Wizards of the Terrassenmosel: The Glorious Rieslings of Clemens Busch and Heymann-Löwenstein

I will use just about any excuse to open a bottle of Mosel Riesling.  Come to my place for dinner, and chances are I’ll greet you with a glass of Kabinett or Spätlese, the older, the better, and I often keep a bottle open in my fridge for occasional afternoon refreshment.  But what if the occasion demands a dry wine, one with enough power and structure to carry me through an entire meal?  Can the Mosel give me that?

The answer, of course, is a resounding yes

To find the best, most complete expression of dry Mosel Riesling, I look to the Terrassenmosel, the Mosel’s lower course, named for the ludicrously steep terraced slopes that comprise the area’s best vineyards.  These wines marry texture and power of Alsace (and a similar prevalence of “intense” personalities) with the Mosel’s singular aromatic expression of Riesling on slate.  The two star producers in this area are arguably among the most exciting in all of Germany, and are influencing a generation of winemakers far beyond this particular sleepy corner of the Mosel.

Clemens Busch Marienburg Falkenlay 2010 – $39.99image002

This wine meets the palate with a veritable wall of flavor, gesturing at warm, spicy botrytis notes; saffron and clover honey give way to ripe apple, nectarine and pineapple, transitioning midway to creamy, salty minerality that seems to last forever. 

Clemens Busch took over his family’s estate in 1984.  He is the fifth Clemens in a row (naturally, he named his son Florian).  He started with just 2 hectares of vines he inherited from his father, too small to farm organically (because they were vulnerable to contamination from the surrounding conventionally-farmed parcels).  Clemens was able to benefit from the 1980’s trend toward Pinot varieties grown on the valley floor by buying many plots of terraced old-vine Riesling for a song.  Eventually he was able to link up his holdings into a few contiguous blocks comprising 16 hectares of terraced hillside vineyards. Clemens farms exclusively in the Pündericher Marienburg vineyard, which comprises a cluster of once-distinct neighboring sites.  These parcels give their historic names to the resulting wines, with the grey, blue, and red capsules on the bottles indicate the type of slate that informs the wine within.

Heymann-Löwenstein Riesling “Schieferterrassen” 2013 – $28.99

image004This dry but luscious Riesling marries bold spicy primary fruit notes of mango and lime with subtle, elegant herbal-mineral bitterness on the finish.   Bright and linear, but also generous and supple.

Heymann-Löwenstein Sekt “Fantasie der Schieferterrassen” 2008 – $38.99

image006This bottle-fermented sparkling Riesling is unusual in that Reinhard insists on the same top quality fruit that goes into the still Schieferterrassen Riesling, and it really pays off in the striking aromatic profile of this wine, Electrifying citrus and pear, a wonderful balance of primary fruit and fermentative flavors.  After six years on the lees, this Sekt receives a dosage of 12 grams of sugar per liter, giving it a rich, satisfyingly creamy texture.

When Reinhard Löwenstein finished school, taking up grape growing on his family’s farm was the furthest thing on his mind.  He moved to France for his university studies and briefly joined the Communist Party, only to discover later that this affiliation made it almost impossible to find a job.  Conformity and dogma have no more place in Reinhard’s wines than in his politics.  In winemaking terms, he is a convinced minimalist.  But, unlike his colleague further upstream, he arrived at this through decades of experience and analysis rather than from an a priori conviction that less is more.

What is particularly striking about these two estates is that, on paper, their wines should be quite similar.  Their basic approach, the “blueprint” if you will, is basically the same: All are harvested entirely by hand, and fermented slowly on natural yeasts until they reach a point of balanced dryness, the harmonious integration of sugar and acidity that characterized the famous Mosel Rieslings of old.  Both estates tend to begin the harvest late in the season and treat their wines to extended lees contact, usually in the traditional Mosel fuder or 1000-liter cask.  These wines are a wonderful study of how the subtle influences of a winemaker’s personality can have a profound effect on the finished product.  Busch’s wines are round and creamy, with honeyed spice that sometimes gestures at botrytis influence, but with plenty of acid and mineral structure.  Löwenstein’s are precise, jewel-toned and rectilinear, with vivdly juicy fruit often framed by a distinct phenolic component.  The former are distinctly spiritual experience, the latter veer toward the intellectual, though a quick browse through some of Löwenstein’s literature reveals an occasional flirtation with madcap mysticism.


Duncan McRoberts

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White like a Red: Radikon’s Unique Ribolla

When I was a young man, barely out of my teens, I spent several years creating experimental theatre in Chicago’s equivalent of Off Broadway.  Specifically, I was interested in using frequencies of sound above or below human perception to create emotional reactions in the audience.  I thought myself very forward-thinking.  But, as time went on, I found my experimentation becoming an affectation, rather than a genuine impulse.  Plus, I discovered I was copying techniques laid out by a man called Artaud in 1930s Paris.  This period taught me two things.

Doing something new, simply for the sake of newness, is bunk and what we label as innovation is often simply a reinvention of what has come before.

Which leads me to Stanko Radikon.  He produces a style of white wine which is both nearly unique in the modern world yet also a genuine attempt to re-capture the achievements of the past.  Nestled on the border between Italy and Slovenia, Stanko makes white wine which tastes white but feels red.  He macerates the white grapes on the skins.  Barely anyone does this in the world, for any length of time, let alone the 3 months at Radikon.  He then puts the wine, unfined and unfiltered, in 3000 liter old oak barrels for 3 ½ years, with another in bottle before release.

The end result looks like this:


Stanko’s motivation is not weirdness.  It doesn’t stem from a desire to declare his defiant uniqueness or appeal to a generation of Sommeliers who value novelty above all else.  Rather, he is simply doing what Grandpa did.

“Before my father started selling our wines, my grandfather would make wine for the whole family from our vines, but this was for personal consumption only and it had to last an entire year until the next vintage.” Stanko Radikon

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found I abhor novelty without substance.  Radikon makes some of the most unique white wines in the world, there can be no doubt, but I don’t love it for its idiosyncrasy.  I love it for its depth, sincerity, and, most importantly, how utterly delightful it is to consume.

Radikon Ribolla Gialla 2007 500ml $40.00

“On the nose, peaches, nectarines, mangos, wild cherry, hints of incense, mustard seed, fennel, cantaloupe, sourdough, black pepper, and sunflower seed.  I could go on and on as every time I put my nose to glass I came away with something different but I have to stop at some point J  The palate is almost a “have to taste to believe” situation but I will attempt to describe.  The entry is quietly citrus, with lemon curd, orange peel, and starfruit.  The mid-palate switches it up entirely.  We’re talking the texture and flavor of light strawberry crème, with the round fattiness of sauternes but with absolutely no sugar, leading into a repeat of the ripe melon-mango found on the nose.  The finish has a tannic grip which will be familiar to anyone who loves Barolo but is absolutely shocking in a white wine.  These are the naturally occurring tannins from the grape skins, which is precisely what makes this a white wine you could pair with dishes normally reserved for hearty reds.  Despite the largess, there is nothing aggressive or confrontational here.  Rather, it’s like some sort of hyper-masculine fairy nectar, fermented dry, then injected with the soul of the Italian mountains.  This is a wonderful and generous wine unlike anything I’ve tried before.”

 JT Robertson        

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Father’s Day is coming up: Here’s some last-minute gift ideas!

atticus finchHappy Father’s Day! 

What to get for the man who has everything?  Honestly, if he’s raised one or more grown children through the last fifty years, he probably needs a drink J  Which is why we’ve come up with 3 different suggestions for Dad-ly spirits which can serve as a last minute Father’s Day surprise!

Gordon Macphail Mortlach 15 year $83.00

Thoughmortlach 15 it’s an important source of malt whisky for Johnnie Walker, Mortlach is rarely seen as a single malt bottling.  Mortlach’s distinctive spirit owes its characteristic meatiness to a unique distillation process which concentrates some of the heavier, chewier components of the spirit.  As evidenced in this 15 year old bottling, Mortlach takes uniquely well to sherry cask aging and is a wonderful choice for, say, the Macallan drinker looking to try something new.

Subtle and intricate sherried nose, sweet and perfumed without being cloying.  There is a delightful medium-toned core of apples and dried cherries and a significant honeyed, grain element that marks this out as a Speysider. The texture is generous and chewy (the term “meaty” is applied to this single malt perhaps more than any other), and it combines intriguing  complexity with effortless drinkability in a way that truly sets it apart among its peers. 

Stranahan’s Colorado Single Malt $59.00

stranahan2This award-winning whiskey is the brainchild of Jess Graber, a volunteer firefighter, and George Stranahan, owner of Colorado’s Flying Dog brewery, who met when Graber was dispatched to help put out a fire at Stranahan’s barn.  Not a Bourbon, but an American single malt whiskey, aged in charred new oak barrels,  in the crisp, thin air of the Rocky Mountains.

Unmistakable vanilla and barrel char notes, without much of the aggressive wood tannins often seen in American whiskies.  Sweet cereal, orchard fruit, and warm baking spice transition to resinous and burned-sugar notes on the finish.  Quite intense.

Domaine d’Esperance Bas Armagnac XO $76.00

esperanceSome decades ago, the famous Montesquiou family sold the brand of Armagnac that bears their name to Pernod-Ricard, but in 1990, family matriarch Claire de Montesquiou decided she wanted to get back into the Armagnac business, and purchased the small Domaine d’Esperance estate.  Everything here is done by hand, including distillation with the help of itinerant distiller Pierre Michalovsky and his mobile alembic.  The XO is a blend of four different vintages, all of them at least ten years old.

Intensely caramelized nose, with fresh orange peel, rose, true cinnamon, and saffron. The palate resonates with a dark pungency, with notes of violet, cacao nib, and leather given definition by gentle but distinguished wood tannins.  Utterly distinguished.



Duncan McRoberts

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Valduero Reserva 2009

One of the perks about being in the wine industry is traveling to some of the most gorgeous wine regions in the world. I recently had the honor of having the Ribera del Duero trade organization fly me out to visit their exciting wine region last week. The best part about traveling to these beautiful vineyards is being able to understand how the land, climate, and the winemaker affect the wine itself. I was simply blown away by the diversity of the soils which is mostly based on rocky terrain with parts of the region containing a huge amount of limestone and clay.

Valduero Reserva 2009

Ribera del Duero offers a numerous amount of diverse styles based on where the grapes are grown at and what philosophy is imparted on to the wine by the specific winery. Ribera del Duero is not a small region and it stretches for over 70 miles along the Duero river upstream from Valladolid. It is a region full of passionate winemakers and they are finally getting the recognition that they deserve.  We are not only talking about Vega Sicilia anymore. Instead, other iconic estates such as Vina Sastre, Pesquera, Dominio de Pingus, and Valduero are now leaving a strong impression and have helped Ribera earn the distinction as wine region of the year 2012 by the prestigious Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

On one of my many meals in Valladolid I had a delicious bottle of Valduero Reserva 2000. It was the oldest bottle of Valduero I ever had, and it was a revelation.  Unlike Rioja where Tempranillo takes on more of an earthier and almost Burgundian flavor, this specific Reserva Valduero had power and an unreal complexity to itself. Texturally this Tempranillo (locally known as Tinto Fino) had the roundness of a beautiful Pomerol but the intensity of a great Nothern Rhone Syrah.  Simply put, it blew my mind.

Valduero Reserva Ribera del Duero 2009 $47.99

Sure enough as soonvalduero as I got back to New York City I knew I had to get some cases for the shop. I immediately got what was available and purchased the delicious 2009 Valduero Reserva. This wine has so much life to it but I decanted and let it breathe for over an hour it was so pleasant with aromas of cherry-vanilla, crushed blackberries and cassis and rounded off by smoke and charred wood.  The fruit has remarkable endurance and the finish is gently heightened by vanilla and peppery spices.

¡a tu salud! Yannick!!

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Where Kistler Comes From…

Go to the source.  That’s always my advice when buying wine in California.  Find the owners of the great vineyards and the buy the wine they’re making.  The prices are fair.  The quality is always high.  And if you’re interested in terroir, probably best to deal directly with the people growing the grapes.

Dunstan has been on my radar for several years.  We carry their entry level (Pip) Chardonnay, which I consider to be one of the best values in Cali Chard.  I was thrilled to taste the 2012 of Dunstan Durell Vineyard this morning and it is most definitely a “WOW” wine.

The secret of Dunstan is they are the owners of Durell, the vineyard made famous by Steve Kistler, which Robert Parker once described as tasting like, “a grand cru Chevalier-Montrachet or premier cru Meursault-Perrieres.”  Since 2011, the winemaker has been Kenneth Juhasz, the owner of Auteur, and one of the best winemakers whose name is not commonly known (though brace yourself because it’s only a matter of time until he’s the latest star in the wine firmament).

Add all that together, you have an upper echelon Chardonnay for a fraction of the price of wines of similar quality.  I’m a huge fan of 2012 as a vintage and the Dunstan Durell Chardonnay is a great example as to why.

Dunstan Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 $40.00


“Mango, pear compote, passion fruit, beignet, cheese grits, rose petals, and maple candy.  The palate is wonderfully restrained, veering more into green apple and pomegranate, with phenomenal grape tannins and an expansive mineral acidity.  There is restrained new oak, with no malolactic fermentation (so no creaminess).  There is a marvelous undercurrent of hedonistic peach essence juxtaposed with structure which obviously stems from a very talented man making wine from world-class fruit.  The key word here is CLASSY!” 

JT Robertson

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The Archetypal Chablis

One of the first wines I successfully picked out in a blind tasting was Jean Marc Brocard’s Chablis de Sainte Claire. Brocard’s chablisbottle imparted on me the quintessential taste and aroma of the kimmeridgian limestone terroir found in Chablis. And for that reason I nailed the tasting. Often we say that wine is about place without really thinking about what this actually means. The Sainte Claire cuvee by Jean Marc Brocard is a concrete way to think about wine and place. It is a definitive expression of terroir and environment.

Jbrocardean Marc Brocard’s Chablis de Sainte Claire 2013 $21.99The Sainte Claire introduces itself with aromas of tart orchard fruits, sea breeze, and flint.  The wine walks along a tightrope of flavors ranging from notes of apple skin, green melon, and tart pear to scintillating mineral notes of crushed rock, gunpowder, oyster shell, and even crème fraiche lingering on the finish. It’s a balancing act with tension and energy.  Drinking this wine is akin to witnessing a film director deftly montage images and frames. Compelling, energetic, and almost mystical in its flavor profile, Chablis, anyone?

Chablis looks inward. Located about 60 miles northwest of Dijon, the region is, and always has been distinct when compared to the rest of Burgundy.  Brocard’s Chablis hails from 30 year old mature Chardonnay vines.  The principles of biodynamic and organic culture are applied along with a gentle hand in the cellar.  For those looking to experience Chablis, this is a transparent window into the region.


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Karine Lauverjat Sancerre Rosé 2014


For the last several years, my favorite Rosé has been, by a large margin, Karine Lauverjat’s Sancerre Rosé, made from 100% Pinot Noir.  Karine was born into a family of growers.  For generations, her father, and her father before, has grown grapes which have gone, anonymous, into the blends of the larger houses.  It was the ascendance of Karine, and her husband, Christian, which changed the game.  They began bottling their own fruit.  Sancerre is, without a doubt, one of the hottest wine appellations running, but while their Sauvignon Blanc is world-famous, it is a little known fact their reds are comprised of mineral driven Pinot Noir.  This is the fourth vintage we’ve worked with Karine’s Sancerre Rosé, and every year, it is a standout.

With all the mineral backbone you’d expect from Sancerre, the fruit up front offers gorgeous strawberries, red apple skin, hints of cinnamon, and wonderfully tart raspberry.  The second this wine hits your palate, there is no doubt Pinot Noir is in effect.  It is elegant.  It is bright, cool, and refined.  There is just something sexy about this wine.  It floats through the palate yet sticks firm on the backend.  Personally, I find this to be one of the great absolute values in Rosé.  The Lauverjat possesses both depth and refreshment.  Beyond the fact this is a fantastic wine, it is perfect for gatherings, dinners, and beach parties! 

Karine Lauverjat Sancerre Rosé 2014 $21.99

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