An Evening of Rhys

In the pages of this blog I have over the years made various references to the wines of Rhys Vineyards in the context of other wines I have written about, but I’ve never written directly about the Rhys wines before. This is partly because there has been no shortage of press about Rhys, as writers like Eric Asimov of the New York Times, Mike Steinberger (then with Slate) and critics like Allen Meadows and Josh Raynolds have written effusive praise. I have been a buyer of the wines however, going back to some wines from the 2006 vintage, but mostly of small allocations due to budgetary constraints. Given that Rhys’ wines are made in a style that is thought to require age to show at their best, I’ve opened relatively few bottles, and never more than one at a time. Recently given the chance to join a group dinner sampling more than a dozen Rhys wines in a single evening, encompassing a number of vintages and including some bottlings I’ve never tasted, I jumped at the opportunity to gain a little knowledge to help inform my future purchases.

A group of ten dedicated Rhys fans gathered at Peking Duck House, and we kicked the evening off with a look at three pinots from Bearwallow Vineyard, one of Rhys’ newer vineyard holdings, in Anderson Valley. The 2008 Bearwallow pinot showed a perfumed nose, but the palate doesn’t quite live up. The 2011 and 2012 Bearwallow showed earthy mineral noses and lots of tannin structure, too much to be approachable at this early stage, but the 2012, while painfully young, showed a bit more generosity of fruit that suggests that this will be the best wine of these three when given some proper aging.

On the whole the Bearwallow wines show a consistent licorice-inflected cherry profile, but the wines have not yet reached the gorgeousness of the Copain wines from the neighboring Kiser vineyard, even compared to tastings at similar stages of youth. To be fair, though, only the 08 Bearwallow has had time to become wine, and a pretty wine it is. Judgment reserved on 2011 and 2012 for now, but a side by side comparison with AV wines from producers like Copain, Continue reading

An awesome birthday meal at Pearl and Ash



A few weeks ago, P and I stopped in to Pearl and Ash, one of NYC’s hottest new 20140406-095627.jpgrestaurants, known to be especially popular with restaurant industry types and the wine-minded set. After enjoying a wonderful meal there, I can only say, I certainly understand why the place is popular – the food is delicious, the service impeccable and the wine list is both well put together and affordable.

The first thing we did was order wines, of course. A good variety of wines by the glass are offered, and I got my spätlese-loving wife a glass of Vollenweider 2012 Krover Steffensberg, which was light in its feet and not overly sweet – perfect as a companion to some of the seafood small plates we ordered: diver scallops (outstanding with crème, shiso and was that a corn chip(?) as flourishes) octopus, grilled squid. I went for a bottle of premier cru red burgundy, the 2010 Bruno Clair Gevrey Chambertin Cazetiers, an absolute steal at $125 off the list. The markups throughout the list are pretty reasonable, but this one is a gift to those in the know. I will say no more. Trust me, order it.

The servers work as a well-oiled machine of a team, as at least 6 young hipster servers visit our table with perfectly efficient timing to deliver or clear plates. The short rib is pleasing, the pork meatballs perhaps the only slightly false note in that it’s a touch too salty when combined with bonito flake20140406-095803.jpgs, and the duck with salsify is just dreamy in combination with my Burgundy.

After the dark chocolate/almond dessert and an ice cream sandwich, we swirled our Burgundy and basked in the ambiance and each other’s company, determined to return again soon.



Blind Tasting Chronicles, March 2014

Regular readers of these pages know that I enjoy doing blind tasting from past posts like this, this and this. After watching the entertaining documentary “SOMM”, about sommeliers preparing for the demanding Master Sommelier exam that includes rigorous blind tasting training and testing, my interest has only deepened. (I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the testing of obscure knowledge shown in SOMM really improves wine service in a meaningful way, but I do believe that blind tasting with the kind of precision shown does seem to hold some value in terms of forcing one to really hone in on and learn the characteristics of recommendable wines out there). So, I went to this month’s Blind Tasting Club dinner with a little extra anticipation.

The ground rules: one host for the evening selects all wines, allowing for planned flights and themes. Tonight’s host was Leo F., our club’s namesake. In the past, Leo has poured many wild card wines, so I was prepared for a crazy ride.

Arriving a bit late, I missed my chance to guess at the first wine, but got a taste of it: a 1997 Domaine Carneros by Taittinger California brut sparkling wine that showed some age in its golden hue but was quite refreshing on the palate. The first flight of four wines was pretty clearly chardonnay to me, and all lovely ones at that. They all showed beguiling noses of gorgeous but tasteful fruit framed by a touch of vanillin oak, and the real question was, where are these from? Wines three and four had a more pronounced racy acidity that I rarely encounter in Californa chard, so I seized upon this clue to guess that wines 1 and 2 were from California and wines 3 and 4 from Burgundy. Answer: the flight was a vertical of 1997-2000 Mayacamas chardonnay. Leo had thrown one out over the plate, and I only managed to foul it off into the seats.20140327-071036.jpg

Next was a flight of reds. Wine 1 had ripe dark red-to-purple fruits on the nose and some evident oak, which planted the hypothesis of a New World wine based on Bordeaux grapes into my head. Wine 2 was more controlled but also pointing toward Bordeaux grapes. Wine 3 felt like another key clue to the flight – the combination of slightly green herbal varietal character and stony mineral definitely felt like Bordeaux. Wine 4 was open, ripe and oaky – a prototypical modern international red. I guessed that the flight was Bordeaux blends from 4 different regions. Answer: Merlot or Merlot blends from 4 regions – 2001 Duckhorn merlot, 2002 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels from New Zealand, 2001 Hosanna from Pomerol, and the blockbuster (by price anyway) wine of the flight, 1998 Masseto. In voting before the reveal, I picked Hosanna as my favorite of the flight, followed by the Masseto. The Craggy Range showed well too – composed and elegant. I’m happy enough with my guess – call it a standup double.20140327-071128.jpg

The next flight of 4 wines all read like #3 from the last flight – Bordeaux varieties with a touch of green, and stony mineral. My first guess was all Bordeaux from the same vintage, but the host let slip that they weren’t all the same vintage, so I reformed my guess: a certain similarity among all four wines led me to guess all four wines were from the same Bordeaux producer. It seemed a reasonable guess that Leo was progressing to Left Bank. Given the nature of the slightly green fruit character and amount of stony mineral, I guessed Pichon Lalande. Answer: two Pensées de Lafleur (’97 and ’98), and two vintages of Ch. Lafleur, ’98 and ’99. Because of its cost and rarity, this was my first time having Lafleur – thanks Leo! The wines did not disappoint. The Lafleurs did outstrip the Pensées, showing perfumed noses that were a virtual tie in quality. On the palate, the ’98 lived up to the vintage’s reputation as strong in Pomerol; there was more depth here on the palate than the ’99. Both Lafleurs showed more generosity of fruit than the Pensées; while form held here, this was an enjoyable and educational flight. I would’ve been happier if I had guessed La Conseillante, another Pomerol that leans stony and slightly green in some vintages, but I’ll give myself a bloop single in this flight.


The next flight was confounding. Leo gave us a hint that these wines were about 20 years old; Suzanne remarked that these seemed Bordeaux-like again, and they did, except for a certain aroma, almost a nuttiness, that didn’t smell like 20 year-old Bordeaux or California cab to me. A stony mineral was present here that signaled Old World to me. I thought back – what had I ever mistakenly guessed as Bordeaux at about 20 years of age? Odd as it sounds, I have guessed Chateauneuf du Pape around that age as Bordeaux before, so I went with that guess, unconfidently. The wines turned out to be a staggered vertical of Lupicaia, a Tuscan (Bolgheri) blend of Bordeaux grapes, including vintages 1993, 1995, 1997 and 1999.

20140327-071101.jpgIn expecting Leo not to give us such a similar flight again, I had done something I’ve heard master somms warn against – forming a hypothesis too early and then making your guess fit that hypothesis and ignoring some other signs that point in another direction – or lack of signs that should be present if your hypothesis is true. Here I knew there were Bordeaux grape characteristics, but the nutty character that led me toward guessing CDP (and that’s not even something I strongly associate with CDP) was not accompanied by other classic Southern Rhone character like spice or grenache or syrah flavors. A total swing and a miss on this flight; I was looking for the breaking ball so much that I missed a cut fastball in the strike zone.

In the end though, it’s the wines I get wrong that I love in blind tasting – that’s when I really learn. Bolgheri, I’ll be ready for you next time!

My Top Wine Experiences of the Year

Dear Amateur Winos out there,

I apologize for the length of time that has passed since my last post – it’s been a busy last quarter of the year for me. As the clock winds down on 2013, I wanted to take a look back on the year and mention some of the great moments with wine that I had.

I dubbed this post “Top Wine Experiences” because these aren’t necessarily the best wines I tasted all year – but the experience of wine is also about context. Where you had it, what food you had it with, and who you had it with often defines what you take away from having had a particular wine. Some top experiences, like tasting wine in Germany with the people of Weingut H. Donnhoff and Weingut Gunther Steinmetz, have already made it into these pages. Others, for one reason or another didn’t get blogged at the time, but have stayed with me in some way. So here goes, in no particular order:

2013-01-29 20.47.341. Tasting California cabs at a dinner with Antonio Galloni. This dinner took place in January shortly before Antonio left Robert Parker’s publication The Wine Advocate to start Vinous Media. Antonio was personable, generous, articulate, and fun to taste with. He is certainly confident in his tasting abilities, but one nice takeaway from this dinner was confirming my confidence in my own palate. Although I think Antonio and I enjoy a similarly broad range of wines, from restrained to hedonistic, where he and I differed on our evaluations of certain wines, I am confident in my take, his status as an established wine critic notwithstanding. Some of the memorable cabs on the night for me were a 2001 Abreu Madrona Ranch, a 2001 Bond Vecina, and a 1997 Philip Togni. 2007 Corra and a few Schrader T6’s (2006 and 2007) had the group split; though most in attendance disagreed with me, look for the beautiful, high-quality fruit on the 2007 Corra to outlast the time it takes for the considerable oak treatment on it to resolve. A special shout-out is due to Mike Pobega for organizing.  His fuller write-up of the night can be found here.

2. A couple of terrific 1982 Bordeaux.  A 1982 Pichon Lalande poured by a dear friend to celebrate his 50th birthday and a 1982 Grand Puy Lacoste poured by SteveC at a Leo’s Blind Tasting Group dinner showed that well-stored bottles of 1982 Bordeaux still seem to be drinking at peak.

3. A bottle of MV Krug brut champagne to celebrate the birth of a much-anticipated child to good friends wasn’t as opulent as other bottles I’ve had, but this was refreshing and most of all, incredibly meaningful.

Emrich-Schonleber tasting room

Emrich-Schonleber tasting room

4. Tastings in the Nahe with winemakers at Emrich-Schonleber and Gut Hermannsberg.
At Emrich-Schonleber, it was a real treat to get an object lesson from Frank Schonleber himself in the Monzinger Fruhlingsplatzen and Monzinger Halenberg terroirs (pictured here) that are the source of their top wines.  A lovely stay at the Guesthaus at Gut Hermannsberg was topped off with an interview with rising young winemaker Karsten Peter, who is doing some great things with historically great terroirs in need of revival – Donnhoff fans should take note given the geographical proximity. I hope to have fuller posts on these visits in the New Year.

5. New pairing epiphanies.  Credit to salilb for showing us at another Leo’s BTG dinner what a great pairing gruner veltliner could be with salmon crudo.  And sometimes, the best wine pairing is… not wine at all.  Local German beer enjoyed with good friends over heaping plates of schweinehaxe was unforgettably good.






6. Opening some great wines on ordinary nights with a Coravin.  Many of you know about a nifty new gadget called the Coravin, that allows you to pour some of the wine out of a sealed bottle without removing the cork, replacing the removed wine with argon.  One of my experiments with the Coravin involved accessing multiple pours from a 2006 Arcadian Hommage a Max syrah (one of the two best syrahs I have ever had) and a 2010 Saxum Broken Stones. Pours of these wines poured two months later tasted just as fresh as the first two glasses accessed.  Color me impressed.

7. Some great nebbiolos and a lesson in proper aging. A bottle of 2001 Renato Ratti Marcenasco with family at Barbetta NYC, and an early 2000s Ceretto Barbaresco Asij enjoyed at Allegro Romano in SF were magical, and just entering their prime drinking windows.  They were mere babies compared to numerous barolos and barbarescos from the  60’s, 70’s and 80’s poured at various Leo’s Blind Tasting Club dinners, which were youthful and still showed noticeable tannin.  These wines need 40 years to mellow!

Visiting German wine country, Part 4: cutting edge Mosel wines at Weingut Günther Steinmetz

If visiting Dönnhoff was like heading to a venerable opera house to watch an established virtuoso perform, visiting Weingut Günther Steinmetz is like sitting in on jam sessions at the studio of a steinmetz signgenius indie jazzman.  Equally intriguing, the former is a standard bearer flawlessly executed, and the latter is about improvisation and pushing the boundaries of expectation. Stefan Steinmetz, the capable steward of the legacy created by his father Günther, showed me an accomplished and eclectic collection of both whites and reds.

steinmetz tasting

The experience at Weingut Steinmetz is an intimate one. Stefan was kind enough to accomodate my request for a visit on a weekend morning because of my tight schedule, and upon our arrival he led me into a tasting room within the family home; we are introduced to his mother,and our kids play together while we taste the wines. In contrast to the sleek and modern tasting rooms I found at Weil and Donnhoff, the tasting room here is cozy and homey – characterized by warm woods, classy and traditional furnishings, and Zalto glassware that allows the terroir-driven minerality of the Steinmetz wines to really shine through. Here are some notes from my visit in late May:

Dry whites

2012 Pinot Gris – has a bit of pinot blanc mixed in; not sold in the US.  Very nice, neutral oak treatment, fresh, slightly golden in color.  Shows typicity, in a light-to-medium-bodied package. Really quite nice.

2012 Brauneberg Riesling – shows a really fine slate minerality. From a single site, but Stefan chooses to label simply as Brauneberger.  Look for this one as an overachiever in its price class.

steinmetz 1st pic brauneberger juffer

Juffer – brown to gray slate


2012 Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett Feinherb Riesling – from the top part of Juffer, this showed lots of minerality.








steinmetz 2nd pic geierslay

Geierslay – purple slated, slightly harder rock, more quartzite.


The 2012 Geierslay Trocken Riesling is very stony on the palate; the 2012 Piesporter Goldtropfchen even more so (and moreso than Piesporter

Goldtropfchen bottlings I’ve had from other producers); has an earthy minerality and a pine needle menthol note that Stefan pointed out to me.




steinmetz 3rd pic Hofberger

Hofberger: gray slate.


2012 Hofberger Trocken Riesling – From gray-slated soil.  Has a different kind of minerality, very fine; a little bit more body on the palate, a touch less dry than the other bottlings tasted so far but retains the signature minerality of Steinmetz.

2012 Juffer “HL” Riesling – taken from the old name for the vineyard, Hasenlaufer.  Some gravel and sand at this site gives the wine a touch more bite on the palate.  Very pretty fruit on this one – a slight perfumed quality on the nose.

Fruity white wines

2012 Kestener Paulinsberg Spätlese Riesling – a nice, very balanced style of spätlese, 60 g/L of sugar; still a touch spritzy at this point.  Still has the Steinmetz minerality coming through on the palate.  My kind of spätlese, not

steinmetz 5th pic paulinsberg larger stones

Paulinsberg: gray-slated, with harder and bigger stones; less powder than other sites.

over the top. Very very nice.  Stefan notes that in 2012, this has a bit of red apple character to it.  In less ripe years, this bottling takes on yellow and green apple notes. 92-93 points

2012 Sonnenlay Spätlese Riesling – a bit more opulent on the palate than the Paulinsberg. Pretty, fatter but again has plenty of fine slate (from blue slate I am told) on the palate that is recognizable for this estate.  In most years, this comes out lighter than the Paulinsberg according to Stefan Steinmetz, but he agrees it came out richer than usual in this vintage.  A few weeks prior, this wine was showing more effects from a blocked fermentation he says, but shows well today.  92-93 points.

2011 Pinot Meunier  – From a site called Veldenzer Grafschafter Sonnenburg (also source of Steinmetz’s Alte Reben riesling), this is an interesting red with a slightly herby quality on the nose; very pretty.  Appearance is light red with a touch of cloudiness, due to being unfiltered.  On the palate, nice touch of sweetness to the fruit, with some juicy-tart acidity to go with it.

2010 Kestener Herrenberg Pinot Noir Trocken Unfiltered – on the nose right away, shows pretty sweetish fruit and some oak, with more development than the ’11 pinot meunier.  Really interesting palate – lively and electric.  Has sweetness to the fruit, and transparency, but the dominating characteristic is that liveliness.  Some good, significant tannin lends impact to the flavor and bodes well for ageability here. 91-92 points.

2011 Kestener Herrenberg Pinot Noir Trocken Unfiltered – a slightly higher alcohol vintage than 2010 according to Stefan Steinmetz, but I don’t really feel it on the palate, not heavy at all.  Has a touch of spice that adds interest.

2009 Merlot Trocken – Also from the Veldenzer Grafschafter Sonnenburg site, this is steinmetz merlot trockenrecognizably merlot – has plenty of nice earthiness, with good leafy varietal character.  13.5% in alcohol, this doesn’t show as ripe as most St. Emilion.  Retains earthiness really well, would be fun to throw into a blind tasting someday.  91-92 points.

2010 Merlot Trocken Unfiltered – a little richer than the 2009, with fine tannins.  Shows less minerality than the 2009 at this stage.

steinmetz with stefan


Late for my next appointment, I find myself wishing for more time – Stefan has so many more wines he wants to show me. He’s an edgy winemaker with a vision of what he’s trying to do.  One aspect of this is to make wines that are truly transparent and terroir-driven. Everyone and their brother in the wine industry cites terroir as a goal, but at Steinmetz the wines actually reflect this. Another aspect of his vision seems to involve pushing the envelope to show what can be done with dry rieslings as well as other varieties that are less well known internationally as German wines, including pinot gris, pinot meunier (as a red), pinot noir, dornfelder and merlot. I appreciate that Stefan is not content to merely continue the traditions established by his father, but to forge new and sometimes surprising roads ahead. The high quality of the wines I tasted on this trip have me looking forward to tasting future results.

German Wine Country Series, Part 3: Visiting Weingut H. Donnhoff

We arrived at Weingut H. (Hermann) Dönnhoff in the middle of a driving rain. Mommy was feeling a 052713 794bit under the weather and wanted to sleep in the car, but baby M was wide awake, so I did what any intrepid and thirsty daddy/wine blogger would do: strap the baby to me in the Ergo carrier and head on in.




052713 796Current proprietor Helmut Dönnhoff’s daughter-in-law Anna greeted us, bemused by the rain-soaked but indomitable daddy-daughter team standing before her, and led me through the 2012 Donnhoff dry wines:

2012 Dönnhoff Riesling Trocken – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)

  • Very fresh, very nice – balanced, complex. A wonderful buy at the price range.
  • 2012 Dönnhoff Tonschiefer Riesling Dry Slate – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)
    The slate and the fruit combine here to present a very perfumed nose. Has great acidity, with a balance between minerality and generosity to the fruit. A fine, slightly smoky ashy quality on the nose makes this a very distinctive bottling.
  • 2012 Dönnhoff Höllenpfad Riesling Trocken – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)
    Means “road to hell”. 2nd vintage of this wine, from a vineyard bought from another branch of the family, this is considered to have been of GG-like quality historically, this is a vineyard in the process of being revived. My tasting notes seem to have been lost, but from memory this was very good, included it in my purchases at the estate. Anna Donnhoff told me this vineyard is known for a certain herbal quality, but I felt it less on this bottling than on the Felsenberg.
  • 2012 Dönnhoff Schloßböckelheimer Felsenberg Riesling Großes Gewächs – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)
    Not yet bottled, so this is from a sample bottle. Very pretty, tightly coiled. Mineral, and a touch herbal. Gentle, appealing note of sweetish fruit (orchard fruits, green apple) on the nose. Very dry and stony on the palate, with a green apple acidity. In sum, an elegant, tightly coiled GG.
  • 2012 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Großes Gewächs – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)
    Not yet bottled, so from a sample bottle – even had a bubbly frothiness in the bottle. Immediately on the nose, you get sweeter, more present fruit than in the Felsenberg. Richer, more opulent – apricot notes to the fruit as opposed to the green apple-ish quality of the Felsenberg. Really plays to my wheelhouse. Such a floral and perfumed quality to the nose, yet the fruit also comes to the fore. Easy to understand why this is one of the great GGs of Germany.

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    Soil types of the different Donnhoff vineyards

Anna described 2012 as a vintage with vivid flavors (an apt description in my eyes based not only on what I tasted at Dönnhoff but elsewhere as well), blessed with excellent weather that allowed for each lot to be picked at optimal times.

As we reached the fruity wines part of the tasting, we were surprised to be joined by Helmut Dönnhoff himself. Because Anna had been very knowledgeably leading us through the tasting already, I hadn’t really expected to meet Herr Dönnhoff, but I was glad to do so, as he shared some terrific insights with us, and he’s one of a handful of winemakers worldwide that I regard with rock star-like status. In person, he is

herr donnhoff

Tasting with the master

conpletely down-to-earth, friendly and when tasting the wines, shows a youthful curiosity and engagement with each sip, all wonderful qualities that are certainly not a given when meeting a winemaker of such reknown and stature.

Mr. Dönnhoff told us that 2012 is a vintage in which the fruity wines at the spätlese and auslese levels especially excelled. There was no botrytis so there are no BA (beerenauslese) or TBA (trockenbeerenauslese) bottlings in 2012; even the auslesen were quite hard to get.

  • 2012 Dönnhoff Riesling – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)
    Very typical Donnhoff estate bottling – pretty, balanced and terrific for the price range. The 2012 edition has plenty of generosity on the fruit. 91-92 (91 points)
  • 2012 Dönnhoff Norheimer Kirschheck Riesling Spätlese – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)
    A very natural spätlese vineyard according to Helmut Donnhoff. The 2012 version is very good, with the strength of the vintage making this bottling on par with other Donnhoff spätlesen despite it having perhaps a bit less reputation than some of the other spätlese vineyards.
  • 2012 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Spätlese – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)
    A little more floral, and richer than the Felsenberg spätlese. Really beautiful, with some of the creamy mouthfeel of past vintages I’ve had. A bit brighter, more lively and vivid than the Felsenberg, and I prefer this bottle slightly for those reasons. 94+ (94 points)
  • 2012 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Spätlese – Germany, Nahe (5/23/2013)
    As beautiful as the Kirschheck, Felsenberg and Brucke spätlesen are, this bottling is on a whole other level. You stick your nose in the glass, and the minerality here is the final piece to the puzzle, a perfect example of what makes Germany the pinnacle for off-dry riesling. The complex interplay of minerality, luxurious but controlled sweetness, and racy acidity can’t be matched anywhere else. 96+ (96 points)
052713 754

Helmut Donnhoff greets his youngest fan.

When prodded for a recommendation for a wine to put into baby M’s birth year case, Herr Dönnhoff noted that he feels the Hermannshöhle spatlese in particular will be a special wine.  As you can see from my notes above, I agreed.  We picked up some bottles of this and the other transcendent 2012 Dönnhoff wines from our special visit and headed back off into the rain with spirits lifted.

Posted from CellarTracker

German wine country, Part 2: the Rheingau – sample itinerary and a visit to Weingut Robert Weil

A visit to the Rheingau wine region of Germany presents a perfect opportunity to intermix visits to some of Germany’s top wineries with some unforgettable tourist experiences. I tried to combine most of the following into a single day but found we didn’t have enough time. But my loss is your gain, as I’ve reworked it into a two day itinerary that should bring you much pleasure.

Day 1: Kiedrich and Johannisberg

Start your day off in Kiedrich at the charming Weingut Robert Weil, which does a great job of blending a traditional German-styled exterior with a sleek new tasting room

weil exterior

bathed in modernity. The wines are widely regarded as among the top of the Rheingau. For tasting notes from my visit, see the bottom of this post.

Continue on to the town of Johannisberg, about a ten minute drive away, where the sprawling estate of Schloss Johannisberg offers a wine tasting studio, an outdoor restaurant and plaza, and an indoor restaurant with a picturesque view overlooking vineyards.

Nearby you will find other excellent producers including Johannishof, known
for riesling but also spätburgunder pinot noir, as well as a guest house and a wine temple(!) if you need accommodations; and Schloss Vollrads, which claims to be the world’s oldest wine estate, situated in a castle above the village of Oestrich- Winkel.

After a day of sampling wines and sights from some of the above, head back to Kiedrich to Kloster Eberbach, a monastery dating back to 1136 that houses a winery since with vinicultural tradition going back 900 years. A variety of tours and wine tastings are offered, and you can have dinner in the cloistered atmosphere of their restaurant to round out a full day.

Day 2: Rudesheim and Assmanshausen


The towns of Rudesheim and Assmanshausen offer more wine tasting opportunities but Day 2 is about seeing the sights. After arriving in Rudesheim, we wandered into the Drosselgasse, an area filled with kitschy (some might say tacky) tourist souvenir shops, and made our way to Breuer Rudesheimer Schloss to have some fresh seasonal asparagus dishes for lunch, alongside traditional German favorites like schnitzel and local wild boar sausage. The wine list offered some wines from the restaurant’s affiliated winery, including some back vintage riesling and spätburgunder by the glass.

After lunch we took the Rudesheim Seilbahn, a picturesque cable car ride over rolling vineyards, up to see the Niedervalddenkmal, a statue monument to the establishment seilbahnof the German republic. (For those of you who prefer to have lunch up in the hills, there are sone cafe-type concessions at the top)

After seeing the Niedervald, you can take the cable car back down to Rudesheim, but we opted instead to hike over to the nearby town of Assmanshausen. The 30-40 minute hike turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. Visiting in late May, we were a bit unlucky to get some rain on every day of our visit, but assiduously watching the forecast allowed us to time our comings and goings well enough to have glorious sunlight suffusing our walk. The fresh air of the hills invigorated us and really got us into the spirit of the Rhine valley.

When you reach the hills above Assmanshausen, there is a ski-style chairlift down to the town, but we chose to keep on hiking down and were rewarded at the bottom with a glimpse of these friendly faces:farm

The reward for wine lovers when they actually make it into town: Assmanshausen is espcially known for producing excellent spätburgunder pinot noir. Seek out August Kesseler, one of the top spatburgunder producers in Germany, before heading over to river’s edge, where one can take photos of Burg Pfalzgrafenstein, a castle situated in the middle of the river, and then catch a ferry back to Rudesheim.


Our visit to Weingut Robert Weil / Tasting Notes of 2012 Rieslings

A stop into Weingut Robert Weil was an eye-opening introduction to tasting German rieslings young, as many of the 2012 rieslings were newly-released in Germany and not yet available in the US, with most grand cru-type bottlings (Grosses Gewachs or Grosse Lage) available for tasting but not yet released, even in Germany. Amidst the sleek and modern tasting room at Weil, what I found was that the wines did not yet show much, if any, of the petrol aroma that many German rieslings exhibit, and while I personally dig some petrol from my riesling, without this element, the underlying terroir of these wines seems to shine right through. The style of Rheingau rieslings showed as well, exhibiting a subtler, and perhaps finer sort of minerality on the nose as compared to rieslings from the more widely-known Mosel region.

weil modern

On to my tasting notes:

  • 2012 Weingut Robert Weil Riesling Trocken – Germany, Rheingau (5/21/2013)
    Some floral on the nose, this is a solid gutswein. However, for the difference in price I recommend stepping up to the Kiedricher ortswein. 87 (87 points)
  • 2012 Weingut Robert Weil Kiedricher Riesling trocken – Germany, Rheingau (5/21/2013) Like the Rheingau bottling, this has floral qualities with a touch of herb on the nose, together with stoniness that I don’t often get from bottlings of this level. However this bottling is just richer and more complex on the nose. Fresh and light, transparent style. 88-89 (88 points)


weil bottles


Be aware, they accept only cash (no credit cards), so I had to cut my order down to a few choice bottles. Would have loved to walk out with an assortment like these!weil cases

One special part of tasting 2012s was that M was born in that year. The long-aging Grafenberg spätlese was our first purchase for M’s birth year case of wines. Tune in to the next post to see what else we picked up at our next stop, Weingut H. Donnhoff in the Nahe region. Cheers,


Burgs at L’Apicio

Before I continue with the Germany report in the next post, some quick notes from a fun byo group dinner last week:20130620-225012.jpg

We got off to a great start with a vertical of William Fevre Les Clos. First up was the 2007, which I was looking forward to trying in order to track its progression. A bottle I had last sunmer alongside an 07 Fevre Les Preuses showed just a touch of oxidation compared to the completely fresh Preuses. On this night, the first taste was happily, not flawed. However, the rich, ripe palate did show hints of butterscotch. Is it too much age for an 07?

We got our answer with the next wine – by comparison, the 2004 Fevre Les Clos is fresh and crisp. It’s more of what I look for in Chablis, and though I might rate these first two wines at roughly the same quality level, style-wise I easily prefer the 04. This is especially notable considering that 2007 has been my favorite vintage for white Burgundy pretty much since its release. The ’07 I rated last summer at 92-93 last summer has slipped to a straight 92 for me a year later, and while it’s perfectly delicious and should be for a while, it’s just not as fresh as it should be, especially considering how lively the acidity of 2007 is – that may be all that’s keeping this wine together as well as it is.

Things get even better when we step over to the 2002 Fevre Les Clos, which is the most complete wine of this vertical. It’s fresh and clean, with just a dollop of richness that plays as more age-appropriate than the butterscotch hints on the 2007 (though if a Burg enthusiast with more experience with aged Chablis were to argue that this should be showing a tad younger too, I would not argue.

All of these bottles of Les Clos exhibited typical Chablis aromas of saline mineral and oyster shell, but the funk factor got a bump up in the 2000 version, up to what one of my dinner companions described as blue cheese. On the palate, this was again, correct Chablis, with a slight herbal edge. It seemed about right considering the vintage, but couldn’t match the charm of the 2002 tasted alongside.

Next. I tasted a 1985 René Collard champagne, yeasty and showing some age, but held together still by an admirable acidity. The last white to hit our glasses before the reds was a showstopper: the 2000 Domaine Leflaive Bienvenues Batard Montrachet made an entrance amid a cloud of flinty smoky mineral, giving way to an opulent yet elegant palate. Close call between this and the ’02 Les Clos for best wine so far. The richness in the Leflaive made for some nice counterpoint to a spicy grilled octopus app.

And onto the reds, for which the loose theme was Burgundies, augmented by pinots from other regions, and anything else consonant that people might want to bring. The first two: a 2002 Mongeard Mugneret Vosne Romanee Les Orveaux, and an 02 Clerget Volnay. The Clerget is corked, so into the flight goes Matt N’s Blind wine 1. Mongeard Mugneret wines that I’ve had before have been slightly modern but still correct Burgundies – a style that doesn’t always appeal to terroir-focused Burg purists, but can appeal to drinkers who may be more used to New World pinot, perhaps cab, or other wines that are generally less austere. Here, the 2002 Les Orveaux showed damp earth and leather on the nose that you might expect from a correct Burgundy, with ripe fruit and good acid befitting a quality vintage.

Blind wine #1:  Alongside the Vosne, this clearly feels New World – vanilla oak and fruit uncomplicated by earth or leather-type notes. The fruit is not over-the-top but there’s just a hint of cola if you listen hard. Based on this, I guess California, and Rhys. It turns out to be Oregon, and Domaine Drouhin Cuvée Laurene. I’m satisfied with my guess, but after the reveal I go back to the wine and detect some signature Oregon pinot loaminess on the nose that I should have picked up on. Blind tasting is always a learning experience.

The next flight are two blind wines brought by Josh K. We are told that they are both 2006 Burgundies, one 1er Cru, and one Grand Cru. Josh further adds that I have had one of these wines before, because he’s seen a note from me on it. Intriguing. Now to figure out which one it is.

Wine A of the flight shows red fruit on the nose and palate, and floral aromas that are quite engaging despite the feeling that the nose is tight and has a lot more to show in the future. The mouthfeel is notably smooth, despite some considerable tannin on the finish. There isn’t much earthy complexity, but it’s clear there’s good material here. I have a hunch as to what it is, but before I settle on an answer I must look into…

…Wine B of the blind flight. Early on, Justin C suggests that this wine is ever so slightly corked, but most of us don’t get TCA, including me, though I do get a slightly green woodsy note. Ripe perfumed fruits show on the nose and palate, of a slightly lusher variety than what you get from Wine A, with even a touch of raisiny quality, together with some earth. When I come back to the wine for a second sniff, I get it – that faint first whiff of TCA. The next sniff, I”m not so sure. The mouthfeel is fairly smooth, so I guess that the wine is another Chambolle or a Morey St. Denis, from a producer who uses stems. It turns out to be 2006 Henri Boillot Volnay Fremiets 1er Cru, and I’m satisfied with my guess – at least it turned out to be a village known for softer, silky wines.

And Wine A?  It turns out to be what I guess it is – 2006 G. Roumier Bonnes Mares.  The wine is showing a bit more developed than when I last tasted it in 2011, but still way early in its development.  But call me a believer, this is going to be a terrific wine when it hits maturity.

The next flight are two wines that I brought. 2001 Jadot Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Feusselottes is expressive on the nose at first, but feels flat compared to the wines from the 2006 flight before it. Slightly green and a touch light in feel, perhaps this wine is all I should.expect from a vintage like 2001, but the wine gets a bit lost in this lineup.

Not so with the next wine; poured blind for a group of wine biz pros and serious wine drinkers who are largely Burgophiles, this wine passed for burgundy with almost everyone. Matt N sniffed it out though, calling this as California and guessing Rhys, a pretty good guess based on style; other comments about the wine included “damn good, whatever it is”.  Opening with flinty, smoky aromas, this wine does read like a burg on the nose… except for a slight sur-maturité to the fruit that is a sign for me of the Santa Barbara origin on the 2000 Arcadian Pisoni Vineyard pinot noir The Allen Meadows melted vinyl descriptor might even fit to a tiny degree, but not enough to be a fault – just enough to make this a lush, pleasing wine, in its prime now.

We finish with an 89 Merkelbach Urziger Wurzgarten auslese riesling, and the floral nose leads to an interesting if less than integrated feeling palate. Its age shows a bit in the form of apricot flavors that feel separate from the noticeable (but not quite sharp) acidity that keeps this wine lively.

One curiosity that occurred at the outset of the dinner: when I picked up my water glass, I got a strong smell of TCA.  I looked around at my dinner companions, but decided it might be too pretentious-sounding to declare that the water was corked.  I got up to tuck my bag away in the corner, and by the time I had returned I heard a few of the other attendees discussing the water, and I knew it wasn’t just me.  Yes, water can be contaminated with TCA, and the sommelier at L’Apicio  promptly replaced the water for us all.  The service all around was excellent, and the food similar in the level of deliciousness delivered at L’Artusi (if a little less consistent), its sister restaurant from the same group, also responsible for Dell’Anima.  Standout dishes included the roasted mushroom polenta, spicy with chilies, and the charred octopus that was so tender that I was able to split it with a spoon.  Just writing about it now flashes me back.  Yum.

Next post: back to my Germany series, with a visit to Weingut Robert Weil

A Guide to touring German wine country: the Rheingau, Nahe, and the Mosel Valley, Part 1

Over the last few weeks, I visited a number of wineries in several of Germany’s top wine regions. In my next few posts I hope to give readers some insight into the wines I tasted, especially from the excellent 2012 vintage, as well as some useful info to help readers in planning their own trips through German wine country. Part travelogue, part tasting reports, with the help of this guide, hopefully you can enjoy Germany as much as my family did.

Home base for me, my wife P, and our daughter M was mostly a homestay with friends living near Frankfurt, with a few strategically placed nights at accommodations on the road in the Nahe Valley and in Trier, one of Germany’s oldest cities, which also happens to serve as the perfect springboard to visit the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer subregions of the famed Mosel Valley.

Before heading off to Germany, I made appointments for visits to a number of my favorite German producers. While almost all had websites with contact info and in some cases, opening hours listed, only two responded to an email request for an appointment. For all others, a telephone call was necessary to get the ball rolling on actually getting an appointment confirmed. In all cases, I got someone who spoke English, so if you don’t speak German, don’t let that stop you from picking up the phone.

My first wine experience in Germany (not counting a glass of Rotkäppchen sekt poured by our hosts on the night of our arrival) wasn’t by appointment at all, just a serendipitous turn. After visiting the Lindt Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum), Ludwig Museum, and Cathedral in Köln (Cologne), we stumbled into Kölner Weinwoche (Cologne Wine Week) – undoubtedly the most elaborate wine-driven street fair I have ever seen.


Row after row of pop-up stands for what seemed to be small family-owned estates lined the Neumarkt square. The place names of origin on the banners were all familiar – Rheingau, Nahe, and in some cases, more specific, like the village of Neumagen-Dhron in the Mosel Valley – but I had never heard of the estates. A great way, I thought, to test the depth of quality of German wine, beyond what we get to see imported to the US.




I was pleased to see such a vibrant wine culture in a country often associated with its love for beer (and the local beer I had on my trip was indeed very good). On a drizzly and sometimes cold day, there were throngs of people filling almost every table – some standing to enjoy a glass of riesling, maybe weissburgunder (pinot blanc), perhaps some sylvaner or scheurebe…

But it was spätburgunder (pinot noir) that piqued my interest on this day. During our trip we were going to visit a smattering of German wine regions but one that we weren’t going to have time to stop in on was the Ahr Valley, a region known for its pinot noirs. If you are a regular reader of these pages, then you know that pinot noir is probably my favorite grape, and a chance to try some pinot from an area whose wines are well-regarded but rarely imported into the US was suddenly possible when I found this:


20130605-234536.jpgJackpot! The Frühburgunder, I was told, is a variation of pinot noir producing small berries that give rise to a lighter-styled wine. The wine didn’t lack for color in any way though, giving forth a hue of true garnet. This was solid and competent pinot, with some Old World earth and nice floral perfume on the nose. The “früh” part of the name means “spring”, I believe, and if this was supposed to be “spring Burgundy”, the name was apt enough. This was the perfect drink for the setting, fresh and uncomplicated and quite enjoyable with a good German brezel. And this was essentially a random sample – someday I’d like to look into who the best producers of the Ahr Valley are and give their wines a whirl.


We also tried the Domina offered on the menu. Domina is a cross between pinot noir and blauer portugieser. I decided to try this unfamiliar variety, and it did have some pinot-like characteristics, but the true profile of this hybrid grape was obscured a bit by a noticeable amount of oak in this rendition of it. Darker and more brooding than the Frühburgunder, this was likeable, but perhaps trying a bit too hard, and I preferred the relatively unadorned frühburgunder.

Next post: a visit to the Rheingau at Weingut Robert Weil, and a suggested wine lovers’ itinerary for visiting the Romantic Rhine Valley.



Coming soon: visiting German wine country

Check back through these pages in the coming weeks, where you will see reports from my visits to some of the top producers of riesling, spatburgunder (pinot noir), weissburgunder (pinot blanc) and more from some of the top winegrowing regions in Germany, including the Rheingau, the Nahe river valley and the Mosel river valley.  As true riesling lovers, my wife and I are getting excited to visit the mecca of riesling, including stops to see some of our favorite producers, including Donnhoff, Emrich Schonleber, Von Schubert, Karthauserhof, Markus Molitor and more.  Stay tuned for tasting reports, recommended travel experiences and lots of photos and video from our travels through some of the most hallowed hillsides of world-class winemaking.