2014 Brown Estate, Zinfandel, Napa Valley.
Located in the remote eastern hills of Napa Valley in the Chiles Valley, Brown Estate is one of the best Zinfandel producers in the state and this 2014 is a gorgeous wine that should win over a whole new legion of fans, it might be my favorite since the 1997! David Brown and his family have now 20 years under their belts making top Zinfandel and a tiny amount of Cabernet Sauvignon, and Brown deserves serious celebration and credit for the triumph of passion, hard work and love of place, Brown’s success is a reflection of all that is great in California and should be cherished, they are great people, making great wines. The 2014 Zinfandel, Brown Estate, starts with beautiful purity of fruit, spice and floral notes with loads of dense raspberry, plum and juicy currant fruit, sweet/ripe smooth tannin and bright briar, Asian spice and anise with a mineral streak and a hint of cedary vanilla laced oak. This richly flavored Zin has impressive mouth feel, lavishness, but is refined, not heavy or flabby, it’s lively and well crafted with focus, drive and balance allowing poised detail and distinct character the shine through, this is wonderful Zin. This Brown 2014 reminds me of a fine Chateauneuf du Pape in style and pleasure, though true California Zinfandel in nature. Brown joins Turley, Bedrock, Ridge and Biale at the height of California Zinfandel and this 2014 looks to go down as legendary, I think most people will absolutely love this vintage and drink it up now or young, but I think it has a voice that lasts and it, like classic Ridge, should age beautifully, getting more interesting and complex over the next decade. Bravo to Brown for 20 years plus of great Zin and to the future, drink this 2014 Estate Zinfandel from 2017 to 2028.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Monteprloso, A Quo, Toscana Rosso, Italy.
Fabio Chiarelotto’s Montepeloso, located on the Tuscan Coast near the famed Tua Rita, has become one of the most interesting and enchanting wineries in the region with biodynamic and terroir driven wines. This area has reached critical mass with an amazing selection of wines and winemakers, it all started with Sassicaia and then Ornellaia, but with Tua Rita, Le Macchiole, Aia Vecchia and others this is one of the most prestige areas in Italy, and Montepeloso is right up there with the best. Having met Fabio a few years back, you could see the intensity of his vision and his passion for wine and crafting the best possible expression of place, and his wines certainly have their own style and charm, especially in his base entry level wine the A Quo, which delivers rich detail and texture with delicacy, earthiness and unique character. The A Quo is a blend of Montepulciano and Cabernet Sauvignon mostly along with small amounts of Sangiovese, Marselan (A cross between Grenache & Cabernet Sauvignon) and Alicante Bouschet. The A Quo 2013 is a wonderful and refined red with blueberry, briar spiciness and subtle earthy tones showing plum, wild raspberry, mulberry and currant fruits as well as hints of leather, tobacco leaf, mild cedar, a mix of baking spices and anise. The grapes are expressive and the impact on the palate impressive with good ripe tannin, polished acidity and good length, grown on ancient clay and silex soils the wine, aged 4 months in used French oak, shows the warm of the region along with the Maremma coastal influence that gives the wines it’s terroir and quality. The Wines from Grosseto to Bolgheri on the Tyrrhenian Sea are some of the world’s best, they mix ancient Etruscan grapes with classic French varietals as well as others to create unique and iconic labels, with Montepeloso joining that elite set. Drink this warm vintage 2013 A Quo IGT Tocana Rosso over the next 3 to 5 years, and also look out for Chiarelotto’s top wines like his Gabbro and Nardo, these are incredible wines.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Justin Dutraive, Beaujolais “Les Bullands” France.
The first release for Justin Dutraive, the eldest son of the famed Jean-Louis Dutraive of Fleurie, is an exciting single site wine, Les Bullands a plot of old vines just below the town of Fleurie. Justin, like his dad, uses organic grapes, cools the grapes at harvest and native ferments them with almost no sulfur, he employs a semi-carbonic style and used a semi-round glass fiber vessel to ferment and age his Beaujolais, this is an artisan premier effort and the results are a pure and juicy Gamay with refined texture and it is delightfully aromatic. There are more small lot hand-crafted wines to follow, and this is going to be a must have label to get in on from the start, both Justin and his father are followers of Jules Chauvet and believe in natural wines and purity of terroir, much the same as Lapierre just down the road in Morgon, I am looking forward to trying his upcoming Fleurie Cru Beaujolais Chapelle des Bois as well, which if this wine is anything to go by will be a stunner! The 2015 vintage is bold and rich with expressive ripeness, but Justin was able to dial back the sweet/fruity nature and allow a balanced form of place and Gamay to shine through, while still having a lush and silken mouth feel and juicy fun palate with enough acidity to brighten things up and energize the wine. The nose is delicately perfumed with wilted roses and dried violets leading to a light to medium bodied palate of raspberry, black cherry, plum and wild strawberry fruits along with hints of pepper, tart red peach, cinnamon and herbs, plus a touch of pecan husk and crisply tangy red currant. This Les Bullands is not overly complex or flamboyant, but very stylish and easy to quaff, best to serve slightly chilled and can be enjoyed with or without food, though more fun with friends and lovers, drink now.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2012 Le Berne, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany Italy.
I’ve always been a fan of this small winery in Tuscany and their wonderful Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, but this amazingly pure 2012 really lifts it to the next level with graceful layers, bright focused intensity and length making for an extraordinary Sangiovese experience. The 2012 Le Berne is about 90% Prugnolo Gentile or Sangiovese Grosso (Brunello clone) and with small parts Canaiolo Nero, which is widely inter planted through Tuscany and Mommolo the rare Etruscan grape that is in danger of going the way of the Dodo, though has found a home on Corsica, where it is know locally as Sciacarello (Sciacarellu) though thought to have been a native varietal until very recently, it was brought to Corsica by the Etruscans back in the period of 500 to 540 BC. These minor grapes certainly play there part making Vino Nobile stand apart from the varietal pureness of Brunello, but really are Sangiovese driven wines with that rich character with good acids and the Le Berne delivers that classic profile and is uncluttered by oak or extreme ripeness. While the 2011, from a hot vintage was more flamboyant and slightly more dense with a hint of pruney fruit, this 2012 only displays charm, clarity and vitality, it’s gorgeous from start to finish. The 2012 is ruby/garnet in the glass with light floral and tobacco leaf notes on the nose with plenty of red fruits following on entry with a medium full bodied palate giving raspberry, currant, plum and strawberry fruits with cedar spice, subtle earthy tones, new leather and pipe tobacco with sweet tannin allowing for impressive mouth feel, texture and structure, there is a nice mineral note and lively freshness of detail that makes this vintage of Le Berne a winner with robust cuisine. Finishing with black cherry, fig and a light mix of anise/sage, lavender, loam and spicy peppery rose oil. This is drinking lovely right now, but has potential to go for 5 to 10 years with ease, this is a lot of wine for the money. Imported by Siena Imports, the Le Berne made me long to return to Italy and especially those beautiful hill towns of Tuscan which I last visited way too many years ago, Montepulciano and Cortona were my favorites.
($34 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Kabinett Feinherb, Rudesheimer Kirchenpfad, Rheingau Germany.
The wonderfully flavorful and generous Leitz Kirchenpfad Kabinett Feinherb is a mostly dry and lightly fruity Riesling with lots of citrus and stone fruits, brisk acidity and chock full of mineral as well as rosewater and white flowers that unfold on the nose along with saline and stones. The fleshy peach and apricot compliment zesty lime and tangerine on the palate which is energetic and lively fresh with a light feel giving this wine a softly delicate mouth feel and subtle lush character, but with the vitality and verve you’d expect from Leitz. The sense of clearness and purity really carries this charming Kabinett and it’s mild hint of sweetness only adds to the overall enjoyment and doesn’t in any way distract from it’s focus, this is lovely and easy drinking wine that gives a lot for the price and is good with many food choices, I would like it with mussels in spicy broth or with a mix of Asian foods, but it will go with almost anything and will certainly provide refreshing cool and crisp companionship. Not as intense as the more slate driven wines in the lineup for 2015, but a wine of respectable quality and stylish ease to drink anytime. On my visit to Germany last month and in trade tastings this last Summer I have found the Kabinett 2015 vintage wines absolutely heavenly and they may not be the height of fashion with all the hype around the Trockens, but they are stunning values and great drinking wines, and remarkably good choices to mid-term cellar. The Leitz GG’s are out of this world, that is true, but I would not over look the Kabinett and Spatlese in 2015, keep your eyes out for them!
($21 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
A Very Serious German Wine Adventure with Scenes from the Rheingau and Nahe at Harvest 2016. By Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com
In October of 2016 I went to Germany on a mini vacation, staying five days in total, it was a busy time with harvest having already started, but I did manage to visit four wineries, Leitz, Kruger-Rumpf, Schlossgut Diel and Spreitzer, all welcomed me with warm and graciousness beyond all expectations, especially considering my timing. Being in the right place at the right time never seems to describe me, but I was lucky this week and a glimpse of the beauty and stress of harvest in some of the world’s most beautiful regions, the Rheingau and the Nahe, two of the best for Riesling you can find. While I adore the Mosel and the Pfalz, I happened to focus my limited time to mainly to the Rheingau around Rudesheim and the Nahe closer to the Bingen side as I was mostly on foot, train and ferry while staying in Rudesheim on the Rhein. The hiking here is thrilling and includes dramatic vistas of the river, forest and steep vineyards, and since this was mostly a vacation get away I didn’t make all that many arrangements or appointments, I certainly wished I could have seen and met up with more people, for that I’m sorry to those I couldn’t get to, but still I got to see some old friends and a few new ones, and I got unequaled access to the whole harvest experience at Weingut Leitz, toured their vines with Markus Roll, Leitz’s dynamic young vineyard manager, as well as have a few wonderful diners with my friend Johannes Leitz, one of the world’s best vignerons and all around fantastic person.
It was also great to visit Andreas Spreitzer and family at Weingut Spreitzer in the upper Rheingau in Oestrich-Winkler, who in 2015 turned out some of the old wineries best wines ever and is a winery on the rise. Crossing the Rhein, to Bingen and on the Dorsheim, I got to see Georg and Stefan Rumpf bring grapes in and tour their very old cellar as well as getting a are chance to taste at Schlossgut Diel as they brought gorgeous Pinot Noir into their cellar! Even with all the craziness and stress, everything went smooth as silk and I am grateful for all the warm and kindness I felt from everyone. 2016 didn’t look good in July when they all had a deluge of rain and cold weather, but a miracle came in late August when the sun returned and gave real salvation and bright days, and through September things came back on course so much so that now in October the Riesling grapes look and taste fantastic, and with the cool weather as I write they will be able to pick at a more leisurely pace and give the grapes a longer hang time for the more serious bottlings, and even the Pinot Noir came in beautiful, though careful sorting and de-stemming was employed.
The Rheingau is a Region Re-discovering it’s Historical Greatness and Finding it’s Place in the Modern World!
Rudesheimer Berg “Magic Mountain” I love this place, it is one of my favorite spots in the world, I first came here in 2009 and hiked these vineyards, and I am still in awe of Rudesheimer Berg, from Hinterhaus below Rottland, and Roseneck to the top of Kaisersteinfels, as well as Drachenstein and Ehrenfels castle, Schlossberg, this is a breathtaking experience, with every labored step up through these vines a cherished moment in time, beautiful and historic. This should be a world heritage site no question. Hundreds of years as the world’s most treasured wine center, the Rheingau has a long history of trade, from the Romans to the church, this was the spot and Riesling was (and is now) the shinning star! If you really love wine, historical sites and the outdoors, and especially if you are fit and don’t mind a little exercise, you’ll need to visit Rudesheim… Weingut Leitz enjoys some of the very best plots in these Crus, and his team is keeping them in, from what could see, the best shape, in fact they are spectacular! Johannes Leitz makes some of the most drinkable and pleasing wines in the world, he is a great producer, a great and tireless ambassador for the Rheingau and a most serious and thoughtful winemaker that continues to reach for new heights. Every time I see him I learn volumes of new information, see a whole new world and feel even more passionate about these wines and especially this very special place, it’s funny we all know the Rheingau, or think we do, but is has many surprises and in fact it is one of the smaller wine regions in Germany, almost twice as small as the Nahe by comparison, which is small too!
I look at the Rheingau, rightly or wrongly in three area, Rudesheimer Berg, the upper Rheingau at the widest part of the Rhein River, that includes many terroirs, and Assmannshausen, a shrine to Pinot Noir. Rudesheimer’s main crus, Roseneck, Rottland, Schlossberg and Kaisersteinfels are mostly slate influenced with some red quart, while the Drachenstein a long thin band above has a quartzite influence with some loam and slate, each is unique, this is home to Grosses Gewachs or Grand Cru and in the case of Drachenstein, Erste Lage or Premier Cru Trockens the most serious and dry of German wine overseen by the VDP control, but also you’ll find some of the world’s greatest off dry and or semi sweet wines too, while the world is screaming for the dry wines, you must not dismiss the fine Kabinett and Spatlese, as well as the non classified QbA’s that can have various levels of sugar, these are not dessert wines that can be just as monumental as the Trockens, when balanced and full of acidity they are mind-blowing.
The Leitz Kabinett and Spatlese wines are especially intriguing with detail, clarity and length, in fact they are in some cases more rewarding than GG’s, don’t get blinded by the false sugar issue, these are very sexy wines with terroir personalities to cherish, in particular the 2015 Weingut Leitz Riesling Spatlese Rudesheimer Berg Roseneck stands out, it is simply an awesome white wine of intensity and class with a lavish mouth feel rater than sweetness, search it out and enjoy it’s purity and opulence! The Leitz 2015 GG’s remind me of very young Grand Cru Chablis, tight and un-evolved, without question these are superior examples, but will exceptional with more age! Mind you, they aren’t bad now, especially as I was able to enjoy/drink them in their individual vineyards and terroir! Of the three 2015 GG’s I tried, Roseneck, Schlossberg and Kaisersteinfels, it’s the Schlossberg Ehrenfels that at this early stage stole my heart, plus the view wasn’t bad! Other notable Leitz wines include, the fruit driven 2015 Dragonstone, which is noticeably drier this vintage with it’s lowest RS to date, the steely Drachenstein Erste Lage Trocken and the absolute best value 2015 Rudesheimer Berg “Magic Mountain” a cuvee that comes from only top GG sites and sells for under twenty bucks! Leitz sets a high bar in the Rheingau with a tremendous set of wines that range from playfully fun to ultra serious, but all of the wines set standards for quality in level and offer stylish fun, seeing behind the scenes at Leitz was an insight few ever get the chance to experience, I found the commitment, ethics and dedication a thrill to witness and a joy to be part of. Attention to detail,from packaging, marketing, vineyard work and winemaking is second to none at Leitz, and while they use some high tech processes and innovate, these are wines of soul and a true love of place. Watch this space, the future is bright and full of excitement here!
Andreas Spreitzer of Weingut Spreitzer picked me up in his Land Rover and took me on a tour of his vines near Geisenheim, Hattenheim and Eltville, but mostly his prized sites in Oestrich-Winkel above where the Rhein reaches it’s widest point. Spreitzer explained to me the almost lake effect his region gets and showed me the many micro climate and soils here in the upper Rheingau, it was like being exposed to a whole new world, vastly different than my experience in Rudesheim and my limited time in the Nahe. It was amazing to see each of these terrors translated through each different wine at Spreitzer, especially with the glorious 2015 vintage providing the perfect path to enlightenment on this area. Andreas and Bernd have really in recent vintages especially have fine tuned their lineup and crafted some excellent wines. The 2015 Grosses Gewachs from Spreitzer are decedent, opulent and engaging wines which have blossomed into glorious Rieslings since being bottled, I had found them closed and extremely tight as barrel samples when Andreas first sampled me on them at an early Terry Theise tasting, but now they are some of the best yet from this estate and rival some big names! There are many gems and wonderful wines in the latest set of releases here, in particular was the amazing old vine 2015 Hallgartener Hendelberg Alte Reben Trocken, only slightly less dense than the three GG’s, the Hallgartener Hendelberg shows a delicacy and mineral clarity that is truly exceptional, this might be my dark horse or sleeper wine of the vintage in the Rheingau! The mix of loess and loam, clay, red quartz and light slate of these vineyards makes for a head spinning mix of complex flavors! Other Spreitzer wines that need mentioning are without question include the lovely and over delivering 2015 Ostrich Lenchen Riesling Kabinett, the vigorous and thrilling 2015 Ostricher Doosberg Alte Reben Riesling Trocken and the beautifully perfumed and seductive 2015 Winkeler Jesuitengarten Alte Reben Riesling Feinherb, as well as the succulent Spatlese from the same vineyard, all of these stood out and deserve your attention, this is an area that needs a serious re-discovery!
The Nahe’s Glorious Future is Here Now!
A visit to the Nahe at harvest is special, getting to meet up with two of the regions emerging talents, in a region full of very busy winemakers, is even more special! I followed by a day, a visit to the region by one of Germany’s most famous wine critics, and who reviews for Robert Parker, Stephan Reinhardt, so I guess in many ways I’m grateful, as both Kruger-Rumpf and Schlossgut Diel, the two brilliant family wineries I was lucky enough to see, had a extra rare bottles open, so Thanks Stefan! Getting to the Nahe, in my case from Ruedesheim without wheels, I took the ferry boat to Bingen, where Georg Rumpf picked me up with a big smile and a convertible Saab, borrowed from his mom, as his more workman and family like car was out in the vineyards with his crew, and off we went, into the heart of Bingen, a small old town across the Rhein from Ruedesheim, and the gateway to both the Nahe and the Rheinhessen, first stop was a brand new vineyard that Rumpf has acquired and have made one vintage from in 2015, the Abtei. The Abtei is an intense site, super steep and with great south facing slopes, it is set in mixed quartz and has some slate underneath it’s thin top soil, Georg jokingly calls it a hobby vineyard, because the cost of farming and adapting the vines here is and will be costly, but there is real potential here for beautiful wines, in fact I loved the 2015, the first try at wines from here, it’s vital and lively with great extract and full flavors. After this we stopped in at the winery where the crew was bringing in some Sauvignon Blanc, Georg was needed and jumped back into winemaker mode, as I passed on the man behind Kruger-Rumpf’s modern success, Stefan Rumpf, Georg’s dad and semi retired grandpa, he showed me most of wines, while Georg worked feverishly in the cellar.
It was quite a cascade of wine that was presented to me with a few vintage items that shined including the 2001 Dorsheimer Burgberg, gorgeously full bodied dry and length, the 2006 Pittersberg GG from Munsterer’s Grand Cru vines, a delicate and refined effort that got more interesting and lengthy in the glass, even though it was opened the day prior, and the nervy and intense 2010 Pittersberg GG which is just hitting it’s stride and shows of the house style very well. Kruger-Rumpf is smaller than I had thought and is a really tight family affair, everyone is involved and the love of place is in the air, it’s all hard work, but with laughter and passion. I was impressed with all things Kruger-Rumpf, especially the current set of 2015’s, of course, they are stand out wines even in a region full of stars! Looking across the Nahe to the southeast is Scharlachberg, a Grand Cru site that is part of Bingen, but somehow within the Rheinhessen, the Rumpf’s have vines there to, and tasting the GG Scharlachberg was very memorable, it’s a massive wine with great detail, density and depth, it was one of my favorites of the lineup, even if it wasn’t strictly a Nahe offering, wink wink.
It was fun to lunch with the family and cellar crew, simple food and Kruger-Rumpf’s Sauvignon Blanc really hit the spot. Getting back to the wines, I must mention the Rumpf’s Scheurebe, one of the best examples of this varietal on the planet! Along with Muller-Catoir in the Pfalz, Kruger-Rumpf does stunning Scheurebe, it’s a must try wine, in particular look for the exotic and sexy 2015 Scheurebe Spatlese, again please, please forget seeing the Spatlese at all, this wine is decedent, opulent and lush, but it isn’t overtly sweet, it is deserving of your time and respect as a table wine, forget must weight and sugar levels and reap the rewards of an open mind and happy palate! I was able to taste almost ready to pick Scheurebe off the vine with Stefan and wow, it had a burst of tropical fruit like I’ve never experienced from grapes of the vine, pineapple, guava and kiwi exploded in my mouth, now I can’t wait for their 2016! One other wine that stood out for class and value was the remarkable Munsterer Kapellenberg Kabinett 2015, this is a stupidly good Riesling that feels balanced, pure and drier than expected on the palate, if you are a Riesling fan or bargain hunter this is a wine to look for! If you want authentic wine, made by hardworking and warm people, get Kruger-Rumpf, you can taste love of family and terroir in all of their wines, do not miss the 2015’s.
In a great bonus to my Kruger-Rumpf visit, as Georg got busy, he called over to Sylvain Taurisson, Caroline Diel’s husband at Schlossgut Diel, and he agree to take me at the winery, even though he was busy cooking for the vineyard and cellar crew! It’s nice to have connections, and Stefan drove me over to near Dorsheim and the Berg Layen castle that is Schlossgut Diel’s home, checking in on a few vineyards on the way. I was surprised to run into Armin Diel himself, though he quickly passed me on to Sylvain after a brief hello, but that was all good, as I really enjoy Sylvain’s French humor and joy of life addictive, and even though he was juggling many chores he made my day that much the better for his charm and class, it didn’t hurt either when he opened a fresh bottle of Diel sparkling wine! And what a treat that was, the Schlossgut Diel Sekt Goldloch is one of the world’s best bubbly wines, with something crazy like 96 months on the lees, this one was from the 2008 vintage, it’s mind-blowing full of brioche, mineral intensity and with insane length with an ultra fine mousse, can you say better than Champagne? Maybe, but it’s a unique effort and a unicorn sparkler!
Caroline Diel is making some elite wines, and everything is so detailed and poised, and while never easy to find, there are some values in the lineup that merit note, especially the Terry Theise inspired Riesling Von Der Nahe Feinherb at about $24 is a great entry or gateway to the drier wines at Schlossgut Diel and the Dorsheimer Goldloch Kabinett with a touch more RS, but with succulent layers and immediate pleasures. But, of course, when you think of Diel you think of their top Trockens, the Goldloch GG in particular, and the Pittersmannchen GG, these Grosses Gewachs or Grand Crus really are the soul of Diel and rate as some of Germany’s greatest wines, and the 2015’s certainly are that. Trust me when I say, you cannot go wrong with all and all things Schlossgut Diel in the 2015 vintage! From Caroline’s glorious dry Rieslings to her Auslese sweeties, everything is beyond great, but don’t overlook the amazing Pittermannchen Spatlese if you want the best of both worlds, it’s a rich, layered and mineral driven beauty with near perfect balance, don’t let the sugar or must weight scare you, this is pure class with amazing cellar potential as well!
Caroline Diel the winemaker, is worldly and studied in her craft, her talent is on display in each and every wine at Schlossgut Diel, as well as her heart, the wines have her perfectionist focus and energy, this is especially true in her signature Pinot Noir, the “C” or her Cuvee Caroline, it is a gorgeous wine of elegance, graceful subtlety and is skillfully crafted with amazing attention to detail, some of her thoughts and methods might have come from when she did a spell at Romanee-Conti in Burgundy, even from a difficult vintage, such as 2014 was, the wine is truly captivating and seductive, it’s an awe inspiring effort that is worth every penny! Caroline Diel joins an elite group of Spatbugunder producers like Becker and Mayer-Nakel in making world beating Pinots from Germany, and I was able to see the magic happen here, as the Pinot Noir fruit was coming into the cellar, the 2016 is looking awesome, at least in the bins ready to be sorted the grapes looked fantastic, it will be good to take a mental note to get some in 4 years! Plus I can’t wait to see what she did with the 2015, which I sadly missed when visiting this time.
History Lessons and the Rise and Fall of Kabinett!
Kabinett was once the most prized wine of all, no I’m not kidding, and it still should be taken more seriously now, I am often mystified by peoples fear or dismissal of these lightly sweet Rieslings, and while I am an advocate for the dry or trocken wines the shear pleasure, flexibility and generous charm of Kabinett should not be forgotten. Kabinett Riesling with fresh crab is one of the best Food and wine pairings ever, but I like Kabinett with everything from smoked meats to tacos! The modern wine drinker needs to better understand these wines that offer so much for such a value price and find a place for them, they go with multi-ethnic and fusion cuisines, are refreshing and low in alcohol, perfect for summer and more complexity and charm than most other white wines in their class, plus if we are honest, and we are not, this fear of RS (read sugar levels) is pretty much bullshit anyway, most Chardonnay and modern Sauvignon Blancs from the new world most likely have as much sweetness or more than Kabinett level Rieslings! Really, and Riesling at least has less oaky/buttery character with bright zesty acids and true mineral tones. I’d rather have a Kabinett Riesling over a bland Pinot Grigio or oak chipped sickly cloying Chardonnay any day, but that’s just me it seems! This is a great time to re-discover Kabinett, especially these 2015 wines, which feel drier and have an array of complex flavors.
The monks at Kloster Eberbach had their own Kabinett cellar, it was where their most prized wines were kept, you can visit the old monastery today and see it, I was lucky enough to make my own pilgrimage this year with an excellent tour guide, Markus Roll of Weingut Leitz, this was a bit of Riesling lore I had not heard about or known. German wine law is strict and tricky, and it is in flux, so traditional Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese are losing some of their prestige and appeal, as the wine industry tries to classify and regulate itself. The best and most useful English language explanation of German wine law and labelling is by Tim Gaiser, MS and can be reviewed on his blog at http://www.timgaiser.com/blog/understanding-german-wine, but for my purpose I’ll explain that Kabinett Riesling is classified by must weight or sugar in the grapes at harvest, the local term for this measuring is the Ochsle Scale, it is way of telling the amount of solids and sugar in the grapes compared similarly to the amount of water, and before your eyes glaze over, it is translated into a number, in the case of Kabinett that is 67-82 Oechsle (148–188 g/L sugar). What that means is that Kabinett level wines, yes do have sugar, but are usually high in acid and lighter in style giving them a delicately fruity taste. Interestingly Kabinett lost it’s prestigious place on top of the wine world, due to a fluke and a bishop with a sweet tooth! There is a statue at Schloss Johannisberg of a horseman, it is historic and cruel that Kabinett lost out, because of a lazy horseman, but it’s true that a couple hundred years ago, the monks sent a horseman to the Bishop to bless the approaching harvest so they could begin picking the grapes, well, the horseman come back as expected and the monks waited and waited as the grapes got riper and riper, it was thought maybe the horseman had spent his time with a lover, though eventually he did show up, but it was too late to make the traditional Kabinett style wine, hence the term Spatlese or late picked gaining favor, as when the Bishop tried this sweeter wine he hailed it as the best wine he’d ever tasted, much to the chagrin of the monks at Kloster Eberbach, though celebrated by sweeter wine producers, such as Schloss Johannisberg who still make celebrated Spatlese and honor the lazy horseman. I know I butchered Markus’ telling of the story, but I hope you can forgive me.
If you are curious about Kabinett Rieslings and want to try them, here are a few top producer recommendations for you: Selbach-Oster, Mosel, JJ Prum, Mosel, JJ Christoffel, Mosel, Willi Schafer, Mosel, Leitz, Rheingau, Spreitzer, Rheingau, Kruger-Rumpf, Nahe, Hexamer, Nahe, Schlossgut Diel, Nahe and especially Donnhoff, Nahe.
One of my favorites is the Leitz Rudesheimer Kirchenpfad Kabinett (pictured) this 2015 shines brightly with impressive detail and richness with lots of mineral and orchard fruits with plenty of brisk acidity to balance the sweetness.
My visit to Germany this October of 2016 was one of my career’s best and most eye opening wine travels, a much too short trip that with time and reflection has given me a wealth of new knowledge and respect for the terrors of the Rheingau, including the famed Rudesheimer, Assmannshausen and the upper Rheingau as well as part of the Nahe and a tiny piece of the Rheinhessen that touches Bingen. A grateful thanks to the wonderful and authentic people I saw and met on this trip, including my friends Johannes Leitz, Caroline Diel, Andreas Spreitzer, Stefan and Georg Rumpf as well as Markus Roll, Leitz’s vineyard and general manager that patiently toured me through almost every section of vines in the Rheingau and took me on a tour of Kloster Eberbach and taught me a brief history lesson of the region! This was my second visit to the Rhein, my first was in 2009, and I can promise you I’ll be going back repeatedly if life gives me that opportunity, it is one of the most beautiful and interesting places in the world, let alone the wine world, my few pictures here hardly due justice to this glorious place, I suggest you visit yourselves, after a five minute hike up the hill from Rudesheim was all it took to hook me in and make me a fan for life!
2012 Big Basin Vineyards, Syrah, Rattlesnake Rock Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Bradley Brown’s Big Basin Vineyard wines are compelling and rewarding wines, especially his estate Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, which is one of the most interesting and terroir driven examples of this varietal in California! Inspired by the great wines of the Northern Rhone, the Big Basin Rattlesnake Rock Syrah is a field blend of Brown’s oldest vines on south facing slopes at about 1,400 feet above sea level set in mineral laced soils with shale, iron and sandstone at the core with lose clay and loam topsoil, it’s cool site with ocean influences, windy and a severe drop in temps at night, planted mostly to Alban clone or Cote-Rotie clone.The 225 case small production 2012 Rattlesnake Rock Syrah was fermented using organic grapes, indigenous yeasts with a tiny amount of whole cluster with about 2% Viognier with gentle hand punchdowns and a long cold soak to extract the full expression of the vineyard, then aged about two years in French oak. The wine also gets a year longer, if not two years longer in bottle than most Syrah, this adds to the integration of this beautiful wine and allows the full array of detail and aromatics to be display, 2012 was a great vintage for this region and it is full of richness, fruit layers and ripe tannin, making for a meduim/full red of depth and structure. This site produces a powerful wine, but Brown’s 2012 shows an extra level of finesse and poise to go along with the classic nature of this Syrah, it reminds me of the 2007, one of the first wines I had by Big Basin and a legendary one for those lucky enough to have had or have, it has lovely floral notes, black fruit and a wonderful mix of mineral, spice, savory elements and subtle wood shadings, firm, but gorgeous in mouth feel and length, this is seriously sensual and otherworldly stuff. Crushed violets, minty basil leaf, cracked peppercorns and creme de cassis lead the way with a core of boysenberry, loganberry, wild plum and kirsch as well as gravel, sticky lavender, cedar, clove, fig sauce, smoky vanilla and saline laced anise. Complex, textured and vibrant the 2012 Rattlesnake Rock is just beginning it’s journey toward it’s potential, it’s dark purple/black and garnet hues and opulence make for a hedonistic young wine, but given 5 to 7 years more it should really be hitting it’s stride, this is brilliant from Big Basin. It was great to catch up with Bradley at a recent tasting, I’ve been to his winery more than a few times and have been a long time admirer of his efforts, be sure to also look for his set of current releases of Pinot Noir, in particular his Alfaro Family Vineyard 2014, as well as his awesome Rhone (Syrah & Grenache) bottlings.
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Laura Lorenzo-Daterra Viticultores, Mencia/Godello, Casas de Enriba, VdT Valdeorras, Spain.
This wine reinforces my initial belief and confirms the amazing talents of Laura Lorenzo as a vigneron, her gorgeous 2015’s are some of the most stunning wines of year, they are unique, authentic and soulful! This Casas de Enribe 2015 red is a lovely co-ferment of Mencia 80% and Godello 20% from rocky slopes of granite, gravel, clay, gneiss and quartz in the VdT Valdeorras zone, close to the Ribeira Sacra, it has that Cote-Rotie (Syrah & Viognier) elegance and vitality, but it certainly reminds me more of a slighter lighter and more feline version of either August Clape or Teirry Allemand Cornas, though not stem influenced, it’s utterly brilliant regardless of comparison or my attempt at relating it to you! This deeply hued and wonderfully textured wine was hand harvested, all organic, and remarkably is from young vines, it was native yeast fermented and raised 9 months in neutral 500L French oak, the addition of Godello was done to add vibrancy and acidity due to the warm of the vintage and really compliments the ripe forceful Mencia allowing for a more balanced and complex wine. The 2015 Daterra Viticultores Casas de Enribe starts with an open bouquet of floral and spicy tones with violets, dried roses, wild herb and pepper notes leading to a refined and poised palate of medium weight showing fine tannins and a cut of acidity with silken blackberry, dark cherry and fresh picked juicy plum fruits along with anise, flinty/chalky stones, mineral spice and a hint of black fig, earth, cinnamon and lingering tangy currant/blueberry. Lorenzo’s wines are raw, transparent and terroir driven wines that offer layers of pleasure to the senses with every sip, they seduce completely and are some of the finest natural wines you’ll ever taste from a region that deserves much greater attention. These absolutely beautiful and charismatic Mencia and Godello offerings, imported by Jose Pastor Selections are worth the hunt, look for all these 2015 Daterra Viticultores, drink them over the next 3 to 5 years, again these are stunning wines that really impress and have a passionate impact, do not miss!
($28 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Feinherb, Von Der Nahe, Germany.
The wonderful and lushly textured Von Der Nahe is a slightly off dry style Riesling of great poise and vibrancy, but with opulent and rich character, it was exclusively crafted for Terry Theise by the talent Caroline Diel from all estate grown grapes. This Feinherb, which feels like it has close to Spatlese density, but with a drier tone that is less severe that the intensely crisp and brisk Trockens, this makes for a gateway wine that pleases everyone and can help expand the mind in both and dry style and the more sugar driven styles, like Spatlese and Auslese. Schlossgut Diel’s Von Der Nahe delivers that perfect combination of a lavish hedonistic tease and the verve/energy filled mineral expression that only Riesling can give, and all that at a wonderful price, especially given the quality and pedigree in this wine. While an entry level offering, this is very serious stuff from Diel and should not be over looked as a wine that be cellared either, this should be sleeper, even though it is fun and vital now, this can easily surprise and reward with 10 or 15 years of age. The 2015 vintage for Diel is dreamlike, all of Caroline’s wines are just gorgeous and stunning in detail and class, and this Von Der Nahe is no exception with bright golden pale hues in the glass and some impressive depth of character and layers on the palate of tart apple, peach, apricot and lime fruit with touches of tropical exoticness and zesty tangerine and an almost melon fleshy creaminess along with balancing acidity, saline and crunchy stones as well as liquid mineral. There is a roundness in the mouth and hint of sweetness to be sure, though overall you’d almost swear it was dry, and finish is impressive too with lingering orange, white cherry, fig, flinty spices and a touch of dusty earth and crystalized ginger. This wine hits all the right notes and has subtle complexity and refinement with just the right amount of flamboyance and flair to stand out while young plus it is extremely flexible for cuisine choices. Feinherbs are rare and interesting examples of richer bodied Rieslings that have a bit more sugar that is permitted to be called Trocken, this year there are a few real stand outs from Carl Loewen, Spreitzer, Selbach-Oster and of course this Schlossgut Diel Von Der Nahe, be sure to check them out, it’s a style that has loads of appeal for both the novice and those Riesling experienced!
($25 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2015 M & C Lapierre, Morgon Cru Beaujolais, France.
Expressive and outgoing, the latest Mathieu Lapierre Morgon is a beauty with glorious mouth feel and hedonistic charm and pure Gamay character. Fruity and spicy the 2015 has the same level of pleasure that the 2009 did when young, and this warm vintage benefits the house style and allows the natural acidity to feel rather more subdued, while still keeping things fresh and vibrant. This might be my favorite young Morgon yet from Lapierre in the ten years I’ve been following and buying this wine, it certainly impresses with detail, life and depth of flavors with lots of blue, black and red fruits, mineral notes and fleshy texture as well as having a nice core structure and base of silky tannin and lift. The late Marcel Lapierre inspired a new generation of natural winemakers, and his son Mathieu ( and his sister Camille) continues on his path, but adding his own flair and refinement with each vintage. The wine is made in the vineyard with all organic methods and hard work, attention to every detail and a light touch in the cellar with only native yeasts, neutral cask and very low sulfur employed. This 2015 Morgon, imported by Kermit Lynch, is the “S” cuvee, which is the lightly sulfured bottling, as opposed to the “N” cuvee that is unsulfured or non sulfur that was the only version imported in the last few years, I believe because of the higher levels of ripeness in the vintage, it has to have just a touch, and we are talking extremely low amounts to stabilize and protect this wine. Sometimes a little sulfur dulls a young wine, but not here, and while not as exotic as some vintages, this is a classic from Lapierre and it should get even better with some bottle age, this is gorgeous stuff. Beautiful violets, dark roses, blackberry, currant and anise left from the glass in this deeply hued Gamay with a palate following up on the nose with vivid plum, blueberry, walnut and strawberry as well along with a streak of blood orange, earth and tangy/savory array of pepper and flinty stones, cinnamon/nutmeg and herb tea. Lovely balance and vitality hold everything in check here with a poised energy and a seamless flow of flavors and round open mouth feel with a lengthy finish that is still a hint crisp. If you love Lapierre this is a vintage to stock up on, it still leads the way in almost all measures; pleasure, playfulness and passion in a serious field of great wines!
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive