Ridge & The Value of Patience

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 08-08-2013

85montebelloAlthough my wine preferences are largely Europhilic — my favorite reds come from Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone and Loire Valleys — I’ve always enjoyed the wines I’ve had from Ridge.

While I’m not the biggest fan of Zinfandel or Chardonnay, I’ve found Ridge’s Monte Bello Cabernets are always compelling. And one of my most memorable wine experiences remains a 1975 York Creek Petite Sirah I tasted just a few years ago. Until very recently, however, that Petite Sirah was the only Ridge wine I had with adequate age.

The Ridge I’ve had have always been marked by the “Draper perfume” — a vivid, sweet vanilla and oak scent that I’ve always been told will integrate with time. These wines have been young, of course, and there’s always been enough rich fruit to balance the oak.

I recently had the opportunity to explore various wines from Ridge with more than 20 years of age — including many from Monte Bello — and they were absolutely thrilling. Without question, older wines from Ridge can provide a sensory experience that can rival some of the best wines from Bordeaux and the Northern Rhone.

While that “Draper perfume” was still noticeable in a number of the older wines, it seemed far more restrained and better integrated with the countless nuances that had developed in bottle.

What was most striking, though, was the consistency in the wines across a range of vintages.

One buying axiom in Burgundy and the Rhone is to always focus on great producers rather than great vintages. With Ridge, the same is obviously true. For example, I approached the 1985 Monte Bello with high expectations, as it’s been praised by many. It lived up to expectations, but I was blown away by the bottles from less-heralded years, like the 1989 Monte Bello and the 1992 Mataro from Evangelo Vineyard.

Clearly, patience is necessary with Ridge. While the younger wines are very appealing and fun to drink, a couple of decades — or more, especially for the Petite Sirah — in the cellar can lead to so much more elegance, complexity and depth.

Tasting notes follow below the fold.

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Sherry At The Dinner Table

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 05-27-2013

I’ve always had a preference for spicy cuisines.

I enjoy eating and cooking various Indian and Caribbean regional styles, along with more fiery Sichuan food, and this is one of the reasons I drink so many German and Austrian whites — spicy curries, Jamaican jerk chicken, and Sichuan specialties such as a shredded baby lamb with green pepper simply aren’t the most friendly accompaniments for more delicate red Burgundy or Bordeaux.

There are certainly exceptions –at BYO Sichuan restaurants in New York, I’ve found smoked-tea duck to pair quite well with many old-world reds — but for the most part, Grüner Veltliner or Spätlese or Auslese Rieslings pair superbly with those cuisines.

Recently though, I’ve discovered that a range of dry sherries work exceptionally as wine pairings for such cuisines, and as I’ve started exploring sherry in more depth, I’ve been amazed at the range of different culinary styles that a dry Fino, Amontillado, or a Palo Cortado can pair with. A couple of bottles from the Equipo Navazos La Bota series (the ever-eloquent Brooklynguy writes more about them here) have been particularly eye-opening in this regard.

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Exploring Hirtzberger’s Singerriedel Riesling

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 05-16-2013

There are few white wines I’ve found that are as compelling, complex, and consistently outstanding as Franz Hirtzberger’s Rieslings from the Singerriedel vineyard in the Wachau.

For aromatic depth, finesse, and its propensity to age gracefully, Hirtzberger’s Singerriedel stands among the elite expressions of dry Riesling, alongside the top Grosses Gewächse from producers such as Dönnhoff or Klaus-Peter Keller, Trimbach’s Clos Ste. Hune, or other great dry Austrian Rieslings such as FX Pichler’s Kellerberg.

The Singerriedel vineyard is a terraced vineyard in the town of Spitz along the Wachau. Another vintner with plots in the Singerriedel, Franz Joseph Gritsch, has spoken before about the challenges harvesting it — harvesting is only possible by hand, as tractors cannot be used on the steep gradient.

There’s little ‘earth’ in the vineyard, but rather many varieties of stone including gneiss, mica and schist. The slope and terracing of the vineyard allow for all the Riesling vines to enjoy great exposure to sunlight, and Hirtzberger’s wines from this vineyard always manage to come across with a sensation of high ripeness and concentration even in cooler years, while at the same time conveying a finesse and elegance found in few other dry Rieslings.

Though the wines are rarely cheap, they’re some of the most thrilling and age-worthy white wines I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy, with powerful, ripe fruit and florality in their youth, and more savoury, complex and mineral flavours developing with time in bottle.

Tasting notes follow below the fold.

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An Interview With Lars Carlberg

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 01-30-2013

Lars Carlberg is regarded as one of the foremost writers and scholars on the wines of the Mosel. For several years, he has been involved with importing various producers to the United States – he established the Mosel Wine Merchant portfolio in 2005, though he now only represents – among Mosel growers – Hofgut Falkenstein under his “LCS” label.

Lars Carlberg

For those interested in learning more about Mosel Riesling, Lars also offers an insider’s view of the Mosel from his home in Trier at his website, larscarlberg.com. In his own words, he has “no interest in scoring wines or ranking sites.” Rather he offers subscribers a view into the history, vineyards, and producers of the Mosel, along with tasting notes from bottle and cask samples.

As a sample, non-subscribers can read his two-part essay on Mosel Kabinett: Unlocking the Kabinett, parts one and two.

Lars Carlberg is also one of the sponsors of Rieslingfeier, and will be pouring wines from Hofgut Falkenstein at Chambers St. Wines on Friday February 15th to kick off the Riesling celebrations in New York City. He recently chatted with Terroirist about German Riesling. Check out our interview below the fold.

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Profile: Weingut Nikolaihof Wachau

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures, Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-29-2013

Organic, biodynamic and other ‘natural’ wines seem to get a lot more attention these days, and yet it’s surprising how little the name “Nikolaihofof” comes up. After all, this great producer was the first winery ever certified by Demeter as biodynamic and more importantly, belongs in any conversation of the elite producers of great white wines in the world. Increasingly, it’s a producer I’m looking to buy from every vintage, regardless of its reputation.

Christine Saahs of Nikolaihof

Nikolaihof isn’t a particularly large winery, with just 20 hectares of vineyards and an annual production of only 8,300 cases — only a small part of which seems to make it to the US each year. The winemaking philosophy there is focused around a belief in organic and sustainable growing methods, great care and attention in the vineyards, and little intervention in the cellar. Christine Saahs,  the proprietor, has mentioned before her dislike of using cultured yeasts.

The wines can be challenging to taste when young. Some of my experiences with the wines soon after release have been initially disappointing; they’ve come across aromatically unyielding and dominated by their acid structure, yet even with a short time in bottle, I’ve found them much more expressive. Although Nikolaihof’s vineyards are mainly planted with Riesling and Gruner Veltliner, it’s worth keeping an eye out for its Neuburger, an unusual grape that in their hands produced a remarkable wine in 2010 (the only vintage of that which I’ve been fortunate to try).

In recent years, Nikolaihof has also been releasing small amounts of old, bottle-aged library wines (Vinothek), as well as recently bottled Rieslings that have aged in old casks for several years — its Steinrieslers. My few experiences with these wines have all been incredibly memorable: neither are cheap, yet the aged Nikolaihof’s Rieslings I’ve enjoyed are some of the most compelling wines I’ve been fortunate to enjoy.

Tasting notes on several of Nikolaihof’s wines follow below the fold:

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Riesling: Not Just For Summer

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 01-25-2013

New York City sommelier and restaurateur Paul Grieco set out some time ago to bring Riesling to the attention of more consumers in the United States. Grieco’s efforts, along with various other wine bars and retailers that came along, led to the Summer of Riesling (previously highlighted here by David White) – a campaign to showcase its flexibility and quality at all ages, sweetness levels and versatility with a wide range of cuisines.

Riesling’s not just a wine for the summer though, as perfect as it may seem for a blazing July day with relatively low alcohol, often gentle or moderate sweetness and bright, refreshing acidity.

A powerful, layered dry wine such as a Brand Riesling from Zind-Humbrecht, or a Hochrain Smaragd from Franz Hirtzberger can be sensational in winter with a warm, braised dish. So can a mature, smoky and savory Auslese or Spätlese from a great Mosel or Rheingau producer with choucroute or other hearty winter fare.

Perhaps with this in mind, another celebration of Riesling has been scheduled in New York, this time during the chilly winter: Rieslingfeier.

Sponsored by various importers and retailers of Riesling (among others), Rieslingfeier is a series of dinners and tastings across the weekend of February 15th and 16th that aims to showcase the grape in Germany as a reminder why the greatest German Rieslings should stand beside Bordeaux, Burgundy or Piedmont’s finest reds as some of the most thrilling, complex and age-worthy wines in the world. Full program here.

With this in mind, there’ll be some more focus on this great grape in the next couple of weeks, leading up to Rieslingfeier. And those in New York City, or nearby, should keep time on their calendar on Feb 16th for the Rieslingcrawl – a series of free/open to the public tastings across various Riesling-championing retailers across the city, with the chance to meet various winemakers such as Klaus-Peter Keller and Florian Lauer.

The Champagnes of Marie-Noelle Ledru

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-27-2012

It’s the season for bubbles (though in fairness, is there such a thing as a bad time for Champagne?), and I’ve been able to enjoy a few good Champagnes in recent weeks.

At the start of this year, I had been keen on exploring Champagne in more depth beyond just the couple of big houses that I knew well, and was able to familiarize myself with a number of small growers making some incredible wines that, for me, were as compelling as some of the best wines I’ve had from the likes of Taittinger and Krug.

Ledru's Cuvee du Goulte

One producer that has consistently wowed me time and time again is Marie-Noelle Ledru. Ledru is a small grower based in Ambonnay, whose land is split between there and Bouzy.

I’ve had access to a few of her different bottlings imported by Bonhomie Wine on the east coast, which I’ve purchased from Chambers St. Wines and Crush Wines and Spirits in New York. At all price points and styles, the wines are stunning. Marie-Noelle Ledru’s wines aren’t particularly expensive considering their quality, and most of her wines retail in the $50-70 price range.

I’ve found these wines to be the equal of any top grower such as Cédric Bouchard or Selosse, with a remarkable sense of purity and focus to the flavors, fantastic depth and amazing balance.

Tasting notes on a few of her wines follow below the fold.

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Revisiting 1982 Bordeaux

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-05-2012

In the last few years, wine enthusiasts have paid less and less attention to Bordeaux. Hype for great vintages seems to roll around every other year and prices continue to increase dramatically for new vintages laden with high scores.

In the meantime regions such as the Loire, Beaujolais, Rhône Valley and many areas outside of France, such as Washington State or Chile attract more and more attention, often offering far better value-priced alternatives.

There’s been some criticism about how Bordeaux may need a reality check, with more consumers buying at various price levels seeking newer, fresher alternatives. Even as a serious Bordeaux fan, it’s hard to not agree with a lot of these criticisms, or pieces such as this article by Eric Asimov. Wines from the top estates and vintages have become increasingly expensive, more often treated as goods for conspicuous consumption rather than wines that can be enjoyed at the table.

And yet… the wines remain compelling, when they are opened at the table and enjoyed as wine. A bottle of 1986 Gruaud Larose that I opened a few nights ago at dinner was one of the most thrilling red wines I’ve enjoyed in some time; powerfully fragrant, layered, rich and so complex.
Bordeaux can provide experiences that just reinforce why we’re so into wine in the first place; thrilling, complex, powerful yet elegant wines that resonate in a way that few other wines can. Those experiences don’t always have to come from the ‘great’, critically acclaimed vintages, yet – it’s a remarkable experience when they do.

Over the last few months, I’ve had multiple opportunities to look back into some of the 1982 Bordeaux; one of the much heralded ‘vintages of the century’ now thirty years on. Provenance at this stage does become a question, as so many of these wines do tend to be frequently ‘flipped’ at auctions and resold as the case price of a 1982 Ducru-Beaucaillou, for instance, continues to increase. A few of the ’82s I’ve enjoyed recently have been concerning with some signs of possible heat damage (for instance, a bottle of ’82 Magdelaine showed surprisingly stewed and disjointed), yet a number have been thrilling.

Some, such as the ’82 Certan de May, may not have the ‘wow’ factor one may expect from such a heralded vintage (and one carrying such a price premium over other vintages). A rising tide doesn’t always float all boats, and there are plenty of less regarded vintages (such as 1988 or 1979) that have produced a number of great Bordeaux that I’ve enjoyed as much, if not more than some of the ’82s – usually at a fraction of the price. Yet other ’82 Bordeaux I’ve had recently, such as the ’82 Pichon Lalande, have been extraordinary.

Tasting notes follow below the fold:

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Sometimes, It’s More Than Just Wine

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 10-04-2012

Every now and then, I encounter a bottle that provides a particularly special experience. Usually, these wines are older — fully mature or close-to-mature wines from highly regarded vintages and producers – and are utterly thrilling and compelling to drink, with flavors harmonizing seamlessly and conveyed with a remarkable sense of delicacy and grace.

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to experience something particularly unique; a bottle that was not just remarkable and memorable for its flavors, grace, and maturity, but for its historical significance and what it represented.

At dinner with a small group of very generous friends, a bottle of the 1945 Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Moelleux was produced and poured around the table. Huet’s reputation is legendary for producing stunningly balanced, long-aging wines. Through the generosity of others, I’ve been able to experience stunning bottles of Huet from other old, heralded vintages, such as the ’47 Le Haut Lieu Moelleux.

The ’45, however, was more than a great wine or a great vintage. Sublime flavors and fragrance with the harmony, seamlessness and polish I usually find in old Huet; but with the added historical context of a wine made at the end of the second World War, by a man who not long before harvest had been imprisoned in a POW camp. Gaston Huet returned to vineyards that had been challenged by an early frost and heat later, and the wine he produced that we enjoyed, as one of our group put it, was nothing less than a monument to the human spirit.

Revisiting Older Rieslings: Tasting Through Some 1997 German Wines

Posted by | Posted in Out of the Glass | Posted on 08-20-2012

The 1997 Schaefer Kabinett

Young German Riesling can be absolutely thrilling. At their best, the wines have a remarkable vibrancy and energy with the fruit tasting incredibly fresh and nervy acidity beneath adding a sense of precision, freshness, and clarity to the flavours. In many of the off-dry examples, the youthful sweetness often makes the wines very appealing to drink early and it can be a challenge exercising patience with wines that are as enjoyable in their youth as a Kabinett or Spätlese from a fine producer.

Yet patience can yield amazing rewards, as I recently experienced at a dinner featuring several German Rieslings from the 1997 vintage. I don’t own or open as much older Riesling as I’d like to, and it was a pleasure sitting down with several maturing wines over a few hours. None of these were close to mature. German Riesling can age effortlessly over decades, and the 1997s we opened had years ahead of them. Yet they had shed some of their youthful brightness; the fruit flavours remained incredibly pure and fresh, but for the most part were augmented by the start of developing smoky, creamy and other savoury elements.

One of the most striking differences between German Riesling on release and several years later is the sense of harmony that seems to develop. The floral or mineral expressions that they show on release aren’t as vivid several years later, but rather they converge with the fruit and the nuances of development into a seamless whole that’s greater than the sum of all parts in the best examples. While most of the top young examples from 2011 and 2010 I’d tasted recently were wines that dazzled with their youthful exuberance and the interplay between sweetness and acidity, and fruit and mineral flavours, the 1997s at this lineup were thrilling for very different reasons – they were calmer, more understated and delicate, and showing a remarkable range of flavours that kept unravelling with time and air.

It was a reminder of what great Riesling can offer at different stages of maturity. I haven’t come across other styles of wine that offer the same range of pleasures that Riesling does at almost any age, whether right on release, several years after when the wines are beginning to slim down and lose some of the exuberance of youth while still retaining much of their primary character, or when more mature and entering more savoury phases. And it remains a relief and wonder that many of the top examples are still remarkably inexpensive (the most recent vintage of Willi Schaefer’s Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett still retails for under $25!).

Tasting notes follow below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »