Vinography Unboxed: Week of 1/17/20

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 might as well be called German Riesling week, or for that matter. Dr. Loosen week. I grabbed a lot of tall bottles to taste this week.

But before we get deep into the Rieslings, I’ve got a couple of other fresh white wines for you.

The first is the positively charming Pinot Blanc (aka Weissburgunder) made by Wittmann in Germany’s Rheinhessen region. The “100 Hills” is a second, more value-oriented label from this venerable producer, but the wines are quite high quality as this Pinot Blanc and the other dry Riesling below demonstrate. The Pinot Blanc, in particular, goes down extremely easy, especially for less than twenty bucks.

I’ve also got a Gëwurztraminer from Villa Wolf, Ernie Loosen’s property in the Pfalz region of Germany. This one is textbook in its lovely lychee and orange peel freshness, and while perhaps not quite as brisk as I would like, it certainly offers a wonderful aromatic freshness that avoids the cloying qualities that can mark poorly made examples of the grape.

OK, shall we drink some Riesling?

Let’s start with the Wittmann Estate Riesling Trocken, a bone-dry and very mineral-driven expression of Riesling that, despite a touch of austerity, manages to be quite tasty, especially for the price.

Then we’ve got a couple of the value Rieslings from Dr. Loosen that are affectionately labeled “Dr. L” — a dry version and an off-dry version, both of which have their charms, but I found myself gravitating to the dry version. At $12, it’s pretty difficult to argue with either.

Stepping up a notch in price, we then proceed to the Red Slate and Blue Slate bottlings of Mosel Riesling from Dr. Loosen, which are both excellent but the Blue Slate has something quite special in character, offering incredible quality for the price.

And then finally we finish our Riesling tour with two outstanding single-vineyard expressions of the Mosel River Valley from Dr. Loosen: the Erdener Treppchen vineyard, which is one of the region’s steepest vineyards, named after the stone stairs (ladder?) that workers had to install in order to make it up the precipitous slopes; and the famous Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard, with its namesake sundial in the midst of the slope. Both Rieslings are cracking with acidity and offer that kind of weightlessness that great Riesling achieves on the best slate soils and in competent hands.

But wait! There’s more. Just in case anyone felt bereft without a red wine this week, I also opened Wittmann’s Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir to us Americans) and found it to be a tart, savory mouthful of herbs and berries, and one that grew on me with some air and time.

Notes on all these below.

Tasting Notes

2018 Wittmann “100 Hills” Pinot Blanc, Rheinhessen, Germany
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon zest and white flowers. In the mouth, juicy and aromatically sweet flavors of lemon curd, pink grapefruit, and meyer lemonade have a lovely brisk bite to them thanks to excellent acidity. Labeled as dry, but comes off as evert-so-faintly-sweet, and rather charming because of it. 13% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2018 Villa Wolf Gewürztraminer, Pfalz, Germany
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of candied orange peel and roses. In the mouth, flavors of lychee, orange peel, and rose petals have a very faint sweetness to them that is more aromatic than it is sugary. Good acidity keeps this wine quite light on its feet, but I found myself wishing for more zip to it. The lovely floral aromatics are hard to argue with, however. 11.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2018 Wittmann “100 Hills” Dry Riesling, Rheinhessen, Germany
Pale greenish-gold in the glass, this wine smells of tangerine oil and mandarin zest. In the mouth, flavors of Asian pear and mandarin oranges are backed by a wet slate minerality and served up on a silky texture. I wish there were a bit more bright acidity here, but this is a competent and tasty wine. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2018 Wittmann “Estate” Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany
Light gold in color, this wine smells of tangerine oil and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, silky flavors of Asian pear, grapefruit, and mandarin orange pith are zippy thanks to excellent acidity. Wonderfully dry, without any trace of sweetness, there’s a wet chalkboard quality that lingers in the finish along with citrus pith. Quite lean, but very pretty. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $23. click to buy.

2018 Dr. L Dry Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and citrus pith. In the mouth, flavors of citrus pith, rainwater, and wet chalkboard have a wonderfully bright crystalline quality to them, as mandarin orange pith and grapefruit pith notes emerge towards the finish. Light and zingy, thanks to excellent acidity. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2018 Dr. L Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of candle wax, wet chalkboard, and a spritz of citrus oil. In the mouth, light to moderately sweet flavors of Asian pear, lemongrass, and oyster shell manage to retain a little saline quality, like a touch of oyster “liqueur” remaining in the shell that eventually gives way to star fruit and Asian pear flavors to linger in the finish. Good, but not fantastic acidity. 8.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2018 Dr. Loosen “Red Slate” Dry Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon cucumber, wet chalkboard, and unripe pear. In the mouth, crackling acidity makes flavors of grapefruit pith and unripe pear shimmer with electricity and give way to a deeply stony underbelly. Hints of kumquat linger in the finish with that fruit’s astringent citrus bite. Perhaps slightly austere, but quite a pretty wine. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 1/17/20

2018 Dr. Loosen “Blue Slate” Riesling Kabinett Mosel, Germany
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet pavement and white flowers with a hint of citrus. In the mouth, honeysuckle and Asian pear flavors mix with a touch of ruby grapefruit and mandarin orange. Excellent acidity makes this wine quartz-like in its clarity. Very pretty. 8.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2018 Dr. Loosen “Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Light greenish-gold in the glass, this wine smells of mandarin oil, Asian pear, and a touch of candle wax. In the mouth, the wine bursts with Asian pear, tangerine, and honeysuckle flavors, as electric acidity makes the mouth water unstoppably. Incredibly juicy, with a stony underbelly that gives the wine a weightless, crystalline quality that is quite compelling. Fantastic. 9% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2018 Dr. Loosen “Erdener Treppchen Kabinett” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of mandarin oil, mandarin zest, and Asian pears. In the mouth, flavors of star fruit, Asian pears, lemon cucumber, and white flowers have a moderate sweetness that fades quickly towards a perception of dryness thanks to the stony acidity that pervades the wine. The dusty flavor of wet chalkboard lingers in the finish. Like many great Rieslings, this has a weightlessness to it that is breathtaking. 8.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $28. click to buy.

2017 Wittmann Spätburgunder, Rheinhessen, Germany
Light ruby in color the point of easily being mistaken for a rosé, this wine smells of comfrey, red berries, and chopped herbs. In the mouth, notes of dried herbs, redcurrant, and citrus peel have a light, bouncy quality thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a faint bitterness that lingers in the finish with a hint of licorice root flavor and dried herbs. Lean and savory, with barely perceptible tannins. While many might not peg this as Pinot Noir, it is nonetheless a pleasant wine to drink. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $38. click to buy.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 11/22/20

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 past week included wines from all over the place. But let’s start quite close to home, at least for me. Urban Legend Cellars is a small operation working out of the “wine ghetto” on the island of Alameda, near Oakland. Run by the husband-and-wife team of Steve & Marilee Shaffer, who are “recovering” engineers from Silicon Valley who decided they wanted to make wine. They purchase grapes from a wide range of sources, and make a number of wines, including this Vermentino, from the Clements Hills sub-AVA in Lodi. It’s quite fresh and tasty, and might easily convert anyone to Vermentino’s charms.

A little farther afield I’ve got a cracking Chardonnay from J. Christopher Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which illustrates perfectly why people are so excited about Oregon Chardonnay. It’s crisp and citrusy, and gorgeous.

You could say the same thing about the Dr. Loosen Riesling from the famed “spice garden” vineyard, Ürziger Würtzgarten, in Germany’s Mosel River Valley. One of Germany’s more famous sites for Riesling, made by one of Germany’s more famous names makes for a scintillating example of the form.

Let’s move on to reds.

Before I dive deep into a pool of Syrah, I’ve got a Pinot from J. Christopher winery that will be of interest to anyone who likes their Pinot Noirs more on the savory, earthy side.

I was recently sent a number of Côtes-du-Rhônes, which were a lovely reminder of how I really should be drinking more of them. All were compelling, from the lean dark fruit flavors of Stephane Ogier’s rendition, to the more savory, brooding qualities of Delas Frere’s interpretation.

But my favorite example of Côtes-du-Rhône comes from Clos Bellane, a small organic producer that sits at more than 1200 feet of elevation on steep, limestone slopes outside the village of Valréas, which sits in the northern part of the southern Rhone wine region.

Vigneron Stephane Vedeau purchased the Clos Bellane estate in 2007 and is making really remarkable wines there, as this, his entry-level wine, demonstrates. It’s wonderfully aromatic, incredibly fresh and bright, and just a delight to drink. And at between $16 and $20, it’s a shockingly great value.

Back on this continent, I was really delighted to see just how fresh the Owen Roe “Ex Umbris” Columbia Valley Syrah was in its expression of boisterous blackberry fruit. A bit father south in Oregon’s Applegate Valley, Troon Vineyard is making whole-cluster fermented Syrah where you can really taste the influence of the stems, making for a savory interpretation of the grape.

Lastly, I’ve got one of the regal wines of Taurasi, the Piano di Montevergine from venerable producer Feudi di San Gregorio. This wine comes from the estate’s oldest plantings of Aglianico at an elevation of around 1300 feet above sea level in the Irpina region of Campania, not far from Mount Vesuvius. Even at 8 years of age, this wine is still a bit of a monster when it comes to tannins, and needs some air to mellow, as well as perhaps some more time in the bottle. In my personal experience it is a wine that rewards significant aging, especially if you appreciate the leather and dried flowers scents that Aglianico can offer with some time in the bottle. Now, however, the Piano is a bit forte, if that’s your speed.

Tasting Notes

2019 Urban Legend Cellars “Gill Creek Ranch” Vermentino, Clements Hills, Lodi, Central Coast, California
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of poached pear in sweet cream. In the mouth, bright pear and pastry cream flavors have a slight tinge of lemongrass and chamomile. Silky textured, this wine has a very nice acid balance and crisp finish with a hint of orange peel. 13.1% alcohol. 168 cases made. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24.

2018 J. Christopher “Olenik Vineyard” Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of citrus pith and white flowers. In the mouth, the wine is quite floral, with a gorgeous quartz-like crystalline quality and juicy lemon and lemon pith flavors, and a touch of green apple. Very elegant and poised with just a hint of salinity in the finish. . 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2018 Dr. Loosen “Ürziger Würtzgarten Spätlese” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of tangerine zest and white flowers with a hint of lemon cucumber. In the mouth, gorgeous exotic citrus flavors mix with honeysuckle and rainwater minerality, all sizzling with excellent acidity. Lightly to moderately sweet, but definitely in my sweet spot. 8.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2016 J. Christopher “JJ” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and raspberry fruit shot through with a hint of barnyard funkiness. In the mouth, pure bright cherry and raspberry fruit has a nice zing thanks to excellent acidity. There’s some bitter cedar and herb notes lingering in the finish along with that faint hint of manure. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2018 Clos Bellane Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Valréas, Rhône Valley, France
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of rich cherry fruit. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy flavors of cherry mix with incredibly aromatic herbs like wild thyme and lavender even as a crystalline stony quality makes the whole red and black fruit concoction glint and shimmer on the palate. Barely perceptible tannins. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2017 Stephane Ogier “Le Temps Est Venu” Côtes-du-Rhône, Rhône Valley, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dark cherry fruit and a touch of forest floor. In the mouth, juicy black cherry flavors are shot through with dried sage and other dried herbs making for quite a savory impression. Very faint powdery tannins creep about the edges of the mouth, while a faint bitter herb and orange-peel note lingers in the finish. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2018 Delas Freres “Saint-Esprit” Côtes-du-Rhône, Rhône Valley, France
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, cassis, and potting soil. In the mouth, flavors of black cherry, cassis, and wet earth have a wonderful freshness to them thanks to excellent acidity and a faint green herbal kick that meshes with a definite stony quality. Dark and brooding, yet without feeling heavy, and quite delicious. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.

2018 Owen Roe “Ex Umbris” Syrah, Yakima Valley, Washington
Medium to dark purple in color, this wine smells of rich blackberry fruit with a hint of woodsmoke. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy blackberry and cassis flavors are positively electric on the palate thanks to fantastic acidity. Faint, powdery tannins dust the palate while notes of licorice emerge on the finish. Excellent. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2018 Troon Vineyard “White Family Selection” Syrah, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of wet earth and chopped herbs. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and cassis flavors are shot through with a cedary, incense quality, thanks no doubt to the whole cluster fermentation, which seems to have imparted a sort of woody note from the stems. Excellent acidity and freshness, with tightly wound, muscular tannins that flex through the finish. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2012 Feudi di San Gregorio “Piano di Montevergine – Riserva” Aglianico, Taurasi, Campania, Italy
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of leather, dried flowers, and licorice. In the mouth, massive, billowy tannins envelop a core of black cherry, licorice root, and dried flowers, even as earthier, darker notes rumble about in the basement. Good acidity, but still massive even with 8 years of age. Give it some air, or better yet, another 5 years in the bottle. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.

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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 Unboxed: Week of 7/19/20

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 included a bunch of white wines, and in particular, a bunch of Rieslings.

But before we get to the Rieslings, let’s not overlook the “Naissance” Sauvignon Blanc from Galerie, Gianna Kelly’s project. This isn’t the current release, as the 2019s have come out, but it’s likely still in the market and worth picking up.

I’ve got Riesling three ways this week. Two from Germany’s Nahe region, both with a couple of years of age on them. The Dönnhoff Tonschiefer is predictably delicious, with wonderful dry and crisp citrus and stone fruit flavors. The Kruger Rumpf has its share of citrus along with the wonderful paraffin notes that can add another layer of dimension to aging Riesling.

And then finally I’ve got a Clare Valley Riesling from Wakefield, which is bright ahd fresh and surprisingly young for a 2017 vintage.

All three of these wines are worthy of seeking out and none will set you back very much.

I discovered several Wakefield bottles in the samples pile this week in addition to their Riesling that had been overlooked for some time, including a Chardonnay, a Cabernet and two vintages of their reserve Shiraz. The Shiraz wines were slightly tired, though still tasty, but the Chardonnay and Cabernet both offered excellent flavors and proved to be aging well.

Before we move on to red wines, I’ve got two well-known names in Napa Chardonnay this week, the Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch and the Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay. Both delivered rich “California” style, but with slightly more restrained use of oak than they might have in past years, which was a good thing from my palate’s perspective.

Finally, in addition to the reds from Wakefield I described above, I also discovered a Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache in the stack this week. This was pleasant but perhaps more subdued than I expected, given only a year in the bottle since release.

Enjoy.

Tasting Notes

2018 Galerie “Naissance” Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California
Pale blonde in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and green apples. In the mouth, bright green apple and crabapple flavors have a faint sourness that is positively mouthwatering, as lime juice and lime zest notes emerge in the finish. Very tasty. 13.8% alcohol. 1600 cases made. Closed with a screwcap Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2016 Dönnhoff “Tonschiefer” Riesling Trocken, Nahe, Germany
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet pavement, lemon pith and mandarin orange oil. In the mouth, zippy Asian pear, mandarin orange and rainwater flavors have a wonderful crispness to them and fantastic acidity that makes the mouth water. Notes of mandarin zest linger in the finish. Delicious. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.

2017 Wakefield “St. Andrews” Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of paraffin, green apples and white flowers. In the mouth, juicy citrus pith, grapefruit and candied green apple flavors have a remarkable wet chalkboard minerality to them, as well as an ethereal weightlessness in the mouth. Excellent acidity. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $35.

2016 Kruger Rumpf Riesling Trocken, Nahe, Germany
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of paraffin and mandarin orange zest. In the mouth, tangerine and Asian pear flavors have a creamy texture even as they are crisp and light with a nice crystalline quality to them. Good acidity and pretty, wet chalkboard minerality in the finish. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $33.

2018 Shafer Vineyards “Red Shoulder Ranch” Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa, California
Bright gold in the glass, this wine smells of pineapple and buttered popcorn. In the mouth, silky, weighty flavors of pineapple, lemon curd, and lemon zest have the creamy vanilla of oak mixed in very well. Decent but not fantastic acidity. For those who like their California Chardonnays rich, this will definitely satisfy. 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2018 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa, California
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of cold cream and lemon curd. In the mouth, flavors of lemon curd, cold cream, and grapefruit have reasonably well-integrated oak influence and very good acidity. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2016 Wakefield “St. Andrews” Chardonnay, Clare Valley, South Australia
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of butterscotch and white flowers. In the mouth, lemon curd and butterscotch flavors have a wonderful lightness to them, with hints of pomelo pith emerging as the wine finishes. Lacey, delicate acidity runs throughout. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25.

2018 Yalumba “Bush Vine” Grenache, Barossa, South Australia
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of strawberry jam and dried herbs. In the mouth, somewhat bitter strawberry, cherry and cedar flavors are oddly subdued. Decent acidity, very faint tannins. 14.1% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $15. click to buy.

2014 Wakefield “The Pioneer – Exceptional Parcel Release” Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry, blackberry and chopped herbs. In the mouth, prunes and blackberry flavors are gathered up in a tight fist of muscular tannins that squeeze a bit as the wine finishes with notes of leather and black cherry. 14.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $100.

2013 Wakefield “The Pioneer – Exceptional Parcel Release” Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cola nut and prunes. In the mouth, rich flavors of mulling spices and black cherry, leather and cola nut have a beautiful woody and saddle leather backdrop to them. Faint tannins and decent acidity. Notes of caramelized brown sugar linger in the finish. 14.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $100.

2016 Wakefield “St. Andrews” Cabernet Sauvignon, Clare Valley, South Australia
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, mint and dark chocolate. In the mouth, cherry and green herbs have a fine, powdery tannic texture and excellent acidity. Very pretty green herbal notes linger in the finish with the cherry and a touch of leather. 14% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

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Spätburgunder Spotlight (Spätlight?)

Can’t say I’ve had a lot of German Pinot Noir. So when I had the chance to attend a dinner celebrating Spätburgunder (that’s the country’s name for Pinot Noir), there was no way I was missing it. Hearty thanks to Icy Liu for the invitation. (Her IG is full of incredible wines.)

Our Master of Ceremonies was Lyle Fass of the eponymous Fass Selections. He brought most of the wines, along with a final two bottles courtesy of Brad Trent. (Check out his photography.) We were joined by a few wine industry pros.

Overall the wines were excellent. I haven’t had that much good Pinot at one sitting in a long time. These are wines that belong on the table and in the cellar.

One thing I was wondering before we started is, “What is German Pinot Noir?” Does it have a style, a signature?

Of course, that’s not a good place to start. It’s a big country. You have to dive into the regions (Mosel, etc.) and get to know the producers. And probably the vintage. It’s a lot like learning about Burgundy. Dedication, with a touch of obsessiveness/madness, is key.

I’d also advice anyone stymied by German Pinot Noir to flip the bottle over. If you see Fass Selections, it’s going to be something on the elegant, earthy, spicy side. No pumped-up PN here. (This is advice I would give for wine, period. Find an importer you like and if its name is on the back of an unfamiliar bottle, take a flyer.)

One way to think about German Pinot Noir came from Lyle himself. He likes to refer to it as “Red Riesling.” All the things that make Riesling from this part of the world compelling and complex can make an appearance in a fine bottle of Spätburgunder. (Except sweetness. These are totally, completely dry red wines. Also, a ton of German Riesling is now dry. I digress….)

Splendid Spätburgunder

Here are the eight bottles with comments. The wines were arranged in flights of two.

Mosel Flight

Weingut Spater-Veit 2008

We started with the oldest bottle. Very smooth, low tannins, and lots of mushrooms peeking out from forest floor kinda thing going on. Would drink now.

Marbleous 2015 Winniger

Was it marvelous? (Sorry.) Yes. Probably tasting it next to a wine almost a decade older made the Marbleous show noticeably different/better. But I loved the fruit and the intensity. This is from a warmer (lower) part of the Mosel.

Limestone Flight

Ziereisen Jaspis 2014

Earthy and a wine you want to brood over, nice acidity and a little touch of tannin. #ambrooding

Thörle 2015 Probstey

Rich, dark, and juicy. Mellowed the longer it was open/in the glass. Bodes well for a long future. Lyle considers Probstey to be a “Grand Cru” site.

Weingut Josef Walter Flight

2011 Pinot 274 Centgrafenberg 

Lots of twigs and smoky/savory notes on the nose. Wonderful vegetable (I like veg in my red) component, spice, and then you get a nice fruit pop at the end. Intriguing blend of 40% Spatburgunder and 60% Fruhburgunder, the latter a Pinot Noir variant. 

2012 “J” Hundsrück

This wine was peachy, as in peaches. Which is strange when talking about smelling/tasting a red wine, but that what makes wine so dang compelling. Nice richness.

Enderle & Moll Flight

2015 Buntsandstein

Li’l smoky, high acid. Perfect. (Because of the night progressing and darkness descending, my notes got more, ahem, compact.)

2015 Muschelkalk

Fruiter and richer than the B. Hell of an end to the evening’s festivities.

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The moral of the story? Above all, seek out Spätburgunder, and from a good importer. Really, there are lots of countries you may not think of for Pinot Noir that may surprise and delight. Add Germany to the list.

Spätburgunder Spotlight (Spätlight?)

Finally, we met for dinner at Riverpark. The patio (where we sat) has marvelous waterfront views. We could even see my home neighborhood of Greenpoint from our table. Of course, being the stupid magnanimous person I am, I chose to sit facing the restaurant. The crab and cornbread dish with peekytoe crab, charred corn, heirloom peppers, lime, onion, and beurre blanc was excellent. I also had a very nice cavatelli dish with smoked chicken, corn, fresno chiles, parmesan, and fines herbes. I love corn in the summertime!

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