Riesling Downunder 2018 (in brief)

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Riesling Downunder 2018 has been and gone! I found plenty of inspiration over the three days that the symposium raged here in Melbourne, but here is a brief rundown…

Sunday’s Riesling Riot, held in the Regent Theatre’s Plaza Ballroom, was open to both consumers and trade and was well attended. The atmosphere was convivial and, thankfully, free of snobbery.

My feeling was that the Pfalz represented its self particularly well, notwithstanding the likes of Robert Weil from the Rheingau and Dönnhoff from the Nahe. VDP president Steffen Christmann presented his own brilliant wines while Reichsrat von Buhl and Ökonomierat Rebholz offered Rieslings of the highest possible quality. Tom Benns from Bürklin-Wolf came with no current release wines but this proved to be a blessing in disguise; both the 2011 Gerümpel P.C. and 2014 Gaisböhl G.C. were stunning.

Marc André Hugel kindly presented both the 2007 and 2008 vintages of the outstanding Schoelhammer Riesling this year. Schoelhammer is a small 0.63 ha parcel within the Schoenenbourg Grand Cru; the wines show incredible complexity and finesse, they are released late and in very small quantities. I first tasted Schoelhammer in 2016 when I finally made the pilgrimage to one of my favourite estates. Also not to be missed from Hugel are the Grossi Laüe* wines. It was great to have Marc André as a visitor to Melbourne once again!

Of course, I am always partial to the wines of the Mosel and whilst Ernst Loosen drew a relentless crowd throughout the day the wines of Heymann-Löwenstein and Ansgar Clüsserath seemed to make a profound impression on punters… naturally.

The very eloquent Mike Bennie presided over two days of masterclasses held at the Arts Centre Melbourne with very special guests. Producers in attendance, together with a contingent of formidable Australians, included the likes of Theresa Breuer, Philipp Wittmann, Cornelius Dönnhoff, Hansjörg Rebholz, Johannes Hasselbach and Vincent Bründlmayer amongst others. Estates such Robert Weil, Heymann-Löwenstein and Egon Müller were very well represented.

With an element of friendly competition and a rotating panel of learned speakers, conversation over the two days ranged from the influence of terroir and winemaking technique to the relevance and future of Riesling in the market. As expected there was a strong bias towards dry Riesling and there was not one dry wine of the 2016 vintage shown that was not exceptional.

From the Mosel, Kathrin Starker of Heymann-Löwenstein spoke with great insight and deftly answered questions from the audience and Veronika Lintner, who represented Egon Müller, was one of the very few to speak so eloquently of residually sweet Mosel wines, dismissing the notion that terroir is most clearly expressed in dry wines. The 2016 Scharzhofberger Spätlese, just quietly, was a special wine indeed.

Given the exceptionally high quality shown across the whole event it’s very hard pick just three standouts… as well as the aforementioned Schoelhammer, these were the wines that stood out for me:

2016 Dönnhoff (Niederhäusen) Hermannshöle GG, Nahe – This wine stole my heart with its  almost Saar-like coolness and tranquility. Aristocratic, crystalline, pure and seemingly infinite.

2009 Koehler-Ruprecht Riesling Kallstadter Saumagen Auslese trocken ‘R’, Pfalz – It’s no secret that I love the wines of Koehler-Ruprecht dearly. The Auslese trocken ‘R’ is a mature release and always a hedonistic wine.

2015 Ökonomierat Rebholz (Birkweiler) Kastanienbusch GG, Pfalz – Lauded by everyone present and for good reason. Ripe and succulent with a firm mineral frame; a masterful balance of fruit and acidity.

*Grossi Laüe is ‘Grand Cru’ in the Alsace dialect.

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Riesling Downunder 2018

For those of you not already planning on attending, Riesling Downunder 2018 runs from the 2nd to the 7th of February in Melbourne and Sydney. This is the most significant event of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

Riesling Riot runs on Sunday the 4th here in Melbourne at the Regent Theatre Plaza Ballroom and on Wednesday the 7th in Sydney at the Sydney Town Hall. Tickets to either of the five-hour symposia are very affordable and the list of outstanding producers from around the world is exhaustive.

Head to Riesling Downunder to read more. I hope to see you there.

Riesling Downunder is presented by Frankland Estate, Jim Barry and Pikes. Event partners include CellarHand.

Dr. Loosen Kabi, more than nostalgia…

We’re beginning to see the 2016 German vintage trickle into the country and despite a challenging year, with heavy summer rainfall and significant disease pressure, quality is very high indeed. Reports that I’ve read show unanimous favour amongst Mosel enthusiasts for the open knit, fruity and charming Kabinett wines from this vintage.

I don’t need much of an excuse to drink Kabinett, a night at home alone is all it takes really, and the low-alcohol associated with the style brings an added appeal. I’m also not much of a home cook… so some smoked salmon on rye was very enthusiastically washed down with a 2016 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett the other night. It’s a classically styled, juicy white peach Sonnenuhr Riesling; supremely elegant, refreshing and long.

Ernst Loosen focuses a great deal of energy on promoting powerful dry GG wines from top Mittelmosel sites, particularly those around the villages of Erden and Ürzig, he has however committed to keeping the Kabinett style alive. It’s easy for consumers to forget these elegant and fruity wines when faced with the wow factor of an Erdener Prälat GG for example, but both have their place.

For me, like most drinkers in Australia that have fallen in love with the Mosel, it all started with a Dr. Loosen Kabinett.

Campania dreaming…

You don’t have to stray far from Parliament station to find a good Pizza in Melbourne, the gastronomic traditions of Campania (and the rest of Italy, to be fair) have deep roots here… so why is it that the wines are so poorly represented in even the finest wine shops around town? I understand if Taurasi DOCG is not your ideal mid-summer heat-remedy but the region is home to some delicious and food friendly whites. The DOCGs Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo are well-known… but there are delicious wines made from varieties like Coda di Volpe that are as refreshing as they are full of flavour. Goodbye Grigio!

Recent years have seen the planting of new varieties in regions such as the McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills and many of them are from the south of Italy. It’s forward thinking behaviour, to say the least, especially in a warming climate. Fiano appears to have been most successful in South Australia.

At lunch today I enjoyed a 2016 Domenico Nardone Greco di Tufo DOCG. There is much in the way of lemongrass, red apple, pear skin and rockmelon about this wine; generous texture and a pleasant saltiness to round things out. It’s nothing short of delicious and cost me $22 at my local independent food store (they have a very switched on wine buyer named Ernie).

If it means anything, lunch was a tin of anchovies in olive oil, a tub of buffalo mozzarella and half a baguette. I tried to stick to a one-glass-only limit but the heat got to me and I gave in to my thirst.

Welcome Von Hövel!

Imagine my delight recently when I learned that Weingut Von Hövel’s wines have made it to Australia all the way from the Saar. Importer Heart & Soil had a few wines open for a tasting at the French Saloon recently, alongside new releases from Keller, Wagner-Stempel (Rheinhessen) and some very fine reds and whites from Ziereisen (Baden).

Von Hövel is based in Konz-Oberemmel in the Saar (not far from Wiltingen), they own the Oberemmeler Hütte in its entirety and also have holdings in the Scharzhofberg and other well-known sites like the Kanzemer Hörecker; The Hütte site has the same south by south-east exposition as the Scharzhofberg. Maximilian von Kunow took over the estate after his father Eberhard suffered a stroke in 2010. Maximilian has continued the fruity Saar style made by his father but has also introduced dry-tasting Saar Rieslings too.

Both the 2016 Saar Riesling and Saar Riesling trocken are fine examples of their style; clean and bright, elegant and mineral. These are classically light-footed Saar wines and I hope to see them appear on wine bar/restaurant lists over the summer.

The 2015 Oberemmler Hütte GG will divide opinion; there is a fair amount of skin contact here (I initially suspected some botrytis but I am assured that the dry, off-dry and GG wines are fungus free) and the wine is both fruit and tannin rich, plenty of dried apricot, orange rind, black tea etc. A meditation wine indeed, this will very generously reward some cellaring, give it 5-7 years at least and in excess of a decade if you have the patience.

The wine that really grabbed me was the 2015 Scharzhofberger Kabinett. This was supremely fine, filigreed, flavoursome and long and will take years to unfurl. The interplay between sugar and acidity approaches perfection, a stunning Kabinett from a legendary vineyard site. Drink a bottle now and then lay a few down for a another 5 years at least. I will be.

On another note, as I write I am drinking a 2015 Immich-Batterieberg C.A.I. Riesling Kabinett. This is quite simply one of the best value dry Mosel Rieslings I have tried to date. The labelling Kabinett makes a point about chaptalisation. There’s uniform ripeness here, much fruit and spice and bracing acidity. I believe some fruit from the lower portion of the Enkircher Batterieberg makes it in to this wine, joined by some fruit from the Saar too… I could be wrong. I will be drinking this in place of water over the summer months.

not all that is GG is gold.

I was talking with a colleague about dry Riesling the other day. Personally I have little concern for whether or not a Riesling be technically dry, sweet or somewhere in between and though I’ll admit some Auslesen and above are strictly ‘correct time and place’ wine styles, I mostly prefer a little residual sugar*. The broad range of available dry wine styles can easily intimidate and I find some retailers and sommeliers are not very conscious of what they are selling. These wines work brilliantly on the table if applied in the correct setting. What’s more? A growing number of importers have older wines on offer these days.

I tasted two wines recently that continue to play on my mind; a 2011 Dr. Bürklin-Wolf (Ruppertsberger) Gaisböhl ‘G.C.’** and a 2015 Reichsrat von Buhl (Forster) Jesuitengarten GG. The former is showing development beautifully with an intoxicating nose of honey and apricot, medium-full bodied with great tension and incredible length. The latter is initially reticent, firm even, typical of 2015 you have perfect ripeness and brilliant acidity; decant it if that’s what you like to do or preferably wait a few more years, either way it is sublime.

The two producers mentioned below, while both favourites of mine, are very different in their style and philosophy. One is an important member of the VDP, boasting an enviable collection of Grosse Lage sites; the other, with just one Grosse Lage site, has recently left the VDP, proudly renouncing their classification all together. The GG (Grosses Gewächs) concept has really gained traction and this is a commendable achievement for the VDP and its members, what is a shame is that GG is now all people want to buy; it’s like the Grower Champagne fad. I don’t know if it’s ignorance or laziness… not all that is GG is gold.

Wittmann, Rheinhessen: Outstanding quality right from the ground up, Weingut Wittmann is based in Westhofen in the Rheinhessen’s Wonnegau district. This producer shares a lot of crus with Keller and the two are often compared; frankly they each have quite an individual style and I love both. The 2015 Morstein GG is a paradox, it seems to be built from pillars of solid rock, but then drinks with such finesse even as a young wine. It’s a shame the other crus are rarely seen on lists in Melbourne. I’m itching to pull the cork on a 2007 Aulerde GG we have in the cellar.

Koehler-Ruprecht, Pfalz: Koehler-Ruprecht have a style that is all their own and they work with admirable integrity. Typically opulent but never at the expense of balance; if light and fruity Mosel Kabinett is normally your drink then don’t say I didn’t warn you. Koehler-Ruprecht left the VDP recently in order to continue bottling their dry Rieslings with Prädikat and the higher must weights obviously achieve richer and more complex results***. The Saumagen vineyard of Kallstadt is their primary source of high quality fruit and the top wines are held back by the estate for late release; the 2008 Kallstadter Saumagen Auslese trocken ‘R’ is a standout example of what heights can be achieved in the Mittelhaardt and makes me hungry for game.

*which is why talk of dry and off dry Mosel Riesling will wait till another day.
**rather curiously, Bürklin-Wolf use the abbreviations P.C. and G.C. for premier and grand crus respectively, rather than the German Erste and Grosse Lage; odd considering that they were instrumental in establishing the VDP classification.
***the decision to leave the VDP and to continue to bottle dry Prädikatsweine is reflective of Koehler-Ruprecht’s firm standpoint against chaptalisation which is permitted for dry Qualitätsweine and dry wines in the VDP classification.