New York Riesling Diary: Day 4 – Holy Burgundy (and the actual wine growing region that’s contiguous with it)

I’ve been to Burgundy in France many times, mostly I had a great time there, and I tasted many wonderful burgundy wines red and white (next to some grossly over-priced inferior wines), but in spite of all that I never saw, felt or tasted Holy Burgundy. Many somms, experts, critics and wine freaks have talked to me at length about that “place”, and clearly they believe implicitly in its existence, but it remains a myth to me. I therefore have to assume that it’s like an aura exactly overlapping the actual wine growing region of Burgundy and its wines that some people can see with a kind of vinous “third eye”. For better or worse, I just don’t get that, perhaps because I’m a member of the reality-based community. That’s the reason I find all this Holy Burgundy stuff seriously spooky.

All of that went through my head as I entered the glitzy Restaurant A Voce in the Time Warner Centre in Manhattan, one of the least spooky places that I can imagine on this wine planet of ours. There the NYC importing company of Frederic Wildman held their annual Burgundy tasting at which the 2013 vintage was presented (nearly always in the form of cask samples). This was a fascinating contrast to the tasting staged yesterday in NYC by In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB – see below), the group of California producers of wines from the same grapes – the red Pinot Noir and the white Chardonnay – who’s collective goal is to make wines with balance, elegance and subtlety. These are exactly the qualities that are supposed to make red and white Burgundy stand out so far above other wines that prices going into the hundreds of dollars per bottle wholesale are justified.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve tasted this many high-end burgundies in such a short period of time, and the reason for that long gap is that pricing. However, I assiduously judged these wines purely on taste, then looked at the price list, just as I do for all other wines. How a person feels about the smell and taste of a wine is a fundamental form of reality, but it is one that’s easily influenced by things like price and the situation in which a wine is served (which I have described for that reason). Although there were a few tart and lean reds, and some of the whites from less famous appellations were rather simple, there were many impressive wines. Most exciting of all were the innovations, by which I mean an excellent producer I was previously unfamiliar with, and the results of a radical change of direction at a very well established producer.

Domaine Jacques Prieur is one of Burgundy’s Big Names with holdings in a slew of the elite Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyard sites upon which the region’s reputation depends, and which are also a focus of the Holy Burgundy cult. In 2008 Edouard Labruyère, pictured above, took over direction of winemaking at the family’s wineries including Domaine Jacques Prieur, and what he’s done for the white wines since then is really remarkable. The 2013 whites I tasted had a stunning freshness and purity of aroma and flavor, the oak aromas form aging in oak barrique casks (only 20% of them are new) and the creaminess from contact of the young wines with the lees (there is no stirring of the deposit of dead yeast in the casks) very discrete. The 2013 Meursault Santenots her Cru had a delicate aroma of honeycomb, was racy and intensely mineral; one of the best young white burgundies I’ve tasted in years! Riesling fans, you will almost certainly love these wines as I do (but please look at the prices before ordering!) Maybe the change in style at Domaine Jacques Prieur is less pronounced in the red wines, but they too are brighter, less opulent and oaky then they used to be (all positive). Congratulations!

The discovery was Domaine Lignier-Michelot in Morey St. Denis. The 2013 Bourgogne Rouge from Virgile Lignier is the first wine of this lowly Appellation (I’d say it was an almost anti-Holy Burgundy designation on the label) that impressed me in many years. Not only did the wine have plenty of fruit, but also supple dry tannins and a harmonious acidity for this high-acidity vintage. There were more expensive examples of this Appellation on show at the tasting which tasted mean and tart in direct comparison. I also found the 2013 Chambolle-Musigny from this producer stunningly “untypical”. Chambolle is supposed to be a delicate and lacy wine, but this was powerful, tannic red full of ripe black berry aromas. I find it exciting when producers dare to be that different, also in (Holy) Burgundy!


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 3 – In Pursuit of Balance (and Open-Mindedness) in NYC, now with an important PS

Often Riesling People – producers, somms, writers and fans – look across at the world of the wines from the red Pinot Noir and white Chardonnay grapes as if that were a parallel universe in which everything is always seriously exciting, completely harmonious and very cool at prices far above what even the most famous Riesling producers command. At best, this is a gross over-simplification that reduces the complex and subtle shadings of the real world to the level of a cartoon. If you attended the NYC tasting of the In Pursuit of Balance group of California producers today, then it must be clear to you that in fact this universe (be it alternative or otherwise) is the location an epic struggle, and this is not about details, rather it goes to the very core of what these wines could or should be.

The important thing to point out right from the beginning is, that the wines I tasted today were not willfully strange or extreme in the way some so-called “natural” wines are. Instead, there was a common striving for bright aromas, freshness, moderate body, together with alcohol and tannins that aren’t obtrusive, much less dominate the flavor of the wine. I think it’s fair to also describe this as the search for wine styles that avoid the heaviness of body, monumental density of flavor and up-front power that were long touted by many critics and experts as the Holy Grail of West Coast winemaking. Along with those things, the members of IPOB reject the combination of very high alcoholic content, low acidity, massive tannins and one-dimensional sweet flavors that often resulted from pursuing these goals. Many of the IPOB members are actually no longer in pursuit of balance, because their wines have it and in ways that are impressive, surprising and invigorating. It was really exciting to taste the best of them, and found this the most interesting wine tasting in NYC for a very long time.

However, not everyone in the wine scene sees it that way, some of the most important wine critics in America are skeptical about these wines, and a few of them, most notably the Wine Spectator’s Jim Laube, seem to regard these wines as the result of a misguided view of what California wines are all about. The skeptics fear that the IPOB members are not often picking their grapes unripe, condemning them to be thin, tart and unharmonious. I think it’s important to point out that those wine critics didn’t come to those conclusions alone, rather there’s a community of wine professionals and passionate amateurs out there who are of the same opinion as Jim Laube. These are the front lines in that epic struggle.

It struck me today how IPOB is often portrayed as being a group of producers fixated upon making wines with a low alcoholic content, but actually the alcoholic contents of the wines varied enormously. Often I’m rather good at assessing the alcoholic content of wines by tasting them, but today I failed again and again, because the impression of lightness did not always correspond to low alcoholic content. At one end of the scale were the wonderfully vibrant and fragrant 2013 Pinot Noirs from Jamie Kutch that were all under 12.5% alcohol. Right at the other end of the scale was the stunningly elegant 2012 Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir from Josh Jensen’s Calera which had a substantial 14.7% alcohol. In the middle, were lovely wines like the 2013 Morning Dew Vineyard Pinot Noir from Drew Family Cellars in Alexander Valley with its bright cherry nose, and a simultaneously rich and slightly sappy flavor that tasted lighter than its rather conventional 13.8% alcoholic content. In short, there was great stylistic diversity allied to that common sense of purpose. I found myself in pursuit of greater open-mindedness and the fruits of this search were delightful and inspiring!

PS I think it’s important to point out that the most completely impressive groups of wines at the IPOB tasting were those from the “Old Hands” of Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Josh Jensen of Calera and Jeffrey Patterson of Mount Eden. Practice really does make perfect when it comes to elegance and subtlety in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.



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New York Riesling Diary: Day 3 – My LA Confidential

Some people seem to imagine that blog postings like these can be knocked out in a few minutes, but the truth is that mostly it takes 90 – 120 minutes to write a regular posting, select the photographs and do whatever work is necessary on them. I need much longer still for more complex subjects. The reason that some people assume I can be instantaneous in this medium is the (almost) instant publishing that twitter (where you can find me @PigottRiesling) creates and the way some other bloggers very quickly dump a pile of words. Of course, there are some bloggers ho are very fast and write well, but I’m afraid that I don’t fall into that category. And that’s the reason that this story is about LA where I was from Feb 14th thru 17th.

LA is one of the places that I can’t imagine ever living, but always fascinates me. Sure, there are stores in LA there that I love like Silverlake Wine (2395 Glendale Boulevard, or see and the grocery store Cookbook Los Angeles (1549 Echo Park Avenue, or see, but what gets me most is the ugliness of the sprawl when seen as a panorama in that unpitying sunlight, and the beauty of so many of the streets when seen close up. That’s a paradox and that’s probably why LA always gets me however hard I try to resist.

Then there’s the ocean, which in LA often seems to be far away, then suddenly there it is right in front of my eyes and in my nostrils. I’m not a conventional beach person, but these are not normal beaches, at least they are beaches which are often used in an unconventional way. That’s also fascinating, and it was a great experience to stay at a hotel right on Venice Beach last time I was in LA back in June 2013. This time I was staying with my old friends Irene Virbila and Fred Seidmann in Silver Lake and I spent a lot of time looking at Gardens. By gardens I mean not only private gardens of all sizes and shapes, but also the grand formal gardens of The Huntington in San Marino, which I’d never even heard of and I was stunned by. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera and didn’t make a serious attempt at photography with my iPhone.

Again and again in LA everything revolves around the automobile. I’d never seen a sign quite like this before, but what else did I expect in Hollywood? There (almost) everyone drives to the wine store and the need for “Wine Parking” is actually rather obvious. However, this is something quintessentially LA and not to be found here in NYC. Of course, wine connects with automobiles in other ways as the license plate below demonstrated very clearly.

TBA refers to Trockenbeerenauslese and I promise you that the owner of this vehicle is not making any empty claims with this license plate. Thankfully Peter (thanks again) didn’t open any TBA for me when I was at his house, because that would have been too much mid-afternoon. However, he did generously open the 1995 Saarburger Rausch Spätlese from Zilliken and 1997 Scharzhofberger Auslese from Egon Müller-Scharzhof, both great Rieslings from the Saar in Germany. They greatly revived me during the day I spent promoting my book in the city together with Dade & Petra Thieriot from Dee Vine Wines of San Francisco. That was a great day, but also very intense day, during which there wasn’t a break long enough to put up this story. So, hoping that it hasn’t lost any of its appeal I present it now. Thanks everyone for your patience!


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Oregon Riesling Diary: Day 2 – Oregon Riesling Breakthrough (Part 1)

The last stop on my crazy Riesling World Tour is Oregon (OR), and although my strength is now fading fast after being on the road since January 7th these were exciting days. My visit started with the OR Technical Pre-Bottling 2014 Riesling Tasting at Penner-Ash winery that Lynn Penner-Ash so generously hosted. Thanks to the entire group of  30 plus winemakers who attended for accepting my presence at this internal tasting, because it not only enabled me to get an overview of what’s happening here (things are moving fast and in very positive directions), but also to gain some familiarity with how OR Riesling winemakers tick. I predict that the 2014 vintage will enable them to make a real breakthrough in recognition for the subtly aromatic and racy Rieslings of OR.

Finally, I got to visit James Frey at his Trisaetum winery in the Ribbon Ridge AVA and was able to taste these wines intensively. His 2013 Pinots and 2014 Rieslings (nearly all heading for release during the next few months) will surely put this winery on the map as one of the leading producers of both these grapes in OR. The single vineyard and Estates Reserve wines of both grapes have a staggering freshness and a wonderfully expressive fruit character. The Rieslings have a hint of youthful funk, but this is the kind of funk that is a sign for wines that can go the long haul. I can’t wait to taste them after they’ve been bottled and had a little time to settle down. As impressive as the 2013 Rieslings were I feel confident that the new wines are even better.

At Brooks Winery Chris Williams’ 2014 Rieslings (he’s pictured surrounded by them) are all in a truly embryonic state and it’s not possible to pass judgement on them as it is for wines that have finished fermentation and have received their first modest dose of sulphur to stabilize them. However, my gut tells me that they are big, ripe, spicy and have more than enough acidity to enable them to age for at least a decade. The 2003 Willamette Valley Riesling (the regular quality) from Brooks conclusively proved the wines aging potential when I was here last summer.

Brooks’ new winery has been open for several months now and has already been a big hit, not only for winemaker Chris Williams who finally has the space he needs to work without banging his elbows at every turn, but no less importantly for visitors and customers. Rather than present a series of shots of the new tasting room that don’t do its style and comfort justice (due to my limited photographic abilities) here’s a picture of the tasting room team of Claire Jarreau (left) and Sarah Mooney. Their degree of knowledge and competence also outclasses most winery tasting rooms by a street!

Brooks was a good place to stay for the last couple of nights. When a trip is this far advanced and a schedule gets this hectic, then you need peace and quiet to rest and reenergize, which the farmhouse here provided. I write this at the dining table just before packing for the drive to Portland where I will spend my last night on the road. Thanks to everyone who was brave enough to attend the screening of my movie WATCH YOUR BACK – The Riesling Movie (Part 1) at 3rd Street Pizza in McMinnville yesterday evening, also for your patience with all the problems! The mercy of the Great God of Wine and DHL was extended to us, and somebody from 3rd Street Pizza I wasn’t introduced to got the projection functioning. You saved us!


Los Angeles Riesling Diary: Day 0 – Marlborough Family Photo-Album

White riot – I wanna riot / white riot – a riot of my own! 

TextI just made it to LA, but my head is still full of the wines of Marlborough and the faces behind them. Nobody did more to revolutionize dry and sweet white winemaking for the aromatic varieties (not just Riesling and Gewürztraminer, but also Sauvignon Blanc) than Andrew Hedley of Framingham. In a way I’m amazed that his story hasn’t been told a thousand times over, but maybe the fact that he has to speak with the aid of a servox really has made him a less exciting figure for some of my colleagues? Look out for the wines of the ‘F’ series to see what they made a mistake overlooking him. All of them are f***ing amazing! The only down-side is that they’re limited editions, for example, there were just 406 half bottles of the 2014 Riesling TBA.

John Forrest of Forrest wines almost accidentally stumbled onto a winner with his medium-sweet Riesling The Doctors’, which is remarkably close to a Kabinett wine from the Mosel in type (enormous freshness, lightness and crispness). This is now an 85,000 bottle per year brand, and has spawned a handful of imitators; always a sign of mainstream commercial success. John very generously opened every single vintage of this wine going back to the inaugural 1996, and even that wine was still in great shape. The 2014 may be the best yet, so John Forrest isn’t leaning back.

Normally I don’t go for the “standard” picture of the winegrower with her/his vines, but Anna Flowerday of Te Whare Ra (TWR) is pictured with her old Riesling vines planted back in 1979, which are also amongst Marlborough’s oldest vines period. Like all the TWR vines, they are in great shape and show what’s possible here with organic viticulture when the winegrower observes carefully what the natural conditions really are and how the vines actually respond them, as Jason and Anna do, rather than believing Rudolf Steiner’s (the “father” of biodynamics) idea were a recipe. By the way, Te Whare Ra was one of the wineries I visited on my first trip to Marlborough back in 1988. Today the focus is on dry wines, including an impressive dry Riesling from the pictured vines

This is one of the more unusual “faces” of Marlborough winemaker and was spotted in the cellars of Nautilus. For a winery of this style – total production is pushing 1.5 million bottles per year – winemaker and general manager Clive Jones proves that quantity is not incompatible with quality in this region. I particularly liked his Pinot Noirs and he also had the only successful Grüner Veltliner I encountered, a fashionable grape that is very fickle in this “pseudo-Mediterranean climate”, as one leading winemaker called it.

Part of Marlborough’s strength comes from its multi-cultural mix, although this is something that doesn’t hit you in the face when you arrive. For example, Paul Bourgeois, the winemaker of Spy Valley is definitely a Kiwi, but, of course, that name is extremely French (for example, Henri Bourgeois makes some of the best Sancerre in the Loire). Whether this has something to do with the fact that Paul’s success with Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris, both of which he makes in an Alsace inspired style is hard to say, but those (usually off-dry) wines are wonderfully rich and aromatic without ever being loud.

Seresin Estate is definitely the most famous bio-dynamic producer in Marlborough and with good reason. The team here has developed a range of alternative range wine styles – everything from powerful Pinot Noir reds, through medium-dry Riesling to dry Sauvignon bland – and mastered the often demanding technicalities of producing them without the kind of faults (oxidation and microbial issues) that afflict some producers working in this field. I thought that the way assistant winemaker Richard Gabrielsson chose to be photograph fitted this approach and his engaging personality perfectly. By the way, that skateboard he’s on was made from the wooden staves of an old Barrique!

And before this blog posting degenerates into a Marlborough family photo album it’s time to wrap it!

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New Zealand Riesling Diary: Day 2 – Watch Your Step in Sunny Marlborough

How did he, whoever he was, get a hold of my telephone number and then know when my phone would be switched on? Normally it’s switched off when I’m in somewhere  far removed from home like Marlborough/NZ, but suddenly there was a voice saying in a tone that I thought was seriously sarcastic, “so you’re finally here? Are you going to meet me at Xxxxx Tavern at 6pm today, or don’t you want to know the truth about this place?” Although it sounded as insulting as it did challenging there was no way I could turn it down. When I told him that I’d be there he laughed a bit too loud and said something that  looks innocuous written down, but sounded distinctly threatening: “be seeing you!” Clearly, I would have to watch my step.

I got to the Xxxxx Tavern about 6pm and ordered a beer. All these Taverns look alike and after I’d gone in I suddenly wondered if I really was in the right place, so when I ordered I checked with the barman. He was surly and his response that I was in the right place also sounded a bit insulting, however, as a journalist you get used to being treated all kinds of different ways ranging from fawning and groveling to outright abuse. It comes with the territory as does inspecting your surroundings however dull, and that’s what I did while I was waiting for my conspiratorial meeting. Of course, they were banal and tacky, pokies (“slots” for everyone in the outside world) bleeping away to themselves, but let’s face it that the inside of most bars around our planet are no better. Wine bars are different, because they are enlivened by the wine ethos, or working hard to be damned cool.

I was half way through my beer – it didn’t taste of much, but I was thirsty and the first beer always calms me down – when someone came in who I though might be what was clearly either going to be an informant or a complete waste of time. He ordered a beer and sat down in a corner in silent thought. Clearly, no information was coming from that direction. I turned back to my beer and was also lost in thought – going over the day’s four wine tastings and yesterday’s four tastings – and suddenly there was a young winemaker sitting next to you who’s appearance I later promised to keep as quiet about as his identity. I can’t even say which sex she/he was. Anonymous is the name.

“Well, now I’m seeing you and you are seeing me,” Anonymous snarled in a voice I recognized, and I wondered why it wanted to talk to me. “I’m telling you this because nobody else will,” it continued, “Marlborough is already in trouble, many people would like to feel free to say it out loud, but nobody want’s to be overheard saying it, because they know they’d get into trouble.” In my heart I knew what was coming, and, of course, there’s a pleasure in having your expectations confirmed. “We’re over-Sauvignoned in a major way, but there’s denial, the whole place is in denial. Sometimes denial and marketing are the same thing.” That didn’t seem so risky, but then I had to promise my source anonymity in order to be given permission to use his words.

When I left the Xxxxx Tavern I didn’t feel relieved though that a local person had confirmed what I’d been thinking for a long time. No, the fact that I’d tasted some good Sauvignons during the last couple of days made me feel a bit fearful in this the most beautiful end of the world I know. I hurried nervously past churches with spires, cute bungalows and too many supermarkets for a town this size to get home. Someone had told me that I’d be safe on Safe Street, but I wasn’t convinced. I wrote this with an invisible cloud hanging over my head.


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New Zealand Riesling Diary: Day 0 – Her Many Faces

One of the things that Riesling Downunder (the last three days in Melbourne) reminded me of is how Riesling has many faces. The diversity of Riesling beauty is something it takes some time and effort to appreciate well and it takes a lifetime to appreciate it fully. However, even just one of those Riesling faces is a many-facetted beauty that flashes one color then another depending upon where it stands and the way the light strikes it. All this beauty and paradox in a single wine would be impossible without the human dimension, that is without the people who make it, those who appreciate it (without them it might as well not exist!), and those who are intermediaries between these two groups, even if they are also that most banal of things, saleswomen and men, (just as winemakers are – we all have to sell something some time!)

The winemaker in these photographs is Theresa Breuer of the Georg Breuer estate in Rüdesheim/Rheingau, who I first met almost exactly 10 years ago when she was only 20. Yesterday her 2013 Berg Schlossberg was one of the high points of the International Dry Riesling Tasting at Riesling Downunder. Although this wine is still very much an infant it was all those things that the old books tell you a great Riesling should be: aromatic yet subtle, intense yet delicate, at once brightly charming and darkly mysterious. The winemaker as artist is certainly a cliché, and no new idea in my writing, however, this wine does in some way I can’t properly explain reflect it’s maker. And if I say that maybe I should therefore refer to hem as “she” and “her”?

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Australian Riesling Diary: Day 5 – The Depths and the Pinnacles at Riesling Downunder

Few people realize imagine why this blog doesn’t manage to post stories more regularly. postings. Not only is my life often hectic, but it doesn’t run more smoothly than yours does, and technology sometimes lets me down at the crucial moment. I wrote this around midnight last night, but the WiFi of the very classy Hotel Lindrum in Downtown Melbourne was inexplicably down, so after another delay here are my thoughts about Riesling Downunder.

I have to say that although the enthusiasm it generated and the exchange of ideas it generated was the most important thing about it, Riesling Downunder also greatly enhanced my knowledge of current Australian Rieslings. During the last couple of days I’ve tasted my way through a great swathe of them and see many positive trends. Not only is the winemaking better  with considerably less manipulation of the higher end wines taking place than was once the case, also the regional characteristics are much more prominently displayed. Beyond that there is a willingness to pay around with skin and/or less contact, with wild fermentation, residual sweetness and a slew of other methods that often (if not always) make the wines more interesting and harmonious.

These gains aren’t limited to new and rising stars as described in my blog postings from Western Australia described below. The single best young Australian dry Riesling I tasted since I arrived was the 2014 Warervale from Mitchell in the Clare Valley/South Australia, a wine that was completely wild-fermented to great advantage and without a hint of any of the (very real) disadvantages this technique can lead to. The Mitchells, pictured above, are no flaw in the pan, but have been making high quality dry Rieslings since 1975 and must therefore be considered part of the wine establishment of Australia.

At the other end of the scale there were – in my humble opinion –  a few new wines that were failed essays in funkiness, of which the 2013 ‘Didier’ Riesling from Shobbrook in the Eden Valley was some kind of bizarre high point. It was included in the ‘Ancient Arts’ seminar tasting that Mike Bennie lead yesterday afternoon with a small amount of help from me. When he asked me to say what I thought about it I started with three words, “I hate it”. The problem was that this wine had multiple issues (the nail polish aroma and a hint of vinegar were the most obvious) that obscured what good qualities it had. In that same tasting Glenn Barry of Knappstein proved with his 2013 ‘Insider’ Riesling that it’s entirely possible to push the winemaking envelope a long way – in this case by making a Riesling loaded with dry tannins extracted from the grape skins – without ending up with an unclean wine. Congratulations Glenn!

Sweet Riesling is still a category that many in the wine scene struggle a little bit to get to terms with, that is to actually just enjoy drinking. However, the ‘Revered Residual’ tasting yesterday morning included a bunch of excellent Riesling Spätlese wines from Germany – the 2013 Hermannshöhle from Dönnhoff, the 2013 Rothenberg from Gunderloch, the 2011 Würzgarten from Dr. Loosen, and the 2010 Scharzhofberger from Egon Müller-Scharzhof – that were wines of enormous complexity and great harmony. In the same kind of class were also a number of wines from other continents that stood out, most prominently, the 2011 #198 Reserve from Boundary Breaks in the Finger Lakes, New York/USA, the 2014 Block 1 from Felton Road in Central Otago/NZ  2013 Estate Reserve from Trisaetum in Oregon/US. Forget all the out-of-date clichés, because this is the erotic side of Riesling far removed from the dinner table!

Anyone unconvinced by these wines was wowed by the sensationally concentrated, subtle and absolutely pure 2014 “F” Trockenbeerenauslese from Framingham in Marlborough/NZ. Proof that the very pinnacle of 21st century sweet Riesling is reached not only in Germany!


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Australian Riesling Diary: Day 3 – Riesling Downunder and the Empty Seat

Everyone is welcome, but some can’t attend. 

I have every reason to celebrate. Today the global Riesling fest called RIESLING DOWNUNDER begins in Melbourne/Victoria. This three day event is organized by the leading OZ Riesling producers Jim Barry and Pikes both in Clare Valley/South Australia and Frankland Estate in the Great Southern/Western Australia together with leading NZ Riesling producer Framingham of Marlborough. For three days hundreds of Riesling winemakers, merchants, somms and fans will taste, drink and talk about my favorite grape with great enthusiasm.

Then, when I came down to breakfast at Hotel Lindrum I felt a wave of sadness at the sight of an empty seat, the one pictured above. This is where Bernhard Breuer of the Georg Breuer estate in Rüdesheim/Rheingau sat the last time I talked to him in February 2004. Just three months later the news of his death shattered a quiet evening at home in Berlin. However, the fact is that Bernhard was one of the first people who was filled with the Riesling spirit that became a global phenomenon during the last years, and is the subject both of my book BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH (English language edition published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang) / PLANET RIESLING (German language edition published by Tre Torri) and of this blog. He lives on not only in the memories of many participants in this event, but also in the spirit that will at least touch everyone who attends it.

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Australian Riesling Diary: Day 2 – Shine on Great Southern

From my last posting you might have got the idea that the Rieslings of Western Australia (WA) are some kind of weird and (possibly) wonderful freak show, heavy on irony and low on old-fashioned consistency, but this is not true of the majority of the wines as yesterday’s tasting of (mostly) dry Rieslings from the Great Southern region at Frankland Estate proved. In fact, the personalities of the many winemakers who attended (see the picture above) had far more eccentricity to offer than their wines did, and I mean that in the positive sense.

You see, if the wines (of any grape variety) from any region are mostly a freak show, then it’s very difficult to figure out what the special character of that place – yes, I’m talking about terroir, or the taste of the place – actually is. Also, fully mastering and perfecting a style of winemaking (any style of winemaking) requires a winemaker to commit to it for a good many years, and this process is greatly assisted if a good number of winemakers in that place simultaneously do that and exchange their experiences.

That isn’t some kind of new or radical idea, rather it’s like having many groups of researchers all working on the same scientific problem greatly increases the chances of solving it. Perhaps the Great Southern Riesling producers aren’t yet adequately aware of all that, but all this certainly applies to them. I hope that their awareness of all that was increased by yesterday’s tasting, in which case it had as second important purpose as well as informing me about what’s going on there now.

I should point out that this wasn’t the first such tasting of Great Southern Rieslings I’ve attended at Frankland Estate, the first having taken place 15 years ago. I couldn’t help drawing a comparison between the wines then and those yesterday, and the leap in winemaking competence was very considerable. Yesterday there were just a couple of slightly weak wines, and all the rest were at least good, sharing a clarity and expressiveness that enabled the special characteristics of the sub-areas and individual vineyards to shine through.

There couldn’t be one special Great Southern character, because the region is about 250 km “long” East-West and about 150 km “wide” from North-South. Distance from the Ocean varies considerably, and since this is a source of cooling sea breezes that’s a major climatic factor. I would say that the wines from the Mount Barker sub-region tend to have the most charming fruit and floral aromas, those from the Porongurup Hills are the most austere and aromatically discreet, with the Frankland River wines being the most racy and brilliant.

The Great Southern Rieslings don’t need a lot of alcohol to be “big” wines, and the most intense of them usually weigh in at 11.5% – 12.5% alcohol with few impressive wines dipping below or above those limits. The 2014 wines from Duke’s (particularly the complex and mineral Magpie Hill Reserve), Frankland Estate (austere and powerful) and Plantagenet (still very young, but with wonderful white fruit and flower aromas) stood out. However, Alkoomi (racy and a little wild) and Ferngrove (rich and harmonious) were not far behind. The biggest surprise of the tasting were the new sweet wines of which the “Juxtapose” from Plantagenet stood out with its orange peel and coriander seed character (!), the 17 grams per liter sweetness barely perceptible. Both the 2014 Botrytis Riesling from Singlefile and the 2009 Botrytis Riesling from Rising Star proved that high-end sweet Rieslings with low alcoholic content can work very well. And I promise you that you don’t need to be an expert to figure this stuff out for yourself, because the wines speak very directly due to the lack of fuzz and funk. The only thing that’s a little hard to understand is why the world hasn’t switched onto these wines already. The small size of most producers is surely only part of the explanation for this.

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