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.

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.



Learning more about Mourvèdre: a sampling of varietal wines from around the world

It recently occurred to me that I hardly ever drink mourvèdre. Or more accurately, I probably do without knowing it, as it’s often used as a blending grape that comprises a tiny percentage in a lot of wines, mixed in with other Rhone varieties like grenache, syrah and cinsault. I realized that, after all my years of tasting and learning about wines, that I couldn’t tell you what mourvèdre on its own tastes like.

Another factor complicating matters is that mourvèdre is like a secret agent among wine grapes – not just often appearing undercover, but also under many names. In parts of Spain like Jumilla, mourvèdre is known as monastrell. Some producers in Australia call it mataro. So, when it came time to choose a theme for the next tasting for one of my wine groups, naturally I chose mourvèdre.

I’ve had some good luck with monastrell from the Jumilla region of Spain in the past. In my early years of wine drinking, the Altos de Luzon bottling from Bodegas Luzon tarantas monastrellhas ranged from good to fantastic depending on the vintage – though that wine is only 50% monastrell, blended with tempranillo and cab.

Last night, I got a look at the 2011 Tarantas Monastrell, also from Jumilla. A wine of deep and rich reddish-purple color, the Tarantas gives forth aromas of dusty plums. On the palate, the fruit tastes more like slightly medicinal red and dark cherries, with plummy acidity and a slightly herby brambly edge on the finish to lend some interest. At $12 retail, this is a nice bargain-priced wine from 100% organically grown monastrell grapes and a good first glimpse into the character of this variety.

Next up, we had a French entrant, a 2010 Bandol called Le Galantin. 95% mourvèdre with a splash of grenache thrown in, this wine tastes true to its place of origin, with lavender and other Provençal herbs adding a floral edge to this rustic country wine.

Two New World takes on the variety took us to a slightly higher price range, with the 2007 D’Arenberg The Twentyeight Road mourvèdre at $31 and the 2010 Carlisle Two Acres, a California blend of mostly mourvèdre with small amounts of petite syrah, mourvedre 2syrah, peloursin, alicante bouschet and carignane. The D’Arenberg immediately justifies its higher price tag, with a perfumey nose that’s instantly appealing. To be fair, this is a bit older than the other wines, and has had time to become wine, as opposed to tasting like very primary grape juice. Ripe fruit and judicious oak have played their roles perfectly here, resulting in a slightly redder-fruited wine than the others, and it’s delicious.

The Carlisle shows a slightly meaty edge that the other wines didn’t. If we had had this double blind, I might have guessed from the nose that this was from the Rhone Valley, but the palate is classic Carlisle – dark, brooding but recognizably New World with its powerful, fruity style. The D’Arenberg wins wine of the night honors for me, but perhaps with the same amount of age on it, this Carlisle might be equally deserving.

So, after tasting these wines, what is mourvèdre like? My take is that the grape produces richly colored wines, and has a wild, brambly edge that feels part bushy, part peppery. There’s a thread of racy acidity that seems to come naturally to each of the wines tasted tonight, producing starkly flavorful and aromatic wines without forbidding tannins, even in youth. Fans of syrah, petite sirah and zinfandel/ primitivo might do well to check out mourvèdre/monastrell/mataro, in all of its guises. -Alan

The Tarantas Monastrell was tasted from a review sample bottle received free of charge from its distributor.

What I’m Drinking: a casual President’s Day dinner with some winners from Austria and Portugal

Last night was an example of my favorite way to enjoy wine – a casual dinner with good friends, with a manageable number of wines ranging from unassuming (but perfect partners to the right foods) to transcendent.  Tasted over the course of a leisurely evening, the wines got sufficient air time to open up aromatically and unfurl their full flavors on the palate.  Things got off to a bang with a pair of wines that had been opened on nights previous and were ready to strut their stuff.  2006 Karthauserhof Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg Spatlese Trocken shows some nice late-harvest fruit in a dry package, but although my favorite rieslings are usual German ones, tonight it can’t keep up with the otherworldly 2005 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Hochrain from the Wachau region of Austria that my friend M has generously brought.  Every time I stick my nose in the glass, this wine sends shivers down my spine.  Light petrol and flinty mineral aromas float above golden orchard fruit, and I hirtzberger 2come back to it again and again. Dry and stony on the palate with a touch of bitter pith, but buffeted by deceptively generous fruit, this plants notions of nectar in your mind but goes down like glorious mineral water.  I’m enjoying and not scoring any wines tonight, but this one would clearly be in the exalted 95+ point range for me.

Next I pair a 2011 Casa de Vila Verde vinho verde from Portugal with a butter lettuce  salad with carrots and roasted butternut squash.  From the grapes arinto, loureiro and trajadura, this light, fresh white lives up to the “green wine” name, presenting a palate with fresh herbal green that manages not to come off as vegetal.  A nice citric snap here makes the wine lively and juicy. The next time you’re thinking of having sauvignon blanc, try a vinho verde instead –  this is better than the vast majority of the perfunctory sauvignon blancs in the same $11 price range.

Chicken and mozzarella ravioli is partnered with two pinot noirs, 2004 La Famille Claude Dugat Gevrey Chambertin La Gibryotte and 2010 Anthill Farms Demuth Vineyard pinot noir.  The Dugat, a negociant bottling, is from the 2004 vintage in Burgundy, in which a significant number of wines display a distinct green character of debated origin (one popular explanation involves pyrazines released by ladybugs).  I’ve had a number of bottles of this over the years, haven taken a chance on a number of bottles at a bargain $20 price, and it has generally shown some stalky, stemmy character that seems to be a manageable amount of the 2004 greenness, and tonight’s bottle still shows the same.  M and I agree that it’s not enough to be bothersome, and this wine delivers enough burgundy typicity and pleasure to justify the bargain price I paid.  M does a nice job of picking out the Anthill Demuth as an Anderson Valley wine when I serve it blind to him – and this one is true to the Anthill style – floral and fragrant tart red fruits and hints of beetroot, framed by oak in an accessible, cool-climate-fruited package.

I serve two blind wines with New York strip steaks, and though they are both from Portugal, they show very mariana alentejanodifferently.  The 2009 Herdade do Rocim Mariana comes across as a light-to-medium bodied red that’s smooth on the palate, with touches of a bushy, herby pepper on the nose to add interest.  All three drinkers who try this one one prefer it to the 2009 Quinta do Portal Colheita Tinto Douro, which is a good wine in a different style – darker-fruited, brooding and more intensely flavored on the palate.  A blend of alicante bouschet, aragonez (which you may know as tempranillo), cabernet sauvignon and trincadeira, the Mariana is from the Alentejano region and aged in stainless steel, which together with a nice plummy acidity, keeps it fresh.  On the other hand, the Quinta do Portal  tinto is a brooding, dark blend of tinto roriz (yet another name for tempranillo), touriga nacional and touriga franca from the Douro DOC, and shows the profile of an international red – French oak aging and dark, concentrated primary fruits.  Both wines sell for $15 or less generally, and to me the Mariana especially is a very solid wine for the money.portal colheita douro

As we linger after dinner, comparing the reds, I find I can’t help but keep going back to the fabulous Hirtzberger.  From there, we move on to a tasty 2003 Gimmeldinger Schlosser Spatlese rieslaner from Muller-Catoir, pleasing with light cinnamon-like spice inflections, and a perennial favorite producer of sweet wines, Alois Kracher of Austria, is the source of our capper for the evening, a 2002 Kracher Nouvelle Vague TBA chardonnay.  The residual sugar in both of these wines goes fabulously with a light and pleasing champagne cheddar cheese from the Finger Lakes, giving our guests a last bit of fortification before they venture back out into the blustery New York night.


The Portuguese wines in this report were complimentary review samples received from representatives of Wines of Portugal.  


Throwing a blind tasting: planning and pouring for Leo’s Blind Tasting Club

I’ve written in the past about participating in various blind tastings, but this week I had the opportunity for a new challenge: throwing a blind tasting.  I’m part of a group here in New York unofficially known as “Leo’s Blind Tasting Club”, which follows an idea put forth by founding member Leo F: rather than the common wine group structure of “everyone bring a bottle”, we take turns hosting the monthly tastings, and the host for each tasting supplies all of the wines for that particular evening.  This allows for the
host to plan a very coordinated double blind tasting, with themes for each flight or even an overall theme for the whole tasting. This month was my first turn hosting.

Most of the members of the club have a deeper cellar than I have, so I wasn’t going to be able to match other club tastings where, say, hosts poured entire flights of gems from the 70s or 80s.  In planning my tasting, I decided to build around what I could offer to the group: the benefit of my experiences as a wine blogger.  I’ve had the opportunity to taste a lot of wines off the beaten path, as at trade tastings featuring wines from non-mainstream regions like the Jura, Greece, Portugal, Toro, Navarra, right down to groupings as specific as cool-climate chardonnays from Canada.  In those wine travels I’ve come across a number of overachievers, and have often said to myself “this wine could totally pass for a wine from [fill in a heralded region].” A tasting like this one was a perfect opportunity to test some of those hypotheses.

As a starter wine to welcome the group to Trattoria L’Incontro in Astoria, where this dinner was held, I poured my favorite champagne of all time – the 2001 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Coeur de Cuvée, which I’ve blogged about in the past in this post.  Paired with cheese and vegetable-filled cream puff hors-d’oeuvres, this got us off to a great start- lively and exciting, showing complexity uncommon in the 2001 vintage and mouth-watering acid, this drew raves.  Although I warned the group that I would be pitching curve balls on this night, everyone pretty much called this as champagne, with pretty accurate guesses on age, mostly ranging from 1996 to 2002.

Onto the first white flight, built around comparing some French chardonnays from less vaunted regions to a very typical white Burgundy. The first wine in the flight shows golden color and a slightly smoky, flinty nose.   Out of nine blind tasters, this garners a few votes as favorite of the flight, and some guess Burgundy; other guesses include pinot gris and gruner veltliner.  This one is the 2009 Domaine Tissot (André & Mireille now Stéphane) Arbois Les Bruyères. Although savagnin, poulsard and trousseau seem to get more of the buzz around Jura wines, I feel the chardonnays from the Jura are underrated and stand up well to white Burgs, as I think this one does.

The next wine, buttery-opulent but saved by counterbalancing acidity, is our benchmark wine of the flight, 2007 Domaine / Maison Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Combettes.  This wine gets a majority of votes for wine of the flight – but not because everyone is a Cote d’Or Burgundy snob.  In fact, more people guess Cali Continue reading

A burgeoning brunch in Astoria: finger foods and Finger Lakes

I recently attended a brunchtime tasting that was chock full of up-and-comers: set in Astoria, home of a burgeoning food scene including quality markets, cafes, and eateries, we tasted a range of wines from Red Newt Cellars and Atwater Vineyards,  both from the emergent Finger Lakes region of New York, together with some tasty small plates served up by Winegasm, a wine bar and restaurant just steps away from Astoria’s famed butcher shop K&T Quality Meats.

What I found was more evidence to support my proposition from my post on Finger Lakes wines from a few months ago – that this is truly a wine region worth watching (and tasting).  The highlight of the day for me was Red Newt Cellars’ 2009 Lahoma Vineyard Riesling (about $20-22).  Despite coming from young vines (less than five years old, I was told by assistant winemaker Brandon Seager), the 2009 Lahoma Vineyard bottling had many of the things that get me excited about a riesling – a nose that offered not just fruity aromas but also a flinty minerality and a touch of petrol.  These qualities are hallmarks of Old World riesling but something I’ve never found in, say, rieslings I’ve tried from Washington.  Edge goes to the Finger Lakes on this count – there’s terroir here that I’m interested in, that is distinct from other top riesling regions around the world.

One thing that surprised me is how well the Red Newt riesling paired with foie torchon with mandarin chutney.  The residual sugar in the riesling combines nicely with the delectable richness of the foie gras, which I might have otherwise thought to pair with a red because of the dish’s meaty intensity.  If you make it out to Winegasm, ask for this even if you don’t see it on the menu.  You will be rewarded if they have some on hand.

Another riesling-based wine that I appreciated was the Atwater Celsius 2010 sweet table wine.  Nice, not over the top in its sweetness, with apricot notes and a floral quality.  The controlled dollop of sweetness had just the balance I was looking for to wrap up a nice afternoon of hors d’oeuvres.

I also had the opportunity to sample some reds from Red Newt and Atwater, including pinot noir, cab franc and a blend that included cab sauv, lemberger, and syrah.  While the reds (tasted alongside yummy bacon-wrapped prunes) showed some promising characteristics – delicacy, herbal aromatics, varietal correctness – I wasn’t as taken with them.  But there is potential, especially with the pinot noir for my palate, so I will be keeping an eye on how the Finger Lakes reds improve in future vintages.

One more wine worth mentioning for those looking to get their riesling fix in a slightly more budgety way was the 2010 Red Newt Cellars “Circle Label” riesling ($10-12).  An appellation blend priced to compete with the “Kung Fu Girl” rieslings of the world, this is a smooth, fruity riesling with just a touch of mineral. Green apple and other orchard fruits are evoked, and a citrusy acidity keeps this fresh, while a touch of residual sugar makes this appealing and approachable for the average consumer looking for an affordable entry level peek into the Finger Lakes.

I attended this event free of charge as a guest of the organizers at Winegasm.

Finger Lakes wines: You need to pay attention now. Really.

So, I have to admit, whenever I come across publications or blogs centered around a particular emerging region’s wines, I’m suspicious that the ratings and reviews will be subject to a little “home cooking” – overenthusiastic, or worse yet, paid reviews that overstate the quality of the wines, coming from a local cheerleader.

In addition, my early experiences with wines from New York state were, well, unpleasant to put it kindly.  Tasting wines in the Hudson Valley two years ago didn’t really change my mind.

The tide started to turn for me last summer, when I did some tasting at a few well-regarded wineries in the North Fork area of Long Island.  There I found competent whites and some reds that really did show well – pushing the 90 point range for me in the best cases.  Still, the reds that I might say could compete with wines from other emerging regions like South America were unfortunately two to three times the cost of wines from those international competitors.  To me, despite the progress, there wasn’t yet a reason for nonlocals to seek out the wines especially.

That changes now.  With a few tastings of Finger Lakes wines (mostly rieslings, and a bit of pinot noir), I’ve come to the view that New York state wines have arrived.  I’ll cover the lovely, delicate Ravines pinot noir in a future post, but today I’ll cover the Finger Lakes wine region’s strong suit:  riesling.

With pioneers like Dr. Konstantin Frank and Hermann J. Wiemer and newer producers like Ravines Wine Cellars leading the way, Finger Lakes rieslings have reached an impressive level of quality.  In addition to some outstanding wines from the above-mentioned producers, I have tasted very solid offerings from other Finger Lakes producers including Red Newt Cellars (who sadly lost one of their co-owners in a car accident recently), Glenora Wine Cellars, Fox Run Vineyards, and Billsboro Winery.

Across the board, the wines tended to show a bit of petrol or minerality on the nose (both of which I love as an avid fan of German rieslings), tart greenish orchard fruits, and lively acidity.  The entry level wines tend to come with synthetic cork closures, indicating to me that the producers expect them to be consumed within a few years, but in my estimation, the best examples have a lot of aging potential.  Overall the wines tend to be a bit on the restrained side on the palate, closer in style to Alsace or Austria than the full-flavored styles found in German rieslings.  I don’t think the Finger Lakes wines have quite reached the level of German riesling yet, but they are the best rieslings from the U.S. in my mind – their freshness together with appealing fruit may have even pushed them past Alsace and Austria in my heart, at least for riesling.

Here are tasting notes on some of my favorite Finger Lakes rieslings.  Check them out, and prepare to be surprised; I never expected to sound like a cheerleader for wines local to this New Yorker, but I’m happy that I can, at least for now.  Cheers!  -Alan


  • 2010 Ravines Wine Cellars Dry Riesling- USA, New York, Finger Lakes (10/2/2011) A terrific entry-level riesling, with smoky flinty mineral to distinguish the nose as well as typical Finger Lakes green apple notes. The palate maintains a nice tension between the mineral, acidity and a dollop of richness to the fruit. Put together with the performance of the Argetsinger riesling and the wonderful pinot noir, this is probably my favorite Finger Lakes winery. 89-90+ (90 points)
  • 2010 Dr. Konstantin Frank Riesling Dry- USA, New York, Finger Lakes (10/2/2011) More floral and aromatic on the nose than the Fox Run dry riesling, this wine also shows richer fruit on the palate while staying solidly dry. An accomplished and pleasing wine with more fullness than many of the other Finger Lakes rieslings tasted this week. Very nice. 89-90 (89 points)
  • 2010 Billsboro Riesling- USA, New York, Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake (10/2/2011)An off-dry riesling with some pleasing body and a slight herbal bitterness on the finish. A bit monolithic perhaps, but pleasing nonetheless. 86-88 (87 points)
  • 2010 Fox Run Vineyards Riesling Dry- USA, New York, Finger Lakes (10/2/2011) On the nose, a hint of petrol, flinty mineral and light green apple aromas please the nose. On the palate, this is crisp, again evoking tart green apple, with an herbal finish. A very solid, restrained dry riesling. 87-88 (87 points)
  • 2010 Glenora Wine Cellars Riesling Dry- USA, New York, Finger Lakes (9/24/2011) Slightly stinky mineral nose gives way to crisp green apple flavors on the palate. The mouthwatering acid lends a long finish to this tart, properly dry riesling. Very solid. 87-88 (88 points)
  • 2010 Hosmer Riesling- USA, New York, Finger Lakes, Cayuga Lake (9/24/2011) An off-dry riesling with a satisfying bit of fatness to the tropical stone fruit flavors that show on the palate before giving way to slightly herbal underpinnings. A hint of petrol on the nose contributes to a feel akin to something between a German and an Austrian riesling – has more in common with Old World rieslings than other New World ones from Washington or Australia. Very enjoyable. 88+ (88 points)
  • 2008 Ravines Wine Cellars Riesling Dry Argetsinger Vineyard- USA, New York, Finger Lakes, Keuka Lake (6/15/2011) An impressive wine that redefines for me what can be achieved with dry riesling in the Finger Lakes. Some petrol on the nose, with a great chalky minerality. The palate shows great complexity, balancing developed orchard fruits and tingling acidity. Excellent. 91-92+ (92 points)
  • 2009 Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Late Harvest- USA, New York, Finger Lakes (6/15/2011)A gorgeous riesling that I could drink endlessly. The sweetish fruits give a pleasing unctuousness, but this not over the top; it has nice acidity to balance it out and give this a bit of dimension. As a lover of German spatlesen, this like nectar to me. 91-92+ (92 points)
  • 2009 Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Dry- USA, New York, Finger Lakes (6/15/2011) Green orchard fruits and a surprising stony minerality form the profile of this wine. Restrained in its fruit on the palate, but with a liveliness. Delicious. 89-90 (89 points)

Posted from CellarTracker

Some of the wines mentioned in this report were tasted from review sample bottles received free of charge from the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, including the 2010 rieslings from Dr. Konstantin Frank, Glenora, Ravines, Fox Run, billsboro and Hosmer.  Other wines were tasted at free retailer tastings or from bottles purchased by me.

The unexpected from the Jura: chardonnay

If you’re enough of a wine geek to know about the Jura, a wine-growing region near the French-Swiss border, then chances are that you know some of the Jura’s trademark wines like vin jaune or macvin, or its signature grape, savagnin.  What fewer people know is that there are a surprising number of very good chardonnays from the Jura that could fool many tasters into thinking they were from Burgundy, the benchmark region for chardonnay.

The chardonnays from the Jura that I have tasted range from nervy and tension-filled to richer, more opulent styles, but across the range of styles many of the wines showed a flinty minerality on the nose that lend a lot of fragrant, burgundy-like interest to the wines.  Next time you’re looking to have a Chassagne-Montrachet or a Meursault, try a chardonnay from the Jura instead – you might be surprised by what you taste.  Here are a few wines I’d recommend:

  • 2008 Domaine de Saint Pierre Arbois Les Brûlées – France, Jura, Arbois (7/3/2011)Has pretty, pleasing fruit on the nose and palate, which is given dimension by flinty rock aromas that carry some minerality through to the palate. As good as a lot of premier cru wines from heralded villages of Burgundy like Puligny-Montrachet or Meursault, this is another example of how good some of the chardonnays coming from the Jura really are. 91-92+ (92 points)
  • 2008 Domaine Labet Côtes du Jura Fleur de Marne En Chalasse – France, Jura, Côtes du Jura (4/11/2011)Has a savory aspect, hard to articulate- maybe oxidative but in any case there’s something really appealing about this. On the palate; very tasty with an uncommon combination of unctuousness yet very crisp acidity. Smooth, pretty – I really dig this wine, and the whole range really. 90-92+ (92 points)
  • 2009 Domaine Tissot (André & Mireille now Stéphane) Arbois Les Corvées Sous Curon – France, Jura, Arbois (4/11/2011)Has a pretty flinty nose; balanced with good tart acidity. Not as rich as the Labet wines, but very nice with a crispness to it. 90-92 (91 points)
  • 2007 Domaine Labet Côtes du Jura Fleur de Marne en Billat – France, Jura, Côtes du Jura (4/11/2011)Has an interesting flinty smoke mineral nose. Quite a delicious chardonnay – very Burg-like. Has a crispness that makes one think of Chablis, but there is some oak and butteriness that makes it feel a bit more opulent. 90-92 (91 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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The perfect storm, vino version

Like a merciful bit of payback for the awful heatwave(s!) we’ve been experiencing in New York this month, I was rewarded this week with the wine world version of the perfect storm – one of those nights when everything just comes together.  The venue: Apiary, a cool little restaurant in the East Village that has a brilliant little tradition – no corkage Mondays.  Which means that on Monday nights, the place turns into a bit of a crossroads where wine industry veterans cross paths with tasting groups, cork dorks and other variations of the wine-obsessed, all vying for seats in a place that is packed to the gills.

On this night, I am dining with a group that, excluding me, could be described as Young Turks and Turkettes of the wine trade – a gang of bright young folks spanning the wine retail, distribution and wine bar channels of NYC.  Future captains of the industry to be sure, but in this crowd, we are among the less laden with disposable income – but we have enthusiasm and some smartly chosen bottles on our side.

As we settle into our table, the first winds of the stormy wine adventure start blowing.  For lo and behold, sitting at the next table is my friend Suzanne from the wine bulletin board community Wine Berserkers and a blind tasting group I’m in. We greet each other, exchange pleasantries, I ask what they’re drinking.  Next thing I know, I’m being asked for my glass, and it comes back filled with burgundy.  Not just any burgundy – Grand Cru burgundy.  My oh my, my favorite region, and suffice it to say, drinking at the grand cru level is a rare treat for me.

Our generous neighbors have poured me a beautiful wine, a 1995 Dujac Charmes Chambertin.  I smell, I swoon, I pass the glass around the table.  We are off to a fantastic start.

We hand our bottles over to our server to have the corks pulled.  It’s a nice lineup: Movia Lunar and ’99 Chateau Musar for the whites, and the reds include a Chamonard Morgon, ’07 Vincent Girardin Clos Renardes (more Burgundy!), a Cotes de Provence wine I’m not familiar with called Nowat, and my bottle, which I have covered for everyone’s blind tasting pleasure.

As we’re perusing our menus trying to make decisions, our neighbors have a wonderful surprise for us – they’re leaving us the wines they haven’t finished.  One of the best things about having wine as a passion is the terrific generosity of wine enthusiasts – and tonight, my friends from the next table are flooring me:  we get tastes of the Dujac, a 1990 Fougeray Bonnes Mares, and a healthy amount of 1991 Camille Giroud Echezeaux.  Our impromptu wine dinner has gained some serious heavyweight firepower.  The wines are wonderful.

As we our appetizers arrive, I’m enjoying the Movia Lunar – a true wine geek wine.  It’s from a producer in Slovenia (just across the Italian border), made with noninterventionist techniques, it’s unfiltered and cloudy, and it’s made from a grape I can’t pronounce or spell without help. (It’s not that bad really – ribolla gialla) It’s somewhat reminiscent of the Gravner I had from my March 10 Tasting for the Ages- a little bit golden-orange colored, in an artisanal and unusual style, and it’s genius Continue reading