MS White Burgundy 2012 Tasting

white burgundy 2

Some of the finest expressions of wine made from the Chardonnay grape emerge from the region of Burgundy in France. Once tried, they are wines that are hard to forget, if you are the type who refutes the idea of “A B C“, and fully embraces what I believe is the Queen of Wines.

When joining a fine wine society that maintains a cellar, you do it expecting to encounter the finest of the world’s wines from time to time. This was one of those occasions.

RE produced a wonderful set of notes to accompany this tasting:

Last year we tasted six White Burgundies from the 2011 vintage. It’s probably fair to say not all of these were to everyone’s taste – some tasters clearly had issues with reduction and acid, from a lean vintage that seems prone to those criticisms. Of course, others feel the 2011s are lovely, and anything with a pH greater than 3.2 is pretty flabby anyway…

The 2012s we are about to taste should be quite different. I expect them to show good ripeness, and more even acid. Of course, reduction is always part of White Burgundy and those sensitive to Sulphur compounds will no doubt find at least one of the wines “challenging”. It certainly promises to be interesting, yet again.

The region and vineyards

Burgundy sits pretty much a little to the East of central France. It’s quite a large geographic area, with Chablis sort of halfway between the Cote d’Or and Paris. One of our wines is from Chablis and we shall be unsurprised if it tastes a bit different from the others. The next “outlier” will be the Corton Charlemagne, being in the Cote de Beaune but 20 odd minutes by car from Puligny, the Southernmost of the villages we are tasting from. For me, the real magic of the region is right there – Puligny and its neighbours Meursault and Chassagne, where the world’s greatest Chardonnays are made. It’s fascinating how wines grown in such close proximity display quite distinct characteristics.

Pucelles is just north of the Grand Cru vineyards Batard Montrachet and Bienvenue Batard Montrachet. It’s generally considered one of the “best” 1er Crus, but then so are several other ones. Pucelles sits at the bottom of the Cote d’Or slope, where the incline is less pronounced than higher up the hill. Henri Boillot owns 57 ares of vines that are around 50 years old.

Champ Canet is on the northern border of Puligny, next to Meursault. It’s located mid-slope and just above Combettes and on the same sort of line as Perrieres. Geographically, one of the best sites, and Sauzet has some of the oldest vines here (going back to 1939 plantings).

Genevrieres in Meursault is right in the heart of the 1ers there, south of the village. The name of this appellation comes from the juniper trees that used to grow there a long time ago. It is sometimes said that the taste of the flowers of this tree used to be felt in the wine. It is also said, just sometimes, that this is complete nonsense. Latour-Giraud is definitely a strong performer in the village and with Genevrieres in particular. The Domaine’s own website description is too good to pass up:

“The history of Field LATOUR-GIRAUD extends over three centuries and goes up at the end of XVII. The known ancestor oldest is Jean Latour-Boillot born about 1680. At that time the vine was already the principal wages. The presence of the Latour family on the vineyard appears during the French revolution by the person of Jean Latour-Mouquin, born in 1748 and grandson of Jean Latour-Boillot”

Charmes is also in the south of Meursault, right next to Combettes and Referts in Puligny. Charmes is located on a gentle slope at the bottom of the Cote d’Or escarpment, and is not as steep as some of the vineyards on the hill above (e.g. Perrieres). Roulot is one of the “superstar” producers nowadays and wine-searcher provides you with plenty of opportunity to spend over $700 on this wine.

Corton Charlemagne, further north, is on the hill of Corton, a large outcrop of limestone set slightly apart from the main Côte d’Or escarpment. Emperor Charlemagne is said to have ordered the planting of the first white grape varieties on the Corton hillside. The red wines he loved so much stained his long white beard, and one of his several wives is said to have pressured him into drinking white wines instead… Whether true or not, we all appreciate having white Corton Charlemagne. The Henri Boillot wine is from their Maison business.

Preuses in Chablis lies at the northern end of the Grand Cru slope, where Kimmeridgian soils and a sunny aspect make for an excellent terroir. It crowns, or is sandwiched between, Bougros and Vaudesir. It’s actually yet another vineyard that – in a fit of originality – is pretty much called “Perrieres” (old French term for quarry) because apparently Preuses is simply what the original “Pierreuse” corrupted to in this instance. I couldn’t easily find how many vines and how old they are in this instance, but Billaud Simon has been around for 200 years odd.

How was 2012 as a vintage?

2012 was another miserable vintage, with quantities low due to hail damage. A cold wet winter and Wellington-esque weather across April to June. Yet again saved by much better conditions thereafter, except the storms and hail of course. While “professional” opinions were or are somewhat split, my view is that the wines are rather lovely. Good ripe fruit and enough structure to keep things interesting. Of course, as is always the case with Burgundy, producer matters an awful lot, and we are fortunate to be tasting wines from some of the best.

Decanter is probably low-balling in its assessment – 3½ / 5 for Cote d’Or Whites and a more generous 4 / 5 for Chablis: “Drink soon. Hailstorms slashed quantities on the Côte de Beaune, and Chardonnay was badly affected. Yet after a turbulent summer, the grapes were picked in healthy condition, although quantities were, in some places, risible. But there is no stylistic signature to the vintage, and there are skinny whites and fat ones, making generalisations all but impossible.”

Vinous (Tanzer) goes into good detail with a dollar each way and avoiding generalisations while making generalisations: “In fact, 2012 has turned out to be a very good vintage for the white wines of the Cote de Beaune, yielding many flamboyantly rich, concentrated, sexy examples (I will taste the reds in depth later this fall). It’s also an uneven vintage because, as is often the case, weather conditions on the Cote de Beaune were even more extreme than those on the Cote de Nuits. So although there will be many outstanding wines in 2012, buying the vintage will require selectivity. And prices will be high, owing to the very short crop.

… My early look at hundreds of wines suggests that the 2012s are generally very rich, generous, full-bodied wines with a lot of dry extract, very much reflective of tiny yields and small grapes. While some growers consider their 2012s to be classic white Burgundies, others find the wines to be over-concentrated. As I have written in these pages through the years, some of Burgundy’s most intelligent white wine producers are convinced that chardonnays made from tiny yields will never be the most elegant style: they will always have some sort of imbalance reflecting the extremes of their growing season.

Indeed, I found a number of 2012s to be too powerful to be considered classic, often with a tendency toward heaviness. These wines are robust but not austere; with their major levels of baby fat, they still need to be refined during their last months in barrel or tank, and may well benefit from a fining before bottling. Some growers believe that the wines have good inherent minerality but that it’s currently blocked by the wines’ fat. They expect their wines to gain tension in the months leading up to the bottling.

Many 2012 white Burgundies are thick and rich in the way of some of the expensive boutique chardonnays from California. Finally, a white Burgundy vintage that will not be steamrolled by California wines in early blind tastings.

Happily, relative few wines show obvious signs of surmaturite, so the aromas of these wines can be quite fresh and complex. If anything the 2012s are weightier–more outsized–than the 2010s, but they rarely have the tactile, dusty minerality, the density of texture, or the bracing acidity and inner-mouth tension of the earlier vintage, which is looking more and more like a once-or-twice-a-generation vintage. But where the 2012s do have enough acidity, definition and grip, they are extremely impressive and should age very well. The combination of sheer richness of fruit and lively, harmonious acidity makes the best 2012s exceptional. These latter wines will probably outperform their older 2010 siblings for at least the next several years.”

Jancis Robinson appears positive on the vintage, saying: “Generalisations about burgundy are particularly dangerous but I’m prepared to go out on a limb and say that, while there are examples that are too soft, I found some of the whites extremely high in acidity and feel that the best may need a few years in bottle to round out while others may always be a bit skinny.”

My personal view is that the 2012s are yet another fine White Burgundy vintage. Since 1999, there have really only been a couple of weak vintages: 2003 and 2006, with many wines from the latter coming right. Modern approaches and technology have helped significantly – it’s quite possible that 20 years ago the weather conditions we saw in 2012 would have meant a flat out disaster.

What about premox?

Premature oxidation continues to be an issue for White Burgundies. At least, more producers now acknowledge the issue openly and are trying different things – e.g. closures. No doubt some of the wines tonight will show Sulphur compounds and it’s a shame we don’t have copper currency any more.

In Issue 73 of “A View from the Cellar”, John Gilman laments the issue at length, and says he has already seen “a fair bit of premox in 2012s”. His gut-feel is that it’s probably global warming and the horse has bolted – i.e. no matter what steps producers try to put in place, the good old days of White Burgundies peaking at 20 years old are gone. Of course, he then goes into contortions about why the drinking windows he provides in his tasting notes are framed as if premature oxidation didn’t exist.

So in essence, we don’t really know anything more about it than we did last year.

White Bugundy 2007 1

The wines we’re tasting tonight:

I have provided tasting notes and scores from a couple of critics for each of the wines tonight.

2012 Latour Giraud Meursault Genevrieres

“Bright, light yellow. Aromas of yellow peach, orange peel, acacia blossom and spices convey an impression of punch. Then dense and creamy but firm in the mouth, with ripe acidity and dusty extract leavening the wine’s ripeness and extending the ripe, sweet, refined finish. Very fresh and complete Genevrieres, and more complex than the Charmes.” (93, Stephen Tanzer)

“(from 40+ year old vines from a huge 2.5 ha parcel in Genevrières Dessus). Here too the nose is markedly reduced and tough to tease out the fruit composition though again it does seem ripe. The solidly dense middle weight flavours possess excellent intensity and plenty of minerality while retaining a lovely sense of refinement allied with a sophisticated mouth feel, all wrapped in a cool, linear and well-balanced finale. This restrained effort is an exercise in harmony and this too should amply reward 6 to 8 years of bottle age. Recommended. (90-93)/2019+. A Sweet Spot Wine!” (90-93 Burghound)


2012 Roulot Meursault Charmes

“From vines planted way back in 1942, the 2012 Meursault 1er Cru Charmes has a very harmonious, intense bouquet with citrus lemon, fennel, mint and orange zest that are all beautifully defined. The palate is vibrant and tense on the entry, a shard of orange peel that is really penetrating from start to finish. Extremely focused but quite flamboyant, this has everything you could ask for in a Meursault Charmes. This is simply fabulous even if it now does come with a hefty price tag. Drink 2016-2030” (95, Neal Martin, Wine Advocate)

“This isn’t quite as elegant but it is even more complex with its expressive nose of really lovely purity that features cool floral, pear and green apple aromas trimmed in just enough wood to notice. The super intense and restrained beautifully precise middle weight flavours brim with an underlying minerality that adds lift to the seductively textured finale that displays outstanding persistence. Despite all of the refinement this remains a powerful and concentrated wine that possesses almost painful intensity and this should age effortlessly for years to come.” (92-94, Burghound)


2012 Henri Boillot Puligny Montrachet Pucelles

“White orchard fruit and the hallmark honeysuckle scents give way to punchy and impressively concentrated medium-bodied flavors that possess a highly refined mouth feel if not the sheer depth of the Clos de la Mouchère. To be sure this is a lovely wine that could aptly be described as notably bigger and more powerful than is typical for Pucelles. Tasted: Jun 15, 2014. Drink: 2018+” (91, Burghound)

“Green-tinged medium yellow. Ripe stone fruits, pear, honey and hazelnut on the inviting nose and palate. Fat, rich and chewy; this extract-rich wine boasts terrific solidity and depth of fruit. Finishes with outstanding force and length. Has the palate presence of a grand cru. (Incidentally, there’s no Folatieres in 2012; Boillot only made his domain bottlings from Puligny-Montrachet.)” (92, Stephen Tanzer)

2012 Sauzet Puligny Montrachet Champ Canet

“A sexy note of reduction to the peach, hazelnut and nutmeg aromas. Rich, dense and deep, showing youthfully subdued white peach and mineral flavors. Finishes very long, very dry and broad, in need of time in bottle to reveal more personality. From a crop level of just 21 hectoliters per hectare due to hail, according to Boudot, who noted that he declassified his tiny, hailed-on Hameau de Blagny production into his Puligny villages in 2012.” (92+, Stephen Tanzer)

“**Note: from a full 1 ha parcel of 40+ year old vines though some of them were planted in 1938 at the same time as the Bienvenues; aged in approximately 1/3 new oak with a slightly longer élevage than the prior wines**

Here the beautifully layered nose is openly exotic with spicy aromas of mango, apricot, peach and mandarin orange. The medium weight plus flavors are more concentrated still with a sleek muscularity that contributes to the unctuous but not heavy mouth feel, all wrapped in an extract-rich, suave and beautifully balanced finish. While not nearly as mineral-inflected as the prior two wines there is simply more underlying material and ultimately this should be the better wine and certainly its track record would lend credence to that prediction.” (92, Burghound)

2012 Henri Boillot Corton Charlemagne

“*Don’t miss!* This is aromatically restrained to the point of being almost mute and only grudgingly displays notes of citrus peel, green apple, white flowers and wet stone. There is excellent verve and intensity to the detailed and mineral-inflected broad-shouldered flavors that culminate in a focused, complex and powerfully long finish that is markedly austere and saline. This superbly long effort will need plenty of time to unwind as it’s presently very, very tight but it should handsomely repay extended cellaring.” (94, Burghound)

“Pure aromas of lime, linden blossom, crushed stone and spearmint. Plush and fine-grained but also quite penetrating, offering lovely lift to the concentrated lemon, lime and stone flavors. Very young but already quite suave, this round, rich wine finishes very long, with a youthful metallic minerality. Boillot told me that this was his only Chardonnay parcel untouched by hail in 2012–and the only one affected by hail in 2013.” (94, Stephen Tanzer)

2012 Billaud Simon Chablis Preuses

“This is restrained to the point that aggressive swirling is required to coax even a glimpse of the otherwise very fresh aromas of floral, iodine, tidal pool and soft pear scents. There is superb intensity to the subtly layered medium weight flavors that exhibit an undercurrent of minerality before culminating in a dry and mouth coating but not really austere finish that goes on and on…” (93, Burghound)

“The 2012 Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses does not quite have the penetration or delineation of the Vaudesir on the nose and I would have preferred more spiciness to come through. The palate is clean and precise on the citric entry, laced with orange peel and saline notes, although again, it needs to develop more personality and spiciness on the conservative finish. Drink 2016-2025.” (89, Neal Martin, Wine Advocate)”

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And so we came, and poured, and here are my thoughts on the wines:

2012 Latour Giraud Meursault Genevrieres – Brilliant pale gold. This had me at hello. Upfront bold and rich hit. Sulphur/reduction, golden stonefruit, peach and mandarin aromas. Essence of Meursault. Sweet attack in mouth. Bold rich body of fruit, with freshness and balanced acid. A “joined-up”wine.  Apple-pip finish. Shows maturity. Gold. My third wine.

2012 Roulot Meursault Charmes – Brilliant pale gold. Wow. Fine and floral, lovely and elegant. Shows such good aromatic intensity. A hint of reduction (I like). Gorgeous fruit weight flavour and silky mouthfeel. Balanced with glorious ripeness and acid. Harmoniou s and long. Gold. My Wine of the Night (WOTN)

2012 Henri Boillot Puligny Montrachet Pucelles – Brilliant gold. Rich and golden, with gorgeous golden fruit aromas, and spice and oak, warmth, sweetness, and slightly reductive. Crisp ripe fruit on palate, balanced, effortless. It had rewarding body, crunchiness, oily-ness, balanced in weight and acid, but showed a thrillingly lively citrus character. Nutmeg. Power and reticence for some, overthinking it. Gold. My second wine.

2012 Sauzet Puligny Montrachet Champ Canet – Brilliant pale gold. Fine, bold, flinty – Seashells? Slight unripe peach character. Complex and layered (I can’t write that without thinking of Shrek and his “layers” J) melon, sweetness, lanolin. Light golden peach flavours, slightly unripe compared to others in this flight. Shows some honey, and gorgous weight with food. Who knows huh? Apple pip on the back, again. A ‘struck match’ character for some. Tension and power without artifice   Gold.

2012 Henri Boillot Corton Charlemagne– Brilliant pale gold.  Fresh crisp aromas, dewy apple, spicy and oaky, deepens on standing. Solid. To taste: fresh, with body. Sweetness and apples. Crunchy mouthfeel. Oaky and hot on the back palate. Simple?  But not.  Silver.

2012 Billaud Simon Chablis Preuses – Brilliant light pale gold. Refined and elegant white peach florals with a hint of honey on the nose. Lively attack, clean entry, crisp green flavours of apple, restrained, somewhat short, dry.  Delicious.  A nice wine. Gold

It was remarkable how the aromas differed across the flight, exhibiting true variations in winemaking approach, terroir and grape clonal variety. Bottle 2c showed Pre-Mox (lean fruit, dying, faulty) which we all sampled to fix in our sense memory what this condition shows as.

The tasting result reminded me of that old football gag, “Football is a simple game played for 90 minutes[ ] , and at the end, Germany wins”.

In this case, for Chardonnay, for me, Meursault wins again!

Thanks to MS and ER for the tasting and guidance.

RW Worth Cellaring Tasting: Côtes Du Rhône And Related Reds, with Geoff Kelly

CDR worth cellaring 1

Once again, Geoff Kelly hosted another evening at Regional Wines and Spirits looking at a range of affordable Rhône reds. Three years back I had attended a similar event, which hooked me on wines from the Rhône valley, so I was very keen to come and have another review of these wines in Geoff’s erudite company.

His invitation set the scene: “Time to run another ‘Worth Cellaring’ tasting of the warm red grenache-based wines of the Southern Rhone Valley.  At best these can be the most food-friendly and best-value red wines on Earth.  They can have all the soft charm and appeal of pinot noir, yet just be that little bit more substantial.  In general, one has to pay quite a lot to achieve substantial pinot noirs.  This is where the Southern Rhone wines come into their own.

Selection is the key.  Because many of them are matured more in large vats, even concrete, than smaller barrels, we have to be on the lookout for heavy dull wines showing some reduction.  Most winewriters will never tell you about that aspect of wines, hence the appeal of having our own evaluation tasting, to decide for ourselves which are in truth worth buying.

Good Cotes du Rhone will cellar for years, ageing very gracefully.  The layout for the tasting will therefore be:  to taste the Guigal wine first as a yardstick – any wine better than this will be worth buying;  then a 10-year-old wine to demonstrate that the good ones cellar well;  then a sampling of both Cotes du Rhone,  and some of the named villages formerly in the Cotes du Rhone-Villages appellation.  They cost a little more.  This approach should give us a good feel for the wines of the district, and what price level to buy.

By and large Cotes du Rhone is based on Grenache, with varying amounts of Syrah.  Cheaper ones have Carignan and Cinsault in them, and don’t keep so well,  whereas the best cellar wines have more Mourvedre.  Many are raised in concrete, some in stainless,  some better ones in big old wood,  and a few modern ones have a touch of new oak.  We have 12 wines, ranging from the simplest Cotes du Rhone around $20, to representatives of the elite villages formerly in Cotes du Rhone-Villages, but some now with their own AOC,  such as Vacqueyras and Rasteau,  now in the $40s.  The whole idea is to find more affordable Cotes du Rhone-related wines with some of the quality, flavour and weight of Gigondas or Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  but at maybe half the price.

The wines will be tasted blind, on this occasion 25 ml samples were used,  then a vote on which is best (still blind),  before discussion of each sample,  to sort out why it is good,  bad or indifferent.”

The wines for tasting:

2015  Domaine Alary Cotes du Rhone La Gerbaude

2015  Domaine Les Aphillanthes Rasteau 1921

2015  Domaine de la Charbonniere Vacqueyras

2016   Delas Freres Cotes du Rhône Saint-Esprit

2014  Domaine des Espiers Gigondas

2016  Domaine Les Grands Bois Cotes du Rhone Les 3 Soeurs

2014  Domaine Les Grands Bois Cotes du Rhone-Villages Cairanne Cuvée Maximilien

2013  Maison Guigal Cotes du Rhône

2014  Jerome Quiot Vacqueyras

2016  Domaine Ogier Cotes du Rhône Heritages

2016  Famille Perrin La Vieille Ferme Ventoux

2008  Chateau de Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone Les Deux Albion

The wines were, by and large, all enjoyable. As Geoff also wrote, “As the Australians used to say,  before they became more aware of of the wines of the world beyond their shores, in a warmer climate, vintage does not matter so much” so these wines were all drinkable and appreciated in their own way. The lighter, simpler offerings, like the 2014  Jerome Quiot Vacqueyras and the 2015  Domaine Alary Cotes du Rhone La Gerbaude I wasn’t that thrilled with myself, perhaps due to price point and related density of fruit, so I won’t be writing up the whole flight. I’ll concentrate on the wines I enjoyed most:

CDR worth cellaring 2

2013 Maison Guigal Cotes du Rhône – a reference Rhône rouge and a great ‘sighter’ for the flight. Very good flavour and fresh finish.  I have scored this at 90 points previously, and wouldn’t revisit that assessment.

2016 Domaine Ogier Cotes du Rhône Heritages Rhône – Good fruit weight and flavours, structure and body. Savoury  ‘garruige’ quality. Should hold well.

2016  Domaine Les Grands Bois Cotes du Rhone Les 3 Soeurs – another good wine at great value which I liked enough to buy following the tasting to review in more detail. It showed boldness and character and length, with lovely pepper and shrubby herb notes.

2014  Domaine des Espiers Gigondas Soeurs – from a famous appellation, showing a reductive complex character, fragrant, with the fruit aromas fading slightly in the glass as it sits. On the palate there is great fruit intensity and freshness. This was one to buy for the cellar.

2014  Domaine Les Grands Bois Cotes du Rhone-Villages Cairanne Cuvée Maximilien – from a new sub-regional appellation, with slight reduction, slight unripeness, but complex fruit flavours, fine grained tannins, herby finish with a celery note. Another one to buy for the cellar, and like three years ago, the importer had left none to sell!

2015  Domaine Les Aphillanthes Rasteau 1921 – fine aromatic quality, aromas of dark fruits. Lovely richness and body to this wine. Showed density and power and grace. Soft, long with a fresh finish. Delicious. Another one for the Pool Room!

Hopstock 2018

Hopstock 1

Beer Beer Beer!

For the past few years, at around this time, Wellington craft brewers have curated a week-long beer festival with the theme of craft beer produced using freshly picked hops as an ingredient, and timed to closely follow and celebrate the NZ hop harvest. Like Beervana, it is has become a popular addition to the local beer calendar.

At Hopstock a brewer teams up with a participating craft beer bar, and offers one green hop beer on tap of their own recipe, using the hop(s) they prefer, which is then put on tap for as long as the keg(s) last.

Hopstock 2

Fans of the beers have to crawl from bar to bar trying the brews, marking them off against the list as they go.

I really like the bold passionfruit aromas that fresh hopped beers have. The style particularly suits IPA and NZ pacific pale ale styles of beer.

Hopstock 3

I tried about half a dozen beers over the week. My fav was the “Hops and Streams” Pale Ale on offer at the Tuatara Brewery Temple of the Third Eye. The good people there made a beer using foraged wild hops gathered in the hills overlooking Kapiti. Nice backstory. Lovely freshness, acidity, flavour and crunch.

Hopstock 4

I also liked the Double Vision Brewing Dr Green IPA served at MOON in Newtown. A zesty refreshing way to welcome the weekend.

What’s in the glass tonight April 10th – Cabernet Merlot


Bell Bird Bay Cabernet Merlot Hawkes Bay 2011 – $

Raymond Chan writes in his review of this wine, “70% Merlot, 13% Malbec, 11% Cabernet Franc and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bridge Pa Triangle district”

Deep ruby colour. 13% alc.

Depp fruit aromas, softness, oak, vanilla, somewhat secondary.

The merlot component imbues softness and luscious dark fruits on palate, with structure from the cabernet components. Slight herbiness. Harmonious.

This wine harbours no faults from age or storage which I have found is rare with aged wines at this price point. A great aged example in this case.

Recommended 86 Points

Straight to the Pool Room – April 2018

Pool Room April 2018

A bunch of great wines for the Little Sleep:

Kumeu River Village Chardonnay Kumeu 2016 – $ – drink 2019-2021. A review of NZ Chardonnay in Decanter Feb 2018 gave this wine a score range of 88-92. I reviewed it similarly myself, and enjoyed the acidity and poise of this superb value Chardy.

Wairau River Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2016 – $$ – drink 2019-2026. A Decanter review of NZ Sauvignon Blanc by Bob Campbell late last year gave this wine a score of 93. I tracked down a bottle on special, and under the house it goes!

Coal Pit Tiwha Pinot Noir Central Otago 2016 – $$$ – drink 2020-2026. A Decanter Feb 2018 review of New World Wines under GDP30 gave this wine a score of 94. The author wrote, “sexy Pinot – a rare thing”. I first tried this wine at a restaurant in Queenstown and really loved it. Enough said.

What’s in the glass tonight April 5th – Graciano

Oveja Tinta Graciano 2016

Off Topic: Oveja Tinta Graciano Cuenca Espana 2016 – $

Graciano is one of Spain’s best kept wine secrets – a red grape with thick skins that is a tricky customer to grow, which means there’s precious little of it, even in the vineyards of the Rioja, where it is often called ‘the virtual grape’- and is a traditional ingredient in the wine of the same name.

Deep carmine colour. 14.5% alc.

Fruity and opulent.

High acid, refreshing and juicy. Great fruit depth and ripeness. Potential to age. Grunty.

Highly Recommended 90 Points


What’s in the glass tonight April 1st – Chardonnay

Spy Valley Chard 15

Spy Valley Chardonnay Marlborough 2015 – $

In my opinion, this wine is consistently one of NZs best Chardonnays, vintage on vintage. Must be the site. I have ridden out there a few times. A lovely part of the world.

13% alc. Pale gold colour.

Mealy, golden fruit, aromatic and fine. Notes of oak, vanilla, apricot and mandarin orange and peel.

Fresh and crunchy to taste. Crispness, oak complexity, malo note on the back palate, and meal. Great structure and body. A wine for aging.

Highly Recommended 90 Points

MS German Riesling 2007 Tasting

MS Riesling 2018 1

This was a chance for me to expand my knowledge of the fine Riesling wine style from one of the original homes of the grape. Most of my drinking has been at the dry and off-dry end of the Riesling spectrum, so this was also an opportunity to try wines with more sweetness.

AS led the tasting, and prepared some amazingly in-depth notes, which I reproduce here:

“Firstly welcome to the first formal Magnum tasting of 2018. For this we are again exploring the 2007 vintage in Germany with respect to its most noble (and of course indigenous) variety: Riesling. However, unlike last year’s instalment on the 2007s which was principally an exploration of how one producer (Dr Loosen) dealt with the grapes – at various ripeness levels – from specific terroirs (abutting vineyards on steep red slate & red volcanic source material sandstone) this tasting is more a review of how great producers off selected of their signature sites handled the year.

It would be helpful also to recap on the specific nomenclature of how German wines are classified by ripeness. Accordingly, the outline of these levels is reproduced from last March’s tasting preview notes (of Loosen 2007 Urzig and Erden wines).

Kabinett – which literally means ‘cabinet’; the place where the vintner puts his finest (reserve quality) wines: must weight 67-82 Oeschle [Oe]; minimum alcohol level 7%. Fully ripened wines from the main harvest usually crisp and semi-sweet (NB sometimes up to 60-70 g/ltr residual sugar, possibly sweeter than Spatlese from the same site and vintage); occasionally quite dry.

Spatlese – ‘late harvest’; this is literal and not to be confused with ‘late harvest’ as a dessert wine connotation; must weight 76-90 Oe; minimum alcohol level 7%. Grapes have to be picked at least 7 days after main harvest. Normally Halbtrocken (half dry) and sweeter, fruitier (but not always) than Kabinett. Picking late obviously carries increased risk of rain and colder weather. However, the rewards in a warm, dry harvest season in terms of greater richness and expression is clear. From great sites in good years much of the crop can reach Spatlese level.

Auslese – ‘select harvest’: must weight 83-100 Oe; minimum alcohol level 7%. Made from very ripe, hand selected bunches. Typically semi-sweet or sweet, sometimes with a botrytis character. More dramatically, auslesen can be fermented dry (Trocken). However, the Auslesen Trocken designation for such wines from Grosse Lage (great sites) – not to be confused with Grosslage which is term for a wider subregional classification – is now discouraged in favour of Grosses Gewachs (dry wines Trocken from accredited great sites – in essence Grand Crus after the Burgundy and Alsace models; literally ‘great/top growth’ although technically only allowed for VDP members). In any event, Auslese is therefore the Pradikat level that covers the widest range of wine styles: from dry examples as mentioned, through off-dry, sweet-ish, to sweet dessert.

Beerenauslese – ‘select berry harvest’: must weight 110-128 Oe; minimum alcohol level 5.5%. As the name suggests, a berry selection of overripe grapes, often (noble rot) botrytis affected from individual bunches. Very sweet dessert wines. Expensive.

Eiswein – ‘ice wine’: must weight, as with Beerenauslese level 110-128 Oe and minimum alcohol 5.5%. From grapes naturally frozen on the vine. Must sweetness has to be the same as for Beerenauslese, but difference is that botrytis affected grapes are not permitted (by convention if not, strictly, by law).

Trockenbeerenauslese – ‘select dry berry harvest’: must weight 150-154 Oe; minimum alcohol level 5.5%. Made from selected overripe shrivelled grapes, mostly affected by noble rot. Confusingly, the ‘trocken’ in the designation refers to the dryness of the botrytis-affected berries, not the dryness of the wine. Which it certainly is not! Extremely rich and sweet; long-lived; and very expensive! Although on that price front some of the top GGs (Grosses Gewachs) are certainly giving them a run for their money nowadays.

As noted, the sweetness levels in the classification refers to the must weight (brix equivalent), which in turn is dependent on time and mode of harvest. And, as hinted, final sweetness is dependent on producer decision as regards how dry to ferment to. In these 21st century times of climate change, resultant overall warmer temperatures, and more sunshine through longer growing seasons that decision is increasingly being skewed toward dry. Commercial factors also contributing to the push, with market demand especially among the Germans themselves for drier wines. Layered on this again is the vignerons’ resultant propensity/ability to charge more for GGs (than for off-dry styles). The not truly complete dryness of German dry wines

Under EU law the maximum allowed sugar content of Trocken wines is 4 g/ltr unless residual sugar does not exceed acidity by more than 2 g/ltr in which case legally Trockens can contain up to 9 g/ltr of residual sugar. As an example, if a Trocken wine contains 8 g/ltr of residual sugar it will (or should) have at least 6 g/ltr of acidity. Of course with the penchant of the wider German palate for not appreciating wines with low acidity, allied to naturally high levels of acidity in most growing regions, it means that invariably German GG/Trocken Rieslings (and wines from other varieties) do indeed contain as much as 9 g/ltr of residual sugar.

So, having consumed this necessary spoonful of German wine fact, what are the wines (all from great sites) we are actually to taste?

From the Mittelmosel (Middle Mosel):

2007 Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett

2007 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese

2007 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese

From the Upper Nahe:

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken Grosses Gewachs

The two wine regions looked at are based on, around, and named after the Mosel and the Nahe Rivers. Both are tributaries of the Rhine. Both were named by the original Celtic inhabitants of the regions: Mosel, diminutive of Moseal Latinised to Mosella which means ‘little Meuse’ reflecting its origins in the Vosges and initial flow parallel with the Meuse River (originally ‘Mosa’); and Nahe, a derivative of the Latin word Nava supposedly based on an ancient Celtic linguistic for ‘the wild river’.


In last year’s preview notes I gave a broad sweep history of the Mosel and its development as a wine region (and primacy of Riesling as grape variety). From the initial impetus of Roman settlement (the Mosel being west of the Rhine and therefore part of the empire); through establishment of Winzerdorfer (wine villages) in the Middle Ages, the most prominent of which became Bernkastel (town charter 1291), and dominant ownership of key sites by the Church (Bishopric in Trier; monasteries; with this line contiguous through to the name of the Erdener Pralat (the ‘Prelate’ or ‘Bishop’) vineyard and Dr Loosen’s happy monk on the label of his bottlings from the site); or the names of two formerly Church owned vineyards at Graach (Graacher Domprobst – ‘Dean of the Cathedral’; and Graacher Himmelreich – ‘The Kingdom of Heaven’); plus superior legal status of Riesling over other varieties on great sites; to the commercial (including arrival of powdery mildew and phylloxera from North America which ultimately led to modern viticulture practices – although as a side issue, because the phylloxera louse cannot apparently survive in shallow slate soils, the majority of Riesling vines in the Mosel great sites are still grown ungrafted, enabling the traditional vine training on stakes to continue) plus political changes through the 19th and 20th centuries not only leading to increased production but shaping the style of wines produced.

The history of the Nahe as a wine region – geographically to the east of the Mosel separated by the Hunsruck Upland peneplain block – followed along similar lines, in as much as viticulture was introduced by the Romans and that by the Middle Ages vineyards were Church-run. However, although its vineyards developed a reputation for Riesling in the 19th century, until 1971 when the Nahe Wine Region was first defined under German Wine Laws it was sold as ‘Rhine Riesling’. Indeed, until recent decades the region was held back by its post-WW2 impoverishment and agricultural backwardness relative to the more industrialised Mosel and Rheingau.

The Upper Nahe (where most of the great sites are) is almost exclusively planted to Riesling, often on steep slopes like in the Mosel. The middle of the region, basically the area surrounding the town of Bad Kreutznach, is largely planted to Riesling on the better terraces above the town, with Muller-Thurgau and Silvaner predominating on the Grosslage on the flatter land to the south and east of the urban area (and river). The Lower Nahe, the river by now close to its confluence with the Rhine, and on generally flatter terrain, is planted to a more modern mix of grape varieties including promising Weissburgunder [Pinot Blanc], Grauburgunder [Pinot Gris] and red grapes (e.g. Dornfelder, Spatburgunder [Pinot Noir], Blauer Portugieser).

As a final historical point, it must be remembered that right through the 19th century and up to WW1, German Rieslings were predominantly made in dry and ‘drier’ styles than became the norm through the middle and late 20th century. The 21st century move away from sweeter back toward dry wines in Germany is in essence simply therefore a return to how it was, but with probably greater expertise on the part of the vintners.

Riesling – the facts re plantings

In 2013 there were 23,293ha of Riesling planted in Germany. The greatest dominance of the variety is in the Rheingau where 79% of plantings is Riesling. Next is the Mittelrhein 68% and Mosel 61.6%. Next largest is Nahe 27.9%, followed by Pfalz 24.3%, Franconia 18.5%, Rheinhessen 16%, Baden-Wurttemberg 12% and the Ahr (Spatburgunder territory) with just 8.2%.

Although percentage wise Riesling is a much less dominant variety in the Pfalz, Rheinhessen and Baden-Wurttemberg, just over half of all Riesling plantings in the country (11,750ha) are across those regions. The Mosel has approximately 5,300ha; Nahe 1,150ha. Most of the rest is in the Rheingau (2,475ha). The acreage of Riesling in the great sites we are exploring in this tasting is: Urziger Wurzgarten 62ha; Wehlener Sonnenuhr 45ha; Graacher Himmelreich 55ha; Niederhauser Hermannshohle at a mere 8ha (NB Hermannshohle’s neighbouring vineyard Oberhauser Brucke is just 1ha). Given also that the entire ownership of vines (all Riesling) by two of the producers in this tasting is miniscule compared to Riesling overall in Germany (J J Prum 13.5ha; Willi Schaefer 4.2ha), albeit even those estates are large-ish by Mosel standards where there are approximately 2,400 estates overall with average holding of just 2.4ha. Either way, it is apparent that what we are looking at in our tasting is but a small part of the pinnacle of production.

As a comparison with areas planted to Riesling elsewhere in the world (there is about 50,000ha in total), after Germany, North America is next with circa 8,500ha under vine. Australia has about 4,400ha, Alsace 3,500ha, Austria 2,000ha. New Zealand’s plantings hover at about 1,000ha and may be in decline.


To recap from last year, geologically the Mosel region is dominated by schiefer (slate), a low grade metamorphic rock derived mainly from the sedimentary rock, shale, and of Devonian age (359-419 million years before present). With the river cutting through this country rock, it has left steep slate slopes with just a thin soil veneer. There are two distinctive slate terroirs covering all the great sites: principally blue-grey slate (weathered to such colouration due to predominance of ferrous iron Fe 2+ oxide) and red slate (contrastingly red due to ferric Fe 3+ oxide). Both terroirs are featured in this tasting: blue-grey slate from the famous ‘great wall’ on the right bank of the river immediately downstream of Bernkastel (covering sites from ‘appellations’ Bernkastel, Graach, Wehlen, Zelting); red slate (plus some interwoven ferric ‘volcanic’ sandstone deposits) from the even steeper Urziger Wurzgarten site next ‘appellation’ Urzig downstream of ‘the wall’ but on the opposite (left) bank at the head of a sharp bend/incised meander in the river. In general, the red slate (rotschiefer) is said to impart a more spicy character to the wines than blue-grey slate (tonschiefer).

By contrast, the geology of the Nahe is more complex. For the most part the river is itself the incised divide between the Hunsruck and North Palatine Uplands, with the chief difference between it and the Mosel region (principal outcropping bedrock for both is slate with schist) being the prevalence of volcanics, mainly rhyolite and andesite, dating from an intense eruptive phase in the early Permian (circa 275-300 Myr BP). Mineralisation associated with this ancient volcanic activity has led to precious metal deposits throughout the region, exploited over thousands of years by human populations from the Celts to the present day. Both the volcanic parent material and mining past are reflected in the ferric (Fe 3+) red andesitic & basaltic soils of the vineyards at Bad Munster (just downstream of the Niederhausen site featured in this tasting), and in the names of the Schlossbokelheim vineyards Kupfergrube (‘copper mine’) and Felsenberg (‘iron hill’) which are upstream but close to Niederhauser Hermannshohle (for which the ‘hohle’ [‘hole’] also refers to a mine). As it happens, the viticultural area of the Upper Nahe surrounding Oberhausen (Schlossbokelheim and Niederhausen are either side) is particularly complex and a single vineyard within the locality can, for example, contain soils derived from a melange of sandstone, slate, porphyry (an igneous rock with distinctive large crystals set in a more uniform silicate groundmass) and melaphyre (a particular basaltic porphyry). Soils for Hermannshohle itself are principally derived from rhyolitic and slate parent material.


The propitiousness of the Mosel for viticulture is principally due to the shelter provided to the west and north by the Eifel Upland. The warmth of the best sites is further enhanced by the heat retentive qualities of the slate bedrock and the sheer steepness and therefore sun trap quality of the south and southwest facing slopes on which these best growing sites are found. Average July temperature is 18C, and frequently in excess of that for the great sites. Note the name of several top Grosse Lage: Brauneburger Juffer Sonnenuhr, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Wehlener Sonnenuhr; Sonnenuhr = ‘sundial’; a large sundial within each of these vineyards (and several others with the Sonnenuhr suffix) is a prominent and permanent feature of them.

This is not to say it does not rain in the Mosel! Precipitation can indeed be sufficiently heavy to make viticulture marginal. However, this where the slate again comes to the vignerons’ rescue as its porosity and permeability allows rapid absorbtion and/or run off of excess water.

The Upper Nahe has a similar climate, sheltered by surrounding uplands, and not only like the Mosel by the Eifel Upland (plus the intervening Hunsruck Upland) to the north and west, but by the Soonwald ranges to the northeast and rocky foothills of the Palatine Upland directly to the east. If anything, it is drier than the Mosel, often said to have a ‘Mediterranean’ climate. As opposed to the Mosel’s ‘Atlantic’ climate.

There is also a school of thought that supposes that the Nahe contains the ideal terroirs for dry (or indeed all) Riesling. Giles McDonagh of Decanter Magazine argues “You can’t plant Riesling anywhere in Germany and expect good results. Riesling likes primary rock and some regions don’t have it. The grape has purity and if you go further south where it’s too warm it loses that. Nahe stands in the middle so a perfect Nahe Riesling will have the purity and lightness of fruit of the Mosel but some of the body of the Pfalz. In a way it’s in the perfect position. It also has these volcanic soils unlike anywhere else in Germany, with these huge boulders all over the place which give their own identity to great Nahe wine. Nahe is the insider’s tip if you want the body of a southern Riesling but the subtlety of a northern one.”

2007 Vintage

The 2007 vintage across Germany was well thought of and eagerly anticipated at the time. In hindsight this view was probably inevitable given the combination of warm spring following the mild 2006-07 winter. Growth was therefore earlier than normal with a good summer – rains offsetting a July heat spike – in which the conditions generally remained dry enough to naturally keep disease pressure (mildew and botrytis) in check. Although as ever, success on this front is also greatly dependent on the vigilance of individual growers. In any event, the largely benign growing season was followed by an almost perfect autumn for Riesling ripening: dry, sunny, warm days counterpointed by cool nights. Remembering also that initial enthusiasm for the vintage was partly because it followed two tricky harvests in 2005 and 2006.

Perhaps, though, the conditions were simply too benign with easy heat/warmth. Healthy fruit was harvested and there was quantity as well as quality. But edgier conditions often create greater wines (famously in recent memory, 1993 Red Burgundies, and potentially what we may yet see in NZ from certain 2017 Central Otago Pinot Noirs). And eleven years on the general verdict regarding vintage for Mosel & Nahe wines is simply “good”. Some commentators think maybe overall lack of balanced acidity (initially quite high but never resolving, reflecting less finesse long term); others noted an oily sheath in the young wines and average-at-best concentration and/or dry extract – too warm?

Hugh Johnson’s 2018 edition pocket wine guide [drafted in 2017] rates the 2007 vintage in both the Mosel and Nahe at 8-9 out of 10. Although additionally it notes that overall the Mosel Rieslings are “now approaching maturity” and that the Nahe’s “dry wines (are) now mature – drink”. Taking up that latter point, in a Decanter article September 2014, Joel B Payne of Gault Millau German Wine guide suggested that 2007’s dry Rieslings had similar balance to those in the subsequent also warm 2009 vintage; but that the 2007 Trockens should be drunk by 2016. On the other hand – relevant given we have one in the tasting – Johnson in an earlier 2012 [i.e. drafted 2011] edition of his pocket wine guide commented that ’07 Mosel Kabinetts were “beautiful … with high levels of acidity”.

Overall theme of this tasting This being a handy point to introduce the theme of the tasting: simply, is the skill of the producers looked at enough for their 2007 wines to rise above the merely “good” tag of the vintage and really create something special? As befits the producers’ long held, and justifiably earned, reputations, are their 2007 wines great? Or, to put it slightly differently, does producer style trump the hallmarks of the vintage? Plus can you find site markers for the different – and supposedly distinct – terroirs?

Wines to taste – details of site and producer

All four vineyards featured in the tasting are very much ‘great sites’, indeed four of the greatest Grosse Lage in all of Germany. Furthermore, the renown of each site is to a large extent tied up the historical skill and performance of the each of the producers concerned.

2007 Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett

Urziger Wurzgarten (‘spice garden’ vineyard at the village of Urzig) was one of the three Dr Loosen red slate vineyards featured in last year’s tasting. (The others were Erdener Treppcen and Erdener Pralat.) Three 2007 Loosen Wurzgartens were tasted (Spatlese, Auslese, Auslese Goldkapsel) looking for a common thread. My notes indicated commonality of a salty, dusty, mineral element with the Goldkap (GK) clearly being the spiciest, richest and plushest of the three, edging it just over the straight Auslese (both attaining gold award from me – and Magnum group as a whole – on the night).

The Spatlese was slightly gawky by comparison, perhaps with a more slatey, flinty edge and only a bronze award. (It was also a wine where Magnum’s customary reserve bottle was needed as the first opened bottle was badly corked.) This lesser performance for the Spatlese (compared to the Ausleses) may reflect the position on the vineyard from where the fruit was drawn. Dr Loosen owns a specific plot within Wurzgarten called Urgluck (‘original luck’) which is sited immediately above the village of Urzig and contains the oldest vines among all Loosen’s vineyard holdings, at circa 120 years old. Loosen Wurzgarten Ausleses typically comprise fruit from 100+ year old vines, i.e. mainly from Urgluck, whereas the 2007 Loosen Wurzgarten Spatlese was from vines averaging at the time about 50 years of age, i.e. mainly from parcels elsewhere in the vineyard.

The 2007 Loosen Wurzgarten Kabinett, like the Spatlese, is made up of wine from (ungrafted) vines averaging about 50 years. Yield for the cuvee typically 70 hl/ha (compared to cropping level of 50 hl/ha for the Spatlese) albeit I have been unable confirm exactly what it was for this particular vintage. As Wurzgarten is the steepest vineyard in the Mosel (the steepest of the steep) it clearly had to be hand-picked. Will need to confirm on night as to the alcohol by volume (ABV) but expect it to be 7-8%.

I have been unable to find any relevant tasting notes via the internet although understand David Schildknecht at the Wine Advocate scored it at 90 points. As a comparative, however, I have recently opened the same wine (Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett) from the 2002 vintage, a similar season albeit more rain/moisture late summer. The 2002 suffered slightly from poor closure (and I note that for more recent vintages than 2007 Ernie Loosen bottles his Kabinetts under screwcap) but nonetheless, after 16 years the 2002 did show mature notes of honey and waxiness of texture, though rather short on the finish.

As already specified, the vineyard has only a thin soil veneer over red slate and red volcanic sandstone, and occupies a broad amphitheatre sweep of the hillside above the village of Urzig, on the north (left) bank of the Mosel River where the river forms a dramatic bend; 62ha planted all to Riesling (unclear what percentage is Loosen’s); south to east-southeast orientation. Dr Loosen is one of 14 owners on the site. Other notable producers include Jos. Christoffel , J J Christoffel-Erben, Monchhof, Markus Molitor and Dr Hermann.

The history of the modern Dr Loosen estate under Ernst Loosen (last 30 years) was detailed in the preview notes from last March. Suffice here to summarise that key modernising changes made when Ernie first took over in 1988, e.g. reduction in cropping levels, Bernie Schug made cellarmaster, remain at the core of the operation. Bernie still heads up the winemaking. Viticulture practice is dominantly organic. Although, as also noted last year, it is not clear whether their organics regime is simply no more than sufficient to comply with minimum German environmental and sustainability regulations. The trick for this tasting is – if you were present and can recall the Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten wines from last year – to try and see whether there is more a specific Wurzgarten marker or Dr Loosen style thread running through this wine (especially in comparison to the Spatlese)?

2007 J J Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese

Wehlener Sonnenuhr (‘sundial’ vineyard at the village of Wehlen) is a very famous ‘great site’ stretching up high on the ‘great wall’ within the Grosslage Munzlay (the Grosslage name is a reference to the slate terroir). It is actually on the opposite bank of the river (right bank) from the home village of Wehlen (on the left bank) but adjacent to the bridge that spans the Mosel from Wehlen. Weathered blue-grey slate with a south-southwest facing aspect, rising steeply – up to a 70% gradient – from the road along the riparian flat, it sits neatly between Zeltinger Sonnenuhr (downstream) and Graacher Himmelreich (above and upstream) and Josephshofer (Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt monopole, also a Graach site, which too is immediately upstream).

Although the vineyard is very old, the term ‘sundial’ was only used orally until the first Erste Lage classification and map in 1868. And indeed it was not until 45 years later in August 1913 that it was formally approved as a name and the vineyard’s size precisely defined – then at only 10ha, later increased in 1953 to 35ha and (after a ten year legal dispute 1970-80; the municipal council wanted to increase its size to 58ha!) it was finally settled at 45ha exclusively planted to Riesling (J J Prum’s holding is 5ha). The actual sundial in the vineyard was created in 1842 by Jacodus Prum (to, er, give his workers a better awareness of the time it took to complete activities while toiling on the steep slopes among his vines) although at that time the site was as much referred to as Lammerterlay as Sonnenuhr. There are currently 17 owners/producers of parcels within the vineyard: aside from J J Prum and estates of other members of the Prum family (S A Prum, Studert-Prum, Dr Weins-Prum), these include other producers featured in this tasting (but for other vineyards), Dr Loosen and Willi Schaefer, plus also notably Max Ferd. Richter, Markus Molitor, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, Schloss Lieser, Kerpen, Wegeler and Dr H Thanisch.

The four Prum estates are all based at Wehlen, as the family has been since the 16th century. Going farther back, the Prum family’s history in winemaking in the Mosel dates to 1156. However, it was only in 1911 that Johann Josef Prum (1873-1944) founded the eponymous J J Prum estate. Dr Manfred Prum (grandson of Joh. Jos.) has led the estate since 1969, initially assisted by his brother Wolfgang, and since 2003 by his daughter, Dr Katharina Prum, with Katharina fully taking over in the last 4-5 years. In total the estate owns 13.5ha across four sites (Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, Bernkaster Badstube) with 70% of their vines ungrafted.

Hugh Johnson: “J J Prum wines are legendary for being delicate but extremely long-lived with astonishing finesse and distinctive character”. It was Joh. Jos.’s son (& Manfred’s father), Sebastian Prum, who from the 1920s onward largely developed the J J Prum style and built its reputation. Unsurprisingly, that style and quality is mostly due to work in the vineyard: great sites, old vines (at the time of the 2007 harvest, Prum’s vines from Wehlener Sonnenuhr were from a 50-60 year old parcel around the sundial), the lowest yields, very late harvesting and selection of only the best berries. This careful vineyard work followed up by a classic non-interventionist approach in the winery. Not only do the wines live a long time, they also typically need a number of years to show their best, albeit, as noted by Hugh Johnson and others, can then live and improve for decades. The question is how much of this longevity and house style is due to the heavy/obvious application of sulphides (SO2 inoculation) during vinification? And also therefore, the degree to which individual drinkers may be put off by the sulphur when the wines are still young. I’m not, although nonetheless personally still prefer to see them at their best with significant age. Further inquiry for this tasting is therefore just how unevolved the 2007 J J Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese might be? And will it matter? Do you even like the style? – the sulphuring; late harvest.

2007 Spatlese note: ABV 8.5%; no information on residual sugar (information released by the estate is sparse) but likely 50+ g/ltr. Critically well received: Jennie Cho Lee 96; Wine & Spirits Magazine 95; Wine Spectator 93; Wine Enthusiast 92; Falstaff 92; estimated drinking window now-2025+. Joe Czerwinski (Wine Enthusiast), January 2009: “Shows some characteristic Prum stinky notes, but there’s plenty of fruit lurking underneath. Pear, honey, melon and citrus flavors give an impression of great ripeness, amplified by the creamy texture and custardy mouthfeel, but there’s also enough crisp acidity for balance.” Jennie Lee Cho, March 2012: “Very intense late harvest Riesling with well integrated sweetness and ripe nectarine and peach notes. The finish is floral and delicate. This wine has the depth and layers of a great Mosel Riesling with decades of aging potential. Very long finish.” Wine-Beserker blog note from Jayson Cohen, February 2018: “Aromas … vibrant though there is an overarching slight hint of petrol that comes in and out. The nose is leaning toward ripe Granny Smith, unripe peach and orange blossom, with wafts of caraway seed, anisette, mustard seed and coffee bean. It is heading toward tertiary but still shedding some baby fat. A rich mouthfeel with integrated acidity is slightly thicker than normal for this wine – again the baby fat of the vintage is still present – but acids keep ripeness in check and the finish is long with a refreshing quinine/lime bitterness that again indicates this is still adolescent. I love it. Still a long road ahead.”

Further note: in addition to Kabinett and Auslese bottlings, at Spatlese level in 2007 J J Prum did three separate Wehlener Sonnenuhr bottlings – a regular Spatlese; AP11; AP24 reflecting the degree of ripeness/late picking/which pass through the vineyard (refer notes on Spatlese regulation at commencement of these notes). I will confirm which bottling we have for the tasting on the evening.

Lastly, it should be borne in mind that the J J Prum estate and the Wehlener Sonnenuhr are intrinsically linked. The perfect Riesling growing conditions of the site combined with exemplary handling. It has repeatedly been said that above all, Wehlener Sonnenuhr wines should possess excellent structure, have ripe aromas and flavours (typically, as picked out by Jennie Lee Cho above, stone fruits such as peach, nectarine, apricot). While as Stuart Pigott has written: “J J Prum’s Sonnenuhrs are classic examples of the way in which the best Mosel wine’s natural sweetness magnifies, rather than obscures, their character. These are the perfect marriage of Riesling’s peach-like, floral and mineral aspects. White wine cannot be fresher, more vivid and delightful.”

2007 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese

Graacher Himmelreich (‘the kingdom of heaven’ vineyard at the village of Graach) is also a famous ‘great site’ high on the ‘great wall’ within the Grosslage Munzlay. It ‘overshadows’ the small village of Graach, which unlike Wehlen is properly on the right bank of the river. Again blue-grey slate with a southwest facing aspect, it is less steep (although this is relative) and has a deeper soil horizon that its neighbour Wehlener Sonnenuhr. It also abuts Josephshofer and, partly, Graach’s other noteworthy site, Graacher Domprobst.

The deeper soils of Himmelreich act as good reservoirs of moisture, and as a consequence it is often said that especially in hot, dry years the vineyards’ wines challenge Wehlener Sonnenuhr’s for supremacy. There is some very recent research in viticulture (Dr Andrew Pirie in Australia) hinting that distinctive regional character in wines may be related to humidity level and soil moisture. In any event, compared to its neighbour, Himmelreich wines generally possess racier acidity, more pronounced minerality (crushed rock?) and fruit aromas, and flavours more in the citrus spectrum. Furthermore, Himmelreich wines are normally both deliciously mouthwatering when young and accessible/mature earlier.

The vineyard area is 57ha planted mainly to Riesling. However, two estates, Markus Molitor and Gunther Steinmetz also grow Spatburgunder . Altogether, there are 16 owners/producers of parcels within the vineyard: in addition to Willi Schaefer, the leading lights are J J Prum, the other three Prum family estates, Dr Loosen, Max Ferd. Richter, Markus Molitor, Kerpen and Wegeler . The Willi Schaefer estate owns 2ha, comprising numerous parcels with varying slope character.

Like the Prum family, the Schaefer family also has roots in Mosel viticulture going back to the 12th century. The Schaefers believe their forebears have been in Graach since 1121; documented as such since 1590. The current winery has been in family hands since 1950, Willi Schaefer taking over its running in 1971. He is still there, assisted now by his son, Christoph and Christoph’s wife Andrea. In addition to the 2ha held in Graacher Himmelreich, the estate holds 2ha in Graacher Domprobst and a tiny 0.2ha allotment in Wehlener Sonnenuhr. In fact although we are tasting Willi’s 2007 Himmelreich Spatlese, a number of wine writers (e.g. Stephen Brook and Stephan Reinhardt) are of the opinion that the estate’s best wines are instead from the Domprobst site. Again, like most top producers, the majority of the Schaefers’ vines (60-70%) are ungrafted ; oldest around 60 years.

With a high proportion of older vines, yields are naturally low. When harvesting particular care is made to avoid botrytis; Willi certainly does not like its influence in his wines, even in the sweeter styles. As regards vinification, the estate champions six months of fermentation and maturation on lees in old 1,000 litre foudres. Just 2,000 to 3,000 cases per year, with only a small amount fermented dry into Trocken/GG bottling. For Himmelreich in 2007, Willi Schaefer bottled wines at Kabinett, Spatlese, Spatlese Feinherb (bottling at 10-20 g/ltr of residual sugar) and Auslese levels.

For the 2007 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese: ABV 8%; again residual sugar unknown but assumed 50 g/ltr or more (contrast with the much drier Feinherb). Critic notes and scores: Wine Spectator 91; 22 separate postings on CellarTracker averaging out at 91. Most recent posting on CellarTracker, August 2017: “Golden yellow, oily nose, delicious stony dry Riesling.” Previously from two separate posters in December 2016: “This is ripe, not so much a racy acidity and minerals style, this has lots of Riesling flavour, excellent with food”; and “Man, Willi does not disappoint. We all swooned at those (sic) nose – so light, crisp and clear. Beautiful aromas of apple, lime, spice, minerals, and some grass/herbs/mint, and honey. The palate wasn’t quite as good or consistent: some tastes were excellent, but some were a touch sweet/heavy. Lots of apple, some honey – the best sips had that electric zing showing lime and minerality, Also some herbal notes. The finish varied like the palate. Maybe with another 5 years this would (sic) have locked into place in the lighter and more racy vein.” Those last notes remind me of what I think of as a Willi Schaefer wine marker: a limey, minty, herbal streak. We shall see. Something to look for in the tasting, along with vintage character, and Graacher Himmelreich typicity.

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Auslese GK

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken GG

Oz Clarke: “Helmut Donnhoff is the quiet winemaking genius of the Nahe, conjuring from top sites some of the most mineral dry and naturally sweet Rieslings in the world. The very best are the subtle, long-lived wines from the Niederhauser Hermannshohle (literally, ‘Hermann’s Hole’ vineyard at Niederhausen village) and (its neighbouring; and Donnhoff monopole) Oberhauser Brucke (‘the Bridge’ vineyard at Oberhausen village) vineyards.”

Hugh Johnson: “(Helmut Donnhoff has) fanatical commitment to quality, and a remarkable talent for winemaking.”

Helmut Donnhoff: “Riesling has to be like rock water or a mountain stream. It can be shy to start with but should have length and acidity that dance across the palate.”

Based at Oberhausen, the Hermann Donnhoff estate dates back to 1750, although global acclaim for its wines has largely been over the past 2-3 decades due to the leadership and work of Helmut Donnhoff who first inherited the reins in 1971. Helmut has in fact been retired for 4-5 years and his son, Cornelius now controls all matters in regard to the estate including viticulture and winemaking. However, Helmut was very definitely still in charge for the 2007. There is the suggestion from Hugh Johnson, among others, that Cornelius favours a slightly drier style of wine than his father, although this might just be a reflection of wider commercial and/or climate trends. Of up to 24 separate cuvees that Donnhoff may at present make in any given vintage, 13 are Trocken, and unlike three of the sweeter styles which are dependent on vintage conditions to make, those 13 are made every year. Six of the dry wines are estate bottlings of Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder , Chardonnay, and blends of these varieties. The rest (18 different wines) are Riesling at various ripenesses and fermentations: Trocken, Trocken GG, Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Eiswein (and very occasionally in the past, BA and/or TBA). Altogether the estate owns 25ha of vines, with holdings in nine separate sites, from each of which at least one single vineyard Riesling is produced, at dryness or sweetness to match terroir character.

One of the jewels in the Donnhoff crown, perhaps the jewel, is the Hermannshohle vineyard, which since the early 20th century has been revered as perhaps the Nahe’s top site, although a case could probably be made for either of the Schlossbokelheim great sites. Hermannshohle is not an especially large site, just 8ha, although Donnhoff is the major owner. I am aware of at least two others: Jakob Schneider and Weingut von Racknitz.

The vineyard slopes steeply up from the river (on the left bank side) right on a bend the Nahe takes northwards after flowing downstream from Schlossbokelheim, and before it twists through a gorge to Bad Munster a little further downstream. Orientation is south facing and slope lies between 130 and 175 metres above sea level. Soils are derived from a patchwork of blackish-grey slate, rhyolite, porphyry, and even limestone slivers. Exclusively a Riesling vineyard, vine age of the Donnhoff vines is up to 65 years of age. The Donnhoffs themselves are unequivocal in pronouncing that the wines from Hermannshohle are truly Grosse Gewachs/Grand Cru, delivering power and elegance.

Re the vineyard’s name: the ‘Hermann’ prefix is totally unconnected to the Hermann in the Donnhoff estate’s full name. It is much, much older, maybe 2,000 years or more, ‘Hermann’ being a derivation of Hermes, the Roman god of messengers and travellers, hinting at the site being an ancient pre-Christian place of worship. Similarly, the ‘hole’ as in ‘Hohle’ is not just any old extraction or hideaway, but a reference to old mine workings in the middle of the vineyard.

2007 was typical for Donnhoff over the last 15 years for Hermannshohle in that three separate Riesling bottlings were produced. We will taste all three:

2007 Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese: ABV 9.5%; based on recent tasting comments (below) residual sugar probably touching 100 g/ltr, if not higher; cropping typically at 40 hl/ha; selective hand harvested; fermented and matured in stainless steel vats. Critics notes and scores, universally praised: The Wine Advocate 96; Wine Spectator 94; 69 notes on CellarTracker averaging 94; Stephen Tanzer 93. Most recent two postings on Cellartracker: ‘BamBam’ November 2017 “Showing age and the residual sugar shows. Deep golden color, no secondary flavours yet. Thick in the mouth, red delicious apples and honey. Tastes more like a dessert wine today.” (93); J Erhardt September 2017 “Golden yellow; I’m surprised how mature this is looking. Quite rich and sweet for this level. At the very early stages of secondary development. Will last a long time, when to drink just depends on your preference.” While preparing these preview notes I have in parallel been drinking a bottle of the 2007 Donnhoff Oberhuaser Brucke Riesling Spatlese, i.e. the equivalent wine in the same vintage from the vineyard (Donnhoff monopole) that immediately abuts Hermannshohle upstream (in the riparian strip next to the river). This wine was also featured in a previous Magnum German Riesling tasting in March 2016. I report on it here as a calibrator for the Hermannshohle Spatlese: Striking gold colour; plush, wrapped with citric and flinty, chalky hints; seemingly weighty, sweet palate with citrus of all varieties plus autumn fruits; taut, exciting acid spine with long, drier and dancing, lifted finish. Plenty of life left; pleased I have two more bottles from an original six pack! Cannot now wait to compare with the Hermannshohle on the 25th!

2007 Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Auslese GK: ABV 8.5% (to be confirmed on evening of the tasting); residual sugar probably at least 150 g/ltr, possibly way more; cropping typically at 20 hl/ha; an extreme selection hand harvest as befits a goldkap bottling; fermented and matured in stainless steel vats. Critics notes and scores, universally praised: The Wine Advocate 95; Stephen Tanzer 94; Wine Spectator 93; 36 separate postings on CellarTracker averaging 93. Most recent two separate postings on CellarTracker: T Stephanos June 2017 “Excellent Auslese, tropical fruit, unctuous texture with high acidity balancing it and making a delectable and refreshing sweet wine” (94); L Edwards August 2016 “Mouth puckering peach with hints of apricot. Streak of acidity runs throughout” (93).

2007 Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken GG: ABV 13.5%; cropping typically at 40 hl/ha; selective hand harvested; fermented and matured in stainless steel vats and oak barriques. Critics notes and scores, universally praised: The Wine Advocate 95; Stephen Tanzer 95; 58 separate postings on CellarTracker averaging 93; Vinum 18.5/20; estimated drinking window now-2020. Most recent two separate postings on CellarTracker, February 2018: M Hensel “Dark yellow, red shimmer. Nose saline and vanilla vapour, sea breeze, citrus notes, very appealing. Palate fresh, acidic, silky, yellow fruit, citrus fruit, dried apple, some orange peel, minerals, nice tartness, green aspects, red grapefruit, some flint stone. Finishes pretty long on on (sic) fruity aspects, so elegant tartness and minerals. Ageless, a beauty, elegance and vivacity, very tasty and approachable.” (94); T Stephanos “Sublime dry Riesling. Nose full of ripe fruit, peach, orange peel and floral notes. On the palate it was very smooth, rounded, with acidity hidden beneath the fruit but still mouthcleansing. Long, tasty and very satisfying. At a very nice point to drink, smoothed out but nowhere near decline.”(95).

It is therefore quite possible, based on the reception these three wines have received to date, that ultimately this coming Magnum tasting might just collapse into a lovefest for Donnhoff and Hermannshohle. Wow, I hope so.”

MS Riesling 2018 2

And to the wines:

2007 Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett – Light gold colour – Delicate nose of citrus and apple and wet stone. Crisp sweet attack, freshness, raciness, notes of mandarin. Balanced. Hint of kero.  I scored this Gold

2007 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese – The palest wine at pale gold – reductive at first. Notes of citrus and apple. Open. Acid and sweetness to drink. Balanced, long and gorgeous golden fruit. It builds with purity and intensity. Razor sharp. I scored this Gold, as did 18 others.

2007 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese – light gold – light citrus, slight kero note. Dumb in this company. Sweet attack, showing fruit over acidity, but overall a pleasant balance. Smooth rich and silky. I scored this Gold, as did 14 others.

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese – light gold – bouquet of honey, apricot, rich spice, pine resin, developed. Sweet and elegant to drink, composed, ripe apricots, minerality, a hot finish. Really nice. I scored this Gold, as did 23 others, and it was my WOTN.

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel – gold, deepest colour of the flight – honey, confected, Turkish delight, comples. Sweet liquid honey in the mouth, with mild acid. Short, ripe and intense. Viscous. Silky. Lacking in acidity, almost syrupy. I still scored this Gold, as did 11 others.

2007 H Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Trocken Grosses Gewachs – gold colour – oxidative, flat, brown, developed ripe stonefruit aromas. Sherry-like, with an acid finish. Thinning fruit, somewhat flat, metallic, disjointed. I scored this Bronze.

The wines had been opened and decanted about 6 hours before the tasting. They suffered a little though warming up over the evening past their optimum temperature, and this was remarked on.

Five of the wines were between 8% – 9.5% ABV, with the GG at 13.5% ABV. I thought they underwhelmed as far as their aromatics were concerned, and had muted florality, but this could have been a function of the serving temperature.

I found them hard to tell apart, to be honest. Not a style I much like either. I think I much prefer the lean, austere and bone-dry styles of Riesling.


What’s in the glass tonight March 31st – Dry Riesling

Villa Maria Dry Riesling 2016

Villa Maria Dry Riesling Marlborough Bay 2016 – $

12% alc. Pale greenish straw colour.

Earlier vintages have been my “WOTY” previously.

This one is not so stellar. Sharp citrus on nose, befitting a drier style of Riesling. Aromas of crisp apple and grapes.

Fresh entry on palate, with soft-ish texture. Quite linear fruit and an acid finish. Moderate intensity. Lacking some focus and intensity. An underwhelming example this time around.

Commended 85 Points

Cuba Dupa


Noble Rot

While we were waiting for Wellington Batucada to take the stage on the Saturday night of CubaDupa, Wellington’s best night-time street arts and music festival, L and I popped into the great wine bar Noble Rot. They serve a number of aged fine wines by the glass, protected by the Coravin system.

Greywacke PN 2011

I enjoyed a glass of superb and savoury Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Noir 2012, and the ever-wonderful elegant Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015. Delicious!

BTW Wellington Batucada was immense and fantastic, as always!