New York Wine Diary: Day 7 – Merry Christmas from NYC

Obviously I’m not celebrating the holiday at the moment, because I have to sit at my desk to write this message of good will to all women and men. Sorry for reminding you all of that horrible things called work on the ultimate day off, but I wanted to let you know that I haven’t got fancy software that writes the blog postings for me, nor do I employ minions to take that task off my shoulders. No, if this stuff that I write and publish is any good, then that’s because I really enjoy working on it, even when it means sitting at my desk on a day like today in order to say Merry Christmas to you all.

I took the photograph above just before 5pm on Christmas Eve from the bank of the East River and it was about 70° Fahrenheit. Yesterday in NYC it felt positively sub-tropical, conditions seriously difficult to cope with. I felt like I was in a daze the whole time! In order to wake myself up so that I could cook dinner for friends I headed out for a walk just before sunset and caught what you see above. The riverside pathway is part of my morning jogging route, and if the weather is bad early then I head out later in the day for my run. That mean’s that I get to see this view in all kinds of weathers and lights, but it never looked like this before. When I got back home I felt a lot better and dinner worked out pretty well, thank goodness.

Sometimes I feel a bit negative about the way the world is developing (just think back over the events of the last year!), but I would genuinely like to think there is a good chance that things will be better in 2016 than they were in 2015. Let’s work on that! Do not fear, this is not the last blog posting of the year. At least one further item will follow on the subject of sparkling wine. Outrageously – I’m good at outrageous, in case you missed that – that story has been waiting for half a year. I’m hoping that it will have been worth the wait for all of you, because your interest is what drives this blog. Thank you!

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New York Wine Diary: Day 3 – Give Yourself ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #2: AZ with MJK for Christmas and Blow Your Mind!

Why wait for people to give you stuff you don’t want for Christmas that will only depress you, when with a couple of mouse clicks you can give yourself my e-book for Kindle (just download the free Kindle app onto your device) ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #2: AZ with MJK that will blow your mind? If the idea of an outrageously entertaining hardcore piece of gonzo journalism straddling the genres of rock and wine writing appeals to you, then follow Hunter S. Thompson’s advice, click on the link below, buy the ticket (for just $4.99), take the trip:

If you are hesitant, then you can look at this selection of photographs from my two research trips to AZ to study the state’s wine industry and meet it’s pioneer winemakers before making that commitment. The only picture that isn’t mine is the one above showing the Nagual del Judith vineyard in Jerome a mile up in the mountains of Northern AZ on January 1st, 2015. It was taken by the singer-winemaker Maynard James Keenan of Tool & Puscifer / Caduceus Cellars & Merkin Vineyards. Before we get to MJK properly I have to show you my photo of the same vineyard taken six months later during my second trip to the wine industry of AZ. The contrast says everything about how challenging the growing conditions in the state are for the wine grape. Just look how rocky the soil is and imagine how the vines must struggle to survive in it!

AZ wine wouldn’t be where it is today – on the cusp of gaining insider recognition as an important up and coming category – if it wasn’t for the tireless efforts of MJK over the last dozen years. That was reason enough to put him on the e-book’s cover, but the quality of the 2013 and ’14 vintages at Caduceus & Merkin sealed this decision. I didn’t go crazy trying to take the ultimate photo of MJK, because I have to write a ton of notes if I’m to have a real chance to write a great story and that left me only a modest amount of time for photography. For that reason the picture below, taken in the Four Eight Wineworks in Clarkdale is the best I have to offer.

I hope, and believe, that MJK’s personality comes through better in my book than in this picture, I certainly threw myself at the task of doing it justice. When I started writing I tried throwing into the story one or two quotes from the lyrics of Puscifer songs in the hope that this would get more of the man into the story,  and it seemed to work so well that I ended up quoting them extensively. I have point out that I’m not claiming to having any special talent as an interpreter of these texts, merely that I have my own take on them that may well surprise many fans. As always, my goal was to provide a wealth of surprising angles and perspectives on the subject of AZ wine and the many things that connect with it. My e-book would be missing something if MJK’s vineyard manager Chris Turner, pictured below, hadn’t been such a mine of information, funny stories and support of many kinds.

Southern AZ is where two thirds of the state’s wine grapes are grown, and it is a completely different world to the north, as the photo below of the Callaghan Vineyard in the Sonoita-Elgin AVA (American Viticultural Area) shows very clearly. Somebody should give Kent Callaghan a medal for having never wavered in his commitment to making great wine in this Great American Emptiness since planting his first vines in 1990. Most of them died and more recently. My jaw dropped when he told me that in 2010 he had no crop due to frost damage, in 2011 a tiny fraction of a normal crop, and in 2014 rain during the harvest almost destroyed the crop. What other business faces those kind of risks? None that I can think of, not even rock music!

It was strange to go to this place so different from the safe suburban world in which I grew up and meet someone like Kent Callaghan, pictured below, and then to connect with him. Without that kind of connection no outsider can even begin to make sense of a wine location as strange as Sonoita-Elgin. I work hard at making those connections with my subjects, but that doesn’t mean there’s any guarantee that will work out. Certainly, if I’d written this e-book after my first trip to the state in November 2014 on the A2Z Wine press trip (as the organizer, Dada PR man David Furer called it) the story would have been way too flimsy, also because I hadn’t really connected with Kent Callgahan then. When I returned in June 2015 I made that connection, gained the depth of factual knowledge that my e-book needed, but also a bunch of unexpected stuff that turned it into a roller coaster of a story with its own crazed dynamic.

Another crucial figure in my story and vital source of AZ wine enlightenment is Todd Bostock of Dos Cabezas Wineworks in Sonoita, pictured below in full flight in a local cafe. Todd’s wife Kelly plays an equally important role in the success of this winery that produces AZ’s best white wine (a crazy blend called Meskeoli), and is fast becoming one of the best sources for reds and rosé too. The hardest thing of all when writing about someone who speaks as well as Todd Bostock does is deciding what to leave out, because if I’d put in all the striking things he said to me the book would be at least 50 pages longer! However, I decided there was no alternative but to putting in Kelly Bostock’s telling of the  story of how she got together with her husband verbatim. You see, MJK wasn’t the only person I quoted at length!

When I think back to my time in AZ, then I fondly remember the many hours sitting in the Airstream trailer pictured below at MJK’s Merkin South vineyard where I wrote quite a chunk of ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #2. In fact, one crucial scene in my story actually takes place inside that Airstream and that’s the reason that I had to put the PARENTAL ADVISORY Explicit Content sticker on the cover. The Puscifer fans amongst you will recognize this from a couple of the band’s videos and might recognize some elements of that scene in my e-book too.

Some readers have already asked me if I mean that scene inside the Airstream seriously and the answer is “yes”, that’s why it remained in the story through the editing process, rather than landing on the cutting room floor. I use that metaphor, because I told the story as if it was a art house movie. Who knows, maybe there’s a movie director out there who will want to film it. If not you should see some exciting pictures in your head when you read it! I hope that it also convinces you that you should go and try the new wines of AZ with an open mind, and that when you do you don’t think I’ve gone off the deep end.

Unfortunately, I just realized that I don’t have a bottle of AZ wine to drink with dinner tonight. That was a mistake I will have to correct as fast as I can!



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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 4 – Kelby Russell of Red Newt Cellars in the FLX is My Riesling Hero 2015

How quickly do things really change on Planet Wine? Often if you look past the headlines that try keep trying to persuade us the winemaking wheel has just been reinvented again, then take a thoughtful and probing look at history you find that many of those supposed game-changing innovations are not really that new. However, every now and again a young wine region really does take a massive leap forward within the space of a few years, and sometimes that leap is in good part the result of one person’s remarkable efforts. The FLX (Finger Lakes) of Upstate New York is a young region with just over 50 vintages with vinifera grape varieties behind it, and currently it is being shaken up by a group of dynamic and often young winemakers. One of them stands out for what he has done with Riesling during just the last couple of years. Kelby Russell (right in the above photo) will be 28 years old on December 19th this year and he began his winemaking career only six years ago, but what he has achieved in that time is truly revolutionary for the FLX and for the world of Riesling.

Kelby became the winemaker of Red Newt Cellars of Hector on the eastern bank of Seneca Lake at the end of the 2012 vintage. The wines he made that year are all nice stuff, but many of them are rather cautious and few of them are really exciting. However, with his 2013 and 2014 vintage Rieslings he has done things I never expected from this region, and he has taken Red Newt high into the FLX first league. Much as I appreciate the recent leap in quality at Red Newt, particularly for the winery’s larger production wines like the medium-sweet Circle Riesling (scroll down to my Riesling Revelations 2015 for more about the latter wine), the radical stylistic innovations strike me as being even more important. They are most clear in the new high-end wines that Kelby has created with the considerable encouragement and support of winery owner Dave Whiting (left in the above photo).

I never came across FLX Rieslings before with the striking nose of yellow grapefruit and smoke that the 2013 and 2014 vintages of the Red Newt Dry Riesling have. They also have a racy energy that reminds me of James Joyce’s observation that, “white wine is electricity,” and we are talking about a wine that costs just under $20! They do the kind of things most somms will tell you only top quality European Rieslings can do, and it is surely significant that Kelby has studied those wines very intensively and tried to learn everything he could from them. The grapes for this wine came from Harlan Fulkerson’s Lahoma Vineyard on the western bank of Seneca Lake, a new fruit source for Red Newt. The winery’s new top dry Riesling The Knoll comes from one particular block – it is indeed a knoll – in that vineyard and debuts with the recently released 2013 vintage. It has even more of the smoke aroma than the 2013 Dry Riesling, and this is combined with a fresh pineapple note. On the palate there’s great concentration for this generally rather wishy-washy vintage (due to high crop levels that winemakers didn’t see coming until it was too late) and it lacks the Botrytis note that slightly mars many 2013 FLX Rieslings. The even drier 2014 The Knoll is still science fiction, by which I mean that it will be almost a year before it reaches the market, however, it is surely one of star wines of this often great vintage in the region. For all its intensity and despite having some serious tannins (yes, tannin can be positive in Riesling!) this is a very elegant wine with flavors of way too complex to be adequately described with a few standard winetasting terms. So let me stick my neck out and say that it’s an intricately patterned tapestry of acidity, fruit, spice and minerals.

There is also medium-dry pendant to this with the working name of The Big H (as the photo right shows Harlan Fulkerson is a big guy in every sense). It has more exotic aromas, is more succulent and weighty, but is also graceful and subtle. With just 18 grams of residual sweetness in the 2014 vintage, this too is very much a gastronomic wine. Kelby is also responsible for making the excellent Dry Riesling for Boundary Breaks winery (again see my Riesling Revelations 2015 below) and almost equally striking Empire Estate Dry Riesling launched with the 2014 vintage by the Nomad Hotel group. These are also both stylistic innovations for the FLX. Then there are the wines that he makes under his own Kelby James Russell label, but they deserve separate description at a later date so they don’t get lost in the crowd of all these other wines.

Given all this you are probably wondering why you haven’t heard Kelby Russell’s name before. Winemakers who don’t continually blow their own horn are often overlooked and underrated, and Kelby is anything but a loud mouth or  24/7 self-publicist. Of course, he hasn’t been up at full speed for very long, and this is also a reason for the modest crop of high praise he has gathered to date. However, it’s a journalist’s job to see what’s going on, and regions where so much is moving so fast (many more stories on the young winemaker of FLX will follow and ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3 will be devoted to them) ought to excite journalists. Dear colleagues, it is high time that you woke up to what this young man is doing, because he is changing an entire region!

Of course, that statement prompts the question how it is possible for someone so young to get so far in such a short period of time. Part of the answer is the way that Dave Whiting spotted his talent and almost immediately gave Kelby the freedom he needed to turn his vision into such exciting wines. However, you have to have a vision and the necessary knowledge to be implement it before that kind of mentorship will work. Kelby graduated from Harvard in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in government and a minor in economics, both subjects enormously far removed from wine. He had been planning to go into orchestra or choir management, but a little taste of winemaking in Italy in 2008 made him change his mind. On the first day of the 2009 harvest he turned up at Fox Run Vineyards and became one of the “students” at the “school” of winemaker Peter Bell. Many other young FLX winemaker have done the same, and Peter helped any number of them thoroughly grasp the foundations of their craft. Somebody should give Peter a medal for what he has done for the entire FLX wine industry!

In 2010, ’11 and ’12 Kelby worked two harvests per year by going to the Southern Hemisphere in the Northern Hemisphere spring, working at Whitehaven in Marlborough, NZ, then Piper’s Brook in Tasmania, before finally graduating to Nightshift Red Winemaker at Yalumba in South Australia. Not surprisingly, he’s also doing exciting things with the Cabernet Franc reds at Red Newt. From the 2014 vintage there’s a joyful, fragrant fruity tank-aged Cab Franc and the 2013 Glacier Ridge single vineyard bottling is the best Cab Franc the winery has made to date with a floral elegance that puts it in the first league of FLX reds. Other remarkable and sometimes daring new creations are about to emerge from Red Newt Cellars! These exciting other wines show that this year’s Riesling Hero is by no means limited to his and my favorite grape variety!

Anyone who regularly reads this blog will already know that Kelby is also a good friend of mine and that I have been his house guest several times. That closeness has enabled this young winemaker to have a mind-expanding effect upon my awareness of Riesling in the FLX and beyond. Only a couple of other winemakers of his generation did that for me, and they are world-famous names. READ MY LIPS: TASTE THESE WINES!

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 2 – John Winthrop Haeger’s Excellent New Book “Riesling Rediscovered”

2015 was not an easy Riesling year, and I’m not talking about the vintage (probably great in Europe, possibly less exciting in many parts of North America). During the last year I’ve been told any number of times but people who are convinced that they know for sure that Riesling has quite simply run out of steam, that in spite of the considerable growth in Riesling sales since 2000 the grape never topped a 1% market share and therefore doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously, was turned into a fashion by the Summer of Riesling promotions and is now oh so very 2013, also that the Summer of Riesling made a catastrophic mistake in not focusing totally on dry Riesling and the grape as a whole now paying the price for this. There is a grain of truth in all of this, but the whole truth is so much more complex and more positive than these gibes suggest.

2016 will be a very different Riesling year, not least because John Winthrop Haeger’s book Riesling Rediscovered (University of California Press) appears and is a great answer to all of this negativity. It both takes Riesling extremely seriously and enthusiastically celebrates the great dry wines made from the grape around the Northern Hemisphere of Planet Wine (for reasons of time and space the Southern Hemisphere was excluded). It also examines the prejudices that still clings to Riesling – most importantly that Riesling is a sweet wine in an ugly negative sense – and exposes their surprising deep and historical roots. Nobody has told that story anywhere near as well as Haeger, and along the way he provides a lot of fascinating insights into the development of the wine industry and wine market between the Middle Ages and the present day. Even if you are not particularly interested in Riesling this is a great read. If you are Riesling obsessed, then you will need to read the chapter on clones, because it is the only place this information is available in this thorough and complete form.

However, all this only prepares the ground Haeger’s in-depth survey of the contemporary world of dry Riesling. That spans roughly 200 pages, and to read this mass of detailed description of the best dry Riesling in Europe and North America you certainly need to feel some fascination for the enormous diversity of wines made from this chameleon among white grape varieties. What makes those 200 pages worth working your way through is the wealth of information about the top vineyard sites and the producers who are responsible for the wines that made and make them famous. The complex interaction of natural and human factors that lies behind all great wines is Haeger’s real theme, and the world of dry Riesling is just as fertile a subject for him as the Pinot Noirs of North America were beforehand. Some prior knowledge of winegrowing and winemaking methods will certainly help you to follow all this properly, but if you are halfway intelligent and fascinated by the subject you shouldn’t have much trouble.

Of course, although 200 pages is a lot it isn’t nearly enough to describe the many hundreds of top producers of dry Riesling in the Northern Hemisphere, and Haeger therefore concentrated on a personal selection of the best. It is here that the book can most easily be attacked, particularly due to the omission of detailed description of a few famous high-end producers like Dönnhoff in the Nahe, Germany. In a few regions that are experiencing rapid change like the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York Haeger’s last visit was clearly a year or two prior to completion of the manuscript, and he therefore seems to have missed some new developments with long-term implications (see my Riesling Revelations 2015 below). However, these small weaknesses don’t significantly detract from the enormous value of the book as the single serious guide to this subject. My own Best White Wine on Earth (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2014) took a very different approach by looking casting a wide net that took in the entire range of Riesling wines from both hemispheres, and rarely went into this kind of detail. If you want that then Haeger’s new work is the sole reliable and thoughtful source. It is highly recommended to anyone interested in Riesling, and to all somms who are genuinely interested to have an overview of the entire world of wine, and to all those who have been throwing those anti-Riesling gibes around recently. To pre-order it click on the following link or contact your local bookstore. The price is just over $30:


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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 1 – Ten Years After I Gave Up Painting Suddenly I’m an Artist Again!

The title of this entry to my wine diary is radically out of synch with the subject of this posting, because yesterday after three days in the Pfalz I made the decision to return to Berlin for medical tests. It turns out that I probably didn’t need to come back and therefore this blog posting ought to be titled “Pfalz Wine Diary: Day 4″. However, I had already achieved the main goal of my visit to the region, because I had completed portraits of Valentin Rebholz (pictured above) and Hans Rebholz (pictured below). I first painted portraits of the twin sons of Hansjörg and Birgit Rebholz of the famous Weingut Ökonomierat Rebholz in Siebeldingen back in the late 1990s when they were small kinds. This spring the Rebholz twins told me how much they liked those pictures, then surprised me even more by begging me to return to do new portraits of them. In a weak moment I agreed to this – how could I really say “no” ? – not having painted for a full decade.

This meant that when I arrived in Siebedlingen early on the evening of Monday, December 7th I had no idea if I could still paint, much less if I would be able to compete portraits that would satisfy the Rebholz twins or me. It was therefore quite a surprise to me when the portraits quickly took (contrasting) form on the first day of work, this Tuesday, and by the end of the second day of work, this Wednesday, I was already wondering if there was anything else I could do to them. This Thursday morning I decided they were finished and started work on another painting, but within hours I was unwell, the medical advice was clear and I was on an ICE express train on my way back to Berlin.

Now it seems that my problems are much smaller than I thought, I could probably have stayed in the Pfalz and completed at least a third and possible a fourth painting. However, that is all theory. The two paintings above are the facts. For me the interesting thing about them is how radically different they are to each other, although the Rebholz twins (now 20 years old) look so alike it’s hard to tell them apart at first glance. It was a conscious decision to go down this path and try to make that work. How well it works is up to them and up to you. Obviously, the way I paint – influenced by artists as diverse as Diego Velasquez, Francisco Goya, Chaim Soutine, Max Beckmann and Francis Bacon – is not going to agree with everyone and I expect to upset as many people as I intrigue or actually please. That polarization of audience opinion is inherent to the way I paint no less than to the way I write. Please let me know what you think, and don’t ever hesitate to criticize wither my writing or my painting.

Alongside the reassuring news that I almost certainly don’t have a major health problem, the other positive thing which today brought was another painting commission. It feels seriously strange to suddenly be asked to paint again after having started again following a ten year break! I am now planing to pack my paints and brushes in exactly one week and take them with me to NYWC (New York Wine City) to work on that commission. It will be the first time I ever painted in the US. Wish me luck!


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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 11 – My Riesling Revelations 2015

Ein deutschsprachige Version von diesem Text wird bald folgen. Ich bitte um Geduld!

Late last year the announcement of my Riesling Revelations for the year caused quite a stir, so there was never any doubt in my mind that I would have to repeat the giving of these awards at the same time this year. The first time the winners were all North American wines, but this year I decided to simply pick the most exciting and innovative Riesling wines I encountered during the last year in each of the four categories of the IRF (International Riesling Foundation) taste profile: Dry / Medium-Dry / Medium-Sweet / Sweet.  Sometimes the choices were very difficult and that’s the reason there’s an official runner up in the Dry category. I am, of course, very interested to hear all your reactions. My apologies that it’s impossible to list all the importers for these wines around Planet Wine, but this information should be easily accessible on the Internet.


2014 Watervale Riesling

from Mitchell in Clare Valley, South Australia

Not without some reason do somms and consumers in America and elsewhere sometimes accuse Australian Riesling producers of making extreme wines. Often the bone dry, high-acidity style combined with the intense lime character of these wines makes them challenging in their youth, which is why I often refer to them as Bladerunner wines. It is the intense sunlight, the enormous day-night temperature differences and very dry summers in Australia that are responsible for that acidity and that aroma. The normal suggestion is that the wines need some sweetness, but this always struck me as the easy way out. This wine proves that greater elegance can be achieved in this style without resorting to sweetness, or in any way changing the fundamental personality of these wines. This dry Riesling is the best that the Mitchell family made since the first vintage back in 1977. The aromas of lime, passion fruit, melon and citrus blossom are only made more exciting by the slightly funky note from the wild ferment. However, you have to feel the textural complexity, succulence in your mouth, then savor the elegant, delicately mineral finale in order to find out why this wine had to win in this category.

Typical retail price: AUS$22

US importer: Red Earth Wines, contact

UK importer: Merchant Vintners, contact 


2014 Riesling “239”

from Boundary Breaks in the Finger Lakes, New York

Until recently when I tasted the dry Rieslings of the FLX (Finger Lakes) in Upstate New York I almost always felt that they lacked enough ripeness to claim a place in the global first league for wines of this category. The only frequent exceptions were the wines of Hermann J. Wiemer on the west side of Seneca Lake (who made some great wines in 2012 and 2014). With the last couple of vintages a small handful of other winemakers have proved that they too can pull this off through the combination of excellent vineyard cultivation and late-picking. Bruce Murray’s first vintage at the vineyard he planted while still a market researcher in NYC was 2011, so this wine comes from the 4th crop of his vineyard on the east side of Seneca Lake. By waiting until October 28th he picked perfectly ripe golden Riesling grapes that were entirely free of rot. Then Kelby Russell of Red Newt (see below) vinified this mold-breaking creamy and delicately spicy FLX dry Riesling with a great feeling for balance. The result is a wine so far outside the FLX box that it is sure to both praised and damned when it is released March 16th,2016.

Typical retail price: $19 (release March 16th 2016)

New York distributor: Polaner Selections, contact:

Winery contact:,


2014 Riesling Kabinett Feinherb “Rotlack”

from Schloss Joahnnisberg in the Rheingau, Germany

How can a Riesling from the most famous producer of wines from this grape in the world be a revelation? Schloss Johannisberg is best known internationally for sweet Spätlese type wines, and since Christian Witte became the estate director back in 2005 (aged under 30!) they have once again shone very brightly in this category (look out for the amazing 2013 Riesling Spätlese “Grünlack”!) More recently, the estate’s Riesling GG “Silberlack” has moved into the first league of dry Rhine wines (the 2014 vintage is probably the best so far). Less sought after or loudly acclaimed are the “regular” wines from Schloss Johannisberg like this masterpiece of peachy filigree with a brilliance and tantalizing dry mineral finish that makes it the perfect beverage for seduction or polite conversation. With just 10.5% this is a great wine you can drink and entire bottle of and still feel up to anything that the seduction or conversation might lead to.

Typical retail price: Euro 23 / $ 32

US importer: Mionetto USA, contact

UK importer: Hallgarten Druitt, contact

Winery contact:


2014 Riesling “Circle”

from Red Newt Cellars in the Finger Lakes, New York

Let me be completely frank with you. The reasons I picked this wine for this award is the combination it’s excellent quality, the production quantity of 36,000 bottles and the astonishingly friendly $13 retail price. How could Red Newt Cellars’ biggest production and lowest-priced Riesling be this good? The fact that most of the vineyards supplying grapes to this winery that doesn’t own a single vine have a high standards of viticulture was certainly key (Harlan Fulkerson deserves a mention because he was the main supplier for this wine). Then came the excellent fall weather and winemaker Kelby Russell’s decision to delay picking until late October even for this “basic” wine. It fermented very slowly, and remained on the full fermentation lees for fully 10 months before racking, filtration and bottling. It won’t be released until about May/June 2016 and that should mean that it hits the market in optimum form. The aromas range from peach and apricot to smoke and grapefruit, the wine is only just sweet enough to demand inclusion in this category, but has a mouth-filling succulence, then a super-clean finish. In short, it is a beauty that the entire team lead by Dave Whiting must be congratulated on!

Typical retail price: $13 (release May/June 2016)

New York distributor: Verity Wine Partners, contact

Winery contact:


2014 Wolfer Goldgrube Riesling Spätlese

from Daniel Vollenweider in the Mosel, Germany

Back in 2000 Swiss Daniel Vollenweider became the first non-German winemaker in the Mosel Valley. I will never forget how a decade ago a German colleague asked me to name an exciting new Mosel winemaker to him and when I recommended this young Swiss guy he asked in a tone heavy with scorn, “who is Daniel Vollenweider?” However, when he tasted the wines he immediately praised Daniel as the new star of Mosel Riesling. Of course, he isn’t so new anymore, but he continues pushing the envelope both for dry and sweet Mosel wines, and this is one of the most exciting young Riesling Spätlese from the region I ever tasted. Packed to the brim with all manner of white and yellow fruit aromas, floral notes and bristling with both ripe acidity and juicy sweetness it is already delicious. However, just like The Force, this wine also has a dark side, and that’s what gives it a dangerous kick other wines of this category lacked.

Typical retail price: Euro 20 / $30

US importer: Vom Boden, contact

UK importer: Howard Ripley, contact

Winery contact:

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 8 – Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards is the Original Rock Star of Wine America

Paul Draper is the original Rock Star of Wine America. Why do I make this unconventional and radical claim? Of course, the term comes from the title of my series of e-books about the underground rock star winemakers of America, and if you go to the Kindle Store you can already find ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #1: Point of Entry featuring Very Bad PR (describing how I hooked up with America and wine in Baltimore back in 1985) and #2: AZ with MJK – I could Drink a Case of You (describing the wine industry of Arizona and staring Maynard James Keenan). When Paul joined Ridge Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Francisco back in 1969 it was still an underground and an underground producer, although the winery’s roots went back to 1886 (from which year part of the complex of buildings dates). However, even today the lists of California Cult Cabernets that collectors, somms and journalists have in their heads rarely include the Monte Bello Cabernet-based red wine blend that has been Ridge’s top wine since the 1971 vintage. The reason is that the don’t fit the massive, ultra-ripe and often sweetish mold of this category

Ridge still doesn’t fit in, nor does Paul, 79, pictured above at the Weinstein wine bar in Berlin. He isn’t under any illusions about that, nor does it bug him at a ll, rather it is the role that he’s become so accustomed to that he can’t imagine anything else. The flip side of this is the global network of Ridge fans who understand very well how these wines tick and enormously appreciate the undoubting way that Paul and his team (most notably Eric Baugher and John Olney) have stuck with their moderately rich, subtle and elegant style of wine regardless of what the rest of California’s wine industry does, with its tendency to lemming-like behavior every time a new wine fashion becomes visible on the horizon.  Instead, they have refined the style that Paul developed and learned how to dodge the many curveballs that this special climate (Mediterranean type, but with serious fog, and up on top of Monte Bello wind too) throws at them.

Nowhere is that clearer than in the 2011 Monte Bello, by far the best Cabernet-based red I’ve tasted so far from this extremely difficult vintage in California. This was the result of excellent viticulture and choosing exactly the right harvesting date, immediately before the heavy rains that seriously damaged much of the crop in Napa Valley. For anyone skeptical as to whether a CA Cabernet-based blend can match Bordeaux for elegance here is the answer! In a vera different way Ridge’s single vineyard Zinfandel-based red wines from Sonoma County, Geyserville and Lytton Springs, beak another CA wine mold. They always avoiding any trace of the heaviness, portiness and bombastic dimensions that mar many reds from this grape. Instead, they are medium-full bodied wines with generous dry tannins and a wonderful spice character (Geyserville) and herbal freshness (Lytton Springs). The 2012s are wonderful examples of these wines and should age magnificently. If only I still had a few bottles of the great 1991s, the year that I first met Paul!

The starting point for his approach was the decision, “to look backwards to pre-industrial winemaking, rather than look forward to high-tech methods.” This choice was so stark, because the continuity of CA winemaking was broken by Prohibition from 1920 – 1930. Although the CA grape growing industry survived Prohibition fairly intact, and some grape growers made a pile of money by shipping their grapes across the country and selling them with packets of yeast, legal winemaking almost ceased in the state (only wine for Holy Communion was allowed). When the winemaking industry final gained some momentum again in the 1960s most winemakers felt the logical thing to do was science-based futurism. This had very mixed results, and many of the most interesting wines in the state are made by winemakers who chose divergent paths from this dogma. Paul was one of the first of them and to this day is a role model for young CA winemakers who dare to be different. The effects of his influence will surely continue for decades to come, regardless how much longer he remains active himself.

Wein & Glas is the Berlin distributor for Ridge, and Frederick Wildman is the New York distributor. The Ridge wines are distributed globally. For further information consult:


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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 2 – My Mother Tongue and I

It’s just under 24 hours since I (kicking and screaming with reluctance) signed up with Facebook and was greeted with just over 1,000 emails from people asking to be my “friends” or congratulating me that I had finally seen the light, capitulated to the inevitable, and joined the biggest club on the planet with the lowest common denominator of any club on the planet. I know, that’s me being negative and what I ought to do is keep an open mind, give it a chance, see how it works out, etc. And I will do that (kicking and screaming with reluctance!)

All of this would hardly be worth mentioning if it hadn’t brought up something else, something that I also received a bunch of analog comments about (i.e. people actually spoke to me, I mean to my actual face!) You see, after spending 20 years living in Berlin and writing just about all my regular columns and some daring books in German I have a Stammpublikum, that is a hard core of regular fans who want to read and hear me in German. Dear Stammpublikum, honestly I have a lot sympathy for you. Those people who accuse me of leaving Berlin are talking out of their asses (not least because I own an apartment here and most of my stuff including an oversized wine cellar is here), but it is true that I have been writing more in English and rather less in German since New York became my second home. I know that many of you would have preferred for me to stick with German. If you urgently need a large dose of full-throttle Stuart Pigott in German, then please buy the current issue of Der Feinschmecker magazine (12/15) in which there is a big article by me about Berlin. There is also my regular column in FINE, and every two weeks I have a column in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. Indeed, this Sunday’s issue will contain the highlights of the year and that’s a must for German-speaking readers!

Why did I make the move to publishing e-books, in English? When, three years ago, I once again began spending a serious amount of time in places that my mother tongue is spoken I realized how much I had missed it, and how much easier it is for me to write in it. Most of my writer heroines and heroes wrote in English (Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Wolfgang Hilbig are important exceptions), and most of what I read is in English. I have a fluency in my mother tongue that extends from the last things I thought while writing this to my first memories and beyond all those things into the realm of imagination and dreams. This – and the technical possibilities for self-publishing on Kindle – made it possible to write ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #2: AZ with MJK so fast that it came out just four days after the last events described in the book actually happened. Can you imagine how liberating that was? If not you might want to read the book. It is obtainable from the Kindle Store (just download the free Kindle app on your phone or tablet, then click on the link below):

There is also the simple fact that it is easier to write about english-speakers in their own language. ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA is a series of e-pamphlets that each explores the underground winemaking of one American state in-depth. It would have been absurd to publish this material first in German, and waiting to simultaneously publish a German-langauge edition alongside the original English-language one would have slowed me down by several months. That is not shooting from the hip, the American way of doing things that belongs to this project as much as the logo above and below this story. I am now considering an offer from a potential translator (who I got to know through Facebook – it is good for something) and we’ll see if this is a viable proposition. I will certainly have to pass on the costs to readers, so expect a $9,99 cover price instead of $4,99 for the English-language original. However, the more pressing question is if it can successfully be translated, for the tone is a special variation of American-English incorporating some English-English elements. There are numerous American literary and rock music associations, every one of which a German translator would have to “get”. So, dear Stammpublikum I’m investigating the possibilities, but making no promises I don’t know if I can keep. Tut mir leid!

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 1 – The Tale of My Two Wine Cities, Berlin & New York

When I took a flight from the Wine Metropole Berlin to New York Wine City (NYWC) on this day three years ago I was definitely planning on beginning a new life, but dividing my time between two cities in the long term was not part of my plan. However, it only took a very short time before that was what I was doing, and now I’m not thinking about living any other way. If you scroll down to the postings below, then you will see what this life with one foot in Berlin and the other in NYWC has made possible for me. The motto of my latest writings, most importantly the series of short e-books ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA, is a three word phrase that sent a shiver of excitement through my teenage body when I first heard it: complete artistic freedom. And that’s why the Freedom Tower in New York is pictured at the top of this posting.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Berlin and it’s good to be back. However, many of the things that make modern Germany a great place were imported from the US during the immediate post-WWII years, most importantly of all the fundamental principals of the constitution, technically referred to as the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany. The first words of the Basic Law (Article 1 – 1), Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority, represent a complete rejection of the disastrous situation in Germany during the Nazi period and the many atrocities committed by that state (and many German people, often with the assistance or collusion of non-Germans) during those 12 years. This is the foundation stone of the openness of Berlin, although much else has become allied to that principal that encourages that openness. Nowhere in Germany does the process by which positive thoughts and actions grow out of, and become associated with, this fundamental principal function better. That has a lot to do with the city’s division by the Berlin Wall from August 1961 thru November 1989 and the enormous efforts made since then to bring the two sides fully together, a process that has been extremely successful.

It’s a great place for me to live for these reasons, but it is a great place me to work because of another principal enshrined within the Basic Law (Article 5 – 1), Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting…shall be guaranteed. There shall be no censorship. This also represents a radical rejection of the situation during the Nazi period, and was no less inspired by an American example (the Bill of Rights of 1789). This principal has also put down deep roots in Germany, and nowhere does this function better than in Berlin, the seat of government, as the German media’s extensive and fearless reporting of the NSA affair clearly shows.

Germany wouldn’t be what it is today without the influence of America and Germany (including those Germans with anti-American sentiments – though they may not want to admit it) knows that. At some point soon I will write about the influence of Germany on America, which is less obvious, unknown to many Americans and seldom acknowledged. First, though it’s time for some serious reporting from the Wine Metropole Berlin!

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FLX Wine Diary: Day 5 YES, Maynard James Keenan IS on the Cover of ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #2 !

There has been some suggestion that the portrait on the cover of my new Kindle e-book ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #2: AZ with MJK is not of the singer-winemaker Maynard James Keenan (Puscifer & Tool / Caduceus Cellars & Merkin Vineyards). The reason that some people have jumped to the conclusion seems to be that in Angelyn Cabrales portrait he is shown smiling. So there seems to be a need to put the record straight. The cover image is based on the above photograph of MJK that I took in The Bunker, aka Caduceus Cellars in Jerome, Arizona on November 15th, 2014, and as you can see from it he does smile just like everybody else! To learn more about the man, his wines and the Arizona wine industry that he is a vital part of click on the following link:

This also seems like an opportune moment to explain that the portrait on the book’s cover is a work of embroidery, a stitched drawing and collage of fabrics. Angelyn Cabrales developed this technique and circular format herself although she is still a student at The College of New Jersey. The design of the book’s cover is also her work, although it is modeled on the cover that Alexandra Weiss of Bad Dürkheim in Germany did for #1 in this series of outrageous tales about America, wine and I. Research for #3 about the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York continues this very day!

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