On the Riesling Road: Day 5 – The Great Wines and Identity Crisis of Alsace

Normally I don’t expect you to share my enthusiasm for the intricacies of the plant world, but I had to show you this wild tulip Tulipa sylvestris growing in the Grand Cru Hengst vineyard cloase to Wettolsheim/Alasce. It was a sign of just how seriously Maurice Barthelme of the Albert Mann estate takes bio-diversity in his vineyards, and in this, no less than in the use of biodynamic cultivation methods, he is the same wavelength as most of his colleagues. In fact there’s more agreement about this among the best Alsace winegrowers than on some of the other most fundamental questions. Seen from this perspective they’re a contradictory, even schizophrenic group.

They may hate me for saying this, but many of the rifts between opposing schools of thinking about the right direction for Alsace winemaking to go have their roots in the way the region moved back and forth between France and Germany over the centuries. You and see and hear the legacy of this everywhere you go in the region Most of the towns bear Germanic names (though some like Ribeauville switched to French names), but most of the people now speak French first and it’s quite rare to hear the Germanic Alsace dialect spoken (not least because French has been the official school language since the end of WWII). The more ancient architecture in the towns looks distinctly Germanic, however, during the mid 19th century some imposing French-style official buildings and imposing private residences were erected. Then after Alsace became part of Germany again following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 it was back to Germanic architecture, and so forth.

The previous version of the Wine Identity Crisis in Alsace revolved around the question of how sweet or dry the wines should be. No sooner had the better producers resolved this by reaching an unspoken agreement that as far as possible Riesling should be properly dry (along with Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner and Muscat) and that both Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer both generally need a hint of sweetness, than the next split developed. This is between those who are in favor of varietal wines and those in favor of the mixed planting of varieties, the simultaneous picking of their grapes (regardless of differences in ripeness levels between them) and their co-fermentation. Because of the ethos of the promoters of this path I call them the Prophets of the Cosmic Mix. This controversy is a special version of the ancient divide between cuvées, for example in Bordeaux (where the different grape varieties are grown, picked and fermented separately), and mono-varietal wines, for example in Germany. I think that the latter association is one reason why what I will call Varietal Modernism is rejected by the Prophets of the Cosmic Mix.

Jean-Michel Deiss is the leading Prophet of the Cosmic Mix, although his wife Marie-Héléne (pictured right) often gives a more articulate explication of how grapes of many varieties from a single vineyard are better at communicating the character specific to it, our old friend terroir. No, let’s express it with the correct emphasis for this situation: Holy Terroir! Here it’s important to make clear that the white wines which Jean-Michel and Marie-Héléne Deiss make at Domaine Marcel Deiss in Bergheim are amongst the best and the most distinctive in Alsace, even France. However, I must add some simple observations to this so that you don’t come to the wrong conclusion about their wines. The inclusion of Pinot Gris and/or Gewürztraminer in many Riesling-based mixed plantings pushes the ripeness (sugar-content) of the juice to the point where the resulting wine cannot be dry. Of the 2011 vintage wines I tasted only the simple ‘Alsace’ tasted struck me as properly dry. Now the residual sweetness in many of the 8  single vineyard wines (let’s call them unofficial Premier Crus) and 3 wines from Grand Cru vineyards which I tasted will certainly become less obvious as those wines age, but that process takes years. Complex, highly distinctive and refined they all are, but that doesn’t make them all dry and I wonder when I would drink some of them. That, however, is not the problem.

There seems to be a Big Problem because Jean-Michel Deiss demands that others follow him on this path and they are often unconvinced by his statements. His dogmatism is causing some of colleagues to switch off when he talks, and some of them clearly feel some resentment. I think I might feel that way too if the excellent dry Riesling I had made from a plot in a Grand Cru vineyard inherited from my father or grandfather was rejected out of hand, because it was not only from a varietal planting (sin), but from a single clone of that variety (mortal sin). Give me that Old Time Religion: Holy Terroir!

Maurice Barthelme of Albert Mann (left) in Wettolsheim is the opposite, a believer in Varietal Mondernism, a pragmatist who seeks to grow delicious wines in a manner that respects eco-systems and natural cycles without turning this into a substitute religion. At Albert Mann most of the 2012 wines were already bottled, whereas most of the top producers won’t bottle anything before September, and most of the wines were bottled with screw caps, although most of the top producers cling to corks (while worrying about cork problems). Sure some Alsace wines, particularly the dry Rieslings with their pronounced acidity can benefit from extended contact with the yeast before bottling, but I loved the citrusy freshness, discrete juiciness and fresh, but already harmonious acidity of the freshly-bottled 2012 Riesling “Cuvée Albert”. Although the 2012 Riesling from the Grand Cru sites – Schlossberg (granite) and Furstentum (calcareous clay) – were less open, but in a few months they too will show very well. And in spite of being made only in stainless steel tanks (another sin for some traditionalists), they were dramatically contrasting wines full of terroir character.

Then there was the best surprise of my entire trip. I knew that the dry Rieslings form the Grand Cru Sommerberg which Jean Boxler (pictured above) was making at Domaine Albert Boxler in Niedermorschwihr were stunning, however I had no idea that his regular quality Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner and Riesling were also superb wines that also grow on granitic soils and have the delicate aromas and sleek, lithe body this makes possible. That was the reason why the 2011s tasted so elegant in spite of having 13.5% alcohol.

“Normally we harvest the Rieslings towards the end of the harvest, but on the first day of the 2011 harvest I realized that the Riesling grapes were already very ripe and if I waited any longer I wouldn’t be able to produce the dry wines I want to make every year,” Jean Boxler explained to me, “so we changed plan and picked all the Rieslings first.” The result is the coolest,  most delicate and elegant Riesling Grand Crus I tasted from this vintage. If those had been mixed plantings with members of the Pinot family, then the sugar level of the resulting juice would have been too rich in sugar for dry wines.

From my point of view each of these paths – Varietal Modernism and the Cosmic Mix – are equally legitimate, and both clearly yield superb wines (though of clearly different types). The existence of them side by side is certainly an expression of France’s democratic culture, but of course from the point of view of the normal wine drinker far from Alsace this is confusing, and possibly seems schizophrenic. It’s not my job to tell people what to think, only to offer an additional, and possibly alternative perspective that helps them to see things more clearly. Hopefully, I have been successful in that for Alsace, about the beauty of which I have spoken too little. But others have written so much about that already…

 

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On the Riesling Road: Day 4 – Finally I catch up after the complete failure of the WiFi in my Colmar/Alsace hotel

What the fuck!? On my first day in Alsace was I was riding high and rolling with the punches. My first tasting at Zind-Humbrecht close to Turckheim blew my tiny little mind, but then the WiFi in my Colmar hotel failed completely for no obvious reason at all. So I had to hammer out the story below on the computer in the hotel lobby. However, the keyboard was so bizarre that there was no question of repeating this kind of stone age word processing. So it’s only now, three full  to bursting days later, that I’m catching up with you., and I’ve really got too much to tell. It was not only a extremely stimulating trip, it was also inspiring and slightly shocking.

Of course, when, on my second day in Alsace, I saw this miniature version of the Statue of Liberty I also though, what the fuck!? I mean, the half-timbered, winstub-dominated world of Colmar is about as far away from in-your-face, get-out-of-god-damned-way Manhattan as I can imagine! But this strangest of sights during my Alsace tour was immediately explained to me by 32 year old Mélanie Pfister of Domaine Pfister in Dahlenheim who was driving me back to Colmar after an impressive tasting at her domaine. “You know that Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, the man who designed the State of Liberty, was born in Colmar?” she asked and I had to admit that I didn’t know that.

As a winemaker Mélanie Pfister is almost completely unknown compared to Pierre Trimbach in Ribeauville who I had visited that morning, and her top dry wine, the Riesling Grand Cru Engelberg costs just one tenth of what Trambach’s Clos Ste. Hune does! However, just like Trimbach she is also committed to properly dry wines and pursues a super-clean and super-straight style of wine with a strong mineral character that’s designed for long-ageing. So this style is obviously not an accident in Alsace, but something which fits the climate, geology (i.e. terroir) and the gastronomic (i.e. consumption) culture of the region. She can now doe this rather better than when I first met her four years ago because of her new cellar facility pictured below.

The deep roots of the dry Riesling tradition of Alsace were amply demonstrated by my tasting with Pierre Trimbach. Although we tried the full range of 2011 and 2010 wines, this was only the beginning of a tasting which stretched back to the 2005 Riesling Cuvée Frédérick Emile and Clos Set. Hune. Later at dinner Melanie and pushed this a bit further with a bottle of 2001 Riesling Fédérick Emile, the aromas of which were as fresh as the 2005, although the flavor was even more harmonious. It was just perfect with the roast guinea fowl morels and snow peas I ate. I floated back to the WiFi-free zone of my hotel.

Yesterday it struck me even more that one of the secrets of Alsace Rieslings special style (next to the area immediately west of Colmar being one of the driest places in France, and during the summer one of the warmest) is the way that for generations the winemakers thought about their wines in a very particular gastronomic context that was part rustic regionally (think choucroute) and part parisian haute cuisine (think Auberge de l’Ile). This really hit me at Domaine Weinbach, which is run by the trio of Colette, Cathey and Laurence Faller, where the tasting was followed by a lunch of black truffle sandwich (!), pan-roast sole both cooked by Cathy Faller, and followed by excellent French cheeses. Although I felt a bit like a peasant stealing from the queen’s table, that didn’t detract at all from the way in which rich, but dry and refined style of the Faller wines fitted this consumption situation perfectly. That’s something still too little appreciated internationally…just like how well this kind of Alsace wine (particularly the Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer that are slightly sweeter than the Rieslings) goes with many spicy East Asian cuisines.

But it’s getting late here in the ICE express train taking me towards the Rheingau and the next stage of my adventure, so I will finish now and give you the final installment of my Alsace adventure tomorrow morning. So you’ll have to be patient if you want to hear the story of the region’s Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde split personality: WATCH THIS SPACE!

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On the Riesling Road: Day 1 (Part II) Zind-Humbrecht changes my Riesling World again!

I was sure that I was holding the bottle firmly, but suddenly it hit the stone floor and smashed between my feet in the reception room of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht just outside Turckheim/Alsace. Olivier Humbrecht disappeared for a moment, then reappeared with another bottle of the same wine and pressed into my hands with a smile. I felt seriously humbled by this gesture of generosity, but then I already felt seriously humbled by the wine tasting which had filled the entire afternoon. I first visited Zind-Humbrecht in early 1987 and what I tasted that day changed how I saw Rieslin, hell it changed the way I saw everything! And the same thing had just happened again. How could that be possible?

I was well aware of the fact that Olivier Humbrecht had not only converted to biodynamic cultivation, but also adopted many unconventional cultivation techniques such as completely abandoning hedging the vines during the growing season (which is no less controversial than biodynamics). However, I was not aware of how all of this fitted together, that is made up entirely new system of winegrowing whose goal is conserving freshness in order that he can continue to use the uncompromising vinfication style which he inherited from his father Léonard and refined during his first years at the domaine a quarter of a century ago. However, this is just an attempt at an explanation for the taste of the wines which cannot be fully explained in any way, even with the assistance of the idea of terroir.

I’d love to tell this story at length, but circumstance is totally against me. My computer refuses to let me onto the hotel wifi and forces me to use the use the clumsy computer in the hotel lobby to file this story. That makes me feel like a war zone correspondent, although all I’m doing is writing about Riesling. And what amazing Rieslings they are! Although they grow in the warmest and one of the driest Riesling winegrowing regions in Europe the Zind-Humbrecht Rireslings are gigantically fresh wines and this freshness is married to an astonishing intensity of expression. Each wine is entirely itself, absolutely original in the way a great work of art is (which is the kind of orginality that defines a great work of art), as dazzlingly bright as a newly born star.

This means it isn’t possible to give a general description of how the Zind-Humbrecht Rieslings taste, except to say that they are usually properly dry wines with a striking acidity (which in the wines of the 2010 vintage is sometimes dangerously intense) and a lot of power, also with a certain alcoholic content, but that looks moderate in the current global context. But beyond that I was struggling to find words for them which didn’t sound like regurgitated tasting notes from my colleagues (no offence meant). But all this doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily like them, because if you bring  a lot of baggage to them, then they might stubbornly refuse to ring your bell. However, if you come to them with an open mind and open arms then they will embrace you!

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On the Riesling Road: Day 1 (Part I)

On the Riesling Road you find beauty and mystery, or maybe they find you? But it depends on being open for them, on opening the doors of perception as far as you can. Yesterday evening I was in Munich for the much delayed celebration of the completion of the third series of ‘Weinwunder Germany’, Wine Wonder Germany, for Bavarian Public Broadcasting (BR). It was great to see the team – my co-writer and the director Alexander Saran, cameraman Florian Schilling and camera assistant Florian Bschorr (sound man Peter Wuchterl sadly couldn’t make it) – again, also all the people from the production company Megaherz and Prof. Dr. Thomas Gruber who was Director General of BR when the series was commissioned  more than three years ago. When the above picture was taken we were on the Riesling Road shooting. We had a tight schedule, but the scenes of me riding through the Taunus forest above Rüdesheim/Rheingau were a case of shooting from the hip and grasping the moment before it was gone. This is stressful, as is the struggle to get a nervous winegrower to open his or her heart in front of the camera, which is one reason why we were so very merry yesterday evening; the third series is in the can and we all feel very happy with the results.

Now I’m on my way by train to Alsace where I will spend the rest of the week catching up on what’s happened there during the last five years. When I first travelled to the only part of France where Riesling is really at home back in 1987 it was a mind-expanding experience. The leading Alsatian winemakers were making dry wines that were far superior to those in Germany and they had a serious grip on terroir. I’ll never forget Leonard Humbrecht of Zind-Humbrecht pouring me his 1983 Riesling Grand Cru Rangen. It changed my whole conception of how Riesling could taste! The spicy-minerally character was of breathtaking intensity, but the wine was beautifully balanced, and the properly dry style of the wine fitted this perfectly. Of course, I wasn’t the only one to taste those wines and Faller (Weinbach), Kreydenweiss, Trimbach and Zind-Humbrecht all had an enormous influence upon the leading German winemakers of that time. Then something went wrong and a lot of the top wines from Alsace simultaneously became more massive, softer and sweeter. Worse still, from the label it was impossible to tell how dry/sweet a particular wine was going to be, and although Robert Parker showered the wines in this new style with high scores many markets rebelled against them.

This afternoon my first appointment is at Zind-Humbrecht just outside Turckheim, where I will meet up with Olivier Humbrecht (Leonard’s son) who built the current winery in 1992 and subsequently converted the estate to biodynamic cultivation. Often those big, supple, sweet Alsace wines were not very successful copies of his always remarkable and sometimes awesome wines. Almost a decade ago they moved in a drier direction which I liked since it made them more food compatible, but they remained extremely concentrated wines that demanded your full attention.  Sometimes I wondered if there was a bit too much of the taste of noble rot in them, feeling that this distracted somewhat from the mineral spice (at least when the wines were freshly released). It’s a couple of years since I last tasted a range of current wines from Zind-Humbrecht, so although I’ve known Olivier for more than twenty years I’m not quite sure what to expect. That’s a rare situation for me to be in. That’s the reason it says “Part I” at the top: WATCH THIS SPACE !

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 22 – CELEBRATING THE FIRST EXCITING YEAR OF STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL

It’s hard to believe, but true. One year ago today my website turned inside out and became STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL. At the time it didn’t seem like such a big deal, struck me as a gentle reorientation, but if I look at the traffic data for the last months, then there was an explosion of interest during the winter 2012/13 and the site is now operating in different league to a year ago. That’s all very pleasing, but of course it also means that I’ve got to live up to some very high expectations.

In fact, the story of this change goes back another three months to the round the world tour I started on January 17th 2012. This was “necessary” in order for me to attend the Frankland Estate International Riesling Tasting in Sydney/Australia on February 6th and 7th 2012. On my way there I stopped in Thailand, Hong Kong and Shanghai/China and South Australia, and after the event I continued on to New Zealand, California, Virginia, New York, Rhode Island, Boston/MA then the ProWein trade fair in Düsseldorf/ Germany. This circumnavigation of Planet Wine took me seven weeks during which my life changed sharply. Step by step, stop by stop, it became clear to me that there was now a Global Riesling Phenomenon, not just a few Riesling freaks here and there.

Maybe it sounds arrogant, but I felt that whether I wanted to be it or not, I was “Mr. Riesling”. People frequently told me that’s what I was, and continue to do so. This meant that I was under some kind of obligation to take part fully in this movement, and that I’d also be a fool not to respond to this rising wave by focussing my website on Riesling in all its manifold forms. Soon after I returned to Berlin in early March 2012 I dreamt up the headline STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL – the new website is exactly that – and Alexandra Weiss of the design agency weisswieschwarz in Bad Dürkheim/Pfalz came up with the logo (and the image above). After first trying to combine it with my previous logo I decided that half measures would be a terrible mistake and to go full throttle with her design. People who had been skeptical when they saw the logo printed on paper or at a modest size on the screen loved it at full banner-size. I was rolling, if slowly at first.

The decision to pursue both book and movie projects parallel to the new website was the next much more daring step. At first the movie thing looked shaky, but after I shot some video material in New York Wine City (NYWC) in July 2012, then some more in Germany during the Fall of 2012 and had this professionally cut by Klaus Lüttmer in Berlin I knew that I could do it, somehow. The Riesling Road Trip planned by Wine of Germany USA (scroll down to the bottom for more information), which requires me to travel coast-to-coast to promote German Riesling during late June 2013 handed me a road movie on a plate. When I got to know the talented Brooklyn-based French documentary filmmaker Marcarthur Baralla in NYWC during late November 2012 I knew that not only a movie of some kind, but something of a professional standard would be possible. And everyone I talked to about WATCH YOUR BACK (a Riesling movie) had some good or great ideas for the story.  So far we’ve managed two days shooting in NYWC and one in Düsseldorf at this year’s ProWein. Thank you everyone who took part and to all of those who will take part during the coming months. Now all I have to do is to write a proper script and shooting & post-production plan…then implement it.

I am expecting to be able to make an announcement on the book front rather shortly, but have decided to wait on this one until the ink is dry on a contract, and that will take a few weeks longer. Much of the material which will go into the book has been test-driven here, though it will al be updated and expanded. Of course, a bunch of completely new stuff will also be written during the coming months. This project will also require changes to be made here on the website so that there is a tight link between it and the book, and this too will take time. Please be patient! I promise it will all be worth the wait.

Of course, your response has been an important part of the whole thing. To some extent I can what interests you and when from the analytical statistics for the traffic on the site, but your comments are always valuable.  Please keep sending them in! As far as possible I show them all, and I’ve only had to censor a couple in order to stay the right side of  half-way good taste. Sex and Riesling and Rock ‘n’ Roll yes, a stream of profanity or links to dubious websites no.

One thing that will never change is the spirit of compassion and respect for all who participate in the Great Game of Wine, also for those who don’t like Riesling at all or prefer other wines, those who see wine and/or the world differently. That is what the image above expresses for me: the Riesling Force. May the Force be with you!

 

 

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 20 – The undying Myth of the complicated and unreadable German Wine Labels

Alongside the great Riesling Myths that the wines of my favorite grape are always sweet and Germanic is the additional Riesling Myth that their labels are inevitable complicated and unreadable. Many wine consumers and even some wine journalists have spotted the fact that the use of Gothic script, along with imagery of climbing vine shoots and golden bunches of grapes on German wine labels has reduced to the point where it hardly exists any more (Müller-Catoir in the Pfalz are a rare example of the retention of Gothic script). However, the vague feeling that it is all too complicated and difficult to pronounce continues to linger in some circles, perhaps for no better reason than that people generally prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t know. That made the moment when I unpacked the sample bottle of Riesling pictured above particularly exciting.

As you can see the main label is black with only a large “I” in the middle. It is the first wine label I’ve ever encountered that even an illiterate person could read and with just one letter on it it surely represents the ultimate point of reduction and simplification. Even better the wine smells of ripe yellow peach, citrus and herbs, is moderately juicy (it is still very young!) with a lot of power and character at the finish. This is a pretty serious Riesling with excellent aging potential, and is certainly worth the Euro 18 price tag.

The back label (also black with white text in just one typeface) declares that it’s a feinherb or medium-dry Riesling of the 2012 vintage from the Kzreuznacher Mönchspfad vineyard site in the Nahe and was made by Tobias Rickes of the Thomas Rickes estate in Guldenthal/Nahe. (It will probably strike many readers as properly dry). What it doesn’t tell you is that it’s Tobias Rickes very first Riesling, which isn’t so surprising when you consider that the student of winemaking is just 19 years old. Considering this it is quite an achievement, for this is the best Riesling from Bad Kreuznach I’ve tasted in many years. Sadly there are only 800 bottles of it, but this is what happens if you crop a small vineyard parcel in a forgotten top site at just 40 hectoliters per hectare (just over two and a half tons per acre). But that is what a large part of Germany’s Generation Riesling consider necessary in order to make dry wines with this kind of intensity and complexity. Maybe I’m amazed!

Contact Tobias Rickes at

Weingut Thomas Rickes

Brunnengasse 3

D 55452 Guldenthal/Nahe

Tel.: (49) / (0) 671 / 43746

E-Mail: rickes.tobias@googlemail.com

 

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 17 – Crazy Riesling (and Other) Stats – The Astonishing Truth about Californian Wine

 

I have to thank the man pictured above, Frank Schoonmaker, for an important piece of forgotten wine truth which I bumped into the other day. I’m something of a living fossil, but even I’m not old enough to have known Schoonmaker in his prime. It seems that after an extremely creative, productive and sometimes adventurous life, in his late sixties he went downhill fast and died aged 71 in 1976. That was the year of my first serious  experiences with Riesling in Germany (more of that story another day).

Schoonmaker was, as the text on the book jacket I photographed indicates, a polymath. Not only did he write about wine, but he was also an important importer of high quality Burgundian and German wines into the US, and a consultant to several large wineries in California. It was the latter which enabled him to add a ten page table of the most important red and white wine grapes in California to his ‘Encyclopedia of Wine’ (1964, Hastings House, New York), which gives a very good picture of the Californian wines of half a century ago. For each grape variety he gives where it is grown in California and Europe (if at all), the area planted with it in California and a personal comment. I almost fell of my chair when I read it!

Schoonmaker gives the area planted with (Johannisberg, i.e. real) Riesling as 450 acres, which does not seem that much compared with the 4,147 acres in 2011 (last available USDA statistics). To put that in perspective, it was almost exactly 1% of the total vineyard area in California, compared with about 0,65% today. However, compare it with the 300+ acres Schoonmaker gives for Pinot Chardonnay (as it was then called) and you see how the world has changed. 50 years ago there was more Riesling in California than Chardonnay! (He gives the North Coast Counties as the centre of production four both, which has also changed considerably). Since then Chardonnay has become the most widely planted wine grape in California with 95,511 acres in 2011. So in 50 years Riesling grew an impressive 820%, but Chardonnay a staggering 27,200%!

Since these two varieties are listed one after the other in the table Schoonmaker’s comments invite comparison. First here are his thoughts on Californian Chardonnay, “Highest quality, very small yield. Its wine is dryer, softer, lower in alcohol than in France, perhaps with less bouquet, but remarkable.” Lower in alcohol than France! That’s certainly not the case today, and there’s no mention of all the new oak thrown at most of these wines now. Now let’s look at Schoonmaker’s description of the California Rieslings of half a century ago. “Highest quality, small yield. In California it’s wines are dryer and yet less tart than the German Rhines and the Alsatians; less assertive and with less bouquet, yet of exceptional balance and class.” Clearly, the Californian Rieslings of this period were properly dry wines with the moderate acidity that one would expect from a climate warmer than that of the German Rhine or Alsace. Obviously, they impressed him at least as much as the best Chardonnays and they were amongst the most subtle Californian white wines of the period. I MUST TASTE THOSE WINES, BUT WHO STILL HAS BOTTLES IN THEIR CELLAR?

It’s also interesting to look further into Schoonmaker’s table. Today, the second most widely planted wine grape in California is Cabernet Sauvignon with 79,290 acres (in 2011) compared with just 800+ acres half a century ago, which means 9,800% growth during the intervening years. Schoonmaker gives Carignan and Zinfandel as the most widely planted wine grapes half a century ago both with 25,000 acres. While Carignan has declined to a mere 3,297 acres, that is by 85%, Zinfandel has grown to 48,354 acres, or just over 93% growth. This looks like a rather conventional figure in this extreme context! The fourth most important wine grape in contemporary California with 45,589 acres is Merlot, but half a century ago Schoonmaker gave the vineyard area as a mere 50+ acres. That means 91,000% growth, which is an average of 1,820% per year! I can’t remember the last time I saw winegrowing statistics which looked anything like that, and I think you’d have to look at the growth of new technologies to find any economic statistics which resemble these. My guess is that during the last 50 years the number of computers in California might have grown in a similar way, thanks to Apple, Intel and Silicon Valley. I never thought that California’s wine industry was as dynamic as it’s IT industry though, but clearly it is and Riesling’s recent growth is part of this.

Thank you Frank Schoonmaker for opening my eyes, and thank you Hajo and Maria Becker of Weingut J.B. Becker in Walluf/Rheingau for leading me that book and others! A longer story on Schoonmaker is in preparation. If any readers can help me with further information about this remarkable man, then please get in touch. I will be in Frank’s home city of New York several times the next months and could meet there (or in California in Early June or Mid July).

 

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 13 – The Long Night of German Wines Berlin (April 20th, 2013)

I can’t show you how the Long Night of German Wines (Lange Nacht des deutschen Weins / LNDW) Berlin will look like this year – the 16th year! – because I and everybody else who attends will only find that out from 7pm on the evening of Saturday, April 20th in the vaulted cellars of Berlin wine merchant Weinstein in the Saarbrückerstrasse 20/21 (D 10405 Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg, nearest U-Bahn/subway station Senefelderplatz). I can only show you pictures like the above and the below taken during the LNDW Berlin 2012, which  everyone who participated thought the best so far.

For example, this year instead of the group pictured above we will have music from jazz pianist and singer-songwriter Natasha Tarasova. As usual the food will be the “Wein-Kieseln” or German tapas from the kitchen of the Weinstein wine bar just a few blocks away in Prenzlauer Berg. This year the young wines will be provided by a trio of talented Jungwinzer, young winemakers from Rheinhessen, Christine Huff (pictured below m.) from  Nierstein-Schwabsburg, Mirjam Schneider (l.) from Mainz-Hechtsheim and Eva Vollmer (r.) from Mainz-Ebersheim who will show everything from Merlot to Dornfelder in red and Riesling to Grauburgunder in white. My colleague Manfred Lüer has described them as three amazons of wine, and if he means the quality of their wines, then I’m right with him. Mature wines will be of the controversial 2003 vintage from my own private cellar with the emphasis firmly on Riesling (what else?)

The LNDW Berlin is, and has always been, a charity event in aid of the HIV / AIDS foundation HOPE in Cape Town/South Africa. Every cent you donate will go directly to HOPE and will help them continue their excellent work on HIV / AIDS prevention, and in caring for sufferers and orphans. To take part make contact with Weinstein either at (49) / (0) 30 440 5 06 55 or by email at weinstein@weinstein.eu. We only have limited space, therefore we must take reservations. A reservation is fixed when you’ve paid the Euro 30 we ask each participant towards the cost of food and music. On the night we recommend a donation of at least Euro 30 per person. This is a very modest price for the limitless wine and food, live music, a wine auction and piece of wine theatre (see below, from the Württemberg Jungwinzer group Quintessenz back in 2011) which make up the program.  JOIN US FOR RIESLING & CO. !

Note: no tickets are issued for the LNDW, instead we keep a list of reservations. Although we have tried to clearly signpost every possible danger, however, small, you enter the Weinstein cellars at your own risk. We also accept no responsibility for your coats and other personal belongings deposited at the coat check.

Note 2: The 3rd Long Night of German Wines in New York is scheduled to begin at 11pm on Wednesday, July 24th at Restaurant Hearth.

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 11 – Wine of the Month April

2012 Riesling trocken from K.H. Schneider for just Euro 6,40 !

Andi Schneider of the K.H. Schneider estate in Bad Sobernheim/Nahe pictured above at the ProWein trade fair in Düsseldorf a few weeks back was one of my big discoveries last year. It may not always be the case that the 2012 German Rieslings are better than the 2011s, but for Jungwinzer Andi Schneider this is undoubtedly the best vintage to date. This wine, his basic dry Riesling, is brimming with grapefruit, white and yellow peach and floral aromas. It’s ripe and juicy, yet racy and light-footed, weighing at only 11.5% alcohol. In short it’s liquid joy! With spring finally on the way in Germany my thirst for this kind of Riesling is about to increase dramatically. Many readers are no doubt enjoying spring far from still chilly Berlin where I write these lines. One problem there could be for you is that wine importers in many countries have been slow to pick up talented young German winemakers, even when they’re as hot as Andi Schneider. So if this winemaker’s Riesling are not yet available where you are, then tell your friendly local wine merchant/importer to contact Andi at the address below NOW. By the way, this really is the simplest dry Riesling Andi made in 2012. He picked all his Riesling after the first of the night of 28th-29the October and in the Nahe that turned out to be exactly the right thing to do, even though the frost knocked all the leaves off the vines, so the grapes couldn’t ripen further (which is counterintuitive). And if you think this Riesling is quite something, then just wait for the others!

2012 Riesling trocken is Euro 6,40 direct from,

Weingut K.H. Schneider

Meddersheimer Strasse 29

55566 Bad Sobernheim

Tel.: (49) / (0) 6751 / 2505

Email: wgt-schneider@t-online.de

Web: www.weingut-schneider.com

 

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 7 – Gonzo Wine Journalism Lives!

The world is finally waking up again after Easter / Passover / the holidays and just in time the German edition of VINUM magazine (04/2013, but not in the Swiss edition!) has just published a red hot piece of my gonzo wine journalism. Of course, if you don’t speak German you can’t understand everything, but the 8 pages which describe my 60 days in New York Wine City (NYWC) are still eye popping thanks to the daring of designer Johanna Pietrek. What she did with the mass of photos I sent her along with my stories of how the Petite Arvine grape is about to be planted in the Finger Lakes of New York and my encounter with Brambo at 740 Park Avenue is a small miracle. Thanks also go to editor Stephan Reinhardt for placing this huge a bet on gonzo. The most surprising thing for me is not that this is the most original article I’ve published in years, rather the fact that it is an article which functions so much better in printed form than it does on the screen (even the latest iPad or the Microsoft Surface), because it’s in comic format. And already the reaction to it amongst Germany’s Jungwinzer and young consumers is great, although most of them will only get to see it this coming week.

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