Riesling’s Brave New World
We are seeing a new gold rush in California, it’s the beginning of dry Riesling resurrection in the state, while still not a thing yet, watch out, because the movement is growing with many top wineries searching out Riesling vines and quietly refining there offerings, and it’s not only in California, Oregon, Washington State and New York’s Finger Lakes are going big time into dry Riesling with a new wave of fans searching out the latest wines. Riesling saw it’s fortunes in California dive to historic lows during the nineties and early two-thousands with lots of vines being ripped up and a market that turned it’s nose up at domestic Riesling, which everyone screamed was too sweet and not serious, with the exception of a few brave souls, we has Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington State hiring Dr. Loosen to collaborate on a line of dry, sweet and off dry wines with their Eroica project, as in Washington there was Long Shadows project that brought out a dry Riesling called Poet’s Leap, even again Charles Smith brought out his Kung Fu Girl off-dry wine from Washington, but in California there was extremely little interest with only the maverick Randall Grahm making anything marketable with his own collaboration with Johannes Selbach on a blend of German and California Riesling. That said, Anderson Valley’s Navaro, Napa’s Stony Hill and Smith-Madrone, plus Chateau Montelena (Potter Valley) continued to make quality examples even in the darkest times for Riesling, but it wasn’t until Graham Tatomer’s Austrian inspired label emerged that things started to turn around, and now we have some very serious dry Rieslings to celebrate with regions scrambling to plant more, from Mendocino’s Potter Valley to Santa Barbera, with Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands and Arroyo Seco even becoming Riesling hotspots as well as a few places in the cooler Sonoma Coast, as well as the Anderson Valley. This new generation of Riesling producers include the mentioned Tatomer, Ryan Stirm, Ross Cobb, Noah Dorrence’s Reeve, Ryan Kozba, Miguel Leppe and Russell Joyce of Joyce Vineyards to name just of few that are part of this new brave world.
Riesling’s History-A Brief Glance!
Riesling’s noble past is such that for arguably 200 hundred years it was the greatest white wine in the world, when it was traded for sometimes at astonishing high prices for the times, it was mentioned in historical written records dating back to the 13th century with mentions in Germany and Austria as early as 1232, though it came to prominence between 1570 and 1780. The grape’s current spelling “Riesling” looks to have been established back in 1552, it is likely the name was derived from German words that actually mean poor flowering vine or dark hard wood. The varietal’s origins remain a mystery, though it is widely believed to have been a native crossing of a German wild grape and Traminer as well as Weißer Heunisch a grape that at one time was popular in both France where it was known as Gouais Blanc, though supposedly truly indigenous to Germany, even if some in both Austria and Hungary believe it started there. Interesting there seems to have even been a red skinned Riesling that may have morphed into the white grape, though there is no evidence to support that. It is an aromatic varietal with high acid, which has made it very flexible and intriguing in all of it’s fashionable styles from ridiculously briskly dry to the ultimate Eiswein sweet. Though it must be said it’s most common style throughout it’s early history was Kabinett level, which is slightly sweet or off-dry, in fact Eberbach most prized cellar was their Cabinet room.
Riesling’s first real boom time in planting and popularity came in the 1,800’s with all the main church vineyards were directed to dig up other grapes in favor of Riesling with the main regions of the Rheingau, Rheinhessen and the Mosel all adding large vine holdings of Riesling with the top Benedictine abby’s and monasteries being the main producers, these included what are now Eberbach, Johannisberg and Vollards in the Rheingau, though by this time Trier in the Mosel was also a big player.
Riesling’s run at the top of the wine world came crashing down during the first and second World Wars, there were many factors in it’s fall from grace, vineyards in the front lines, changing tastes and economies, so with war and depression things got bleak. When the dust settled and peace breaking out and economic hardships easing, Germany lost it’s groove wine wise, becoming a bulk wine producer ripping up Riesling vines and adding easier growing grapes, while the rest of the Riesling growing areas went quiet as well. From 1950 to 1970 was the rise of the Blue Nun era (where grapes like Muller Thurgau were heavy used and planted), with the American market buying soft sweet wines that lacked tension or purpose, but the mid to late 70’s saw a return of pride and Riesling’s fortune started to rise from the ashes with all levels of sweetness flourishing again, though we had to wait for another 3o plus years before American’s discovered Germany’s honestly dry wines to become a thing, even though Alsace was producing some of the most glorious dry Rieslings the whole time, and while a tiny faction, the Aussies have as well with places like Eden and Claire making fantastic blistering dry examples, while Austria started their rebirth after the late eighties glycol scandal almost wiped out the whole wine business.
The VDP v. Classic German Wine Laws
While Germany’s terribly hard to grasp wine laws never helped, especially here in the states, in modern times a new set of rules has been widely adopted from an industry consortium or club known as the VDP, The Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter, (VDP), is a national German association of producers committed to top quality wine production, and even though the VDP was formed back in 1910, the organization originally promoted unchaptalized “natur” wines, but it’s the modern classifications that are most important, which were only implemented in the last decade and deal with mostly vineyard classification. At the top of the new VDP quality model are the Grosses Gewächs wines.(GG) which are dry wines from a Grosse Lage (Grand Cru single vineyard) site with a minimum Spatlese must weight, with Erste Lage being a dry wine from a Premier Cru single vineyard, almost following Burgundy. The old German wine law regulated the wines by must weight (sugar) with the basic Kabinett (off-dry), Spatlese (late picked, fruity or sweet, though not dessert style) and Auslese (highly sweet, both a table wine and dessert) being the most common, with lighter under weight wines being called QbA (basic quality) and the more intensely sweet wines including Eiswein (must have each grape picked individually at the first freeze of the year!), BA & TBA. (see guide below)
Original Classification under German Wine Laws
The different Prädikat (superior quality wine) designations used are as followed, in order of increasing sugar levels in the must:
Kabinett (Off-Dry) – literally “cabinet”, meaning wine of reserve quality to be kept in the vintner’s cabinet
fully ripened light wines from the main harvest, typically semi-sweet with crisp acidity, but can be dry if designated so.
Spätlese (Sweet) – meaning “late harvest”
typically half-dry, often (but not always) sweeter and fruitier than Kabinett. The grapes are picked at least 7 days after normal harvest, so they are riper. While waiting to pick the grapes carries a risk of the crop being ruined by rain, in warm years and from good sites much of the harvest can reach Spätlese level. Spätlese can be a relatively full-bodied dry wine if designated so. While Spätlese means late harvest the wine is not as sweet as a dessert wine, as the “late harvest” term is often used in US wines.
Auslese (Sweeter) – meaning “select harvest”
made from very ripe, hand selected bunches, typically semi-sweet or sweet, sometimes with some noble rot character. Sometimes Auslese is also made into a powerful dry wine, but the designation Auslese trocken has been discouraged after the introduction of Grosses Gewächs. Auslese is the Prädikat which covers the widest range of wine styles, and can be a dessert wine.
Beerenauslese “BA” (Very Sweet) – meaning “select berry harvest”
made from overripe grapes individually selected from bunches and often affected by noble rot, making rich sweet dessert wine.
Trockenbeerenauslese “TBA” (Very, Very Sweet) – meaning “select dry berry harvest” or “dry berry selection”
made from selected overripe shrivelled grapes often affected by noble rot making extremely rich sweet wines. “Trocken” in this phrase refers to the grapes being dried on the vine rather than the resulting wine being a dry style.
Eiswein (ice wine) -Ultimate Sweet Wine
Made from grapes that have been naturally frozen on the vine, making a very concentrated wine. Must reach at least the same level of sugar content in the must as a Beerenauslese. The most classic Eiswein style is to use only grapes that are not affected by noble rot. Until the 1980s, the Eiswein designation was used in conjunction with another Prädikat (which indicated the ripeness level of the grapes before they had frozen), but is now considered a Prädikat of its own.
The minimum must weight requirements for the different Prädikat designations are as follows. Many producers, especially top-level producers, exceed the minimum requirements by a wide margin.
Then forget everything, because there is also Fienherb, Halbtrocken and Trockens!
In Germany wine law you can use the above guidelines and ferment to a drier styles, like Kabinett Trocken or Spatlese Trocken as well as to half dry “Halbtrocken” along with Feinherb, which is a serious dry style, but with just a shade too much sugar to qualify for Trocken, this is now the hot, or cutting edge style with German winemakers, especially from Cru sites, it is a bit more flexible than Grosses Gewachs and Erste Lage allow and more generous on the palate, without being overtly fruity, in recent years we’ve seen this Feinherb category take off!
Where it’s going now? with a huge modern interest in this grape especially it’s dry styles, along with it’s post WWII decline and rise in the 1970’s to now. Riesling, once though only to thrive in Alsace and Germany has turned out to be much more adaptable to other regions from South Australia, which has some of the oldest Riesling vines on earth, and New Zealand to Austria, Italy and of course now North America with wonderful versions being made in the Finger Lake (New York), parts of Canada, as well as Washington State and Oregon along with a new generation here in California. While Germany is still the number one spot, we are seeing Riesling’s renaissance blossoming around the world, with the dry styles taking a more elite place in the greats of white wine, interesting dry and off dry were the mainstream in Germany, where as we led to believe sweet was it.
Acid Freaks and Petrol Heads
There is a lot made of the fact that in some cases Riesling can/does have a unique petrol or diesel like aromas which sometimes dominate the initial experience, it has been assumed it is caused by the compound Trimethyl-Nihydronaphthalene (TDN), which during the aging process is created from carotenoid precursors by acid hydrolysis. The initial concentration of precursors in the wine determines the wine’s potential to develop TDN and petrol notes over time. There are many that find this very unappealing or a flaw, while others revel in it, it is really a personal preference, though it gets ridiculous when when winemakers and trade reps deny it exists at all, which happens all the time. The other bit of controversy is Riesling’s high acid and if that makes it better or not, I am a fan of acid, but not a fanatic, some though only want wines that you could dissolve a dead body in! I love the tension and release you get with thrilling acidity, but I also love textural wines, which may come as a surprise to some, Riesling can do texture as well as any.
Long lived wines
Riesling with it’s high acid and natural extract ages insanely well, far longer than most people know, I myself have enjoyed many 40 and 50 year old examples that were amazingly still vibrant and complex, and there’s many 80 to 100 year old Rieslings out there that are still youthful, especially the German and Alsatian versions, with Trimbach (Alsace) and Kloster Eberbach (Rheingau) ones to search out, especially Trimach’s Clos Ste. Hune, one of the world’s greatest dry wines, it is absolutely ageless, and a timeless beauty.
Winemaking and tastes that are leaning drier
The modern Riesling drinker are sometimes referred to as Acid Freaks, and the best examples are intensely dry, biting and racy with tons of tension, mineral and stony elements, they tend to be refreshing and modest in alcohol, and sometimes you’ll get a distinct petrol/diesel fume note with an array of profile flavors that tend to revolve around lime, green apple, white peach, apricot and mango/tropical fruits as well as tangy white cherry, kumquat and lychee notes with bitter herbs, tea and verbena as well as soil markers like flint, shale, loam and river stones. And while they are crystalline and mineral driven, some can be yeasty/leesy rich and vinous on the palate like higher end Chablis, but retaining their steely charm.
Most common in German and France is to ferment the lighter drier wines in stainless with super clean musts, using commercial yeasts and less lees aging with compact and acid driven wines, village wines. While Cru sites (Grand Cru in Alsace with Erste Lage, Premier Cru and Grosse Lage, Grand Cru used for vineyard sites with Germany’s VDP labeling the top dry single vineyard wines Grosses Gewachs) which are usually fermented with Sponti (native/natural yeats) and aged in large French or German oak cask with only a very few using small Burgundy style barriques. Please note in Germany they still categorize most wines by must weight (the degree of sugar in the crushed grapes) where the terms QbA, Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese go from lighter to heavier, with some being fermented dry with the term Trocken added. Then there is the modern Feinherb, for wines done in a dry style, but don’t fall within governing limits of sugar levels. It’s also important to remember, because of Riesling’s acidity, even with high sugar the wine don’t always feel sweet, sometimes it’s translated into a creamy sensation rather that cloying sweetness, especially in the Mosel wines. While in California there is a push to ferment in stainless steel and craft lighter/fresher wines, but there are some that are lees aged and some that are even barrel fermented and aged, so there is a huge range of styles even in the dry segment, with some bright and intensely acidic and mineral driven along with richly dense examples.
Some Dry Rieslings to Explore
2017 Joyce Vineyards, Dry Riesling “Alluvial Fan” Monterey County.
One of Monterey’s most serious dry alternative whites, Russell Joyce’s Alluvial Fan Monterey County Dry Riesling is bursting with intensity, energy and vigor, I doubt many would guess where it’s from, it shows what careful farming and winemaking can do with this varietal in California, impressive for it’s exceptional mineral focus and savory tones, this 2017 is simply excellent and well made white wine that deserves your attention. Joyce recently showed off their 2017 Rose, 2017 Albarino and this vivid 2017 Dry Riesling, all of which I’ve tasted and rated outstanding, the vintage was looking good, but these certainly rise above the norm and look set to be stars this Spring and Summer, all are modern clean with vibrant brisk details without any hint of sweetness or opulence, these are austere wines that sizzle with acidity and stoniness, especially this Alluvial Fan Dry Riesling, which flows with precise and lean form, it’s crystalline and clear with loads of lime, sour peach, green melon and basil/herbal essences along with that bracing acid, mineral steely/racy grip and wet stones. This is pure and stingingly crisp Riesling, refreshing and full of lift, it’s got plenty of extract and picks up texture as it warms adding rosewater, a hint of bacon fat, saline/brine and white cherry notes, this is not your granny’s Riesling! Joyce’s whites including his Tondre Chardonnay give a nod to the classic old world versions, but are all California in personality and unique in style, the future of California whites is looking better and better, Joyce joins a new generation that are taking chances and making thrilling wines, this group includes Ian Brand (La Marea & Vocal), Tatomer, Arnot-Roberts, Scribe, Ryme, Stirm, Lepe, Wind Gap and others. Joyce’s Riesling is due out soon and so grab a dozen oysters and or spicy crab when you get it, it’s a mouth watering joy in the making.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Morgan Winery, Riesling, Double L Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Morgan’s Dan Lee was an early adopter of organic farming in the Santa Lucia Highlands, and while most of the old Riesling vines on the bench were ripped out, he planted a block at his home ranch at Double L Vineyard and while under the radar, I have always rated his Riesling as one of Morgan’s best white wines. Monterey’s new love affair with dry style Riesling has created a renaissance for this grape in the region with a growing number of small wineries crafting quality offerings led by Joyce Vineyards, Stirm Wines, Leppe Cellars, Kozba Wines, Tudor Wines along with winemaker Sam Smith at Morgan, this younger generation is focused on intensity mineral driven and crisp version mostly, while the older Monterey Rieslings tended to be sweeter off dry or dessert cloying styles which were not nearly as interesting as what we are now seeing here now. The 2017 Morgan Riesling Double L Vineyard, which starts with a hint of sweetness like a German Kabinett level wine, made from all organic grapes, is a wonderfully expressive white with a tropical core of fruit and stylishly crisp and focused with exotic guava, mango, kiwi, passionfruit and a mix of lemony citrus flowing across the vibrant minerally palate along with a subtle textural feel in the mouth and a light floral tone adding a touch of wet stones, green apple and tangy peach flesh/pit which gives a refreshing bit along with the natural acidity. Smith says he used an old school whole cluster pressing over a 24 hour period, including some foot stomp crushing before a cool ferment, all stainless steel, and early bottling to preserve it verve and fresh/brisk intensity. This super pleasing and expressive Riesling will play well with a wide array of dishes, especially seafoods, but will also be a great choice while sitting by the pool, drink now.
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2010 Tatomer, Riesling, Vandenberg, Santa Barbara County.
Certainly one of the best dry California Rieslings available, the Tatomer is a lovely and stylish effort with plenty of distinct character and charm oozing from the glass from nose to finish this is impressive wine. Tatomer is label to watch, the wines are pure, driven with acidity and good solid varietal examples, the Gruner Veltliner is also another terrific expression, so be sure to keep an eye out for these wines, especial the Vandenberg Riesling, a wine that made my meal at the famed Santa Barbara restaurant, the Wine Cask. The Tatomer Riesling 2010 Vandenberg starts with hints of orange flowers, tropical notes and chalky minerals with lots of citrus leading to a lively and energy filled palate with apple, lime, peach and white currant along with saline, wet stones, verbena, petrol and lemongrass. There is a forceful burst of acidity and intensity, but everything turns polished with food and air, there is a graceful creaminess that shines through and lingers on the dry, crisp finish. This highly enjoyable white is evolved and maturing nicely, it should drink well for another 3 to 5 years, but no reason to wait really.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Forge Cellars, Dry Riesling Classique, Finger Lakes, New York.
The Finger Lakes outpost of Rhone legend Louis Barruol, famed Gigondas producer, Forge Cellars is a new project focused on dry Riesling from vineyards around mostly Seneca and Cayuga lakes, with a mix of shale, gravely loam and clay with some limestone which gives the Finger Lakes it’s character and terroir influences. Along with his local partners Richard Rainey and Justin Boyette, Barruol’s Forge Cellars crafts limited release Riesling single site offerings as well as this 1,800 case production regional dry Riesling Classique cuvee with 85% from Seneca Lake and 15% from Cayuga Lake, which has only .4% RS and is as trocken as it gets! There is a lot of excitement about Finger Lakes Riesling, not only Barruol is jumping in here, with Paul Hobbs and Johannes Selbach (Selbach-Oster) also joining in here too, along with local hotshots like Ravines, Hermann J. Wiemer, Boundary Breaks and Dr. Konstantin Frank all which make wonderful wines. The Forge Cellars 2015 Dry Riesling Classique starts with an intense youthful expression of mouth waveringly dry and brisk fruit, a light petrol note, white roses and zesty citrus along with delicate layers of green apple, liquid shale, pithy peach pit, lemon oil, almond, marzipan, lime peel and verbena. It has a dusty dry mouth feel and tangy acidity that almost reminds me a bit of some Australian Rieslings like Gosset, Rolf Binder and Pewsey Vale, but with a smoky mineral and austere wet rock core and at 13% it does have a subtle density and gains a textural presence in the glass with air. I can’t wait to try the Cru offerings and will no questions enjoy more bottles of this one, it has a serve impact, but really grows on you and it will be a lovely Summer wine and great with a variety of cuisine, it’s a great value to enjoy now.
($18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2013 Hermann J. Wiemer, Riesling, Dry, Estate, Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes, New York.
American Riesling is alive and well, with new and old faces making some terrific wines, like Tatomer in Santa Barbara, Stony Hill, Casa Nuestra and Tudor as well in California, there are some great wines coming out of the Pacific Northwest with Oregon and Washington making some real treats, but if you want to best and the most interesting American Riesling, there is just one place and that is Wiemer in the Finger Lakes region of New York that stands above the rest. The Weimer’s family came from Germany and the vines are Mosel clones from Bernkastel, but the talented Fred Merwarth has brought international frame to this estate since he took over the vineyard in 2007, in fact his wines convoked Johannes Selbach to team up with Paul Hobbs to start an American Riesling winery in the Finger Lakes. The 2013 Weimer Dry Riesling is vibrant and old world style white with an American touch, it shows lovely floral and savory elements, tension/vivid acidity and delicate fruitiness with white peach, grapefruit, lime and green apple notes along with soil (Shale) driven layers of mineral, flinty spice and chalky stones, it finishes crisp and lean, but with a lengthy aftertaste. It is a pure Riesling that takes it’s cues from Germany, but has interesting elements that highlight it’s own terroir, it is unlike Alsace (France), Clare Valley (Australia) or the Wachau (Austria), but has little touches that makes you think of all those places. The last few vintages have been majestic for Weimer, but I adore this 2013 and think it is the best yet, a great American wine story in a glass, perfect for the 4th of July and watching the World Cup!
($20 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Trocken, Rudesheimer Berg Kaisersteinfels, Terrassen, Grosses Gewachs, Rheingau Germany.
My wine of the year is Johannes Leitz’s gorgeous and powerful Kaisersteinfels Terrassen Grosses Gewachs dry Riesling from the top of the Rudesheimer Berg, this wondrous wine I believe is the first ever Grand Cru Trocken from this site and is a pure masterpiece in the bottle. Drinking this wine in the vineyard was a magical experience, taking in the beauty and historical landscape while sipping on near perfection is a special moment and this Riesling is more than worthy of my complete admiration, it holds your attention like few wines can and the intensity of terroir cannot be questioned. This Leitz Kaisersteinfels in is league with the great white wines of the world, and it’s glorious liquid stone and steely mineral complexity shines brilliantly, it’s a wine that stands easily with the top Grand Cru whites from Chablis, in fact it reminds me of a Valmur with it’s brisk and flinty natural and laser like focus. The 2015 vintage sees Leitz raising his game to the next level, Johannes’ wines have always stood out in the region and his pursuit of quality is relentless, but these 2015’s are legendary wines throughout his lineup, from top to bottom. The Glorious Rudesheimer Berg Kaisersteinfels Terrassen Grosses Gewachs was just coming out of it’s austere youthful shell when I sampled it, but you knew the second it hits the palate that something remarkable has happened, it is a wine for the ages and certainly needs a bit more time in bottle to fulfill it’s massive potential, though it’s greatness and grace is plain to see already, it comes at you in a rush of vibrant citrus, green apple, white peach and spicy tropical fruits along with wet shale, liquid mineral and saline. The acidity is eye popping and the extract coats the mouth with high velocity, but with leopard like muscle, graceful and sleek, this is a wine that makes your head spin! The slate driven soils with veins of quartz and wonderful south exposure of the terraces give ripeness, but the cool nights and great airflow up here allow a slow and steady process with a later pick date and heathy grapes without noble rot, and while the Spatlese from Kaisersteinfels is amazing, this Trocken Grand Cru is jaw dropping spectacular and stunning. With air and patience the 2015 Kaisersteinfels shows savory tones, a hint of leesy richness and a dreamy background of mango, white tea, honeydew, rosewater, kiwi and tangy lime. I waiting a long time to relate my thoughts on this one, in reflection there is transparency and clarity, this is utterly amazing stuff. Bravo everyone at Leitz, especially Johannes for making such a fantastic wine, It is truly my WINE OF THE YEAR!
($56 Est.) 98 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Kunstler, Riesling Kabinett Trocken, Hochheimer Holle, Rheingau Germany.
Gunter Kunstler is one of the greats of dry Riesling and his new Holle Kabinett Trocken, which is really more of a Grosses Gewachs than a Kabinett in the real world, is a lovely delicate vintage, but with fantastic detail and steely character. The 2016 Hochheimer Holle Kabinett Trocken Riesling is brightly brilliant with loads of lime, green melon, subtle mango, white peach and tangerine fruits, as well as liquid mineral, almond oil, wet rock, saline, plus a touch of white licorice and basil. More than flavors or words this wine is about feel and class in the glass with it’s electric vibrancy and refined nature, the Kunstler Holle Kabinett Trocken just feels right, start to finish, and it’s still a baby, look for this beautiful Riesling to fill out over the next couple of years and drink well into the next decade. Grown as organically as possible, the Holle is a humid site and needs lots of care and excels when done with the care that Gunter employs in the cellar, the deep clay and sediments with a bit limestone show through clearly in this vintage, making for a terroir driven white that reminds me of a Premier Cru Chablis in style with it’s pure and soulful expression of place and vitality. Air really allows this Riesling to shine with lingering white cherry, unripe apricot, chalky/stone, rosewater and a faint creamy/leesy note adds to the complexity of this wine that has an icy beauty about it, this really gives you a huge insight into Gunter’s precise clarity of mission, it’s a stunner and because it’s labeled Kabinett Trocken (because of a quirk in the VDP system) it will be flying under the radar, so I encourage you to think of this as a GG at a great price!
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling Feinherb, Winkeler Jesuitengarten, Alte Reben, Rheingau Germany.
One of the my favorite Rieslings of the 2016 vintage so far is Spreitzer’s dense Jesuitegarten Alte Reben, think of it as a more generous GG with a touch of off dry lustiness with a rich character and amazing focus! From vines not far from the Rhein on a mix of loess, sand and gravel, the Jesuitegarten benefits from an almost lake effect, since this site sits near the river’s widest point and it vines ripen earlier here, making for opulent Rieslings, but still with vibrant acidity and crystalline mineralite. Less fruity than the Kabinett and Spatlese, the Alte Reben Jesuitegarten feels dry on the palate, but has what I call lush intensity with an almost full body feel, or as Terry Theise says, it’s chewy, and it drinks like a red wine with the massive extract and structure adding a counter weight to the lavish fruit core, regardless of what this wine is labeled, it’s a Grand Cru class white with gorgeous detail and length. This Riesling is beautiful, curvy and tom boy like, just think of Scarlett Johansson in a glass. The 2016 Spreitzer Feinherb Jesuitegarten Alte Reben is riveting from start to finish with a heady bouquet of spring flowers, sea shore and citrus which leads to a textured palate of green apple, mango, pineapple, lime sorbet, apricot and white cherry fruits with hints of saline/brine, wet stones, spiced herbal tea, verbena, sweet melon flesh, rosewater and lingering tangerine. This open and stylish Riesling delivers a rush of elegant pleasure and should go decades, this is super impressive and a value, if you’ve not had Spreitzer in recent vintages you are missing out, my visit to the winery last fall was mind-blowing and while I thought 2015 raised their game to the next level, these 2016 wines take it even further, Andreas and Bernd are killing it! Imported by Terry Theise and Skurnik Wines, these 2016 Spreitzer’s are coming online as I speak, but with the GG’s coming later in the year, these are seriously awesome Rieslings, especially this Jesuitegarten Feinherb, but also look for the dry Rosengarten GG and the Muschelkalk Trocken, as well as the sweeter Kabinett and Spatlese offerings which look set to be classics.
($33 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Trocken, Dorsheimer Schlossberg, Erstes Lage, Nahe Germany.
Caroline Diel’s Premier Cru Schlossberg dry Riesling is brilliant and clear with liquid mineral and lime blossom leading the way before spicy stony intensity takes over on the vibrant energy filled palate, making for a vivid and pure terroir driven wine. From the slopes of Nahe the Dorsheimer Schlossberg Erstes Lage is a powerful effort, not far off the GG’s in purity and style, fermented spontaneously and in a combination of wood and cement, mostly in stuckfass and with great care and detail focus with studied attention and serve sorting, this wine has vigorous acidity and extract, but showing elegance and lingering beauty, it’s a gorgeous example of briskly cool and bone dry Riesling. Layers of green apple, a core of lime citrus, bitter melon, kumquat, kiwi, verbena, peppered shale, white peach and rosewater all appear in a vital crisp form in this well structured wine. The saline, brine and wet stone elements add complexity to this fabulous Diel Riesling, a leader in graceful dry style wines, and this wine is everything you’d ever want in a racy lean and youthful Riesling. The 2016 is a vintage that is expressive and forward, maybe not quite as exotic and concentrated as 2015, but certainly of great quality and class, it’s a year that might be best for Feinherb, Kabinett and Spatlese, making for wines of pleasure and balance, in these wines the vintage might be just as good if not better in cases than 2015, but the dry wines are also very impressive, especially here in the Nahe with Diel, Kruger-Rumpf and Donnhoff all crafting spectacular dry style wines in 2016. The Diel EL Schlossberg is a wine to look for, it’s right up with with GG’s and priced right for the quality and pedigree. Schlossgut Diel also does a fantastic Pinot Noir and rare leesy sparkler that rivals Krug! So if you get a chance to visit the Nahe, this is a winery to put near to the top of your list of wineries to go to, and if you can’t visit you’ll still want to discover Caroline’s wines, imported by Terry Theise and Skurnik Wines. I highly recommend Diel’s dry wines, but do not overlook the Kabinett, Spatlese and even the Auslese all of which are excellent and sexy wines, plus don’t miss their USA/Theise only cuvee “Von der Nahe” Feinherb it’s a killer deal and a generous lightly fruity Riesling that feels nicely dry, but with a smooth mouth feel from the sugar level. I was lucky enough to taste and do a quick tour at the winery last fall with Caroline’s husband Sylvain, so it was fun to taste these 2016’s with him at the Skurnik Wines West tasting in San Francisco, in particular this 2016 Schlossgut Diel Erstes Lage Trocken Riesling Dorsheimer Schlossberg, it’s a winner, best from 2019 to 2029.
($60 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Riesling Trocken, Abtei Erste Gewächs, Binger Brucke Im Ruppertsberg, Germany.
I walked this vineyard at harvest time 2016, the northern most vineyard in the Nahe, which is on the outskirts of Bingen, once an Abbey owned plot, across the Rhein from Rudesheimer Berg with a beautiful south facing it is a steep site that is terrible hard work to farm, so it has become a special place for me and certainly it is a rewarding set of vines for Georg Rumpf. The winery took this vineyard on in recent years and is restoring it after it was neglected for many years, and even in the short time Rumpf has had it the promise of greatness shines through with both the 2015 and now the 2016 vintages delivering outstanding wines, in what looks set to become a Grosses Gewachs in the future, this vineyard is one to follow, especially now with the price being so reasonable for the quality, and for the difficult hand work this vineyard requires! Farmed organic and on soils that mimic Rudesheimer Berg, this wine has an inner brilliance and powerful energy, it’s an amazing tiny terroir that graces this dry Riesling, giving slate character and remarkable fresh detail, and while the 2015 has a raw/feral side to it’s concentration, the 2016 shows more elegance and finesse, it’s brighter, more intense and pure, both are fascinating wines that are moving and certainly wonderful examples of mineral driven Trocken Riesling. The 2016 Abtei as tasted with Georg Rumpf at the Skurnik Wines West Portfolio Tasting in San Francisco, starts with orange blossom, flinty mineral/stone essences, vivid stone fruit, white peach and melon fleshiness as well as verbena, rosehip tea, tangerine, green apple and lingering lime and saline infused shale. The palate is forceful and crisp, but still refined and generous at the same time, a trait you find in all of Georg’s wines, especially his dry styles, while his fruitier wines are slightly more flamboyant/sexy they never feel overtly sweet or heavy, I love everything he produces, but this Abtei might be my secret favorite, as well as his Scheurebe, tough choices! Drink the 2016 Kruger-Rumpf Abtei Erste Gewachs between 2020 and 2030, though there won’t be any penalty for opening anytime.
($32 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Donnhoff, Riesling Trocken, Hermannshohle, Grosses Gewachs, Nahe Germany.
The barrel sample of Donnhoff’s majestic Hermannshohle GG gives a great insight into this wonderful dry Riesling and the vintage, which may not grab the headlines like the 2015 did, but still looks to be a monumental effort, this slatey historic site has produced a great wine that will certainly be one of the wines of the year! I was amazed by the 2016 Hermannshole, as tasted with Cornelius Donnhoff, it is a powerful and thrilling white wine that already has a prodigious palate impact and intense purity of form, and from years of tasting cask samples from Donnhoff, I have absolute faith the bottled version will be even better! Donnhoff uses spontaneous fermentations and a mix of stuckfass (oval oak cask) doppelstuck (bigger 2,400L cask) and stainless to capture vintage and terroir of each vineyard, this is clearly showcased in their Grand Crus, which rank up there with the greatest wines in the world, in particular this Hermannshohle GG which shows an elegant grace and underlying power that makes you take notice, there’s no question, when you taste this wine, you know immediately you are tasting something remarkable and special. Of course this is not new news to anyone who has had Donnhoff, one of the planet’s best wineries, but there is a lot to like about the 2016 lineup across the board dry and sweet (fruity) with a varied array of offerings that come from a mix of soil types, like the pebblely/loamy Premier Cru Kahlenberg Trocken, the volcanic influenced Grand Cru Felsenberg Trocken, the clay and grey slate monopole Oberhauser Brucke Spatlese to this pure slate driven Hermannshohle! The 2016 Donnhoff Hermanshohle GG starts with subtle white flowers, loads of flinty spicy mineral and stone leading to a brisk youthful palate of steely citrus, peach and green apple with a core of lime, white currant, a hint of gooseberry and citron that highlights the extract, and while tight, focused and compact now, it looks set to be a classic. Lingering melon, faint mango, saline and wet stone adds to the complexity of detail in a wine of true potential. I hope I get a chance to re-visit this beauty in 10 years, in the meantime don’t miss Donnhoff’s basic Estate wines and the Krotenpfuhl Kabinett, both of which are stellar values. This Hermannshohle GG should be in your cellar when released this fall, it has a rewarding future, I’d put it in the same league as Roulot Meursault and Raveneau Les Clos quality wise, drink from 2022-2035.
($84 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Carl Loewen, Riesling Trocken, Maximin 1896 Herrenberg Alte Reben, Erste Lage, Mosel Germany.
The follow up to his amazing 2015’s looks set to almost equal them with these 2016’s, proving the quality of the vines here and the rising talent of Christopher Loewen, who’s new set of offerings are brilliant Rieslings, especially his gorgeous dry styles including this Maximin 1896 Herrenberg Alte Reben Trocken Premier Cru (Erste Lage) that has the class and elegance of a Raveneau, but with the slate driven terroir of the Mosel. This wine is a thrilling and vital Riesling with stunning detail, it’s a shimmering pale wine with crisp layers of intensity, showing white peach, unripe apricot, green apple, lime, tangy mango and white cherry fruits. There’s so mush energy here, it’s bursting at the seams, and there liquid mineral steely frame set up the fruit and salty/briny essences along with flinty wet stones, dusty tea spices, light rosewater and lingering verbena and tangerine. I’ll mention again that the 2015’s were richer, more concentrated and exotic, but these 2016’s have more restraint, a slightly lighter bodied and delicacy without giving up much in the way of power and over all substance, plus I am convince after tasting the 2016’s they will age well and continue to impress well into the future. Loewen is now a bonafide star and his wines should not be missed, others of his 2016’s you shouldn’t miss include the Ritsch Grosses Gewachs, the ultra sexy 1896 Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg Feinherb, coming from Germany’s oldest Riesling vines, plus his wonderfully classic Kabinett and Leiwener Laurentiuslay Spatlese! Imported by Terry Theise/Skurnik Wines, Weingut Carl Loewen has joined the Mosel’s elite, do not miss the 2015 and 2016 Rieslings from this address, and in particular this beautiful mouth wateringly dry old vines Maximin Herrenberg 1896 Erste Lage!
($48 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Wittmann, Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany.
Phillip Wittmann’s entry level dry Riesling is a pithy fresh wine that delivers crisp detail and pure flavors, while it lacks to thrilling concentration of the GG’s this lovely little wine gives a gateway insight into Wittmann’s style, vintage markers and terroir. Having tasted with Phillip Wittmann last year and tasting his signature Morstein I had a good base in which to taste this Rheinhessen Trocken that starts with driving citrus, loamy notes and white cherry before opening on the palate with more yellow fruits and mineral elements in a vibrant and juicy acid burst. The 2015 is still rather austere and tight, a bit surprising, but still charming and a solid value for a wine from a great vintage and pedigree, best to have with cuisine where it shine more clearly, especially with cured meats, oysters or light to medium spicy dishes, it is really vital and refreshing in a lighter frame than the more impressive and deep Grosses Gewachs and single vineyard Trockens. Wittmann began organic conversion in the 1980’s, got 100% organic in the early 1990’s and went full biodynamic in 2004, their adoption of Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy and farming has lifted Wittmann to new highs and the wines show amazing energy and class, making Philip one of superstars of Germany who has lifted the region’s reputation as well. The Rheinhessen has small pockets of terroir that is as good as it gets, and there is no doubt Weingut Wittmann is the leading light. The soils here are more limestone and clay giving the Wittmann wines their unique expressions, in fact Morstein always has a Chablis like steely quality and is a vineyard that was first mentioned way back in 1282, there is a stunning history here, Wittmann’s other top sites include areas of iron rich red volcanic and sandy loam and a bit of loess which adds to the complexity of each Cru, with the basic Trocken getting a bit of each in most vintages. This zesty Riesling Trocken has brisk mouth feel and vigor along with faint white flowers, tropical tones, peachy notes and spices finishing dusty dry and lingering rosewater, mango and biting bitterness. I can see myself enjoying a few bottles of this one on hot summer days, also look for Wittmann’s very rare Trocken Rose of St. Laurent and Pinot Noir, one of Germany’s most geeky fun wines!
($22.50 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Feinherb “Ur” Alte Reben, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Mosel Germany.
One of the best in Selbach’s gorgeous set of fresh 2016 wines is the lovely and deeply blue Devonian slate influenced old vine Riesling Feinherb “Ur” Alte Reben that is bursting with intensity and open/transparent Mosel charm. Picked at Spatlese must weight and fermented nearly dry this white has real presence and lushness in the glass and on the palate, but with serious mineralite from the iron rich slate soil to balance the off dry sweetness which feels less sugary and more creamy. This wine is youthfully vibrant and forceful coming from a steep slope above the Mosel and from ungrafted vines that average over 80 years old with some well over 100 years hence the name “Ur” Alte Reben (extremely old) which deliver the depth and complexity found in this wonderful Riesling. Johannes Selbach employed native or “sponti” yeast fermentation and raised this beauty in cask, and allowed some sweetness to remain to soften the vital acidity and give wonderful mouth feel, and even in a barrel sample this wine demands your full attention, this is going to be spectacular stuff on release and for dozens of years to come. Brisk and cooly crisp to start this Feinherb extremely old vine Riesling, it is an opulent wine, but with Chablis like verve, starts with saline infused white flowers, green apple, tangerine, melon/lime sorbet, mango and fleshy peach along with hints of brine, liquid mineral, flinty spice and wet river stones. There’s a seductive brilliant tangy edginess that rages against the lavish pleasing sweet textures with ripe just tree picked apricot and stone/pit vying with tart citrus rind, I can’t wait to see what happens in a decade, this looks to be the stuff of legends! Without question Selbach-Oster made world class Spatlese and Auslese in 2016 with focused hedonism and class, but if you want a drier style this one will more than satisfy that itch with the added benefit of really being fun to drink anytime, this is one of the sleepers of the vintage, don’t miss this one.
($33 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2013 Weingut von Winning, Riesling, Paradiesgarten, Trocken, Deidesheimer, Pfalz Germany.
The dry Paradiesgarten Riesling from von Winning is a killer wine and a great value in what you get inside the bottle, this is beautiful and vividly intense Riesling that excites the palate and engages the mind, much in the same way Burgundy does, and this wine is somewhat like Premier Cru Chablis, but may I dare say better! The 2013 version is absolutely delicious with vibrancy, fleshy extract and layers of tangy fresh fruits, liquid mineral and flashes of the exotic, the vintage is really starting to blossom and fill out all the missing pieces of it’s youth, it is really finding it’s feet, after being underrated after harvest, and these von Winning wines prove the year was worth some patience and will be great in the cellar. Especially good and now exceptional is this Trocken Paradiesgarten Deidesheimer which starts with a shinning light gold/green hue in the glass, a bouquet of white flowers, citrus, chalk dust and salty sea notes which leads to a mouth filled with zingy and zesty grapefruit, white peach, lime, tangerine, an almost cherry note, pineapple, verbena, green tea, herbs and loads of stony mineral. There is plenty of evolution to come here and while I adore it’s austere brisk nature, it should round out over the next 3 to 5 years, though it won’t be necessary to age it if you are looking for refreshing summer or food wine and I find it very impressive with it’s youthful vigor in full force, this wine is a classy acid freaks wine, of impeccable quality, wonderfully crafted, Pfalz terroir driven and racy, drink from 2015 to 2023. This wine is a great introduction to the upper level of the von Winning wines, but if you are looking for total mind-blowing experiences, you should try the von Winning Grosses Gewachs-Grand Crus which take Riesling to heights that put the Burgundians to shame!
($32 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2012 Weingut Knebel, Riesling, Mosel, Germany. (Trocken)
Recently voted best Thanksgiving Wine by the NYT (New York Times) has certainly brought Knebel to wider attention, and I must say, I did after reading the NYT article buy a bottle for my Thanksgiving celebration, even though I had tried the Knebel 2011 wines, which were excellent as well. Matthias Knebel is a winemaker to follow, he is a rising star, and his wines show great promise, he comes from a new generation, he along with his contemporaries are looking at natural and traditional ways to explore their terrors, his peers like Arianna Occhipinti and fellow German young star Eva Fricke are creating a lot of excitement in the wine world and it seems the future is in good hands, this generation has heart, soul and talent, it shows in their passion and in their wines. The 2012 Knebel QbA Riesling is a dry and beautifully detailed wine with vigorous acidity, great extract and layers of pure Mosel character with mineral essence and vivid flavors, this is clear and focused Riesling of high quality. The nose is tangy fresh with citrus, stone fruit and sea breeze elements leading to a brisk and zesty palate of lime, apricot and white peach fruit, bitter apple, mint, crushed stone, grapefruit pips, saline and a lingering tangerine note, this is lovely and vibrant wine that has a pale yellow golden hue. I love the intensity, the drive and robust style in this wine, it is very serious stuff and has the potential to be even better over a period of many years, I think I’ll put a few bottles away and check them out in 5 years time, and the price is very fair for what you get, again I highly recommend grabbing a few bottles if not cases while you can. The 2012 vintage is a breakthrough vintage for Knebel and Fricke, a huge success across Germany as a whole and a perfect year to showcase these young talents, be sure to check the Knebel wines out, especially this one, drink 2014 to 2020.
($20 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2008 Domaine Trimbach, Riesling “Clos Ste Hune” Alsace, France.
Lithe and sexy, the 2008 Clos Ste Hune feels younger and more textured than the 2007, and shows wonderful mineral definition, inner energy and length, truly one of the world’s great wines, especially this vintage with it’s life and classic terror details. With less petrol/diesel the 2008 shines with white fruit intensity, charm and subtle rosewater/perfume, it drives with vigorous acidity, but fills out remarkably on the palate with Grand Cru expansion, showing unripe apricot, peach, lemon/lime, green apple, quince and tangerine layers as well as saline, wet river stones, intriguing earthy/loam and verbena. The mouth feel is gorgeous, you get the same pleasure here as you get from a great Meursault or Grand Cru Chablis, it’s a wine that shows fantastic flexibility and class, it’s presence is undeniable, joyous and has the impact you’d expect from a red wine! The Clos Ste Hune, one of the most unique monopoles in Alsace if not the planet, lovingly crafted by Trimbach, imported by Esprit du Vin and the Taub Family, is one of those wine experiences you search out and are sure not to miss when the chance comes your way, I was so blessed to get this opportunity, big thank you to Terri Penquite of EDV for showing the full lineup of Trimach including this very special wine, but also their impressive Reserve Pinot Gris, Riesling and the alluringly exotic Ribeaupierre Gewürztraminer. Trimbach’s drier style and long cellar life is clearly on display in the current set of wines, in particular this amazing 2008 Clos Ste Hune is like history in the glass. With air it gathers richness, almost leesy creaminess that you find in a white Burgundy, absolutely graceful and regal, wow, super impressive, this is a 20 plus year wine easy, best to age another 12 years if you are lucky enough to have it.
($269 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2016 Agathe Bursin, Riesling “Dirstelberg” Alsace, France.
Brilliantly dry and dusty crisp the pale golden/straw hued 2016 Agathe Bursin Dirstelberg Riesling sings a sirens song with a haunting and alluring beauty with lithe vibrancy, textured mouth feel and mineral charms. I have been trying to get my hands on Bursin’s wines for years, they have been difficult to find in the states, especially in California, I had heard good things and I was not disappointed, a big thank you to Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland Oregon for having such a good range of her wines, I know I’ll be ordering more, the style is brisk and sharp with loads of inner energy and delicacy of form, but with good dry extract and depth of flavor. Impressively austere in an age of over the top fruitiness, Agathe’s Distelberg is very lifted and tangy fresh with clear and transparent focus and intensity, grown on pink sandstone this Riesling reminds me of trocken (dry) Muller-Catoir (Riesling) from the Pfalz (also on sandstone) over the border in Germany in some ways with it’s chalky/stony elements and it’s lean profile. The nose is still shy at this point with citrus, saline, loam and faint rose water start things here before a light bodied palate of lime, white peach, spring melon, unripe apple, earthy loam and verbena as well as wet rock, briny/salty oyster shell and lemongrass. Picks up a bit of tangerine, tart apricot and spicy chamomile with air, but stays racy with lots of verve from fine acidity that pumps from start to finish in this great value single vineyard wine. Agatha Bursin has been making wine since 2000 and is proving herself to be a huge talent, and is an exciting small producer in the Alsace region, she tends and farms by hand and uses organic methods as well as leaning towards biodynamic treatments in the vines, as far as I can tell she is a traditionally minded winemaker and cares deeply for terroir expression in her lovely wine(s). This 2016 Distelberg Riesling is a soulful and wonderful with food, I really enjoyed it with sushi, but it would great also with oysters, mussels and clams and or cheeses, cured meats or as a aperitif even, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Gresser, Riesling “Kritt” Andlau, Alsace, France.
The beautiful and blisteringly dry/crisp Remy Gresser Kritt Riesling has an almost Aussie style lime and verbena intensity along with cool steely mineral, it’s a wonderful example of biodynamic Riesling, place and tradition. Domaine Gresser is a small family winery, imported by Martine’s Wines, that has been making wines in the Bas-Rhin, Andlau, Alsace region since 1520 and the estate vines are grown on a mix of limestone, granite, deep clay, gravel and schist with a focus in the cellar on dry style wines from Cru sites. The Kritt Riesling comes from primarily gravelly soils which are well drained and allow for wonderfully bright flavors and subtle density, with this 2014 showing vibrant lime, green apple, mango, white roses, briny notes, dried ginger/pineapple and tangy verbena along with stone fruit, wet river rock, liquid mineral tones and wild herbs and a hint white cherry. Light bodied and super fresh the Domaine Gresser Kritt Riesling is full of electric energy and vivid detail, though turns on the charm and gathers a bit of substance with air and is especially elegant when pair with cuisine allowing it’s full personality and complexity to shine, best with mildly spicy dishes, sea foods, even cheeses and cured meats. I hadn’t tasted this estate in a few years and I was thrilled with this offering, I need to keep an eye on them and I suggest you do as well, also be sure to check out Gresser’s Grand Crus along with this Kritt Riesling, which is a near perfect summer wine.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Domaine Weinbach, Riesling “Cuvee Theo” Le Clos des Capucins, Alsace, France.
Weinbach’s brilliant Cuvee Theo Riesling is a thrilling dry estate wine that highlights this ancient terroir with layers of crisp detail and pretty flavors, it is vibrant and lengthy making for a lovely white of refined class and flair. The lightness and grace gives way to a medium bodied wine with some air with white flowers, lime, peach and tangerine leading the way on the palate along with unique hints of golden fig, mineral tones, wet stone and quince. This Domaine is based at the 9th century Abbey and the Clos is 5 Hectares, and the holdings also include top sites in the region with some impressive vines in the Grand Crus Schlossberg, Altenbourg and Furstentum, as well as other plots that make up the base for the basic Vins d’Alsace offerings making for a total of 30 Hectares. Domaine Weinbach, run by Catherine Faller, is an all organic estate and has been biodynamic since 1998 with Ghislain Berthiot making the wines, since the death of Cathrine’s sister Laurence Faller and Catherine’s son Theo Leiber-Faller taking care of the vineyards. The Estate wines are aged in old large cask and have a mostly dry essence, like this Cuvee Theo Riesling, though they also do off dry and ultra luxurious Grand Crus and Vendanges Tardive that take the sweetness to about Auslese levels. All these wines impress and this 2013 Cuvee Theo really delivers the goods, I adore this wine, thank you Lee Lightfoot for sharing this wine with our tasting group, and have long been a fan of this Domaine, it’s great to see they have overcome the tragic loss of Laurence, plus the loss of Catherine’s mother Colette, recently as well. This Alsace star will drink nicely for many years to come with it’s sultry substance and vivid acidity, even from a less than perfect vintage this is a class act, and it reminds me to cherish more of these regions wines!
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 G.D. Vajra, Riesling Langhe “Petracine” Piedmonte, Italy.
The Giuseppe Vajra Riesling is one of my all time favorite wines, as any of you would know if you have followed me, either here on the grapelive.com website or my Twitter account, and I was one of the first in line to get into the Slow Wine 2017 San Francisco show just to sure I got to taste this rare beauty! Vajra has unique Riesling clones, Alsace, German and the local Petracine, this might explain the fantastic character and amazing vitality in this wine. While there were many gorgeous reds to be tried, especially Vietti’s set of Barolo, Chiara Boschis Mosconi Barolo and Vajra’s own Bricco delle Viole Barolo, the talk this year at Slow Wine was of the rise of Italian white wines, from Verdicchio to Ribolla Gialla, there was a sea of fine regional examples, but for me the top was this seductive and vibrant Vajra Petracine Langhe Riesling, no question. The 2015 is scheduled to arrive in a month or so, and it was a thrill to be one of the first in California to taste it, as well as so soon after reviewing the prior release, with it’s profile still clear in my mind, the 2014 is from a cooler and more difficult year, but has a more delicate and elegant side, while the warmer vintage 2015 is full of power, extract and raw intensity, though still with eye popping acidity and mineral charm! Giuseppe Vajra is one of Italy’s top young talents and his wines are pure and pleasing, clear and well defined with lovely textures and length, there is much to admire in his lineup. The 2015 Vajra Riesling starts with white flowers, brine, mineral tones and a burst of vivid citrus with white and yellow fruits leading the way along with a lean/dry crispness, though you can feel the spine and substance in the background much the same way as a German Grosses Gewachs Trocken. The palate details lime, tart apple, white peach and zesty/freshy tropical fruits as well as minty notes, saline, stones and verbena, this is mouth watering stuff, racy and compelling, this will age beautifully, time should allow for more complexity and depth to develop along with more opulence and body, though I love it now too, drink this wonderful Riesling from 2017 to 2028.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2010 St Michael Eppan, Riesling “Montiggl” Alto Adige DOC, Italy.
This wonderful Sud Trirol Riesling is bursting with flavor, intensity and class and shows just how good these Alto Adige whites can be, especially Riesling in this mountainous alpine region of northern Italy. The 2010 St Michael Eppan is vibrant and vivid with electric energy and focus with dry crispness and tangy fruit at the core of this well crafted wine. Mouth watering acidity, zesty citrus highlight the mineral and spicy elements, but there is complexity and depth here too, making for an age worthy Riesling of merit, it should go 10 to 20 years no problem, gaining interest along the way and rewards for the patient sort that can cellar wines. I doubt I could, because this tasty Riesling is so charming now with lemon, lime and stone fruits, crushed stones and glorious purity in it’s fresh youth with hints of white tea, mint and apricot adding to the mix. This is lovely wine that has it’s of terroir markers and identity that deserves attention.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Grosset, Riesling, Polish Hill, Clare Valley, Australia.
It is great to see Grosset back in the US and while not cheap, it is a stunning wine, and is a bucket list Riesling no question, thanks to Hudson Wine Brokers for bringing this winery back to our market after a few years away. With the world re-discovering Riesling and especially the drier styles, Grosset is a standard barer for the Aussie style, along with Pewsey Vale, Rolf Binder and Henschke, these are top class exceptionally dry wines that rival Grosses Gewachs from Germany, Austria’s dry versions, in fact Grosset reminds me most of Knoll from the Wachau, and the best from Alsace. The Grosset from Clare, really stands above, even if I adore the Eden Valley wines mentioned, and the 2014 version of Polish Hill is truly spectacular with intense lime, minty herb, grapefruit, mineral, peach and mango with great crisp extract, vibrant and juicy acidity it just explodes from the glass and is a vigorous young Riesling, hyper dry and mouth watering with nice salty notes and chalky stoniness. The Polish Hill is not your grandma’s Riesling, it is austere, vivid and light and searing on the palate, though you can sense the inner density and power, this is a special wine. Riesling goes through many stages and while it is now bright and tangy, giving lots of it’s charm, they really need years and even decades to really be mind-blowing and I think this will be one of those greats that we wish we had more of in the cellar. It is a big seductive tease right now with hints of grand moments ahead, though there is nothing wrong with drinking it now or soon. I see much more complexity and pleasure happening here in this fine Grosset, the finish is cool, steely with a whisper of verbena, apricot and some savory elements along with a whiff of mineral/shale, there is no pronounced diesel or petrol notes at this point, though I imagine in a bit of time that and waxy qualities will emerge as so often does. Drink now and often, but be sure to hide a few away too, drink from 2015 to 2029, this is a beauty!
($52 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2011 Rolf Binder, Riesling “Highness” Eden Valley, Australia.
The Eden Valley in South Australia not far from Adelaide is an old region with a long history of great Riesling, with vineyards dating back to 1847. Eden is near Barossa Valley and is similar in size, it is a cool climate area with Syrah (Shiraz) and Riesling being it’s main grapes, plus there is High Eden which has close to 1200 feet of elevation giving cooler air and complex soils, making it ideal for bright and intense Riesling. Rolf Binder, a small family winery in Barossa, is one of the area’s top producers and this Highness Riesling is a dynamite example of what the region can do with this noble varietal, along with other great Aussie Riesling producers, Grosset, Tim Smith, Pewsey Vale, Pikes and Henschke. The 2011 Rolf Binder Riesling is sizzling with power, crisp dryness and is elegantly styled being floral and lengthy, done in a classic Aussie fashion with loads of character. This fresh white shows citrus blossoms, mint leaves, lemon peel and a flavorful palate of lime, gooseberry, kiwi and tangerine along with petrol fumes, crunchy stones, paraffin and briny notes. Binder’s Riesling keeps it’s cut and drive throughout, this is a tangy and brisk wine that begs for a summer day and lots of oysters on the half shell, drink now and often, though it should age well for another 5 to 7 years, this is fun and impressive Riesling from Oz!
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Weingut Knoll, Riesling, Loibner Federspiel, Wachau Austria.
The lovely Knoll Federspiel Loibner Riesling is seriously dry and tangy, dripping with minerals and bright citrus fruit, this 2014 is a charmer. These 2014 wines are very nice and thoughtfully engaging, but it is very hard to follow what is considered the vintage of a generation in 2013 and certainly even the best of 2014 lack the personality of the 2013, though it is not a huge gap and wines like this Knoll, plus Groiss, Nigl, Loimer and others are wines you’ll want to drink. The Knoll is light in body and full of zesty acidity with white peach, brine, wet river rocks, lemon/lime, wild herbs, dusty unripe apricot and an edgy steely nature. With air the pale/golden hued Knoll Loibner gains a bit of extract, yellow fruits and hints at rose petals, tropical essences and some subtle earthy tones making this a pleasing and refreshing Riesling, still nervy and electric, but not as serve or austere as it starts out. I love the Knoll wines in every vintage, they are always stylish offerings and this 2014 is not a let down in anyway, though I wish I had more 2013’s in my cellar if I am truly honest. Drink the Federspiel Loibner Riesling over the next 2 or 3 years, best from 2016 to 2020.
($32 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2012 Weingut Brundlmeyer, Riesling “Kamptaler Terrassen” Kamptal, Austria.
As a long time fan of Brundlmeyer my expectations run high when tasting their wines and I can honestly say I am almost never let down or disappointed, year after year Brundlmeyer delivers stunning quality wines, from Gruner Veltliners to sparkling brut, from single vineyard Pinot Noirs to this humble Riesling, there is no question Brundlmeyer is a top domaine and makes world class wines from the slopes above the Danube in the Kamptal region of Austria. The 2012 Kamptaler Terrassen is a dry and tangy wine of energy, poise and pleasure showing pure Austrian terroir and character with lime blossoms, lime zip and kumquat notes along with spicy mineral tones plus tropical mango and passion fruits to go with a core of peach and apricot stone fruits. The driving acidity and crisp steeliness make your mouth water and leaves an electric zesty feel on the palate throughout. Hints of wet stones, petrol fumes, ocean brine and mint leaves add complexity to this tension filling Riesling, this is super stuff from Brundlmeyer, drink over the next 5 to 7 years if not longer!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2011 Weingut Franz Hirtzberger, Riesling “Steinterrassen” Federspiel Wachau, Austria.
This was my first chance to taste the Hirtzberger wines, and was tutored through them by Franz Hirtzberger which heightened the experience no doubt, but even in the cool eye of reflection these wines were totally remarkable and extremely moving, especially the set of 2011 Rieslings. While, I’ve always been a fan of the dry Austrian whites and have adored the charming Gruners and dusty Rieslings of many producers, these Hirtzberger wines stood out, in not head and shoulders above in many cases, and rival some of the great Brundlmeyer Rieslings. The entry level Federspiel Steinterrassen from Hirtzberger really rocks and shows unique terroir character, making it a great starting point if you’ve never had Austrian Riesling with racy acidity, minerallity and is comfortably dry and crisp. The nose shows orange blossom, truffle and wet stones leading to a palate that is lively and fresh with green apple, lime, melon and tangy stone fruits with a hint of tropical essences. The texture is refined and this stunning Riesling leaves a lingering apricot pulp and citrus finish with clear transparency and pureness. Great now, but can go another 5-8 years, gaining added complexities in the bottle.
($35 Est.) 93-94 Points, grapelive
USA – California, Washington, Oregon and New York
California-Joyce, Reeve, Navaro, Smith-Madrone, Morgan, Kozba, Leppe, Cobb, Tatomer and Stirm Oregon-Brooks, Trisaetum, Tuetonic, Lemelson and Brandborg. Finger Lakes New York State-The Forge, Ravines, Boundary Breaks, Hermann Wiemer and Dr. Frank Konstantin.
Pewsey Vale, Gosset, Henschke, Rolf Binder and Penfolds
Emmerich Knoll, Brundlmayer, Hirsch, Indrid Groiss, Gobelsburger, Nigl, Loimer and Hirtzberger
G.D. Vajra, St. Michele Eppan, Ettore Germano and Kofererhof
Leitz, Kuntzler, Schlossgut Diel, Spreitzer, Kruger-Rumpf, Carl Loewen, Seelbach-Oster, Von Hovel, Von Winning, Muller-Catoir,
Keller, Wittmann and Dr. Loosen