London Riesling Diary: Day 2 – A German Spätburgunder by Any Other Name is a Pinot Noir (or even a Pinot Nero)

Hopefully, a blog responds to events and has an ethos, but is not a rigid editorial program that requires slots to be filled come what may. I think it should be like bamboo bending with the wind, rather than an unyielding grid. This is my explanation for the fact that this, the 600th posting since my blog went onlinel on September 1st 2007 (most of you only know it in its present format which it acquired on April 17th 2012), is about Spätburgunder, not Riesling. That’s the German name for Pinot Noir, also known by the alias of Pinot Nero, which still appears on the labels of most wines of this variety produced in Germany. Pictured above are the two reasons for this subject demanding my attention today: on the left Nigel Greening the owner and guiding spirit of Felton Road winery in Central Otago, one of New Zealand’s top producers of Pinot Noir and Riesling (see BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH pages 101 & 196), and on the right Anne Krebiehl, a German wine journalist who has been in London for the last 14 years. They’re standing in a corner of Anne’s kitchen and the sparkling wine in their glasses is the delicious – floral, delicately creamy and elegant – English 2009 Neytimber.

Earlier this year Nigel got very excited when I suggested I could organize a tasting of the top Spätburgunder from the little-known Breisgau sub-region of Baden from the excellent 2007 vintage later this year in London. When I told Anne about this she suggested that we could do the tasting at her dinner table. That conversation took place in Vienna during the VieVinum trade fair, to be precise at the big party on the Saturday night of the VieVinum. Just before 11pm I crawled away from that party as Paul Grieco and Matt Stinton of Hearth Restaurant and the Terroir wine bars in New York burst into the entrance in high spirits. They couldn’t begin to understand how exhausted I felt after four fascinating, but very  intense days of wine tasting. Out on the sidewalk I drew a deep breath, then gingerly pulled out my cellphone to see if I’d missed any messages and discovered that Bernhard Huber of the eponymous winery in Malterdingen, Breisgau had just died of cancer. Suddenly the “tasting” gained a new importance, becoming also a homage to one of Germany’s leading winemakers of the last quarter century.

In spite of that several people who were anxious to attend couldn’t do so because that’s what happens in London in August (more on this subject at a later date, because it’s of great personal importance to me). So, in the end there was only Anne, Nigel, Sebastian Thomas of Howard Ripley Wines and I. Sebastian brought a handful of other German Spätburgunders including the top 2012s from Weingut Keller in Flörhseim-Dalsheim, Rheinhessen with him which made the evening an unsystematic, but rather serious review of how far German Spätburgunder red wine has come in recent years.

The first thing which has to be said is that in spite of the fact that all of the winemakers who’s Spätburgunder we tasted are inspired by Burgundy, none of their wines tasted like Burgundy, rather they were self-confidently themselves in spite of all the differences between them in aroma, flavor, style, etc. Even the 2007s from the recently founded micro-wineries of Holub and Zallwander were very distinctive wines, the former rather mature and soft with an intense savory character, the latter much more oaky and tannic, still a bit gritty. Nigel told us that there was an Inuit (i.e. Eskimo) word that means, “I quite like you, but I wouldn’t like to go seal hunting with you”, and that was how. In felt about these two wines. These were “serious” wines, but today both these producers are making much better wines than they were back in 2007. The difference between how Shelter Winery (yes, that’s the name of a German producer) made their 2007 and the way they make their current wines is much smaller, and I think the concentration and dry elegance of their 2007 Pinot Noir (yes, that’s how this German wine is labelled) very much reflects how their new wines will age. It is still a young wine with many years ahead of it, which pleased Sebastian Thomas, because Howard Ripley is the UK importer!

By this point Anne’s excellent food – a leg of lamb that momentarily made me wish I lived in England instead of Germany, and super-ripe figs from her garden – was beginning to distract us. A great effort of concentration was necessary to do justice to the wines the wines that followed. The trio of Bernhard Huber’s 2007 Spätburgunder “Großes Gewächs” (GG) were all stunning wines. The rich and silky GG from the Sommerhalde site got the most comments, but the sleeker and drier GG from the Binenberg meant more to me, perhaps because it reminded me of my first visit to the Hubers back in 1993 when they were still making the wines in the cellar and garage under their home. Already it was clear that they were in the leading pack, but not how they would pull ahead of the field after their acquisition of new vineyards like the Schlossberg. The 2007 Schlossberg GG was my favorite wine of the entire evening, because of its great fragrance, super-fine dry tannins and herbal-mineral a character. Not having a bottle of Huber’s most expensive Spätburgunder, the Wildenstein, from 2007 in my Berlin cellar, I’d brought a bottle of the 2005 which I had in New York. It was very different in balance to the other Huber wines, richer in body, but with a hint of green freshness. That prompted Anne to open a couple more 2005 German Spätburgunders, of which the Mergelberg GG from Knipser in the Pfalz was an impressive wine with an intense smoky note, a fleshy body and slightly sappy finish.

The 2012 Spätburgunders from Keller are extreme wines, particularly in their present extremely youthful state, and I expect both rave reviews (possibly some critics will even slather at the mouth) and some really damning words. Spätburgunder/Pinot Noir/Pinot Nero hardly gets any sleeker, cooler and fresher than this. I’m sure they’re going to develop very well if anyone has the patience to put the Bürgel and Frauenberg GGs in a cool dark hole in the ground (i.e. a wine cellar) for several years, then live clean enough to still be around when they come back up into the daylight. I loved the floral aromas of the Frauenberg, but I’ll have to check the price on this. Expensive it may be to make high-end Spätburgunder/Pinot Noir/Pinot Nero or red burgundy which doesn’t usually declare on the label that it’s made from this grape. However, wherever wines of this grape come from three figure prices come about because very generous profit margins are being taken, that is unless you factor the price the land would fetch today into the equation. However, as far as I can see that can be used to justify any and all wine prices, since land prices follow wine prices.

And in spite of the tube (i.e. subway/metro) strike I made it back to my mother’s house on the other side of London. On the trains and planes of recent days I’ve been reading Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, upon which the movie ‘Bladerunner’ was loosely based. The dystopia (the opposite of a utopia) it describes makes me feel that London in August 2014 is actually a tacky science fiction movie that remains unfinished, because the budget ran out. The opposite applies to German Spätburgunder, a work-in-progress that is anything but tacky, and to Anne’s hospitality.


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 20 – Oregon Really is Becoming the Promised Land of American Riesling

What is the trouble with Harry (Peterson-Nedry)? Well, it’s certainly not the quality of the Chehalem Rieslings! 

Oregon’s 700 acres of Riesling are a small fraction of what Washington State or California have, and even lags well behind New York State. However, as I already reported in July, something is really begin to happen there with Riesling, and the large number of small, agile wineries means the process of winemaking experimentation and stylistic development is moving fast. There have long been some exciting Oregon Rieslings which proved that this grape is extremely well-suited to this state’s climate and soils, most notably Brooks and Chehalem. But for a long time those wines looked like oddities rather than trail-blazers to the majority of the state’s winemakers, who at best didn’t really take them seriously. At worst they dismissed this form of beauty as inappropriate to the state.

In contrast, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Gris were the grapes with which an Oregon winemaker was supposed to make her/his reputation with, not least because that’s what the press and somms were focusing almost exclusively upon. That sometimes takes the form of extreme tunnel vision which leads to some bizarre statements about the inevitability of Pinot in this state being made, as if the Great God of Wine had decided this and inscribed it on stone tablets which he handed down from on high. That’s why I talked about there being “Pinot Fog” in Oregon in my book BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH – The Riesling Story. Interestingly, nobody challenged that formulation!

I think the tendency of the wine scene to judge all wines by how they show on release, and a long-term tendency on the West Coast for wines with moderate acidity to preferred over wines with more pronounced acidity made life doubly hard for pioneers like Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem (who recently handed the winemaking over to his daughter Wynne) and Janie Brooks Heuck and Chris Williams of Brooks. You see, every good Oregon Riesling has plenty of acidity, along with great aromas that range from the floral to passionfruit via citrus and white peach. However, the wines times are a changin’, and just as West Coast winemakers started to take Riesling more seriously again Chehalem’s Rieslings became more charming as young wines and Brooks extended their range of Rieslings beyond their traditional bone-dry style, in fact today their sweet Rieslings are now every bit as strong as their dry wines. For all these reasons the idea that Oregon is the Promised Land of American Riesling (promoted by Sean O’Keefe of Chateau Grand Traverse in Michigan) suddenly looks way more convincing than it did a few years back.

Tasting and re-tasting the 2013 wines of Trisateum in Newberg over the last days I have to say that Oregon has just gained a third Riesling star producer. The three single-vineyard dry wines and the dry Estates Reserve (with silver trim on the packaging), plus the three single-vineyard medium-dry wines and the medium-dry Estates Reserve are a big jump up from the 2011 vintage wines that were my first encounter with James and Andrea Frey’s Rieslings. Not only are these wines totally distinctive in style – at once very pure, effusively aromatic and racy – the differentiation between the wines from the three vineyard sites is extremely clear. Anyone looking for an intense citrusy, very crisp wine is recommended to go for the Rieslings from the Coastal Range site, while anyone who wants something fuller and more juicy should take wine the floral Rieslings from the Ribbon Ridge vineyard; she/he who wants the maximum in tension and excitement must grab the mineral Rieslings from the Wichmann Dundee site. More yeasty and therefore less developed are the Estates Reserve bottlings (both blends of wine form all three sites)  which quite rightly don’t get released until November. My guess is that although they will probably be the longest living of the 2013 Rieslings from Trisaetum, all of these wines are going to age for a long, long time if you can keep your hands of them. Congratulations!

While I was in Oregon in July Janie Brooks Heuck opened a bottle of 2003 Willamette Valley Riesling, that is the regular quality wine from the last vintage which her brother Jimi Brooks made before his tragic death. It was a sensational Riesling and a sensational dry white wine by any standards, still bursting with life, at once expressive and delightful, deep and playful. That visit was the last time I’ll see the tasting room at the old Brooks winery, pictured above, because construction of the new winery is now well advanced. It became necessary due to the considerable growth in Brooks’ production, also its production of Riesling (their most important white wine by far). That grape is no longer an oddity, rather its one that will build the reputation of Oregon as a white wine producer during the coming years. Then the Pinot Fog will dissipate and the state’s over-reliance upon that grape will finally end.

PS I shall be returning to Portland in February and at the latest my next reports on Oregon Riesling will follow then!



New York Riesling Diary: Day 15 – Dr. Riesling’s Gonzo Stocktake (Part 2) – 93,763 Machine Guns is Paranoia


Events in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere subsequent to the publication of this posting in no way alter my conviction that what we saw there during the days immediately following the shooting of Mike Brown was the result of a system that has become paranoid. The mainstream media are giving the racist aspects of this story the attention they deserve, but are still weak on the paranoia that was so clearly visible.

Perhaps because it’s now only a few days until I return to Europe that the events of the last bad days in Ferguson, Missouri have made such a deep impression upon me and the sudden turnaround in the situation there seems like reason for real hope. Like many other people both in America and around the world I was shocked by the shooting of an unarmed African-American youth, Mike Brown, by a policemen. Then came the demonstrations in Ferguson by the African-American community, the looting, and an extreme police response that included the liberal use of tear gas, rubber bullets and the arresting of journalists who’s only “crime” was being in McDonalds.

I know that some of my readers are annoyed when I turn my attention to stuff like this, because they feel it lies “outside” my subject. They would prefer me to focus solely on wine, that is to “stick” narrowly to my subject. Of course, one reason some people try to focus exclusively on wine is status; they use it to make themselves feel more important than others, or even to demonstrate that they’re more important. I don’t think many of my readers have that mind, though. However, some of you do seem to want wine to be like an island of good, fine, authentic, unsullied or noble things in the high seas of trouble and strife, or at least of banality and boredom. “Ein Fels in der Brandung,” or a cliff in the swell that withstands it, is a German expression which describes this perfectly. I ask you to bear with me, for I will return to wine before the end of this posting.

The problem with this narrow focusing upon the contents of the glass is that wine never was or is disconnected from the rest of the world. It never was or is only a “natural” product, although in certain situations (for example, fancy restaurants) it is made to look as pristine and inevitable as a luxury handbag in a designer store. In fact, it is shaped by economic, social and cultural forces, just like everything else in the world. In common with other journalists reporting on what’s going on in this world, work under conditions that both limit and shape the results that I can achieve. I am no more a “Fels in der Brandung” than any bottle of wine is! A good journalist  wants to understand the situation they find themselves in, because, as Nietzsche wrote, “the context is the facts”.

Those ugly events in Ferguson interest me not only for themselves, but because they seem to be part of a much larger ugly pattern. With good reason Senator Rand Paul (Rep. KY) has written a piece on attacking the militarization of law enforcement in the US. ‘The New York Times’ has revealed that since 2006 state and local police forces in the US acquired 435 armored vehicles, 533 military aircraft and 93,763 machine guns. The use of SWAT teams by the police seems to have increased by a staggering 1400% since 1998. It’s important to find all this grisly stuff out, and much other reporting on this issue by mainstream US media (congrats to ‘The Washington Post’!) has been great, but they have failed to say one thing which seems so obvious to me that it stick out like dog balls. Hence, this posting.

The photographs by Whitney Curtis published in ‘The New York Times’, some of which were also all over the social media, document what happened in Ferguson with startling clarity. For example, on the cover of yesterday’s issue (online and printed version, Thursday, August 14th) there’s an image of a row of police officers in combat gear totting high-powered M4 rifles in front of an armored vehicle of the kind used in Afghanistan, on the roof of which is another policeman with a similar weapon with a telescopic sight mounted on it. He is clearly a sniper aiming at demonstrators outside the picture. Other photographs by Whitney Curtis show police officers in both firing of tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed demonstrators and threatening them at almost point blank range with those high-powered rifles. On Wednesday several journalists got caught up in all this and were arrested  (Wesley Lowery of ‘The Washington Post’, Ryan Reilly of ‘The Huffington Post’ and local reporter Antonio French) or fired upon (the ‘Al Jazeera America’ TV team), because they dared to do their jobs. The armed police applied the same policy of violent intimidation to them as they did to everyone else in town!

President Obama was right to harshly criticize this, saying, “Here in the United States of America the police should not be bullying and arresting journalists who are just doing their job.” He also correctly saw a constitutional problem with the police action, “There is no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protestors in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.”

In the light of this it was gruesome reading local police chief, Thomas Jackson’s assertion that his had been a measured response to events, although the only people killed in Ferguson were shot by the police. Criticism of his actions goes right across the US political spectrum, which is very encouraging. However, no politician or journalist has so far seriously asked the question why the police wanted to turn Ferguson into a war zone, much less answered it. The abrupt change of policing policy there, and the way it has defused much of the tensions is great news, but that question needs to be posed. How could it happen?

The brutally simple answer to that question is official paranoia, and anyone familiar with the Cold War ought to be familiar with the harm paranoia has wrought on our world within living memory. What Thomas Jackson doesn’t seem to realize is that his reaction to the protests and unrest following Mike Brown’s shooting was effectively to suspended the Constitution in Ferguson and replaced it with martial law. He moved in that direction although on paper he lacked anything like the authority necessary for his actions.  He clearly never questioned whether he was right, indeed was utterly convinced that he and his officers were the , “good guys with guns”, and the other side (as we’ve seen the police lumped everyone else together) was dangerous in the way terrorists and insurgents are.

Paranoia has been building in America, and the West as a whole, since the “War on Terror” began back in 2001, and although under President Obama the rhetoric of that conflict has changed, in essence it has continued to this day. Looked at coolly though, the external terrorist threat to the US since 9/11 has turned out to be way smaller than was feared. Domestic terrorists (for example, Boston) caused more deaths than foreign ones, but they still don’t begin to compare with the carnage wrought by lone crazed shooters (for example in Newtown, Denver and Santa Barbara). However, it is in the nature of paranoia that sufferers ignores the facts and projects threats upon the world around them, even if it is calm and benign. Paranoid people know that behind those friendly faces evil is lurking and wait anxiously for it to show itself.

The fantasy melodrama of good facing evil in a final showdown allied to this paranoia is the stuff of comic books and Hollywood action movies. In recent years it has docked onto the imagery of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that filled the news, and it was this dangerous cocktail which the police pushed onto the streets of Ferguson when they got an excuse to do so. If something doesn’t change it will also be coming to a neighborhood near you soon. Of course, another product of official paranoid is already there in the form of NSA surveillance…

Those readers who focus on the enjoyment wine are right. Sharing the enjoyment of wine with friends is the very opposite of all this paranoia. It’s all about conviviality, which is built upon the foundations of mutual respect. At its best it also helps us relate to distant places and feel something for the people who live there, making us appreciate their tending of the soil, vines, grapes and the wine made from them.  Even when it is geeky the activity is entirely harmless.  That remains the positive focus of this blog.

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 12 – Chenin Blanc is Riesling’s only Serious Competitor as Mulderbosch, South Africa Proves

This afternoon winemaker Adam Mason (pictured above) of Mulderbosch winery close to Stellenbosch in the Western Cape province of South Africa demonstrated at the Corkbuss Wine Studio in New York that the Chenin Blanc grape is Riesling’s only serious competitor for the title of Best White Wine on Earth (the title of my current book from Stewart, Tabori & Chang). With his three single vineyard wines from the 2013 vintage – the first vintage for them and only his second at Mulderbosch! – he showed that in places far removed from the grape’s homeland  in the Loire Valley it can give world class dry white wines. Because I will be reviewing the Mulderbosch wines in detail in my column in the ‘Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’ on Sunday, August 31st I’m not describing them in detail here. However, I will come back after that column appears and adding an English translation of my comments for those readers who don’t read any German. Please be patient!

Like Riesling, Chenin Blanc can shine in a range of styles from bone-dry to honey-sweet, something that Chardonnay can’t do. Chardonnay is invariably dry, or slightly sweet and pretending to be dry. The one thing Chenin Blanc can’t do that Riesling can is wines in the dry, medium-dry and medium-sweet styles with significantly less than 12% alcoholic content. However, the two grapes have in common  having to battle with the widespread perception that these are always more or less sweet wines, and the prejudice that if they’re dry, then they must be sour. In both cases these are at best major distortions of the truth, and at worst gross prejudices. Adam Mason is the new champion for Chenin Blanc and with his first delicious and expressive dry wines he’s already made a serious statement. We will be hearing more about him and soon! I write all this as a Riesling fan, but also as a realist who sees both the common ground and the differences between the two grapes. I can’t wait to taste the Mulderbosch 2014s!

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 8 – Dr. Riesling’s Gonzo Stocktake (Part 1)

“I couldn’t get your book, because it was sold out at Barnes & Noble,” a New York Wine City (NYWC) somm told me. Those were encouraging words just shy of two months after BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH – The Riesling story (aka #BWWOE) was published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang on June 17th. Writing the book felt like throwing a stone into the middle of a pond. Now the first wave of responses  have reached the shore and are way more positive than I’d dared to hope for.

Since I started writing about wine exactly 30 years ago it often looked like with Riesling I was on a losing ticket, but now it looks like going the distance with my favorite grape was a smart, if demanding, move. What was so long deemed seriously wrong now looks refreshingly right. Riesling is finally being taken seriously by a lot of people.  Those who continue to talk it down are not only looking seriously out of touch now, they’re also fast running out of their last vestiges of credibility. They seem as lost in another time as Dr. Strangelove was in Stanley Kubrick’s movie of the same name.

As a freelance journalist it’s really good to know that you’re more or less on the right trail, because you can do a lot of work and still end up in some obscure corner of the great writers’ wilderness. I’ve been there enough times and I honestly don’t recommend it. However, I’d rather be there than in the verdant gardens of “advertorial” and similarly lucrative forms of blah, blah, blah writing. As George Orwell once said, “Journalism is printing what someone doesn’t want printed. Everything else is public relations.

The entire point of my book was to write the truth about Riesling and about wine in plain language that nobody could fail to understand if they took the trouble to read, and to do so with the necessary energy and clarity that nobody could pretend I hadn’t actually said anything worth understanding. So far it didn’t look to me like any readers had difficulty differentiating between my blatantly stated expressions of opinion and my much more measured statement of facts. Whatever weaknesses and faults my book has (and there may be many) I seem to have succeeded in telling it like it is, at least as seen from my perspective. The same applies to this blog, for which just substitute “publish” for “print” in the Orwell quote.

Several weeks after the publication of #BWWOE one of my most important arguments got unexpected support in an article in the July 12th edition of ‘The New Yorker’ entitled ‘What We Really Taste When We Drink Wine. It reported on how for Columbia University neuroscientist Daniel Salzman wine is a perfect example of how, “no event or object is ever experienced in perfect, objective isolation. It is instead subject to our past experiences, our current mood, our expectations, and any number of incidental details…with something like wine, all sorts of societal and personal complications come into play as well. We worry, for example, about whether our taste is “Good”.

This almost reads like a quote from Chapter 2 of my book, ‘Riesling in the Glass’. Of course, the reason that I also make this argument is that a lot of people – often highly intelligent people – clearly want to believe that you can somehow be objective about wine, so they can treat the reviews of some critic or the opinions of a certain somm, their spouse or friend as hard truth. As if high-grade truth were a copious commodity available at every corner store in regular size and family-sized packs!

At the same time that article appeared I received a slew of messages from Australia about the book, many praising it, but it was a great relief to me that those who criticized never accused me of being eurocentric or otherwise biased. They just felt Australia deserved more space (although the end of the Australian chapter explains very clearly why it wasn’t given more space). However, those comments are every bit as important to me as the one from people I didn’t previously know in America who were excited by the stories it tells and how it tells it, because it means the book is a truly global phenomenon. That is it has connected with pre-existing Global Riesling Network, or maybe I should say reconnected, because it grew out of that network in the first place.

True globalization never was a set of highways that all lead to Rome, NYWC or some other “center”, but a network looping through these places and everywhere else. For goods (including books) there’s the problem of physical transport, which human ingenuity has made more cost and energy-efficient. For information (including e-books) this problem has been obviated by the electronic media. That ought to make truth flow more easily, but sadly nothing in our world is that simple.

Just at the moment truth strikes me as a vital subject we should be talking about more, because its old enemy fear is on the rise. The source of that fear has many names, mostly short, such as Ebola and Putin, others acronyms such as ISIS or NSA and CIA. However, as Richard Nixon pointed out, “People react to fear, not love: they don’t teach that in sunday school, but it’s true.” And that is the greatest danger for truth which has always been like gold: a scarce element that rarely occurs as pure nuggets, generally being found in low grade ore that requires an arduous processing before it is turned into ingots.

Fear enables politicians like Nixon to divert our gaze from the truth and crank up nationalistic fervor, under the cover of which they can implement their own agendas. These agendas are usually identical of those of the establishment, that is the wealthiest 0.1% and their enablers, who typically are only interested optimizing their own situation and have little or no concern for anyone else’s welfare. However, in times like these truth has a force of its own that can abruptly drives it to the surface. The truth will out and I am happy to be its medium. Never again will I compromise on that principal when anything of substance is at stake. I recommend it to you all.

Part 2 follows soon.


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 2 – Wine of the Month

Lion’s Tooth of McLaren Vale Shiraz-Riesling by Dandelion Vineyards

$15.98 plus 7% NJ sales tax at Wine Works

Dear Readers,

my Wine of the Month is always a kind of letter to you, and hopefully also a gift. I find these wines the same way that I do the other stories on this blog, by following a trail. I was introduced to Charlie Beatty of Wine Works at a New York Wine City (NYWC) tasting last fall, and he struck me as being both an incredibly knowledgable about wine and a larger than life personality who’d be a living legend if Wine Works was in Brooklyn/NYWC instead of Marlton/NJ.  I met Elena Brooks, the young Bulgarian winemaker of Dandelion Vineyards in Sydney-Australia back in February 2012. Her dry Rieslings from a century old vineyard in the Eden Valley/SA were the most exciting discovery I made during that visit to OZ, and are featured in BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH – The Riesling Story (see pages 92-3).

So, when I walked into Wine Works the other day to meet Charlie and spotted a Shiraz-Riesling  (i.e. red-white grape) Blend from Elena called ‘Lion’s Tooth of McLaren Vale’ on the shelf I had to try it. The label’s claim that this wine, “is a long forgotten but timeless Australian blend rejuvenated,” was seriously fascinating, but as yet I’ve been unable to find out if it’s true that co-fermenting the two classic grapes of South Australia really has the kind of tradition that co-fermenting the red Syrah (the French name for Shiraz) and white Viognier grapes does in Côte Rôtie in the Rhône. Either way this is a stunning red wine for a very friendly price.

What makes it so special? Perfume is a word I rarely use for the smell of a wine, but in this case I think it is well deserved. The aromas of rose buds, high-end bitter chocolate and all manner of baking spices pour from the glass. Although it is rich and fleshy, as any good red from the rather warm climate of McLaren vale should be, the wine is anything but jammy, nor do the generous dry tannins make it overly chewy, and the freshness of flavor is delightful. I drained the bottle all too fast, but with every swirl of the glass it only got better, indicating a good aging potential if you can resist it longer than I did. In fact, it has the kind of richness, balance and complexity that I associate with wines that have much higher price tags. Dear Reader, read my lips, “it taste like it costs Between $50 and $100!” And for the nerds in the room the wine is 95% Shiraz and 5% Riesling.

PS The online shop of Wine Works says that the current vintage is 2010, but the bottle I picked off the shelf is a 2011.

Lion’s Tooth of McLaren Vale Shiraz-Riesling from Dandelion Vineyards

is currently on sale at Wine Works of Marlton/NJ for $15.98 plus 7% NJ sales tax. 

Tel: (1) 856 596 3330


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 0 – S’Mores and More in Hokeyville (aka South New Jersey)

How could my New York Riesling Diary suddenly have gone from Day 1 back to Day 0 since the last posting? However  bizarre it might seem the above photo provides the complete explanation. It shows what I saw around 9:30pm yesterday evening when Float 7, entitled “We’re Jammin’ “, at the Medford Lakes Canoe Carnival passed the piece of lakeshore where I was sitting. I promise you that my jaw dropped a very long way!

This joyfully in-your-face piece of Americana was the most eye-popping of the 16 floats that made up the 83rd Anniversary of this mind-blowing event that’s as old as Walt Disney’s cartoons. “We’re Jammin’ ” float clearly draws part of its inspiration from Disney, but advertising imagery was obviously another bounteous source. However, it also documents America’s special relationship with the grape, which has as much to do with grape jelly (the best thing you can do with the Concord grape, in my opinion) as it does with wine. This is not the place to dig deep into the historical roots of that, rather to celebrate the fearless (of ridicule) yes-we-can feel-good spirit of Nutt n’ Butt Paddles who conceived and executed this oh so American piece of divine madness.

From this that you can tell that just a few days after my feet hit the New York Wine City (NYWC) sidewalk after the City of Riesling event in Traverse City my thirst for discovering America and uncovering its wine mysteries had driven me back on the road again. This time it was an invitation from Jackie and Barry Nobel who live just a couple of miles from Medford Lakes that provided the excuse for adventure. Many thanks to them for persuading me not only for being so hospitable, but also for persuading me to go along to the Canoe Carnival and not minding that I lovingly refer to their part of South New Jersey as Hokeyville.

There’s no way that you can get a proper idea of the extraordinary spectacle of the Medford Lakes Canoe Carnival without seeing several more of the floats. For me the most amazing creation of the evening was Float 14, entitled “Oz – we’re not in Medford Lakes anymore” and presented by the Medford United Methodist Church (who else?). It told the entire story of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz  as she is swept up by a tornado, then follows the yellow brick road over the rainbow on a two-sided revolving stage (!) with a local girl – congrats on the excellent performance! – playing the role of Dorothy. I must point out that the revolving stage with lighting was all balanced on just two canoes, like the other spectacular floats pictured here. The technical ingenuity of all this – there was an SUV mounted on one float! – was just as impressive as the artistic creativity, and given the tiny budgets these people had compared to Hollywood’s millions all the more amazing. Just look at this riverboat, it’s three stories high!

This utterly unselfconscious outpouring of high spirits was a complete contrast to the colorful and many-sided city of Philadelphia where I spent yesterday with Jackie and Barry. We managed to cram an awful lot of history, ancient and modern into the day and my thanks for that. I found all the very fascinating, even if I only saw the Liberty Bell only in passing through the car window. Plenty of people talk Philly down when they say that it’s “nice”,  “cute”, “little”, etc. The fact is that it has a stack of civic buildings, most notably the Museum of Art with those gigantic steps out the front which Rocky ran up in the movie, that are monumental. Then there’s the wealth of historical buildings, ranging from small (some pre-revolutionary) private houses up to the Liberty Hall, where the American Constitution was drawn up  and Congress met until the capital was moved to DC in 1800. All this make some high-profile European cities like Berlin (my official place of residence) look weak on history.

Many Americans have a serious chip on their shoulders about their country’s lack of history, and they frequently project a thousand years plus of history onto everything European as a matter of course. This inferiority complex just doesn’t line up with cities like Boston-Cambridge/MA, Charleston/SC, Savannah/GR, New Orleans/LO or Philly. And, of course, before white Europeans starting settling what is today the USA there was 20,000 plus years of Native American culture. If you think that this was all  “primitive”, then remember that the Native Americans weren’t interested in buying canoes or rowing boats from the Europeans, because their own canoes were technically superior (to give just one example). Sorry, I promise you that I haven’t developed a canoe obsession!

Of course, I was also on the look out for wine and in this part of New Jersey the place to go is definitely Wine Works in Marlton/NJ. Charlie Beatty (on the right) runs one of the best wine stores – it’s actually a wine warehouse with store-type shelves – in the whole of America. The range he stocks there is so awesome (I’m not throwing that word around in the typical American fashion) that  stringent self-control was needed in order not to run up a huge tab. The reason that I limited myself to a couple of bottles is that all the recent travel to promote my book BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH – The Riesling Story has lead to a couple of gigantic credit card bills. By the way, Wine Works doesn’t sell it, and won’t do so, because they made the decision that with Barnes & Noble just across the road they weren’t going to do books, which is fine by me.

I have to admit that as adventurous as I am there was one thing in New Jersey that I didn’t try, which is a “S’More”. For those of you who – like me when I arrived in NJ – are still in the dark on this very American “delicacy” it consists of a Grahm cracker topped with marshmallows roasted in front of an open fire like Tracey’s pictured above, then topped with melted chocolate. I claim dispensation from the rigors of journalistic service on the grounds of an already over-full stomach and an aversion to sweet stuff late at night. Thanks for the offer and all the hospitality though!


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 1 – Faces of City of Riesling

The amazing Amanda Danielson of Trattoria Stella & The Franklin in Traverse City/MI

I got back to NYC from the City of Riesling festival a scant 24 hours ago and the hectic events of last weekend are still going through my head. What I remember most are the people who made it all possible and also gave it such an abundance of life and energy. Without the tireless work of Amanda Danielson it probably wouldn’t have happened at all and certainly wouldn’t have achieved the success which it this first time around after only a few months of planning. And most of that happened while Amanda was busy opening her second restaurant in Traverse City, The Franklin, where she is pictured above. It wasn’t only organizational genius and determination that she brought to City of Riesling, she also played a major role in shaping the content of events that were celebratory, but also asked important questions about Riesling in Michigan and in the United States of Riesling as a whole. Since the turn of the century Riesling has been on a roll in America, but these questions must be addressed if quality is to continue to climb and if consumer acceptance of the wines is to increase in step with that process. The latter is particularly challenging for 35+ year old consumers who often display a fundamental unwillingness to change the way they see wine, and quite possible much else in our world too (a sad attitude that strikes me as being highly defensive).

Sean O’Keefe of Chateau Grand Traverse, pictured above with his wife Stacey was also vital in shaping the content and in pulling together the great group of winemakers from right across the nation plus Angelo Pavan of Cave Spring in Ontario, Canada’s leading Riesling producer. Thanks Angelo for that amazing vertical tasting of your medium-dry ‘CSV’ Riesling going back to the delicious 2002. Sorry Angelo, and also my apologies to Meaghan Frank of Dr. Konstantin Frank in the Finger Lakes/NY, that I failed to get good solo pictures of both of you during the weekend. However, you are both in the group picture below, taken Monday night at Trattoria Stella. Meaghan is on the left in the front row, Angelo is second from the right in the back row.

As with any subject, when it comes to Riesling there is much accepted wisdom and not all of it is actually helps us making sense of the wines that confront us all in the glass (or the reality of the Big Wide World for that matter). Sometimes ideas are passed around that are either hopeless out of date, or offer only half the answer to a question, but look like complete answers. During a generally impressive tasting of Michigan Rieslings Chris Williams of Brooks in the Eola-Amity Hills/Oregon, pictured below, suggested to me that the question of balance in Riesling – often reduced to the acidity/sweetness balance – is a way of seeing these wines that distracts us from the more fundamental question of whether we want harmony or character. This is a subject I will be following up in the near future, (also in my column in the Sunday edition of the ‘Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’ if you read German). Of course, not only his comments generated some controversy, Chris’ T-shirt also did that, also because of the logo of the elite German winegrowers association Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP) next to the slogan.

In my recent posting about the Smith Madrone estate winery on Napa/California I forgot to mention the new generation there, Sam Smith, pictured below. The great thing about Sam is that he is utterly grounded in the work his father Stuart Smith and his uncle Charles Smith have done up on Spring Mountain with Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, yet he brings a fresh perspective to all of that resulting from his experience working for wine producers and restaurants around the world. He also has a great sense of humor that helped us avoid sliding into the geekdom too often. The problem with that is once you go into Terminal Geek Out you no longer get any real pleasure except from you yourself think and say, your awareness of other people narrowing until it disappears completely. The problem with all of that is that wine is about sharing (also ideas).

During the City of Riesling there were many great moments of sharing and also some of complete nonsense to balance (there’s that word again!) the more serious ones. Nobody gave us more of these than Spencer Stegenga of Bower Harbor, pictured below, who is also the most under-appreciated Riesling producer in Michigan. His dry 2012 Block II had an intense aroma of blackberry (!) and a great interplay of ripeness, power and lively acidity. It was one of the best wines of the last day of City of Riesling and every bit as distinctive as Left Foot Charley’s new ‘Prose’ of Chateau Grand Traverse’s ‘Whole Cluster’, both medium-dry wines from Michigan.

This blog never descends into that pit of boredom which is decorated with one tasting note after another. However, a number of wines I encountered at City of Riesling deserve a special mention, not least those which are off most somms radar screens. The medium-dry 2013 ‘Stone Cellar’ Riesling from Galen Glen in Pennsylvania and the slightly drier 2013 ‘Golden Bunches’ Riesling from Ferrante in Ohio are the best wines I encountered so far from those states. The Galen Glen wine had a pronounced cassis note along with a cool freshness that reminded me of the smell of wet leaves. Although the Riesling from Ferrante was more exotic, this side of it’s personality was more subtle than in previous vintages and the wine was youthful and delicate too. Lastly, the 2013 Riesling ‘Spätlese’ from Brengman Bros on the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan had a big, bold apricot bouquet that is not at all typical for MI and a succulent interplay of almost razor-sharp acidity and high residual sweetness. Whoever said that sweet Riesling cannot be exciting (unless it’s German) is, to quote Chris Williams’ T-shirt, “a fucking idiot”.

PS A second (Traverse) City of Michigan in 2015 is in the planning!



(Traverse) City of Riesling Diary: Day 2 – Maybe I’m Amazed by The Night of 100 Rieslings!

Yes, yesterday was a seriously amazing day, and it will be very difficult to communicate to those of you who didn’t make it to Traverse City what it was like. You see, I can describe the scene in the tents where the Night of 100 Rieslings took place right on the shore of Lake Michigan in Traverse – the big and colorful crowd – but it’s really hard to help you imagine what the Big Buzz was like. Certainly, there was no trace of that, “yes, great, love it, but…” hesitation about Riesling you often find amongst somms and other wine professionals in the US. However, it didn’t seem like many people had hung their critical faculties on the coatrack when they came in the tent. I heard a lot of people talking about the wines in a serious way, and none of the people who were just drinking were just trying to get inebriated ASAP. I think it’s that combination multiplied by the size of the crowd which made it such a special evening.

Even more difficult to describe, because the situation was totally unfamiliar to me, were the two screenings of my film WATCH YOUR BACK – The Riesling Movie (Part 1) at the Bijou by The Bay. Pictured left is the queue I found outside the pocket-sized movie theatre when I arrived. Anxiously, I pointed out to the two audiences that lacking a multi-million dollar budget and all the technology behind Hollywood productions with those kind of budgets I felt that I had no choice, but to make a Gonzo b-movie. However, that approach also seemed to me to fit the grass roots phenomenon that is the Global Riesling Network. Air-brushed glossiness doesn’t suit the underdog and I hate all that stuff anyway. However, even a Gonzo b-movie can be made professionally, and I am extremely grateful to Klaus Lüttmer in Berlin (my producer, editor, cutter and third cameraman) and Marcarthur Baralla  in New York City (second cameraman). They made it possible for me to shoot from the hip and only write a full script immediately before the film was cut. You’re not supposed to shoot without a complete script, but it’s also the way that some great movies like David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’ were made. And that surely applies particularly to a documentary-type movie like mine, at least if it is going to reflect reality. Both audiences were interested in the result and laughed at it as I’d hoped.

There were some amazing wines in that tent, which I really have to tell you about. The one which wowed me most was the 2011 ‘Poet’s Leap’ Riesling from Long Shadows winery in Washington State. It was an elegant and sophisticated dry wine by any standards, in any context and it proves that Europe doesn’t have a patent on the salty mineral taste that a dry Riesling needs (along with ripeness, freshness, balance, intensity and delicacy) in order to qualify for greatness. Then there were some local surprises like the succulent and subtle 2012 Dry Riesling from Shady Lane on the Leelanau Peninsula. It’s the best white wine Adam Satchwell ever made; congratulations!

We also had the benefit of a local super-group in the form of Girls with Guitars in which a wealth of talent was pooled. I didn’t think that it was possible to do cover-versions of famous songs like Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’ or Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ that stood on their own rather than sounding second-rate (which is what copies usually are). But I must finish up as today’s Salon Riesling Symposium at The Franklin – where I write this – is about to begin. The first of the four sessions is called ‘United States of Riesling’ and last night proved as conclusively as the recent Riesling Invasion in Portland/OR that this slogan I spat out a some point are now anything but hollow words!

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(Traverse) City of Riesling Diary: Day 1 – This is the Day!

It was one of those perfect moments when the Riesling Spirit seemed to embrace us all. We – a group of local winemakers plus Meaghan Frank from Dr. Frank in the Finger Lakes/NY, Sam Smith from Smith Madrone in Napa/CA and Chris Williams from Brooks/OR  – climbed onto Spencer Stegenga’s boat out at Bowers Harbor (after which Spencer’s winery is named) on Grand Traverse Bay just as the sun was sinking behind the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Then we headed far out from the shore, the waves grew and the sky darkened. Pictured, about an hour into our journey are Sean and Stacey O’Keefe of Chateau Grand Traverse. Unfortunately, the Riesling Spirit is always invisible. Could there have been a more perfect beginning to the City of Riesling festival?

Well just a short while before we headed out onto the bay it looked like boating would be completely out of the question, because of a hefty downpour which abruptly hit the welcome BBQ at Chateau Grand Traverse. Ice buckets full of Riesling, a large table loaded with food and much else had to suddenly pulled in under cover. Don’t worry though it didn’t dampen our spirits and about half an hour later the sun dramatically returned.

OK, I was too slow to capture the double rainbow, but this picture shows very well why this part of Northern Michigan has been attracting ever more tourists from right across America. This is in terms of climate perhaps the most extreme wine landscape on the eastern side of the US, and is also perhaps the most extremely beautiful wine landscapes on the eastern side of the US.

This region and its beauty also makes a guest appearance in my film WATCH YOUR  BACK – The Riesling Movie (Part 1) which has its “world premier” at the Bijou by The Bay movie theatre in Traverse City tonight. Some while say that it was the only moment of beauty in my rough and tumble, no holds barred, Gonzo B movie, and I won’t contradict them. Who knows way lies in store? I’m prepared for just about anything. Unlike my  producer, editor, cutter and additional cameraman Klaus Lüttmer who is back in Berlin, I will have to literally face all the responses… At least the premier is followed by the Night of 100 Rieslings, which is certain to be exciting and blessed by the Riesling Spirit.

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