FLXcursion International Riesling Expo (3) Getting Deep

This session looked at Rieslings produced on deeper, heavier soils, comparing (in some cases) wines made on shallower soils with those from deeper ones. It was full of interest.

First, a pair of WeilThese adjacent vineyards are derived from the same mother rock, metamorphosed slate with thin bands of mica. Turmberg is the steeper slope with thinner soils; Gräfenberg is less steep and has soils that are quite deep.

Robert Weil Riesling Turmberg Trocken 2015 Rheingau, Germany
This is from a steep slope with thinner soils. Precise but with depth to it, showing citrus fruit with some nice mandarin, and a bright finish. Combines depth and precision: a really lovely wine. 95/100

Robert Weil Riesling Gräfenberg GG 2015 Rheingau, Germany
From deeper soils. This has a stony edge with some pithiness. Very bright and expressive with some grapefruit and a hint of cabbage. Expressive with a nice acid line. Broad and transparent with subtle herby notes. 92/100

These three wines are from the same village, Hochheim. Domdechaney is adjacent to the Mainz Cathedral and has loess loam soils with lots of clay. They are water-retentive even in warm summers. Kirchenstück lies east and has a range of soils from loess loam to lighter layers of sand. Hölle is a steep slope and has clay marl soils with some lime.

Künstler Riesling Domdechaney Trocken 2016 Rheingau, Germany
Nice depth here with peach and sweet citrus fruit. Has nice precision. Smooth mouthfeel with a crystalline quality. 93/100

Künstler Riesling Kirchenstück Kabinett Trocken 2016 Rheingau, Germany
Bright, linear and very fresh with lovely citrus drive and purity. Has an amazing acid line. Precision and purity here. 95/100

Künstler Riesling Hölle Kabinett Trocken 2016 Rheingau, Germany
Very linear with some brightness. Has lovely clean fruit: pear, apple, citrus. Tight and fresh with some generosity. Mouthwatering. 93/100

These next two wines are from cool sites, with sandy soils. One is from Michigan’s Grand Traverse and the other is from a cool windy vineyard on the Central California Coast.

Left Foot Charley Seventh Hill Farm Riesling 2016 Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan
Lovely concentration of clean citrus fruit with a hint of apple and nice precise flavours. Good density here with bright fruit and good length. 92/100

Tatomer Kick-On Ranch Riesling 2017 Santa Barbara County, California
Generous with lovely pear and peach fruit. Very pure: has a hint of cabbage with nice precision and rich texture. Such a lovely fruit expression here with some apricot on the finish. A fruity style. 93/100

Next, some deep soils from the Finger Lakes. 400 million years ago, Western New York was covered by a warm shallow sea, and layered sediments over a long time created shale and limestone. More recent ice ages saw the Laurentide Ice Sheet march north and south, carving valleys on its advance and depositing debris on its retreat. These created some of the deeper soils that these wines come from.

Boundary Breaks Riesling #239 2016 Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes, New York
Clay rich soils on the east side of Seneca Lake. Lovely ripe citrus fruit here with a hint of apple. Some sweetness. Lively and expressive with nice lemony notes and some rich fruit. 90/100

Kemmeter Riesling Sheldrake Point Vineyard SanSan 2016 Cayuga Lake, Finger Lakes, New York
Wedged between two gorges on glacially-deposited gravelly loam. Sweet and pure with nice detail to the peach and pear fruit, as well as some citrus freshness. Off-dry style. 90/100

Dr. Konstantin Frank Margrit Riesling 2016 Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes, New York
Margrit sits on glacial till, deep, well-draining gravelly silt loam. Precise with concentrated citrus fruit and a bit of structure. Some pear richness. Nice intensity with a pithy undercurrent. 92/100

Keuka Lake Falling Man Riesling 2016 Keuka Lake, Finger Lakes, New York
Glacial outwash and gravelly loam loaded with shale. This has linear grapefruit notes with some pith and a touch of honey. Very fruity with a bit of pepper. Distinctive flavours, with a spicy edge. 89/100

Beyond FLX: three wines from other places in north America

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2016 Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada
Stony clay glacial till with some limestone. Lovely crystalline citrus fruits. Ripe but balanced with nice precision, and attractive pear and citrus fruit with a hint of peach. Great balance and nice acidity here. 92/100

Tantalus Old Vines Riesing 2016 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Planted in 1978 on deep silty soils. Apple and citrus nose. Compact palate with ripe citrus and pear fruit, and some peachy notes. Has great acidity and just a bit of sweetness. Lovely concentration and precision here. 92/100

Côte Bonneville DuBrul Vineyard Riesling 2018 Yakima Valley, Washington State
Ancient river bed in a valley formed by the Great Missoula Flood. It’s limestone and river rock over basalt. Concentrated, ripe and generous with ripe peach and yellow plum fruit. Nice acidity here with a bit of grip. Very stylish. 91/100

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  1. Wrong side of the track
  2. Contact track
  3. Getting deep

We become attached to rules we have learned

It’s amazing how attached we become to rules that we’ve learned. Take the split infinitive. ‘To boldly go,’ is – to those who learned grammar in school – technically wrong, because the infinitive has been split. For many people, this is a big deal, and they are upset when they are told that even Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage doesn’t condemn it. (See the entry here.)

The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; (5) those who know and distinguish.

Then there’s the term ‘data’. As a science editor for 15 years I always insisted on the correct use of ‘data’. It is the plural of datum, so it is correct to say ‘data are’ or ‘the data show’ rather than ‘data is’ or ‘the data shows’. But so widespread has the misuse of this word, treating it as singular, that now it has become accepted as normal, and as this is the way most people use it, I’m joining it. Even though it rankles a bit. It’s amazing how attached we become to grammatical rules.

And what about the insanity of two spaces? Those who were trained to type at secretarial school always leave two spaces after a period. It used to drive me mad when I was an editor. There is no reason for it in the age of proportional fonts, and it’s wrong, but still people do it, and they won’t be told it is wrong. They are quite unable to change.

The same seems to be true with wine. When people have been through wine exams, or train as winemakers, they have a fixed notion of what wine should be. This is seen most clearly when it comes to discussions on natural wines, and their supposed faultiness. It’s understandable, in a way. If you are a winemaker, then it’s part of the job to be able to spot problems in a wine early on and then take appropriate action.

For example, a wine might be showing some signs of Brettanomyces. Left unchecked, this could spoil the wine: it’s something most winemakers are rightly afraid of. Or a wine may be developing some aldehydic characters that suggest it’s in danger of oxidation. It may have a bit volatile acidity, or some eggy reduction. In a young wine, all these issues are quite scary.

But in a finished wine, it’s all different. A slight hint of a flaw can be a positive thing, in the right context. Beauty isn’t the absence of flaws, and the tension that very low levels of, say, reductive elements can bring to a wine, is something that can be beneficial. Some wines are deliberately made in an oxidative style, and they can work well. A little volatile acidity – just a trace – can lift a wine. And low levels of Brettanomyces don’t instantly mean that a wine is a faulty one: it can add some interesting complexity. I find over-ripeness and excessive oak use to be much more of a problem. Perfectly clean, fruit bright wines can be boringly correct, too.

We are all different and we are all free to own our own preferences. But we should be cautious before we dismiss or criticize wines that fall outside of our normal parameters for what is ‘correct’, recognizing that we humans have a tendency to become staunch defenders of rules that we have learned.

FLXcursion International Riesling Expo (2) Contact track

Continuing my reports from the FLXcursion in the Finger Lakes, this is a write-up of a tasting focusing on élevage: the way that winemaking can change the expression of Riesling. Typically, Riesling is fermented in tank, and stays there for 6 months to a year. But increasingly, winemakers are experimenting with vessels other than tanks, and also with extending the time on lees. We began with a wine from Forge Cellars, who were hosting the tasting, which had been aged for an extended period on lees.

Forge Cellars Seneca Lake Leidenfrost Vineyard 2017 Finger Lakes, New York State
Nicely textured with pear and apple notes alongside the sweet citrus fruit. Harmonious with nice structured and depth. Serious stuff. 93/100

Kelby Russell of Red Newt explained how he had been inspired by Ernie Loosen to keep his top wines on the lees for an extra year. Here’s the comparison of his Tango Oaks Riesling, made the normal way and also given an extra year on lees.

Red Newt Cellars Seneca Lake Tango Oaks Riesling 2017 New York State
2018 bottling. Mineral and taut with lovely citrus character. Crystalline and fine with nice weight to the concentrated fruit. Very harmonious, with lovely purity. 93/100

Red Newt Cellars Seneca Lake Tango Oaks Riesling 2017 New York State
Cask sample (old 500 litre puncheon) of the extra lees ageing wine. Linear and focused with some spice and nuts, and keen acidity and nice fine spiciness. There’s a lovely texture here with beautiful crystalline citrus fruit. Such a lovely wine. 94/100

The two wines are lovely, but extended barrel ageing has made for a wine that I find has more texture and complexity. But some people complain that the character of the Tango Oaks vineyard is undermined.

Ernie Loosen has been on a journey with extended ageing on lees in large barrels, and he talked about the first wine he produced in 1981. He had read an old winemaking book from 1817 and saw that it was common to keep wines 20-30 years in the barrel on the yeast. It sounded strange to him. So to find out what happened and whether this was really the case, he decided to learn by doing. His dad let him try this way of winemaking, and he kept this 1981 wine until 2008, 27 years in the barrel, and then bottled it. He calls it his Benjamin Button wine, because every year they taste this bottled wine it tastes younger and fresher. He had a 1947 Urziger Wurzgarten once, made this way, and was astonished how well it had matured: it wasn’t oxidized. ‘This was a winemaking style before we had technology,’ says Ernie. ‘Seitz invented the filters in the 1920s. 100 years ago they didn’t have filters or fining, so they had to keep the wine two years in the barrel for it to fine itself.’

Now Ernie is making many of his top wines using long ageing on lees in large barrels of 1000-3000 litres. They sulfur the wine after fermentation but don’t rack it. They go up to eight years in barrel. The wine is sulfured at the end of the fermentation (to discourange malolactic), and then it’s topped up every four weeks. He doesn’t like malolactic in Riesling: it’s an aromatic grape, so why lose that character? ‘It is a tool to give these wines ageability,’ he says. ‘It is not a good business model.’

We compared two wines, made from the same juice, aged 12 months and 36 months in barrel. Both were fantastic, but there was something else to the wine aged three years.

Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Grosses Gewachs 2012 Mosel, Germany
Powerful, spicy, lovely acidity, has lime and lemon with some pear notes. Has great texture with crystalline citrus fruit and a slight spicy twist. This is pretty serious, with a long finish. 95/100

Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Hommage 2012 Mosel, Germany
This will be aged for seven years before release. It’s 36 months at the moment. It’s taut, mineral, spicy and linear with a lemony edge. Very detailed and delicate showing a slight herby edge to the linear citrus fruit. Complex and beguiling. 95/100

We also looked at the effect of different vessels on wine. First, a comparison of the same wine fermented and aged in cement egg and older barrels, made by Ovum wines from Oregon.

This is from most southern vineyard in the state of Oregon. It was a creek bed 30 years ago, and it has a lot of serpentine in the soil, at 1500 ft elevation. Harvested October 22 at 22 Brix. 7.7 TA, 2.9 pH. Half is destemmed, pressed to egg and barrel.

‘If the site expresses minerality, the egg will jack the minerality up and it often steals fruit,’ says winemaker John House.

Ovum Off The Grid Riesling 2018 Rogue Valley, Oregon
(Cement egg sample). Cloudy with some sweet appley fruit. Still a bit of sweetness with a nice mineral core. A bit oxidative, but will probably clean up when fermentation is finished and sulfur is added. 90/100

Ovum Off The Grid Riesling 2018 Rogue Valley, Oregon
(Older barrel sample). Clear. Has a nice stony, citrus character. Has a lovely mineral core with a fine spiciness. 92/100

Mari, a winery in Michigan, showed the same wine, aged in large oak barrels (known as stücks and dopplestücks in Germany. Winemaker Sean O’Keefe explained how they built a new winery in 2016 bought and bought four dopplestücks (2400 litres) and two stücks (1200 litres). These aren’t ready to use immediately for the top wines: they take four of five years to be ready once they have stopped contributing wood character. This was a comparison between the stück and the tank.

Mari Vineyards Jamieson Vineyard Riesling 2018 Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan
Stück. Linear and bright with nice texture and some spice. Crystalline citrus fruits with a nice spicy mouthfeel. Dry style. Lots of interest, and just a hint of wood. 91/100

Mari Vineyards Jamieson Vineyard Riesling 2018 Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan
Tank. Bright and lively with nice citrus fruit, and a bit of apple character. Juicy with a hint of honey. Very lively and fruity. Pretty. 89/100

Next up was a blind tasting of the same wine fermented in wood (fuder), steel, and stone (granite cylinder). My guesses are in brackets, and the answer comes after.

Weingut Schmitges Erdener Treppchen Riesling Trocken 2016 Mosel, Germany
1 Spicy and citrussy with nice precision. Has a really nice mouthfeel with a crystalline quality. Lovely wine. 94/100 (fuder?) steel

2 Bright and lively with lovely precision. Fresh citrus fruit with nice brightness to the citrus fruit, with detail and focus. 94/100 (granite?) stone

3 Lively, precise, bright, linear and citrussy with lovely intensity. Such precision here. Very lemony with bright acidity. 92/100 (steel?) wood

Last, a comparison of stainless steel versus glazed earthenware.

Lesehof Stagard Steiner Hund Riesling 2015 Kremstal, Austria
Stainless steel. Crystalline and intense with nice citrus drive. There’s some bright spiciness here with some depth and stoniness. Nice intensity. 93/100

Lesehof Stagard Steinzeug Riesling 2015 Kremstal, Austria
750 litre glazed earthenware. This has a touch of honey and a rounded texture, with a mineral edge to the apple and pear fruit. Very rounded. 92/100

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  1. Wrong side of the track
  2. Contact track
  3. Getting deep

Could synthetic wines be interesting?

Penfolds Grange

Would you be interested in a synthetic version of Grange that tasted identical?

Wine is a solution of lots of chemicals. The most expensive wines in the world sell for thousands of dollars a bottle. The difference between the world’s most expensive wines and the cheap wines most people consume regularly? Different chemicals. So, in theory, if you could isolate all the chemicals in an expensive wine, you could find out which the most important ones were, and produce a synthetic wine. If you could do this successfully, so that your fake wine would be indistinguishable from the real thing by expert tasters, then presumably you have a business opportunity?

Not so fast. Assuming it were to be possible to make an accurate fake wine (and this is a big assumption, which we’ll deal with later), would collectors be interested? Say, for example, you could make a dead ringer for Chave Hermitage or Rousseau Chambertin or Château Haut Brion, from a good vintage: would this be a wine that would make you lots of money?

I’d argue that this would be of limited interest, because people want the real thing.

Let’s consider replica paintings. It’s possible to reproduce great works of art so well that anyone but a trained expert could be fooled into thinking they are the real thing. People consumer these art works by looking at them, and you are getting exactly the same visual experience by looking at a replica. But no one is interested in going to a gallery to look at replica paintings. They want to see the real thing. Genuineness is part of the appeal.

OK: I might not be able to tell the difference. All that matters is that someone can tell the difference. If no one could tell the difference, and real and fake paintings were in circulation, it would diminish the value of both.

Your replica wine might not be distinguishable from the real thing by most tasters. But that’s not the point. It matters that a wine is real. Genuine. Authentic.

There’s also a practical obstacle here. Technically, making synthetic wine is quite a challenge. There are all sorts of matrix effects (have you ever tasted dealcoholized or low alcohol wines? They really miss the alcohol, and it’s hard to replace its contribution). Some compounds are present at below-threshold levels but interact with others to change the flavour of the wine. It’s not simple chemistry.

It would also be quite expensive. Grapes and microbes are a remarkably affordable way of synthesizing some complex flavour chemicals.

So is there any interest in synthetic wines? I’d argue that they could be useful for two reasons. The first is as training aids. You could create wines and then add or subtract various flavour compounds, or groups of flavour compounds. You could dial in certain wine faults in very controlled levels. The second is related: the ability to dial up or down components of the wine makes them useful experimental tools for wine research. [In this case, it would be possible to start with a de-aromatized wine matrix and add back the aromatic components, so there is no need to create a synthetic wine from scratch.] Apart from this, they are just a novel idea; a bit of noise and fluff. Something for us to discuss, and a way for tech companies to try and raise a bit of funding.



Revisiting the Vandals, in New Zealand's Marlborough region

So I went back to the secret location in Marlborough to connect with the Vandals, taste some wine, and drink gin and tonic, and guzzle beer. This is such a fun project, and the wines are quite lovely (read more about them from my first meeting). More like this, please, Marlborough.

Gonzo Resistance Sauvignon Blanc 2018 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is a whole-bunch carbonic fermentation. The fruit was wrapped up in a fermenter for two weeks and fermentation finished after pressing in a barrel. The Vandals chucked a dozen oysters into the ferment for good measure. Aromatic and slightly cloudy with lovely textured, grainy citrus and pear fruit. There’s freshness and brightness here and a bit of grapefruit and lemon pith, as well as lemongrass and fennel. The oysters clearly hold this all together. 93/100

Gonzo Militia Field Blend 2018 Marlborough, New Zealand
Viognier, Riesling, Pinot Gris with smaller contributions from Pinot Noir, Syrah, Tempranillo and Chardonnay. 40% of the blend is skin contact Viognier and Riesling (overnight in the press). There’s a touch of botrytis too. Lovely aromatic apricot, pear and peach nose. The palate has a bit of sweetness (6 g/l residual sugar) and it’s fresh, fine, textured and quite delicious. Spicy and rich. 92/100

Gonzo Combat Rouge 2018 Marlborough, New Zealand
50% Pinot Noir, 45% Syrah, 5% Viognier, all co-fermented in a one-ton plastic bin. It had just one plunge. Supple and cloudy with nice sweet, alluring, spicy raspberry and cherry fruit. No sulphites until bottling. There’s a juicy, grippy edge to the fruit with some nice spicy hints. Lovely wine. 93/100

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Part 1, Te Whare Ra
Part 2,  Mahi
Part 3, Fromm
Part 4, Saint Clair Pioneer Block wines
Part 5, Spy Valley
Part 6, Two Rivers
Part 7, Zephyr
Part 8, Framingham
Part 9, Clos Henri
Part 10, Brancott, Stoneleigh and Deutz
Part 11, Meeting the Vandals
Part 12, The Growers’ Story (video)
Part 13, Novum
Part 14, Folium
Part 15, Villa Maria
Part 16, Corofin
Part 17, Hans Herzog
Part 18, Te Pa
Part 19, Giesen’s single vineyard wines

Visiting Niagara, Canada (2) Queenston Mile

Queenston Mile is a new producer in Canada’s Niagara region. It’s a side project of the Creekside winery, who have been making wines from this 50 acre vineyard in St Davids Bench for 20 years. Creekside’s focus has been on Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah, but the focus at Queenston Mile is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. With its fancy tasting room this is aiming to be a more upscale project, and it is in a great location for direct sales.

Rob Power, winemaker Queenston Mile and Creekside

This is the warmest site in Niagara in the summer, but the flipside is that it has very cold winters. Winemaking is in the hands of Rob Power, who is the Creekside winemaker.

Sparkling is a focus here, and first vintage was 2015 with the Blanc de Noirs. The sparkling wines here are brilliant, and the Chardonnay is also very strong.

Queentson Mile Blanc de Noirs 2015 Niagara, Canada
Disgorged after 26 months on lees. Nicely complex with citrus, some apple and a bit of spice, as well as red cherry notes. Lovely complexity and volume here with a distinct savoury twist. Very fine. 93/100

Queentson Mile Blanc de Noirs 2015 Niagara, Canada
This is the same wine 38 months on lees. Fine, fresh and focused with lovely pithy hints with tight citrus notes as well as a bit of redcurrant. Very fine, too, but needs a bit of time. 92/100

Queentson Mile Q Traditional 2016 Niagara, Canada
26 months on lees. Fresh and tight with appealing citrus fruit and subtle herby hints. This is compact and taut with nice precision and focus. 92/100

Queentson Mile Pét-Nat Pinot Noir Rosé 2017 St Davids Bench, Niagara, Canada
Undisgorged, and so cloudy pink/red colour. There’s a hint of sweetness here and nicely textured strawberry fruit, with nice freshness. Lovely weight. 91/100

Queentson Mile Pinot Noir Rosé 2017 Niagara, Canada
Very attractive dry style with citrus and pear, a touch of mandarin, some fine herbs and a twist of Campari on the finish. Dry. 90/100

Queentson Mile Chardonnay 2017 St Davids Bench, Niagara, Canada
Debut vintage, and it was a hot one. This is bold and quite rich with pear and peach notes, a soft mid palate and some oak spice. Has a rich, bold character with good depth. 92/100

Queentson Mile Chardonnay 2017 St Davids Bench, Niagara, Canada
Supple and rounded with white peach and some melon notes. Rich and broad with a lovely mouthfeel, and some spicy oak playing a supporting role. Full bodied and tending to fatness, but really well made. 93/100

Queentson Mile Pinot Noir 2017 Niagara, Canada
This has supple, bright cherry and berry fruits with nice grip and some juicy freshness. Has some silkiness on the palate, but also a savoury, spicy note on the finish. Has nice character. 92/100

Queentson Mile Pinot Noir 2016 Niagara, Canada
Vibrant and quite structured with some tannic grip. Has focused cherry and plum fruit, and a pleasant sour cherry note on the finish. Very tannic, because of the hot vintage. 90/100

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See also: a tasting of Ontario wines from 2017

FLXcursion International Riesling Expo (1) Wrong side of the track

Last week I was really happy to attend the first FKXcursion in the Finger Lakes of New York State. The full title of this three-day event was the Finger Lakes International Riesling Expo, and because the annual Riesling Rendezvous wasn’t happening in 2019, they filled in this gap in the calendar, bringing Riesling lovers to one of the few regions in the world that has prioritized this grape variety.

As well as a grand tasting on the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were filled with parallel sessions of seminars, each taking a different angle on Riesling, with a panel of experts and carefully chosen wines. I’ll be writing them up, beginning with this one, titled Wrong Side of the Tracks.

This was a tasting looking at Riesling grown in warmer climates, or in warmer vintages. Stuart Piggott, who led the proceedings, began by showing data on global warming. His assertion was that regions that were previously classified as cool climate are increasingly experiencing growing season conditions that are best described as warm climate.

One of his panellists was Cornelius Dönnhoff, from the Nahe in Germant. ‘My grandfather fought for ripeness,’ he says. ‘Today I am fighting against ripeness. Now it isn’t a problem to harvest healthy grapes with over 100 Oeschle.’

Dönnhoff says that now they need to manage photosynthesis in order to avoid too much sugar ripeness in the grapes, but at the same time he needs to protect the grapes from too much sun. ‘We have to bring drown the leaf ratio to grape,’ he says. ‘The middle part of the Nahe is a humid area, and we can’t leave the grapes in the shade. We want to open the canopy, but we also need to shade the grapes a bit. It is like a ride on a razor blade.’

Tom Barry is a third-generation winegrower in the Clare Valley of Australia, and is making the wines for the winery named after his grandfather, Jim Barry. He explained some of the things they do to offset the increasingly warm vintages. ‘Screen and Surround are clay-based sun screens you can put on before heat waves,’ he says. ‘These can lower the temperature by up to 8 degrees, it is claimed.’ Barry says that most of his grapes are picked at night: during vintage it can be 35 C in the day, but 10 C at night. They use machine picking, and process the grapes as quickly as possible to try to avoid any skin contact, because of the high phenolics in the skins that comes from the warm climate.

We tasted a range of Rieslings looking to illustrate how the grape does in warm climates and warmer vintages.

Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Riesling 2018 Clare Valley
450 m above sea level. Bright, crisp, lively and intense with a subtle pithy edge to the lemony fruit. High acid. Zippy and intense. Slight hint of mint here. 89/100

Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Riesling 2018 Western Australia
Bright and transparent with nice brisk lemony fruit and a slight saline twist. Very expressive with nice juiciness. 90/100

Brooks Ara Riesling 2017 Willamette Valley, Oregon
Dry, stony and lively with nice citrus fruit core, and a mineral streak. Very lively with a fine spicy twist. Lovely focus and concentration. 91/100

Fabe Riesling 2017 California
This is a new project, and the name of the wine is currently undecided. Linear and brisk but with some herbal hints and a bit of pear and melon, as well as crisp lemony fruit. Has delicacy and complexity. Such precision and detail here. 91/100

Eroica Riesling 2017 Washington State
Rich with a hint of sweetness and some compact citrus fruit, with a twist of melon. Has some spicy complexity. Nice rich style. 91/100

Sphera Riesling 2018 Judean Hills, Israel
Fresh and linear with complex, crystalline citrus fruit. Has good concentration and some spicy complexity. Lovely fruit. Generous and complex. 93/100

Gut Hermannsberg Riesling Seven Terroirs 2018 Nahe, Germany
Honeyed edge. Stony and bright. Hints of apple with high acidity. Has lovely brightness with nice intensity. 92/100

Galen Glen Fossil Vineyard Riesling 2016 Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania
Shale soils. Fresh, lively high-acid style with lemony fruit and a hint of apple. Juicy and bright, with a stony finish. 88/100

Red Tail Ridge Estate Dry Riesling 2016 Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes, New York
Slightly honeyed with sweet citrus and pear fruit, with a bit of grape character. Quite rounded and sweetly fruited and softly structured. 88/100

Red Newt Cellars The Knoll Lahoma Vineyards Riesling 2016 Finger Lakes
Tight and expressive with good concentration and a mineral edge with real purity and complexity. A lovely wine with amazing focus. 93/100

Hermann J Weimer Vineyard HJW Vineyard Riesling 2015 Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes, New York
Lovely detail and complexity here with some melon and toast hints alongside rich citrus fruit with some pear and apple hints. Lovely depth here, finishing rich with a hint of apricot, and a trace of creaminess. 93/100

Robert Weil Grafenberg GG Riesling 2015 Rheingau, Germany
2015 was a warm vintage. Tight and compact with a pithy edge to the intense citrus fruit. Quite structural and intense. 91/100

Weingut Wittmann Morstein GG Riesling 2015 Rheinhessen, Germany
This is intense with keen acidity and some structure. It has lime and honey, with some pithy notes. Really vivid and intense with some fruit sweetness. Taut and tight wound, but with lots of flavour intensity. 92/100

Meyer Fonné Wineck-Schlossberg Riesling Grand Cru 2015 Alsace, France
This is a ripe yet fresh Riesling with some melony richness and nice citrus fruit. Has some richness and a sweet pear finish. Dry but textured. 91/100

Sommer Handwerk Riesling 2017 Burgenland, Austria
Stony and mineral with lovely texture, showing citrus fruit and a bit of yellow plum. Lovely mouthfeel. Very fine with a hint of mint, and some mandarin brightness. Lovely stuff. 94/100

Schloss Gobelsburg Tradition Riesling 2013 Kamptal, Austria
Aromatic with lovely citrus fruit core and detailed with some lime and mint notes, as well as grapefruit and herb notes. Lovely precision here with nice complexity. 93/100

Dönnhoff Hermannshöhle Riesling Spätlese 2003 Nahe, Germany
2003 was a famously hot vintage, but the wines have aged quite well. Very rich and textured with some creamy notes as well as ripe pear and apple fruit, with a slight cheesy hint. Fresh with some mint and herbs, and fleshy melony fruit. Still very fresh. 90/100

Dr Loosen Bernkastler Lay Riesling Auslese 2003 Mosel, Germany
Mint and cream hints to the concentrated, fresh, sweet pear and peach fruit. Shows nice richness with some apricot character. Some sweetness. Satisfying and broad. 91/100

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  1. Wrong side of the track
  2. Contact track

Visiting Niagara, Canada (1) Henry of Pelham

The modern history of Henry of Pelham dates back to 1982, when Paul Speck Sr and his wife Bobbi bought some contiguous parcels of land in what is now the Short Hills Bench area of the Niagara Escarpment. This was early days for Vitis vinifera in Niagara, and in 1984 they began planting Riesling and Chardonnay, with the help of their young sons Paul, Daniel and Matthew. The first vintage was 1988, and they were founder members of the VQA.

Henry of Pelham is named after Henry Smith, who was the son of Nicholas Smith. Part Iroquois, Nicholas sided with the crown and came north during the revolution in 1776. At the end of the war couldn’t go home. Henry was one of 14 children, and some of these – including Henry – were granted land under the King’s grant. So Henry called himself Henry of Pelham after a British prime minister, and built a toll gate and inn on the site of the current winery. The great, great, great grandfather of the current generation of Specks, he planed vineyards here in the 1850s, and his wife Catherine took over after he died.

The Specks now farm 300 acres of vineyards and also buy some grapes, so this is quite a sizeable operation. They farm sustainably, but not organically. Soils are heavy clay, and retain water, so they can dry farm. There’s a thin top soil, then lots of clay: the correct description would probably be lacustrine silty clay with clay loam on the top.

I visited with Paul and Daniel Speck, and new winemaker Lawrence Buhler. These are good, well priced wines, and sparkling is a particular strength here.

Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Brut NV Niagara, Canada
Crisp, fruity and pithy with citrus and a hint of red cherry. Has lovely focus and brightness. Very stylish. 89/100

Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Blanc de Blanc 2013 Short Hills Bench, Niagara, Canada
Five years on the lees. Crisp and fruity with nice purity to the citrus and pear fruit. Lovely balance here with subtle toastiness. Shows nice precision. 92/100

Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Rosé Brut NV Niagara, Canada
30 months on lees. Fruity, linear and zippy with nice precision. Has some cherry and plum with a lovely linear drive and great balance. Very clean and pure. 90/100

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2017 Short Hills Bench, Niagara, Canada
‘Pinot from this area has a distinct minerality and a delicate character,’ says Lawrence Buhler, wineamker. ‘It has freshness and the tannins tend to be soft and elegant.’ He’s right: this is quite fine with supple red cherry and berry fruit. It’s rounded and fruity and quite compact with lovely fruit. 91/100

Henry of Pelham Estate Fumé Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Short Hills Bench
This has some sort of rot character to it.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2017 Short Hills Bench, Niagara, Canada
Barrel-fermented, 50% new oak (and a bit of this is American). Nice pure fruit here with pear and white peach, supported by some spicy, slightly creamy oak character. Harmonious and appealing with nice depth. 90/100

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Riesling 2018 Short Hills Bench, Niagara, Canada
Fermented at low temperature, and when 20 g/l residual sugar was reached a portion was sent to 3500 litre foudre to round the mouthfeel out (this was fermented dry, whereas the tank component was stopped with 15-18 g/l sugar). Fresh and lively with bright, pure citrus fruit, a hint of melon and tangerine, and a twist of sweetness. This has lovely juiciness and purity with clean fruit. Has an ease about it. 90/100

Henry of Pelham Three of Hearts Rosé 2018 Niagara Peninsula, Canada
Has a creamy edge to the attractive citrus fruit with some red cherry hints. Nice dry style with some texture and freshness. 88/100

Henry of Pelham Estate Gamay 2017 Niagara, Canada
Sweetly fruited with a rounded character to the cherry and plum notes. This has lovely harmony. Softly fruity. 90/100

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir 2017 Ontario, Canada
This is rich and juicy with lovely sweet berry fruits, with a slight hint of roast meat and some spice. Lovely fruit here. Black cherry and plum, with some blackberry too. 92/100

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2016 Short Hills Bench, Niagara, Canada
Fresh, supple and pure with nice structure under the black cherry and berry fruits. Has a slightly chalky edge. Fresh and beautifully balanced with lovely fruit. 92/100

Henry of Pelham Riesling Ice Wine 2017 Niagara Peninsula
Crop heavier than for normal wine, so the grapes have lots of acid and not an awful lot of sugar. This is a site where winter comes early, so they can pick in November. This is good for Riesling which is quite thin skinned. Lovely rich style with pure citrus fruit, a bit of apricot and melon, and nice acidity. Viscous and intense, but very pure with a nice floral edge. 93/100

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Visiting Prosecco producer Canevel

This was my first time in Prosecco country. Prosecco is a phenomenon. It has come from almost nowhere to being one of the most visible of all sparkling wines (selling around 550 million bottles a year). Such has been its success that the Italian authorities even managed to change the name of the grape from Prosecco to Glera, so that they could protect the name (you can’t protect the name of a grape variety).

Carlos Caramel

There’s good Prosecco and then there’s less good Prosecco, as with any wine region. The producer I visited, Canevel, is one of the good ones, working with decent hillside vineyards. I visited with Carlo Caramel: until recently, his family owned Canevel, but they recently sold to Masi, although Caramel has stayed on as boss. His father, Mario, had started the business in 1979.

They make only sparkling wines: they tried making still wines before, but they had trouble selling them. They grow their own grapes but also buy in about 70% of their needs from local growers.

The grapes here are hand harvested in small cases of 15-20 kg. Once they get to the winery they are pressed with maximum 1 atmosphere pressure. The juice is then kept at 15 C overnight. Enzymes are used to help settle the juice and they are aiming at a turbidity of 20-30 NTUs. In the past it used to be common to go to 5-10 NTU but this was too clear. The next day it is pumped to tank for the first fermentation, which takes 10-15 days.

Pressure tanks for the second fermentation

They use different yeast strains, depending on where the grapes are from. For example, in Faé which has no residual sugar, they need to use special yeasts that make the wine taste longer, to make up for the lack of sugar. They are also trying to find yeasts that produce antioxidant compounds so they can use fewer sulfites. For example, they want the yeasts to autolyse faster and let glutathione out, which protects against oxygen. This is an interesting project that no one else has done here yet. To do this they are working with small pressurized fermenters to get the yeasts to autolyse quicker: for example, six months as opposed to five years. They are adding more yeasts, and they have found there are strains that are richer in amino acids.

‘Instead of working with chemistry we are working with biology,’ says Carlos. ‘It is a new way of thinking. We have to try and try and try because there is no bibliography.’

Looking towards Cartizze


Canevel Extra Dry Prosecco 2017
100% Glera from the DOC area. Grapes from the flats. 15 g/litre sugar. Fresh and pure with nice pear and peach fruit, as well as some appley notes. Grapey and attractive with nice purity. Typical. 87/100

Canevel Valdobbiadene Vigneto del Faè Spumante Dossagio Zero Prosecco Superiore DOCG 2017
This is very bright and transparent with good acidity and a subtle green leafy edge to the lemony fruit, with some apple and pear, and nice precision. Tastes a little tart but it’s really refreshing and bright. Lean and quite savoury with subtle herby notes. 90/100

Canevel Valdobbiadene Brut Prosecco Superiore DOCG 2017
10 g/l rs. This has nice freshness and precision with fresh pear, citrus and ripe apple notes. Admirable purity and focus with a well integrated dosage that fits in very nicely. Fruity and appealing, this is benchmark Prosecco. 90/100

Canevel Valdobbiadene Extra Dry Prosecco Superiore DOCG 2017
16 g/l rs. This is pure with nice fruit. Pear and citrus with some subtle sweetness, adding some apricot and peach fruitiness. This has a nice harmony to it and the sugar integrates well. 90/100

Canevel Valdobbiadene Campofalco Spumante Biologico Brut Prosecco Superiore DOCG 2017
A steep vineyard worked by hand, farmed organically. It’s surrounded by forests so nature makes this easier. Mostly Glera with some Verdizzo and Biancetta. This is taut, precise and linear with lovely freshness and purity. Lovely taut herbal complexity with some nice depth. This stays in the tank longer, resulting in more richness and a different profile, with a bit of autolysis. Hints of cream on the finish. Very stylish. 92/100

Canevel Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore di Cartizze DOCG 
This is 100% Glera grown on the Cartizze hill, which is 106 hectares, owned by many people. The land cost per hectare would be astronomical if anyone was selling. There is no market for grapes but it would be 4.5 Euros a kilo. 25 g/l rs. Lovely complex ripe peach, tangerine and pear fruit. This has brightness and freshness with a rounded, fruity personality: it should taste a lot sweeter with this dosage, and has a nice saline undercurrent. This has a lovely expressive fruity character, which apparently is consistent among most Cartizze producers. This is a lovely wine. 92/100

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See also: Visiting Masi, Valpolicella

A day in Portland, eating and drinking well

Portland is one of the USA’s most interesting cities. Famous for its coffee (I’ve had the best coffee in my life here), hipsters, the thriving restaurant scene and craft breweries, this is the place people come to retire at 30 (and it has been famously sent up in the excellent TV series Portlandia (https://www.ifc.com/shows/portlandia). I spent a lovely day here on my way to the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinville.

Lunch at Bollywood Theater on Division. This is my third time here. Casual Indian street-food-style dishes with some West Coast influence, in a beautiful space. This is a really great lunchtime option. Goan shrimp curry the star, backed up by Bhel Puri that was so fresh and balanced.

A predinner stop at the Solo Club in Slabtown, at the top of the Pearl district, was a very good idea. As well as a short but well-chosen wine list, this is the place to come for Amari and Vermouth. And very good cocktails. After an aperol spritz (I know, but it was 90 degrees outside) I opted for a Scandanavian Amaro that I’d never had before. It was a good choice: intense and complex.

It was a short walk to dinner at St. Jack. This place was spot-on and it’s a must visit if you find yourself in Portland. It reminded me a bit of L’Express in Montréal: classic French done really well. Not in the least stuffy, with beautifully done classics. We opted for 12 oysters (four each of three kinds, all local) then a huge and delicious butter lettuce salad, and the classic moules frites combo. Simple is hard to beat. To drink, two very nice wines.

Champagne Gatinois Grand Cru Ay Brut Tradition NV France
Disgorged April 2018. This has a bit of colour. Lovely precision but also good depth of flavour. Apples and red cherries with nice sapidity and a touch of saltiness. Very stylish. 92/100

Domaine Overnoy Chardonnay 2016 Côtes de Jura, France
This is one of three Overnoys in the Jura. Guillaume Overnoy is a young wine grower and he’s the great nephew of the celebrated Pierre Overnoy. He took over his 5.5 hectare estate in 2013 and farms organically. This is a really nice wine: it has a mealy, slightly salty edge to the nose. Lovely grainy citrus and pear fruit with some richness, and fine spicy framing. Some tension reveals itself as the flesh falls away. 94/100

See also: a report from a visit to Portland in July 2016