Eppstein Wine Diary: Day 1 – The New Beauty of German Wine, James Suckling and I

James Suckling

Who believes in the beauty of wine? James Suckling (pictured above) and I, along with many others too. However, some of our colleagues seem to have a problem with it. My report about the wines of the Nahe region of Germany came out just a few days ago on JamesSuckling.com (for the link scroll to the bottom) and very quickly it became clear that while many wine lovers agree with me about their beauty, some of my colleagues are stunned and outraged by my report.

What’s the problem? It’s very simple really: I dared to rate many dry and sweet Rieslings from rising star producers 90+ and some 95+ because that’s how good the wines struck me when I tasted them. For us at JamesSuckling.com the taste of the wine is everything; fame gains a producer no extra points and being unknown denies them no points either. We are fundamentally democratic in our approach and open for every kind of wine beauty.

Over the last 20 years the printed guides to German wines – there are now 5 of them! – developed a system of rating not only individual wines, but also producers. The problem with that approach seems to be that if a producer is highly-rated, then their wines get higher scores than they would if the producer was less highly rated. During my research for the series of German wine reports (Mosel, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Nahe) I wrote this year for JamesSuckling.com I was repeatedly told by rising star winemaker in Germany that they didn’t get 90+ scores from one or other German wine guide, “because I’ve only got two stars/grape symbols, not four or five.” Looking at several of the guides (Falstaff seemed to be an exception) I could see exactly what the young winemakers were talking about.

The problem with this situation is that it results in a distorted picture of the nation’s wines being communicated to the readers of the wine guides. I reject this not only because it creates a strange hierarchy but, more importantly, because the ratings fail to reflect what you or I can taste. The beauty of certain wines doesn’t seem to count fully for some of my colleagues.

Of course, giving a wine a 95+ score makes a big statement, and the words of description I used for these wines on JamesSuckling.com do the same thing. Of course, I am sticking my neck out with them and if the majority of readers disagree with me about the beauty of that wine, then I made the opposite mistakes to the wine guides. However, in my opinion every wine critic must be willing to take that risk to state her or his opinion as clearly as possible. Certainly, this is how James Suckling has worked over the 30 years I’ve known him, and this was an important reason for me to join his team.

I must point out that these “high” ratings are not the product of my desire to lavish praise on underdog producers. Rather, they result from the great ambition, determination, perfectionism and rigorousness of the new generation of German winemakers who emerged from the last turn of the century. They have created a wealth of new wine beauty and this demands my attention. However, because of the inherent conservatism of their methods and what strikes me as a grudging attitude to recognizing the achievements of young talent, the printed wine guides are lagging behind this development. All too often their ratings seem to be influenced by the situation 5, 10 or more years ago.

Maybe I am wrong, but my gut tells me that behind this problem lies in the longing for more certainty than is realistic in our rapidly changing world. Many of my colleagues seem to yearn for is a canon of classics that though not static, changes by small increments that are determined by them. They want the illusion that they are in charge, when the truth is that the market is the decisive thing. At JamesSuckling.com we want to be part of that dynamic and believe that doing so enables to have more influence than if we try to pull the breaks on.

None of this means that we are against giving well-established producers top ratings if their wines deserve it. Some of my favorite wines during JamesSuckling.com tastings this year were 2014 Château Mouton-Rothschild (rated 98), 2008 Vega Sicilia Unico (rated 100 points) and the 2015 Hermannshöhle Riesling GG from Dönnhoff (rated 97 points). Take a look at the Nahe report on JamesSuckling.com by using the link below and decide for yourself. Please note that you can read the story for free, but to see all the ratings and tasting notes you have to take out a subscription. The only thing we have in common with the wine guides is that you have to pay for the results of extensive tastings. Please don’t hesitate to tell me what your impression is. You can easily find me on Facebook and Twitter.


Stuart Pigott Riesling Global


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Eppstein Wine Diary: Day 13 – Hurricane in a Wine Glass (of 2016 Riesling “1896” from Weingut Carl Loewen)

95 points from JamesSuckling.com

A hefty controversy on Facebook that blew up yesterday makes it essential for me to make a clear statement about the way I am scoring German and other wines at JamesSuckling.com, for which I am a contributing editor. My major reports about the Mosel, Rheingau and Rheinhessen have already appeared on the website and similar reports about the Pfalz and the Nahe will appear shortly. A major report on the nation’s Spätburgunder/Pinot Noir reds will follow before the end of the year. Of course, the other regions of Germany will follow in due course, but they export little and this is the reason that they are lower down the list of priorities.

Anyone can read the text of all my reports on JamesSuckling.com by going to the website, and a few of the most spectacular scores can be found in those texts. However, to read my thousand plus published scores and tasting notes you’ll need to take out a subscription first. I suspect that almost nobody taking part in the controversy already has a subscription, and that they are therefore ignorant of the range of scores I have given.

The first point to make is that I certainly don’t only give 90 plus scores. However, if the great majority of wines submitted for a report like that on Rheinhessen deserve scores of 90 plus then this is what they get from me. The score always reflects the quality of the wine and should never be swayed by the name of the producer and/or region, the vineyard, vintage, or the personality of the producer or anything else. JamesSuckling.com is completely committed to that principal. No less crucial for us is the principal that under no circumstances does a wine producer ever pay to have their wines reviewed.

During the last year I was also on the road with James Suckling in Bordeaux and Spain where I tasted and rated wines ranging from products that land on supermarket shelves for less than Euro 10 per bottle right up to 1er Grand Cru Classé and Vega Sicilia. I was also on the US West and East Coasts where I tasted hundreds of wines, plus a smaller number of wines from locations scattered around Planet Wine. My ratings for German wines place them fairly within this global context, which I see without any nationalistic prejudice or favoritism. In fact, I consider nation states in the 21st century to be largely illusory, and it is therefore absurd to have wine preferences on that level.

During the last year and every wine that amazed, delighted and electrified me rated 95 or more, and each of the wines that I instantly fell in love with on encountering them rated 100. That is how JamesSuckling.com defines great and perfect wines respectively. Of course, others are free to adopt different definitions, use different criteria and the reader/consumer will decide whose notes and scores they prefer. That is what the free press and the free market economy are all about.

The cause of the current controversy was the 95 points I gave to the dry 2016 Riesling 1896 from Weingut Carl Loewen in Leiwen, Mosel, or rather the fact there’s a difference of 6 points between my score and that in the printed guide to German wines just published by the Mondo press of Gerhard Eichelmann (see page 725).I actually prefer the 2015 vintage of it (if anyone wishes to sell bottles I’d be delighted to buy them!), which I gave 97 points to. That 89+ score was given by his assistant Wolfgang Fassbender, something I was not aware of when on I rhetorically asked on Facebook if Mr. Eichelmann was in a coma when he tasted the wine.

I used this drastic expression, because for me this is a very special wine – it has a very special character and style – that has been made since the 2012 vintage by Christopher Loewen using methods that imitate those used a century and more ago. Of course, that in itself makes the wine taste different. The ungrafted Riesling vines from which the grapes are harvested was planted in the great Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg site back in 1896 and this is therefore genetic material from way before clonal selection began. And this too results in a different character to wines made from modern clones of Riesling.

What’s my problem with that 89+ score? Of course, it’s a personal opinion and entirely justified as such. However, to me it’s also part of a pattern of scoring wines particular to the printed German wine guides. To me they seem to be absurdly cautious about giving more than one point more to the new vintage of a particular wine than they did to the one before. That already makes their entire rating system inherently conservative and non-responsive. In contrast, I want to respond openly to each individual wine and rate it accordingly.

To this must be added the way they rate producers in hierarchies, in Eichelmann’s case with a five star system. Weingut Carl Loewen has four stars, which is a good rating. The problem with these producer hierarchies is that they seem to influence, or even dictate, the maximum score that each individual wine can receive. If a producer with only one or two stars (other guides use different symbols, but the principal is the same), then they have almost no chance of getting a 90 plus score, however stunning their wines taste. If, on the other hand, a producer has five stars, then 90 plus scores seem to be no problem even when the wine doesn’t taste that special. Of course, this is the opposite of what I am doing.

The result is that the average ratings for all the wines in each of the annual guides has inched up only slightly since the turn of the century. That is radically out of step with the reality in the glass though, the average quality of the wines reviewed having increased much more dramatically than the scores. As a result of the way this scoring system works a great many wines are underrated.

The problem with all of this is that it suggests to the normal reader that nothing much has changed out in the wine world in recent years, rather than that the stasis results from the systematic conservatism of the guides. Beyond this, a score of 89+ for one of the best dry Riesling of the 2016 vintage in the Mosel and Germany – I am not alone, it is also the view of JancisRobinson.com (Jancis works with Michael Schmitt in Germany) and Weinwisser (Giuseppe Lauria is the taster in this case), to mention just two – could be misunderstood as implying that Weingut Carl Loewen is only worth something like 89+ points. This extrapolation could conceivably be extended to the whole region.

My own rating for that wine can rightly be understood also as praise for Christopher and Karl Josef Loewen’s winemaking skills and as praise for the amazing leap in quality the Mosel winemakers have collectively made since I started following them back in 1984. It has been a joy to see all these talents blossom and untold thousands of consumers around the world respond to these wines.

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global





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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 2 – Thumbs Up for Boris & Brexitspeak at the Edge of the Cliff

GREAT Britain, you’re invited!
Really Good by David Shrigley

The photo above shows the seven meter high bronze sculpture Really Good by David Shrigley that currently occupies the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in Central London. Of course it shows a massive, phallic thumbs up, but for what? In the following all dates are this year unless otherwise stated.

Could there only be a hundred hours to go before we awaken from our collective nightmare? Maybe it doesn’t seem that bad after all, but such a short-cut to the sunshine seems totally impossible. Maybe the fear and loathing will only last a hundred days? Let’s face it we British will be extremely fortunate if that’s the case! It’s far more likely that the Brexit disaster movie will continue to run for a full hundred weeks longer – reel after reel, an Everest of reels! – or that we’re in the worse case scenario of this bizarre shadow-boxing-rerun of World War II and every other British War: Agincourt come back,we love you! If that’s the case then we’re in for the long-term and it could be almost six years, or maybe it could even keep going for another Hundred Years.

Almost every day I’ve been shocked anew when I read the news from the UK, although I’ve been following hard-core Brexitism since the campaign for the referendum about Britain’s to decide the nation’s future began – within the EU including all the compromises associated with that, or a nostalgic return to Splendid Isolation – and I’ve therefore become seriously desensitized to it. In spite of that process, I could have written a hundred stories about this form of GREAT Britain Your’re Invited!, punching-above-our-weight, let-the-British-lion-roar collective madness, but mucking in with the warmongers is something I forbade myself long ago.

Then I spotted something that as a cultural historian brought up with liberal and humane principles I couldn’t avoid commenting on, because it seemed crucial to understanding what’s happening in the UK now. Perhaps the most important force leading the country  up to the cliff edge of hard Brexit with as yet unquantifiable consequence is what I call Brexitspeak: the aggressively nationalistic, manically utopian and stridently xenophobic discourse that now fills much of the British media. During my recent visit it seemed to be seeping into daily life on all sides through myriad cracks in the decaying edifice of the nation’s erstwhile political pragmatism. Even if the majority of people in Britain just want the whole mess to go away, a large number now want action of some (often unspecified) kind, there are some who want bags of EU swag and a few seem thirsty for blood. Yes, Back to blood! Let us unite against every single them on the Continent now!

Nelson's Column on Trafalgar Square

My moment of gruesome revelation came when Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of H.M. government, said of the Brexit negotiations with the EU in an interview on Sky News on the 13th October, “The enemy, the opponents, are out there. They’re on the other side of the negotiating table.” It was Carl von Clausewitz, the author of On War, who famously observed that “war is the continuation of diplomacy by other means”, and diplomacy is fundamentally about negotiations. That one of the few circumspect figures in a cabinet dominated by vain and unprincipled opportunists with no respect for the facts should descend to this war-like tone is shocking in itself. However, what pushed him to do so makes plain just how dangerous British politics have become recently. We are on a slippery slope, it’s steep and it descends in the worst possible direction. Let me explain why that’s my conclusion.

Just the day before Hammond uttered those words – shortly afterwards he retracted them, replacing “the enemy” with “our friends and partners in the EU” – ex-Chancellor Nigel Lawson said of Hammond, “what he is doing is very close to sabotage,” and an editorial in The daily Mail newspaper called for Hammond’s dismissal for this very reason. Fear of that personal cliff edge towards which he was being pushed drove Hammond to adopt the language of the hard-core Brexiters, although previously he previously scorned their naivety. That’s a phenomenon I’m familiar with from journalistic history where it’s referred to as self-censorship. For example, in communist East Germany there was almost no direct censorship, rather the entire media ran on self-censorship by journalists and editors, and it dealt with more than 99% of the “problems”. This is precisely the kind of mechanism that has begun to get a grip on Britain, and for this reason I fear that Brexitspeak will soon be the dominant discourse of the entire land.

I didn’t choose that name for the new language of hate in my erstwhile homeland on a whim. It is derived from Newspeak, the ascendant language in the mega-state of Oceania in George Orwell’s novel 1984. After some research I’m convinced that the origin of Brexitspeak lies in the articles Boris Johnson wrote for The Daily Telegraph newspaper when he was their correspondent in Brussels between 1989 and 1994. Let me quote at some length what his French contemporary in Brussels Jean Quatremer had to say about this in The Guardian of 15th July, 2016.

“Johnson was the incarnation of the gutter-press dictum: never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Indeed, this is what a grinning Johnson often remarked to his foreign counterparts when they protested about his exaggerated stories…It was a game, a big laugh, especially as his fiercely anti-European newspaper lapped up the stories and gasped for more…Johnson managed to invent an entire newspaper genre: the Euromyth…Johnson created a school of EU reporting: the entire British press, to varying degrees, began peddling Euromyths.”

This is the reason that when the referendum campaign rolled began in early 2016 so many voters responded so strongly to the Leave campaign’s blatant lies: they’d read this language so many times before that when they heard it being bellowed at them it all rang true! When bullshit is repeated frequently and consistently enough it sounds like it can only be right. This opening out of Euromyths onto the street was the coming out of Brexitspeak’s as the ascendant language of the land. This wave was the force that swept Boris to become Foreign Minister of H.M. Government and will probably carry him to the premiership of the U.K. In that same article in The Guardian Quatremer describes Boris’s appointment to his present position as follows:

“It’s not every day that a country appoints as its global representative a known liar, a character for whom gross exaggeration, insult and racist innuendo seem utterly untroubling, a man apparently devoid of deep conviction about anything other than his own importance.”

But even this incisive scathing analysis is focussed primarily on the man himself and not his creation, on “Dr. Frankenstein” rather than his monster Brexitspeak, which is now a many-headed hydra infiltrating innumerable nooks and crannies of British culture. That mean my mother tongue is now fast becoming the equivalent of Oldspeak in Oceania, and this argument can therefore be easily dismissed by Brexiters as old-fashioned.

Perhaps it sounds as if I get some intellectual pleasure from writing all this, but I promise you that’s not the case. I’ve watched all these developments with a growing sense of foreboding, most of all because of the widespread conviction in my homeland that the U.K. is in control of the Brexit talks with the EU, can dictate the terms, and will therefore come out as the victor – 1415, 1814 and 1945 all rolled into one! – with considerable financial advantage and a greatly enhanced reputation around the world. To give those of you who aren’t familiar with utopian Berxitism let me quote Boris Johnson’s article My vision for a bold thriving Britain enabled by Brexit published in The Daily Telegraph on 15th September in which he said European integration was,

English rain

about trussing the nations together in a gigantic and ever-tightening cat’s cradle of red tape…we will take back control of roughly 350 million pounds per week…this is our chance to catch the wave of new technology and put Britain back in the lead…we have a glorious future…I believe we can be the greatest country on Earth.”

The truth is that we are one small country with just shy of 1% of the global population, but also with a major track record for colonial aggression and slaughtering foreign civilians in droves as we saw fit (just look at all the colonial wars Britain fought post 1945, never mind before), and an atomic arsenal that could rub out more of them by the millions. That was quite a dangerous bowl of punch beforehand, but combined with the grandiose delusions of the hard-core Brexiteers – behind which obviously lurks enormous self-doubt – that could literally become an explosive cocktail. All it would require is an authoritarian and xenophobic leader who whipped up popular hate against some kind(s) of them.

Fascism is the belief that there are simple solutions to complex problems, as long as Big Brother’s orders are followed unwaveringly and without hesitation regardless of the direct cost and collateral damage. On the 11th October Sky News reported that a Sky Data poll had just revealed that 74% of the British people support the H.M. Government’s position that if “necessary” the UK will leave the EU without a deal. This widespread mood makes it almost inevitable that no deal will be the result of the negotiations, which would create a deep rift between Great Brexit and “the Continent”, as it was already referred to during my childhood. Who will trust the UK after that? Who will lend them money or invest in their industries? Quo vadis pound sterling? And how many actual enemies will the UK have on the other side of what was once the negotiating table? Or elsewhere?

For hard-core Brexiters all this is just the predictable negativity of a sour remainer. For them only the most massive and phallic thumbs up is enough and David Shirgley has given it to them. Let’s face it, in their eyes anything less than this would treasonous, just like as it was for Big Brother in Oceania in 1984. How can the current drift towards fascism, confrontation and maybe even war be stopped? I wish I knew.

If you are wondering what all this has to do with wine, then let me conclude with another quote from Boris Johnson’s article My Vision. He also thinks that Brexit, “will mean a bigger market in the UK for everything from Italian cars to German wine.” Of course, that’s more Brexshit of the kind that has persuaded me to apply for German citizenship. 

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global

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Eppstein Wine Diary: Day 2 – My Reports on the 2015 & 2016 Vintages in the Rhine & Mosel for JamesSuckling.com

The work of wine critic Stuart Pigott can be read in English at JamesSuckling.com

Stuart Pigott by Sorin Dragoi


Since my major report on the wines of Rheinhessen with notes and ratings for almost 500 wines was posted on JamesSuckling.com on Sunday, September 10th I have been reeling at the realization that I am now not only a wine journalist (two of my favorite words combined to form one description), but also a mainstream wine critic. For a variety of reasons I long tried to avoid that role, but clearly in view of the response it’s something a lot of people want me to be. Then so be it, and given the ideal platform which JamesSuckling.com offers me for publishing major reports on the wines of Germany (I also worked on reports as diverse as those about the 2014 vintage in Bordeaux, and the massive overview of Spain) this is set to continue for the foreseeable future.

In the case of the enthusiasm for the Rheinhessen report the great response also has a lot to do with the hesitant praise and over-cautious scores many of my colleagues – often in spite of their claimed enthusiasm for the region – have been giving the new wines of the region. “They only give me 88 and 89 points for my best wines, regardless how good they are,” was a complaint I frequently heard from producers during my research. My answer was that I give every wine a realistic score regardless of who made it or which vineyard site it grew in. Clearly for some of my colleagues these are major factors influencing their scores, and they seem incapable of and/or unwilling to recognizing the great strides forward made many of the new generation of winemakers have made during the last five to ten years. My sole basis for rating wines is how they taste now, and yet the result seems to be highly controversial. Maybe I’m amazed!

This approach resulted in a top rating of 99 points for the 2015 EMT – I’d never heard that name before I tasted the wine! – from Wagner-Stempel in Siefersheim, a producer frequently underrated by other critics, because in this cool and rocky corner of Rheinhessen the wines are “untypical” if compared with the bolder, more muscular wines from the warmer Wonnegau in the south where the soils are generally richer (i.e. with more clay). In my view it is not the job of the wine critic to mark wines up or down on the basis of what is theoretically typical only to decide how good the wine tastes, and that regardless of style (as long as it’s clean and not faulty). That’s why the wines rated 95+ in this report come from a wide range of producers and are as stylistically diverse as their makers. More of them are dry than sweet, but this reflects the emphasis of high-end production in Rheinhessen.  Producers who were famous a century ago like Gunderloch in Nackenheim stand next to those whose fame dates from the 21st century like Keller in Flörsheim-Dalsheim. Here is the link to the report. Please judge for yourselves:

Rheinhessen Comes of Age

Almost immediately after the posting of my Rheinhessen report those about the Mosel and the Rheingau published earlier this year were reposted on JamesSuckling.com with new tasting notes for over a hundred of the 2016 GGs from these regions. They are now seriously comprehensive reports on these two major export-orientated regions that report on the current releases of all the leading producers and many rising stars. Here too the focus is on 2015 and 2016 since both these vintages are in the market at the current moment, and in their different ways are both worthy of your attention. Today when it comes to both dry and sweet white wines Germany is right at the top of global production

Once again, because of my approach, the stylistic variation amongst the highest-rated wines is great. Here there are more sweet wines because this is part of the historical focus of these regions. Once again famous producers stand next to names many readers will read for the first time. I’m thinking about combinations like that of world-famous Egon Müller-Scharzhof on the Saar and little-known Carl Loewen in Leiwen who both have wines rated 100 points in the Mosel report or almost unknown Fred Prinz  in Hallgarten with 100 points and legendary Robert Weil in Kiedrich with 99 points who together top the Rheingau report. Openness for this kind of result is a vital aspect of the JamesSuckling.com ethos and of mine too. in My view critic’s job is reflect reality and describe it in a compelling way. The latter part of that job is all about taking a position for what you believe to be true. Read the Mosel and Rheingau reports to see what I mean:

Germany’s Miraculous Mosel Duo of 2015 & 2016



Please note that you can read the text of my reports on JamesSuckling.com free of charge, but in order to read the tasting notes and ratings it’s necessary to be a subscriber. This policy seems to annoy some people who think that all information should be free, but the amount of work which James Suckling, his entire team and I put into these reports would be impossible without the support of subscribers. They make our impartiality possible and we thank them for that. Wine criticism lives at JamesSuckling.com ! For that reason this posting ends with my favorite photograph of James.

PS Reports on the 2015 & 2016 vintages in the Nahe and Pfalz are in preparation!

James Suckling

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 2 – Welcome to Weltstadt Eppstein – Part 2

The astonishing wine truth about beautiful Eppstein!

Weltstadt Eppstein says "Hi"

Although the ancient centre of Eppstein is very beautiful, to my mind matching the historical centers of Paris, Rome and London, my new second home has even more to offer than that. The last stretch of the four main routes into the throbbing metropolis of Weltstadt Eppstein, this little-known world city close to better-known Frankfurt, are all breathtakingly beautiful.

My favorite of these routes, for sentimental as well as aesthetic reasons, is the B455 from the Wiesbaden direction passing Bremthal, a suburb of Eppstein. I call it the Gebrüder-Grimm-Straße, or Grimm Brothers Road, because the landscape looks like one of their bitter-sweet fairy tales was set there. However, regardless which route I took, I always had the feeling that I was traveling away from wine, that is away from the nearest vineyards in Wicker at the eastern end of the Rheingau, and the much larger areas of vineyards beyond them.

Yes, in Vockenhausen, another suburb of mighty Eppstein, there’s a street called Weingasse or wine alley, which suggests that long ago there were vineyards where today neat rows of suburban houses stand. Yes, a few short rows of vines were planted within the ruins of Burg Eppstein castle back in 2012 and they are cultivated organically by Iris Sparwasser. The Eppsteiner Zeitung just reported (page 11 of the September 7th issue) that this year although there were almost no white grapes, the the red grapes achieved full ripeness and there were plenty of them. However, those vines are really decoration for this outstanding historical monument, not for commercial wine production.

Sure, I can drink a wonderful dry Nonnberg Riesling from Weingut Flick in Wicker and tell myself it’s a local wine, but in my heart I know it comes from over the hills and far away. Although my romantic side would prefer it to be otherwise, the fact is that Eppstein is not a wine city. At least, after just short of a year of making frequent and long visits to my new second home, this was my solid conviction.

Thinking along well-worn paths rather than questioning is a common human weakness, and I’m certainly not immune to it. For me, wine means vineyards first, wine cellars second, and the infrastructure associated with both of them (I mean everything from suppliers of cellar equipment to wine tourism) third. Of course, from what I’ve already said it’s clear that Eppstein lacks all three of them. However, the truth is that although wine strikes most people as ancient, old-fashioned and tradition-laden, it’s actually continually changing and developing. Somehow I lost sight of that simple fact, even though it makes my profession as a wine journalist possible in the first place. Hence my astonishment when I was abruptly reminded of this truth the other day.

The reason for my frequent and long visits to Eppstein is Alexandra Stellwagen. Although she originates from Southern Baden she’s lived in her current flat in Eppstein since 1999. Of course, ultimately, she’s also the reason for this series of stories about Eppstein.

One summer evening we were sitting on the balcony of Alexandra’s flat, which has a great view of Burg Eppstein, and on the table were the half dozen bottles of wine that we’d just tasted: the excellent 2015 cintage dry Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings from Weingut Hirsch in Kamptal/Austria. Alexandra then noticed that our neighbors and her landlords, Herr and Frau Vermieter, were sitting out in the courtyard between their house and the one in which Alexandra lives.

“Why don’t you bring them down a couple of these bottles? All six are far too much for us,” she suggested. So I grabbed some bottles and headed down the stairs. As Herr Vermieter gladly accepted the almost full bottles I explained that because of the wines’ youth and their screw cap closures it would be no problem keep the bottles for a few days in the fridge if he and his wife didn’t want to try them all right away. Then I returned to the dinner table on Alexandra’s balcony.

Shortly afterwards Herr Vermieter called up to us, but he had something more important to say than just thanks for the free wine. “You see the disk of foil inside the top of the screw cap which seals the bottle?” He asked holding one up for me to see. I nodded. “If it’s silver in color like this one is, then regardless where the bottle of wine came from that foil was made in Eppstein! I work for a company called Eppstein Foils who make this material.”

The advance of screw cap closures was one of the most important changes in the wine industry during the early 21st century, and I followed it closely from my first encounter with modern screw caps (Stelvin) in Clare Valley/South Australia back in 2000. Jeffrey Grosset, a maker of great dry Rieslings and an elegant red Bordeaux-type blend in that region, was the dynamo of this revolution that’s touched every consumer on Planet Wine. It has virtually abolished cork-tainted wines, not only because screw cap closures remove the prime cause of this type of spoilage (a substance called TCA in corks), but also because their success forced the producers of corks to dramatically improve the quality of their product, because otherwise they would have gone out of business.

Mostly, regardless of where the bottle of wine I unscrew comes from on Planet Wine, that disk of foil which seals the bottle is silver. So your and my wine consumption frequently connects us with my new second home. The crucial role Eppstein Foils plays in this vital technology for the 21st century global wine industry means Weltstadt Eppstein is a very important wine city!

I know this story wasn’t as funny as the first one, but don’t worry, more fun and games, irony and outrage are coming this way soon. WATCH THIS SPACE!

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global

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Eppstein Wine Diary: Day 4 – Welcome to Weltstadt Eppstein – Part 1

Die Burgstrasse, the main drag of the pulsating metropolis of Eppstein

Weltstadt Eppstein

Many readers of this blog and many of my acquaintances still don’t realize that at the end of October 2016 I was suddenly thrown out of my apartment share on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg/New York City. As a result of the short notice and the heavy workload resulting from me joining the JamesSuckling.com team that summer I couldn’t find a new place in time. Therefore four years of regarding New York City as my second home ended abruptly at 8am on October 31st 2016 when I stepped out of the door onto Bedford Avenue for the last time. This harsh blow was softened by the fact I’d already found another second home in the world’s least well-known major conurbation, the story of which begins here: Welcome to Weltstadt Eppstein: Part 1 

I snapped this atmospheric photograph recently at the end of my morning run through the mean streets of my new second home. It shows the Burgstrasse, the main drag of the pulsating metropolis of Eppstein close to the much less important nearby city of Frankfurt, which is unjustifiably far better known. The main reason for that fame seems to be the fact that Germany’s largest airport was named after that city instead of Eppstein, plus all the ugly towers erected in Frankfurt by major German banks before the fallout from the Financial Crisis made many of them look really dodgy. How much more beautiful is the tower of the Burg Eppstein castle that crowns one of the massive slate outcrops dotted around this city! Unlike those Frankfurt-based banks it can’t fail, because it already fell down (and was partly taken down for use as building materials) leaving the imposing ruins I can see from my desk. Eppstein über Alles!

Of course, for those who never heard of Weltstadt Eppstein – in English, world city Eppstein – before this blog posting that last statement might look seriously daring and in urgent need of supporting evidence. The conventional journalistic way of proving such statements is to wheel out all kinds of imposing statistics – seven, eight and nine figures long! – but this is also exactly what those Frankfurt banks do to support claims of their own importance. I suggest that given how dodgy they are this bigger-is-better logic is highly dubious, and I also refuse to get sucked into the childish worshipping of rows of zeros. Eppstein doesn’t need a pile of statistical bullshit in order to stake its claim to greatness. Just look at the street in the photo and you know this is a happening place.

I have to admit that when I first started making the kind of extended visits to Eppstein that I’d previously been making to New York City something seemed to be missing up here in the metropolis of the Taunus Mountains. When I stepped out of my apartment onto the sidewalk of Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg on any day or evening I was confronted by the highest density of hipsters anywhere on Planet Cool. This empirical observation was recently backed up by MIT when they tested their revolutionary new hipstometer on my block and the device exploded after the reading immediately went right off the scale! When I first arrived in Eppstein the hipster density was exactly zero and I felt as disorientated by this as an astronaut having his first experience of weightlessness!

Then came a miracle, what I now call the Great Eppstein Miracle! It happened one day when I was on the way to the nearby Rheingau winegrowing region. As I walked to the local railway station (the S2 line provides a quick connection to big, bad Frankfurt) I spotted an authentic hardcore hipster on the Burgstrasse. Then I saw a couple more of them get into the train. At first I thought this might be some kind of anomaly or my eyes were deceiving me, but since then I’ve often seen hipsters on the streets of Eppstein and clearly several of them now actually live here. Since the frequency of these sightings is increasing I’m forced to the conclusion that my new second home is slowly morphing into an alternative version of my previous second home. Eppstein is cool, or at least it will be one day rather soon.

Now you’re probably wondering what all of this has to do with wine, the prime focus of this blog. I promise you that if I told you the answer to that question now you would be amazed by the connection between Eppstein and your own wine consumption. However, revealing that now would take all the suspense out of the story of my new second home, and you might not bother to continue learning about the world’s least well-known major conurbation. That’s why you must wait for Welcome to Weltstadt Eppstein: Part 2 for that extraordinary revelation.

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global

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Eppstein Wine Diary: Day 8 – Alsace is a Pinot Paradise!

Maurice Schoech Pinot Noir

Working for JamesSuckling.com is really exciting and I’ve been learning so much so quickly, but the speed things move at takes some getting used to. This is a website with an almost continuous stream of new content, not a monthly magazine with regular publication dates and deadlines that automatically gives you moments to draw breathe. The last three weeks I was on the road in Alsace, then Rioja, then the Rheingau for JamesSuckling.com and the dense schedule left little time for reflection. In spite of that, our tastings in the cellar of Restaurant Villa Lalique in Wingen (the home of the Lalique crystal company) forced me to do some serious thinking about the way Alsace has changed in the 30 years since I first travelled there to taste the wines occupied most of my thoughts. Finally I found a moment to put all this down on what I still call “paper”.

Ever since that first inspiring visit in January 1987 I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what makes it so different from any other wine region in the France and neighboring Germany (of which it was part several times in it’s modern history). Some of these things are climatic, the heart of the wine region just west of Colmar is the driest place in France, and is significantly warmer in the summer than the German wine regions of the Pfalz to the north and Baden to the east, also Burgundy to the southwest. The geological complexity of the region is staggering and that makes it difficult to generalize about Alsace wines beyond the vital fact that the climate makes for big dry whites. For example, basic Alsace dry Rieslings seldom have less than 13% alcohol, whereas the leading Pfalz producers try to keep even their top dry Rieslings just below that figure.

Alsace underwent stylistic changes of seismic scale during the time I’ve been following it. The photograph above documents the recent rise of high quality reds from the Pinot Noir grape, which is a dramatic change from the light and pale colored reds that were the norm into the early years of this century. I’d never heard of Maurice Schoech of Ammerschwihr until a couple of weeks ago James Suckling pushed a glass extracted by coravin from the bottle pictured above in my direction. The name “Cuvée Arthur” hardly inspired confidence, and the 2013 vintage was not a great Pinot Noir vintage anywhere in Western Europe. However, the wine had subtle aromas, a stunning elegance. It tasted as good many Premier Crus from top domaines in Burgundy, but was a sleeker and more athletic. I found it exciting and totally distinctive: this is no Burg-Clone!

This development has barely been registered by the international wine scene, which continues to regard Alsace as a white wine region specializing in Gewurztraminer (there written without an umaul over the U). The truth is that Riesling overtook Gewurz as the most widely planted grape in the region many years ago and now accounts for about 4,000 hectares of the total 15,550 hectares. Alsace Pinot Noir has also grown significantly and now accounts for about 1,600 hectares. The striking thing is the rapidly increasing proportion of this which belongs in the Global Pinot First League, most notably the wines of Domaine Paul Blank in Kientzheim, Domaine Muré in Rouffach and Domaine Valentin Zusslin in Orschwihr.

Because they are the best that Alsace has to offer I will be leading seminar tastings of these wines at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville/Oregon on the afternoons of Friday, July 28th and Saturday, July 29th. See you there!

For more information see the IPNC website:


For the full Alsace story on JamesSuckling.com see:


Stuart Pigott Riesling Global


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Eppstein Wine Diary: Day 5 – Germany’s Miraculous Mosel Duo 2015 & 2016 on JamesSuckling.com

At Egon Müller-Scharzhof

I make no apologies for using this photograph again, because here I am tasting one of the three 100 point wines, the 2015 Scharzhofberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese from Egon Müller-Scharzhof in Wiltingen on the Saar, in my extensive report on the miraculous 2015 and 2016 vintages on the Mosel for JamesSuckling.com. You need to be a subscriber to read the tasting notes and see the individual scores, but anyone can read the opening text and see which wines we tasted – there were almost 700. Here’s the link:


I’ve been tasting the young wines on the Mosel and its tributaries the Saar and the Ruwer since the 1983 vintage and I never tasted such a stunning range as those from the last two vintages during the long week I spent in the region last month with the managing editor of JamesSuckling.com Evan Mah. Firstly, the number of disappointing wines was very small although we spread our net wide to take in world-famous producers and rising stars, small estates and the largest in Germany’s most famous wine region. More important though is the slew of wines that scored 95+, including a couple of dry wines and six Riesling Kabinetts. The names of some of the producers up in that exalted realm may well be new to you, and the name on the label of one of those 100 point wines will come as a shock to many: Carl Loewen in Leiwen on the Middle Mosel. Congratulations to all the Mosel producers who have dedicated themselves to quality, originality and individuality in this complex and fascinating region. You made this report possible!

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global


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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 3 – An Evening in Memory of Annegret Reh-Gartner in Weinstein Berlin

Thank you for the Riesling and for everything else, Annegret!

2011 GGs from Kesselstatt

The work of remembering is never over and done with. So, from 6pm on the evening of Thursday, June 15th I will once again be working as a wine waiter in the Weinstein wine bar in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg and this time the evening will not only be in memory of Roy Metzdorf, the recently deceased guiding spirit of Weinstein. Instead it will have a double function, as I will be pouring the above quintet of dry Riesling GGs from the Reichsgraf von Kesselsatt estate based in Schloss Marienlay in the Mosel  in memory of the estate’s director Annegrat Reh-Gartner who died five months earlier at the beginning of October 2016. These wines (pictured on my desk) are all from the 2011 vintage, and for me the represent the apogee of what Annegret achieved with dry Riesling at Kesselstatt.

She had just become the estate’s director when we first met in May 1984 and we quickly became friends. Unlike some journalists who think that critical distance also needs to be physical and the air occupying it must be icy I never had a problem being friends with winemakers. However, some of them had a serious problem with my friendship when it wasn’t accompanied by rave reviews. Of course, if a winemaker’s friendship would mean that I never criticized their wines or (worse still) only gushed praise for them regardless of how they tasted, then I would be an extremely bad wine journalist. Annegret never expected anything like this, and always wanted to know what I thought about each wine.

Now I am very interested to know what you think about these wines. On June 15th in Weinstein you can taste just one or two of them or you can order a flight of all five. The sites are: Scharzhofberg (Saar), Nies’chen (Ruwer), Juffer-Sonnenuhr, Sonnenuhr and Josephshöfer (all Mittelmosel). I promise you that they are strikingly different from one another and that it really makes sense to try all five. Here is the link to the Weinstein website for more information:


Stuart Pigott Riesling Global

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Eppstein Wine Diary: Day 6 – Riesling Reload

Because the Spirit of Riesling is ever renewing itself

At Egon Müller-Scharzhof

Please excuse me. I would have written earlier, but the last weeks my feet barely seemed to touch the ground. My first long and intense tasting trip to the Mosel (and its tributaries the Saar and Ruwer) in several years was the main reason for this. Above you see me pictured at Egon Müller-Scharzhof where the 2015 vintage is spectacular and the 2016 great for the Estate Riesling and Kabinett quality wines. On a very high level this reflects the overall picture of these two vintages, but for the detail you will have to wait a couple of weeks for my forthcoming report on this subject with almost 700 tasting notes on JamesSuckling.com. Suffice to say here that I think the Mosel hasn’t looked stronger in the 35 years I’ve been following it.

I will be away for the next few days around my birthday when I return to Eppstein for the International Riesling Symposium at Kloster Eberbach in the Rheingau on May 29th and 30th. I hope to see you there too, because attending this event will not only give you the opportunity to meet dozens of the world’s best Riesling winemakers, but also to taste some of the finest young and mature, dry and sweet Rieslings in the world. For more information see:


Above and beyond this a reorientation of this blog is in the planning. Given the way my own life and the way the world are developing there is no alternative, but to adopt a more personal approach and state the truth the way I see it. In retrospect, I feel that during the last couple of years I sometimes worried too much about being artistic. There’s no time for that kind of stuff any longer. Please be patient as a number of pieces must fall into place before I can implement this plan. Until then may the Riesling Force be with you!

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global

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