Bocksbeutal Screwed?

Bocksbeutel_bottle A screwcap on a Bocksbeutal? The prophylactic properties of the screwcap take on a whole new meaning in this case as the wine is never impregnated by a uncovered cork. It may in a funny bottle with a funny top (complete with double entendre), but the 2005 Randersackerer Marsberg, Riesling Spatlese Trocken, Spielberg Gutsabfullung Franken, Wiengut Schmitt’s Kinder is a wonderful wine. Besides being a current contestant for long wine name of the year, its linear focus, punchy minerality and long laser-like finish reminded me why riesling is my favorite white variety. The emergence of excellent dry (trocken) wines like this from regions of Germany that were (rightfully) ignored years ago offers a delightful replacement for the now sweet and overly alcoholic wines of Alsace. While those Alsatian wines are wonderful with cheeses, dry German rieslings like this are much better with dinner.

Another stand out dry riesling comes from Austria, the 2006 Offenberg Spitz Riesling Smaragd, Wachau Wiengut Johann Donabaum, which sharpens your palate like a honing steel. Gloriously fragrant and spiced with a hard edge of acidity that focuses everything into a long, lingering whole.  It’s hard to imagine two more pleasurable wines to have with dinner.

Getting back to the Bocksbeutal, it’s great to see more and more producers practicing safe bottling.

The Thin White Line

pey martin riesling They said it couldn’t be done. Yet it is being done. California is emerging from the excesses of the previous decades (who isn’t) and presenting a leaner, meaner attitude in their wines. By lean and mean I mean acidity and a glorious lack of residual sugar. Perhaps Pilates is good for all types of fat.

Just today I had two crisp, mineraly and very dry white wines from California and they were as good examples of the genre as you’ll find anywhere.

Facing down a half dozen pristine oysters the 2006 Brander Sauvignon Blanc Natural from Santa Ynez was master of its domaine. It was clean and fresh as you could want, yet the Brander was not that simple cat pee punch produced in  New Zealand as on top of that zest was a lovely touch of honeydew melon and ripe pears. Brander Natural is a rare example of a new world sauvignon blanc that can actually challenge Sancerre or Pouilly Fume for both guts and glory.

More difficult to find, but well worth the search is the 2007 Pey- Marin, The Shell Mound, Riesling from chilly Marin County. Here’s a high strung dry riesling that is not a bad copy of Alsace, but an interesting wine in its own right. Like the Brander, on top of all the structure and bite is a deliciously ripe fruitiness that belongs only to California. At only 11.8% alcohol it hits some of those high notes you thought only German riesling could hit.

There used to be a line that could not be crossed in California without wines being branded as thin. Thankfully those days seem to be gone as producers like Pey Marin and Brander produce lean, mean fighting machines such as these.

Über Bargains

05_Barth_Spatlese Riesling is regal. For me there is no doubt it is the greatest white variety. You can debate the reds, pinot or cabernet, but when it comes to great white wine only riesling is king. Yet in a bizarre twist of fate, the greatest white variety is not the most expensive. Vapid pretenders like chardonnay, viognier and sauvignon blanc routinely sell at higher prices. While there are wonderful rieslings coming from Austria, Alsace, Oregon, New York and Washington, the wines of Germany still dominate the category and they are staggering values. Easily the best wine values from any region or variety, German rieslings offer great wines at moderate prices, which is a rarity these days. The only thing holding riesling back is the bizarre resistance of Americans to wines with any sweetness. It's hard to think of a stranger problem in the land of Coca Cola and sweet chardonnay.  On top of that, with alcohol levels topping out at around 12% and often much lower (see below) these are wines that not only taste wonderful at the table, but spare the headache the next day. With its almost perfect balance, if you don't like riesling, I have to think you're really not tasting what you're drinking.

If there's a bottle of riesling in the refrigerator it will always be the bottle I grab. Here are some recent rieslings I have really enjoyed.

Rheingau, Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz Riesling Spätlese, Wiengut Leitz, 2006 (8%) Screwcap finish - A brilliant wine with acidity and sweetness in perfect harmony. Seductive and addictive. Those that out-of-hand reject any sweetness in their wines are totally out of touch with their palates in my opinion. It's all about balance, not statistics. The fruit sweetness in this wine walks a tightrope of acidity. Really gorgeous.

Phalz, Forster Ungeheuer, Riesling Kabinett Trocken (dry), Weingut Lucashof, 2006 (12%) - A laser beam of a wine. Racy, mineral structure with haunting ghosts of ripe peaches. Fresh crab is calling.

Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Alte Reben (old vines), Wiengut Albert Gessinger, 2004 (8.5%) - A perfect example of the almost spiritual aspects of fine riesling. High toned, intellectually challenging and touched with a precisely balanced sweetness. Each sip demands another.

Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Kabinett, Estate Bottled, S. A. Prüm, 2005 (9.5%) - This wine is easy to find and reasonably priced. Why is anyone drinking low priced California chardonnay, which has about the same level of sweetness, with none of the acidity. Lush and fruity with racy acidity and that petroleum touch of a great riesling.

Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Piesporter Gärtchen, Riesling Spätlese Feinherb (off-dry), Weingut Blees Ferber, 2005 (12%) - Feinherb may mean off-dry, but with acidity like this everything is relative. Simultaneously rich and delicate as only dry riesling can be. I kept thinking of fresh rainbow trout with every sip. Note that at 12% alcohol this is considered a full-bodied wine in Germany, but it's a ballerina by American standards. A Truly Fine Wine Selection

Rheingau, Riesling Spätlese Trocken, Weinguth Barth, 2006 (12%) Vino Lok finish - Want to confuse someone who has learned what Spätlese means by reading books? Just give them this wine No sweetness here as the electric acidity races through ripe, stone fruit flavors. How can a wine that smells and tastes so sweet be so dry? A Truly Fine Wine Selection

Picnic Pair

willamettevv Somebody just asked me what I was doing on Labor Day. I thought it strange they ask so far in advance, then glancing at the calendar realized it's this coming Monday. How did that happen? Where did summer go?

As we approach the last picnics of the season, I just tasted two wines that are picture perfect picnic wines. Both are from the 2007 vintage and produced by Oregon's Willamette Valley Vineyards. Better yet, they're both priced less than $20. Their clean, crisp and just off-dry Riesling is an absolute charmer. Flowery with a tart citrus bite balanced by a hint of sweetness, this is a wine you can drink with almost anything - or nothing for that matter. At only 10% alcohol, you can actually enjoy a few glasses without worry. Their Whole Cluster Pinot Noir always makes me wonder why more producers don't make this style of wine, which is clearly inspired by the bright, fresh wines of Beaujolais. Using whole clusters of grapes fermented by carbonic maceration, Willamette Valley Vineyards has produced an explosively fruity, silky fruit-forward wine. This is no fruit-bomb, but a zesty, refreshing pinot noir that lends itself to gulps instead of concentration.

In a world where everyone seems to be trying to make Romanée Conti and sell wines priced in the stratosphere, its great to see wineries like Willamette Valley Vineyards pay equal attention to simpler, pleasure-driven wines that can be enjoyed on an everyday basis.


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Heart of Stone


Scott and Lisa Neal are lost on a windy, dusty gravel road in the foothills of Oregon’s Coast Range. They didn’t mind being lost as they were more explorers than tourists. Fate was with them as they soon chanced upon a for sale sign behind which spread out what they were looking for: a place to plant a vineyard. It was a promising site with rolling hills, a rainbow of soil types and the warm protection of the lovely, inappropriately named, Muddy Valley. So in 1998 Scott and Lisa started to plant their vineyard. They didn’t yet have a name, but fate was soon to step in again. During a walk on their new property Lisa spotted a large boulder that, with closer examination, revealed its unique heart shape. So Coeur de Terre Vineyard was born and an appropriate name it is as everything about Scott and Lisa’s vineyards and wines truly come from their hearts and the earth on which they live.

Coeur de Terre is one of the undiscovered gems of Oregon winemaking. The passion and precision with which the Neals are pursuing their dream of making great wine is impressive to say the least. In my opinion they have the potential to be one of Oregon’s most interesting and distinctive wine producers. From their lovely new winery and tasting room to their vineyards, which are planted in blocks by soil type and exposure, everything at Coeur de Terre shows their deep connections to the art, nature and science of winemaking.

One of the most promising things about Coeur de Terre is their decision to expand their plantings based on a massal selection. Today, most wineries buy all new vine stocks based on clone and rootstock from commercial nurseries who start the vines and do the grafts. However, despite all the attention to individual clones of pinot noir, most winemakers agree that site always trumps clone. In other words, each clone reacts differently to each site, which makes some sort of an exact clonal stew recipe for great pinot noir a ridiculous fantasy. What you have to do is observe each individual vine, regardless of clone, to see which ones love the micro-climate of your site. A massal selection means that you take cuttings from the most successful vines on your site instead of relying on individual clones purchased from a nursery that may or may not be right for your vineyard. It seems obvious that it would be best to plant your vineyards based on individual vines, regardless of clone, that clearly thrive on the unique micro-climate of your vineyard, but very few vineyards choose this course. This is the laborious process that the Neals have selected to propagate the best vines for their unique site throughout their Coeur de Terre Vineyard. It should be noted while this practice is rare in the new world, it’s not exactly cutting edge as it is the traditional method of propagating wines in Burgundy, a region that has made more than a few exceptional pinot noirs over the centuries.

coeur The current releases from Coeur de Terre are all excellent wines that are well worth laying down as they will certainly improve with bottle age. By today’s standards they are moderately priced and good values. The 2006 Riesling has excellent structure and a brightly fruity dryness. Notes of petrol are just starting to peek out behind the young, fresh citrus aromas and flavors. I think this will develop into an outstanding riesling with a few years in the bottle. The 2006 Estate Pinot Noir is one of the better balanced 06 Oregon pinots you’ll find. It is rich, but firmly structured as you would expect from the McMinnville AVA. Its bigger brother, the 2006 Renelle’s Block Pinot Noir, is a bolder, more powerful version of the 2006 Estate. Both show ripe black fruit with hints of cassis layered over coffee and bitter chocolate highlights. The Renelle’s Block is still a bit closed and brooding and really requires two or three more years of bottle age to show all it has to offer. The 2006 Estate is certainly enjoyable now, but will be much better in a year. It should be noted that production of all of these wines is in the hundreds of cases, not thousands, so supplies are limited and you can expect them to sell out.

Scott describes their wines as, “time and place in a bottle.” I would add soul to that list, for Scott and Lisa have also put their souls into their wines.

Wine Notes

Recent wines I’ve enjoyed:

  • Weiβburgunder, pur mineral, Trocken Franken, Fürst, 2006 - Pur mineral indeed.  This is a razor blade of wine with electric acidity and flavors that slap your taste buds awake. Served with fresh Dungeness crab it was an amazing match. It took me three days to finish this bottle and it never changed a bit.
  • Riesling, Winninger Uhlen Kabinett, Mosel Saar Ruwer, Freiherr von Heddesdorff, 2005 - Bright and refreshing and a wonderful aperitif. Clean apricot with just a hint of petrol, I enjoyed the first two glasses as an aperitif on two days after work and finished the bottle with some Thai carryout. I think it is better to drink this younger rather than cellaring it as it seems all about the fruit.
  • Pinot Noir, Littorai, Sonoma Coast, 2005 - One of the best California pinot noir wines I’ve tasted. Great balance, weight and structure. One of those pinots that deftly blends both bright fruit and funk into a wine of unending interest. The finish lasts longer than you can wait to take another sip.
  • Pinot Noir, Walter Hansel, Hansel Family Vineyards, Cahill Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 2005 - An excellent pinot noir that had the unfortunate luck of being served next to the Littorai. However, this is an very good pinot noir that exhibits what could be called the best characteristics of a balanced California style. Rich without being jammy with an lush balance and a lingering finish.
  • Syrah, Dry Creek Valley, Michel-Schlumberger, 2005 - Appropriately big, but not over the top.  You won’t confuse this syrah with grape concentrate. Meaty and oaky with a firm structure and more than enough fruit to carry the alcohol. I liked this wine quite a bit as it’s so hard to find a California wine that knows how to be big with dignity.
  • Nebbiolo Langhe, Serralunga d’Alba, Germano Ettore, 2005 - A real classic angular nebbiolo with tannin to spare. So many nebbiolo wines these days seem to try do disguise themselves as zinfandels these days, it’s wonderful to taste a wine like this that lets the true character of its variety sing its own song. This wine will be much, much better in two or three years, but I drank my three bottles anyway. Note to self: buy more ASAP.
  • Rioja Riserva, Muga, 2003 - What’s the deal with Rioja? The overt oaky character that I would hate in most wines just seem to work in Rioja. Muga is one of the premier estates in Rioja and this wine does not disappoint. Fragrant and elegant with a sweet oaky character that slides silkily across the palate with an underlying acidity that lifts and brightens the rich oaky fruit.
  • Brandy, Germain Robin, Anno Domini 2000 - I’m a long time fan of the California brandies produced by Germain Robin, but I had not heard of their 2000 Anno Domini when a bartender friend recommended I give it a try. I was stunned at the quality of this brandy, which literally blows all the big commercial Cognac houses out of the water when it comes to quality. The depth and complexity displayed by this spirit cannot be overstated. Except for a few producers, buying Cognac is a waste of money these days when there are spirits like this outstanding brandy.

Worth Waiting For

woodward riesling Just over a year ago on a trip to Walla Walla, I made what I consider an essential stop on any trip to Eastern Washington and Oregon. That is the tasting room of Woodward Canyon, where I picked up a six bottles of their 2005 Columbia Valley Dry White Riesling. It was a wonderful wine fourteen months ago, but an additional year in bottle has elevated it beyond simply wonderful. A year ago it was brightly fruity, refreshing and a pleasure to drink. With the additional months in bottle it moved beyond pleasure into something that went from background to foreground, grabbing your attention and focusing your thoughts on every piece of data arriving from your taste buds. The bright fruit had evolved to a gripping minerality laced with those distinctive petroleum notes of maturing riesling all woven within a ripe white peach and racy Meyer lemon savory tart. We are now in Dungeness Crab season and it was an inspired match with some crabs brought into Newport just the day before.

What struck me the most is how the wine just grabbed my attention. It made me sit up and take notice. The mere tasting of it was not enough and each sip became more-and-more compelling. It is this demanding of your time and attention that defines great wine. I don’t think this is a level of nirvana that can be attained without aging a wine as young wines hide their real complexity under layers more obvious charms. If you can ignore it, it’s not great wine.

Wine Notes

Recent wines I’ve enjoyed:

  • Anderson Valley Brut Sparkling Wine, Roederer Estate, 25th Anniversary, NV - I’ve had this very nice sparkling wine many times lately; several bottles at home and then one interesting experience at a wine bar. First for the wine bar experience; my local wine bar was offering both the NV Roederer Champagne Brut and the Anderson Valley Sparkling, but having had the Anderson Valley recently I, against my better judgement, ordered the Roederer Champagne. I say against my better judgment because few wines are more disappointing these days than big name Champagne. However, I took one sip and was blown away by the quality of the Roederer Brut. Not so fast, I soon found out the bartender had poured me a glass of the California Roederer by mistake. She quickly followed up with a glass of the real Champagne, which, as usual, was lackluster. The Anderson Valley Roederer continues to be an outstanding American sparkler and is clearly superior (and less expensive) then their Champagne.
  • Champagne, Grand Cru 100%, Blanc de Blancs, Reserve Brut, Guy Charlemagne, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, NV - High strung and very toasty, this is a delicious and complex Champagne that shows the best of chardonnay in Champagne. The aromatics are delicate, but not a bit shy with a steely froth that races across the palate, stopping just long enough for a compelling finish. Although I prefer the big Bouzy Champagnes, this is an excellent wine and a bargain at $46. This is a one of those Champagnes that can handle caviar.
  • Riesling Kabinett, Selback-Oster, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, 2006 - I enjoyed a bottle of this lovely wine over four days as an aperitif when I arrived home from work. I swear after four days in the refrigerator this wine hardly changed a bit. Such stability is a tribute both to their winemaking and winegrowing. Only perfect grapes can produce such harmony. Beautifully fragrant with honeysuckle and spices, it took effort to pull your nose out of the glass to take a sip. That sip delivered pure charm and seductive white peach and ripe pear flavors laced with tart citrus and a lovely touch of sweetness. No thought required here, just up-front delicious pleasure. Nice screw-cap, I’d drink this up young and fresh.
  • Riesling, Alsace, Albert Boxler, 2004 - This is it, riesling right on the money. No-over-the-top, off-dry, high alcohol, quasi-dessert wine from Alsace here, but a big, rich wine that maintains respect for the variety and vineyard from which it came. On the fuller gold side of color with a rich nose touched with hints of figs laced with bright apricot with touches of crisp apple that continue into the complex layered flavors. It is rich and expansive on the pallet without becoming dull as it maintains a racy, crisp essence under its substantial girth. I enjoyed this thoroughly with some of my own crispy fried chicken.
  • Monferatto Rosso, Braida IL Banciale’ di Giacomo Bologna, 2004 (60% barbera, 20% pinot nero, 10% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot) - Not so long ago I had a bottle of the most expensive wine Bologna produces, which I did not enjoy. Yet here is one of their least expensive wines and it was a delight. Earthy and fragrant with great complexity and balance, it was delicious with a very buttery mushroom risotto at Bice. Oddly enough, the cabernet and merlot hardly show in this wine as the backbone is all barbera and the aromatics and elegance all pinot nero. I really enjoyed this wine, which only really seemed to open with the last glass.
  • Dolcetto d’Alba, Pra di Po, Germano Ettore, 2006 - This is simply a wonderful dolcetto that I intend to buy a few cases of as soon as possible. I recommend you do too before it’s gone. This wine is all about hedonistic pleasure over the next two years, although I doubt any bottle I have will make it that far. I salivate thinking about the beautiful bright wild dark cherry and blackberry fruit flavors and aromas intermingled with hints of black truffles, new leather, sage and lavender. All of this is held together by racy acidity and some silky tannins that bring all the fruit intensity into perfect harmony.
  • Barbera d’Asti, Roberto Ferraris, 2006 - This is one of those stealth wines. It seems pleasant enough at first, but by the time you finish your second glass it has you hypnotized. What is amazing is no matter how long you leave it open it just seems to get better and better. I finished the last of a bottle that had been open for three days tonight and it was flat out wonderful. This is not a big wine, it is exceptionally balanced and the underlying complexity requires you to pay attention and introduce yourself before revealing everything. I’ve opened three bottles now and I would suggest decanting this wine for an hour before serving if, like me, you can’t resist drinking it. What this wine is not is a jammy, oaky ultra-purple barbera like so many make these days. If you can, give it a few years in the bottle and you’ll have something special.
  • Gigondas, Bertrand Stehelin, 2004 - Big and beautiful is not easy to do, but this wine achieves it. The aromas and flavors are richly pungent, bringing to mind an old fashioned butcher shop where the aromas of raw meat mix with sawdust and smoke. Intermingled with all these carnivorous sensations are ripe wild blackberries, an engaging warmth and round tannins that give it a nice backbone. I served this wine with some braised, bone-in pork loin and all three of us enjoyed the experience. While obviously too young to be at its best, this is a wine that just draws you into its sumptuous experience and you find yourself savoring each drop as you finish your glass after the meal is done.

Riesling, Dr. L, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Loosen Bros., 2006

Riesling, Dr. L, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Loosen Bros., 2006

If you want proof that the best wine values are to found in wines from Europe, not the new world, just taste this delicious riesling. With far more complexity, riesling character and charm than American rieslings at twice the price, this is an incredible bargain. Fragrant and racy with just a touch of sweetness and laced with fresh peach and juicy apricot flavors and aromas all tied together with a mouthwatering acidity. Priced well under $20 this is a wine to buy by the case so you can always have a bottle waiting in the fridge when you get home from work. On top of it all is a screw cap so you’ll know each bottle will be perfect.