Category Archives: Riesling

The Aromatic Queen: Alsatian Riesling

I encourage those I encounter to explore distinctive wines. Nearly all mass market concoctions follow a recipe that provides, but fails to entice or seduce. If you seek intriguing wine, start with the Rieslings of Alsace.

I already hear the crowd roaring. “Riesling? Really? Plus, I drink red wine.” Yes. Riesling. For one, Riesling uniquely expresses the place the vines take root. While other varietals can also, this Queen varietal reigns supreme in turning terroir into arresting wines laced with place. For centuries many have hailed Riesling as the noblest of white grapes, partially for this reason. It also earns its stately title for its ancient Germanic heritage, ability to age, and diverse array of styles—dry, off-dry, sweet, and late harvest ice wine. Despite these noble characteristics, most American consumers have never touched Alsatian Riesling to their lips, liquid or word.

Alsace (al-zahs) lies in eastern France bordering Germany. While Alsatian producers also grow Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Noir, they craft 10% of the Riesling produced globally. With a cool climate, complex soils, and high elevation, Alsace provides an ideal terroir for aromatic varietals that benefit from electric acidity. Those who know the wines of Alsace well respect its place in the hallowed halls of fine wine. Sommeliers, for example, appreciate its simultaneous profundity and food-friendliness.

Mittelbergheim, Alsace Copyright: Conseil Vins Alsace

Mittelbergheim, Alsace Copyright: Conseil Vins Alsace

While attending the Wine Bloggers Conference in the Finger Lakes region of New York, I attended a session focused wholly on Alsatian dry Riesling. I had enjoyed Alsatian whites before, but never had I comparatively tasted dry Rieslings from the region. The wines poured ranged from linear and piercing to mid-weight and round. The results impressed the attendees at my table, including this chap.

Notes:

Domaine Humbrecht Riesling

2013 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling ($22):

  • An unbroken winemaking lineage since 1620.
  • Biodynamic practitioner and advocate.
  • 2013 vintage comes from the gravelly silt soils of the Herrenweg plot.
  • Light yellow with a hint of silver. Aromas of pineapple, and lemon. Linear, cutting acidity with mineral notes leaping from the glass. Alluring, sprightly, AND serious. 5 g/l residual sugar. Excellent.

 

 

2010 Herrenreben Riesling

2010 Schoenheitz Riesling Herrenreben ($20):

  • Founded in 1980, Schoenheitz is a small, family owned winery.
  • A single-vineyard designate wine.
  • A cool vintage by Alsatian standards.
  • From sandy, granite soils, a gentle yellow color meets the eye. Slate, green apple, and a hint of petrol. Tuning fork acidity hums pleasingly through the palate. 9 g/l residual sugar. Stellar.

 

 

2012 Domaine Barmes-Buecher Rosenberg Riesling

2012 Barmes-Buecher Riesling Rosenberg ($33):

  • Created in 1985, the Domaine began biodynamically farming their vineyards in 1998.
  • Predominately clay-limestone soils with some sandstone inclusions.
  • The vintage falls on the cooler side of the spectrum, though not far from average.
  • Fresh lemon aromas with medium acidity (gentler than the previous two wines). On the palate, the wine provides depth, along with a unique mid-weight character. Round while still nimble. 2 g/l residual sugar. Excellent.

 

If you have yet to taste the wines of Alsace, break the mold, sprint to your local merchant, and inquire about a recommended bottle. Then bring it to my house to share. Cheers!

Rangen Vineyard, Alsace Copyright: Conseil Vins Alsace

Rangen Vineyard, Alsace Copyright: Conseil Vins Alsace

Spare Parts Needed: Wine in the Finger Lakes

I step off the flatbed of the vineyard truck and on to the soil I have come to explore. As I brush straw from my pant leg, winemakers and viticulturists John and Mark Wagner, Cameron and Tim Hosmer,  and Tom Macinski guide my group of wine writers through one of Wagner’s estate riesling vineyards. This is boutique wine country. Soils and climates vary too drastically from acre to acre to plant more than 3 acres here, and 5 acres there. A rare site lies ahead of us; 30 acres planted on one slope. The vineyard sits on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. At over 600 feet deep, Seneca serves as a cooler during the summer and a heater come winter. -10°F can kill vines, and therefore Seneca provides insurance. During a recent winter, Wagner Vineyards maintained a steady -6°F while neighboring vineyards on adjacent lakes witnessed -12°F and worse, killing many vines to the ground. As a consequence of location and dutiful viticulture practices, Wagner Vineyards owns 250 acres of vines, many of them 20 to 30 years old, making them a powerhouse in the still fledgling Finger Lakes region. I stand on hallowed ground.


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John Wagner, owner of Wagner Vineyards, discussing “spare parts viticulture.”

John Wagner steps forward and introduces us to “spare parts viticulture,” a necessity in the Finger Lakes. Most vines here have two or three trunks splitting from the root stock, an anomaly in most of the New World. A single trunk is the norm. Here the excess acts as a back up. One trunk may freeze and die, but the other can, if lucky, survive. Between the extreme cold and bedazzling array of soil types (the site specific, color-coded maps may induce a seizure), the Finger Lakes AVA proves a challenging “friend.”


Finger Lakes Satellite Winter

Seneca and Cayuga lakes remain unfrozen in the midst of a deep cold snap in 2014, evidence of the warming effect they provide the vineyards hugging their shores. (Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service)


While the Finger Lakes has garnered world-wide attention for 20+ years, the local industry still maintains some youthful awkwardness. The tension between vinifera, hybrids, and native grape varietals* exemplify the point. Those seeking to lift the Finger Lakes global reputation prefer to rip out native and hybrid varietals and replant vinifera, particularly riesling and cabernet franc. The majority of the 100+ wineries in the region have not reached a global audience and produce low volumes of wine. Within the local market, however, wineries have little problem selling hybrid and native varietal wines. The tension is palpable. The debate, like most, presents itself as a duality, perhaps unnecessarily so. Both worlds can exist—world-class vinifera and localized hybrid and native distribution. The global market will only see vinifera coming from the Finger Lakes.

For those seeking to peruse Finger Lakes wines, take advantage of the  2008, 2012, and 2014 vintages, which all resulted in excellent wines. Stick with riesling and cabernet franc to begin. As I tasted my way through wine after wine, producer after producer, the price point on many excellent bottles caught my attention. Most wines fall between $17–$26 range, a great value if you seek small to medium-sized producers working honestly with their wines.


Dinner amongst the vines at Wagner Vineyards hosted for the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference

Dinner amongst the vines at Wagner Vineyards hosted for the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference


Recommended producers:

Thank you sponsors for the privilege of exploring the Finger Lakes wine region during the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference. The Finger Lakes can hold its head high.

*Vinifera grapes are recognizable worldwide and originate in Europe. Native grapes, think concord, existed in the United States before European settlers arrived. Hybrids have been created more recently to carry traits from both vinifera and native varietals. Ideally, hybrids exhibit the aromas and flavors of vinifera, but maintain the cold-hardiness of native varietals so that winemakers need not worry about winter kill. Most serious producers acknowledge that hybrids produce inferior wine.