Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Glories of Riesling (Part Three) - The New World

In my two previous posts on Riesling (here and here), I wrote about the two most classic origins of Riesling from the Old World - Germany and Alsace. This post will deal with some favorite examples of Riesling from the New World, namely Australia, New Zealand and California.

Whenever you speak about Riesling, you think of Germany and Alsace for their beautiful expressions of this grape, whether dry or sweet. They have been producing these wines for centuries, so vine age plus knowing the best sites to plant the grape along with experience - the best teacher of all - have combined to make these two areas reference points for Riesling.

I have yet to discover a region or country that produces as many great examples of Riesling as do those two lands, but the Clare Valley in Australia comes close and in my mind, has been the home of some truly classic Rieslings. The finest example of this variety I have had outside of Germany and Alsace has been the Grosset "Polish Hill" from Clare Valley, 100 miles north of Adelaide. I've never enjoyed the good fortune of visiting there, so I have to rely on the firm's website about this wine, which describes the vineyard as having "silt and shallow shales over a thin crust of clay and gravel." Proprietor Jeffrey Grosset has been making this wine since 1981 and I recall quite well the lovely petrol and lime aromas, as well as the richness on the palate and texture of the wine. This is truly a great Riesling.

For this post, I tasted another excellent Clare Valley Riesling from Kilikanoon (review below); I also tasted Rieslings from Western Australia, namely from the Margaret River and Frankland River Regions. The wines I tasted from Leeuwin Estate and Frankland Estate were very different in style, but both excellent. I was particularly pleased with the structure and minerality of the latter's wines.

I was also delighted with another Riesling from Down Under, namely the Greywacke 2011 from the Marlborough district in New Zealand. Greywacke is the winery of Kevin Judd, who achieved fame a while back as being the winemaker at Cloudy Bay. Kevin has always made brilliant examples of Sauvignon Blanc, but his Riesling is just as memorable.

From America, I've been very impressed with the Rieslings from Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington. There are two principal releases from this producer, one the Cold Creek Vineyard offering and second the Eroica. The Cold Creek Vineyard is planted to numerous varieties - red and white - and it is quite warm, so you might not think a site that is the source for excellent examples of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc would be home to lovely Rieslings, but that indeed is the case. The Eroica wine is a collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle and famed Mosel producer, Dr. Ernst Loosen. This is a beautiful wine, a Riesling of marvelous complexity and charm.

There are a few beautiful Rieslings from California as well. Mendocino County, north of Sonoma, is a cool climate ideal for this variety; especially recommended are the examples from Handley and Greenwood Ridge from Anderson Valley and Esterlina from Cole Ranch.

As for Napa Valley, Trefethen Vineyards has been producing a delicate, dry Riesling for years and then there is the legendary Stony Hill Riesling, which has become somewhat of a Holy Grail for Riesling lovers.

The Finger Lakes region of upper New York State is home to more than 60 producers of Riesling. There are all styles made here with varying quality levels, but the best are excellent. For this post, I tasted a Riesling from Ravines Wines Cellars and was quite pleased.

Tasting notes:


Leeuwin Estate Riesling "Art Series" 2013 (Margaret River) - Light yellow; aromas of peony, melon, petrol and elderflowers. Medium-full with very good concentration. Cleanly made, this has impressive persistence and varietal focus. Lengthy finish and lively acidity. This should drink well for another 3-5 years - excellent. ($16, a notable value). Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, CA.

Frisk "Prickly" Riesling 2013 (Victoria) - I've enjoyed this Riesling for a few years now; the name comes from the fact that the wine has a prickly sensation on your tongue. Pleasing aromas of melon, white peach and elderflowers. Medium-bodied with tasty ripe fruit and a nicely structured finish with tangy acidity. Irresistible now, best fresh, but can be enjoyed over the next 3-5 years. ($10) Imported by Old Bridge Cellars

Kilakanoon Riesling "Mort's Block" 2012 (Clare Valley, Watervale)
Straw/light yellow; delicate aromas of melon, lime and peony. Medium-full with very good concentration. Elegant wine with excellent varietal character. Very good persistence and acidity. Nice typicity - perhaps not as rich as some vintages, but a nice wine for enjoyment now and over the next 2-3 years. ($20) Imported by Old Bridge Cellars.

Frankland Estate Riesling "Netley Road Vineyard" 2012 (Frankland River Riesling, Western Australia): I tasted three different offerings of Riesling from this producer. The first two, the "Poison Hill Vineyard" and the "Isolation Ridge Vineyard" are very good with excellent varietal character and persistence. The "Netley Road" is the finest of the three. Brilliant straw, aromas of petrol, lime and a hint of talc powder. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Rich mid-palate, elegant entry on the palate. Lengthy, well-structured finish with excellent persistence, lively acidity and a delicate streak of minerality. Wonderful complexity and varietal character. Enjoy now (I'd love this paired with crab) or wait for greater complexities to come to the front. Peak drinking in 7-10 years. ($35, only 6000 bottles produced). Imported by Quintessential, Napa, CA.

New Zealand

Greywacke 2011 (Marlborough) - Straw/light yellow; lovely aromas of lime, elderflowers and green apple. Medium-full with very good concentration. Vibrant acidity, excellent persistence and wonderful varietal purity with just a touch of minerality. This was the most delicious Riesling I tasted for this post. I opened it and enjoyed a few ounces each night for more than a week; it was as fresh and as tasty after a week open as it was when I first tasted it. Beautiful wine - well, done Kevin Judd! ($25) Imported by Old Bridge Cellars.


Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling "Cold Creek Vineyard" 2012 (Columbia Valley) - Beautiful straw/light yellow with delightful aromas of white peach, apricot, lilacs and chamomile. Medium-bodied with excellent concentration. Generous mid-palate, very good acidity, impressive persistence and ideal varietal purity. Absolutely delicious with perfect balance, this has just a trace of sweetness, which is balanced by the acidity, leaving a clean, satisfying finish. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years - if you can wait that long! ($18, an excellent value). (Information on the wine here).

Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen Riesling "Eroica" 2012 (Columbia Valley) - The grapes for this wine are sourced from eight different vineyards in Washington, including Horse Heaven (Columbia Valley) and Viewcrest (Yakima Valley). Straw; lovely aromas of lime, white peach and a hint of pineapple. Lovely mid-palate and balance - very exquisite - with lovely varietal purity. Very impressive Mosel-styled Riesling with very good acidity and a nice touch of finesse. This is slightly drier than the Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Riesling. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years. ($20, a fine value). (Information on the wine here).


Handley Cellars Riesling 2012 (Anderson Valley) - Straw/light yellow; attractive aromas of yellow peach, Anjou pear and magnolias. Medium-bodied, this has good varietal character, good persistence and a lightly sweet, but not cloying finish. A delicate, uncomplicated style of Riesling meant for consumption over the next 1-2 years. ($22) 

New York State

Ravines Wine Cellars Riesling "Argetsinger Vineyard" 2010 (Finger Lakes) - This vineyard was planted 25 years ago and is comprised of limestone soil. Floral aromas - peony and lilacs with a note of honey. Very good concentration and freshness. Very good acidity; off-dry finish. Elegant with a nice sense of finesse. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years. ($25)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Notes on 2010 Barolo - more than 110 wines

Barolo landscape, early May morning (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I recently tasted more than 125 examples of Barolo from the 2010 vintage at the Nebbiolo Prima event in Alba, Piemonte. This event is held each year for a select few dozen journalists (about 70) from around the world, who taste the wines blind over the course of several days. This was the tenth year in the last twelve I have participated in this event and it's one I look forward to each year with great anticipation.
This was a year in which the majority - a great majority - of producers made excellent to outstanding Barolo. Believe me, this does not happen every vintage (for proof of that, one only needs to look back to last year when the 2009 Barolos were released).

I have put together a 20-page pdf document with my tasting notes on the 2010 Barolos, reviewing exactly 118 wines. My highest rating is 5 stars - outstanding. In this report, I have given this highest rating to 31 wines (26.2%). Yes, the 2010 vintage is that good! Among the finest were the Renato Ratti "Rocche dell'Annunziata", the Vietti "Rocche di Castiglione", the Paolo Scavino "Bric del Fiasc", Bartolo Mascarello and many others. These are truly classic examples of Barolo, so you might expect these wines to rise to the occasion in a great year such as 2010 and they most certainly did! These are wines that will peak in 35-50 years. I know I won't be around to see these wines at that stage, but it's nice to know they will last that long (it's also quite a pleasure and blessing to know I can at least try them now!). These wines will cost you upwards of $100 a bottle, but if you are a Barolo lover, you need to find a few of these wines! (Incidentally, the great examples of Barolo are priced much more reasonably than the finest Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa or examples of Bordeaux or Burgundy of similar quality. This is something that is rarely discussed, but it is a fact and it's something I need to point out; the best Barolo are under valued.)

If you would like to receive a copy of this 20-page pdf report (it was sent to contributors of my upcoming book "The Wines and Foods of Piemonte"), the cost is $10, a very reasonable price for this overview of these great wines. Payment is by PayPal - use my email of (If you choose not to use PayPal, you can send along a check to me in the mail - email me for information).

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Glories of Riesling (Part Two) - Alsace

Photo ©Tom Hyland

Continuing with my series of posts on Riesling (click here for the last post on Germany), this article will deal solely with Riesling from Alsace. Tucked in a far northeastern corner of France, not far from the border with Germany, Alsace is one of the most northern wine regions in the world, making this an ideal home for most white varieties, especially Riesling.

Alsatian Riesling always displays healthy acidity (even in a warm year such as 2011) along with beautiful varietal purity. Aromas and flavors tend to be of apricot, yellow peach and yellow flowers; these perfumes are a bit more intense in Riesling from Grand Cru vineyards.

The Grand Cru vineyards by the way are quite special, as they are generally situated at a slightly higher elevation than other vineyards and also must be farmed to smaller yields. These sites have a great deal of vine age, as many Grand Cru vineyards in Alsace are 30-40 years of age. There are currently a total of 51 Grand Cru vineyards in Alsace, although not all of them are planted to Riesling.

As you might imagine, the wines from the Grand Cru vineyards are not inexpensive; for a Riesling, $70-85 is not uncommon. These wines can be incredible (see the review of the Josmeyer below), so if you are a lover of Riesling, you owe it to yourself to try a Grand Cru bottling at least once in your life.

Vineyard near Ribeauvillé (Photo from Jean Sipp website)

The nice thing about the Alsatian Rieslings that are not from Grand Cru vineyards is that they are good values; there are many excellent Alsatian Rieslings available at retail in the US at $16-$20. They are not as rich as the Grand Cru offerings, of course, but they still age well. Aging potential is a strength of Riesling, so look for these wines in even average vintages to drink well for 3-5 years, while in excellent vintages such as 2009, 2010 or 2012, that can be anywhere from 5-10 years, with the Grand Cru wines having the potential of 12-15 years of drinking pleasure. (There are other Rieslings made in Alsace, rare wines such as vendage tardive (late harvested grapes) and sélection de grains nobles, made from berries that have been infected with botrytis, the noble rot, that are quite lush and very sweet; these are extremely limited wines and are rather expensive. I'm not writing about these wines for now; perhaps down the road, if I'm fortunate enough to try a few of these wines!)

Tasting notes

2012 Albert Seltz Riesling - Straw color; appealing aromas of white flowers, white peach and a delicate hint of ginger. Medium-bodied with very good concentration. Lovely texture, very good acidity and excellent varietal character. A lovely introduction to Alsatian Riesling - 2012 is an excellent vintage. Enjoy over the next 5-7 years.  $17, a very good value. (Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates)

2012 Domaine Ehrhart Riesling "Herrenweg" - Bright yellow; aromas of yellow peach, apricot and a note of liniment. Medium-full with very good concentration. Rich mid-palate, very good ripeness, balancing acidity and very good persistence. Fine now, but will improve with a few years as it rounds out; best in 3-5 years. $25 (Robert Kacher Selections )

2011 Muré Riesling "Signature" - Light yellow; aromas of yellow peach and apricot. Medium-bodied, this is dry with tart acidity and good persistence. Lighter than the first two wines above, so drink over the next 1-2 years, but nicely balanced with good varietal character. $25 (Robert Kacher Selections)

2011 Marcel Deiss Riesling - Deep yellow; aromas of apricot, almond and dried yellow flowers (magnolia). Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Good acidity, impressive varietal focus, excellent persistence. Earthy, lightly herbal finish. Quite distinctive, this is powerful and lacks a bit of finesse (due in some part to the warm 2011 vintage), but this is quite stylish and should improve with time. $30

2010 Paul Blanck Riesling Gran Cru "Schlossberg" - Light yellow; aromas of white peach, melon and Bosc pear. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Lovely balance and structure. Beautifully made with great varietal purity, this is perfectly balanced and delicious. This is not as powerful as some Grand Cru Rieslings from Alsace, but this is a lovely wine! Enjoy over the next 5-7 years, perhaps longer. $40, which represents an excellent value. (Michael Skurnik Selections)

2009 Josmeyer Riesling Grand Cru "Hengst" - Straw/light yellow; beautiful aromas of dried pear, apricot and hibiscus. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Excellent persistence, very good acidity and outstanding complexity with textbook varietal character. Just a classic style of Alsatian Riesling with a delicate minerality; vibrant with great focus, this is an outstanding wine! Enjoy now, but better in 7-10 years. $88 (Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates) - note: the word Hengst in French means "stallion." This is definitely a stallion of a wine and one of the most memorable Rieslings I have ever tasted!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Glories of Riesling (Part One) - Germany

Vineyard in Germany's Rheingau Region (Photo from Peter Jakob Kühn website)

Recently I wrote a series of posts about Sauvignon Blanc (click here), calling it the "greatest grape." Of course, there is not one grape variety that is the greatest- there are several and Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorites, if not my single favorite. I did mention Riesling in the first post, noting that there are some important wine writers who label that variety as the world's most accomplished. I love Riesling, but don't get the opportunity to taste as many as I'd like, so I decided it was time to reacquaint myself with the grape. I've tasted a couple dozen wines made from Riesling over the past several weeks and starting with this post, I'll report about these wines. 

One of the reasons I labeled Sauvignon Blanc as the greatest grape was the fact that there are few varieties that display such brilliance in so many regions, be it the Loire Valley from France, Marlborough Valley from New Zealand, San Antonio Valley from Chile as well as a few zones in Washington State, California, Italy and a few others. Given that, Riesling deserves acclaim as well for its performance in so many wine zones around the world, from Germany and Austria to Alsace, Australia, New Zealand as well as California and Washington State.

So let's start with Germany, the cradle of Riesling. There are several major production zones with two most famous being the Mosel and the Rheingau. These zones are in southwestern Germany, with the Mosel - aka Mosel-Saar-Ruwer for the three rivers that define this area - further west. Both zones are imbued with stunning hillside slopes, the better to catch the sun at this far northern latitude.

Generally speaking, the Rieslings from the Mosel tend to be lighter in the mouth than those from the Rhiengau, as wines from this latter zone are generally more lush with apricot and peach flavors. The Mosel Rieslings are often more mineral driven and though not as fat as those from the Rheingau, do offer amazing structure and tremendous cellaring potential. German Rieslings, no matter the origin, are known for their long aging ability, even for the less sweet versions (Kabinett, Trocken), which can still drink well at 7-10 years of age. Then you have wines such as Auslese and sweeter (Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese) that can drink well for 20-40 years in some instances.

But even for the basic German Rieslings not meant for the long haul, there is a purity of flavor as well as vibrant acidity that defines these wines. It is no wonder then that producers all over the world use Germany as the goal they have in mind when producing their own versions of Riesling.

Here are notes on a few German Rieslings I tasted recently:

2010 Villa Huesgen Kabinett "Feinherb" (Mosel) - Aromas of yellow pear, magnolia and yellow peach. Medium-bodied, this has good varietal character, and is nicely balanced with good acidity. Pleasant and dry, with very good persistence and delicious apricot flavors in the finish. Enjoy over the next 1-2 years. ($38) - Imported by Qunitessential, Napa Ca.

2011 Selbach-Oster Riesling Kabinett (Mosel) - Straw/light yellow; pretty aromas of lime, white peach and lilacs. Medium-bodied with very good concentration. Juicy, lush fruit, good acidity and persistence. Clean with excellent varietal focus. Straightforward, this is a nice exmple of the Mosel style of Riesling; enjoy over the next 2-3 years. ($23) - A Michael Skurnik Selection, Syosset, NY.

2012 Weingut Spreitzer Oestricher Lenchen Kabinett (Rheingau) - Brilliant light yellow with pale green/gold reflections; lovely aromas of white peach, lilacs and chamomile. Medium-full with very good concentration. This is beautifully balanced with lovely vareital purity. The fruit is perfectly ripe with a light juiciness and there is very good cleansing acidity. The finish is dry with very good persistence; this is a delicious wine. Enjoy now and over the next 3-5 years – perhaps longer. At a suggested retail price of $21, this is an excellent value! - Michael Skurnik Selections

2012 Peter Jakob Kühn Oestrich Riesling Trocken "Quarzit"(Rheingau) - This is a biodynamic producer with Demeter certification. Some of the wines are aged in amphora, so the winemaking here is according to a very strict philosophy. That said, these are very distinctive wines and they are not for everyone. Bright yellow; aromas of yellow peach, apricot and daffodil. Medium-full with very good concentration. Round, elegant finish, very good acidity and persistence. Clean and nicely balanced, this ia a well made wine for enjoyment over the next 2-3 years – perhaps longer. ($33) - Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York City, NY

2010 Peter Jakob Kühn Mittelheim Nikoulas Riesling Trocken (Rheingau) - Bright golden yellow; aromas of apricot, yellow peaches and a hint of saffron. Medium-full with very good concentration. Quite ripe and lush, this is big and perhaps a touch heavy with a dry, slightly bitter finish. A very distinct, unusual style of Riesling. Best over the next 2-3 years. ($55)

2011 Peter Jakob Kühn Oestrich Lenchen Riesling Auslese - Brilliant light yellow; beautiful aromas of ripe apricot, honey and golden apples. Medium-full, this is lush and quite delicious, this has very good acidity, excellent persistence and beautiful varietal purity. This is medium-sweet, so I’d like to see a bit more acidity to balance the finish. Still, this is a lovely wine that should only improve for another 5-7 years. ($65/375 ml - 7.5% alcohol)  

2009 Prinz Von Hessen Riesling Kabinett (Rheingau) - Light yellow; beautiful varietal aromas of yellow peach, Anjou pear and lilacs. Medium-bodied with good persistence, very good acidity and impressive varietal purity. A charming wine that is delicious and easy to drink, this has a delicacy and a nice sense of finesse and freshness to it. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years – perhaps longer.  ($25) Imported by Folio, Napa, CA.

2007 Prinz Von Hessen Johannisberger Klaus Riesling Kabinett Trocken (Rheingau) - Light yellow; pleasing aromas of petrol, mint and jasmine. Medium-full with good concentration. Good ripeness, light earthiness in the finish with good persistence and good acidity. Still displaying good freshness, this will drink well for another 2-3 years. ($30)

2007 Prinz Von Hessen Johannisberger Klaus Riesling First Growth (Rheingau) - Light yellow; aromas of Bosc pear, magnolia and dried pear. Medium-full with very good concentration. Beautifully structured wine; very good acidity, excellent persistence and lovely varietal character. Earthy finish, impressive complexity. Good freshness, enjoy now and over the next 3-5 years. ($60)

2006 Prinz Von Hessen Johannisberger Klaus Riesling Auslese (Rheingau) - Pale yellow – lovely color; aromas of apricot and geranium. Medium-full with excellent concentration, beautifully defined mid-palate. Vibrant, cleansing acidity and excellent persistence. Ultra clean with beautiful varietal character. Delicious now; enjoy over the next 7-10 years. Outstanding! ($50/375 ml).

In part two of this series, a look at Rieslings from Alsace and Austria.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Italian Wine, Food and a Book!

I am hosting a special Italian wine and food class on Friday, May 2 at I Monelli Pizzeria (5019 N. Western, Chicago. This will be an intermediate class on pairing Italian wines and food (though beginners are certainly welcome) - and what better way to learn about this subject than by hosting it at a trattoria!

We will try five or six wines, paired with several dishes off the menu, ranging from calamari to antipasti to pastas. The wines will be a range of products, from sparkling to white to red and will include Prosecco (sparkling), Greco di Tufo (white) and Taurasi (red). These last two wines are both from the Campania region; I'm choosing these, as the proprietors of this restaurant are from that southern region and these are two excellent wines that work beautifully with their food and deserve greater attention.

As a bonus, everyone who signs up will receive a copy of my book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy's Most Distinctive Wines, which details more than 600 wines from Italy, covering all of the country's regions. Having made more than 60 trips to wine regions in Italy, I wanted to showcase hundreds of the finest wines from Italy, not just the most famous reds (such as Barolo, Brunello and Amarone), but also excellent examples of typical and delicious Italian wines such as Dolcetto, Gavi, Verdicchio and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.

So there you have it - several excellent Italian wines, first-rate Italian cuisine and a copy of a through book on Italian wine, all for a total of $55 a person (the book itself is a $24.95 value).  There will be limited seating for this, to ensure everyone gets enough wine to taste, so you need to sign up soon. To enroll, please email me at I can then tell you if there is still seating available. Payment is due up front (I will give you payment instructions in the email) and is due by April 27. The dinner starts at 7:00 PM and will run to approximately 8:30.

I hope to see you on May 2 for a great evening of Italian wine and food!