Wine Writing in 2020: Where Do We Stand?

The pandemic has disrupted and ruined so many well-laid plans. One of mine was to attend the Wine Media Conference in Oregon this summer, where I was slated to talk about the past and future of wine blogging. So much for that!

But all is not lost, and the WMC has shifted gears to become a virtual event for the first time. And what’s more, they’re making it free. It begins on Thursday, August 20th, and continues through Saturday, August 22nd.

As part of this new incarnation of the long-running conference for wine communicators I will be moderating a panel of wine writing personalities to discuss the state of wine writing and to share personal stories of how this year has impacted wine writers.

Here’s the official description of the session:

2020 has proven to be a crazy year with a pandemic, recession, and Black Lives Matter protests. And we are just over halfway through. These events have affected everyone in the world, including wine writers. We’ll talk to several of them to hear their views on the turbulence affecting the world, how their year has been affected, what they are doing to adjust, and how they are planning for 2021. Our panelists include moderator Alder Yarrow of Vinography, Max Allen from Australia, Thaddeus Buggs, and R.H. Drexel.

My session will take place on Saturday, August 22nd at 2 PM Pacific / 5 PM Eastern. You can register to attend for free on the WMC Virtual Conference web site.

I hope you’ll join me and some of my fellow wine writers for a conversation about where we’ve been and where we’re going.

The post Wine Writing in 2020: Where Do We Stand? appeared first on Vinography.

Vinography Images: Juicy Beginnings

Juicy Beginnings
LOMPOC, CA: Chardonnay grapes are dumped into a hopper during crush in the area affectionately known as the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, a concentrated industrial zone that plays host to more than 40 wineries and wine tasting rooms in Santa Barbara County. The 2020 harvest has started in earnest this past week, as a massive hot and humid weather system looms over California.

INSTRUCTIONS:
Download this image by right-clicking on the image and selecting “save link as” or “save target as” and then select the desired location on your computer to save the image. Mac users can also just click the image to open the full size view and drag that to their desktops.

To set the image as your desktop wallpaper, Mac users should follow these instructions, while PC users should follow these.

BUY THE BOOK:
This image is from a series of photographs by George Rose captured in the process of shooting his most recent work WINE COUNTRY: Santa Barbara County, a visual celebration of one of California’s most beautiful wine regions. The book can be ordered on George’s web site.

PRINTS:
Fine art prints of this image and others are available at George Rose’s web site: www.georgerose.com.

EDITORIAL USE:
To purchase copies of George’s photos for editorial, web, or advertising use, please contact Getty Images.

ABOUT VINOGRAPHY IMAGES:
Vinography regularly features images by photographer George Rose for readers’ personal use as desktop backgrounds or screen savers. We hope you enjoy them. Please respect the copyright on these images. These images are not to be reposted on any web site or blog without the express permission of the photographer.

The post Vinography Images: Juicy Beginnings appeared first on Vinography.

Explore The Spectrum of Napa Cabernet With Me, Aug 27th

There’s a reason that Napa Valley now boasts 16 distinct American Viticultural Areas. The valley’s diversity of soils, microclimates, and topology make for a rich variety of growing sites, each providing winemakers with different characteristics to utilize in crafting expressive wines. Do these smaller growing regions within Napa have distinct personalities that growers recognize? Are there regional flavor signatures that we can taste in the wines?

In pursuit of answers to these questions and hopefully an interesting and educational discussion, I’m hosting a free virtual seminar in conjunction with the Napa Valley Vintners association on August 27th at 10:00 AM Pacific Time. I’ll be joined by some top Napa Cabernet producers: Alison Rodriguez from The Hess Collection, Jonathan Pey from TEXTBOOK, Beth Novak Milliken from Spottswoode, Priyanka French from Signorello, and Reilly Keenan from Keenan Winery.

If you’d like to join us, please RSVP here. Also, if you’d like to purchase the wines we’re tasting in advance, you’ll find links to do so on that page. That’s not required to attend, nor to get something out of the session, but it certainly will make for a more tasty experience.

You may want to check out other talks in this series, entitled Napa Valley Sessions, on the Napa Valley Vintners web site.

See you online in a couple of weeks!

The post Explore The Spectrum of Napa Cabernet With Me, Aug 27th appeared first on Vinography.

Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 8/9/20

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren’t Flipboard inclined, here’s everything I’ve strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

The Real Threat to Wine Sales is Being Ignored
Rob McMillan says we all need to tell the government something.

Walla Walla Confronts Phylloxera
The battle continues.

Portugal’s Vintners on the Forefront of Climate Change
Hotter, sooner.

The Judgment of Paris demonstrated nothing, statistically speaking
Except maybe the difference between statistics and news.

Adapting the Winery Experience to Make Guests Feel Safe During COVID-19
Examples of what people are doing.

North Coast 2020 grape harvest kicks off amid coronavirus concerns
The toughest harvest, perhaps?

From an Australian optimist
After the fires.

Carmen Stevens challenges the status quo
Q&A with another super hero.

North Coast wine grape harvest begins, and outlook for smaller crop is welcomed
Because labor will be short.

Lebanon’s deeply troubled wine sector
Drink Lebanese!

Michael Karam: Why Lebanon, its people & its wines deserve our help
Drink More Lebanese!

What Will Our Bars Become?
About cocktails but relevant to wine.

France’s changing wine industry
Running the numbers.

Battling the Shame of the Rosé
The premise of this article is off.

Beloved Wine Industry Pioneer, Warner Henry, Passes Away at Age 82
Helluva portfolio he built.

Wine Joins the 2020 Debate Over Privilege and Justice
Fascinating story.

California Rolls Out its Toughest Vintage
The COVID vintage.

The Industry Set Itself Up for a ‘Clean Wine’ Reckoning
Erica has some salient points to make.

France Will Spend Nearly $300 Million to Save Its Wine Industry
What are they spending to rescue the restaurant industry?

Sommelier Roundtable: Wine Surprises and Discoveries in Unusual Times
Survey of seven.

Glass Half Empty: Italy, France Seek Premium Wine Output Cut as Virus Hits Sales
The economics of COVID play out.

Bringing the Space Race to the Vineyard
Arguing about data.

This summer, orange (wine) is the new pink
The Japanese are turning orange.

Restaurants in Italy are reopening ancient ‘wine windows’ used during the plague
Not sure whether I want to patronize one, or open one.

Pretty in pink: the rise of rosé
Andrew Jefford on the turnaround.

Lebanon Is Producing Excellent Mountain Wines
Drink Lebanese more!

This Beachy Sliver of Sonoma Is Becoming One of America’s Most Important New Wine Regions
Go West!

These Black-Owned Wine Brands Are Producing Some Stellar Bottles For Summer
A shopping list, of sorts.

Covid Online Wine Boom Fizzles Out
Well, at least as online searches go. Let’s see the sales numbers.

How to repel fruit flies using wine corks
Now that’s a hack I have to try.

The post Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 8/9/20 appeared first on Vinography.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/2/20

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week is a bit of a continuation of last week’s Riesling fest, but with some other interesting things thrown in. I suppose I should admit that a couple of these wines this week were frankly lost in the cellar for a while. It is not uncommon for a bottle or three or five to continually get shifted to the bottom of the pile of samples just by happenstance, and therefore wait quite some time for a review.

That’s certainly true of the first wine this week, so with apologies to maestro Randall Grahm, I’m just now tasting his 2018 Picpoul bottling which is charming and quite fun to drink even with a little age on it.

I’ve also got a lovely Pinot Blanc from German producer Maximin Grünhaus in the Mosel river valley, which is definitely a great choice for anyone looking for a Chardonnay alternative with a bit more crispness.

Now for a brief slate of Rieslings. (See what I did there?).

The star of this week’s Riesling show is definitely the Maximin Grünhaus single vineyard “Herrenberg” Kabinett, which achieves what really great Riesling can do—transcending a little sweetness to be somehow ethereal, like the scent of white blossoms on the night air.

It’s a little hard, therefore to compare that producer’s more entry-level “Monopol” Riesling to it, but it’s a worthy entrant itself.

In addition, I’ve got the dry Fritz Haag Riesling, also from the Mosel valley which has a lovely balance that I think hits the perfect note for the fully dry “Trocken” style.

Moving into reds this week, another lost bottle was the 2017 Chateau Maris “La Touge” their entry-level, schist-planted Syrah, that has all the dark brooding savoriness and salinity that you would want in a biodynamically-farmed Syrah from southern France. It’s an interesting comparison to the flagship Syrah bottling from one of California’s masters of the form Qupé vineyards in Santa Barbara County. Perhaps not surprisingly, the California wine is more fruit-forward, but it has its own savory edge that keeps it from being too jammy.

Lastly, but certainly not least this week, I’ve got a couple of wines from the extremely popular and well-lauded Washington State producer Quilceda Creek. Their Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is bright and juicy as is the slightly more oak-influenced “Palengat” which features a touch of Cabernet Franc blended in for interest.

Enjoy!

Tasting Notes

2018 Bonny Doon Vineyard “Beeswax Vineyard” Picpoul, Arroyo Seco, Central Coast, California
Palest greenish-gold in the glass, this wine smells of grapefruit and white flowers. In the mouth, cheery grapefruit and star fruit flavors have a delicate acidity and a silky heft, like a touch of baby fat. Floral and pretty. 11% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $16. click to buy.

2018 Maximin Grünhaus Pinot Blanc, Mosel, Germany
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of star fruit, celery and unripe apples. In the mouth, green apple, chamomile, and pear skin flavors have a nice snap thanks to very good acidity. There’s a honeyed note in the finish. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2018 Fritz Haag Riesling Trocken, Mosel, Germany
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of mandarin orange oil and wet felt. In the mouth, juicy acidity enlivens flavors of unripe pear, green apple, and pomelo pith, even as a faint honeyed note steals across the palate. Bone dry, but beautifully balanced and not austere in the least. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $19. click to buy.

2018 Maximin Grünhaus “Monopol” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of unripe apples and citrus pith. In the mouth, tart and zingy citrus and crab apple flavors are mouthwatering thanks to excellent acidity that has a steely edge to it. Slightly austere, but seemingly quite dry and quite tasty. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2018 Maximin Grünhaus “Herrenberg” Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle and jasmine. In the mouth, crystalline flavors of mandarin orange and honeysuckle have a gorgeous bright acidity and deeply glassy minerality that is stunning and delicious. Clean, crisp, and lightly sweet, this is regal Riesling. 8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2017 Chateau Maris “La Touge” Syrah, Minervois la Liviniere, Languedoc, France
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of rusted metal, meat, and cassis. In the mouth, blackberry and cassis flavors have a nice stony underbelly to them, with excellent acidity and a nice savory herbal umami character in the finish. Excellent. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $16. click to buy.

2017 Qupé “Bien Nacido Hillside Estate” Syrah, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of white pepper, leather, and black cherry. In the mouth, savory herbal notes mix with black cherry and blackberry flavors under a leathery throw of tannins. Notes of lavender and blueberries linger in the finish. This is a wine just beginning its journey towards excellence. Very good acidity. 14% alcohol. 450 cases of (ahem) rather heavy bottles made Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2017 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis with hints of floral notes. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and cassis mix with chopped herbs and leathery, muscular tannins. Notes of licorice and orange peel linger in the finish as excellent acidity makes the mouth water. 14.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $160. click to buy.

2017 Quilceda Creek “Palengat” Red Blend, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry and oak. In the mouth, rich black cherry and cola flavors mix with the toasty vanilla of new oak. Fine-grained tannins buff the edges of the mouth, and good acidity keeps the rich, ripe fruit lively. Somewhat rich and woody for my taste, but an excellent wine. A blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $150. click to buy.

The post Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/2/20 appeared first on Vinography.

Hungarian Wine Authorities Don’t Seem to Know Anything About Wine

The people in charge of Hungarian wine seem to believe that orange wine, pétillant naturel, natural wines, low-sulfur wines, and other experimental approaches to wine are abominations and mistakes.

According to an article recently published in the Winemaking Notebook, a free publication by the Hungarian Alcoholic Beverages and Wineries Directorate, Kalman Meszaros, the head of this organization (pictured above) believes that any winemaker with any professional pride would never make a white wine with extended skin contact.

“Before [the fall of Communism], vintners were actually fired if they failed to process the incoming grapes soon after arrival,” Meszaros was quoted as saying in this article.

The Hungarian Alcoholic Beverages and Wineries Directorate is part of the larger organization of the Hungarian National Food Chain Safety Office known by its local acronym: NEBIH.

The article in question serves largely to explain what NEBIH does with regards to testing and certifying Hungarian wines, how it is doing that during COVID, and to offer a lot of self-congratulations about how they’re helping Hungarian winemakers.

“We are also part of the wine industry, and we are organized around the success of winemakers,” says Meszaros, explaining that the quality of Hungarian wine improves each year thanks to his laboratory testing and quality controls.

Most wines pass our tests. The characteristic mistakes are mostly done by the ‘pioneers’. Orange wine is such a typical example, as well as sparkling wine made without disgorging. There was even someone who said that there was interest for wine without added hydrogen-sulfide.

Kalman Meszaros, NEBIH Director

Of course, there are some places where quality is not improving according to Meszaros, which are mostly the smaller wineries who “sold wine at premium prices but the wines are not premium in quality.”

“Most wines pass our tests,” continued Meszaros. “The characteristic mistakes are mostly done by the ‘pioneers’. Orange wine is such a typical example as well as sparkling wine made without disgorging. There was even someone who said that there was interest for wine without added hydrogen-sulfide.”

Orange wine is a problem, not only because it is “decaying” (to use the Meszaros’ words) but also because the very term is misleading to consumers. “Many associate [orange wine] with citrus flavours because of the name, which they will definitely not find in them. Those not familiar with it will not know that the wine is made of grapes, they can think that it has something to do with oranges,” says the article.

If you’re not laughing (or crying) by now, wait until you hear the description of how wine was so great under communism because it was consistent for the consumer. And, oh, if we could only go back to those days….

“Prior to [the fall of Communism] our domestic market was dominated by typical wines,” suggests the article. “Then with the family wineries [who were finally allowed to operate when the wall came down] a certain ‘colourfulness’ appeared. However, it is typical that the consumer expects the same quality time and time again. According to [Meszaros], this could even be achieved with OEM wines that could be ‘constructed’ to achieve a certain flavour-type.”

Issues With Regional Certification Bodies

Most countries around the world (with the notable exception of the United States) define their appellations not only with geographical indications but also other regulations regarding the production of wines, which in many cases include stylistic definitions.

When a country decides to institute a formal set of geographical indications, or regulated delimitations that define specific wine growing areas, the regulations associated with this controlled appellation system are usually developed and overseen by a governmental body.

France, for instance, has the INAO, or the Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité, which is responsible for overseeing France’s appellation d’orgine protégée system that covers not only wine but cheese, honey, meat, etc.

By and large, these organizations, and the smaller consortia that exist at the level of individual regions, have historically been a positive influence in the world of wine, thanks to their defense of and advocacy for regional winemaking traditions, and the regulations that prevent them from being victims of pure market opportunism. Brunello di Montalcino, for instance, decided to not allow any other grapes to join the traditional Sangiovese in its wines. Whereas the Rioja region decided in 2009 to allow other white grapes to be used to make Rioja Blanco because, among other things, there were judged to not be enough acres of the traditional Viura, Malvasia, and Garnacha Blanca varieties planted to allow the style to survive.

Most everywhere (again, apart from the United States) winemakers wishing to put a particular geographical indication, or appellation, on their label, must submit a sample of wine and paperwork to their regional certification body, who certify, or grant permission for that winemaker to label their wine appropriately.

One of the more controversial aspects of this process is known as the sensory panel, in which a wine is tasted by a panel of judges who can make two separate determinations: whether that wine is commercially sound (i.e. free of flaws) and whether the wine conforms to the typical “style” of a given region or class of wine from that region.

If the sensory panel doesn’t think the wine conforms to their idea of a good example of the form the winemaker is unable to label the wine with the appellation where it is made, often resulting in either not being able to sell the wine for as much money, or in some cases not being able to sell the wine at all.

A number of public fights with regional certification bodies have occurred over the years, as winemakers have fought to get their experiments, or merely their personal vision for what good wine, allowed to bear the name of their particular appellations. When winemakers disagree with the standards and judgment of their certifying organizations, they sometimes declassify their wines, choosing to label them with more generic appellations that have much broader rules about what is and what is not allowed. In 1996, Angelo Gaja famously declassified many of his wines, choosing to label them as Langhe Nebbiolo instead of the much more prestigious Barolo, because of his stated desire to include a small amount of Barbera in the Nebbiolo to improve the acid balance.

More recently a trend of declassification has swept the natural winemaking communities in several European countries in response to widespread rejection from sensory panels in their various regions. In the wide world of wine, the definition of what is “good wine,” remains subject to a lot of interpretation.

And the problem, of course, to come back to the sad state of affairs in Hungary, is that there’s a big difference between the way that wine looks to food safety professionals and the way that it looks to winemakers and their organizations.

Poor Kalman Meszaros literally doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about. He’s busy prosecuting food safety issues with a 30-year-old playbook that says if something he tests falls outside of the parameters on his clipboard, it must not be wine. He’s clearly swept away by the romance of the wine world, and ignorantly believes himself to be a wine professional because he deals with wine, when in fact he doesn’t have the faintest idea. If he did, he wouldn’t make statements like “Winemaking is a practice older than ten thousand years where there are basic rules and cornerstones” while at the same time describing skin-macerated white wine (aka orange wine—literally one of the most ancient winemaking techniques still employed) as faulty or “decaying.”

Regional wine certification boards all around the world suffer from some degree of such ailments, as is common with any government bureaucratic institution. The people being asked to regulate the wine industry often remain quite out of touch with the constantly changing nature of the wine world, and far too often simply fall back on extremely conservative notions that may be time tested, while increasingly irrelevant.

My heart goes out to all my Hungarian winemaking friends. Orange wine, pét-nat, natural, and low-sulfur wine are all legitimate and exciting forms of wine. A country like Hungary, with some of the oldest traditions of legislated wine quality in the world and dozens of compelling local grape varieties shouldn’t be thwarting its winemaking community from tapping into global trends and exploring the possibilities of the raw materials they have been given.

Hungarian wine has had an uphill journey to return to quality since the end of the Cold War. The last thing it needs is small-minded bureaucrats trying to drag it back to that era.

Many thanks to Eva Cartwright for translation of the article from Hungarian to English.

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Vinography Images: Gibbous Noir

Gibbous Noir
SANTA MARIA, CA: The gibbous moon rises over Pinot Noir vineyards at Bien Nacido near Santa Maria, California. Bien Nacido sits on the end of an east-west transverse mountain range, making it effectively a maritime-influenced desert. The morning fog cover and the cool afternoon breezes from the Pacific Ocean make it an extremely cool site, which offers very long, slow maturation for Pinot Noir and other cool-climate varieties.

INSTRUCTIONS:
Download this image by right-clicking on the image and selecting “save link as” or “save target as” and then select the desired location on your computer to save the image. Mac users can also just click the image to open the full size view and drag that to their desktops.

To set the image as your desktop wallpaper, Mac users should follow these instructions, while PC users should follow these.

BUY THE BOOK:
This image is from a series of photographs by George Rose captured in the process of shooting his most recent work WINE COUNTRY: Santa Barbara County, a visual celebration of one of California’s most beautiful wine regions. The book can be ordered on George’s web site.

PRINTS:
Fine art prints of this image and others are available at George Rose’s web site: www.georgerose.com.

EDITORIAL USE:
To purchase copies of George’s photos for editorial, web, or advertising use, please contact Getty Images.

ABOUT VINOGRAPHY IMAGES:
Vinography regularly features images by photographer George Rose for readers’ personal use as desktop backgrounds or screen savers. We hope you enjoy them. Please respect the copyright on these images. These images are not to be reposted on any web site or blog without the express permission of the photographer.

The post Vinography Images: Gibbous Noir appeared first on Vinography.

Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 8/3/20

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren’t Flipboard inclined, here’s everything I’ve strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

Milla Handley, The “Pioneer Queen” Of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir And Handley Cellars Founder, Dies At 68
A very sad loss, far too early. F*ck you, COVID.

As France’s wine industry contracts, an incalculable cultural loss
Robert Joseph tallies the damage.

From Champagne to Japan: Richard Geoffroy releases his first sake
Very interesting career move.

What will the world of luxury look like in the new normal?
Even more exclusive, probably.

As Champagne Sales Plummet, Producers May Throw Away Tons of Unused Grapes
Expect lots of extra aging in the bottle….100m bottles or so.

As Wine Country harvest approaches, farmworkers continue to pay high pandemic price
The wine industry has a front line, too.

South African Wine Businesses Launch DTC Platform
While others turn to bootlegging.

How Our Changing Times Are Changing Wine
Thoughts from a Houston sommelier.

Phylloxera Breakthrough Brings Hope to Vineyards
It’s a start. We’ve got the DNA sequenced now.

What Is a Great Wine? Verdicchio di Matelica Has Some Ideas
Eric Asimov on complexity.

4 Black Sommeliers Share Their Perfect Pour and How the Industry is Changing
More stories of inspiration.

Elin McCoy: Why wine matters
Elin’s last column for Decanter

The Goopification of grapes: why ‘clean wine’ is a scam
Felicity Carter, like me, uses the word scam quite deliberately.

Rediscovering Tuscany’s Forgotten Classic
Those of us who can’t afford as much Brunello as we’d like haven’t forgotten it.

What is Natural Wine?
Jim Clarke’s take on the regulations.

Foley Johnson winery in Napa Valley closes after worker tests positive for coronavirus
Not under control yet.

Wine Knowledge and Culture: Are They Related?
A very interesting article about the correlation between a “culture” of wine and knowing something about it.

France’s 8-Year-Olds Head Off to Wine School
Teaching wine to third graders. Awesome.

Why champagne houses are in a tussle with vineyard owners in northeastern France
Another take on Champagne’s current woes.

Man Sends Empty Bottle of ’Suspicious’ Mouton for Verification
But is he the victim or the future fraudster?

Microbiologists clarify relationship between microbial diversity and soil carbon storage
More evidence for the benefits of living soil health.

Natural wine’s (inevitable, problematic) entry into the ‘wellness’ industry is here
Esther has more to say on Clean Wine.

Champagne losing its fizz as global pandemic clobbers sales
Yet one more take on Champagne’s struggles.

Wine Girl Author Victoria James: 10 Questions on Where We’re Headed
James talks with Dottie and John.

COVID Bringing a Painful Evolution to the Wine Business
Evolution does hurt.

The post Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 8/3/20 appeared first on Vinography.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 7/26/20

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

It’s Riesling week! Or mostly Riesling, as I dig into a big chunk of German samples that came my way recently. We’ve got several key German wine regions represented this week with a wide range of wines, from entry-level to top-tier single-vineyard bottlings.

Just as a reminder for those of you who aren’t used to the Prädikat, or ripeness designations for German wines that suggest the level of sweetness you might find in a wine: Trocken means dry, or with barely perceptible residual sugar, while Kabinett is a bit sweeter, and Spatlese, sweeter still. I don’t have any Auslese wines this week (which is the next notch up the ripeness scale), but I do have a nicely aged Beerenauslese-style wine, which is a step above Auslese, and is made from berries fully affected by the noble rot, botrytis cinerea.

With that, let’s move on to the wines.

Before we get into the Rieslings, I’ve got a pretty nice little Pinot Gris from Villa Wolf in the Pfalz region of Germany. The wine isn’t horribly complicated, but it does the trick for anyone looking for a crisp and tasty aperitif wine or something simple for a sunny day.

Also in the non-Riesling department, Villa Wolf has a pitch-perfect rosé of Pinot Noir that is a match for top pink wines everywhere, and will satisfy any rosé enthusiast. Chill it down, snap off that screw cap, and get busy enjoying summer.

For starters, I’ve got three entry-level Rieslings from Villa Wolf in the Pfalz and Fritz Haag and Maximin Grünhaus in the Mosel. Each of these wines has distinct character, with the Villa Wolf leaning towards the green apple side of the flavor spectrum, while the two Mosel wines have that characteristic petrol and citrus character that marks many Mosel rieslings. All are decent, affordable, and pleasant expressions of Riesling.

But let’s take it to the next level, shall we?

Some entries from Weingut Robert Weil add yet another German wine region to the list this week, the Rheingau. Robert Weil is a venerable, if somewhat newer producer in the region, the family having only made wine in the region since 1875!

I’ve got two Riesling Trockens from Weil, the Keidricher and the Keidrich Turmberg. The estate is located in the town of Keidrich, which lends its name to both of these wines. The first is a mix of different Keidrich vineyard sides, hence “Keidricher,” while the second is from the Turmberg vineyard in Keidrich. Both are excellent, but the Turmberg offers a particularly refined and delicate expression of Riesling.

Next we’ve got two wines made from the same vineyard, but simply picked at different ripeness levels. The Abstberg vineyard (which translates to “abbots hill”) in the Mosel is one of Germanys grand cru vineyards, designated by the Grosse Lage (literally “great site”) designation by the VDP organization whose job it is to decide such things. Maximin Grünhaus makes several Rieslings from this prominent, incredibly steep sloping hill of blue slate that has been planted with vines for more than 1000 years. Both their Kabinett and Spätlese bottlings are superb and wonderful studies in the role of ripeness in wine. Somehow, as can sometimes be the case, the wine with more sugar (the Spätlese) has a lightness and a lift to is that its slightly-less ripe sibling does not. Both are utterly delicious, however, so it’s hard to go wrong.

A few river bends away, in the town of Brauneberg, Weingut Fritz Haag, under the direction of Oliver and Wilhelm Haag, farms another well-known stretch of riverbank known as the Juffer Vineyard (shown in the image above, from my visit there in 2012). In the heart of the Juffer Vineyard, on one of its steepest slopes, sits a huge sundial, the Juffer Sonnenuhr. In an interesting comparison, I’ve got Spätlese wines from the two main sections of the vineyard — same riverbank, same grapes, same ripeness, but just a slightly different section of the vineyard. And the difference is clear. Both are excellent wines, but the section of vineyard surrounding the sundial has something special, which is why it has been picked separately for decades.

Lastly, let’s return briefly to the Rheingau for Hans Lang’s “Nobilis” bottling of Riesling. This wine is a dessert course in itself, moderately, but not cloyingly sweet, offering the many great flavors that botrytis can bring to Riesling with the mellowing effects of age. If you want a sip of liquid sunshine, see if you can find a bottle of this stuff.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy!

Tasting notes

2018 Villa Wolf Pinot Gris, Pfalz, Germany
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of freshly cut pear, wet chalkboard and pomelo pith. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of pear and Asian pear mix with a hint of woody, herbal tone. Grapefruit citrusy notes linger in the finish. Pleasant and tasty. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2018 Villa Wolf Riesling, Pfalz, Germany
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of unripe apples, lime zest and white flowers. In the mouth, green apple and Asian pear flavors mix with white flowers and a crisp wet pavement minerality. Very faint sweetness, mostly aromatic, with the mouth left feeling slightly chalky and dry. 11% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5 . Cost: $15. click to buy.

2018 Fritz Haag Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of ripe apples, citrus peel and a hint of kerosene. In the mouth, green apple, Asian pear, and mandarin orange flavors have a crisp snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. The wine has a faint aromatic sweetness but comes across as entirely dry, with a clean, floral finish. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.

2018 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhaus “Maximin” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of diesel and citrus zest. In the mouth, apple and tangerine flavors have a nice silky texture and a faint aromatic sweetness to them. Wet chalkboard minerality creeks into the finish, leaving the mouth somewhat parched and chalky. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2018 Robert Weil “Keidricher” Riesling Trocken, Rheingau, Germany
Pale blonde in color, this wine smells of mandarin orange zest and a hint of paraffin. In the mouth, Asian pear, mandarin zest and grapefruit flavors have an angular sharpness to them thanks to aggressive acidity. Steely notes linger in the finish, along with citrus zest. Mouthwatering, and slightly austere, but excellent. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2018 Robert Weil “Keidrich Turmberg” Riesling Trocken, Rheingau, Germany
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, wet chalkboard, and star fruit. In the mouth, gorgeously filigreed flavors of lime zest, Asian pear, white flowers and citrus pith have fantastic balance and poise with beautiful acidity and length. Outstanding. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $54. click to buy.

2018 Maxmin Grünhaus “Abtsberg VDP Grosse Lage” Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of paraffin, honey and exotic citrus. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of honeysuckle, Asian pear and wet chalkboard are mouthwatering thanks to excellent acidity. Beautifully floral finish. 8.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2018 Maxmin Grünhaus “Abtsberg VDP Grosse Lage” Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of honeysuckle and candle wax. In the mouth, beautifully silky flavors of honey and rainwater mix with mandarin orange oil and Asian pear. Beautiful wet chalkboard minerality leaves the mouth feeling clean and refreshed with scents of white flowers and honey. Moderately sweet. 8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $44. click to buy.

2018 Fritz Haag “Brauneberger Juffer” Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of pink bubblegum and linalool. In the mouth, lightly sweeter flavors of green apple, Asian pear and tangerine have a gorgeous acidity and beautiful crystalline mineral quality to them. Floral notes linger in the finish. Excellent. 8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $31. click to buy.

2018 Fritz Haag “Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr” Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of paraffin and citrus zest. In the mouth, beautifully bright flavors of Asian pear, white flowers and rainwater have an ethereal lightness to them, an incredible delicacy that seems intricate and weightless. Lightly to moderately sweet, the wine’s finish is clean and crisp, with a distinct and pervasive minerality. Utterly compelling. 7.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $37. click to buy.

2011 Hans Lang “Hattenheimer Hassel – Nobilis” Riesling Beerenauslese, Rheingau, Germany
Light amber in the glass, this wine smells of orange marmalade and apricots. In the mouth, silky, slightly weighty flavors of honey, apricot, and canned peaches have enough acidity to keep from being cloying, but they’re still pretty sweet. The finish is clean and tastes of candied citrus peel. 9.5% alcohol. Tasted out of a 375ml bottle. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $149. click to buy.

2018 Villa Wolf Rosé of Pinot Noir, Pfalz, Germany
A pale peachy pink in the glass, this wine smells of strawberry and watermelon rind. In the mouth, crisp berry and watermelon flavors have a nice zing to them thanks to excellent acidity. Silky textured, but eminently snappy, this is a winner of a pink wine. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.

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Vinography Images: Happy Grapes

Happy Grapes
LOMPOC, CA: Pinot Noir grapes grow plump and ripe in a Sta. Rita Hills vineyard near Lompoc, California. The Sta. Rita Hills contains approximately 3000 acres of Pinot Noir, a grape that is particularly suited for the cool maritime climate with its fog influence from the nearby Pacific Ocean.

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This image is from a series of photographs by George Rose captured in the process of shooting his most recent work WINE COUNTRY: Santa Barbara County, a visual celebration of one of California’s most beautiful wine regions. The book can be ordered on George’s web site.

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