New York Riesling Diary: Day 22 – How Randall Grahm will Doon it Until the Day He Dies

The picture shows Randall Grahm, the guiding spirit of Bonny Doon Vineyard of Santa Cruz, CA, USA, Earth at lunch today in The Breslin on West 29th Street, Manhattan, NY, USA, Earth. However, what it actually records is a moment of serendipity and revelation for me. It was near the end of the tasting of the latest hits from Bonny Doon and he announced to the table that he wouldn’t be retiring until he dies. That seems to make eminent sense to me, but landed with thermonuclear force on the table, perhaps because the other people there all have jobs with salaries (something I haven’t had since September 1981, I think). I immediately sensed that something important was going to happen, as if I’d caught sight of the shadow of someone about to enter the room.

As much as for anything else we had gathered to taste Randall’s his newest creation, the 2012 “A Proper Claret” pictured above. At first glance this seems like Randall contradicting himself, because as he himself said, “officially I hate Cabernet”, and Cabernet is the basis of any proper Claret in the very English sense of that term. As the wine was poured Randall explained how he’d discovered a weird Cabernet vineyard that was box-pruned (imagine the foliage of each vine in the row having a box-like shape, so that the row looks like one long green box). The tiny clusters with tiny berries instantly fascinated him and there was only one way to find out if this might be the key to making a red wine with lowish alcoholic content, but lacking the green aromas (technical term: pyrazines) that afflict most low alcohol Cabs. That was to test his hunch by trying it out. The result is a great success, even if the blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petit Verdot, 8% Tannat, 7% Syrah and 1% Petit Sirah hardly resembles the recipe of any actual Claret from Bordeaux. However, it taste convincingly Claret-like with red berry aromas, a nice freshness and gentle tannins that scream drink me! “Blending is the only thing I can do,” Grahm explained, “I’m not a technically good winemaker.” For more info see:

Then came the last wine, a tank sample of 2013 white wine which  we suddenly realized he expected us to guess. First, there was a moment of silence and brain-wracking

“Moscato?” someone threw in and Randall just shook his head.

“Spätlese?” I suggested on the basis of the peach aroma, the low alcohol and juicy interplay of fruit and acidity.

“Kabinett,” he replied, which confirmed that it was indeed a California Riesling. “We’ll be bottling it in three or four weeks.”

“Back to your roots!” someone else at the table commented, referring to the ‘Pacific Rim’ Riesling brand Randall launched with the 1991 vintage, which is when I first met him, roughly twenty years ago. I still have my notes from that day and the sample labels he gave me! (Pacific Rim subsequently turned into a self-contained winery, now owned by Banfi of New York, that today makes some of America’s best Rieslings).

“I’m just trying to make some dough!” Randall threw back, which also landed on the table with thermonuclear force. A winemaker admitting that he wants to make money; sacre bleu! You won’t hear anyone from Brugundy (just to take one example of a pricey and holy wine) say that, because it could undermine all the breathtaking Terroir Talk and maybe even raise the delicate question of how many hundred percent profit margin there is on some of those Grand Crus. I could sense that special moment was approaching fast.

People then drifted off to their next appointments and I decided to scrub mine (sorry Gigondas, that I didn’t your tasting today at Rouge Tomate!) In a rather confused way I blathered to Randall some of the ideas for a new book (not BWWOE – The Riesling Book due out in May/June 2014) and something seemed to click for him. Then he poured out all the stuff that follows and it clicked with me big time.

“Nobody’s written about the sea change in the wine industry. 20 years ago it was much more idealistic. People in the wine industry wanted meaning and now they want money. OK, I’m interested in both. Now there’s a cynicism and self-consciousness, and a sense of randomness…The weird thing is 20 years ago your job as a winemaker was to a really great wine. If you did, then you sold it. Now you don’t know if you can sell it! Then you’ve got all the new shock labels. Is that how you sell wine now?” Finally, he rather sheepishly acknowledged that, of course, he was responsible for some of the first eccentric wine labels. Some of them were sitting on the table in front of us. That only made what he said all the more fascinating.

PS I’m sorry that this story is already so long that I’m not going to be able to comment in detail on all the wines we tasted. Suffice to say that these were the best wines I ever tasted from Randall and I advise you all to catch up on what he’s been doing lately by picking up a bottle or six at the first opportunity. They’re all strikingly original California wines. I mean, when did I ever write about a California rosé that if I’d tasted it blind I would have placed it in Southern France and that it had a mineraly finish? The answer is, of course, is that I never wrote anything like that before. I feel sure that these are going to be game changing wines for California and will inspire many young and young at heart winemakers there and beyond. Randall certainly inspired me too!

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 20 – New Jersey is still on the Wrong Side of the Wine Tracks

As regular readers of this blog are well aware, sometimes I tell the stories as soon as they’ve happened and sometimes I need to chew things over for several days before I’m halfway sure what I really think. The other day at Alesio Restaurant in Brooklyn (pictured is chef Albano Ballerini of The Classon) I attended a really fascinating blind tasting of white and red wines from the state of New Jersey. It’s a little-known fact that New Jersey, as well as having a lot of industry and plenty of fruit-growing, has the seventh largest wine industry in the Union and over a thousand acres of (widely scattered) vineyards. There are all manner of reasons – also old-fashioned prejudice – why this is ill-appreciated even in New York Wine City (NYWC), but here I just want to tell you about how the juice from the wrong side of the wine tracks tasted.

We started with the whites and they confounded my expectations to such a degree that I really didn’t know what to write about them until today. You see, I was expecting the world of the 2012 Pheasant Hill Vineyard Chardonnay from Unionville Vineyards, because the 2010 of that wine had been sensationally elegant. It was the best new Chardonnay I’d tasted in many years! There’s nothing wrong with the 2012, in fact the wine is beautifully made, but the tropical fruit character and rather soft acidity resulting from a certain over-ripeness of the grapes (in spite of only 13.4% alcohol) robbed the wine of the delicacy and freshness which made the 2010 (with just 13.1% alcohol) so special. My gut tells me that the NJ climate results in the grapes of some varieties going from ripe to over-ripe almost overnight given warm fall weather. I liked both the quite crisp pear-flavored 2012 ‘Estate Reserve’ Chardonnay from Heritage Vineyards and the rich, creamy 2010 ‘sur Lie’ Chardonnay from Amalthea Cellars. However, in both these cases the wines were still too fresh (technical term: reduction). When will they open up? The other white that grabbed me was the sleek, elegant and slightly spicy 2012 ‘Signature Series’ Albarino from Hawk Haven Vineyard with salty-mineral aftertaste.

The reds also confused me, for they were way more heterogenous than I’d expected, most importantly in the stylistic sense. However, there were also several wines that had turned  too far in the vinegar direction (technical term: volatile acidity) to get my vote, however good some other aspects of them tasted. Some wines had clearly also been worked too hard during fermentation (technical term: over-extracted), perhaps in a vain attempt to compensate for deficiencies in the fruit or through an excess of winemaker ambition. I really liked the complex black fruit and pepper aromas of the 2010 ‘Leitner’ – a blend of a trio of Austrian red grapes Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and St. Laurent – from Mount Salem Vineyards, but even in that case a little bit less tannin would have made the balance so much more appealing. However, the wine did prove the considerable potential these varieties have in New Jersey.

Tomato is an aroma in red wines which some people don’t like, but if there’s enough ripe fruit character too I don’t mind it. That’s why the 2010 Cabernet Franc was controversial and one of my favorite wines. I liked the balance of ripe black fruit flavors with a hint of the vegetal stuff and warm, moderately dry tannins. The 2010 ‘Europa VII’ from Amalthea Cellars – a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon self-consciously modeled on Chateau Figeac in St.-Emilion/Bordeaux – also had a hint of something vegetal. Each time I tasted this wine I found it more appealing, since the vegetal tough lifted the quite full and dry tannic body. This is clearly a wine that’s not yet at its peak.

At the other end of the stylistic scale was the bold, ripe and powerful 2010 ‘The Big O’ from Unionville Vineyards – a blend of both Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc with Merlot and Petit Verdot – that tasted a bit massive and chewy a year ago, but now has a wonderful balance in spite of the serious tannins at the finish; another wine with great aging potential. The 2010 Cabernet Franc from Working Dog Winery (labelled as Silver Decoy, a name the winery has had to abandon for legal reasons) was almost as powerful and a shade more elegant. As well as having a ripe blackcurrant note there were also has hints of smoke, balsamic vinegar and mint in its bouquet, which means some real complexity. It was quite a big mouthful with plenty of moderately dry tannins and a discrete acidic freshness. This was not only my favorite red on the day, but also the favorite of Aldo Sohm, the somm from Le Bernardin in New York. His judgement of the entire tasting summed up my own feelings, “NJ is a really crazy world of wine!”

It clearly demands closer attention and on December 4th I will be heading out to try and get to make more sense of it. Many thanks to Marcarthur Baralla of Defendshee Productions for organizing the tasting and helping me get this far. Watch this Space for the report of my road trip December 5th/6th!


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 18 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ, (Part 3 – Legal Implications)

Dear General Keith Alexander (Director of NSA),

Dear James Clapper (National Director of Intelligence),

Dear Sir Lain Lobban (Director of GCHQ),

being a British subject, a permanent resident of the Federal Republic of Germany and a frequent visitor to the United States of America I have a strong interest in the relationships between these three nations, also a strong preference that they co-operate on the basis of their constitutions (which have the same fundamental principals). It seem to me that your activities have resulted in the relationships between Germany and both the UK and the USA being thrown into their worst crisis during my lifetime. You will no doubt blame Edward Snowden for this, but he simply happened to be faster and more daring than those of his colleagues who feel the same way as he does, by which I mean that all of this was bound to come out sooner or later. If you believed you could permanently keep the lid on this, then you are yet more naive then I imagined you to be, or is the more appropriate word actually “stupid”?

You all maintain that you have operated within the law, but it was very plain from the statements you made, respectively, to the House Intelligence Committee in Washington DC and to the House of Commons in London, that what you meant was you claim to have operated within the law in your own countries. This doesn’t, however, mean that you operated within the laws of the other countries in which you were active, for example, the Federal Republic of Germany. Please don’t think that I’m working up some kind of legal challenge to your activities there, or anywhere else. You may remember that in Part 1 of this series of reports I INVITED YOU all to read and listen into my private correspondence and other communications, and guaranteed you immunity from prosecution for doing so. You have nothing to fear from me! However, as far as I’m aware I’m the only resident of Germany who so far did took that extraordinary step. I certainly don’t remember the German Chancellor Angela Merkel doing so! I’m not a lawyer, so I can only do this in a rather simply, but I think it’s worth considering the legal implications in the Federal Republic of Germany.

Let’s begin with the German constitution which has been in effect since May 23rd 1949, having been approved by the Governments of the UK and USA about two weeks before that date. Let me quote from the official translation of what German calls its Grundgesetz, or Basic Law. Article 10, Paragraph (1) of the Basic Law states: The privacy of correspondence, posts and telecommunications shall be inviolable. Article 13, Paragraph (1) further states: The home is inviolable. Searches of German homes, and of the electronic devices in them, require the authorization of a judge and even in cases of urgency when, for example, national security is at stake they must be carried out in the manner which German law prescribes. You have clearly violated these parts of the Basic Law of Germany in the case of Angela Merkel, and no doubt many others, and I would suggest that your activities also breach Article 1, Paragraph (1), which states: Human dignity shall be inviolate. And that’s a very serious matter, because those words were not written lightly by the judges who formulated Germany’s Basic Law. They did so with the goal of preventing any possibility of the terrible crimes of the Nazi regime during the years 1993-1945, the greatest of which was the Shoah or Holocaust, ever being repeated. How could you do that and continue to believe that you’re the good guys?

As far as I am aware, neither you nor nobody in the UK or US governments has acknowledged these things, much less made an apology. Legally that wouldn’t get you off the hook, although it would certainly make your positions look better, because Article 3, Paragraph (1) of the Basic Law of Germany states: All persons shall be equal before the law. That means the State Prosecutors will file cases against you, should sufficient evidence by found to justify this,  just as they would against any German citizen or against people like me who are merely residents. Should expect to be exempt from this, then you ask of the German Judiciary that they compromise on one of the most fundamental points of your own constitutions. And if you want the German Government to intervene with the Judiciary to prevent cases being brought against you for felonies committed in the Federal Republic of Germany, then you are asking for a compromise on another principal of your own constitutions: the separation of executive and judiciary. Are you really expecting them to do any of that for you? Also, why should they want to do that for you when you treated them like enemies?

In case, you think you can wiggle out of this by claiming that, for some obscure reasons, German law doesn’t apply to your operations I refer you to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations, which both your governments have ratified. Article 17, Paragraph (2) states: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence… For GCHQ the European Convention on Human Rights is also relevant, in which instance Article 8, Paragraph (1) applies: Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and correspondence. Or do they now belong in the dustbin of history?

PS The recent revelations have helped explain something I couldn’t make proper sense of at the time. Several years ago I was invited to a tasting of Californian wines at the US Embassy in Berlin and during that visit we were taken up to the round, glazed Quadriga Room at the top of the building, so called because of the wonderful view from there of the Quadriga statue on top of the Brandenberg Gate – there’s also a wonderful view of the Chancellor’s Office. The then Ambassador Dan Coats came out to speak to us,  then when he returned to his office I saw him disappear behind a metal door. I asked one of the embassy staff what that was and he said to me deadpan, “the secure information has been secured within the security container.” At the time it was funny. Of course, we all now know what some of that secure information was, and that some of the equipment used to gather it was also behind that door. The problem with all of this is that it is shutting other doors, and that will be the subject of Part 4. Watch this space!


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 17 – The Great Dry White Tasting (Riesling vs White Burgundy & Chenin Blanc)

This is Terroir Murray Hill in the throbbing heart of New York Wine City (NYWC), where on Monday afternoon (sorry for the terrible delay due to urgent and well paid work!) Rienne Martinez of Terroir Murray Hill and I staged a historic blind tasting that pitted mature dry Riesling against mature white burgundy (i.e. Chardonnay) and Chenin Blanc from the Loire. The idea was to do what regular wine drinkers do when they compare a couple of very different wines that just happen to be sitting next to one another on their dining table in a more systematic and thorough manner.

For this reason we invited along about a dozen important figures in NYWC, concentrating on people younger than myself in order to try and catch the now mood of the scene on this subject. It was great to have somms like Rosemary Gray of Flatiron Wines, Pascaline Lepeltier of Restaurant Rouge Tomate, Jarred Roth of Gotham Bar & Grill, and Arnaud Tronche of the still to open Racines New York with us alongside more experienced tasters like Lisa Granik MW, Paul Grieco and David Rosengarten. And Levi Dalton is unique until cloning technology advances to the Nexus 6 generation.

The core of the tasting was 15 bottles of dry Riesling – 6 German, 5 Austrian, 2 Alsatian plus one each from the US and Australia –  ranging in age from the 2002 Gaisberg from Hirsch in Kamptal/Austria to the 1994 Schütt ‘Smaragd’ from Emmerich Knoll in Wachau/Austria. From this one corky wine was subtracted and 5 Chenin Blancs from the Loire (2000 – 1971 vintages), 4 white Burgundies (2002 – 1995) and one California Chardonnay (1993 from Kalin Cellars) were added. The wines were then served blind in flights of three, also blind for Rienne and I.

Looking back I think right from the beginning we collectively shifted into what I call Hyper-Critical Syndrome (HCS), which results from not wanting to seem to favor any wine and leads to every wine being obsessively picked apart in the search for the slightest weaknesses, just as the NSA seems to go after every crumb of information no matter how small. I actually think this hit the Chardonnays hardest, because they were clearly the weakest group of wines on the table. None of them generated any excitement although highly-reagrded producers such as Ampeau and Leroy were included. Had we drunk these wines, rather than HCS tasted them, then I think we’d have enjoyed them all (except the 1996 Meursault Perrieres from Pierre Morey, which was dead in the water) more.

That the Chenins did rather better had something to do with the fact that with one exception they were all at least demi sec (i.e. medium-dry). No wonder the 2000 Clos du Bourg Vouvray from Huet did so well against the properly dry 2001 Klaus ‘Samaragd’ from Prager in the Wachau/Austria and the 2001 Berg Schlossberg from Georg Breuer in the Rheingau/Germany. It had about 1% / 10 grams per liter more residual sweetness than they did! That’s very significant when you’re in HCS mode.

But what about the Rieslings? Well, there were a number of wines which created a buzz at the table, most notably the 2001 Kastanienbusch ‘Grosses Gewächs’ from Rebholz in the Pfalz/Germany. It’s freshness, intense ripe fruit, great balance and very distinctive character – “melon”, “peppermint” – won everyone over.  The 1999 Auslese trocken from J.B. Becker of  the Rheingau/Germany will be remembered, not only because it was it concentrated and elegant with a style entirely its own – “celery”, “very lively for 14% alcohol” – but because almost nobody at the table had heard of the producer. The 1996 Dry Riesling from Smith Madrone in Napa valley/California was at once mellow and racy with a delicate toasty bouquet charmed everyone, then stunned everyone when they found out what it was.

The flight of three Rieslings at the end which weren’t quite legally dry (although clearly drier than the demi sec Vouvrays) all impressed to some degree, but opinions differed as to whether the lighter style of the 2001 ‘Felsterrasse’ from Clemens Busch in the Mosel/Germany – “mango”, “pretty” – the more creamy balance of the 2001 Uhlen ‘Rotlay’ from Heymann-Löwenstein also from the Mosel – “curry leaf”, “supple” or the opulence of the 2001 Grand Cru Schlossberg ‘Cuvée Set. Catherine’ from Weinbach in Alsace/France – “salty”, “nervous, tense” – was the more impressive of the trio.

However, in many ways it was what didn’t impress that was more significant. Of the Wachau wines the 1999 Kellerberg ‘Samargd’ from F.X. Pichler came closest to being warmly received, but even here there was some criticism – “quite austere finish” – and the 2002 Gaisberg from Hirsch ended up with the most praise of the Austrian wines. The 2001 ‘Cuvée Frédéric Emile’ from Trimbach in Alsace/France also got a mixed reception, the austerity here appealing to some, but others were radical in their rejection – “a joyless Australian wine”.

Personally I loved the 2001 Berg Schlossberg from Georg Breuer, although other bottles of this wine have shown better. Like many Rieslings in the tasting it took some time to open up in the glass, and of course we were all running on NYWC schedules tighter than latex corsets. But that is, of course, the nature of this game, and for the wines it was also the way the cosmic cookie crumbled. No doubt this exercise will be repeated, for it was much less weird comparing these very diverse wines in mature form than we expected.




New York Riesling Diary: Day 12 – An Open Letter to the Middle of the Row, by Caitlin Harrison

Caitlin Harrison worked the 2013 crush at Weingut Eva Vollmer in Mainz-Ebersheim/Rheinhessen. This is her second and final report:

Upon a full two week’s reflection since I saw you last, and after many carefully thought out explanations of your production to those interested in my time spent with you, I ask you, middle of each row, a simple question:

Why? Why did you give us such an opportunity to be disappointed with you? You just love to hold on to all of that moisture, convert it into Pilze, botrytis, rot, WHATEVER, and not fully explore your potential in this singular function of harvest. You just wanted to be difficult, and you succeeded. You dusty mistress of destruction. You mocked hand lesen, and I kind of hate you for it.

You heard all of us hand pickers marvel at the precious fruits residing at the beginning and end of every steeply terraced slope, but you obviously felt we didn’t deserve happiness. You liked the murmuring of slight disbelief as we assessed your fruit. You enjoyed watching us find only little beauty and health within your clusters and dust out the carefully crafted, impolite rot. You might have even laughed at our befuddled expressions. It wasn’t cool, mid-row.

Eva and Robert choose to let you live a natural life (organic viticulture!) They don’t manipulate you and your health, they instead provide you every opportunity to live. They love watching everything from the satiated worms work through your soil, to a good old fashioned bud break and further, a normal maturity. You gave that to them. Then you succumbed to the rain. Weak.

And don’t get me wrong, as with misbehaving children, not ALL of you are responsible for this upset, but the ones who are KNOW who they are. And while you gave us some grief, not all was lost. Great wine will be made of what we worked so diligently to find in you. But your efforts put a damper on an already damp harvest.

So my words of advice for the future are this: next time if you are considering showing up in the fall in the same fashion, just, don’t.

Or, do, and we will make the best of you. Either way…

Caitlin “Uffmudler” Harrison

(Uffmudler is local dialect in Mainz that means someone that stirs something very thoroughly, or a mixer. I translate it to mover and shaker, and I think it sounds amazing.)

Caitlin Harrison
Student of Riesling. And German. And German Riesling.


PS We’ll hear moor from Caitlin after her return to Lenox/MA!

PPS If you have something important to say and wish to become a guest author on this blog please get in touch with me!



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New York Riesling Diary: Day 11 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ (Part 2 – Paranoia has Many Faces)

Dear General Keith Alexander (Director of NSA),

Dear James Clapper (National Director of Intelligence),

Dear Sir Lain Lobban (Director of GCHQ),

no doubt you found it suspicious that a few days ago I INVITED YOU to read all my private communications, and promised not to ever prosecute you for doing so under American, British or German law (the offer and promise still stand). No doubt you asked yourself why anyone would do such a thing, although I provided you with a clear explanation as to why this extraordinary step was actually in my own interest. I’m sure that you regard all this as no more than a mask of friendship behind which lurks some kind of malevolence.

You see General Alexander and Mr. Clapper, in your recent appearances before the House Intelligence Committee I think you gave yourselves away. Being a permanent resident of Germany (and only a visitor here in New York) I sometimes find that I naturally adopt a German perspective on current events. Your appearances that day reminded me horribly of something that Bertold Brecht referred to as, “bis zur Kenntlichkeit entstellt”, or distorted to recognizability. What I recognized was chronic paranoia. If you don’t think that this is what I, the population of Germany and the rest of the world saw then please study the pictures accompanying this article, even if you can’t understand the text:

And I don’t just mean that your paranoid personalities were on display at that House Intelligence Committee meeting, rather I think the fact that your paranoid world view has infected the NAS was also recognizable. It is a perspective from which every friendly face seems to be no more than a mask behind which lurks an enemy, and that is what has led you to pursue a policy of hyper-vigilance over the most friendly relationships, such as that with Germany. Over the years this has made the NSA a paranoid organization.

I use this term in the sense that Manfred Kets de Vries and Danny Miller do in their book ‘The Neurotic Organization’ (1984), meaning that your paranoia will have infected many of the NSA’s employees. They, like you, will live in a state of permanent distrust, and will constantly seek to confirm all your (and their) suspicions of others. However, I also mean that the NSA as an entity has become paranoid in the way that the Stasi of Comunist East Germany was. It grew and grew, becoming more and more invasive and parasitic upon East German society, because it was driven by the paranoia of its director Erich Mielke. He too thought that the threat from within and without was continually growing, so the Stasi had to grow too.

I think that if challenged about this Mielke might have described himself as “prudently paranoid” in the sense that Roderick M. Kramer uses that term in an article in the Harvard Business Review of July 2002. There he writes that, “prudently paranoid people monitor their colleagues’ every move, scrutinizing and analyzing each action in minute detail.” I think that very much describes the nature of your spying upon the German government (and I suspect leading figures in German industry, science and other fields). If the recent news reports are accurate, and I assume they are, this may well apply to GCHQ too. I recommend you all to read Kramer’s article, because even as proposes the adoption of prudent paranoia as policy in the wake of 9/11 (a connection he himself points out), he warns that, “the more we worry, the more we notice. And the more we notice, the more we worry.” I fear that this describes very well the dynamic behind the NSA and GCHQ’s growth of the last decade.

Sir Lain Lobban, your performance before the British parliament today was rather more convincing than that of your American colleagues ten days ago. However, you spoke of looking for needles, or fragments of needles, in haystacks. How could the German government be a haystack in which there might be needles that threaten the UK? The Federal Republic of Germany has been a loyal ally of the UK and the US since its foundation in 1949!

This is a point which has already been forgotten by President Obama, the US Congress and both of you General Alexander and Mr. Clapper. You all seem to take the continuation of that alliance for granted, which is another reason (along with all your spaying activities in the Federal Republic of Germany and other friendly countries) why it is in grave jeopardy. You all seem incapable of imagining how you would feel if you had suddenly made the same painful discovery that Germany did. Quite possibly you haven’t been snooping on many normal German citizens, but you willingness to snoop on the German Chancellor Angela Merkel proved that you are willing to snoop on anyone and everyone in Germany should you consider it necessary at some point. That willingness is another sure sign of paranoia. I suggest that you seek treatment for your condition.

PS more post will follow soon!


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 9 – Yes, there are still some good red Bordeauxs that won’t bankrupt you or me

Red Bordeaux isn’t a wine that often lights my fire, and since the prices for the famous names went AWOL I stopped buying in protest. The last red Bordeaux I bought more than a single bottle of was the 2000 Terte Roteboeuf from Francois Mitjavile in St-Émilion, so when I got an invitation to a tasting of red Bordeaux at distributor T. Edwards in Studio 206 of 66 West Broadway which included the Mitjavile wines there was no discussion as to whether I would go. What I found there was so much more than what I’d expected and so very different from what I’d expected that it pushed other planned stories aside. The photos give you an idea of the unusual ambience.

This is a company that has gone to a lot of trouble to hunt down independent winemakers in Bordeaux who are doing what we expect of independent winemakers: making wines with character with prices that bear some relationship to production costs, rather than being figures pulled out of the according to the principle, “how much can we get away with today?” For example, the 2010 Château le Coteau from Margaux costs a tiny fraction (something like a twentieth!) of what the Premier Grand Cru Classé Château Margaux costs, but is a fragrant and elegant Margaux with quite serious dry tannins and a lovely freshness at the finish for this vintage. In a way I was even more impressed by the 2009 Château Lestage Darquier, because it cost just half the price of the le Coteau. This wine reminds me of the first red Bordeauxs I taste (from the vintages of the ’70s), but without the touch of green which Cru Bourgeois wines nearly always had back then. There are even some subtle herbal and mineral notes at the finish of this elegant wine, which spends a year in barrel of which about a quarter are new; quite enough oak for this style. Congratulation T. Edward Wines, you just proved to me that Bordeaux still lives!

The wines from Francois Mitjavile were as impressive as I was hoping. The Mijavile style is rich and highly extracted, and for this reason, and because Parker gave them some high scores, they’ve been praised and reviled as “Parker Wines”. However, they never have a hint of anything jammy, nor are they ever over-extracted and inky, much less are they over-oaked vanilla bombs. In fact, they stand out because of their beautiful balance, and for me they embody Francois’s description of the winemaker as, “a civilized peasant, because he must adapt his cultivation methods to fit the location and the weather.” It was the first time I’d tasted the L’Aurage from the Côtes de Castillon, which is the newest addition to the Mitjavile family of wines. The 2009 is the boldest of these wines and there is a bit of smoky oak in there, but also dense black fruit aromas and a menthol note. For the taste the price is OK, even if it’s off the charts for this appellation.

Oh yeah, there were also some bikes in the tasting room, one of those table football games and I don’t know what else! Don’t worry citizens of Planet Riesling I haven’t abandoned you or our favorite grape. I just wanted to tell you this rather cool story, which makes an important point about the complex symbiosis of wine character (yes, terroir) and money. Too little money and terroir isn’t going to consistently make it’s way into the glass; too much money and terroir might (I’m skeptical about its compatibility with big bucks) still make into somebody’s glass, but it certainly won’t be my glass!


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 6 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ (Part 1 – An Invitation)

Dear General Keith Alexander (Director of NSA),

Dear James Clapper (National Director of Intelligence),

Dear Sir Lain Lobban (Director of GCHQ),

Listen up, because here comes something exciting, positive and new! Along with a large part of the world’s population I’ve been closely following the story of Edward Snowden’s revelations as passed to the media by Glenn Greenwald. I studied the results of additional research into your surveillance activities by my colleagues at various major newspapers and internet news sites with equal dismay. Like them I belong to what former Vice President Dick Cheney very accurately called the reality-based community. Welcome to our nightmare!

Unlike you, we don’t subscribe to the doctrine that digital might is right, and we regard with horror the way you use your international co-operation to circumvent the national laws designed to prevent you from eroding the human rights of your own citizens. We reject your utterly amoral drive for a global hegemony of information that threatens to make our profession redundant, and to remove from words like liberty, democracy and justice their last vestiges of meaning. However, as you have been painfully realizing, our position is stronger than all your monitoring and analysis led you to believe.      

In spite of the obvious tensions between us, I feel that a radical step is called for, and that’s the reason I write. You have, of course, been monitoring my communications without asking for my permission to do so. Clearly that’s not something someone like me can really agree to. However, I hereby INVITE YOU to read, watch and listen in to my communications of all kinds, and assure you that whatever you read, see or hear will not result in your prosecution in a court of law in the US where I am currently staying, nor in the Germany where I am a permanent resident, nor yet in the Great Britain from where I originate and am still a national. As far as I know this is much more than anyone else has offered. In fact, I don’t remember hearing of anyone offering you anything at all lately. Instead, there was a lot of outrage, widespread deep disappointment and some embarrassment. It strikes me that generosity is almost as fundamental as compassion, both belong to the most positive side of human nature, and this leads me to offer you the hand of friendship in what are for you dark days.

There is, however, an element of self-interest in this act. You see, as a journalist finding out the truth (I think that you understand what I mean, even if you give it another name) is one side of my work, and the other is making it public (I think you’re now familiar with the process). For that I need readers, and most of your operatives belong to my target audience (I think that you understand at least the word “target” if not “audience”). When I was a young man at the beginning of my journalistic career you were also part of my target audience, but the number of your employees was rather small compared with what it is today. The post-9/11 digital intelligence boom not only increased your importance and your budgets, it also expanded the number or operatives you employee to around 35,000. So, you see I need you guys and this is a way of grabbing your attention.

Best regards from you know where,

Stuart Pigott

PS more post will follow soon!


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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 14 – Maybe I’m amazed…by Luxembourg

Great Mosel Rieslings grow on slate, have a racy acidity and taste most exciting when some natural grape sweetness was retained. Well, yes…sometimes. I’d known that Riesling is also grown on limestone in the German Obermosel, or Upper Mosel, and just across the river in Luxembourg for decades. Since a few years I’ve known that one of the best producers of such wines was the Domaine Alice Hartmann in Wormeldange. But, when I tasted the 2011 vintage dry Rieslings made there by German winemaker Hans-Jörg Befort my jaw dropped. This is the most exciting discovery I made in Europe during my research for BWWOE – The Riesling Book, and I made it almost at the last possible moment. The manuscript has to be finished on coming Friday, November 1st!

The place of origin and quality of these wines is just one aspect of this thing though. The other is that they taste absolutely nothing like the Mosel Rieslings grown on slate. Although they have a lively and animating acidity, this isn’t pointed, much less piercing; words I would use for typical Mosel Riesling which grew on slate. Let’s take the best wine I tasted as an example, the 2011 ‘Sélection du Château’ (you can still buy the 2012 for 19 Euros direct from the domaine) had super-ripe yellow fruit aromas, not only peach, but apricot and some mango. In the mouth it was really creamy, but properly dry with a very long silky finish that was delicately spicy. There was none of the tension of a Mosel Riesling grown on slate, but in an entirely different way the wine was really complete. The first time I visited wine producers in Luxembourg I was told that the Wormeldange Koeppchen was a great vineyard site and here is a wine that proves that.

I always found Luxembourg a slightly odd place. Take one of the bridges across the Mosel River from Germany to Luxembourg and it’s like stepping off a flight in China. Everything is veryFrench, yet inexplicably unlike any actual part of France. Then you listen to the locals talking and you realize that although a lot of French is spoken, the dialect is actually a form of German. For a long time their combination of low taxes, a liberal financial sector, and a highly chauvinistic attitude to everything indigenous held the wines back. It was just too easy to sell mediocre quality for an inflated price. Now there’s a new spirit and it requires investigation. Unfortunately, I have to keep this short in order to catch my flight to New York where I will finish work on BWWOE – The Riesling Book! For more information visit:

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 11 – “Wein lesen”, Wine Reading and their Interdependence, by Caitlin Harrison

As a fiercely passionate student of wine, I, Caitlin Harrison, in a moment of panic and indifference for my direction in life, decided to quit my longstanding career in restaurant work to throw myself fully into what any normal 28 year-old woman would do. I signed up to for Wein lesen, to work the harvest in the Rheinhessen region of Germany with a female winemaker, whose style I adore. Because, well, why not.

I met Eva Vollmer at the Long Night of German Wine at Hearth Restaurant this past July and fell pretty hard for her style. Her wines are modern without disrespecting traditions. Her observance of the process that takes place in the field is something I look for as a wine buyer. And I found her to be no bullshit, which I really appreciated. She, along with the other women at the Long Night, was not there to exploit her wine or her story. So I kept her information, reached out to her in August and received a prompt “YES!” in response to my request to work harvest.

In anticipation for this trip, I did what any normal restaurant manager would do: I worked until the night before I left and barely prepared my belongings. I never really conceptualized my exact role during harvest or even how totally screwed I was with my utter lack of the German language (except for swears and food words, natürlich). I just fearlessly marched into Mainz-Ebersheim, put on some pink rubber boots and got to work.

The most satisfying aspect for me was the quietness that the Handlese, hand picking provided me with. This sudden lack of massive responsibility. The task at hand was Wein lesen, or literally translated, “wine reading”.  And while I am not an avid or accomplished reader, I enjoyed more than I ever imagined the task of reading wine.

In each vineyard, we are asked to read the grapes differently. Sometimes we would only cut what is rotten (botrytis or penicillin) or brown stemmed, other times it was about rotten clusters or 3 shoots from the base of the stalk or too densely clustered and so on. If a cluster is cleaned of rot and doesn’t look awesome, we simply tossed it on the ground.  My favorite cluster to slay was the Geiztrauben, or second crop, the most densely compacted “late-to-the-party, free-loading” lean, mean and green grapes. Woof!

One morning that changed the way I looked at Handlese altogether was on the sixth day. Robert called Eva to express his concerns regarding about how our pre-harvest work was going and before I knew it, I was told, “every grape that you were throwing on the ground is now coming back to the winery to see if we can use it someway. So, no more grapes on the ground.” I looked at Robert, slightly puzzled. He handed me a black bucket and said, “here is your schwarz eimer, you must TAKE THE GROUND GRAPES WITH YOU.” So, there it was. A two bucket day. But it was a good two bucket day.

I will say that Wein lesen taught me so much more than wine reading; it has taught me to read conversations being held around me in German through tonality, inference and context. My worries about my lack of language slowly dissipated. In fact, all of the worries I had diminished and the focus was always whatever was the task at hand. I often thought about nothing. I just read grapes, sounds, smells, tastes, and I tried my best to listen to everything around me. And I did not plan for what is next. I did not anticipate the day’s work being done. I just lived for each cluster of grapes I was reading, making sure I put it towards an exceptional wine, or I put it on the ground and took it with me.



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