Call me a skeptic, a cynic even… but hard to define words are a sign of danger for me. What exactly is “Natural” wine? I understand the term organic - to an extent, for it too has limitations. I get the point of eco-friendly, bio-intensive agriculture. But “Natural” does not come to me, forgive the bad writing, naturally. I can admit it - I too had negative experiences with wines that use the term as a cover. But Natural, Organic and Low-Intervention wine-making, both as a terms and as ideologies, have come a long way; and so have the wines. I was stunned at the quality across the board of this year’s Raw Wine Fair in New York City. Wines exhibiting bright, crisp fruit, deeply aromatic, elegant and speaking of place and time. From the superstars of the movement like Cornelissen, Scholium Project, Radikon, Gravner to the multiple newcomers and risings stars across the globe - there was a clear message sent at the fair: “Raw Wine is not a Fad”.
Listening to Isabelle Legeron, the Founder of Raw Wine, describe the her vision of Natural wine, one thing was clear: it is all about the agriculture. “We can talk about the cellar later,” she said, “90% of the work is in the vineyard.” Her passion was infectious - “terrior is life in the vineyard”, and I cannot agree more. In a world looking more and more at organic food, organic agriculture, organically farmed grapes for wine are surely as important. I will add, certification itself is not the answer, it is the commitment that matters. Isabelle pointed out that only 7% of the world’s wine grapes are farmed organically and, certification discussion aside, that is shocking. Unlike food, wine is a luxury good, and thus, in my opinion, should set the standard even higher. If I had any doubts about the message of the movement and of Raw Wine, Isabelle blasted every one of them. This isn’t about a specific ideology - it is about a commitment to Nature itself. And that I cannot argue with.
I want to take the opportunity to thank Isabelle Legeron, Raw Wine, Heritage Radio Network and the producers themselves for this eye-opening experience! I cannot wait to taste more and learn more.
A fresh, bright and fruity Riesling, just bottled, can be an absolute pleasure… but what is it like in a year or two? Can that freshness fool us, make us fall in love prematurely? Perhaps, but that is why I was happy to try some 2015 and 2016 Rieslings from the Field Blend Selections portfolio and compare notes. I must say that both vintages are beautiful in their own right, with the 2015 now beginning to shed some of the primary fruit and reveal a deep minerality and brightness that will surely last decades. The 2016 are demure, elegant, but don’t mistake their bashfulness for weakness – they will woo you with their softer, yellow tones and seduce with their grace.
2016 Weingut Ökonomierat Rebholz Birkweiler Riesling trocken showed bright yellow peach and mineral notes on the nose. The palate was ripe, with lovely stone and tropical fruit, opening with a broader feel but getting a touch lighter toward the back-palate. The finish was bright, zesty with a hint of almond.
2015 Weingut Ökonomierat Rebholz Siebeldinger Im Sonnenschein Riesling Großes Gewächs opened with a hint of petrol, but it quickly blew off to reveal a stony, chalky nose with a ripe, citrus driven palate. This is a rich, dense wine, already quite complex – alternating between the riper tropical notes and the dry and bright mineral. A powerhouse that should age into an excellent example of the style.
2015 Zilliken (Forstmeister Geltz) Riesling was rather reticent on the nose, but bright and fresh on the palate, with a plethora of autumnal fruit. It showed drier than one would expect, with a lighter, softer touch toward the finish.
I clearly enjoyed the 2015 Zilliken (Forstmeister Geltz) Saarburger Rausch Riesling Kabinett on release but oh my, it really is in a lovely place now! It is still showing much larger than expected, but with 69g of RS it really is a powerful Spatlese. Ripe while peach, apricot and baked apple dominate the nose and the palate, with a rich, creamy note and a bright cranberry streak through the middle. The wine finishes with ripe mango and citrus zest, and I can easily see this aging wonderfully.
2016 Schäfer-Fröhlich Riesling Vulkangestein trocken showed an intense mineral and wet stone profile, with a core of ripe peach and zesty, spicy citrus rind. Lighter that it showed a year ago, this wine becomes all about the texture, stone, flint and a long, spicy finish.
While I was not terribly impressed with this wine on release, the 2016 Schäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling Kabinett was showing its colors today. Very floral on the nose, with white peach and yellow flowers. The palate was rich, with red berry, peach and citrus notes, leading to a zesty finish with a hint of pineapple.
2016 Schloss Lieser Riesling SL Feinherb is a great introduction to Riesling. I really enjoyed it last fall, and it is still showing the same bright, lively stone fruit, with just a hint of sweetness and cream. The minerality takes over on the back palate, leading to a fresh, bright finish. A perfect summer wine.
Today’s stunner was the 2016 Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Spätlese. I already fell in love with this wine, having tasted it on release and in Germany last year. Where last year the wine showed ripe peach and nectarine, the wine is now dominated by an elegant minerality that underscores the power and potential of this wine. Complex and complete, the wine only requires your patience… and it will blossom.
I knew I would be back at Racines soon - after our amazing meal there… but this was different. Today’s tasting menu, three full courses of it too, was purely liquid. I was here to taste the wines brought in by Vinotas Selections, Golden Vines and Crystalline Selections. Is there a better way to start the week than a romp through Germany, Austria, France and Italy, all in a glass? Those who know me can probably guess where I began… I admit - I just can’t say no to a good Riesling.
Justin Christoph, of Crystalline Selections, led me through their lineup of Austrian and German wines. I have been known to preach the value and the amazing food-friendliness of Riesling. Allow me to do so again. Both the dry and the off-dry Rieslings can easily pair with any cuisine. The fruit cuts through spicy food, the bright acidity lifts the richer and meatier dishes and the minerality stands up to salads and pastas with ease. I cannot think of a more versatile wine, and where some may grab a bubbly, I reach for one of these tall and slender bottles.
The first wine that stopped me in my tracks was the 2011 Schmelz Riesling Smaragd Durnsteiner Freiheit from the Wachau. Rieslings age magnificently, and this wine, while still rather young, is already showing a bit of that complexity that comes with age. It opens with a hint of petrol on the nose, but quickly reveals complex floral and mineral notes. The palate is bright, deceptively light, showing mineral components along with grapefruit and ripe citrus notes. The wine reaches the back palate, finally showing its breadth – textures of wet rocks and citrus – leading to a medium long finish.
I have had the pleasure to taste wines of Weingut K.H. Schneider before, and am glad I have a few in my own cellar. These are brilliant expressions of Nahe Riesling – with crisp, bright acidity, loads of fruit and an elegant touch. The 2017 K.H. Schneider Riesling trocken is a perfect example: floral with ripe fruit on the nose, but a dry, white peach and stone palate. Bright, crisp wine that shows the depth of the vintage while staying pleasantly light and elegant. The 2015 K.H. Schneider Schloßböckelheimer Felsenberg Riesling trocken is almost the exact opposite, still it shows the same hand – elegant (for all its power) and bright. Big, beautiful wine that opened with a note of blue cheese, savory herbs and ripe fruit. With a bit of time, the cheese blew off to reveal mineral and white peach notes. It showed bright mid-palate, with red berry and power over the stony, ripe and textured structure. The wine is very dry but without a hint of austerity – this is an absolute winner.
I also tasted the 2016 Groebe Riesling 1763, a round, mouth-filling wine, with a ripe, fruity core. It showed good intensity in mid-palate, which turned softer toward the back-palate, offering a ripe citrus cream feel and a zesty finish. The 2015 Groebe Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Großes Gewächs was another stunner, with a nose of bright peach and pear, with hints of tropical fruit. The mid-palate is bursting with power and notes of ripe citrus, stone fruit and mineral. Big, with a broad middle, the wine stays on its feet due to the depth of its structure. Savory herbs and zest follow through to a long dry finish. Needs time but is sure to reward the patience. The last wine I must mention is the 2015 Staffelter Hof Kröver Letterlay Riesling Kabinett feinherb, a style I have come to enjoy more and more in recent years. Feinherb allows for the creamy touches residual sugar brings without the opulence of fruit that requires aging. I am currently drinking lieblich Kabinetts from 2002 and 2004 vintages. This feinherb, on the other hand, is ready to go: juicy and ripe with melon and pineapple notes, light but with a lovely touch of cream in the mid palate, zesty with hints of herb and mint. A pretty, young Riesling from a wonderful year.
Michel Abood’s passion for wine and his search for affordable, honest bottles led him to launch Vinotas Selections. I have seen his line-up grow and expand over the past decade but have never had the chance to actually taste through the wines. I was glad to grab the chance, and especially interested in tasting the new Italian selections. I was not disappointed, the Franco Conterno wines were delicious but the Sicilian wines blew me away.
The 2016 Azienda Agricola Pianogrillo Grillo Terre Siciliane showed rich ripe citrus on the nose, broad but bright mineral and chalk on the palate, lovely texture, hint of sea breeze, long zesty finish. The 2016 Elios Modus Bibendi Grillo Terre Siciliane was a different expression of the grape, with bakes apple notes and a grape-y, high-toned fruit feel. There were some Mediterranean herb notes as well with time, and the palate broad and textured, like the first wine, but with more mineral edge. Finally the 2016 Elios Modus Bibendi Nero d’Avola Terre Siciliane was a pleasantly fresh red wine, light on its feet, showing a dark cherry and earthy nose, but a bright red berry and herb mid palate and the fresh acidity to lead toward a tart and rustic finish. Really refreshing!
I was looking forward to trying the wines of Franco Conterno. After a spending close to two weeks in Piedmont this summer, I fell in love with its wines and its people. And Barbera is high on my list of favorite grapes – what’s not to love? It is bright, intense and has the potential to age. 2015 Franco Conterno Barbera d’Alba Superiore Cascina Sciulum is an excellent example: earthy, with notes of black and red fruit on the nose. A ripe core on the palate, cherries and earth, but with a mineral and structured feel that keeps the wine fresh. The 2013 Franco Conterno Barolo Panerole continued the earthy tones, but with more elegance and staying power. Floral on the nose, it showed the structure and dark cherry of a traditional Barolo on the palate. Earthy, leathery tones mixing with the ripe and juicy red cherry. Long, structured finish speaks to the years ahead.
But on to France, and Champagne to be exact. The Fleury Champagnes were a list onto themselves, but if I had to choose just one… 2005 Fleury Pere & Fils Champagne Cuvée Robert Fleury Extra Brut was my favorite. With a hint of almond and citrus on the nose, the wine broadened significantly on the palate, showing ripe citrus, apple and red berry. Complex and deep, it envelops the senses as the soft bubbles add to the textural component. Really a beautiful wine. I also enjoyed both the Chinon Blanc and the Rouge from Thierry Landry. 2015 Thierry Landry Chinon Chenin des Puys showed notes of hay, honey and red berry on the nose and a lovely ripe gooseberry mid-palate. The 2015 Thierry Landry Chinon Cuvée Moulin de Rochette presented ripe red fruit, with hints of tobacco and savory herb, with mint and chewy rustic grip on the palate. Another set of wines not to miss were from Domaine A. Pegaz. The 2016 A. Pegaz Beaujolais Beaujolais Blanc had a nose of lime, with a creamy middle of lemon curd that lead to a zesty and peppery finish. The 2016 A. Pegaz Brouilly showed ripe raspberry, herbs and cherry on the nose with a lovely light and mineral palate, with sage and hints of spice. 2016 Domaine Baron de l’Ecluse Côte de Brouilly V.V. Les Garances Lieu Dit added elegance on top of the already pretty red fruit, with a rounder mid-palate and a bit riper cherry tone, but keeping the long, bright and spicy finish. And, finally, the 2016 Cellier de la Baraterie Cruet Jacquère Vin de Savoie, a wine showing yellow and white peaches, ripe pears, and a lovely pear cider and mineral palate. Quite unique!
The third course (portfolio) of the day was that of Golden Vines. Another absolutely stellar list of which I can only mention a few highlights. 2016 Le Clocher Petite Arvine surprised be off the bat with the unusual nose: notes of petrol and mineral that blew off to reveal high-toned pear and apple. The palate shows lots of texture, while staying bright with citrus and apple notes dominating. The red berry tones toward the back sold me on the wine, refreshing and complex, begging for another sip. Another impressive white wine was the 2017 Domaine San Guilhem Sauvignon Blanc, showing a rich, ripe citrus note over the traditional grassy nose of the grape. Rich on the palate, the wine shows itself with impressive balance, dry and bright on the finish with a hint of herb and citrus rind.
I could not pass up the chance to taste the Hayl zu Herrnsheim Rieslings, and found them once again, intriguing and hauntingly mineral. The “simple” 2016 Heyl zu Herrnsheim Riesling Trocken was an excellent example of Rheinhessen, with ripe tropical notes of pineapple and grapefruit, and a palate of ripe yellow peaches and grapefruit pith. The star was definitely the 2015 Heyl zu Herrnsheim Niersteiner Brudersberg Riesling Grosse Lage, with a ripe, rich core of stone fruit, pineapple, and citrus. The stellar vintage provided ample minerality and acidity to the wine, balancing it and providing a long, sweet and savory finish. I also tasted 2015 Contrada Irpinia Aglianico, which showed a ripe, dark fruit note along with deep minerality and a long, if slightly rustic finish. Its big brother, the 2012 Contrada Taurasi had a more elegant, balanced approach, with riper, richer fruit and hints of tobacco leaf on the nose. The dark berry and juicy mid-palate lead to a powerful sour cherry and mineral finish. This wine is clearly young, but it should only improve with age. And finally, because I cannot help myself, a Moscato d’Asti. Let me be clear here, this is no simple after dinner drink, the Azienda Agricola L’Armangia Moscato di Canelli is a powerhouse, showing green pear, fresh honey and ripe apricot. The rich and sweet palate was underscored by a bright, fresh streak of acidity, leading to a honey and golden raisin finish.