Tried these lovely, distinctive Champagnes yesterday at the Red Squirrel (UK importer) tasting. They are from a small grower from Cuchery in the Marne, Champagne A. Levasseur, which since 2003 has been run by David Levasseur (pictured above). This is Pinot Meunier country, and his main cuvée is largely based on Meunier.
Since David took over he’s grown the vineyard holdings to 4.2 hectares, spread over 18 plots in the villages of Cuchery, Châtillon-sur-Marne and Fleury-la-Rivière. He farms these plots sustainably, making use of data to time interventions, and he also uses organic fertlizers and allows grass to grow in some of the rows. The wines are distinctive and flavourful.
‘A’ stands for David’s grandfather, Albert, who set the house up in the 1940s.
Champagne A. Levasseur Rue de Sorbier Brut NV France
80% Pinot Meunier, 15% Pinot Noir, 5% Chardonnay. Dosage 9 g/litre. Made from vines planted in 1973. This wine is three years old. Very fresh, apply, textured and lively with some nuts and marzipan as well as the distinctive fruity characters that Meunier imparts. Flavourful and detailed with nice weight. 92/100
Champagne A. Levasseur Rue de Sorbier Brut Nature NV France
80% Pinot Meunier, 15% Pinot Noir, 5% Chardonnay. Same blend but no dosage, and this is four years old. Very fresh, lively and herby with tight lemon and apple fruit. So detailed with real finesse. Bright, pithy and complex. 92/100
Champagne A. Levasseur Blanc de Terroir Extra Brut NV France
Chardonnay from young vines (2003 and 2007 plantings). Complex, powerful, lively and pithy with concentrated citrus and pear fruit. Lovely flavours of nuts, spices and herbs. This has depth, freshness and vitality all at the same time. 94/100
Champagne A. Levasseur Noir de Terroir Extra Brut NV France
This is from the 2011 vintage, and it’s 100% Pinot Noir. Lovely ripe cherry and pear fruit with some fresh lemons. Detailed, pure and complex with intense flavours and lots going on. 93/100
Champagne A. Levasseur Extrait Gourmand Rosé Brut NV France
10 g/l dosage. Pale pink, this shows apples and pears with a bit of cherry fruit. Fresh and detailed with nice focus and a smooth mouthfeel. 91/100
Back in 1981, when the Cape Winemakers’ Guild was first formed, the South African wine scene was very different to how it is today. One of the founder members of the CWG, Kevin Arnold of Waterford Estate, recalls how the organization began as a way for isolated winemakers in the Cape to share knowledge and taste more widely. The inaugural meeting consisted of just five winemakers tasting through all five Bordeaux first growths. Since then, the CWG has grown, the South African wine industry has matured, and it is now a multifaceted winemakers’ association. As well as the high profile auction of CWG wines held each year, there are monthly meetings where the members get together and taste and discuss. And there’s also a mentoring aspect where young winemakers are helped along their journey by more experienced colleagues.
Yesterday we met at Berry Brothers and Rudd to taste through a selection of the auction wines. The tasting was led by Miles Mossop, the chair of the CWG, with support from Kevin Arnold, Rianie Strydom, and Boela Gerber. Here’s a short film of the tasting, including interviews with the winemakers who explain how the CWG works, how they select the wines they enter, and what it means to them to be members of this organization.
On happiness. Some thoughts prompted by someone asking me how they could be happier, when they were feeling miserable.
Are you happy?
Happiness is something we all strive for.
But we don’t find it by looking for it. Happiness is rarely gained through its pursuit.
We can make choices, though, that make it more likely to happen. Just as we might prepare a flowerbed before sowing seeds, we can create the conditions in our lives that encourage happiness to grow. But just as with a seed, its growth is beyond our control.
One of the problems is that the map our culture gives us, showing the way to happiness, is flawed. We follow it as well as we can and then we are surprised when we end up in the wrong place. We question ourselves; we feel upset; but we never question the map.
Another metaphor. So often, our struggle to attain happiness resembles someone wrestling with the assembly of complex flat-pack furniture. Several hours of cursing and frustration precede the realization that they have the wrong set of instructions.
Often we think of happiness as being the result of arriving at a particular destination. The present is merely a journey taking us to these various destinations. But the journey is where most happiness is to be found: living in the present. Sometimes the destination doesn’t matter. True happiness is fuelled by the joy of simple things. As we engage fully in the present, and savour the immediate, happiness often follows.
To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, life moves pretty fast, and we need to take time to stop and look around, or we will miss out. We need to live in the present. This is reflected in the oft-expressed sentiment that we’d like time to stand still: we’d like to engage more fully with what is happening right now for us.
One factor that fuels happiness is a sense of gratitude, which leads to contentment. This sounds horridly trite and pious, I know, but if we are thankful for what we have, rather than focusing on what we think we lack, then we are in such a better place. Being content with our lot does not preclude healthy ambition and desire; it’s just such a more solid foundation to build on.
A further contributor is recognizing and moving with the seasons in our lives. Nothing is forever, and we cannot preserve the present, however hard we try. Things change. Knowing that our life is built of seasons – some longer, some shorter – is wise and healthy. It helps us to put everything in perspective. We need to learn to recognize the season we are in and to be prepared to move on as the seasons change, letting go of what we need to let go in order to grasp what comes next. Change is not to be feared, nor is it to be pursued for its own sake. But we need to welcome it as a friend at the right time.
We often say one thing but actually believe another. What we believe is best discerned not from our words, but our actions. Many people say that they don’t think money brings happiness, but then their behaviour suggests that this is exactly what they believe to be true: they spend their time and make choices to maximize income, even when it forces them to take a job that makes them miserable, or which leaves no room for leisure or family. A great example of this would be wealthy people who become tax exiles but end up not being free to live where they really want to. Of course, being poor doesn’t make you happy, and having financial worries can make you miserable. But many people strive for more money because they have upgraded their lifestyles, not because they haven’t got enough to live on.
This is a wine blog, so I should mention wine. Does wine make you happy? It’s hard to answer. If you were miserable and alone, then opening a bottle of wine might not be a great idea: you might end up dwelling in your misery. Good wine – wine that engages us and makes us think a bit – can certainly help us shed inhibitions and think more widely. Shared with friends, I think it complements the uplift we get from positive social situations. We are social beings, and a lot of the unhappiness in the world stems from loneliness and social isolation. If wine can help create positive social situations, then it can contribute to happiness. I find great joy in sharing bottles with friends, and they joy is greater is the wine is interesting enough for us to talk about it.
So, happiness. It comes along once in a while. It can be persuaded to visit. Sometimes it stays for a while. If we are grateful, wise, and live in the present, and understand the sorts of things we really need (rather than just think we do), it is more likely to be at home with us.
This is the new Vintage cuvée from Veuve Clicquot, and it’s really good. It’s a fresh, quite complex wine with lovely focus.
This is the first vintage made by current chef de caves Dominique Demarville, and the combination of his skill and the good raw material he’s working with has resulted in a really lovely wine. The blend here is 61% Pinot Noir, 34% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier. A small amount (5%) was fermented in large oak, and dosage is 8 g/litre.
Champagne Veuve Clicquot Vintage 2008 France
12% alcohol. Fresh, lively and detailed with a hint of grapefruit pith and white peach. The core, though, is the lovely lemony fruit. Taut and linear with some toastiness and a hint of cherry, but very compact and linear with potential for future development. Nice precision here. 92/100
There isn’t a lot of Gamay in Australia, but there are two or three examples that get written up very highly by the critics. This is one of them: the Gamay from Bass Phillip, better known for exceptional Pinot Noir. The plot this wine was made from is in the Leongatha vineyard in South Gippsland, and was planted in 1988 at high density (9000 vines/hectare). It’s from a ‘Romaneche’ clone, and it yields two tons/acre.
Bass Phillip Gamay 2014 Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
Concentrated, smooth and ripe with dense, rich, sweet cherry and plum fruit. Liqueur-like, ripe fruit verges on the jammy: this is certainly a concentrated ripe expression of the variety. Subtle green notes lurk alongside the dense fruit. It’s a rich, compelling wine that doesn’t taste all that cool climate. 91/100
On Wednesday I was in Wiesbaden, Germany, for a very special tasting. It was the 2016 Grosses Gewächs tasting, featuring new releases from some of Germany’s top wine estates, all of whom are members of the VDP.
Some explanation is in order. VDP stands for Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (which translates as the Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates). Fortunately, it’s simply abbreviated as VDP.
There are around 200 members (you get invited…) and the basis of this wine classification is terroir. Since a revision in 2012, vineyards are classified on four levels:
VDP Grosse Lage (equivalent to Grand Cru)
VDP Erste Lage (premier cru)
VDP Ortswein (village level)
VDP Gutsein (regional)
Only the first two tiers are allowed to mention the vineyard name on the label. So a Grosses Gewächs (GG) is a top wine made from a Grosse Lage by a member of the VDP. These wines have to be dry (under 9 g/l residual sugar), and they are the wines we tasted in Wiesbaden. There’s one more layer of complexity: for each region, only certain varieties can make GG wines. If you see GG on a bottle, then you know it is pretty serious, and that it’s made in a dry style (trocken) from a top vineyard site.
This short film shows the tasting: it was one of the best organised I’ve attended. We sit down, with a list of 400+ wines arranged in flights. You choose which flights you’d like to taste, and the attentive servers bring the wines to your table and pour for you. It makes the whole process of taking notes very straightforward. I wrote all my notes onto my laptop, and because it’s a MacBook Air with epic battery life, I still had 65% battery left by the end of the day.
Today I visited Riechsrat von Buhl. This was once on the the great wine estates not just of Germany, but in the world. Over the years, bits of the estate had been sold, and it ended up at its current size of just over 50 hectares of vineyard. However, its vineyard holdings, albeit reduced, are quite amazing, with the best sites in Deidesheim, Forst and Ruppertsberg, including Kirchenstück, Pechstein, Jesuitengarten, Freundstück, Leinhöhle, Herrgottsacker, Kiesleberg and Paradiesgarten.
In 2005 the winery was bought by Achim Niederberger, but at the time it was leased to Japanese business man Toyohiro Tokuoka. So Achim had eight years to build his team, and in 2013 managing director Richard Grosche and winemaker Mathieu Kauffmann (who previously completed a 12 year stint in charge of Bollinger) took over. Grosche had convinced Achim (who sadly died in 2013) that von Buhl was a sleeping giant, with its astonishing vineyard holdings. Today’s tasting of Rieslings showed that the new regime is nailing it: these were truly brilliant wines.
The vineyards are now being managed biodynamically, and the cellar is just amazing. Mathieu has had to start again, buying new large oak (2400 litre dopplestücks, which differ markedly by manufacturer, he says) each year to repopulate the stunning underground facility so that he can make the wines he likes. He favours large oak, minimal use of sulfur dioxide during vilification, long lees ageing and minimal movement of the wine.
‘It has taken three years to get people to understand why we are doing things this way,’ says Richard Grosche. ‘It has been tough.’ This transition has involved replanting significant portions of their vineyards, and also making wines in a tighter, leaner style that will repay ageing. These are truly impressive wines.
Von Buhl Deidesheimer Kieselberg Riesling GG 2015 Pfalz, Germany
Didn’t make a GG there for the first two years. Do 30% green harvest. East facing with coloured sandstone soils and a bit of loess. Powerful, intense and lemony with white peach and pear fruit. Lovely intensity and complexity. 95% oak fermented and aged, but it’s brilliantly integrated. Lovely depth, richness and complexity with fine spiciness. Melon, mango and lemons here. Subtle smoky notes here, too. Quite profound and pure with richness but also brightness. 95/100
Von Buhl Forster Jesuitengarten Riesling GG 2015 Pfalz, Germany
7.8 ha vineyard site, second-highest graded in the 1826 evalualtion. Nice mix of coloured sandstone, limestone and basalt. Fermented in large new oak (bought 7 dopplestück, and then repeated that, then 4 and 6). 11 months on gross lees. Fine, aromatic, pure and spicy with lemon and passionfruit, together with a hint of dried apricot. The palate is expressive and spicy with lovely precision and weight. Very pure and linear with a hint of creaminess on the palate. Zippy, spicy, linear finish. Quite stony and mineral. 95/100
Von Buhl Forster Ungeheuer Riesling GG 2015 Pfalz, Germany
27 hectare vineyard. Basalt and coloured sandstone, and a bit of limestone. Von Buhl have very good plots here. Very linear and mineral with a hint of reduction. Tight and primary with lovely delicacy to the aromatics, showing some spiciness and some lemons. Concentrated, stony, focused and mineral on the palate with lovely precision. A very mineral style that has a long way to go. So much potential here. There’s a real focus here. So vivid and detailed. 96/100
Von Buhl Forster Pechstein Riesling GG 2015 Pfalz, Germany
Strongest collection of basalt of all the vineyards. Intense, saline, mineral with lovely fruits. Very dry with lemons, fine herbs, some coriander. Lovely mineral character here. Electric and finely spiced on the palate with an incredibly long finish. So lean and pure with amazing potential for development. Truly world class with fabulous potential. A special wine. 96/100
Von Buhl Ruppertsberger Reiterpfad ‘In der Hohl’ GG 2015 Pfalz, Germany
Broad and intense. 10 year old vineyards. Very ripe and fruity with lovely melon, mango and spice notes. Rich and intense with lovely pear and melon fruit. The sandy soils accentuate the fruitiness. Lovely citrus peel too. Very fruity and bold with lovely richness. 93/100
Von Buhl Diedersheimer Paradiesgarten Erste Lage 2014 Pfalz, Germany
Very fine, lemony and bright with lovely juicy, linear stony citrus fruit. Very direct and linear with lovely precision. A bit of pithiness but lovely purity here. Lemony, direct and primary. 93/100
Von Buhl Forster Freundstück Riesling GG 2014 Pfalz, Germany
Great concentration and focus here to this really linear, bright, lemony Riesling. Tight and precise and a little austere but with elegance and delicacy. Dry and intensely mineral with lemony acidity on the finish, and pronounced acidity. This will last a long time. Serious stuff, but drink it in a while. Stony. Profound. 94/100
Von Buhl Ruppertsberger Reiterpfad Hofstück Riesling GG 2014 Pfalz, Germany
Complex, profound nose of lemons, white peach and subtle herbs. Some honeysuckle, too. The palate is fresh and herb-tinged with bright grapefruit and orange peel characters, but the clear focus is precise lemony fruit. So fresh and fine. Steely and intense with lovely precision and purity. Has a subtle green note and admirable precision. Limestone and coloured sandstone, with a lot of limestone 10 metres down. Superb linear style with great potential. 95/100
So I have been in Germany for six days now (including the arrival day, and today which has just started, which makes four days of visiting and tasting). This has been a good trip and I have learned quite a bit. This trip has also focused on three regions which I didn’t know all that well: the Rheinhessen, the Rheingau and the Pfalz.
Germany is becoming interesting. Very interesting. It’s not so much the revolutions in quality, as much as small incremental improvements, and the gradual handing over of family domains to enthusiastic, well travelled and well informed younger generations.
These small incremental improvements make for terrible articles (‘everything is getting just a little bit better’), but it’s healthy for a wine industry to go through gradual change.
I’m not so much a trade journalist, analysing the wine business from that angle, but more of a wine lover, who delights in finding new, exciting producers, and who is fascinated by how a place can make a wine.
Terroir. It’s the magical ingredient. It’s what makes wine interesting. But it is really complex: how can a place be interpreted by a liquid in a glass? How can music speak of emotions? How can a painting move someone to tears? The complexity of wine, and its resistance to simple categorisation and scientific description, is what draws me to it again and again.
This is my second trip to Germany this year. One of the highlights of this trip was attending the VDP tasting in Wiesbaden for the first time. The VDP is a club of many of Germany’s top producers, and this was a showing of some 400 of the top category wines (those from the most privileged vineyard sites, known as Grosse Lage). I tasted some amazing Rieslings and Silvaners here, from across Germany’s regions, in what must be one of the most well organised and focused tasting sessions possible.
There are just so many good German wines now, and the roll call of top producers is growing steadily. Many of the wines are just so affordable, too, considering their quality. Expect more to come, because there is room for improvement, particularly with Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), which is a work in progress. I think Sekt (the top stuff, and that’s just a small slice of production at the moment) also shows a lot of promise, and this is the focus of the last two days of this trip.
Over the last decade there has been a massive societal change.
Back in 2006, most of us didn’t have smartphones (the first iPhone was released in June 2007). We had mobile phones that we used to make calls on. The batteries used to last for ages. A couple of days? Three?
Now we live our lives on mobile devices. Their batteries don’t even last a full day of use. So suddenly, access to power is a major issue. Managing battery life is a vital skill in the modern world.
Suddenly, plug sockets are a major commodity. The battery icon, showing how much power is left on my laptop or phone, has great emotional significance – almost as much as the icon indicating wifi availability/strength.
I travel a lot, and even with a MacBook Air which boasts some 10 h battery life (what luxury! How did I live without it?), I’m often on the look out for a power socket. Especially at airports, because sockets in airports are still a rare commodity, even though 95% of passengers are looking for one. One of the joys of lounge access is the plentiful power sockets (in addition to bad food, poor coffee and low quality wine).
It’s an amazing feeling knowing that you have more than enough battery life on your phone and laptop. It’s a big warm emotional kick. Conversely, knowing you are running out and trying to nurse your battery through the day is so frustrating. It makes a huge difference if you are on a night out and you have enough battery, because getting home – whatever the hour – is so much easier with a smartphone and GPS signal.
And talking of power, one of the most frustrating thing about travelling is how few accessible plug sockets most hotel rooms have. It is just bonkers. You often find yourself reaching behind furniture or moving the bed, or unplugging lights or TVs just to charge your phone. Sensible hotels offer a USB power supply next to the bed. There are so few sensible hotels.
Happiness for the modern traveller is full charge on all devices.
The Rheinhessen is Germany’s largest wine region. With more than 26 000 hectares under vine, it’s responsible for more than a quarter of the country’s vineyard area, although the Pfalz actually makes more wine.
It’s bordered by the Rhine to the north and west as it loops through 90 degrees. To the east there’s the Nahe river, and to the south the Hardt mountains. The best sites have traditionally been those along the Rhine.
It’s a region that in the past hasn’t been associated with high quality wine production, but this is changing. As with so many of Europe’s wine regions, the younger generation are well travelled, and when they bring back new ideas and fresh ways of thinking to their family domains, things begin to change. Also, there’s now a market for more interesting, terroir driven wines from Germany that simply wasn’t there before: if you have a decent patch of land, then the investment required to make high quality wine has a chance of paying off.
Interesting fact: this is where Pinot first landed in Germany. Charlemagne brought the three Pinot varieties to Ingelheim where he had a residence in the 9th century. These vines were first planted in selected sites in the neighbouring Rheingau where people saw that the snow had melted first.
Part of the revolution in the Rheinhessen has been a move towards organics. This tasting, held in the Vinotek in Bingen, was really interesting, because it was looking at a range of wines exclusively from organic producers in the region.
One of the stars of this tasting was the Silvaner variety. 9% of the region is planted to Silvaner these days, and it’s currently the fourth-most planted variety. Some 50 years ago half of the region was planted with Silvaner, but this variety has steadily been replaced, first of all by the likes of Huxelrebe and other high-producing varieties, and then in the 1990s there was a red wine boom where a lot of Dornfelder was planted (currently the third-most planted variety after Riesling and Müller-Thurgau). There are lots of interesting old Silvaner vineyards left in the region and it does really well here. Many wines are labelled Grüner Silvaner (for green, as opposed to the much rarer blue variant). Some spell it Sylvaner, as it is spelled in Alsace. Silvaner is easy in the vineyard but difficult in the cellar, winegrowers say. If a vinter is able to make good Silvaner you can trust the rest of their range. But Sylvaner can’t reach the heady heights of a Grosses Gewachs in the VDP system, which in Rheinhessen only allows this accolade for Riesling and Pinot Noir.
Kurfürst von Dalberg Sektmanufaktur Riesling Sekt Extra Brut 2012 Rheinhessen, Germany Started just five years ago. Traditional method with long ageing on the lees. Lively, aromatic and focused. Citrussy and intense with good acidity and purity. Has citrussy precision here: lovely detailed, fresh style. 91/100
Sekthaus Raumland Blanc de Noir Prestige Brut 2007 Rheinhessen, Germany
Distinctive herb, cabbage and citrus nose. Some sweet pear notes, too. Powerfu cherry, pear and fig fruity characters. Lovely depth of flavour here with real depth and keen acidity. Some toasty notes, too. Rich. 89/100
Kroenenhof Grüner Silvaner Trocken 2015 Rheinhessen, Germany
Very tight, lemony and fruity with precise citrus and pear fruit. Very clean and fruity with nice acidity and a stony edge to the fruit. It’s not massively fruity but has a concentration of stone and herb characters. Has a lovely finish. 90/100
Gebrüder Dr Becker Ludwigshöhe Silvaner Trocken 2014 Rheinhessen, Germany
Dr Becker is one of the pioneers of organic winegrowing in the region. Mineral and stony but also lovely richness with sweet pear, melon and apple fruit. Very textural but still has this lively stony edge and nice mineral core, but this has quite low acidity. 91/100
Battenfeld-Spanier Leopold Grüner Sylvaner 2015 Rheinhessen, Germany Some limestone with some red stones too. Beautiful wine that’s appley, stony and grapey with some citrus notes. Very lively with good acidity and a hint of sweetness. Some smoky, mineral notes, and a lovely finish. Lovely acidity on the finish. Delicious wine. 92/100
Weingut Julius Silvaner Trocken 2015 Rheinhessen, Germany
From the south of the region close to Worms, from a loam/loess soil. Lively and fresh with lovely textured pear and lemon fruit. Has a bit of richness here, with lovely dense, pure fruit and some nice subtle herby notes, as well as some stoniness. Fruity and delightful. 89/100
Dr Eva Vollmer Scheurebe Kalkader Trocken 2015 Rheinhessen, Germany
Today 725 ha in Rheinhessen. Became popular because of its resistance for chlorosis in limestone soils. Popular in restaurants. Lively, spritzy, talcum-edged citrus fruit with some spiciness. Linear and dry with a lovely bright fruity quality. Juicy with a bit of fruit sweetness. Very approachable. 88/100
Weinreich Stein Weissburgunder Trocken 2014 Rheinhessen, Germany
Textured and broad with lovely richness and melon and pear with some spiciness. Richly textured and generous with broad fruit flavours. Nice wine. 89/100
Wittmann Weisserburgunder Trocken Reserve 2014 Rheinhessen, Germany
Lovely citrus and pear fruit here with some marmalade and spice. Has some melony richness countered by nice citrussy acidity. A bit creamy with lovely depth and some grape character. Serious Pinot Blanc. 92/100
Dreissigacker Morstein Riesling Trocken 2014 Rheinhessen, Germany
13% alcohol, bone dry. Has 30% cask fermentation, plus some skin contact. Pure limestone here. Lively, textured citrus fruit with some ripe apple and pear. Complex and intense with a lovely mineral character and fine spiciness. So pure and intense with some real complexity and good acidity. 94/100
Gysler Riesling Klangwerk Vum Helle Trocken 2014 Rheinhessen, Germany
Red sandstone soil. 8 g/l residual sugar and acidity. Amazing acidity here – precise and pure with lovely citrus fruits but also a bit of melon and honey detail and richness. Some marmalade notes, too. Very fine and expressive with real complexity. 93/100
Sander Riesling Mettenheimer Schlossberg Trocken 2014 Rheinhessen, Germany
A pioneer of organic winegrowing in Germany. Loess soils, which tend to make fruitier wines for earlier drinking. Powerful and rounded with lovely baked apple and lemon fruit. Textured and generous with some acidity but also broad pear and apple with a hint of nuts and fennel. 89/100
Hirschoff Riesling ‘S’ Westhofener Aulerde Trocken 2015 Rheinhessen, Germany
Clay soils. There’s a hint of bacon savouriness with nicely rounded pear and citrus fruit, as well as a bit of sweetness on the finish. There’s an attractive acid core to this wine, which finishes quite mineral. Lovely long acidic finish. 91/100
Arndt F Werner Blauer Spätburgunder Ingelheimer Burgberg Trocken 2013 Rheinhessen, Germany
Cherries and herbs with a hint of cola and some green-tinged undergrowth notes. Lively, tangy acidity here. Warm, spicy and a bit jammy with very sweet fruit. 86/100
Runkel Spätburgunder Trocken 2011 Rheinhessen, Germany
From the south of the region. Aromatic with spices, cherries and herbs. Nice rich texture with some herbiness and a bit of tang on the finish. Vivid, spicy and quite herby with supple sweet cherry and strawberry fruit. 88/100