Great Riesling from Slovakia? These were not the first impressive Rieslings I ever tasted from Slovakia (that was the 2001 Château Béla), but the three 2011s I tasted yesterday evening from the Elesko Winery close to Modra, a short drive northeast of Bratislava, were certainly the most startling. How is it be possible to produce Rieslings this far east in Europe (east of Vienna) that taste so totally northerly? If I had tasted them blind I would have guessed that they were from the Mosel or the Nahe! Then there was the fact that all three of them were impressive, though they were so different. The 2011 Riesling “1″ is a sleek and lithe Riesling that is almost bone dry with quite a challenging lemony acidity and a long mineral finish. It’s still a very young wine, which will surely grow as it matures over the next couple of years. In contrast, the 2011 Riesling “2″ was light in body and medium-dry with that vibrant interplay of acidity and fruity sweetness which people used to say only the northerly regions of Germany could achieve, until New Zealand Riesling producers like Felton Road (Central Otago) and Framingham (Marlborough) proved it was possible there too. I loved both the apple/apple blossom aromas and the succulence of the wine; simply delicious. I should point out that both these wines cost just over Euro 10 from the winery website. The sweet 2011 Riesling is more expensive at almost Euro 16 per half bottle, but it has the combination of concentration and filigree of a really good Mosel or Nahe Auslese. However, the orange aroma is entirely distinctive. That is quite some achievement and puts the Elesko Winery in the first rank of the new Riesling producers in Eastern Europe along with Château Béla and Jozsef Szentesi in Hungary. Maybe I’m amazed! For further information see:
Of course, drinking good Riesling from one of Germany’s 13 wine growing regions is only one way of gazing deep into the German soul. Another way is to seek out a serious Torte such as this Schwarzwälderkirschtorte made by my mother-in-law for the celebration of my father-in-law’s 80th birthday over the weekend. She baked three of these beauties, one for each of those attending with a birthday (my mother celebrated her 78th birthday on saturday and another extended family member was 66 that day). As you can imagine all of this, including much champagne, good food and reminiscing severely distracted me from my Berlin Riesling Diary for a couple of days. Don’t imagine that I had a Riesling-less time though. Last night at the Kurpfalz Weinstuben (http://kurpfalz-weinstuben.de/ – sadly only in German ) we drank a bottle of the dry 2002 Berg Schlossberg Riesling from Weingut Georg Breuer in Rüdesheim/Rheingau.
It was one of the last wines which modern German Riesling pioneer Bernhard Breuer bottled and the label seems prophetic of his sudden and utterly unexpected death just months later. Riesling wouldn’t be where it is today – a global cult with ever increasing influence – if it hadn’t been for the quarter of a century of Bernhard’s tireless struggle to improve his Rieslings, and gain the international recognition which he believed his favorite grape variety deserved. The tragic thing is that, although his wines had praise lavished upon them during his lifetime, Riesling was still a long way from its present standing at his death in May 2004.
Anyone of you who come to Berlin are strongly recommended to visit the Kurpfalz Weinstuben, not only because it has the best traditional German cooking in the city (be prepared for pork, although there are other things on the menu), but also because of the great selection of mature Rieslings on the list for friendly prices. For example, the now perfectly mature, super-elegant 2002 Berg Schlossberg Riesling from Georg Beeuer costs just under Euro 45 there! That’s also the result of a lifetime’s work dedicated to German Riesling, in this case by Rainer Schultz who’s been running the Kurpfalz Weinstuben since 1975. I don’t think he could live without running this wonderful place, but must be over 70 now, so you wonder how much longer he’s going to keep doing it. My advice is simple: HURRY TO BERLIN!
PS I am still thinking over the whole cool climate thing trying to decide how to get a handle on it that reflects contemporary reality (i.e. climate change) fully, but doesn’t make Riesling out to be some kind of cactus, which it certainly isn’t.
2012 Weißburgunder trocken from Gysler
It’s way too early to think of drinking the better quality 2012 Rieslings from the Northern Hemisphere yet. Most of them are still in a raw state and some of them are still fermenting! One of the great advantages of the Weißburgunder / Pinot Blanc / Pinot Bianco grape is that due to its moderate acidity, and with the help of a relatively brisk fermentation (which also helps prevent the wine becoming too broad or heavy), it can give pleasure within a few months of the harvest. That’s certainly the case with this wine from Alexander Gysler of the eponymous estate in Alzey-Weinheim/Rheinhessen, one of the new star winemakers of the region. It has a ripe apple and apple blossom aroma, tasting at once creamy and fresh, and the balance of supple acidity, medium-body and ripe fruit already spot on. The way 13% of alcohol is unobtrusively tucked away in the wine has a lot to do with the cool and windy conditions around Weinheim and the stony “red slate” soils which predominate there. So, here is a first taste of 2012 in Germany which suggests that this is another very good to great vintage with wines that are lively and not as weighty as the three preceding vintages. Like all Gysler’s wines it’s also very good value for money.
2012 Weißburgunder trocken is Euro 7 from
Grosser Spitzenberg 8
D 55232 Alzey-Weinheim/Rheinhessen
Tel.: (49) / (0) 6731 / 41266
I would have written this a lot sooner if certain realities like tax returns, paying bills and writing newspaper columns hadn’t demanded my attention so urgently after returning to Berlin. However, that didn’t delay the realization that everything in Berlin – from the way people dress to the way they ride bicycles – and everything in Wine Metropolis Berlin – from what people drink to how the remains of the drinking day look – is very different to in New York Wine City (NYWC). I call the kind of shock resulting from moving from one place to another cultural disruption, which may not be such a suitable name ( I couldn’t think of any other), because I actually enjoy this state of almost continuous astonishment.
It made me think that a series of posts debunking the Riesling myths and illusions are in order and that maybe being in Wine Metropolis Berlin right after two months in NYWC is the right moment to write them. I think we have to start with the obvious point that with only around 1% of the global vineyard area and a distinctive taste profile (aromatic, but not loud, and freshly acidic) Riesling strikes many people as being a specialized wine for specialists. By that they mean journalists like me, sommeliers, other wine professionals and hard-core insiders. Now a lot of those kind of people in NYWC are excited by Riesling and it could be that there you only see loads of Riesling on the table in some particularly cool places like the Terroir wine bars. However, here in Wine Metropolis Berlin its absolutely normal to see all kinds of people drinking Riesling in all manner of bars, restaurants and clubs. In fact, in some places like the Chinese restaurant Hot Spot just of the Ku’damm or the wine bar Weinstein in Prenzlauer Berg it’s almost de rigeur. Of course, you could go strictly by the stats, in which case Airen – the world’s most widely planted wine grape with more than 280,000 hectares or 700,000 acres (all in Spain) – is a far more important grape variety than Riesling. However, how many of you can remember your last glass of dry white Airen? I know I can’t. The truth is that in many ways Riesling is a special wine, and that’s the reason it’s the object of a global cult in a comparable way to the equally special wines from the red Pinot Noir grape.
I have to admit that up here around 52° 30′ North, compared with around 40° 45′ North in NYWC, it is relatively cool. However, it is less cool than most people think for most of the year. Many tourists arrive in Wine Metropolis Berlin in the summer and are astonished to find temperatures in the upper nineties fahrenheit, then to learn that they’ve been there for a couple of weeks and are still rising! Thankfully this is usually a pleasant dry heat that I can thoroughly recommend, unlike the steaminess of NYWC when it gets really hot there. And if it gets too much for you, then Wine Metropolis Berlin has lots of forests and lakes within a subway ride of Downtown where you and some bottles of Riesling can cool off in idyllic surroundings. The German wine growing regions are also warmer for most of the year than most people think, and that will be the starting point for my debunking of the great myth that Riesling demands a cool climate in order to give interesting wines. Watch this space!
Although I’ve made it back to Berlin physically and I’m writing this at my “home” desk surrounded by familiar stuff, my head is still full of a hotch-potch of New York things like this sign which says everything about my state of disorientation. I could really do with some help readjusting to what we all call “normality” most days, and hope that the German Rieslings (famous and non-famous names from Rheinhessen) that I’m about to taste are going to provide it. What made returning really strange was that my flight left JFK in a snowstorm and when I arrived in Berlin the weather conditions were almost identical. “Have I moved at all, or was I just shut in a series of metal cylinders (airplanes and trains) with flat screens instead of windows and subjected to varying g-forces? Am I the victim of a virtual reality experiment?” I asked myself. Of course, the answer was no as I discovered when I went for a run, did some shopping and took out the trash. Also the snow is melting fast. This definitely is East Berlin and not the East Village of Manhattan. This situation is not without advantages, for example roughly half the wines I’m about to taste aren’t imported into the US. Even the top sommeliers of America are still lagging behind developments here due to the limited number of professional and ambitious importers of German wines. I feel sure their ranks are about to swell though, as the exciting new producers offer too many good opportunities for smart young wine merchants. If these two groups hook up over the next couple of years as I expect them to do, then the perception of German Riesling in the US will undergo a serious shift and this, in turn, will alter the image of Riesling altogether. In the other direction things, sadly, look much less promising. Where are the German wine merchants interested in importing Riesling from the Finger Lakes in New York State or the exciting new wines from North Michigan? I just don’t see them.
Marcarthur Baralla, the young Brooklyn-based documentary filmmaker who filmed my farewell party in New York just sent me the link below to a time-lapse sequence he shot of the event which compresses one long evening into under a minute. I’m easy to spot because I’m wearing a long red jacket from Neodandi (about which a story will shortly follow): https://vimeo.com/58109940
Goodbye New York Wine City (NYWC). I shall try not to be sad as my plane takes off from JFK this evening and I hope that you won’t either. You were so full of surprises, including many wonderful Riesling surprises, these last 60 days. Regular readers will have already found out about many of them. Now it’s time to change perspective and tone. Until I return to NYWC on March 4th this will be a BERLIN RIESLING DIARY, but stay in American English and, of course, stay true to this site’s core theme. However, in Berlin no less than in NYWC I will have my eyes peeled for the unexpected, the absurd and the beautiful, whatever it might be. For example, I found the below on a sidewalk in the Lower East Side and couldn’t help laugh. As some of you found out during my stay in NYWC I often can’t help laughing, and the sound of my laugh can be heard at a great distance. This is also the work of the Riesling Force that moves not only in the wines of best white wine grape on earth, but in many other things that either connected to Riesling in a logical or inexplicably way. Many thanks to all those who helped me and were so generous in so many ways. Thanks to all of you I was in a very favored position almost all the time I was in NYWC. May the Riesling Force be with You!
My two months in NYC are drawing fast to a close and it seems appropriate that finally I get a short blast of icy winter weather. While I’ve been staying at the Hotel of Hope in the East 7th Street of the East Village/Manhattan I’ve pursued many lines of long-standing Riesling inquiry and completed many Riesling stories that have gestated in my mind for months or even years. However, the most important aspects of my stay were the unexpected ones, the fruits of serendipity, what washed ashore when I went with flow and let the tide take me where it willed.
My companions in this most unusual “Hotel” were a vital element of this process and I therefore have to introduce them to readers properly. Above is Birgitta Böckeler from the north of Germany who worked the last two years and two months for a software development company here in NYC and has now moved to another company in the same field in Hamburg. At first she was a bit disorientated that I, the “wine expert”, was not telling her what to think of the wines I poured in her glass, but once she got used to this idea we had a lot of fun drinking wine and a bunch of other things together. I also learnt a lot of new ideas from her, such as the IT expression, “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature!” That describes very well a lot of what I’m trying to do in my writing. Just before she left for Germany we went out to see the new Quentin Tarantino movie, Django Unchained, which I might not have bothered with if she hadn’t insisted. In ways she couldn’t have imagined this movie – in my view Tarantino’s best since Jackie Brown – had a wonderfully liberating effect upon me. Thanks again Birgitta for helping to open my mind!
Jürgen Fränznick, who’s work for the ARD public service TV channel in Germany as a reporter in NYC for the past five years, had to leave for a stay in the Fatherland a couple of weeks back and hasn’t been the same without him. Again and again he would surprise me with his suggestions and observations, always having a different perspective on how this city ticks and how the media tick. When you’re trying to push ahead new and daring projects in several different media simultaneously in a foreign city as I am that kind of help is vital. For this, but also for purely personal reasons, I look forward immensely to seeing Jürgen again when my NEW YORK RIESLING DIARY and I return to the city on March 4th.
Since the party I’ve been catching up with all kinds of work relating to it and a bunch of domestic chores here at the Hotel of Hope, because after my lunchtime meeting tomorrow I have to head out to JFK and fly back to Germany. I’ve also been thinking back over my time here and trying to decide what it is about New York Wine City that made my stay here so incredibly helpful to developing the various STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL projects. Certainly I’ve sometimes encountered people who’s convictions about wine get in the way of their clear perception of the truth in wine, but that’s something you find everywhere on Planet Wine. Far more often I have been stunned by the openness, particularly of Young Upwardly Mobile Wine Professions (Yupwips?) in New York. It is surely this, in combination with a long-standing culture of excellence, which keeps the city pushing the wine envelope. And my bet is that exactly the same combination of factors is behind Riesling’s rise, which clearly has some way to go before it reaches its zenith. That is reason enough to return!
Here’s Vincent Bründlmayer of the Bründlmayer estate in Langenlois/Austria being interviewed on camera by Brooklyn-based documentary filmmaker Marcarthur Baralla for Watch Your Back (a Riesling movie). My party at American Flatbread TriBeCa (205 Hudson Street at Canal Street) was a blast, also because it was the first day of shooting for my feature-length movie. Marcarthur and his assistant interviewed dozens of our guests, including Paul Grieco of Hearth & Terroir, Harmon Skurnik of Michael Skurnik Wines who generously provided a slew of exciting wines from their program, and winemakers like Bründlmayer and Johannes Selbach from Selbach-Oster in the Mosel/Germany. Towards the end it got pretty wild, but that gave us some spectacular material for one of the opening scenes of the movie. Thanks to everyone who stepped up in front of our green screen! In the finished product that green will be replaced by the Manhattan skyline by night. Sadly, you will have to wait some months for the finished product, but I guess something will go up on You Tube much sooner. Watch this space!
On a serious note a number of guests spoke to me about the New York Riesling Diary Story ‘ What is in the Feiring Line’. I had worries that this story which explored the role of sulfur in winemaking and in our own bodies was too science-heavy, but everyone who spoke to me yesterday evening felt that the science had been not only easily comprehensible, but also necessary to break through the emotionalism which so often colors the treatment of this issue is usually handled in the wine media. As somebody said to me, “opinions are not the same thing as scientific arguments and you showed very clearly the difference between the two when it comes to sulfur in wine.” Thank you New York Wine City for taking me so seriously!
As you can see I am in party mood and I hope that you are too if you are coming to the STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL Party (in association with Michael Skurnik Wines) from 9pm this evening at American Flatbread TriBeCa, 205 Hudson Street at Canal Street in Downtown Manhattan. If you want to come, but don’t yet have an invitation, then you must quickly email Suzanne Winter at Suzanne.firstname.lastname@example.org
I was just at the big Michael Skurnik Wines tasting at TriBeCa Grill and at the preview screening of Terry Theise’s movie about German wine, Leading Between the Vines. He packed an enormous amount into the movie and let the growers he featured speak at considerable length without interruption and with only minimal prompting. This was a daring thing to do and the gamble paid off. Having myself worked with a shaky camera and had some other technical issues when making my first experimental wine movie (click on Riesling Global above to reach the link to it) I am not really the right person to question the technical side of things, however, extreme wind noise was sometimes distracting. Cameraman Tylor Bohlman must be congratulated on having worked so well with the growers and having had such a good eye for what makes the Mosel, Rhine and Nahe so special.
Tonight at American Flatbread I will be shooting the first material for my own wine movie with the help of Brooklyn based documentary filmmaker Marcarthur Baralla (who took the photograph of me above). The working title is Watch Your Back (a Riesling Movie) and tonight we are shooting one of the opening scenes of the movie. Please if you don’t want us to point a camera at you then tell us as soon as you arrive. We don’t want to be impolite or invasive.
At the Michael Skurnik event I tasted a slew of great German and Austrian wines (not just Riesling), but some very funny things also happened. I hadn’t tasted a single wine when a highly intelligent looking young woman asked me, “are you Eric?” “Eric?” I answered completely fazed. “Yes, Eric Asimov of the New York Times,” she insisted and I had to gently point out that actually I was just Stuart Pigott. “Eric doesn’t dress like this, does he?” I asked her, looking down at the bright red corduroy trousers and Vivienne Westwood bondage shirt I was wearing. “I don’t think so,” she replied, “but you do look a lot like him.” Then there was another case of mistaken identity when Gabriel Clary of Michael Skurnik Wines (pictured below) told me that, “Caroline Diel couldn’t make it, so today I’m Caroline Diel.” I hope that you agree with me that although it may not be as good an impersonation as mine of Eric Asimov he certainly made a good impression for Schlossgut Diel of Burg Layen/Nahe. You can also meet Gabriel at the party. See you there!
Riesling keeps teaching me lessons, keeps showing me how many of my own convictions are just so much baggage, so many boundaries I’ve consciously and unconsciously put up in front of myself. As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “convictions are greater enemies of truth than lied”. Some lucky moments the wine in my glass just sweeps away all the detritus which has become encrusted on my mind and I feel a wave of joy – freedom! – sweep over me. May the Riesling Force be with you too!
Yesterday evening brought such a moment of joy. Dinner with Robin Schwartz of Garnet Wines and Volker Donabaum from A.I. Selections seemed like the perfect moment to open the bottle of mature Riesling from Dönnhoff in the Nahe/Germany pictured above. When the wine was young it changed my understanding of what a sweet Riesling Spätlese from Germany could taste like. It was like someone taking an elegant townhouse and adding a huge ballroom at the back. For the first time in my life I uttered the fatal words, “I don’t give a damn what it costs, I want a whole case!”
After mentally trying to extrapolate how it would taste in my 2013 NYC Here and Now I bought some blue cheese (English Stichelton and French Fourme d’Ambert from Formaggio in Essex Street Market) to augment the cheeses I already had in the refrigerator and set off for Robin Schwartz’s apartment. As usual Volker Donabaum came with a couple of bottles and the first, the dry 2011 Ehrenfels Riesling from Proidl in Senftenberg/Kremstal was powerful, but graceful and delicately spicy. Astonishingly its 14% alcoholic content were not a problem! The red Shiraz-Grenache-Mourvèdre blend from a small winery on California’s Central Coast (no names mentioned!) was an example of hi-end winemaking that was completely self-defeating. The wine didn’t taste alcoholic in spite of weighing in at 15.5%, but after just a couple of sips we already started to feel drunk. I thought that was bourbon’s role in life! Wondering if we could enjoy any more wine after this Californian steamroller had flattened us we gingerly sipped Dönnhoff’s 1998 Riesling Spätlese “Gold Cap” from the Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle site and wave of hugely refreshing Riesling washed over us, invigorating, delighting, tantalizing us. Sure it was a rich and concentrated wine, but the subtlety of flavor which just 8.5% alcohol content helped to accentuate was almost literally breathtaking and the wine tasted amazingly youthful and vibrant for 15 years of age.
As those two Rieslings showed, the wines of the best white wine grape on earth can be so many different things and just when you think you’ve nailed Riesling down with one or more definitions you discover a wine that doesn’t fit them, because the possibilities are ”endless”. Are they really endless? At moments like this they seem to be, and that’s the important thing, for it is this which leads to the unloading of baggage, the breaking down of artificial boundaries, and the resulting feeling of freedom. The cheese also brought some surprises, for as well as the wine went with the blue cheeses it went even better with a “leftover” of Humboldt Fog, a goat’s milk cheese from Cypress Grove in Northern California. The two just seemed to melt into one great joyful whole. Perfect, by which I mean, one of the many, many kinds of Riesling perfection out there.