Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 30 – Berlin’s best Somm(elier), the amazing Billy Wagner

My apologies for the long silence, but illness left me running to hit deadlines. Then I had to fly to Frankfurt yesterday evening to present Billy Wagner of the Rutz wine bar in Berlin (pictured above at the WineVibes parts in Berlin) with the Metternich prize for the best Riesling wine list in Germany. I was just about in good enough shape to go, but almost nothing is more important to me than helping young colleagues. Billy is just 31 years old, but since he arrived at Rutz in the summer of 2008 he has won just about every prize a somm in this part of the world can pick up, and not without good reason.

As I said in my short speech, anybody can sit down with a pile of wine magazines and/or the annually published guides to German wines and put together a great list on paper. The next hurdle is actually obtaining all of those wines, which requires backers (in this case Anja and Carsten Schmidt of Weinladen Schmidt in Berlin) and these days you also have to move fast in order not to miss the most sought-after wines. However, that is all really just first base. The real challenge is to be communicate the list properly to the customers without overloading them with choices or turning them off with recommendation that are too off the wall. This is what Billy really got the prize for.

On top of that he’s also redefined the role of the somm in as radical a way as Paul Grieco has in New York (which Billy recently visited – the picture shows him in Momofuku Ssäm on Second Avenue). He did that not only by introducing the range of ‘Rutz Rebell’ wines in whose making he took a hand, but also through a remarkable combination of openness and respect for tradition, patience and élan, fantasy and always keeping one foot firmly on the ground. One half of that lot in a young somm isn’t so unusual, but both sides welded seamlessly together in one person is really something. Congratulations Billy! Sadly, I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it over to Rutz before I head back to New York on March 4th…


Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 25 – The mind-blowing 2010 & 2011 Wines of Clemens Busch

I wish you’d been in the Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg wine bar Weinstein yesterday evening for the mind-blowing tasting of Rieslings from the 2010 and 2011 vintages from Clemens Busch (above) in Pünderich/Mosel. I can’t remember ever experiencing a more impressive tasting of Rieslings which spanned the entire taste spectrum from bone dry to lusciously sweet. Which were the best? To be honest I don’t know, because each person at the table saw that differently, and who is to say that my personal preferences are “right”? However, one wine stood out for the simple reason that in previous vintages the ‘Rotschiefer’ Riesling was medium-dry and the 2011 vintage managed to ferment to dryness, which really suits the intense herbal character of the wine best. It was also striking how the enormously concentrated dry ‘Großes Gewächs’ (GG) and medium-dry single vineyard wines hid away their generous 13.5% to 14% alcohol.  You can buy these wines blind, but I still suggest that you taste before buying if only to enjoy them one more time as we did thanks to the hospitality of Roy Metzdorf of Weinstein (below).

Clemens and I go back a long way. I first tasted his wines in the early summer of 1987 when I got to know the Mosel organic wine growing scene through Ernie Loosen of the Dr. Loosen estate in Bernkastel. Back then organic wine growing was so alternative that some conservative winegrowers considered it a form of agricultural terrorism. Since then Clemens and Rita Busch’s wines developed in leaps and bounds, with the biggest of those jumps coming with the 1999 vintage when he discovered how a little bit of noble rot could really do something for powerful dry wines. Then quickly followed the move to the very long “wild yeast” fermentations which he prefers now and the wines began tasting the way they do today. However, few friends of Riesling realize what a long journey it’s been for Clemens Busch. His first vintage was actually 1975, “and that year nature made it easy for me” he commented. Recent vintages were far more challenging with great extreme of weather condition that required a completely different approach to each harvest. For instance in 2011 the harvest stretched over seven full weeks, whereas in 2012 it was over in half that time due to the small size of the harvest and the danger of rot destroying what crop there was.

For me it was an enormously stimulating evening, because as well as tasting all those amazing wines I got to talk at some length to the script writer, film director and actor Thomas Wendrich (left in the above picture). I still have a lot to learn about how to build a successful movie, but yesterday evening with his help I took another couple of small steps in the right direction. Watch this space for the rest of this year to see how my Riesling movie project works out!


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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 21 – Gimme Shelter

Amongst red wines Pinot Noir is all those things which Riesling is for white wine, not least amongst them being the combination of intensity and delicacy. This kept going through my mind yesterday at the 10th anniversary celebration of the founding of Shelter Winery in Kenzinegn/Baden, one of Germany’s most unconventional wine producers. When Hans-Bert Espe and Silke Wolf founded their start-up in 2003 they were working in three locations in the Baden wine region: their apartment in Offenburg, their Pinot Noir vineyard in Malterdingen half an hour’s drive south and their cellar in a bunker at the former Canadian air base close to Lahr. It was the later, in air force speak a “shelter” which gave its name to their venture. In fact, the situation was even more complex, because he had a full-time job running the Wolf Metternich estate in Durbach close to Offenburg and she had a part-time job at the regional wine institute in Freiburg. The whole thing was totally improvised in a way that was supposed not to be possible, or even legal, in Germany. Taking the revolutionary step of only producing wines – red, white and sparkling – from Pinot Noir seemed like a mere detail in this context and was rarely questioned. In contrast, the fact that they both come from the non-winegrowing north of Germany (he from Osterode, she from Paderbron) was invariably commented upon. And the way they avoided having to buy a tractor by sub-contracting much of the vineyard work made many colleagues’ jaws drop.

After another improvised Zwischenlösung, in-between solution, the pair finally moved into their purpose-built winery just outside Kenzingen in 2010. The photo shows the main barrel room, which imitates the form of their original shelter. Not only do the pair’s red wines feel at home there but so does their Jack Russel terrier Lilly.

Lilly has been on board since 2004 and now it’s hard to imagine Shelter Winery without her. However, so far Lilly has rejected all of Espe and Wolf’s attempts to get her on the label of a critter wine, repeatedly criticizing these ideas as “opportunistic”, “gimmicky”, “entirely lacking in originality”. Rumor has it that she also insisted on a large quantity of rosé being bulked out at a considerable financial loss, because it was “tutti-frutti”.

But back to the pair’s Pinot Noir red wines, of which there was a stunning vertical tasting yesterday. Even the wines from the difficult vintages like 2006 (rot due to the wet fall, which had to all be manually removed) and 2008 (very late ripening with high acidity) shone. Their first vintage, 2003 was also difficult due to the enormous heat “summer of the century” with some Pinot Noirs weighing in at over 15% or even 16% alcohol. However, their wine is still full of life and beautifully balanced with rose hip, fig and herbal notes. The 14.5% alcohol was not obvious either. As delicious as the 2005 and 2009 vintages are, the 2011 Pinot Noirs from Shelter Winery (which are all still in barrel) look to be the pair’s best wines to date. And now that they have expanded their holdings to just over four hectares / ten acres they actually have enough wine to export as far afield as Japan and Oregon (!)

Yesterday’s tasting and the dinner at the restaurant in Hotel Ritter in Durbach were not dry affairs, also thanks to the Dutch wine merchant and writer Albert de Jong, pictured below. I first met him in London back in 1982 when he already knew an enormous amount about wine and had a dangerous sense of humor that sometimes got him into trouble. The wine scene would be a much more boring place if de Jong didn’t insist on telling everybody that, “life is a party which you have to organize yourself”, or ask waiters and waitresses “and how’s your love life?” Yesterday evening he was on top form and we were rolling in the aisles as he described his idea for a mobile wine tasting rollator trolly of the kind old people use to get around, but he was also dead serious about it as a business venture. And if a couple from Northern Germany can make a success of a Shelter Winery, then maybe this idea might also fly? By the way, Espe and Wolf still don’t own a tractor!


Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 18 – China’s Red Obsession

Here is Thomas Struck, director of the Culinary Cinema program of the Berlinale Film Festival relaxing after the end of yesterday evening’s world premier of the movie ‘Red Obsession’ in Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau and the dinner which followed in the mirror tent just across the road. ‘Red Obsession’ is all about China’s fixation on red Bordeaux and is the work of Australian co-producers and co-directors Warwick Ross and David Roach. This is the best documentary film on a wine subject in many years, and the contrasts between the three acts works brilliantly: Act One – how Bordeaux presents itself to the world with all its arrogance, pretension and greed;  Act Two – how China’s nouveau riche use of expensive red Bordeaux wines as a symbol of status and sophistication – Act Three, the bubble created by their interaction bursts. Even if you have no interest in wine see this movie for what it says about power, wealth and vanity.

Purely by “chance” it was an extremely appropriate day for me to see the movie, because at lunchtime I attended a tasting of Chinese wines from Changyu in Yantai/China, about which you can read much more in my column in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on  February 24th. The tasting took place at Hot Spot, the Berlin restaurant with authentic Chinese cooking and a great wine list that’s particularly strong on red Bordeaux and German Riesling. Anyone who hasn’t been to Hot Spot yet is similarly recommended to go, even if the Chinese food you so far experienced in the West didn’t excite you. This ground-breaking restaurant is the work of Mr. Wu, pictured below, who has a special feeling for pairing wine and Chinese food and is also a great host.

Yesterday evening the dinner after the movie was the work of Kolya Kleeberg of Restaurant Vau in Berlin and featured Chinese-inspired dishes that also paired very well with the wines. Best of all was the combination of the honeyed 1998 Bernkasteler Lay Riesling Auslese from Joh. Jos. Prüm on the Mosel with the Azuki bean cream with red wine and chill ice cream. Look carefully at the picture of Thomas Struck at the top and you can see the elegant 2004 Château Palmer served with the Lo Bak Go and halibut main course miraculously flowing through one of his pairs of spectacles.

It all made me want to return to China, but sadly not to Bordeaux. There my main problem is that the wine producers want critics to taste cask samples, but many of them present cask samples which don’t reflect the quality or style of the wine after bottling, i.e. the final product as actually consumed. Since this problem goes right to the top – back in 2007-8 I had this problem again with one of the Premier Grand Cru Classé! – tasting cask samples doesn’t enable you to accurately evaluate whose wine is best. For that only tasting the finished product is any use, and that I can do just as well here. Those Bordeaux producers guilty of trying to manipulate the media should look at the openness and honesty of Riesling producers around world (there are black sheep, but they are very rare) and ask themselves quo vadis?

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 16 – The Cool Truth of Heat Summations for Riesling

These Riesling vineyards are in the Clare Valley of South Australia, which on paper is warmer than the Barossa Valley. To find out how that works read on…

No numbers are more fundamental to winegrowing than heat summations. These numbers (there are various ways of calculating them, each bearing the names of their inventors e.g. Winkler, Huglin) express the total amount of warmth in an average year or a specific year in a specific location. The heat summation of a vineyard location is the bottom line of the entire winegrowing enterprise, because each grape variety requires a certain minimum amount of total warmth for the grapes to ripen. As I mentioned a few days ago: no ripe grapes, no good-tasting wine.

Riesling is supposed to be the ultimate cool climate grape variety and it’s certainly true that varieties like Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache and Carignan all require more total warmth in order to ripen (I list them in order of increasing warmth requirements for ripening). On the other hand, in Germany Riesling is usually picked later than noble varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, so it is definitely not early-ripening. This means that Riesling requires quite a good amount of warmth to ripen fully.

In this connection it occurs to me that one reason Riesling has nonetheless been acclaimed as the ultimate cool climate variety is the way German winegrowers became very adept at making drinkable wine from half-ripe Riesling grapes. Why did that happen? Because before global warming made itself felt in Germany around a quarter of a century ago they had to. The last vintage in which winegrowers all over Germany struggled to ripen Riesling and make wines that didn’t taste sour and green was 1987! That’s the reason that the 2010 vintage was so mixed in Germany. Although the ripeness was high so, unexpectedly, was the acidity content of the grapes, which sent many young winegrowers unfamiliar into a tail spin. Some made serious mistakes in the cellar, because they were used to working with grapes and young wines with good ripeness and moderate acidity. Due to climate change, in Germany too low acidity in wine (though seldom in Riesling) is a more frequent problem than too high acidity!

I put together the table of heat summations (all for the growing season, all on the HDD system) in order to make at a glance comparisons between a wide range of different winegrowing regions possible. The idea is to try and answer the seemingly unnecessary question: is Riesling a cool climate grape variety? The regions which have a significant Riesling production are printed in bold, and the others are there to give a contxt. It’s worth taking a longer look at this, because I think it has something surprising to say.

Riverina/NSW/OZ                   2201

Montpellier/F                           1920

Clare Valley/SA/OZ            1770

Barossa/SA/OZ                         1710

Napa Valley/CA/USA               1499

Frankland/WA/OZ              1441

Yakima/Washington/US   1426

Bordeaux/F                                1352

Marlborough/NZ                  1152

Burgundy/F                               1140

Strasbourg/Alsace/F          1060

Geisenheim/Rheingau/G  1050

Hobart/Tasmania/OZ        1000

Reims/Champagne/F                990

Canterbury/NZ                       910

The figures show that although Riesling doesn’t grow in the warmest regions of Australia or Southern France, it does grow in a range of climates from genuinely very cool parts of New Zealand, through the fairly cool climates of Germany and Alsace in France in to the much warmer climates of Washington State in the US, Western and Southern Australia. How can this be squared with Riesling’s status as a cool climate grape variety? I mean, the figures show Clare Valley is even slightly warmer than Barossa Valley is where many of those huge Shiraz reds Robert Parker slathers over grow!

This question became particularly pressing for me on my first day in Clare Valley back in 2000. It was almost 100° F and a warm dusty wind was blowing in from the desert. The Riesling vines in Jeffrey Grossets Polish Hill vineyard were obviously suffering from the heat (in fact they had completely “shut down”), yet the Grosset Rieslings had tremendous freshness and were as aromatic as any of the world’s other great dry Rieslings. The answer came at the end of the day when we climbed out of the swimming pool behind Jeffrey Grosset’s house and and got dressed as the sun was going down. Just in time! The temperature plummeted within minutes and there was no question of remaining outdoors any longer. Over dinner Grosset and his colleague Andrew Mitchell (pictured below with some of his Riesling vines) also explained that daytime temperatures usually moderated for the last 4-6 weeks before picking.

These factors are common to all the warmer regions where Riesling grows and are a crucial to their ability to produce exciting wines from my favorite grape variety. One problem with heat summations is that they give you no idea of the range of daytime-nighttime temperatures (technical name: diurnal variation). For example, in Barossa Valley the nights are generally milder than in Clare Valley. For Riesling in a generally warm climate this is less than ideal, because it leads to the loss of too much acidity during the ripening process and thereby to wines which don’t taste fresh enough (at least when compared to those which ripened in places with cooler temperatures. Cool temperatures – daytime or nighttime – help preserve acidity and certain aromas.

Another factor which heat summations ignore is the effect of vineyards with optimal exposure, since they give figures for weather stations not amongst the vines. The effect of exposure and inclination is particularly great for late-ripening grapes growing in northerly latitudes. Riesling on the Rhine and Mosel is a perfect example of this constellation of factors, and that’s why the best sites for the grape there are brutally steep south to southwest facing hillsides. You have to add nearly 300 points to the heat summation for the Geisenheim/Rheingau weather station (at the edge of town) to get a realistic figure for the heat summation of, say, nearby Schloss Johannisberg’s most favored slope (which brings it up to about the figure of Bordeaux!) The same applies in Central Otago in New Zealand – another great Riesling region, pictured below – where depending upon exact location the heat summations range from just 850 to 1100.

All of this leads me to the conclusion that Riesling is rather a special grape variety, since it needs quite a bit of warmth to ripen fully, but too much warmth during the ripening process makes the wines taste less interesting.  It may sound like a contradiction in terms, but Riesling is a warmth-loving grape which also needs to fear the sun, at least the wine grower must fear the sun if he is in a warm region or it is a particularly warm year in a generally cool location. For example, in 2003 due to the “Summer of the Century” the heat summation for Geisenheim in the Rheingau was equal to the average heat summation is for Montpellier in Southern France! A once in a century exception? No. The heat summation for 2006 in Geisenheim was slightly higher still!  That, of course is the influence of climate change. However, I’d say that any climate which fulfills the unusual combination of conditions needed to grow exciting Riesling seriously cool!  

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 13 – Hamburg and it’s cool / very cool / mega-cool Climate

The idea of winegrowing in Hamburg probably seems pretty crazy. Isn’t Germany a cool place and surely Northern Germany is even cooler, maybe even actually cold in comparison to the winegrowing regions further south in the country? In the seminar I gave this afternoon at the WineStyle wine fair in Hamburg I tried to systematically demolish this argument, making it plain from the beginning that I regard it as entirely feasible to produce wine, good tasting wine in the Hamburg area. It should even work Downtown as long as you avoid locations in the shadows of office towers and other large buildings. That’s just north of 53° 30′ North!

In fact, this was already clear from the old climatic data which gave a picture of the situation before we really started feeling global warming in Northwestern Europe around 1990 (which was possibly accentuated by the collapse of much heavy industry in Eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall leading to clearer skies). The most fundamental piece of climatic date for winegrowing is the heat summation, which expresses the total amount of warmth there was during the growing season. Each grape variety requires a different minimum total amount of warmth to ripen, and without ripe grapes there’s no good wine. For winegrowing only temperatures above 50° Fahrenheit (10° Celsius) are significant, because below that figure the vine is inactive, so the heat summations for wine growers only take into account temperatures above this threshold. The heat summation for Hamburg for the period prior to 1990 was already adequate for the early ripening Müller-Thurgau and Frühburgunder (a mutation of Pinot Noir native to Germany) grapes. Maritime Hamburg never was really that cold in modern times.

Of course, climate change has created a much more favorable situation for winegrowing in genuinely cool places like Nova Scotia/Canada, Central Otago/New Zealand, or Hamburg. When you’re close to the limit a small amount of warming makes a big difference, because it makes ripening new grape varieties possible. For example, today it’s not difficult to ripen Syrah in low-altitude locations in Germany’s southerly Pfalz and Baden regions with good exposure. My guess is that early-ripening clones of Pinot Noir might do well in sheltered locations in the Hamburg area, although the relatively damp climate would make the battle against destructive fungal infections like powdery mildew and downy mildew challenging in wetter years. This moisture would probably also limit the amount of tannin which the grapes would contain, since the vine produces tannins as a reaction against stress (i.e. heat and drought). So, I think the wines would tend to be light, but might well have some very pretty aromas.

The possibilities don’t end there though. Recently some very interesting new grape varieties have been bred for really cool regions, particularly by the French-Swiss vine breeder Valentin Blattner. I’m thinking particularly of the red Pinotin variety, which in spite of the name gives a more tannic, robust wine than Pinot Noir. Even in the horribly wet fall of 2010 it ripened in the Berlin area – roughly 52° 30′ North – with only 1-2% grey rot, whereas most other red grapes had 50-100% grey rot and were often unripe (high acidity and green flavors) on top of that. In the warm, dry summer and fall of 2009 Pinotin ripened beautifully in the Berlin area even without yield reduction. Berlin’s summer is rather warmer and drier than Hamburg’s, but my guess is that Pinotin could also do well there.

Pinotin is a so-called “PiWi” which means it is rather resistant to a range of fungi which afflict the vine, particularly powdery mildew and botrytis, but also to a certain extent downy mildew, all of which are capable of destroying the entire crop if not checked by spraying. And we all want wines from vineyards that have been sprayed as little as possible. That’s another reason we will all be hearing more about Pinotin, also from places like Hamburg. And if you think that all of this is irrelevant to the Riesling Universe, the white Solaris grape (another PiWi) gives wines with very attractive citrus and pineapple aromas and a lively acidity that sometimes taste rather Riesling-like. Back in June 2007 I tasted an exciting dry Solaris from Domaine Aalsgaard just north of Copenhagen. That’s just north of 56° North!

PS the bottle in my hands in the photograph is the monster dry Müller-Thurgau I produced on an experimental quantity back in 2009. It also grew in a very cool high-altitiude location, the Hasennest vineyard site of Tauberzell in the remote Tauber Valley of Germany. And whoever knows where that is without looking at a map or Google Earth is a wine geography genius! And many thanks to Patrick Becher for the photograph!

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 11 – Amazing New Rieslings Nr.3

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:

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 8

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 ( – 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.


Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 5 – Wine of the Month Feb. 2013

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

Weingut Gysler

Grosser Spitzenberg 8

D 55232 Alzey-Weinheim/Rheinhessen

Tel.: (49) / (0)  6731 / 41266




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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 4 – how Riesling is special, but not specialized (thank God)

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!