

It took me a while to realize what this all meant for those Germans of my generation (I’m 53) who’d had a sense of shame for the nation’s Nazi past inculcated in them during their youth. For them the 2006 soccer World Cup clearly brought not only high spirits, but also a feeling of relief. I could see it in their faces. This was the time when the realization spread among them that they need feel no guilt for what was done during those 12 years long before they were born. That too has changed Germany. Most Germans of my generation no longer feel the same obligation to do the “right thing” in order to demonstrate their moral correctness that they used to. Yes, even wine was long a vehicle for that purpose!

Today Germans of all generations feel more confident about saying that they prefer sweet wines to dry ones, or the other way around, than they did a decade ago. All of this is surely positive. All of it is so far removed from what Terry Theise describes. Sorry, Terry, but you missed something important!

PS Here is Terry Theise’s reply. If he’s right, then I’m far too optimistic and Germany is headed in the wrong direction big time. I hope that he’s not as right as he thinks he is:

Stuart describes the world he sees, and I describe the world I see. I would be a much happier man if his description were truer than mine. But among my growers and the stories they tell me (and what I myself observe) the picture is radically at odds with that which Stuart paints. I sincerely hope to be proven wrong.

Re. “implacable blocs” please don’t read-in. My unsaid words did not “strongly imply” anything, but only spoke to a peculiar adherence to one particular wine style, as though everyone had the same taste in cars, or shirts, or lawn ornaments – which of course they don’t. But – as I observe it – they all seem to have identical tastes in wine: It must be Trocken. If the bloc is in fact less implacable than my observations suggest, i.e, if Stuart’s sample is wider or more current than mine, I look very much forward to observing that evidence myself. I’m not invested in being irked.

Stuart has a copy of my current catalogue, in which there’s a short essay on this subject, and it is recommended to anyone who wishes to read my thoughts on this question, with greater detail and nuance than can be conveyed in a brief quote to a wine journalist.

Here is the link to that essay about the “invasive species” – dry wines in Germany – in Terry Theises German catalogue (see page 8):

http://www.skurnikwines.com/msw/theise_catalogs.html

 

 

 

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 13 The World According to Tesch

After my dinner last night at the Chinese restaurant Hot Spot in Berlin-Wilmersdorf with Martin Tesch of the Tesch winery in Langenlonsheim/Nahe I can tell you that the world according to Tesch is seriously interesting. Martin’s started by telling me about his event the previous evening at the Weinstein wine bar in Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg where he’d shown a vertical of his dry Riesling from the Krone vineyard site going from the just released 2012 vintage back to the 2002. “It was a Clash of Civilizations!!!” he said, explaining that for part of the audience this all made perfect sense, but another part almost a dozen vintages of the same wine was just too much. You see the Tesch dry Rieslings (which is almost the only kind of wine he produces) appeal to many different groups of consumers, and the wine freaks/nerds are not the most important to him.

“Wine is a beverage,” is the first base of his philosophy which follows that through to the observation that it must be marketed in competition to other beverages. The unique taste of his wines is also their USP and communicating that is a vital part of his work. However, there’s no doubt that – even if he wanted to do it differently – his attitude is part of what he’s communicating with the taste of the wine. To call this personality marketing is to miss the point that his personality would be mere froth, were it not wedded to his ideas and the manner in which puts them over. Luckily for him his let’s-call-things-by-their-actual-names approach to everything perfectly fits the bone-dry straight-down-the-line style of his wines.

Why have many of you you never heard of him before? Well, the Tesch style of dry Riesling and everything which comes with it are not to the taste of all markets. Some people are immediately turned off or irritated by these wines usually because they don’t line up with their expectations of German Riesling – as if the wines from over 50,000 acres of vineyards could all neatly fit in one pigeonhole! Where this reaction is more common than people who are immediately turned on by the wines Tesch necessarily becomes underground, although this is not a role he ever actively seeks.

Here in crazy Berlin – I say crazy, because the wine market here is a bit crazy – the Tesch wines rather easily find an eager audience, though this isn’t quite big or coherent enough to call them mainstream (in contrast I’d say that Jungwinzer Markus Schneider of Ellerstadt/Pfalz has become mainstream, along with established stars like Robert Weil of Kiedrich/Rheingau). Here people like the way the Tesch wines taste and the boldness with which they present themselves to the world. It fits Berlin, where people on downtown street do very much the same thing.

The interesting thing about the Tesch range is that numerically it is dominated by his five single-vineyard dry Rieslings, which are color coded with daring non-wine colors that etch themselves into your nervous system. Sap green stands for Löhrer Berg (empty hill), lemon yellow for Krone (crown), turquoise blue for Königsschild (king’s shield), brick red for Karthäuser (Carthusians) and orange for St. Remigiusberg (St. Remi’s hill). These wines share the cleanness and clarity of his basic Riesling, ‘Unplugged’, but each has its own distinctive notes that recur vintage after vintage, yes, its own personality.

Fundamentally, that is the same idea as for the single vineyard ‘Grosses Gewächse’ (GG) wines which the VDP, Germany’s association of top producers, has been promoting for a good decade. The rules for the GGs changed recently (again) and the VDP has been explaining the new rules with the same enthusiasm that they explained the old rules. It often seems to me that the wines taste like only gets a mention if there is enough time left after the rules have been explained. And the conclusion I have to draw from this is that Germans like making up rules and explaining them, perhaps because it shows them to be upright citizens. There’s also frequently an “anything the French can do we can co too” aspect to this, particularly when the GG wines are referred to as “Grand Cru”. The problem is that it doesn’t help anyone understand the way the wines taste, and because wine is a beverage that’s what it’s all about! That, by the way, is entirely my opinion.

Martin and I discussed the whole GG thing at some length. He makes no bones about the fact that his single-vineyard wines wouldn’t qualify – even if he were interested to market them as GG’s, which he isn’t – because his yields are too high (around 70 hectoliters per hectare in 2012). That is deliberate, and helps prevent the alcoholic content shooting over 13% with the result that the wines start tasting thick and chewy, or even massive.  Tesch’s goal is to avoid these things at all cost, “because then the wines all start to taste the same”. His 2012 single-vineyard wines are anything but homogenous, are at once ripe and refreshing. They are perhaps his best wines to date and a totally convincing expression of the five vineyard sites he’s bottled separately in this way since 2002, which also means that they realize the theoretical goal of the GGs (even if they don’t follow all the rules).

Of course, there is another Clash of Civilizations between Martin and certain members of the VDP who would like to remove what they consider a stain from their organization by throwing him out of the association. However, this Reinigung, or dry cleaning,  doesn’t seem to function properly, and Tesch stubbornly remains a member. He and his wines keep on  pointing out uncomfortable truths and making a big noise, at least in some markets.

PS please don’t imagine that because this posting went up just 15 hours after the last one that I can do this all the time. The rest of today, and most or all of every day this week has to be devoted to my book manuscript.

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 12 Back to the Vineyard!

Damn! I just realized that it’s an entire week since I put up a new post, which certainly wasn’t my plan, but when you’re book writing at 2,000 miles an hour as I have been almost every day for the last weeks (and must continue to do until November 1st), then you lose track of all kinds of stuff. Today, I got up early and took the train to the young Pinotin vines my team and I planted on May 3rd at the Klosterhof Töplitz wine estate in Töplitz, just SW of Berlin. Although the growth of the young vines was not enough in 7 days to allow for an impressive before and after photo comparison something had happened since my last visit. However, as the photograph above of shows the red Regent grapes had began coloring up. Andreas looks pleased about that, as he should be, because it’s his good work caring for those vines, no less than the fine weather (and enough rain), that have enabled the grapes to reach this decisive point in such good time. With the change of color comes a softening of the grapes and their ripening begins in earnest. My guess is that it will be about 6 weeks to the harvest for rosé and another 2 weeks for the red wine  In two years time this (see the detailed view below), I hope, is roughly how “my” young vines will look. Don’t worry, although the focus of this blog will remain Riesling I shall keep you informed when we – the grapes, the Klosterhof Töplitz team and I – get that far. By that time I hope to have learnt how to make red wine…

And in case you’re worried that it could be another entire week until the next posting here, let me inform you that tonight I’m having dinner at Hot Spot with Martin Tesch of the Tesch estate in Langenlonsheim/Nahe. Martin’s not only a remarkable winemaker, but also a rock ‘n’ roll poet of considerable talent. I have a file which is full of the scraps of paper on which I’ve scribbled down his best sayings – I never seemed to have my notebook ready when he rang, a mistake I won’t make this evening! My favorite is, “sometimes you can go through the door, but sometimes you have to go through the wall.” I expect that Martin, or at the very least Mr. Wu of Hot Spot, will come up with something similar. I will report in full tomorrow!

PS That tells you that the book writing has been going well, indeed those creative juices have been flowing very freely the last days.

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 5 – OK, this is not about Riesling, but it is about Winegrowing in the Greater Berlin Area!

This photograph taken early this morning a short train ride/drive outside Berlin in a southwesterly direction in the state of Brandenburg shows why I’m in such high spirits today. It shows one of the almost one thousand Pinotin vines I planted on May 3rd with the help of a motley crew of winegrower friends (thank you team, once again!) and as you can see it grew really the last three months and one week. In this parcel (rows 48 thru 57 on the eastern side of the hillside) almost all the vines look this, and in the other parcel we planted (rows 3 thru 6 plus rows 8 & 9 on the western side) most of the vines look rather similar. There only the vines in the two shortest rows with the poorest, driest soil of the entire south-facing hill look a bit weak and stressed. This rather surprising progress during my long absence in the USA means that there are at least 850, and perhaps as many as 900 Pinotin, vines on the Töplitzer Berg (where wine growing was first recorded back in 1360!) that are health enough – with a bit of luck – to give a small crop in 2015. My guess is that we’ll then get enough wine to fill a barrique and fill the first 300 bottles during the winter of 2016/17!

That would mean that the plan which caused so many experienced people in the German wine industry to raise eyebrows, laugh or call me a fool was not so stupid after all. I say this not because I want to prove anything, or to pat myself on the back, but because I hope the success of this experiment will encourage others to take a similar path, hopefully with greater success. Anyone doubting that the Pinotin vine, developed by the Swiss vine breeder Valentin Blattner together with the Freytag vine nursery in the Pfalz/Germany, could successfully carry a crop grapes in the Greater Berlin Area should study the photograph below. I took it this morning in Töplitz too!

Of course, Pinotin has nothing to do with Riesling, is a red wine grape, but I feel that it makes more sense here and remain highly skeptical about Riesling in the Greater Berlin Area. So far I had just one good example from this new frontier of German winegrowing that was convincing, and it was (a 2006) from a very small plot in the Prenzlauer Berg district of the city tended by hobbyists. As the Germans rightly say, one rose doesn’t make a summer. This year the summer in the Greater Berlin Area was much better than last year, but in spite of the mediocre growing conditions the dry 2012 Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) from the Klosterhof Töplitz estate (where my Pinotin project resides) is a very attractive wine with a ripe melon aroma, 12.5% natural alcohol and about 0.8% natural sweetness (in retrospect less would have been better). I have to admit I was skeptical about Pinot Gris in the Greater Berlin Area until I tasted that wine, so who knows. Maybe you just need to grow Riesling the right way here around 52° 30′ (look how far up the map of Canada that is!). The next years will tell. Stay tuned to this station where the results of many winegrowing experiments in Berlin and environs will be publicized.

 

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 4 – Back in the Berlin Groove? How Riesling from Briedel saved my life and can save yours!

Returning to Berlin after an absence of two and  half months early on Monday was quite a shock and I have to admit that I still miss New York, as this piece of graffiti I captured on East 7th Street a couple of days before my departure said I would.  But, of course, it’s way easier for me to taste the full gamut of German, Austrian, Alsatian and other European Rieslings here than in the USA (where many of them are not imported or only reach a few states, and not always New York).

My re-immersion in those wines abruptly made me aware of the fact that today the cliché of “New World” Riesling being lower in acidity than “Old World” Riesling has nothing to do with the contemporary reality. Climate change has made the whole range of European Rieslings less acidic and they are now generally lower in acidity than American Rieslings. That applies no less to wines like those from Anderson Valley in Mendocino County/California, than those from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, or the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York. During my two and a half months in North America I visited those and  bunch of other regions where Riesling is grown. The most acidic wines I tasted were those from the Okanagan Valley, which probably has the warmest summer weather of anywhere in Canada. But in wines like those from Tantalus Vineyards and 8th Generation in Kelowna acidities for which the analytic figures sounded terrifying tasted fantastic. So the high acidity of North American Rieslings are not fundamentally a problem, though they do challenge winemakers to achieve a satisfying balance.

Yesterday evening I met up with Gerrit Walter, a 26 year old winemaker from the Mosel (pictured above) who I met at the famous wine school in Geisenheim/Rheingau when I was a guest student there back in 2008-9. At the Weinstein wine bar – one of the world’s best Riesling bars! – I tasted his dry 2012 Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and several of his dry 2012 Rieslings. Since I last tasted them back in the spring these wines have all developed really well. The basic 2012 Riesling trocken, what we call call “Gutsriesling” here in Germany is a spectacular vibrant wine with yellow apple and white peach aromas for its price, just Euro 6.50 for private customers direct from Weingut Walter in Briedel on the Mosel. It weighs in at a moderate 12% alcohol and is properly dry.

“Biredel???” I can already hear some of you asking incredulously, and I admit this is one of the least well-known wine growing communes on the Mosel. For the purpose of orientation Briedel’s the next village downstream from Pünderich home to the famous Clemens Busch estate, but frankly just 15 years ago few people outside Germany had ever heard of Clemens Busch or Pünderich. The wine map of Germany has changed dramatically during that time and will continue to change during the years to come, so I suggest that you try and memorize Briedel now, rather than get left behind the rest of the wine scene. If you doubt that this is really worth the effort, then taste Gerrit Walter’s rich, juicy and complex 2012 Briedeler Riesling feinherb.

PS My book writing progresses well, but has also distracted me from this blog. Sorry!

 

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 12 – Wine of the Month August

2012 Dry Riesling from Dr. Konstantin Frank for $14.99

German Riesling is calling to me from afar, and today I have to climb on a plane and return to Berlin. Not only will I miss New York, but I’ll also miss the good and great Rieslings of New York State. None more so than the one I’ve drunk most frequently, the dry Riesling from Dr. Konstantin Frank in Hammondsport on Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes. 2012 is a wonderful vintage for Riesling from the Finger Lakes, and this is neither the first nor the last time I’ll be reporting on these wines, because from what I’ve tasted it’s the best vintage for this region to date. The Dr. Frank 2012 Dry Riesling is one of the finest wines Frederick Frank, pictured above, has made during the twenty years he has been running the family wine company close to Hammondsport on the western bank of Keuka Lake.

It comes from the first Riesling vineyards planted in the Finger Lakes and from other vineyards very close to them. Dr. Konstantin Frank planted his first Riesling vines back in the late 1950s when most of the experts still claimed that the European wine grapes (including the frost-hardy Riesling) wouldn’t survive the cold winters in the region.  Dr. Frank harvested the first commercial crop of Riesling in the Finger Lakes in 1962, also harvesting the first Trockenbeerenauslese style desert wine made in the US that fall. So you could say that with the 2012 vintage, the 51st vintage for the grape at Dr. Frank Riesling has come of age here. By that I mean that it’s now become something traditional for the Frank family and the region as a whole, rather than a fashion or an experiment (however long-running). Now there’s no longer any doubt about the matter!

This is a real “terroir” (taste of the place) wine too. It has the lemon and blossoms aromas plus the racy acidity which I associate with Riesling grown on stony slate soils in this fairly cool climate region. Either you will find that acidity enormously refreshing during hot humid weather of the kind New York generally “enjoys” in August (did somebody say SUMMER OF RIESLING, and if not why?), stunning with all the kinds of seafood indigenous to the waters off the East Coast of the USA (which really bring out the mineral side of this wine), or you’ll find it way too much (take the Stuart Pigott Riesling Global ACID TEST and discover that soda and cola contain at least as much acid as this wine). I know where I stand, and that’s best explained by paraphrasing a famous New York quote, “let’s get out of these sweaty things and into some dry Riesling!”

2012 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling is $14.99 at Astor Wines & Spirits

399 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10003

Tel.: (1) 212 674 7500

http://www.astorwines.com/

PS As Aristotle noted, every story has a beginning, a middle and an end, but what he failed to observe is that the end of one story is also the beginning of another story (to which the first story then becomes the backstory). Tomorrow my Berlin Riesling Diary resumes. Please excuse the erratic postings of the coming weeks, but I must chain myself to my desk and throw myself into the writing of my Riesling book for Abrams Books of New York. Wish me luck in my attempt to hit a very tight deadline (November 1st)!

 

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 9 – Lost in Space up the Hudson

I just returned from a couple of days in the Hudson Valley (pictured above minutes before my arrival) visiting my new friends Liz and Don O’Toole close to Rhinebeck. The landscape was almost invariably beautiful, sometimes utterly breathtaking and it was all very refreshing after some intense days in New York Wine City (NYWC) and the three months of toil writing my Riesling book BWWOE which begin in earnest tomorrow (August 1st). Some great food is being produced here, of which the pungent Hudson Red washed-rind cows’  milk cheese is a great ambassador.

I hadn’t planned to do anything but R&R, but yesterday Liz was suddenly energized and had marked a route on maps of the East and West banks of the Hudson connecting a string of wineries. This turned out to be slightly too ambitious, because the tasting rooms at several of the wineries turned out to be closed (also today sadly). So, in the end I saw a bunch of vineyards, but only tasted at two wineries. This makes it impossible to make the more general kind of observations I made about New Jersey wines after my day on the road there with Karl Storchman back in December. However, even what I saw and tasted at the well-regarded Millbrook close to the eponymous town and Whitecliff near Gardiner left me with the feeling that there’s still a lot of unrealized potential here. Hell, if the Hudson Valley wines tasted as good as those landscapes looked I’d have had a series of orgasms in the tasting rooms.

Here, as in many other cool climate regions, one of the fundamental mistakes made is putting a lot of energy and ambition into grape varieties which can barely ripen except in the best vintages. One of the best wines I tasted here was the 2012 Traminette at Whitecliff, because this unfashionable, early-ripening hybrid does well in this climate, giving a wine reminiscent of Gewürztraminer, but with more freshness and acidity (in this case it balanced the wine’s sweetness beautifully). Likewise at Millbrook I was charmed by the rather unpretentious light and dry 2012 Tocai Fruilano with its juicy, fruit salad flavors and a clean, bright finish. The red wines at both wineries were way more ambitious, but they didn’t impress in the same way, and to be frank for $20 plus per bottle at the cellar door I expect more.

Why weren’t the wines better? Although this may be quite a challenging climate to grow the European wine grapes in – everything is so green due to abundant rain and humidity during the summer, which means a lot of spraying against downy mildew, powdery mildew and black rot – my wine gut tells me this is somewhere which could produce a slew of medium-bodied whites with wonderful aromas and freshness. The reason that this is being realized so erratically was easy to find in the vineyards, some of which (no names mentioned) were poorly cared for. In some places the volume of the crop as well as the quality had been reduced as a result; a bean counter’s nightmare!

What I did find was plenty of history. I have to say that one of the few things about Americans as a whole which I dislike is their tendency to complain about how little history they have. Even is you ignore the between 15,000 and 20,000 years of Native American history prior to the arrival of Columbus back in 1492, many parts of America are rich in White European history. For example, the Beckman Arms Inn (pictured above) in Rhinebeck dates back to 1766 and has been in continuous use as an inn since then. In the historic district of Berlin where my apartment is (I return to the city in a week’s time) there’s only one secular building of comparable age! In the city we only have a couple of restaurants and hotels with as much as a century of history. Of course, the city’s newness – Berlin, like New York, only became a major industrial metropolis during the last 19th century – is one of its advantages, and recently it’s discovered how to take advantage of its special situation and be new in a way that’s simultaneously self-confident and self-critical (without the latter forget high quality regardless of the product!) The Hudson Valley’s wine industry needs to do this and to turn its small scale, compared with the New York State winegrowing regions of Long Island’s North Fork and the Finger Lakes, into a serious advantage.

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