This is the first wine I have tried from the Finger Lakes region in New York State. They are a network of long, finger-like lakes just south of Lake Ontario, and presumably with a fairly similar climate to the Niagara region just a little to the east over the border in Canada.
It’s a Riesling made by Erik Bilka, who created the label Influence Wines in 2009 as a negociant operation. The grapes for this bottling come from Ovid Farms and the vines were planted in 2002 on silty loam soils in Seneca County. No sugar or acid were added, and this was fermented in stainless steel, and has a pH of 3.02 with TA of 7.1 g/l and 23 g/l residual sugar.
Influence Wines Riesling 2012 Finger Lakes, New York State, USA
11.5% alcohol. Very bright with apple, pear and spice notes. It has richness and some sweetness, but it isn’t overly sweet. So pure and detailed, this is a lovely wine. 92/100
After posting on two Portuguese wines yesterday, I thought I’d stay in the Iberian peninsula and write up two Spanish bottles. The Basconcillos is a low-SO2 red that’s brilliant value for money, and although there’s some American oak here it doesn’t dominate at all, although there’s certainly some oak evident. The Sandoval is made by Spanish wine journalist Victor de la Serna, and it’s very good: don’t let the high-ish alcohol put you off, because this wine has lovely definition.
Dominio Basconcillos 2012 Ribera del Duero, Spain
14% alcohol. Organic grapes, 6 months in oak, from a 50 hectare property at the northern end of the Ribera del Duero, at an elevation of 1000 m. Lower SO2. Deep coloured and sweetly aromatic with red cherries, raspberries, some floral notes and a bit of wood spice. The palate is fresh and vibrant with nice fresh berry fruits and a savoury, spicy, woody edge. Youthful with nice freshness and definition. 90/100 (£12.99 Vintage Roots)
Finca Sandoval 2008 Manchuela, Spain
14.5% alcohol. This is Syrah with a bit of Bobal. Fine, vivid and pure with lovely raspberry and cherry fruit with hints of cedar and spice. A bit grippy, showing nice purity. It’s a ripe wine but it has good definition and all the components are well integrated. 93/100
Portugal is a wonderful wine country, and one that I’ll be focusing on a bit this year, after having let it suffer mild neglect at my hands. Here are two lovely wines. One, a leading Douro red with almost a decade’s bottle age, and the other a distinctive field blend from Dão.
Casa de Mouraz Elfa 2010 Dão, Portugal This is a remarkable wine made from a single mixed variety plot of old vines, and aged without any oak at all. It has a distinctive sweet floral nose with perfumed cherry fruit and some violet notes. The palate has a softness and roundness to it, but also wonderfully pure, sweet, ripe black cherries and plums, with some fine dried herb notes. It’s a bit unusual, but it’s fabulous. 94/100
Quinta do Vale Meão 2005 Douro, Portugal
This is developing beautifully. Sweet, ripe, pure blackcurrant and black cherry nose is floral with some tar notes. Fresh, vivid, juicy, textured palate with vibrant, youthful black fruits, some spice and a bit of grip. Real purity and freshness here. Linear, pure, smooth but not lacking in structure. 94/100
So for the last few days I have been up a mountain with a group of buddies in the lovely town of Zell am See in Austria. It has been such fun. I only managed one day on skis, though. I am not a very good skier and I damaged my knee on the first day – not enough to cause real concern but enough to keep me off the slopes yesterday and this morning. This is such a lovely town, on a lake. It’s the perfect size for a few days. The snow has been ideal, too.
We have drunk quite a bit of beer and wine. Nothing too fancy on the wine front, but we’ve been sticking to Austria and had some nice affordable bottles.
Johanneshof Reinisch Pinot Noir 2012 Thermenregion, Austria
This was the best wine of the trip, and it wasn’t expensive. Lovely sweet ripe silky black fruits with some spice and cherry fruit – lovely purity here. Sweet, ripe and warm with some subtle herbal notes. Central Otago style? 91/100
Umathum Sankt Laurent 2012 Burgenland, Austria
I spotted this on the list at Crazy Daisy, and ordered it, but the staff member advised me against it. He said that customers had been complaining. He was right: it is quite unusual, with a bit of reduction. Sweet, warm, ripe berry fruits with a hint of meat and some slightly rubbery spicy reductive notes. Herbs and black cherries. Very distinctive. 90/100
Paul Kerschbaum Blaufrankisch 2011 Burgenland
14% alcohol. Sweet, lush pure black cherry fruit with a lovely silky sweet character to the fruit. Very appealing. 89/100
Taferner Rubin Zweigelt 2012 Carnuntum, Austria
Sweet, ripe and generous berry and cherry fruits with some vanilla and spice oak. Rich, quite stylish but very oaky with a hint of chocolate. For Rioja lovers. 88/100
Sonnhoff Jurschitsch Zweigelt 2011 Niederosterreich, Austria
Fresh, vivid red cherry fruit with a hint of leafiness. Generous and fruity with just a touch of pepper spice. 89/100
Fred Loimer Zweigelt 2012 Austria
Juicy sweet blackberry and cherry fruit. Very rounded and sweetly fruited with a sense of deliciousness to it. Silky and suave. 88/100
Sonnhoff Jurschitsch Gruner Veltliner Trocken 2013 Austria
Very bright and focused with some pepper and citrus notes. Lovely lemon and grapefruit with a hint of pepper. Very clean and pure. 88/100
Thursday night was the Riesling Fellowship dinner at Vintner’s Hall. It quite grand – gentlemen were required to wear jackets and ties. [Aside: whenever I attend a wine trade event in a suit it is amazing the number of people who come up and complement me, as well as expressing surprise that I should be dressed smartly. I suspect they find it impossible to believe I am capable of appearing in a presentable manner. Or perhaps it is because my usual standard of dress is just so poor.] A small tasting was followed by dinner, but in between there was a seminar titled ‘My Life in Riesling’, during which four Riesling notables gave a short speech about how they came to love Riesling and presented a favourite wine.
Jancis began by sharing how her first Riesling experience wasn’t actually Riesling. It was a Lutomer Riesling that her grandmother shared with her when Jancis was a young teenager, over lunch in Somerset. Later, at Oxford University, she made friends with a girl whose father was a Devon doctor with a wine cellar. This was the late 1960s and Jancis would go with her friend to GT Jones and her pal would point out that green bottle was Mosel and brown bottle was Hock. Her first proper experience of Riesling was via a boyfriend whose father was a German professor of law with a holiday house at Interlaken in Switzerland. While everyone else drank beer, he would withdraw a nice bottle of German Riesling from a wooden chest. ‘This first drew to my attention that German Riesling was great,’ shared Jancis. She’s very happy that German Riesling is now so varied.
Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett 2003 Mosel, Germany
Tasted blind. Very intense nose of apricot, citrus, peach and wax. Viscous, fine, linear palate with wonderful notes of citrus, honey and melon notes. Off dry, with amazing precision and power. I really like the texture and generosity, with some herb and wax complexity. This is stunning. 95/100
David first got his taste for alcohol aged 8 at an Aunt’s wedding, back in 1967. But his wine awakening was German. His mother hailed from Germany, so they holidayed there as a family. Aged 14, in Baden, he was allowed to taste the wine, and it dawned on him that a wine from one part of the hill tasted different from a wine from another. Fast forward to the 1980s and David began to have some success as a record producer. He started buying wine from Lay & Wheeler: JJ Prum Rieslings often found their way into mixed cases. David’s career progressed and he began writing music. This generated some spare cash, and he decided to use it to try to buy an income. So he bought the local wine shop (The Winery). Within a year he realized it was impossible to survive by buying wine from the UK (with the agent’s margin, there wasn’t enough left for him) and so switched to direct importing. The customers stayed with him on this journey, fortunately. David says that he ‘was haunted by Riesling,’ and wanted to sell German Riesling through the shop. He went on a buying trip, and bought 75% sweet Riesling, 25% dry, with a view to using the dry wines to act as a bridge helping customers to graduate to sweet Riesling. But he found that the dry wines sold and the sweet wines didn’t. ‘Ever since then we’ve just been doing the dry ones,’ he reveals. ‘Our message is that German Riesling is dry. There’s a new generation who have no history with German wine, and a dwindling generation of Brits who hold prejudices from the 1960s and 1970s, but they can be swung too. We are pushing at an open door now.’ The range at The Winery is 100% direct import, and it’s one-third German. Of that, 75% is dry Riesling, 24% is Spatburgunder, and 1% is sweet Riesling. He imports German wines from 47 growers, from seven regions.
Bischel Binger Scharlachberg Riesling Trocken 2012 Rheinhessen, Germany
Very fine, fresh, linear and pure with structured citrus fruit. Real finesse here. It is tight but it has lovely pear and melon freshness with good precision. There’s a hint of honey, too. Very stylish. 93/100 (£27.99 The Winery)
Hugh Johnson began by recalling a time when, in the 1950s and 1960s, Riesling was the number one white wine. ‘All grand dinners started with Hock or Mosel,’ he says. ‘We didn’t think about dry or sweet, we were thinking about them in terms of balance.’ The great and the good loved Riesling. What went wrong? Hugh puts it down to the 1971 wine law. ‘Government sabotage is what did-in German wine.’ When he complained about this to the German authorities, they said, ‘Johnson, you are an elitist.’ ‘Yes, in France they call it quality,’ was his reply. ‘I was depressed by seeing the downhill progress of my favourite grape’. Hugh is not really a fan of the dry German Rieslings, and complains about the ‘whoring after dry white wines,’ which he sees as a problem. ‘Why make a dry white wine that you could make from any number of grapes?’ He also thinks that people confuse the two ends of the market and quoted Goethe: the rich want the best wine and the poor want lots of wine. ‘We think we are educating people about wine when we say that there is a great deal at Waitrose, but there is a lot more to wine than this.’
Bürklin Wolf Forster Jesuitengarten Riesling Trocken 2001 Pfalz, Germany
Very fine and fresh with some waxy notes alongside the citrus and pear fruit, with fresh lemon and herb notes. It clearly has some age, but it’s still quite taut. There’s a bit of sweetness here but it comes across as dry, with crystalline fruits and some grapefruit character. A wine with real finesse. 94/100
Stuart’s first experience of Riesling was when he was a language exchange partner at the age of 15, and stayed with a family in German. The father of the family took him to a refrigerator stuffed full of wine and beer, and said the magic words, ‘self service’. He liked what he drank. ‘Wine connects people,’ says Stuart. ‘We share an experience.’ It connects us to the place it comes from and the people who made it. Beyond this, he maintains, it connects us with history. The wine he showed was from a Nahe vineyard (Kupfergrube) planted in 1902 with convict labour, and Stuart says that it connects us with those people. He recalls standing in the tasting room of this estate on a sunny morning in 1984, which was then the Nahe state winery, with wine merchant Philip Eyres, who had taken Stuart on a buying trip. ‘Kupfergrube wines are etched into my memory and when I taste this wine it brings back all those memories,’ says Stuart. He was mentored by Philip Eyres, who had visited Hamburg in 1946 as a young man of 20. Hamburg was almost entirely destroyed by a firebombing raid in 1943 in which 40 000 civilians are thought to have lost their lives. ‘Philip’s enduring love of German wines came out of his time in Germany,’ says Stuart, describing his commitment to selling German Riesling as a ‘kind of reparation.’
Gut Hermannsberg Schlossbockelheimer Kupfergrube GG 2012 Nahe, Germany
Complex with notes of herbs, nuts and wax, as well as tangerine and lemon fruit. Dry and tangy with some pithy notes and lovely lemony fruit. Pure and linear with keen acidity and real finesse. 92/100
I’m going through a bit of a Riesling phase at the moment, and here are two exceptional bottles from the Nahe. There’s one from the king of the Nahe, Helmut Donnhoff, and one from a winery to watch, Schafer-Frolich.
Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Trocken Grosses Gewächs 2013 Nahe, Germany This dry Riesling shows incredible intensity. It’s dry and powerful with citrus fruit and minerals, and is very tight, but it also has some pear and ripe apple generosity. Nice texture with a hint of honey. Linear and precise with subtle straw notes. So fine and with amazing potential for development. 95/100
Schäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling Spätlese Goldkapsel 2009 Nahe, Germany
Powerful, sweet, spicy and complex. This is rich but fresh with citrus and grapefruit characters. Just amazing with real power and weight. 94/100
This rather delicious, old-world-styled Turkish red is from Elaziğ in Eastern Anatolia, the birthplace of wine. This is in the south east of the country, not all that far from the Iraq border. It’s grown at 850-1100 m on chalky clay and decomposed granite. The variety is named ‘eye of the bull’ and produces large black berries with high acid and moderate tannins. Kayra used to be part of the state monopoly and was privatised in 2004. It was bought by Diageo in 2010.
Kayra Öküzgözü 2012 Anatolia, Turkey
13% alcohol. Wonderfully expressive nose of sweet red cherry fruit with some berry notes and leather and herbs. The palate is fresh and expressive with good acidity and tannins. There are warm, leathery, spicy notes accompanying the red berry fruits. It’s not a fruit bomb but it has structure and great harmony, with a lovely savoury edge. It reminds me a bit of Xinomavro or Aglianico. 93/100
The London wine bar scene is thriving. On Wednesday evening I paid my first visit to a relative newcomer (almost a year old now), Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels in Seven Dials. It’s owned by the team (a group of young-ish French guys) behind the Experimental Cocktail Club, who also have places in Paris, New York and Ibiza.
It has a lot of personality. This isn’t an identikit new opening. It’s a little quirky, but in a good way. Soft furnishings, for a start. Low sofas and chairs, with low tables, giving it an informal relaxed feel. Initially I felt out of sorts here, but after a while, I began to relax into the comfortable (dated?) ambience. It feels more like a posh hotel lobby than a restaurant.
The food menu consists of a modestly sized list of small plates, which are designed to work well with the wine list. And that’s what you really come here for. The wine list is geek heaven, with a strong emphasis on authentic wines, focusing mainly on France but with some nice contributions from elsewhere in Europe (despite the name of the place, it’s not a typical natural wine list). ‘We taste a lot of wine with the chef,’ says young Sommelier Julia Oudill (pictured above). She hails from Biarritz, and her father is a chef, so she knows food. Juila discusses her ideas for wine-friendly dishes with her own chef, who then decides how to execute them. So wine really is at the forefront of Comagnie des Vins Surnaturel’s offering.
I ate and drank well here. Although I wasn’t massively at ease with the low seating positions, the food and wine offering is spot on. In particular, you just have to try the posh madame, which is one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in ages. All the wines here were from the by-the-glass list, which is quite extensive and based on an enomatic which means those wines will always be in top condition.
Clos Columbu Corse Calvi 2013 Corsica, France
Lovely fresh, bright pear and citrus fruit with a hint of melony richness. This is a fresh unoaked style with nice texture and a savoury fennel edge to the rounded fruit. Stylish. 91/100
This went well with burrata, with an olive oil sourced from Casanova in Sicily.
Istvan Szepsy Furmint 2011 Tokaji, Hungary
Rich, textured and with hints of honey and spice as well as citrus, pear and mineral notes. Richly textured but dry, and has real appeal. 92/100
An inspired pairing for the crispy baby squid.
Vincent Pinard Sancerre Rouge 2010 Loire, France
Robust and quite dense for a Pinot with rich black cherry and plum fruit, as well as some pepper and meat notes. Complex and edgy. 92/100
This was matched with the posh madame (a croque monsieur made with truffle ham and a quails egg) and the scallops, cream of cauliflower and crispy iberico ham. These were superb dishes. Wine friendly, too.
Chateau du Cedre Cahors 2011 France
Lovely black fruits here: supple and fresh with some berries, black cherries and a hint of iron and spice. Sweetly fruited with lovely focus. 91/100
Pairing: cassoulet. Very well executed version of this classic dish.
With the cheese board, three small pours of the following wines:
Patrick Baudouin Coteaux du Layon Les Coteaux 2013 Loire
Lovely apple, sweet pears, fine citrus fruit. Rounded with some sweetness, but not too much. Keen acidity as you might expect from this vintage. 90/100
Château d’Arlay Macvin du Jura Rouge
This is really interesting: macvin, made by boiling down fresh grape juice, adding brandy spirit and then ageing it. So it’s a vin doux naturel,with no fermentation process. Amazing sweet flavours of red cherry, tea leaves and spice. Warm, spicy, smooth and delicious. 90/100
Nicolas Joly Les Vieux Clos 2010 Savennières, Loire
Apples, herbs, citrus and some straw/herb notes. Quite dry. Supple and detailed. 90/100