g.U. for Uhlen

I’m picturing a very satisfied Reinhard Löwenstein. It’s taken years of persistence and hard work to gain PDO (g.U. – or geschüzte Ursprungbezeichnung, in German) status for the three brilliant Winninger Uhlen subsites.

In October of this year, each of the three sites (from northwest to southeast; Rothlay, Laubach and Blaufüsser Lay) became protected appellations under EU law.

The Winninger Uhlen, located in the lower Mosel and just outside the city of Koblenz, is known for its complex dry Rieslings. Heymann-Löwenstein is the only estate producing wines from this site that are presently available in the Australian market. This this a well exposed and warm site with a particularly inimitable style about it and Löwenstein’s efforts have done much to elevate its reputation. 

The wines of Heymann-Löwenstein are both unique and compelling and I’m happy that his vision has earned deserved recognition. 

2017 von Hövel

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When a name like Scharzhofberg is so intrinsically linked to one estate alone, it’s hard to imagine that anyone else could coax wines of any value from the same site. Well, enter von Hövel. I’ll readily admit that I’ve written about this estate often and so I apologise if I come across as repetitive. That said, the 2017 vintage is fresh on our shores.

In the Mosel, 2017 saw growers completing a trifecta of excellent, albeit very different, vintages. All three presented their own challenges but devastating April frosts might have made 2017 the most difficult of the three. Losses are reported at between 30-40% on average, though some (a few) sites were spared such a malady.

The weather did take a turn for the better in the end, though rainfall meant that disease pressure was high, and whilst BA and TBA was produced at the finest addresses, no Eiswein was made.

In comparison to the filigreed and cerebral 2016 vintage, the low yielding 2017 has produced juicer wines with concentrated and succulent fruit, high extract and firm tannins (small berries, thick skins).

If Max von Kunow’s  Feinherb and Kabinett Rieslings aren’t convincing enough then the Kabinett “S” (from the Silberberg parcel within the Krettnacher Altenberg that’s been otherwise ignored by the VDP) should turn some heads. It’s exotic, juicy and layered with sorbet like acidity bringing the wine into total harmony.

The Kabinett was the only wine from the Oberremmeler Hütte on show and was ever so slightly subdued. It has on it’s side, however, good structure and length and promises a bright future. Other than a stunning 2015 GG, I’ve not had the fortune of tasting much else from this renowned Monopollage.

Whilst the Scharzhofberger Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese wines show beautifully in youth, they all demand and deserve considerable patience. It was the 2017 Auslese #48 (from one Fuder) that swept me off my feet. There is no denying the supreme quality of fruit here and the indulgent richness of this wine is tempered with a firm structure and vibrant acidity. The #48 promises great rewards for anyone willing to lay a few bottles down for the next 20-30 years, if not more.

Also on show were 2016 wines from Simon Bize in Savigny-lès-Beaune and 2015s ad 2016s from Robert Chevillon in Nuits-Saint-Georges. I’m a fan of both estates, Chevillon in particular. The premier cru Vergelesses from Bize was fantastic, nourishing, savoury with beautiful fruit and good line (as one would expect from a year like 2016). The Chevillon wines all showed brilliantly and I was most impressed by the 2016 (again) Bourgogne Passetoutgrain and the gorgeous 2015 premier cru Vaucrains which was characteristically dense and firm.

As I said before, I’ve written about von Hövel both often and quite recently. They’ve become one of my personal favourite addresses for supremely crystalline Saar Riesling and I’d like to see them on more dining tables in the future.

Imported into Australia by Heart & Soil.

Getting Warmer

This article by Julia Harding MW (jancisrobinson.com) on the Keller family’s recent harvest in the south of Norway caught my attention.

One can look to almost every wine growing region on the planet to see changes that are made absolutely necessary by climate change. Wine growing in Chile, for example, is edging further south and in the already very warm (and dry) regions of South Australia, some growers are turning to the likes Nero d’Avola and Assyrtiko. These varieties are well suited warm climates and are fairly resistant to drought, the results are encouraging.

With the additional increase in frequency of extreme weather events there is also a very real possibility that some of the great wine regions on this planet will be destroyed by climate change.

Perhaps this Kabinett from Kristiansand will change some options on the threats of global warming…

Weingut Jean Stodden pre-arrival

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Here’s something you don’t see in Australia very often… Spätburgunder from the Ahr! Heart & Soil has picked up the Jean Stodden wines and staged a little pre-arrival tasting at their office last week. These will be available in very small quantities.

Alexander Stodden could rightfully be considered one of the most sensitive interpreters of the Pinot Noir grape in Germany. This was my first time tasting the wines and I was delighted by what I was shown.

These wines are harvested from very steep slopes around the village of Rech, in the western Ahr. The propagation of Spätburgunder/Pinot Noir has a long history here but sadly, due to economic pressures, the region has shrunk over time and now only some 548 hectares are planted with vines. This special region is actually further north than the Mosel, but the combination of steep slopes and a little warmth from the river creates a fairly consistent climate for grape growing. The early ripening Frühburgunder is also an important grape variety around the Ahr.

Alexander picks his best fruit from an ungrafted portion of the Recher Herrenberg. You find greywacke amongst the loess and loess-loam in this very well exposed site. Not all growers here benefit from such choice parcels of land.

2017 Spätburgunder
I think that the appearance of this wine will make an immediate impression on most tasters. It’s a brilliant, very translucent garnet that promises a pure and filigreed Pinot Noir… and it delivers. Sweet fruited, floral and as fine as quality China but in no way as brittle. What a wonderful start to the line up. Aged in 1000 litre barrels.

2015 Spätburgunder ‘JS’
A little more power here, but not too much… deeper colour, for sure. This shows a more savoury tone than the previous wine. Barrique ageing does it’s work here. Firmer tannin structure and greater concentration.

2014 Spätburgunder Recher Herrenberg
Offers all of the sex appeal of great Volnay, if I may be so bold. It’s a very elegant and seductive wine that comes wrapped up in a tight crimson dress. The full spectrum of sweet forest fruit, undergrowth and rose petals is on exhibit here. Really fine. I have to add that it was my favourite wine on show.

2016 Spätburgunder Recher Herrenberg
Unfortunately this had fallen victim to it’s closure… looking through the TCA, the quality was very apparent.

2015 Spätburgunder Recher Herrenberg GG
This wine spent 19 months in new oak, it gives a certain element of polish and ‘flash’ but it’s certainly not a monster. In fact, it’s amongst the most refined GG Spätburgunder available. Really poised, fleshy, bright and very long.

2016 Spätburgnunder Alte Reben
From old (60 plus) year old vines in the Recher Herrenberg. It’s a dense wine with a chewy tannin structure. It holds the 100% new oak well. There’s no denying the quality of fruit here… but it deserves a few more years allowance to shed some weight and let the fruit speak. Otherwise, it’s powerful, evocative and really delicious. 

(more) praise for von Hövel

I’ve been delighted each and every time I’ve had the good fortune of tasting these wines. Von Hövel’s Saar Rieslings have not been present in the Australian market long and I would really like to see their presence grow.

Though a decent portion of von Hövel’s wines are made in the classic ‘fruity’ style, a drier style has become an important focus since Max took up the reins in 2010. Additionally, the estate’s holdings have more that doubled since then.

2016 Saar Riesling Feinherb
The interplay between natural sweetness and brilliant acidity in this wine is a ‘case in point’ example of what the Saar does so perfectly. Though slightly muted upon opening, with just a little air this Feinherb offers a beautiful array of ripe white and yellow fruit, the acidity is mouthwatering and there is considerable length to the finish.

2016 Riesling Kabinett ‘S’
From ‘Silberberg’, a parcel in the Krettnacher Altenberg, not an official place name, but undoubtedly a fine piece of Earth. This is a beautiful Kabinett, just sweet enough and very well balanced. Another gem from the 2016 vintage. It’s unfortunate that ‘Silberberg’ is classified as a Grosse Lage site by the VDP, but the Altenberg’s brilliant terroir is not acknowledged.

2016 Riesling Scharzhofberger GG
‘A GG with 10.5% alcohol’… that sentence echoed in my mind as I mused over this elegant dry Riesling. The fruit is beautifully ripened and the finished wine is succulent and deeply layered. Sure enough, the alcohol is admirably low for a GG and consequently there’s a wonderfull weightlessness to the palate. So very fresh. One for the cellar.

2015 Riesling Scharzhofberger Auslese***
The three stars are applied much in the same way as on the Markus Molitor labels, this Auslese is made from 100% clean (no botrytis) fruit. A hypnotising and distinctly gilded bouquet. This is the product of a very warm season and you most definitely feel the added layer in ripeness, but it’s just so well balanced. Faintly smokey, reminiscent of Earl Grey tea, and also showing a savoury tone with a little air. It glides across the palate and finishes with considerable length. Of course, this is just about the greatest terroir for the Riesling grape to be found on this planet.

These wines are imported by Heart & Soil. I believe the 2017 vintage is already on the water.

The Early Morning Altenberg

Domaine Gustave Lorentz, Bergheim, Alsace

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Last Wednesday I forced myself up extra early to meet Pascal Schiele, export manager for Domaine Gustave Lorentz. I decided, after an hour of tasting and some very pleasant conversation, that it was most definitely worth hauling myself out of bed after only five hours sleep.

Based in Bergheim and operated by the Lorentz family since 1836, the domaine farms 32 hectares, of which 1.5 are in the tiny Grand Cru Kanzlerberg and 13 are in the Altenberg site. These wines have only recently become available in Australia and I was very impressed by the consistency of quality across the range. All of these wines offer a very distinctly Alsatian aromatic brilliance paired with gracefully buoyant ripe fruit characters.

Muscat dominates the very drinkable Fleurelle blend (which could just as well be labelled ‘Gentil’) and the remainder is Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner. The ‘Gentil’ made by the Hugel family has long been one of my favourite wines and this blend holds very much the same appeal for me. Muscat’s floral personality is on very prominent display and the Sylvaner certainly lends a backbone of refreshing acidity.

The estate’s Reserve wines come from fruit purchased from local growers and represent the classic varieties of Alsace with a strict emphasis on elegance and suitability with food. Even the Gewürztraminer is pure, aromatic and very fine. I like to keep residual sugar figures at the back of my mind as the key to these wines is balance.

The ‘Evidence’ wines offer a very significant step up in quality (not to detract from the value of the reserve wines). This is all estate fruit, which I’m told has been grown organically since 2012. The ‘Evidence’ Pinot Noir is one of the few from Alsace available in Australia… bright fruited and nourishing, a savoury palate with fine tannins and good length. Perhaps a couple more decades of global warming and Alsace will be the new Burgundy…

Finally, the Altenberg de Bergheim wines. This site is considered first rate amongst the 51 Grand Crus of Alsace. A steep, south-facing slope comprised of Jurassic limestone-marl on a clay subsoil. The wines from this warm site pair great power with a charming finesse. Domaine Gustave Lorentz withholds the Altenberg wines for 5 years (minimum, I believe) before release. I didn’t taste any Kanzlerberg wines, but look forward to doing so on my next visit to Alsace.

The 2012 Altenberg Riesling was a truly beautiful wine, at once exotic and richly textured and then so very tense and mineral. Of course, Riesling pulls off the balancing act better then any other variety, but this fruit quality and structure sets it a cut above the rest. Great site, great wine.

The 2011 Altenberg Pinot Gris was particularly worthy of note… which is something you won’t hear from me very often! The grape suffers an image problem in the Australian market and this wine is an example of the potential it has to produce intriguing and complex wines. 2011 is also the current release, this is a fantastic wine that belongs on the dinner table. All of these wines are crafted with gastronomy in mind.

People often talk about the affinity that Alsatian wines have with Asian cuisine. There’s no denying some truth in this, but these wines deserve to sit on the table with a broader variety of foods. Maybe try preparing yourself a Choucroute Garnie at home… it’s an old favourite of mine.

Domaine Gustave Lorentz have only recently become available in the Australian market. They are represented by importer Santé wines. Highly recommended!

2017 Bertrand Bespoke Riesling

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I was shown a Riesling from Mt. Alexander today by Bertrand Bespoke winemaker Gilles Lapalus.

The wine spent 8 months on lees in old oak, the aromatics are truly beautiful and the palate has a delicate creaminess with brilliantly integrated acidity.

Gilles also showed me the L’Ecume du Jour ‘Pet Nat’, a savoury and nourishing rosé made from Mourvèdre, a red of the same variety and a very fragrant and refreshing Nebbiolo. All were delicious.

Gilles, formerly winemaker at Sutton Grange is also launching a new project called Maison Lapalus… the 2017 Syrah I just tried was absolutely lovely.