Germany


In these egalitarian times, we don’t often speak of what were once called the “noble grapes,” because such a hierarchical scheme would imply that grapes omitted from that brilliant roster were somehow inferior. A generation ago, however, the term was common among writers about wine and commentators on the wine industry. Generally, six grapes were allowed “noble” status: Chardonnay, riesling (see accompanying image) and sauvignon blanc; cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir. You’ll notice the French bias immediately; we’re talking about Bordeaux and Burgundy, with a bone thrown to Alsace and parts of Germany with riesling. Notice that nebbiolo and sangiovese don’t make the cut; those are Italian grapes. Chenin blanc? Forget those divine dessert wines of the Loire Valley; they’re not Sauternes.

Still, there was a point to the noble grape concept, and I tell you that some grapes are simply better — or potentially better — than others. Chardonnay is capable of making splendid wines that grapes such as, say, torrontes or albarino, however charming and refreshing they may be, just can’t match. Cabernet sauvignon grapes can be turned into wines of the sort of depth, dimension and dignity that, oh, alicante bouschet or refosco could not begin to reach. No matter, of course, in the grand scheme, because we derive pleasure from all kinds of wines for many different occasions and reasons, but the truth is that certain grapes deserve their elevated reputations, if, I have to add, they are handled carefully and thoughtfully in the vineyard and the winery.

Riesling certainly deserves inclusion in the pantheon of noble grapes, as I was reminded as I stood in the kitchen at home and spent a couple of hours with this group of nine wines made from the grape. One winning aspect of riesling is its versatility; riesling is, in fact, the most versatile of the noble grapes. Even in this limited encounter, you can see that the wines range from delightful and appealing to stunning and profound without losing authenticity and integrity. The grape is geographically versatile, too; these nine wines encompass three of Germany’s best-known regions — Mosel, Rheingau and Pfalz; two areas in Australia, two in California and Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula. The styles range from bone-dry to sumptuously sweet, but all are characterized by the grape’s inherent acidity and limestone-like minerality. This was a flight that I really liked.

With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Frisk Prickly Riesling 2011, Victoria, Australia, is a real sweetheart of a riesling, a bit moscato-like in its initial delicate sweetness, floral nature and cloud-like softness, but just ripping with crisp acidity and honed limestone minerality. As the name implies, it’s lightly frizzante, that is, gently sparkling, just a tickle, as it were, that helps deliver notes of green apple and pear to your nose in a delightful manner. Ripe citrus flavors are touched with lychee and a hint of smoke; the wine sheds its sweetness and turns increasing dry and structured crossing the palate, finally reaching an austere, mineral-laced finish. Quite charming as an aperitif or with shrimp or chicken salad. 8.9 percent alcohol. Drink through Summer 2012. Very Good+. About $12, an Incredible Bargain.

Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Ca.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Bex Riesling 2009, Mosel, Germany, is fresh, crisp, juicy and lively; sporting a pale straw-gold color, it offers a bouquet of lime peel, grapefruit and honeysuckle deeply imbued with riesling’s signature petrol or rubber eraser aroma and a transparent foundation of damp limestone and shale. This is lovely, lithe and lacy in structure, fairly simple and direct, to be honest, but tasty with ripe apple, pear and lime flavors, very dry with a finish of crushed oyster-shell minerality. 9.5 percent alcohol. Drink through Summer 2012. Very Good+. About $10-$13.

Imported by Purple Wine Co., Graton, Ca. Great image from yumsugar.com.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
This is a terrific spätlese, deftly balanced between sweetness and dryness, between generosity and focus. The color of the Weingut Max Ferd Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2009, Mosel, is glinting pale straw; aromas of spiced peach and pear, with delicate back-notes of quince and lychee, are woven with hints of rose petals and limestone. Pretty heady stuff, all right. In the mouth, you feel the slight tension, the sliding resolution between the initial sweetness, partaking of very ripe and macerated stone-fruit, and the striking acidity and limestone minerality that dominate the wine from mid-palate through the long earthy yet finely-tuned finish. 8.5 percent alcohol. This should develop nicely through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $24-$28, Good Value. The estate has been owned by the family since 1680.

Imported by Langdon Shiverich, Los Angeles.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Seeing the vintage of the Trefethen Dry Riesling 2008, Oakville District, Napa Valley, you may ask, “But, FK, why the 2008 when the 2010 is the current release?” The answer is that I like to drink Trefethen’s rieslings at three to four years old, when they become, as it were, like shafts of bright and shining limestone and shale-like minerality. We always have a bottle of this wine on the table at Thanksgiving; last year it was the 2007. (In fact, the 2010 was my Wine of the Week on August 29th this year.) The 2008 we consumed at this year’s Thanksgiving dinner indeed practically vibrated with the minerality I mentioned, from start to finish, as well as exuding notes of petrol and peach and pear, a hint of jasmine, but, boy, is it ever a profound matter of stones and bones. It sort of wrapped itself around the turkey and dressing and potatoes and so on and supported everything subtly and beautifully. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. I paid $26.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Let me just get this word out right now: Superb. I’m referring to the Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 2008, Clare Valley, Australia. The color is radiant medium gold; the bouquet draws you in irresistibly with aromas of baked apple, roasted peach and apricot skin nestled in a honeyed radiance of cloves, sandalwood and orange marmalade. This description makes the wine sound heavy, but instead it is ineffably delicate, almost lacy and transparent in its wreathed character; paradoxically — and great wines embody myriad paradoxes within their balance and harmony — it’s also profoundly dense and earthy, its viscous nature splendidly belied by tremendous acidity whose tautness could ring church bells from Brisbane to Boston. A wonderful achievement. Stephanie Toole operates this small estate, which I visited in the far-off days of October 1998, with meticulous attention, producing only 4,500 cases annually of five wines. Alcohol contest is 11 percent. Drink through 2013 or ’14 with the simplest of fruit desserts or a plain sugar cookie or on its own. The current release in Australia is 2011. Exceptional. About $27-$36.

Imported by USA Wine West for The Australian Premium Wine Collection.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The frozen grapes for the Inniskillin Riesling Icewine 2008, Niagara Peninsula, Canada, were harvested from the last week of December 2008 and into early January; the wine is not aged in oak. A beguiling medium gold color seems to inspire aromas of candied orange zest, marzipan and creme brulee layered over baked peaches and apricots and a hint of mango; the wine is supernally rich, honeyed and viscous — it rolls over the palate like money — yet balanced by whiplash acidity and profound and penetrating slate-like minerality. A few minutes in the glass bring in notes of smoky cloves, lime peel, a touch of jasmine and depths of spiced and macerated flavors, like stone-fruit dissolving in brandy. Inniskillin is owned by Constellation Brands, and it’s good to see that despite being part of a giant conglomerate that has swallowed dozens of wineries and brands the quality of the product has not diminished. Winemaker is Bruce Nicholson. 9 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $80 for a tall, stylish half-bottle (375 ml).

Imported by Icon Estates, Rutherford, Ca.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Schloss Reinhartshausen Erbach Schlossberg Riesling 2007, Rheingau, Germany, is a damned serious riesling all right. The color is pale straw-yellow; aromas of jasmine and lychee, pear, quince and crystallized ginger open to notes of grapefruit, limestone and shale. The wine is seamless from front to back, but there’s nothing ethereal about its earthy character or its crisp, snappy acidity, and despite latter-day touches of fig, peach and marzipan, it’s not sweet at all; this is achingly dry, resonant, austere, even partaking of a sort of Olympian detachment through the stony finish. Still, as I said, the wine is seamless, beautifully balanced, authoritative without being blatant. 14 percent alcohol. Drink through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $29-$40. The term Erstes Gewächs on the label is the German equivalent of Grand Cru.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
At seven years old, the Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenberg Riesling Beerenauslese 2004, Pfalz, Germany, feels perfect, yet I wager it will age beautifully for another seven years. The color is brilliant medium gold; a poignant and penetrating hit of petrol or rubber eraser permeated by hints of softly over-ripe peaches and apricots identifies this wine as a classic riesling dessert wine, though the richness and honeyed nature are balanced by or even serve as foil to some astringent floral note. The viscosity of the gorgeous texture fills and coats the mouth, while the wine grows more intense, more freighted by cloves and quince, more deeply imbued with flavors of orange zest, crystallized ginger and apricots. In the manner of great dessert wines, however, a slashing blade of acidity lends the wine keen vibrancy and a dry, scintillating finish. A grand achievement. 8.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 or ’20. Exceptional. About $50 for a half-bottle (375 ml).

A Rudi Wiest Selection for Cellars International, San Marcos, Cal.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Twenty-three years old, yes, but the Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1988, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills was only released in 2010, when it was a relatively young 22, after spending 20 years in bottle. The color is caramel-amber with a deep copper glint; the bouquet partakes of barely overblown flowers, like peonies and camellias before they begin wearily to drop their petals, along with coconut, toasted almonds, candied ginger and roasted and slightly caramelized peaches; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of pine resin and maple syrup. There’s a deep caramel circumference to the flavors of burnt orange, lime peel and spiced apricots, and that’s where the sweetness stays, at the edge of the palate, while the interior flow, as it were, is not just surprisingly but audaciously dry, leading to a finish of daunting austerity and limestone-like minerality. There’s a touch of confusion about the balance between mid-palate and finish, but primarily this wine is a delightful and intriguing example of what can happen when riesling gets all grown-up. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013 to ’15. Excellent. About $45.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The theme today, such as it is, is diversity. I chose eight wines that were either 100 percent varietal (or a little blended) from eight different regions as a way of demonstrating, well, I guess the amazing range of places where wine can be made. Eight examples barely scratch the surface of such a topic, of course, and a similar post could probably be written in at least eight variations and not use the same grapes as primary subjects. Another way would be to create a post called “1 grape, 8 Places,” to show the influence that geography has on one variety. That topic is for another post, though. All the whites were made in stainless steel and are perfect, each in its own manner, for light-hearted summer sipping. The reds, on the other hand, would be excellent will all sorts of grilled red meat, from barbecue ribs to steaks.
All samples for review or tasted at trade events.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sauvignon blanc:
The Long Boat Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Marlborough, from Jackson Family Wines, is the archetypal New Zealand model that bursts with pert notes of gooseberry, celery seed, new-mown grass, thyme, tarragon and lime peel; it practically tickles your nose and performs cart-wheels on your tongue. It’s very dry, very crisp, a shot of limestone and chalk across a kiss of steel and steely acidity that endow with tremendous verve flavors of roasted lemon, leafy fig and grapefruit. That touch of grapefruit widens to a tide that sends a wave of bracing bitterness through the mineral-drenched finish. Truly scintillating, fresh and pure. 12.8 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Ca.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Riesling:
The Gunderloch “Jean-Baptiste” Riesling Kabinett 2009, Rheinhessen, Germany, is a fresh, clean and delicate wine that opens with hints of green apple and slate and slightly spiced and macerated peaches and pears; a few minutes in the glass bring out a light, sunny, almost ephemeral note of petrol and jasmine. Ripe peach and pear flavors are joined by a touch of lychee and ethereal elements of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone that persist through the finish; the texture is sleek, smooth and notably crisp and lively. Really charming. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.
Rudi Wiest for Cellars International, San Marcos, Ca.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Chenin blanc:
Made from organically-grown grapes, the Heller Estate Chenin Blanc 2009, Carmel Valley, California, is refined, elegant, almost gossamer in its exquisite melding of tart apple and ripe peach with spiced pear and a hint of roasted lemon; there’s a touch of chenin blanc’s signature dried hay-meadowy effect as well as a hint, just a wee hint, of riesling’s rose petal/lychee aspect. (This wine typically contains 10 to 15 percent riesling, but I can’t tell you how much for 2009 because I received not a scrap of printed material with this shipment, and the winery’s website is a vintage behind; hence the label for 2008. Hey, producers! It doesn’t take much effort to keep your websites up-to-date!) Anyway, the wine is crisp and lively with vibrant acidity and offers a beguilingly suave, supple texture. It’s a bit sweet initially, but acid and subtle limestone-like minerality bring it round to moderate dryness. Lovely. 13.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Chardonnay:
Roland Lavantureux makes two wines, a Chablis and a Petit Chablis. Both are matured 2/3 in stainless steel tanks and 1/3 in enamel vats; the Petit Chablis for eight months, the Chablis for 10. The domaine was founded in 1978 and is family-owned and operated. The Roland Lavantureux Petit Chablis 2009 makes you wonder how the French wine laws differentiate between “little” Chablis and “regular” Chablis. This rated a “wow” as my first note. It feels like a lightning stroke of shimmering acidity, limestone and gun-flint tempered by spiced and roasted lemon and hints of quince, mushrooms and dried thyme. This wine serves as a rebuke to producers who believe that to be legitimate a chardonnay must go through oak aging; it renders oak superfluous. (Yes, I know, oak can do fine things to chardonnay used thoughtfully and judiciously.) The Roland Lavantureux Petit Chablis 09 radiates purity and intensity while being deeply savory and spicy; it’s a natural with fresh oysters or with, say, trout sauteed in brown butter and capers. A very comfortable 12.9 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $19 to $23.
Kermit Lynch Imports, Berkeley, Ca.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pinot noir:
Bodega Chacra, which makes only pinot noir wines, was established in Argentina’s Patagonia region — the Rio Negro Valley in northern Patagonia — in 2004 by Piero Incisa della Rochetta, the grandson of Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, the creator and proprietor of Sassicaia, one of the most renowned Italian wineries, and nephew of Niccolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta, who currently manages the family’s winemaking enterprises. Bodega Chacra produces three limited edition pinot noirs, one from a vineyard planted in 1932, one from a vineyard planted in 1955, and the third made from a combination of these old vineyards and grapes from two 20-year-old vineyards. The vineyards are farmed on biodynamic principles; the wines are bottled unfiltered. The Barda Pinot Noir 2010, Patagonia, is an example of the third category of these wines. It spends 11 months in French oak barrels, 25 percent new. Barda Pinot Noir 2010 is vibrant, sleek, stylish and lovely; the bouquet is bright, spicy and savory, bursting with notes of black cherry, cranberry and cola highlighted by hints of rhubarb, sassafras and leather. It’s dense and chewy, lithe and supple; you could roll this stuff around on your tongue forever, but, yeah, it is written that ya have to swallow some time. Flavors of black cherry and plum pudding are bolstered by subtle elements of dusty graphite and slightly foresty tannins, though the overall impression — I mean, the wine is starting to sound like syrah — is of impeccable pinot noir pedigree and character. 12.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $30.
Imported by Kobrand Corp., Purchase, N.Y.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Zinfandel:
If you grow weary, a-weary of zinfandel wines that taste like boysenberry shooters, then the Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel 2008, Napa Valley, California, is your cup of, as it were, tea. No bells and whistles here, just the purity and intensity of the zinfandel grape not messed about with. Grgich Hills is farmed entirely organically and by biodynamic principles, and winemaker Ivo Jeramaz uses oak judiciously, in this case 15 months in large French oak casks, so there’s no toasty, vanilla-ish taint of insidious new oak. The color is medium ruby with a hint of violet-blue at the rim; the nose, as they say, well, the nose offers a tightly wreathed amalgam of deeply spicy, mineral-inflected black and red currants and plums with a swathing of dusty sage and lavender, wound with some grip initially, but a few minutes in the glass provide expanse and generosity. Amid polished, burnished tannins of utter smoothness and suppleness, the black and red fruit flavors gain depths of spice and slate-like minerals; the whole effect is of an indelible marriage of power and elegance and a gratifying exercise in ego-less winemaking. 14.7 percent alcohol. We drank this with pizza, but it would be great with any sort of grilled or braised red meat or robustly flavored game birds. Excellent. About $35.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cabernet sauvignon:
You just have to rejoice when you encounter a cabernet, like the Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mendoza, Argentina, that radiates great character and personality — yes, those are different qualities — and maintains a rigorous allegiance to the grape while expressing a sense of individuality and regionality. The vineyards average 3,510-feet elevation; that’s way up there. Five percent malbec is blended in the wine; it aged 15 months in French oak, 80 percent new barrels, and while that may seem like a high proportion of new oak, that element feels fully integrated and indeed a bit subservient to the wine’s strict high-altitude tannins and granite-like minerality. Aromas of black currants and black plums are ripe and fleshy, a bit roasted and smoky, yet iron-like, intense and concentrated; a few moments in the glass bring up classic touches of briers and brambles, cedar and wheatmeal, thyme and black olive, a hint of mocha. This is a savory cabernet, rich, dry, consummately compelling yet a little distant and detached, keeping its own counsel for another year or two, though we enjoyed it immensely with a medium rare rib-eye steak. What’s most beguiling are the broadly attractive black and blue fruit flavors permeated by moss and loam and other foresty elements married to muscular yet supple heft, dimensional and weight. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Ca.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Tempranillo:
Here’s a terrific, slightly modern version of Rioja, by which I mean that it’s not excessively dry, woody and austere, as if made by ancient monks putting grapes through the Inquisition. Bodegas Roda was founded by Mario Rotillant and Carmen Dautella in 1991, in this traditional region that abuts Navarra in northeastern Spain. The deep and savory Roda Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain, blends 14 percent graciano grapes and five percent garnacha (grenache) with 81 percent tempranillo; the wine is aged 16 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, and spends another 20 months in the bottle before release. The color is rich, dark ruby, opaque at the center; aromas of black currant and black raspberry are infused with cloves and fruit cake, sage and thyme, bacon fat, leather and sandalwood, with something clean, earthy and mineral-drenched at the core. That sense of earth and graphite-like minerality persists throughout one’s experience with the wine, lending resonant firmness to the texture, which also benefits from finely-milled, slightly dusty tannins and vibrant acidity, all impeccably meshed with smoky, spicy flavors of black and red fruit and plum pudding. 14 percent alcohol. An impressive, even dignified yet delicious wine for drinking now, with grilled meat and roasts, or for hanging onto through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $45.
Imported by Kobrand Corp., Purchase, N.Y.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

You might think that by naming Chile and Germany in the same breath, as it were, with the riesling grape that I’m ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime, but such is not the case. The Meli Riesling 2010, from Chile’s Central Valley, was actually quite charming, while Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstrube am Doctorberg Riesling Spatlese 2008 — who said that German wine labels are complicated? — from the Mosel region, was, not just charming but pretty freakin’ sublime, but in a quiet, understated manner.

I was finishing, for lunch, the leftover Cumin-Spiced Shrimp and Chorizo Gumbo that I mentioned on March 4 as being an unexpected great but risky match with the Nickel & Nickel Truchard Chardonnay 2008, Carneros. A more reasonable or typical pairing would have been riesling, so I took these two bottles from the wine fridge to see how they stood up. Both were samples for review.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
In 2005, winemaker Adriana Cerda and her three sons bought a vineyard in Chile’s Maule Valley region of the country’s vast Central Valley. The vineyard was unusual for being so old — 60 years — and for being planted to grapes rare to Chile, carignane and riesling. We see some excellent riesling coming from the Leyda region, farther north and on the Pacific coast, but not from the Central Valley, so I was surprised and gratified by the quality of the Meli Riesling 2010 that Cerda made. The wine is a pale straw color; delicate, almost crystalline aromas of peach, pear and melon with a touch of cloves and hints of thyme and tarragon are well-knit and completely attractive. The texture is silken and blithely enlivened by vibrant acidity that lends verve to roasted lemon and ripe peach and pear flavors. The spicy element burgeons from mid-palate back, as does a rising tide of limestone minerality. Totally charming and tasty and appropriate for spring and summer sipping. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Very Good+. About $12, representing Great Value.
Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, Cal. Label image from thetravelingskier.blogspot.com
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler is a small estate — about 9,000 cases a year — centered at Bernkastel. Across from that ancient town, along a bend in the river Mosel, lies the highly regarded Badstrube vineyard, and a 4.6-acre portion of it owned by Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler is called “alte Badstrube am Doctorberg,” which is to say that it lies just above the “Doctor” vineyard, one of the greatest in Mosel, if not Germany. The year 2008 is regarded as a classic and well-balanced but not exceptional vintage.

That said, the Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstrube am Doctorberg Riesling Spatlese 2008 is utterly entrancing. The color is pale straw-gold; at first, one thinks “apple, apple, apple,” somehow both glowing green and burnished red, but this apple-aspect dims a shade to be replaced by the utmost ineffable, even evanescent delicacy of peach and pear with hints of lychee, almond and almond blossom, though allow the bouquet to blossom a few more moments as hints of ripe apricot shyly trail in. Matters are a bit more assertive in the mouth; there’s a touch of ripe, slightly honeyed sweetness on the entry, but swingeing acidity and scintillating minerality in the form of limestone and damp, dusty slate combine to ease a transition to a dry, refined finish in which spice and stone-fruit flavors are elegantly enshrined. All of these aspects are managed with essential decorum, though there is something, also, rather wild and piercing about the wine’s appeal. Alcohol content is 7 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 (and if you open a bottle in one of those years, let me know so I can try it too, please). Excellent. About $25 to $30.
Imported by Winesellers Ltd, Niles, Ill.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
How did these disparate rieslings pair with the Cumin-Spiced Shrimp and Chorizo Gumbo?
The first, the Meli Riesling 2010, from Chile, stood in relationship to the gumbo as two polite doctors might who shake hands and one says to the other “Do no harm,” and the second replies, “O.K., you do no harm too.” I mean, the gumbo is terrific and the Meli Riesling 2010 is very charming and basically no harm was done.
On the other hand, and quite unexpectedly, the Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstrube am Doctorberg Riesling Spatlese 2008 made for another of those totally off-the-wall risky and spectacular food-and-wine-matches that make your toes curl and your taste-buds smoke. I wish I had a case of this stuff so I could always drink it with spicy food.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Weary of winter’s woe? In my neck o’ the woods, we’re heading into balmier weather — though at this moment some attempt in the sky is being made to fling down a few rain-drops — but I see from my Facebook friends in other parts of the country that cold temperatures and even snow continue to prevail. Perhaps one or several of these fresh, spring-like wines — eight white and one rosé — will lift your spirits and set your minds on a more pleasant path.

These wines were samples for review.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Broadbent Vinho Verde, nv, is made from the traditional grapes of Portugal’s Vinho Verde region, loureiro (50%, in this case), trajadura (40%) and pedernã (10%). The wines are typically bottled with a fritz of carbon dioxide to give them a sprightly hint of spritz, and this lively example is no different. The Broadbent VV, made all in stainless steel, is fresh, crisp and exhilarating, with touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm, thyme and bay and a bit of hay-like grassiness; it’s quite dry and snappy with vigorous acidity and a background of chalk, but all very light, delicate and free. Delightful for immediate drinking and an attractive aperitif. 9 percent alcohol. Very good. About $11.
The Vinho Verde region lies mainly to the north but also to the east and southeast of the city of Oporto in northern Portugal; in fact, one drives through Vinho Verde to reach the Port country of the Douro Valley, passing from the light-hearted to the sublime.
Imported by Broadbent Selections, San Francisco.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
“Lucky Edition” #9 is actually the 13th release of Sokol Blosser’s cleverly conceived, made, marketed and, one assumes, profitable Evolution series of blended white wines, though since the premise is partly based on the notion of luck, well, they couldn’t put the bad luck number 13 on the label, could they? So the “#9″ pays homage to the array of grapes of which the wine is composed: these are: pinot gris, muller-thurgau, “white” riesling (the great majority of producers just use “riesling” now on labels), semillon, muscat canelli, gewürztraminer, pinot blanc, chardonnay and sylvaner. The wine carries an “American” designation because the grapes derive from several states; in that case, also, no vintage date is allowed by the TTB, that is, the federal Trade ‘n’ Tax Bureau that oversees label terminology. Anyway, Evolution “Lucky Edition” #9 — which I wrote about before yet this is the bottle that was sent to me recently (O.K., several months ago) — is about as beguiling as they come, brothers and sisters, wafting in the direction of your nose a winsome weaving of jasmine and honeysuckle, ripe peaches and pears, lychee and guava imbued with loads of spice; the wine is gently sweet on the entry but by mid-palate it turns quite dry and crisp, with a taut, rather spare texture running through juicy roasted lemon, pear and lime peel flavors devolving to a limestone-and-chalk-laced finish awash with bracing grapefruit acidity. Drink up. A pretty damned lovely aperitif and, at the risk of triteness, great with moderately spicy Asian food. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
(Evolution 14th Edition is now on the market.)
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“Sauvignon blanc” says the label of The Climber Sauvignon Blanc 2009, California, but the rule is that for a non-estate-produced wine, the proportion of the grape stated on the label need only be 75 percent, so this is 80 percent sauvignon blanc. What’s the balance? Thirteen percent pinot gris, 5 percent riesling and 1 percent each pinot meunier (seldom seen outside of Champagne) and muscat. These grapes derive from Lake and Mendocino counties and from Lodi. The color is pale straw; first one perceives leafy, grassy aromas permeated by dried thyme and tarragon, and then pungent earthy notes followed by a flagrantly appealing parade of roasted lemon and lemon balm, pear and melon and tangerine. In the mouth, we get pear and melon jazzed with lemon drop, lime peel and grapefruit; the wine is quite dry, quite crisp and lively, though crackling acidity cannot quell a lovely, soft, encompassing texture. The wine is made all in stainless steel, with no malolactic fermentation, to retain freshness and vitality. 13.7 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Most producers in California label their sauvignon blanc wines either sauvignon blanc, implying a Bordeaux-style white wine, or fumé blanc, a term invented by Robert Mondavi in the mid 1960s to indicate, theoretically, a Loire Valley-style sauvignon blanc in the fashion of Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé. Murphy-Goode has it both ways with “The Fumé” Sauvignon Blanc 2009, confirming what many people assumed long ago, and that there is no differentiation between whatever was once meant by the two designations. Anyway, the Murphy-Goode “The Fumé” Sauvignon Blanc 2009, North Coast, bursts with florid notes of caraway and tarragon and thyme, lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit with a hint of dusty shale and grassy leafiness; quite a performance, nose-wise. (There’s a dollop of semillon in the wine.) Then, the wine is crisp, dry, snappy, sprightly, scintillating with vivacious acidity and limestone elements that support lemon and lime flavors with a high peal of leafy black currant at the center. Through the 2007 vintage, this wine carried an Alexander Valley appellation but now displays the much broader North Coast designation. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12.50.
Founded in 1985 in Alexander Valley by Dale Goode, Tim Murphy and Dave Ready, Murphy-Goode has been owned since 2006 by Jackson Family Wines of Kendall-Jackson.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina — produced by Dominio del Plata — sports an entrancing watermelon/cerise color that practically shimmers in the glass. This smells like pure strawberry for a moment or two, until subtle hints of raspberry, melon and red currant sneak in, pulling in, shyly, notes of damp stones and slightly dusty dried herbs. This pack surprising heft for a rosé, though it remains a model of delicacy as far as its juicy red fruit flavors are concerned. It’s quite dry, a rose of stones and bones, with a finish drawn out in Provencal herbs, shale and cloves. Drink up. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very good+. Prices around the country range from about $10 to $14.
Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Cal.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Hugel et Fils “Cuvée Les Amours” Pinot Blanc 2008, Alsace, represents stunning value. The bouquet is ripe and exotic, even a little fleshy for a white wine, with notes of spiced and macerated peaches and pears, a hint of lemon and camellia and touches of ginger and quince. The wine — and this is Hugel’s basic “Hugel” line made from grapes purchased on long-term contract — offers a supple, silken, almost talc-like texture shot through with exciting acidity and a vibrant limestone element that burgeons from mid-palate back through a crisp, spicy, herb-infused finish. There’s something wild here, a high note of fennel and tangerine, a clean spank of earthiness that contributes to the wine’s depth and confident aplomb. “Cuvée Les Amours” 2008 should age and mellow nicely, well-stored, through 2015 or ’16. Alcohol content is 12 percent. Excellent. About — ready? — $15.
Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Here’s another wine that’s a combination of multiple grapes. The Peter Lehmann Layers White Wine 2010, from Australia’s Adelaide region, is blended from semillon (37%), muscat (20.5%), gewürztraminer (19.5%), pinot gris (19%) and chardonnay (4%). Made all in stainless steel, the wine offers a shimmering pale straw color; aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, lemon balm and lemon curd, greengage and yellow plums and peaches entice the nose, opening to slightly leafy and grassy elements and a hint of bee’s-wax. The wine is delicate, clean and crisp and to the citrus and yellow fruit adds traces of tangerine and pear, with, in the spicy, stony finish, a boost of grapefruit bitterness. Completely charming, a harbinger of spring’s easy-sipping aperitif wines or sip with asparagus risotto, chicken salad, and white gazpacho, made with bread, grapes,cucumbers, almonds, olive oil and garlic. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Tesch Riesling-Unplugged 2008, a trocken or dry wine from Germany’s Nahe region, embodies what we mean by the term “pure minerality.” (The estate, by the way, dates back to 1723, which is venerable but not as old as Hugel, which was founded in 1639.) Every molecule of this wine feels permeated by limestone and shale, even its hints of peach and pear and touches of yellow plum and lychee; every molecule of this wine feels permeated by nervy, electrifying acidity, as if you could take its staggeringly crisp, pert nature in your hands and break it into sharp-edged shards. It might as well have the words “fresh oysters” etched into its transparently crystalline presence. The restrictive term Gutsabfüllung on the back label means that the wine was bottled by the producer; the more common usage is Erzaugerabfüllung. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Alcohol content is 11.5 percent. Very Good+. About $20.
Sorry, I can’t find the name of the U.S. importer for wines from Tesch, but the Riesling-Unplugged 2008 is available in this country.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I was a fan of the 2007 version of Swanson’s Pinot Gris — I didn’t taste the 2008 — and I was equally pleased with the Swanson Pinot Grigio 2009, Napa Valley. Made completely in stainless steel, this is smooth and suave, freighted with spice and touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm, lemongrass, lychee and, in the background, a hint of softly macerated peach and the grape’s characteristic notes of almond and almond blossom. Bright, vibrant acidity keeps the wine, well, bright and vibrant, suitable support for cleanly-defined pear and melon flavors ensconced in a slightly weighty body that deftly combines lean, transparent muscularity with a silken blur of spice and dried herbs. Terrific character for a sort of northeastern Italian-styled pinot grigio, though not many from that area are nearly this good. 13.6 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $21.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What could be more straightforward than that? Not that all lists aren’t arbitrary in some degree, but after going through all the posts from 2010 on this blog several times and doing some cogitating and sighing and reluctant winnowing, here they are, The 50 Best Wines of 2010, as experienced by me and written about last year. Wines that I tasted in 2010 but haven’t written about yet will not show up on this list, nor will older vintages that I was lucky enough to taste, which I do damned little enough anyway. The order is wines I rated Exceptional, alphabetically, followed by wines I rated Excellent, alphabetically. Where I think such factors might be helpful, I list percentages of grapes and, for limited edition wines, the case production, if I know it. Prices begin at about $25 and go up to $200, with most, however, in the $30s, $40s and $50s.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
<>Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Sonoma Valley. Richard Arrowood’s new label. 996 cases. Exceptional. About $80.

<>Catena Alta Adrianna Chardonnay 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $35. (Winebow, New York)

<>Joseph Drouhin Chablis-Vaudésir Grand Cru 2007, Chablis, France. 130 six-bottle cases imported. Exceptional. About $72. (Dreydus, Ashby & Sons, New York)

<>Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Exceptional. About $150, though prices around the country range up to $225. (Winebow, New York)

<>Vincent Girardin Corton Renardes Grand Cru Vieilles Vignes 2007, Burgundy, France. Exceptional. About $70. (Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.)

<>Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2008, Clare Valley, Australia. Exceptional. About $38. (USA Wine West, Sausalito, Cal., for The Australian Premium Wine Collection)

<>Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Syrah 2007, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 75 cases. Exceptional. About $40.

<>Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 974 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

<>Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2008, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $32.

<>Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. 275 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

<>Rochioli Estate Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $60.

<>Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 490 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
<>Alma Negra Misterio 2007, Mendoza, Argentina. The red grapes in this blend are never revealed, but count on malbec, cabernet franc and bonarda. Excellent. About $30-$33. (Winbow, New York)

<>Benovia Bella Una Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 195 cases. Excellent. About $58.

<>Francois Billion Grand Cru Cuvée de Reserve Brut Cépage Chardonnay (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Excellent. About $60. (William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.)

<>Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $65. (Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill.)

<>Brovia Sorí del Drago Barbera d’Asti 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. $20-$28. (Neal Rosenthal, New York)

<>Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $35.

<>Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos de Mouches (blanc) 2007, Burgundy, France. 600 cases imported. Excellent. $100-$110. (Dreyfus, Ashby & Sons, New York)

<>Easton Old Vines Zinfandel 2006, Fiddletown, Amador County. “Old Vines” meaning back to 1865. Excellent. About $28.

<>Egly-Ouriet Brut “Les Vignes de Vrigny” (nonvintage). Champagne, France. Made, unusually, from all pinot meunier grapes. Excellent. About $70. (North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal.)

<>En Route “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir 2008, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,993 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Bodegas Fariña Gran Dama de Toro 2004, Toro, Spain. Tempranillo with six percent garnacha. Excellent. About $45. (Specialty Cellars, Santa Fe Springs, Cal.)

<>Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuisse 2008, Burgundy, France. Excellent. About $30. (Kobrand, New York)

<>Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Veuve Fourny Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot noir with a dollop of chardonnay. Excellent. About $55. (Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.)

<>Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 407 cases. Excellent. About $46.

<>Marchesi di Gresy Martinenga Barbaresco 2006, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. $45-$55. (Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Cal.)

<>Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel 2007, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $35.

<>Haton et Fils “Cuvée Rene Haton” Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Excellent. About $62. (William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.)

<>Heller Estate Pinot Noir 2007, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 154 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Domaine Huet Brut Vouvray Petillant 2002, Loire Valley, France. Excellent. About $30-$35. (Robert Chadderdon Selections, New York)

<>Iron Horse Brut Rosé 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. 81 percent pinot noir/19 percent chardonnay. 950 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. With 19.5 percent merlot, 4.5 percent petit verdot, 1 percent malbec. Excellent. About $52.

<>Kruger-Rumf Munsterer Rheinberg Riesling Kabinett 2008, Nahe, Germany. Excellent. About $22-$25. (Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, New York.)

<>Margerum Rosé 2009, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. 100 cases. Excellent. About $21.

<>Mendel Semillon 2009, Mendoza, Argentina, Excellent. About $25. (Vine Connection, Sausalito, Cal.)

<>Misty Oaks Jones Road Cabernet Franc 2008, Umpqua Valley, Oregon. 75 cases. Excellent. About $28.

<>Oakville Ranch Robert’s Blend Cabernet Franc 2005, Napa Valley. With 10 percent cabernet sauvignon. 393 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $90.

<>Joseph Phelps Insignia 2006, Napa Valley. Excellent. about $200.

<>Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1992, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba. Renaissance holds wines longer than any other winery; this dessert wine was released in 2008. Production was 364 cases of half-bottles. Excellent. About $35.

<>Renaissance Vin de Terroir Roussanne 2006, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba. 63 cases. Excellent. About $45.

<>Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys 2008, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $22.

<>St. Urban-Hof Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Piesling Auslese 2007, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Excellent. About $55. (HB Wine Merchants, New York)

<>Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2007, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $42.

<>Talbott Logan Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $25.

<>Tardieu-Laurent Les Becs Fins 2008, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, France. 50 percent syrah/50 percent grenache. 1,008 cases imported. Excellent. About $22. (Wilson-Daniels, St. Helena, Cal.)

<>Chateau Tour de Farges Vin Doux Natural 2006, Muscat de Lunel, France. Excellent. About $24. (Martine’s Wines, Novato, Cal.)

<>V. Sattui Black-Sears Vineyard Zinfandel 2007, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 400 cases. Available at the winery or mail order. Excellent. About $40.

<>Yangarra Estate Mourvèdre 2008, McLaren Vale, Australia. 500 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $29. (Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Cal.)
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Coming Next: 25 Fantastic Wine Bargains.

Oh, yeah, the holiday is over but the turkey lingers on, so LL and I were thinking about turkey hash, but she did some Internet research and found a recipe for Turkey Shepherd’s Pie. You would think that this would be a pretty simple dish, but it ended up using so many pans and bowls that it well-nigh wrecked the kitchen. The result was good though. What’s interesting is that the recipe calls — in addition to turkey, of course — for peas, cauliflower, potatoes and carrots. LL, in one of her typical astute moments, said, “Wait a minute. That stuff is exactly what you find in an Indian curry.” So she dumped some curry powder in with the turkey and vegetable mixture, and I think the dish was improved considerably.

Curry? Well, the wine had to be riesling, so I opened a bottle of Schloss Johannisberger Riesling Kabinett 2008, from Germany’s Rheingau region.

Schloss Johannisberg is an ancient estate that occupies a magnificent site on a broad hill that slopes in a southerly direction down to the Rhine. Grapes have been grown there apparently since the 12th Century, during monastic days. It has been an all-riesling property since 1720 and was one of the first, if not the first, in Germany to make a late harvest sweet wine from grapes affected by botrytis cinerea, the “noble rot.” In 1816, Schloss Johannisberg was given to Prince von Metternich by the Austrian Franz I for services at the Congress of Vienna — which redrew the map of Europe after Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo — and while the Metternich name still appears on the estate’s labels, it has been owned since 1974 by the giant conglomerate Dr. August Oetker KG, manufacturer of baking soda, dessert mixes, frozen pizzas and yogurt and owner of breweries, sparkling wine facilities, hotels and so on.

Schloss Johannisberger Riesling Kabinett 2008 is categorized as Prädikatswein, which is to say, Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP), though aiming at simplified terminology labels are no longer required to state the whole term, only the shorthand of Prädikatswein. This top category encompasses what are potentially the finest wines made in Germany’s vineyards, though of course many factors enter into a determination of quality, especially the weather throughout the growing season and at harvest. According to germanwineusa.com, in an assessment of 2008 in all the country’s vineyard regions, in Rheingau “the 2008 vintage will be known particularly for high-quality Kabinett wines.”

Why, then, is this wine not better? Not that it’s not attractive and enjoyable. The first impression is of lovely fruit scents and flavors in the form of ripe peach and pear with a hint of apple; the wine is lively and refreshing, quite spicy, moderately sweet on entry but dry from mid-palate back. The texture is sleek and silky, though tingly with crisp acidity, and the finish brings in a tide of limestone. So, pleasant and tasty, indeed, and an entertaining match with the turkey shepherd’s (curry) pie, but what the wine lacks is ultimate verve and nerve, the depth of exhilarating stony/spicy/citric vibrancy that should characterize a QmP-category riesling (with a profound history and heritage) from 2008, supposedly a great Kabinett vintage in Rheingau; it quaffs much easier than it should. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good+. Prices on the Internet range, ludicrously, from about $20 to $35.

Imported by Valckenberg International, Tulsa, Okla. A sample for review.

For a chilly day, I took a package of four pork shanks from the freezer and looked around the larder for what I could do with them. Ah, a container of prunes, left from some other recipe that I do not remember, but there are always leftover prunes, and they last forever. And some fresh rosemary and sage. Things were shaping up nicely. I called LL and asked her to go to the store and get some turnips, carrots, potatoes and mushrooms, which she accommodatingly brought home at lunchtime. Well, I never used the mushrooms because one of the dogs kept stealing them from the counter. Anyway, I browned the shanks in olive oil in a large pot, took the shanks out and sauteed some chopped onions and garlic, scraping up all the little meat bits. To the pot, then, I added chopped turnips, potatoes and carrots — turnips and carrots peeled — and cooked them for a few minutes, stirring them around to pick up any olive oil and rendered fat left in the pot. Then back into the pot with the shanks, along with maybe 16 prunes (sliced in half), handfuls of chopped rosemary and sage, a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of pepper and a bottle of dry white wine. Put the lid on the pot and let those shanks simmer for three hours or so. When LL got home from work, she said, “Wow, something smells really good!” For dinner, I presented her with Braised Pork Shanks with Prunes, Rosemary and Sage. Green beans on the side. A little grated lemon peel on top. So freakin’ good …

Pork and prunes put me in mind of Alsace and Germany, which put me in mind of riesling, but the hearty meatiness of the dish also put me in mind of syrah, particularly the Northern Rhone Valley. In the interests of experimentation, I opened the Peter Jakob Kuhn Quarzit Riesling Trocken 2008, Rheingau, and the Philippe and Vincent Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage 2007. How did the wines turn out as matches with the pork shanks? Read the comments that follow. These were samples for review.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________
I first tasted the Peter Jakob Kuhn Quarzit Riesling Trocken 2008 when I visited the biodynamic estate in July 2009; my post about that occasion is here. The property is graciously and fervently run by Peter Jakob Kuhn and his wife Angela; he, as winemaker, produces rieslings of remarkable character and dimension. The Quarzit designation is the second rung in the ladder of their roster of wines. My notes at the time: “V. stony, v. pure and intense, v. spicy; yellow flowers, yellow fruit, stone fruit; huge hit of minerals, slate and limestone; v. dry, crisp, vibrant, austere. This is, one admits, a little demanding; it needs a year or two.” Sixteen months later, the wine has opened considerably, but it’s primary motivation remains a scintillating expression of minerality in the form of crushed gravel and shaved granite. The floral element is more apparent; flavors of peach and pear encompass hints of dried thyme and a sort of Platonic grapefruit pithiness. The wine is indeed, as I wrote last year, “v. dry, crisp, vibrant, austere,” all qualities enhanced by acidity of startling vivacity. Ideally, a riesling to match the pork shanks would have halb-trocken — “half-dry” — or even a spatlese; the PJK Quarzit 2008 was simply too dry, too astringent for the richness of the dish, though there were moments when I took a spoonful of prune and turnip in the sauce and then a sip of the wine and felt a brief frisson of perfection. 11.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. Suggested retail price is $28, but prices on the Internet run from about $25 to $40.

Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Made from 100 percent syrah grapes, the Domaine Philippe and Vincent Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage 2007 offers a pungent and classic bouquet of smoke, wet dog, cloves and sandalwood, spiced and macerated red and black currants, and, in a few minutes, burning leaves, briers and brambles, moss, rose petals and violets; in fact, give the wine some time in the glass — I mean like an hour or two — and it smells as if you had somehow taken the whole of the Northern Rhone Valley in your hand, all its weeds and flowers and gravelly, loamy earth, and crushed it and rubbed it and inhaled the deep, exotic redolence. Austerity takes over in the mouth, but it’s the austerity of broad tannins rather than oak. Only 20 percent of the wine ages in oak casks for 10 months; the rest stays in concrete and stainless steel tanks, so despite the grainy heft of the structure there’s an aura of freshness and clarity. Still, this was too young, too dense and underdeveloped for the pork shanks. A better choice would have been, to keep with the Rhone but travel further south, a Cotes-du-Rhone Villages, or more toward the home-base, a fruity zinfandel. 900 cases were imported. Excellent potential from 2012 or ’13 through 2017 or ’19. About $31.

Imported by Wilson-Daniels, Napa, Cal. Bottle image by John McJunkin.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

LL seared a fillet of salmon, just with salt, pepper and lemon juice, and braised baby bok choy with garlic and, um, other stuff, while I made sweet potato oven-fries dusted with cumin and chili powder. A simple and delicious dinner.

I opened a truly lovely German wine from the Nahe region, the Kruger-Rumpf Münsterer Rheinberg Riesling Kabinett 2008.

Nahe borders the western reach of upper Rheingau; to the northwest, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer extends down along the Mosel river. The wines of Nahe are often described as being amalgams of Mosel and Rheingau, and perhaps the geography of Germany’s wine country, with Nahe between Mosel and Rheingau, explains that notion. The best vineyards of Nahe cluster along the banks of the Nahe river, in the region’s central eastern side; the principal towns are Bad Kreuznach and Bad Münster, the prefix “Bad” indicating the presence of health-giving spas and resorts. (A münster is a monastary.)

The estate of Kruger-Rumpf, regarded as an up-and-coming producer, is farther downstream (north), at Münster Sarmsheim, not far from where the Nahe runs into the Rhine at the town of Bingen. Münsterer Rheinberg Kabinett is the estate’s basic wine, but that status does not imply inferiority. Kruger-Rumpf Münsterer Rheinberg Riesling Kabinett 2008 is ethereal and exquisitely expressive of the riesling grape; a touch of spritz makes the wine light and balletic. Delicate aromas of pear and peach with hints of yellow plum and honeysuckle are borne on an evanescent tide of slightly earthy limestone. Citrus flavors unfold to reveal a suggestion of creamy Lady apples, briefly baked. The wine flirts with sweetness on the entry, but from mid-palate back, it’s bone-crisp, bone-chalky, bone-dry, yet ripely, gracefully succulent. What a sweetheart! Alcohol is 8.5 percent. Drink now through 2012 (well-stored). Excellent. About $22 to $25.

Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y. A sample for review, from a trade group.

Well, My Readers, it’s time to wrap things up for the trip to Germany. This is the 12th post, and I’ve covered about every topic, issue and idea that came out of that too-brief sojourn. Today, I thought it would be fun to turn to some of the best meals, or at least dishes, that I ate in Rheinhessen, Rheingau and Pfalz and then finish with a list of the best wines I encountered during those four days. As you will see, not once were we presented with sauerbraten or sausages.
________________________________________________________________________________________
Tuesday, July 7. I didn’t take my camera to the introductory dinner on our first night, so I can’t provide a visual record of one of the best fish courses I have ever eaten. This was at the restaurant l’herbe de Provence, which occupies the whole first floor of the sleekly modern Zwo Hotel and Restaurant in Oppenheim. The dish was a filet of rotbarben (rouget barbet or red mullet) on braised apricots with fried chanterelle mushrooms. That was it. Utter simplicity and completely fabulous in its balance of sweet and savory and earthy sensations and of complimentary textures. Also simple yet almost heartbreakingly lovely was the pinot blanc that accompanied the dish, the Guntersblumer Weisburgunder 2007 from Geheimrat Schnell.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

Wednesday, July 8. After a day visiting estates and tasting wines in Rheingau, we touched down in the village of Hattenheim, in front of the venerable Zum Krug Weinhaus und Hotel, where the chef Josef Laufer presides over the kitchen. His father, also Josef Laufer, is founder of the establishment, though the building dates back to the early 18th Century. Laufer prepared an inventive, intriguing meal for our group, not every element of which worked. For example, the second course, for which I will not transcribe the German name, consisted of a cup of foamed soup made from organic goat cheese adorned with basil pesto and a portion of air-dried country ham, each perched on a rectangular plate. The soup was good; the ham was good; they did not compose a relationship together.

On the other hand, Laufer provided what was probably the best meat course of the trip. This was a shoulder of free-range pig in elderflower syrup (Holunderblütenöl) — I’m not certain of the cooking method — on a bed of kohlrabi with “little mushrooms” (Pfifferlingen) and new potatoes, a dish that went far beyond the concept of common “meat and potatoes.” And while I did not get used to drinking riesling with meat courses — I think people got tired of me saying, “Man, I sure wish I had a Ridge Three Valleys Zinfandel with this!” — the fact is that the brilliant Jakob Jung Erbach Hoherrain Erste Gewächs (“First Growth”) Riesling 2002 eased my pain.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

Thursday, July 9. Evening brought us to Weingut Gysler, a producer that has been operating in the Rheingau village of Alzey since 1450 and is now run by Alexander Gysler on biodynamic principles; the wines, which display gratifying delicacy and authority, are certified by Demeter and BIO. Instead of dining at a restaurant, dinner was catered at Gysler by celebrated young chef Peter Scharff, who left a Michelin one-star restaurant to start a group called Kulinarische Kompetenz. I found his resemblance to Emperor Franz-Josef — or was it Ludwig, Mad King of Bavaria? — striking. Scharff and his staff grow 200 to 250 herbs, many of which found their way into these courses. We didn’t have a printed menu, so my interpretation of some of these dishes may be sketchy.

I thought that the first course involved salmon “three ways,” but I could find only two, a salmon mousse, cunningly surrounded by paper-thin half-moons of radish, and deeply flavorful smoked salmon, accompanied by a tangle of crisp, fresh greens. It was a complicated dish, but delicious. Next came braised beef shoulder and smoked and braised beef cheeks on roasted tomatoes with root vegetables, of which I was not so fond, because it seemed neither to tax the chef’s ingenuity nor to rise too high about the “meat and potatoes” level,” which is not to save that I didn’t clean my plate.

Dessert, though, was this beautiful panna cotta with fresh berries and herbs. Each plate also held, on the rim, a little totem of dark chocolate. This was, I think, the hit of the evening, along with Gysler’s Weinheimer Hölle Huxelrebe Spätlese 2008 served with it. One of our party who had a car promptly bought a case.
______________________________________________________________________________________
Friday, July 10. The plains and gently rolling hills of Pfalz held our attention today. We had lunch at Netts Restaurant und Weinbar, in Gimmeldingen, along with a tasting of wines from Weingut A. Christmann. The restaurant, designed in a spare contemporary manner with white walls and plain wood accents — and with a stunning view from the dining room of a great shallow valley stretching for miles — wasn’t scheduled to open for another week, so this was a special occasion. You could tell that the establishment wasn’t finished by such details as the mirror in the men’s restroom held in place by a two-by-four; that’s usually a giveaway. Though the food was simple, it was impeccably prepared and presented, adding up to what was probably our most coherent meal from beginning to end. It didn’t hurt that the Christmann rieslings were superb, though I thought that two pinot noirs were too spicy and worked over by oak.

First, a simple piece of rabbit loin rhubarb sauce, with two wines, Christmann’s Ruppertsberger Linsenbusch Riesling 2008 and the Königsbacher Ölberg Riesling 2008, which is to say, an excellent wine followed by an amazing wine.

Then, a lovely terrine of peas and carrots with an arugula salad and hazetnut pesto, with the excellent Reiterpfad Grosses Gewächs (“Grand Cru”) Riesling 2004 followed by the exceptional Idig Grosses Gewächs Rieling 2003.

If the meal at Netts had a weak spot, it was that the next course seemed a tad obvious, a little less subtle that the others. This was roulades of trout stuffed with herbs served over onion marmalade with gnocchi on the side. These wines, too, the pinots I mentioned before, were the weakest in the roster.

Finally, a sort of rhubarb crumble served in a small tumbler with whipped cream and a strawberry on top. I took my dessert to a window sill to get some different light — a food tourist with a camera is a terrible thing — and the waiter, evidently thinking that my empty place meant that I hadn’t gotten any dessert, kindly brought another. And I ate that one too!
_____________________________________________________________________________________

Friday, July 10. For our final dinner of the trip, we were driven to Deidesheim, where we convened at Zur Kanne, a restaurant and hotel that has been serving guests since 1160. We were tasting the wines of Dr. Bürklin-Wolf, a relatively youthful estate that has been producing mainly rieslings only since 1597. Perhaps by this time I was weary of orchestrated wine-tasting meals; as good as the courses were, my favorites were two simple soups, an amuse bouche of cold cucumber soup with creme fraiche, and the potato soup with wild-garlic pesto that came between the trout and the pork. Not that these soups weren’t fairly rich, of course.

Ah, yes, more trout and pork! Not a thing wrong with the trout — whole this time, and served with a sort of Mediterranean zucchini and tomato salad — or the silky smooth rack of young pork (Jungschwein) with a piece of corn on the cob, pierced by a fork, and roasted potatoes, and I bet travelers didn’t get food like this in the 12th century. Still, I wanted something light, something undemanding. At 110 hectares –almost 283 acres — Dr. Bürklin-Wolf is a huge estate by German standards, but several of the wines we tried, especially the Gaisböhl Grosses Gewächs Riesling trocken 2007 with the pork and the Gaisböhl Riesling Auslese 2002 with dessert — strawberries with Grand Marnier and ice cream — were outstanding.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

Going back through my notes, I think we tasted about 85 wines on this brief trip to Rheingau, Rheinhessen and Pfalz. Many of these were noteworthy for intensity and purity and authenticity, but after much consideration and weighing their multitude of effects, I settled on these 15 as the best, 14 whites, mostly riesling, and one red, that is pinot noir (spätburgunder). Why do this? Why even make these differentiations and sort out a hierarchy of the “best?” Because that’s the kind of guy I am. I like lists and matters put in order, tied with a bow of finality. So there.

>Graf von Kanitz Riesling Trocken 2006, Rheingau.
>Weingut Jakob Jung Erbach Hoherrain Riesling 2002, Rheingau.
>Brüder Dr. Becker Ludwigshoher Scheurebe Spätlese 2008, Rheinhessen
>Peter Jakov Kuhn Doosberg Riesling 2007, Rheingau
>St. Antony Nierstein Pettenthan Riesling G.G. 2008, Rheinhessen.
>Kuling-Gillot Ölberg Riesling G.G. 2007, Rheinhessen
>Battenfeld Spanier “CO” Riesling 2008, Rheinhessen
>Geysler Weinheimer Hölle Huxelrebe Spätlese 2008, Pfalz
>Heimer Sauer Hinter dem Schloss Weisburgunder Spätlese trocken 2007, Pfalz.
>Heimer Sauer Gleisweiler Hölle Riesling Beerenauslese 2005, Pfalz
>A. Christmann Königsbacher Ölberg Riesling 2008, Pfalz
>A. Christmann Idig G.G. Riesling 2003, Pfalz
>Dr. Bürklin-Wolf Gaisböhl G.G. Riesling Trocken 2007, Pfalz
>Dr. Bürklin-Wolf Gaisböhl Riesling Auslese 2002, Pfalz
>Heimer Sauer Spätburgunder 2005, Pfalz.
_____________________________________________________________________________________
Image of Peto Scharff by Ernst Büscher; all others by F.K.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

During the four days that I was in Germany in July, our group heard over and over from producers and winemakers that the Wine Law of 1971 marked a body-blow to the German wine industry from which it has struggled for almost 40 years to recover. Indeed, in his chapter on the Wine Law in The Wines of Germany (Mitchell Beazley, 2003), Stephen Brook uses words like “abuse,” villainous,” “terminological rape” and “inanity” to describe the regulations and their effects. While an explanation of German wine label terms and the strictures of the Wine Law could take a semester of seminars and workshops, let me heroically attempt such a feat in one incredibly over-simplifying blog post.

(This post is not a guide to reading German wine labels. For that precise information go here or here.)

And before we leap to the heart of the matter, let me draw an analogy between the vineyard systems of Burgundy and Germany. In contrast to Bordeaux, for example, where the estate and the wine are synonymous, in Burgundy and Germany the villages and vineyards hold the qualitative pride of place, with many producers making wine from the same vineyard, of which they may own a piece or purchase grapes from another owner. In Bordeaux, for example, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild is the name of the wine and the estate, and its vineyards are its own. On a Burgundy label, the words Volnay Le Cailleret indicate (first) the village and (second) the vineyard, just as on a German label the words Nierstein Ölberg indicate the same village/vineyard sequence. Most of the wine world follows the model of Bordeaux, to greater or lesser degree.

O.K., now, here’s how the German Wine Law struck the death knell for the country’s fine wine estates.

First, the committees that came up with the Wine Laws completely ignored the traditions of quality differences among vineyards. Let’s face it: some vineyards are better than others. That’s why, in Burgundy, for instance, Chambertin-Clos de Bèze, a Grand Cru vineyard, (usually) commands a higher price than Gevry-Chambertin Les Cazetiers, a Premier Cru vineyard, or why, in California, wines made from vineyards with long histories of producing high-quality wines, such as To-Kalon or Sanford & Benedict, are sought after by collectors. What makes one vineyard better than another is a subject for another post or seven, but, briefly, it’s a matter of the nuances of exposure, drainage and soil/sub-soil composition along with variations in the consistency of warmth and coolness during the day and at night. Such details, both minute and sweeping, of geography and micro-climate can change within a few hundred yards or even from one side of a road to the other. Fortunes depend on such subtleties.

As far as the German Wine Law is concerned, however, the greatest virtue of a wine is not where it came from or the grape variety from which it was made but the ripeness of the grapes.

The whole spectrum of German wines falls under these divisions: 1. Deutscher Tafelwein (German table wine); 2. Landwein (country wine); 3. Qualitätswein bestimmer Anbaugebiete (QbA, quality wine of a specified appellation); and 4. Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP, quality wines with distinction). The vast majority of wine made in Germany is Tafelwein and Landwein; few regulations apply to these levels and little is exported. QbA wines — often signified just by the word Qualitätswein on labels — must conform to regional laws and must be tested by a compliance committee; these wines may have sugar added during fermentation to achieve the required level of alcohol.

QmP wines, which may not have sugar added to them, were codified in the German Wine Law of 1971 as such: Kabinett; Spätlese, Auslese; Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerauslese. The categories are defined by law in ascending order, starting with Kabinett, in terms of the ripeness of the grapes and the potential alcohol content (that is to say, from driest to sweetest) and the specific lateness and method of harvest. The Wine Law clearly implies that the ascending order is one of increasing quality; a Spätlese wine, in other words, is inherently “better” than a Kabinett and so on.

Second, the German Wine Law of 1971 shanghaied the names of well-favored villages and attached them to broad regional designations (Grosslages), thereby diluting the reputation of the village and its often illustrious vineyards. “How many people would know,” Brook writes in The Wines of Germany, “that Piesporter Goldtröpfchen was the name of one of the finest sites on the Mosel, while Piersporter Michelsberg was a Grosslage name that incorporated a vast area of utterly mediocre vineyards on overfertile flat land at some distance from the river?” In other words, it is perfectly legal for a wine designated Piesporter Michelsberg to have no wine from Piesport in it.

Obviously this scheme favors large producers who can take advantage of a famous name to display on labels of generic wine. It also favors wine sellers who can persuade their customers to purchase more expensive Spätlese or Auslese wines because they’re “better” than Kabinetts. (I saw a newsletter from a German wine club that described the principle virtue of QbA wines as “to mix with club soda.”)

However, some of the best wines I tried in Germany were Kabinett wines of classic intensity and authority or Spätleses made in the dry or “half-dry” (trocken or halb-trocken) fashion. Other great wines I encountered were QmP wines declassified to QbA or deliberately made outside the QmP system, just as producers in Italy used to opt for the lowly Vino da Tavola designation to make wines from officially unapproved grapes. That’s one method by which fine estates in Germany are trying to produce authentic and individualistic wines without being hampered by illogical regulations.

Another method is the creation of a self-regulating regional Grand Cru (Grosses Gewächs) system designed by the VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter, the Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates) and legalized in 2006. As admirable, however, as this classification system may be in identifying and supporting Germany’s finest vineyards (though who could say that these choices are not arbitrary to some extent), the VDP’s relentless emphasis lies with dry wines at the Kabinett and Spätlese levels, at the expense of the inimitable dessert wines that are the real glory of Germany’s wine industry. It’s true that in a changing world German wine consumers turn increasingly to dry wines, but the wonderful heritage of that golden nectar must not be minimized or forsaken.

« Previous PageNext Page »