Thursday, November 30, 2006

From Old World To New World

Last month, our wine club met around the theme "From Old World To New World". I selected for this event four different varietals and for each varietal, two wines: one from the old world and one from the new world. Except for the popular Pinot Noir, I chose the other three grapes, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and Malbec, because these were some of my favorite most underrated grape varieties.

Riesling is an ancient grape that had been cultivated since the 1400s in Germany. Well-suited to cold wine-growing regions, it also produces great wines in nearby Alsace and Austria. In North America, Riesling grows successfully in the Finger Lakes region of New York, Washington State, Oregon, California's coolest areas, and in Canada's Niagara Peninsula and British Columbia.

We tasted the following wines from Riesling:

• 2004 Charles Baur Riesling Grand Cru Eichberg: founded in the early 18th century, the Domaine Charles Baur is a well established estate of 14 hectares in the town of Eguisheim on the Alsace wine road. The Eichberg vineyard is a classified Grand Cru. Its subsoil is rich in sandstone, silica, limestone and clay. From the Grand Cru Eichberg, the domaine cultivates 2.20 hectares of Muscat, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewürztraminer. The Riesling had a light golden color and a fresh nose of stone fruit. On the palate, it was slightly sweet with mineral notes, a mouthfilling acidity, and a lengthy finish.

• 2004 Chehalem Reserve Dry Riesling Willamette Valley: according to the Chehalem winery, Riesling is the Pinot noir of white wines, the white wine the most reflective of climate and site. Their dry Riesling is produced in very limited quantities from selected estate lots in Oregon's Willamette Valley. The wine had a golden color with a light green hue, aromas of green apple, pear, honey, mixed unfortunately with some funky chemical notes. The palate had a good body but left some rustic flavors in the aftertaste.

Chenin Blanc is a native grape of the Loire Valley where it produces crisp table wines, light sparkling wines and unctuous dessert wines. Known as Steen, Chenin Blanc is also the most widely-grown grape in South Africa. It was first introduced to the Cape region in 1655 by Jan van Riebeeck, the Dutch founder of Cape Town. After being a base for cheap brandy and semi-sweet wines, Steen was finally identified in the 1960s as Chenin Blanc. Today, quality oriented South African winemakers are focusing on using old vines, keeping balanced yields and picking riper fruits.

We tasted the following wines from Chenin Blanc:

• 2002 Vouvray Sec Domaine de la Fontainerie Cuvée C: the Domaine de la Fontainerie in Vouvray has been around since 1712. The estate has five hectares in production and one more to be planted. The winery's cellars are carved under chalky slopes in the Vallée Coquette (Pretty Valley) near the town of Vouvray. The Cuvée C is a wine vinified dry and made only in great years. The wine was dry, mineral, and crisp with a touch of honey. On the palate, it had a great well-balanced structure and a lengthy finish. Overall, the wine was very distinctive and classy.

• 2005 Waterford Pecan Stream Chenin Blanc: Winemaker Kevin Arnold of Waterford Estate sources the grapes for his Pecan Stream wines from local growers. The wine had a bright golden color and cooked apple aromas on the nose. On the palate, it was slightly sweet and fruity. Although not as elegant as the Vouvray, it was a well crafted wine and a great value.

Pinot Noir has been cultivated in Burgundy since the Roman Era. Today, it is widely planted in many different countries around the world. In the new world, it is enjoying a recent increase in popularity, thanks to the movie Sideways. Although New Zealand is a relative new comer to the production of Pinot Noir, the grape is now considered, after Sauvignon Blanc, to be New Zealand's red wine major success.

We tasted the following wines from Pinot Noir:

• 1999 Gevrey-Chambertin Champs Chenys Domaine Joseph Roty: Joseph Roty, considered one of Burgundy's finest winemakers, owns 12 hectares in the villages of Gevrey-Chambertin and Marsannay. Champs Chenys is one of the village appellation of Gevrey-Chambertin, which is itself the largest appellation in Burgundy's Côte de Nuits. The wine had a medium ruby color and a nose of sour cherry fruit. On the palate, it was smoky, earthy, with lots of acidity and a bit hollow on the mid-palate.

• 2004 Craggy Range Pinot Noir Te Muna Road Vineyard Martinborough: the Craggy Range Winery is located in Hawke's Bay on the east coast of the North island, and has been named for the nearby Craggy Range Mountains. For its Pinot Noir production, Craggy Range cultivates the Te Muna Road vineyard in Martinborough, at the south end of the North Island. The vineyard has currently 130 acres planted in Sauvignon Blanc, 15 in Chardonnay, 5 in Riesling and 80 in Pinot Noir. The wine had a medium ruby color, a fragrant and fruit driven nose. One the palate, it had a savory mouthfeel, earthy flavors, some good acidity, leaving a finish of pepper and licorice. This was a very popular wine among the tasters.

Malbec is one of the traditional Bordeaux varietals. Although plantings in the Medoc have decreased by over two-thirds since the mid-twentieth century, Malbec is still the dominant red varietal in the Cahors area in the South-West wine region of France where the Cahors Appellation requires a minimum of 70% Malbec. Malbec is widely planted in Argentina, showing its best characteristics in the Mendoza wine region. It has quickly become the country's premier grape with 25,000 hectares planted. In comparison, Chile has about 6,000 hectares planted and France 5,300 hectares.

We tasted the following wines from Malbec:

• 2004 Cahors Château du Cèdre Cuvée Le Prestige: Founded in 1956 by Charles Verhaeghe, Château du Cèdre is one of Cahors's leading wineries. It is now owned and run by brothers Pascal and Jean-Marc Verhaeghe, who have been a driving force behind the improved quality of the wines of Cahors. The 25 hectares estate has vineyards planted on the best two types of soils of the appellation: clay-limestone with stones and reddish sand with pebbles on the top, clay and flint on the subsoil. The cuvée Le Prestige is a blend of Malbec and Tannat and aged in new oak barrels. The wine had a dark, purple-black color, an attractive nose of black and red berries. On the palate, it had a seductive mouthfeel with a fresh acidity and well-balanced tannins, leaving a lengthy finish. This was a really delicious wine.

• 2004 BenMarco Malbec: The Dominio del Plata Winery is a family-owned and run project of Susana Balbo, the winery's enologist and Pedro Marchevsky the winery's viticulturist. BenMarco is Pedro's surname which means son of Marco in Hebrew. The BenMarco label is an homage to his father, Marcos, who taught him how to plant, tend, and love the vineyards. The wine had a jammy nose of black fruit. On the palate, it was dense and meaty leaving a slightly too oaky finish.

The theme of our next event will be Champagne so stay tuned!

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Kremstal, Kamptal, and Wachau (Austria)

The third session of my Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class with Derrick Schneider was dedicated to the wines of Austria. Although Austria is a wine producing country that may not be as well known as Germany, it makes world class dry white wines, mostly from Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. Grüner Veltliner is Austria's most widely planted grape variety — ten times more widely planted than Riesling — and thanks to its food friendliness and versatility, it is increasingly gaining the attention that it deserves.

Most of the high quality dry Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings come from Kremstal, Kamptal, and Wachau, three appellations located in Lower Austria — or Niederösterreich —, northwest of Vienna.

Terraced vineyards in the Wachau

Kremstal is named for the town of Krems, one of the oldest wine town in Austria. East of the Wachau and its steep terraced vineyards, Kremstal is where the Danube valley suddenly opens up into an open plain with gently rolling hills. The main wine producing towns are Göttweig, Furth, Gedersdorf, Rohrendorf, and Senftenberg.

The wines we tasted:

• 2005 Berger Grüner Veltliner: Weingut Berger is an estate of 18 hectares in the town of Gedersdorf, 7km east of Krems. Half of the production is dedicated to Grüner Veltliner but the winery also produces wines from Riesling, Welschriesling, and the red Zweigelt grape variety. My notes: this is their entry wine, bottled in a one liter sized bottle. Straw color with a greenish tinge, nicely aromatic on the nose, dry, medium-bodied on the palate with notes of mineral. A good value wine.

• 2005 Salomon Undhof Grüner Veltliner Hochterrassen: located in Stein on the western border of Krems, Salomon Undhof is one of the most progressive and quality driven wineries in Austria. The family owns 20 hectares of vineyards, half planted with Grüner Veltliner, half with Riesling. My notes: straw color with a green tinge, subdued nose, more fruity than floral, mineral on the palate.

• 2002 Malat Dreigärten Grüner Veltliner Reserve: Weingut Malat is a 30 hectares estate located in the town of Palt. This wine comes from the best grapes from three different vineyards (drei gärten or three gardens). My notes: deep golden color, pear, peach, honey on the nose, almost a Riesling nose. On the palate, rich, smoky, crisp, with notes of grapefruit on the finish. Very distinctive.

• 2003 Buchegger Pfarrweingarten Grüner Veltliner: Weingut Buchegger is a rising estate of 8 hectares in the town of Gedersdorf. My notes: deep golden color, perfume and talcum powder on the nose, grassy on the palate with a vivid acidity.

• 2004 Nigl Privat Grüner Veltliner: Weingut Nigl is an estate of 25 hectares in the Krems valley. My notes: light yellow color, intense, aromatic nose of fresh white peach, on the palate, rich and mineral with a long citrus finish. With the Malat, this was my favorite wine from the Kremstal.

• 2004 Türk Grüner Veltliner Vom Urgestein: Weingut Türk has 14 hectares in the town of Stratzing. This wine is a blend of two vineyards, the Ried Wachtberg and Alte Haide, with vines averaging 50 years of age. My notes: pale yellow color, citrusy nose, crisp palate, medium finish.

The Kamptal takes its name from the river Kamp, a 153km long river that flows into the Danube near Grafenwörth, east of Krems. Vineyards are spread around Langenlois, Austria's largest wine town. Soils are mostly loess, a fine-grained, densely compacted glacial dust, and loam, while higher vineyards are distinguished by weathered rock subsoils, which is ideal for Grüner Veltliner.

The wines we tasted:

• 2004 Thomas Leithner Loess Grüner Veltliner: Weingut Thomas Leithner is an estate of 10 hectares in Langenlois with a well established reputation in Austria. It makes spicy Grüner Veltliners that are grown on loess rich vineyards. My notes: straw color with green tints, perfumed nose, fat mouthfeel with a vivid acidity on the palate, medium finish.

• 2002 Thomas Leithner Privat Grüner Veltliner: The Privat is a selection of the best grapes from the estate's best parcels. My notes: deep golden color, expressive and aromatic nose, rich aromas of tropical fruits, lengthy finish. Delicious!

• 2005 Schloss Gobelsburg GobelsBurger Grüner Veltliner: founded in 1171, Weingut Schloss Gobelsburg is the region's oldest winery. Owned by a Cistercian monastery, it was also run by the monks themselves until 1995. Qui bon vin boit Dieu voit (who drinks good wine sees god) is the winery's motto. My notes: golden color, citrusy nose, a lot of acidity on the palate. By itself, it seems slightly unbalanced and may need some additional cellaring time but right now, it should be very good with shellfish.

• 2003 Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner Renner: this wine is made from grapes growing on the hills, on soils dominated by gneiss. My notes: deep golden color, notes of mushroom and petrol on the nose, soft on the palate with mineral and smoked apple aromas, burnt sugar on the finish. Should be a great accompaniment to Peking Roast Duck.

• 2004 Bründlmayer Grüner Veltliner Ried Lamm: with 60 hectares of vineyards scattered around the town of Langenlois, Weingut Bründlmayer is one of the most important Austrian estate. The Ried Lamm vineyard is a particularly warm spot on loess soils that is located between two large hilly vineyards, the Heiligenstein and Gaisberg. My notes: golden color, citrusy nose, well balanced on the palate, great mouthfeel, classy finish. One of my favorite wines from Kamptal with the Thomas Leithner Privat.

The Wachau is a 30km/18 miles stretch of the Danube Valley between the towns of Melk and Krems, where the river is lined with steeply terraced vineyards. This region is one of Europe's most beautiful river landscapes and have been declared a World Heritage site. It is also considered Austria's finest wine region. The Wachau has a regional association called Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus that closely monitors the quality of the wines and has created three levels of classification: Steinfeder (less than 10.9% alcohol, light and racy), Federspiel (less than 11.9% alcohol, elegant and with body), and Smaragd (above 12% alcohol, highly ripe and powerful).

The wine we tasted:

• 2004 Sighardt Donabaum S. Dona Weißburgunder Bruck: the Sighardt Donabaum estate is located in the village of Spitz, one of the region's main wine community. Just above the village there is a round low hill covered with terraced vineyards, which is called Tausendeimerberg, the 1000-Bucket's Mountain. It is said that in good years this hill could yield 1000 barrels of wine. My notes: a Pinot Blanc with a golden color, sweet white blossom aromas on the nose, and butterscotch flavors on the palate.

Unfortunately, I could not attend the fourth session dedicated to the other regions of Austria, so coming next: the wines of Hungary

Related stories:
•  Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Rheingau, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, and Mittelrhein
•  Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz

The second session of my Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class with Derrick Schneider was dedicated to the wines of Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz.

The Haardter Bürgergarten vineyard in Pfalz

The Nahe wine region is located east of the Mosel, along the Nahe river, which is one of the western tributaries to the Rhine. The name Nahe is derived from the Latin word Nava, itself derived from an old Celtic word meaning wild river. Although the Nahe is one of the smallest wine regions in Germany, it has a rich and varied range of soil types, including volcanic rocks, weathered stone, and red, clayish slate and can therefore produce a large variety of wine styles.

The wines we tasted:

• 2003 Emrich-Schönleber Monzinger Riesling halbtrocken: Weingut Emrich-Schönleber is an estate of 13 hectares with more than three-quarters devoted to Riesling. The vineyard is made of slopes facing south to south-west that receive an optimum of midday sun. More specifically, the Monzinger hill has steep slopes that have unique microclimatic conditions: the warm air from the valley rises over the slopes and protects the vines from the chilly downdrafts at night. The wine had a bright golden color and an aromatic nose of white peach. On the palate, it was semi-sweet with a sharp acidity. A pleasant but not overly complex wine.

• 2005 Schäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Riesling Kabinett: although the Schäfer-Fröhlich family has been producing wines since the 1800's, Weingut Schäfer-Fröhlich is now considered a rising star among the Nahe wineries. The estate has 10 hectares planted with Riesling, and Pinot varietals. The wine had a pale yellow color and an appealing floral nose. The palate had a lively acidity with aromas of stone fruits. Delicious!

We tasted the Schäfer-Fröhlich side by side with a California Chardonnay, the 2005 Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estates Grown Chardonnay, which I found heavy and oaky in comparison.

• 2001 Hermann Dönnhoff Riesling: Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff is one of the leading estates of the region. This estate of over 12 hectares has been in the Dönnhoff family since 1750 and comprises some of the top sites of the Nahe Valley. The wine had a deep golden color and a vivid nose with petrol notes. On the palate, it was rich, unctuous and seemed less acidic than the first two Rieslings. Maybe my favorite Nahe wine.

• 2004 Schlossgut Diel Scheurebe Spätlese: Weingut Schlossgut Diel, a pre-eminent estate in the Nahe, has been owned by the Diel family since 1802. It is located at the lower end of the Nahe river close to the estuary of the Rhine, and has some of the best vineyards of the region. The wine was a Scheurebe, which is a crossing of Silvander and Riesling. It had a deep golden color and a pungent nose of green apple. The palate attack was dense with strong aromas of spicy apple pie that evolved into a sweet and cloying finish, actually, too sweet and cloying for my personal taste.

The Rheinhessen is Germany's largest wine region. It lies in a valley of gentle rolling hills, bordered on the west by the Nahe River and on the north and east by the Rhine. Overall, this is a fertile region with vast farmlands that may lack character except where the Rhine has carved steep slopes, which is where the best vineyards lie.

The wines we tasted:

• 2004 Gunderloch Jean-Baptiste Riesling Kabinett: Carl Gunderloch, a banker from Mainz, founded the Gunderloch estate in 1890 and is the great, great grandfather of Agnes Hasselbach, the current owner. The Jean-Baptiste label is an allusion to a character called Jean Baptiste Gunderloch in the German dramatist Carl Zuckmayer's play The Jolly Vineyard. The wine had a dark golden color, notes of petrol on the nose, apple-pear flavors on the palate and a rather short finish.

We tasted this wine side by side with the 2004 Poet's Leap Riesling Columbia Valley, a Washington State wine crafted by Armin Diel of Weingut Schlossgut Diel. It had a light yellow color with notes of petrol and chemical aromas on the nose and a palate that I found less clean and less focused than the Jean-Baptiste.

• 2004 Keller Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Kabinett: the Keller family owns 16 hectares of vines in prime spots. One of them is the Kirchspie, east-southeast facing slopes, windless and quite warm, with marl and limestone. The wine had a light yellow color and a volatile nose of burnt sugar. On the palate, it was slightly fizzy with notes of caramel, had a good acidity and a lingering finish of spicy apple cider.

• 2004 Gunderloch Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling Spätlese: Weingut Gunderloch is famous for its Riesling from the premium red slate based Nackenheim Rothenberg vineyard. The wine had a deep golden color and a rich mineral nose. On the palate, it was full-bodied, sweet, with ripe fruit aromas. Definitively the most complex wine out of this Rheinhessen selection.

The Pfalz is Germany's warmest wine region. It lies between the densely forested Haardt Mountains (an extension of the French Vosges) and the Rhine plain. Like Alsace in France, it is sunny and dry thanks to the Haardt mountains protecting the region from the cold and rainy weather coming from the west. The word Pfalz is a derivation of the Latin word palatium which means palace. Crops like almonds, peaches, apricots, cherries, sweet chestnuts, walnuts, figs, and tobacco flourish in this almost Mediterranean climate. It is Germany's most productive wine region and currently the most exciting. Ambitious growers are increasingly experimenting with a wide range of white and red grapes.

The wines we tasted:

• 2005 Ed. Weegmüller Haardter Mandelring Riesling Kabinett Trocken: Weingut Ed. Weegmüller has over 15 hectares in the renowned wine village of Haardt near the town of Neustadt. The wine had a light yellow color and a citrus nose. On the palate, it was slightly fizzy, rather dry, spicy, with a vibrant acidity.

• 2004 Müller-Catoir Haardter Bürgergarten Muskateller Kabinett Trocken: Weingut Müller-Catoir has 20 hectares located in Haardt. Considered to be the classiest estate in the Pfalz, it produces some of the country's finest Rieslings. The estate mostly grows Riesling, with some Weißburgunder, Grauburgunder, Spätburgunder, and very small quantities of Rieslaner, Scheurebe and Muskateller (Muscat). This Muskateller had a pale straw color and an aromatic grapey nose. On the palate, it was fresh and slightly fizzy with some herby aromas on the finish.

• 2002 Lingenfelder GanYmed Spätburgunder Trocken: the Lingenfelder family has been making wine in the Pfalz for 13 generations. They own 15 hectares of prime vineyards, planted mostly with Riesling, Scheurebe and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). Their Spätburgunder is planted on limestone soil in the Burgweg site that slopes down just behind the winery. Ganymed is a special Pinot Noir cuvee named after the Greek sommelier to the gods and it is made only during exceptional vintages. It is aged in new oak barriques in order to develop complexity and structure. The wine had a brown/brick color and an attractive nose of black cherries. On the palate, it was smoky and gamey with notes of licorice on the finish. An elegant and classy Pinot Noir.

• 2003 Messmer Burrweiler Schlossgarten Riesling Kabinett halbtrocken: Weingut Messmer is an estate located in Burrweiler, in southern Pfalz. This wine comes from Schlossgarten, one of the estate's best sites with a soil of loam and lime deposits. It had a light straw color and a mineral nose. On the palate, it was nicely fruity with a great amount of acidity.

At the end of the class, there was a surprise bottle that we tried to identify, although unsuccessfully (does that mean that we need to retake the class and retaste all these great wines?):

• 2004 Kerpen Bernkasteler Bratenhöfchen Riesling Spätlese: the Bernkasteler Bratenhöfchen vineyard is one of the premium sites owned by the Kerpen family. It is located on the Middle Mosel River. Unfortunately, I was too busy trying to identify the wine and I forgot to take notes. The only thing I remember is that the wine was delicious.

Coming next: the wines from Austria

Related story: Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Rheingau, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, and Mittelrhein

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

WBW #27: Icewine and the election

Yesterday, I realized with shock that we were only one day away from Wine Blogging Wednesday and I didn't have any wine that would satisfied this month's theme. Luckily, I found something appropriate at my local BevMo! store, thinking that it would be a nice wine to sip later in the evening while watching the election results.

This month, our host is The Kitchen Chick and she has asked us to taste an ice wine. The wine that I found was the 2004 Jackson-Triggs Proprietor's Reserve Vidal Icewine, a Canadian wine from the Niagara Peninsula. The winery's website indicates that for the 2004 vintage, the grapes were harvested between December 27th and January 15th at 39.5º Brix (compared to 22º-24º Brix for a dry wine). The varietal is Vidal Blanc a French hybrid that excels particularly well in cold regions and can survive freezing temperatures.

So we did sip our icewine while watching the election results. The wine was incredibly sweet, one of the sweetest wines I had ever tasted, although the its sweetness was nicely balanced by a high acidity that gave the wine an unctuous but refreshing aftertaste. Overall, I liked its texture and its zingy acidity but found it somewhat neutral in terms of aromas. Anyway, I was pretty happy with my icewine when it was time to raise our glass in honor of Nancy Pelosi, first woman ever Speaker of the House.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Rheingau, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, and Mittelrhein

Last month, I started taking Derrick Schneider's Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class. The first two sessions were dedicated to Germany with an extensive tasting of the wines from Germany's main wine regions including the Rheingau, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Mittelrhein, Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz. I really love Riesling but I rarely drink German Riesling. Therefore, this class was a terrific opportunity for me to become more familiar with the wines of this country. the Mosel Valley

We started with the wines of the Rheingau or Rhine District, one of the oldest German wine regions where vines has been grown since Roman times. This is a unique region thanks to its geographical situation: for most of its length, the Rhine flows northwest, except near Mainz where it suddenly turns southwest for 20 miles, creating sunny, south-facing slopes that benefit from the heat-reflecting surface of the Rhine.

The wines we tasted:

• 2003 August Kesseler Rheingau Spätburgunder Qualitatswein Trocken: August Kesseler not only makes Riesling but also Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). He vinifies his Pinot Noir in the Burgundian style and uses French oak. This dry Pinot Noir (trocken) had a red-brick color and tart cherry aromas on the nose. The palate had upfront sweet fruit flavors, a light body, high acidity, and a light finish.

• 2004 Gerhard Al Alba Vincerò Riesling Kabinett: Stefan Gerhard loves making wine and loves music. Al alba vincerò! means At dawn I will win! and is a reference to Pucini's opera Turandot. He also uses glass Vino-Lok closures. The wine had a light golden color. The nose had floral, citrus, white peach and mineral aromas. The palate was slightly sweet and crisp, with honey and pear aromas on the finish. Overall, I found the wine light and easy.

• 2005 Prinz Hallgartener Jungfer Riesling Kabinett: the Hallgartener Jungfer is one of the best vineyards of Weingut Fred Prinz. The wine had a straw color with green hue. On the palate, it was slightly fizzy, sweeter than the Gerhard with more body, and had a crisp, limey finish.

• 2004 Josef Leitz Rüdesheimer Drachenstein Dragonstone Riesling: Weingut Josef Leitz is a small estate of 5.8 hectares in Rüdesheim. It is one of the rising stars of the new generation of Rheingauers. The property's Dragonstone bottling is considered by many to be one of Germany's best Riesling values. The wine had a light yellow color and a nose of brown sugar. On the palate, it was mineral with a high level of acidity.

• 2005 Josef Leitz Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Alte Reben Riesling: this wine comes from old vines (alte reben) from the Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland vineyard, one of the best sites of the Leitz estate. The wine had a deep golden color and a floral nose with notes of bitter orange marmalade. On the palate, the wine was rich and complex, and seemed drier than the Dragonstone. Definitively my favorite Rheingau wine!

We then moved to the wines of Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, which is today the most celebrated wine region of Germany, and is renowned for producing elegant wines with a fine acidity. The Mosel River and its tributaries, the Saar and Ruwer, have created dramatically steep, slaty slopes, covered with some of Germany's most famous vineyards. These slate-covered steep slopes heat up rapidly during the day when the sun shines, allowing the grapes to have a chance to mature properly. The soil, made of many stones and gravel, can easily absorb the falling rain and prevent erosion.

The wines we tasted:

• 2004 von Hövel Scharzhofberg Riesling Kabinett: Weingut von Hövel is located in the Saar valley. The wine comes from the Scharzhofberg vineyard, a premier vineyard located near the village of Wiltingen along the saar River. It had a light yellow color with a greenish tone and an intense yeasty nose. On the palate, with just 8.5% of alcohol, it was light and juicy with a medium finish. Actually, a very pleasant wine.

• 2004 Erben von Beulwitz Kaseler Nies'chen Riesling Spätlese: Weingut Erben von Beulwitz is located in the Ruwer valley and produces 90% Riesling on soil of decomposted slate. The estate's top sites include Kaseler Nies'chen and Kernagel. All vineyards face south/south-west. The Kaseler Nies'chen site is still planted with a majority of true rooted Riesling grapes, some over 100 years old. The wine had a deep golden color and a nose of pear and green apple. With just 7% alcohol, the palate was light-bodied with a mild finish. For some reason (the color?), I was expecting a fuller wine.

• 2004 Grans Fassian Riesling: The history of the Grans and Fassian families dates back to the 16th century. Today, the Grans-Fassian estate, which is located in Leiwen on the middle Mosel, owns ten hectares of some of the best vineyards around Leiwen, Trittenheim and Piesport. The wine had a straw color with a green tinge. It gave some tingly feeling on the tongue, leaving a slight bitterness, a balanced acidity, and a tasty honeyed finish.

• 2004 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese: The Mosel estate of Selbach-Oster has been owned by the Selbach family since 1661. It comprises a total of 16 hectares of vines including Germany's finest vineyards: Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, and Graacher Domprobst. These are planted entirely with Riesling, including some very old, ungrafted vines.

The Zeltinger Sonnenuhr vineyard, a very steep slope made of mostly stony blue slate mixed with some red slate, was named after the very large sundial (sonnenuhr) that had been installed on top of the Zeltinger site to allow vineyard workers to know the time of the day. The wine had a deep golden color with a hint of green hue. The nose was intense and the palate rich and complex with lingering notes of brown sugar on the finish. Maybe my favorite Mosel wine.

The last two wines from the Mosel were two Auslese from the same vineyard. But they were surprisingly very different.

• 2003 Joh. Jos. Christoffel-Erben Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese*: the Joh. Jos. Christoffel-Erben estate is based in Ürzig, one of the Middle Mosel's great wine villages. It is particularly famous for its Würzgarten (spice garden) vineyard, named for its distinctive spiced wines. In Ürzig, the Mosel turns from a northerly direction to the east, creating steep, weathered slate slopes, with a gradient up to 70% in places. The wine had a deep golden color and an expressive and aromatic nose. On the palate, the wine was rich and full-bodied with a vivid freshness and a distinctive flavor of Chartreuse liqueur.

• 2004 Alfred Merkelbach Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese: the label is a colorful drawing of the vineyard itself. The wine had a nose that seemed, at the beginning, less developed than the Christoffel-Erben. It seemed also sweeter and heavier. With a little more time in the glass, the wine opened up nicely, revealing a richer mix of aromas, although I still preferred the distinctiveness and elegance of the Christoffel-Erben.

We tasted only one wine from the Mittelrhein. This wine region begins just below Bonn and continues south for about 60 miles on both banks of the Rhine. This is a land of ancient Rhine legends, medieval castles, and steep, terraced vineyards. Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and Kerner grow best on these inhospitable slopes but in years when grapes do not fully ripen, they are usually sold to Sekt — Germany's sparkling wine — producers.

The wine we tasted:

• 2004 Weingart Bopparder Hamm Ohlenberg Riesling Spätlese: a rising star on the Mittelrhein, Weingut Weingart is a 9 hectares estate and Bopparder Hamm Ohlenberg is one of its best sites. The wine had a golden color and a citrus and mineral nose. On the palate, it was sweet with a mild aftertaste and I thought, less distinctive flavors than the Mosel wines that we tasted earlier.

Coming next: wines from the Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz regions.

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