2009 Rieslings: tasting report

As a New Yorker, I’m lucky to have access to a few stores with perhaps the most extensive selections of rieslings from top German producers in the country.  One of those stores, Crush Wine & Spirits, has an excellent free tasting every year that I look forward to as chance to gauge the quality of each new vintage.  The good news is that the 2009 vintage has a strong crop of outstanding wines.

The quality of the wines was very high across the board, with no clunkers, which I generally find to be true with respect to German rieslings these days.  With that said, here are some of my standout picks:

The Clusserath Apotheke kabinett offers an extraordinary amount of complexity for about $16 – mineral, good fruit, you name it – this is an eminently affordable way to see what German riesling is all about.  For those who prefer a drier, stony style, the chalkily tasty Steinmetz Wintricher Geierslay spatlese feinherb competed very well with much more expensive Grosses Gewachs (“great growths”, similar to grand cru in other regions) bottlings, while maintaining a modest price of about $16. In the under $40 range, AJ Adam and Zilliken showed very strong wines, but the Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Spatlese managed to edge them all out with great aromatics, and a glistening, mineral-water-like palate.

My wife tasted one wine before me, and without knowing what it was or what it costs, she exclaimed to me “This one is REALLY good.”  We had just had the excellent AJ Adam Dhroner Hofberg Spatlese just before it, so this had real meaning.  I then tasted the wine also – the 2009 Egon Muller Scharzhofberger Spatlese – and it was simply dreamy.  Probably the best riesling I have ever had the pleasure to taste, and right up there with any wine I’ve ever tasted.  We then looked at the tasting sheet for the price, and it turns out of course, that the Egon Muller costs a pretty penny, about $120 per bottle at Crush.  My wife apparently has an exquisite palate and expensive taste.  Lucky me!  :) My note on this ethereal wine follows, together with my notes on all of the other wines tasted.

You may notice that the notes are less detailed than what I usually take; some nights, especially when you are tasting with your spouse, you just have to let the analysis go, and just enjoy the wines, and on this night, the wines were incredibly enjoyable.  Try them for yourself!  -Alan

  • 2009 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Spätlese – Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer (2/3/2011) Sometimes a wine makes me drop everything and forget about taking notes, and this was such a wine. Even in the midst of very good competition (including being tasted right after the excellent AJ Adam spatlese), this wine immediately stood out to my wife and me as different, on a whole other level. The nose is light and hard to glean much from, but appealing. The palate was so light and smooth, so harmonious that I immediately had an emotional reaction to it. Simply dreamy and captivating. This wine is a great example of how some exalted rieslings can remind you of water – and feel so wonderful, perhaps because it captures some essentialness, a feeling of innate need. The fruit is not unctuous, but a sweetness pleases you – the delicate texture floats across your tongue, lightly sprinkling gorgeous fruit and mineral flavors and then disappearing unnoticed while you are still in reverie. Only after loving this wine did we consult the price list and find out that it was quite pricey at $120ish per bottle. A truly wonderful wine, that requires contemplation to plumb its mysteries; this is what mineral water in heaven must taste like. 97-100 (97 points)


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Your next mailing list winery?

A few nights ago I had the chance to taste the wines of a number of wineries from Washington at the Taste Walla Walla event in New York.  One winery there was a new discovery to me – Reynvaan Family Vineyards (pronounced “Rine-van”, I was told).  I tasted three of their syrahs and I felt compelled to write quickly about them as a winery who sells primarily through mailing list that syrah aficionados may want to sign up for before the mailing list closes and becomes a wait list. One reason for concern that the mailing list will fill up quickly is a connection to Cayuse, which has a multiyear wait currently – Cayuse owner and winemaker Christophe Baron is a vineyard and winemaking consultant for Reynvaan.  So, people looking for the closest thing to Cayuse may be looking to Reynvaan.

So, are the wines like those of Cayuse?  Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question, as I’ve never tasted any of Cayuse’s wines.  But that’s just as well, because the wines of Reynvaan deserve to be discussed on their own merits without being saddled by comparisons to another wines of another producer.

I tasted three of Reynvaan’s syrah/syrah blends.  They all exhibited a house style that felt refreshingly original – while a lot of Washington syrahs I have tasted display a very safe, rounded but pedestrian style, the Reynvaan wines show edgy cool-climate flavor profiles characterized by floral and herby aromas and flavors and other hallmarks of syrah like peppery spice, roast meat or nut tinges, and sage/underbrush.   These wines call to my mind cool-climate efforts  like recent vintages of Copain in California, but also many wines from the Rhone, Languedoc Roussillon, and Provence regions of France.  While it does feel like a New World syrah when you know its origins, you might be able to have some fun sneaking this into a blind tasting for that snooty Francophile winegeek friend that you’ve been dying to stump and watching them bounce between guesses of Chapoutier, Thierry Allemand, perhaps some interesting Minervois or Bandol or some small natural wine producer like Axel Prufer in the Savio Soares portfolio.

One thing I especially like about what winemaker Matt Reynvaan is doing is a willingness to experiment.  These syrahs are all co-fermented with some grape varieties traditionally used to make white wines – including viognier, which is not unusual to find used in syrahs from the Rhone Valley or from Australia, and in an interesting twist, marsanne, which is used in In the Rocks and The Contender.  I asked Matt how they came to the idea of using marsanne, and he told me about how their philosophy includes the freedom to experiment.  While I have heard before that viognier can add lift and sheen to a syrah blend, Matt explained that the marsanne lends an oily viscosity to the wine, as well as minerality.  The results showed in the wines I tasted, which had very vivid aromatics, minerality, savory elements and loads of terroir showing.

The last time I recommended that readers join a mailing list was this post about Bedrock Wine Company back in 2009, and as I guessed, word got out in various channels about how great the wines were and the winery has blown up in popularity.  This time, my recommendation is as strong but narrower – the Reynvaan wines are more avant-garde than the Bedrock wines.  They are not for everybody, as you have to be willing to follow wines that explore the floral side of syrah, with herbier and more mineral palate flavors than you find from most New World offerings.  They are so vivid, they will walk you through the fields, have you stop and smell the lavender, maybe chew on some leaves, and sample some crushed stones. I can’t promise that you’ll like every part of it.  But you will definitely have an interesting time.

Both winemaker Matt Reynvaan and the terroir that he is using to make his wines seem to be off to a great start, and perhaps more importantly, have great potential for the future.  I look forward to seeing what these syrahs are like in a few years, to see how the flowers have bloomed among the stones – and Matt himself seems like a very earnest, engaged and thoughtful winemaker so I’m interested to follow his maturation as a vigneron as well. I have rated the wines somewhat conservatively but in some cases I have added two + signs, denoting my belief that these wines may well merit a significantly higher rating after gaining some time in bottle.  The Contender 2008 is sold out at the winery, but seems to be available at some retail outlets; the other two syrahs can be bought directly from Reynvaan, and they are also taking futures orders for the 2009 vintage, with slightly expanded syrah offerings.  It appears that there is still room on the mailing list; I was able to sign up yesterday.  My tasting notes are below.


  • 2008 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrah The Unnamed – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley (2/1/2011)Lavender, soapy Provencal herbs on the nose, with an interesting sweet floral note too. On the palate, perhaps a bit too cool-climate in feel for me – a bit on the herbal side. A wine with great interest but perhaps more interesting than enjoyable at this point. 87+ (87 points)
  • 2008 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrah In the Rocks – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley (2/1/2011)Again, a very interesting wine, showing lots of herbal character. Floral nose, with a sweet note in there, and more pleasing fruit ripeness showing here than in The Unnamed. A slight roast nut aspect that reminds me of some Chateauneuf-du-Papes makes a cameo here as well. Like this a lot. 91-92++, more potential for upside than most wines.
  • 2008 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrah The Contender – USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley (2/1/2011)Syrah with 4% marsanne and 2% viognier. This wine seems the most dialed in for my palate among the Reynvaan ’08s; just a bit more accessible and pleasing. Smooth on the palate, with a bit of rounding sweetness to the fruit. Nonetheless, plenty of terroir showing, as well as the same floral lavender, including a slight soapy note on the finish; a really pretty wine. Lots of upside potential. 91-92++(denotes the potential for significant improvement with bottle age) (92 points)

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