Monday, March 28, 2011

Showing the wines of Schloss Schonborn

The first time I tasted the wines of the Schloss Schonborn estate, it was on January 18 of this year - I had literally just gotten off the plane that Tuesday morning in Frankfurt, was driven to the Franz Kunstler estate in the Rheingau, where we walked the vineyard for a bit then had some delicious homemade chili for lunch, then had my first taste of the very exciting 2010 vintage Rieslings, along with Gunter Kunstler's vivid descriptions of how the volcanic eruptions of the spring of 2010 may have caused weather disruptions that disturbed the normal flowering of the grapevines. Right after that, we were whisked to the Schloss Schonborn Estate, a new Rheingau estate in our portfolio. My mind was muddled, but I remember whipping out my camera when our car pulled up as the winter sun was shining on the river and the grass between the naked vines were a vibrant light green, glistening from a recent rain. We were high up on a hillside and the vines went all the way down to the street below, where cars wizzed by, threatening to decimate anyone who might lose their step on the precariously steep vineyard. Established in 1349, this estate was making wine before glass bottles were popularized, before the Americas were discovered, before a lot of things, in other words. Their first wines were stored and served from wood barrels, until 1725 when they bottled their own wines. The estate has been owned by a line of counts, known as the the Grafs of Schonborn. The current Graf owns the estate here in the Rheingau, as well as an estate in the Franken region known as Schloss Hallburg. I would have no recollection on how I found the wines that day back in January when I had just gone 24 hours without sleep, having finished an entire novel on my new Kindle on my flight over to Germany, but fortunately, I took notes on the wines I tasted that day and put stars next to the wines I particularly found delicious. Fast forward three months to last week, when I had the opportunity to work with Schloss Schonborn's winery rep Marc Ramershoven, who flew in to the west coast to work with us in California before he was headed up to Vancouver, B.C. to pour at the International Wine Festival that takes place there every spring (I have never been). Marc brought with him 8 samples of wine from both the Rheingau and Franken estates of Schonborn, and I had a chance not only to revisit these wines again, but to show them to a select group of my customers. I have to say that of the wines he showed, the most impressive for me were his three dry Rieslings from the Rheingau. He showed a 2010 Schloss Schonborn Estate Riesling trocken, 2009 Schloss Schonborn Winkeler Hasensprung Riesling Spatlese trocken, and 2009 Schloss Schonborn Erbacher Marcobrunn Erstes Gewachs Riesling trocken. All three of them were so uniquely different. The 2010 Estate trocken was so crisp and refreshing and light and fresh on the palate. Great nose, perfect for that plate of oysters or just sipping by itself to get your appetite going. What a great little dry Riesling, terrific fruit, while staying dry, but not austere or excessively lean. Love this wine, will sell lots of it, I am certain. The second one, the 2009 Hasensprung Riesling Spatlese trocken - superb - infinitely different from the 2010 Estate dry - this Spatlese trocken is noble, rich, lengthy on the palate, with stone fruits, delicate mineral, a serious dry Riesling with terrific fruit yet again, but richer without being overly alcoholic. Finally, the 2009 Erstes Gewachs from the famous Marcobrunn vineyard - this is a terrific and delicious wine and shows the beauty of the first growth Rheingau wines. Peaches, limestone, powerful yet crystalline in its purity, mouthfilling, yet not overpoweringly so. This is a wine that can hold up to meat dishes or just drink it by itself and enjoy. Interestingly enough, I looked back in my notebook to that day back in January at the estate and it looks like among the 24 wines we tasted there, I put stars next to 09 Hasensprung Spatlese trocken and 09 Marcobrunn EG. I guess I liked them then and there and I like them here and now. The rest of the collection we showed were also terrific and top-notch - an interesting Pinot Gris "3 Star" from Franken which is a Pinot Gris harvested at Spatlese to Auslese level and fermented dry and put into a Burgundy bottle to likely communicate that this is a wine more like a white Burgundy in style than any Pinot Gris we tend to think of. This is not a crisp light white, more of a rich, full-bodied white, minus the oakiness one might find with Chardonnay. There were two Roses we showed, one from the Rheingau estate made exclusively of Pinot Noir, called 2010 Schloss Schonborn "PINK", and one from the Franken estate made from a blend of red local varieties, mostly hybrids of Dornfelder... there was also a Silvaner from Franken and a 2003 Schloss Schonborn Pfaffenberg Riesling Kabinett in a fruity style from a single vineyard, a monopole vineyard called Pfaffenberg, in the Rheingau. The 03 showed pretty well, not showing its 8 years at all, and maintaining a very decent acid profile, good balance overall. A wine that would be a terrific fruity Riesling by the glass. In all, I'm very happy we have this new to us estate Schloss Schonborn to work with. Everywhere we went during this work-with, wine folks seemed to have a very good impression of the estate, and loved the quality of the wines. I'm looking forward to having these wines in stock; they arrive to our warehouses in May.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Mystery of the Rebholz Pinot Noir solved

When I was in Germany earlier this year with my coworkers and management of Rudi Wiest Selections, tasting the new releases from the estates we represent, we were all floored and surprised at how delicious the 2008 Rebholz Pinot Noir (Spatburgunder) Tradition was. In fact, I think I even heard Rudi Wiest himself say that this was the best vintage of Rebholz Pinot Noir Tradition he had ever tasted. The Rebholz Pinot Noir Tradition is their entry level Pinot Noir - "Tradition" simply means their "basic" wine here - this is not single vineyard, it is essentially their "Estate" offering. But this very basic Pinot Noir is not so basic in its price point; it wholesales for over $30 a bottle and retails for about $45 and is on wine lists for about $70-$80, so because of this, it doesn't get as much play as less expensive Pinot Noirs in our portfolio.

Well, the 2008 vintage of this Pinot Noir was so good, that I decided right then and there in Hansjorg Rebholz's tasting room that when I returned to the U.S., I would pull some samples of the 2007 we had in stock (2008 would be coming in several months) and show off the beautiful wine.

Finally, two days ago, I opened a bottle and poured it for several of my restaurant and retail accounts. The reaction was interesting - not what I expected. The wine was rich in color and body, which normally appeals well to many a North American palate - but my audience felt the wine showed too much oak on the nose and on the palate. As though the wine was disjointed both in its aroma and in its flavor profile, with too much new oak and cedar showing through. It was surprising to everyone - people have come to expect German Pinot Noirs to be elegant and ethereal and light on their feet, never showing excessive oak like their New World counterparts.... but here they found it in the 2007 Rebholz Pinot Noir (Spatburgunder) Tradition. I was also confused by this.

Day 2, I continued to show the wine, after letting the bottle rest in my fridge overnight. Again, I got the same reaction with the wine. After a second day of lack of success in converting any of my accounts to this wine, I gave up. I left what was left of the wine on my counter.

Day 3 - It's Friday night. My husband inquires about half bottle of red wine sitting on the counter. I answered "I don't think it will be any good. It's day 3. It's a Pinot Noir. It's probably no good anymore. Plus, I didn't get very good reactions to the wine when I showed it." I was not really enthusiastic about the wine, as you can tell about my comments.

We tasted it anyway. And lo and behold, it was fantastic! Even before I tasted it, actually. I stuck my nose into the glass and the aroma already told the whole story. There wasn't that aggressive oak that everyone was complaining about when I opened it for my customers. Instead, there was a beautiful bouquet of red roses intermingling with black cherries and vanilla bean. Absolutely nothing that reminded me of oak. Nothing! On the palate, the wine is bold while being silky, with some grippy tannins, but very balanced acidity and fruit and structure. Completely perfect in its richness - a terrific Pinot Noir for those who don't like their Pinots too delicate, because this one is not.

While I thought this wine on day 3 would be oxidized and unpleasant, it was perfect, absolutely perfect, and this is what I should have been showing my customers all along, this specimen of beauty and strength instead of that tight, angular, unbalanced wine that obviously did not get enough air and breathing room in the last 2 days.

I am still at this time enjoying a sip of the beautiful 2007 Rebholz Pinot Noir Tradition, wishing that this is how it showed when I was dragging it from place to place. If only I had known to open it two days earlier, sat it on the counter, letting it breath a bit around a loosely replaced cork.... if only I knew, it would be on a few more wine lists and in a few more wine shops.

Alas I have another sample and I can do just that with it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A terrific day tasting the wines of Von Buhl Estate with Christoph Graf

Christoph Graf of Von Buhl Estate in the Pfalz, Germany, was down this week in the Los Angeles area showing a terrific line-up of Von Buhl wines. We ended up driving almost 200 miles that day, tasting with wine directors, sommeliers, buyers and restaurant and retail store owners in such diverse establishments as Inn of the Seventh Ray (pictured above) in Topanga Canyon, Spago and Cut and Whole Foods in Beverly Hills, Pourtal Wine Bar in Santa Monica, the Wine House in West Los Angeles, and the Starling Diner and The Wine Country in Long Beach. Yes, we were all over the map, but it was worth it because so many people got to taste Christoph's lovely wines.

We had 10 wines in our wine carrier. Christoph started the tasting with two sparkling wines, called Sekt in German - there was the 2008 Riesling Sekt, made from 100% Riesling grapes harvested in the Pfalz region, and made in the Champagne method - methode traditionelle - that means bottle fermentation, riddling, disgourging the yeast, the whole bit! This is a very complex and delicious sparkling Riesling with tons of flavor for an easy to swallow price. Very impressive.

Next came the 2008 Spatburgunder Rose Sekt - a sparkling wine made again in the Champagne method, but this time with 100% Pinot Noir. This is a very pale colored rose - so pale that many in the American market would not recognize it as a rose. It was more of a pale Champagne color one might say. Some suggested that perhaps this could be called a Blanc de Noirs, but actually von Buhl has a Blanc de Noirs that is much paler than this. The explanation for the pale color is actually that Germans don't really like that really pink color in their Rose sparklings because it means that a lot of red wine was added to make that color - ie. it is kind of articially created instead of more naturally focused to taste. Anyway, the wine is of course delicious, deep in flavor, rich and serious.

After that, we tasted the 2010 Pinot Noir Rose - this is a still Rose that is definitely a pretty pink in color and juicy and very elegant - a beautiful little summer Rose - I sold tons of this one with Christoph! 100% Pinot Noir - and it shows its purity.

Next up was something different - 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. This wine stole the show. First because many people we visited had never tasted German Sauvignon Blanc, and didn't even know that Germany produced Sauvignon Blanc. But Christoph quickly informed us that actually there are 600 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc being grown in Germany, and the German market loves the wine, so it has been doing very well in the restaurant scene. The 2010 Von Buhl Sauvignon Blanc combines the best of the new world and old world styles by having a lively New Zealand nose, followed by a very European palate - more stone, minerality, and clean zesty fruit like one would find in Sancerre. A very pretty wine and modest price tag which makes this wine a shoo-in for restaurant by-the-glass programs.

There were 6 more wines after these ones. I'll review that in the next post.