Von Winning: A Legend in the Making

Weingut-von-Winning-Cellars There are not many estates in Germany generating the kind of buzz that surrounds these wines.  Jean-Luc first encountered the wines of the Pfalz’s iconic von Winning estate last year on a trip to the region and returned fantastically impressed by both the grandeur of the winery and the wines he tasted.   This is my first vintage working with these wines, so I approached them extra studiously, knowing I could only choose a few to offer you.    The three wines in this offer—yes, even the “humble” estate Riesling, though in truth it is anything but humble—rank among the finest young Rieslings I’ve ever encountered, in any style, from anywhere.

The von Winning estate began as a small winery in Deidesheim called Dr. Deinhard making good quality wines in a “classic” style, i.e. cool fermentations in stainless steel, with varying levels of residual sugar.  The fabulously wealthy Achim Niederberger purchased it several years ago and promptly proceeded to turn things on their head, hiring intensely energetic winemaker Stefan Attmann to run things.    The von Winning house style is one of power, complexity, and an intense vinousity rarely seen in even the best German Rieslings.  Fermentations take place on the native yeasts (necessitating some degree of skin contact) and are raised in 500- and 1000-liter casks of German oak.   These wines are made for the long haul, so please do them the kindness of decanting them before serving.

Most of tIMG_2503he estate’s best vineyards are in Forst, a village notable for an extinct volcano known as the Pechsteinkopf.  The terroir of many of these vineyards is essentially manmade.  For the past several centuries, growers mined basalt from the crater of the volcano and distributed over their vineyards, giving the terroir a distinctly volcanic character.  If you’ve ever loved wines from Hungary’s Tokaji or Sicily’s Etna, you know that volcanic soil contributes something special in a particularly satisfying mineral crunch and an exotic yet refined aromatic intensity, and this is what makes the Pechstein the favorite vineyard of Pfalz-heads like me (compare to the Mosel’s Ürziger Würzgarten).

These wines are the product of some of the most fascinating terroirs in the world, guided to fruition by a man with a single-minded vision nearing the height of his powers.  Truly sublime. 

Von Winning Pechstein Grosses Gewächs - $115.00 net

Salty and floral, with baroque elegance.  Chalk, ginger, licorice, mint.  On the palate, this wine’s volcanic origin is laid bare, with notes of black cherry, dark spices, and basaltic minerality.  The finish seems to resonate for hours.

Von Winning Ungeheuer Grosses Gewächs – $60.00 net

The dark side of Forst:  smoky and caramelized on the nose, with almost impossibly vivid peach and apple notes on the palate.   Haunting detail and complexity. 

Von Winning “Dragon” Riesling – $22.99

Wonderful aromas of melon, lilac, and peach.  This wine has the same salty, volcanic minerality as the GGs above, but in a sleeker frame.  A masterful dry Riesling of inimitable class and sophistication.


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The Historic Grandeur of Chateau Des Jacques


At Le Du’s, we are rather vocal about our love for Cru Beaujolais. Just south of Burgundy, the ten Cru villages—Saint Amour, Juliénas, Chenas, Moulin à Vent Fleurie, Chiroubles, Régnié, Morgon, Brouilly, and Côte de Brouilly—are home to some of the most exciting and dynamic producers in France. The main varietal grown is Gamay. And as with all varietals, it is important to be producer and vineyard specific. Not all Beaujolais are created equal: A house like Chateau Des Jacques is in a different stratosphere than the rest of the region, as their wines are capable of aging for decades.

Here is Jean-Luc describing one of his eye opening moments with Chateau Des Jacques:

“I’ve been lucky to taste many old wines throughout my years in the industry, not many though stick out like a bottle of 1937 Moulin à Vent ‘Clos de la Roche’ I once enjoyed about 15 years ago. Deep, rich and complex, its forest floor and faded red fruit aromas could have easily been mistaken for a 1er Cru Burgundy of good breed. Tasting this superb Beaujolais opened my eyes to the possibility of mature Gamay.”

jacques(2)After a few months of work on Jean-Luc’s end, we have received a collection of aged Chateau Des Jacques just in time for the holidays!

Moulin à Vent “Clos de la Roche” 2002 49
Moulin à Vent “Champs de Cour” 1999 57
Moulin à Vent “Champs de Cour” 1996 57
The ruby/purple-colored Moulin-a-Vent Champ de Cour exhibits a floral, wood spice, and cherry-laced nose. Its firm and structured personality saturates the palate with mouth-coating red cherries and chalk. Medium-to-full-bodied, velvety.
Moulin à Vent 1996 49
The medium-to-dark ruby/purple-colored Chateau de Jacques Moulin-a-Vent offers rich blackberry aromas and a fresh, spicy, mouth-filling, fat, and ripe medium-bodied character. This silky and lively wine’s flavor profile is redolent with crunchy blueberries, cherries, and currants
Moulin à Vent Clos De Rochegrès 2011 35.99
Intense and bold blackberry, cassis, and cherry interweave with notes of wood smoke and hints of pipe tobacco. This wonderful Beaujolais may ultimately merit a higher score as it backbone softens out.

Chateau Des Jacques is a testament to Beaujolais’s extensive wine history, as production here traces back to the 17th century. The estate was purchased by Louis Jadot in 1996.  In the winemaking driver’s seat is Guillaume de Castelnau who employs Burgundian cellar techniques such as long macerations to extract color and fruit, wild yeast during fermentation, and ageing in oak barrels. De Castelnau insists that these techniques have long been part of Moulin à Vent’s tradition dating back for centuries. We opened a 2011 in the shop a few weeks ago, and it is singing the exact tune that we want to hear from Cru Beaujolais.


Vineyard Parcels:

Des Jacques cultivates five parcels within their 67 acre estate. We are offering three parcel designate cuvées:

“Champs de Cour” lays on granitic soils enriched with ancient sediments from the Saone River. The soil is sandy and deep, with 6% to 7% of clay atop bedrock that contains a high percentage of manganese, giving the wines a rich expression and distinct wildness of character. “La Roche” is located on a vein of quartz, which brings out a strong minerality and precise aromatic definition.  “Clos De Rochegrès” is composed of shallow granitic soil underpinned by hard bedrock.


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Geil Muskateller: A Fruit Celebration

“Angular and pungent, displaying almost Riesling-esque aromas of grapefruit peel, roses and crunchy, salty minerality.  Time in the glass reveals charming layers of tart peach, melon and lime.  The fruit veers slightly on the less ripe side, giving the wine an extra measure of definition and lift.  Densely layered, but wonderfully refreshing.  The floral aromas creep up from the back-end, leaving a lovely trail of freshly crushed flowers on the impressively long finish.

Geil Muskateller Trocken 2013- $19.99

Muscat is unique.  It’s a cosmopolitan grape (orGEIL rather family of grapes) that brings its floral, melony, grape-y exoticism to wines as diverse as light, sparkling Asti; mocha-laced Moscatel sherries; and the pungent vins doux naturels of Beaumes-des-Venise in the southern Rhone. But dry Muscat is a largely Germanic phenomenon, and while Austria and especially Alsace have been serving up great dry Muscat for a while, the wines that have been generating a cult following these days are from Germany.  A wine like this is the perfect embodiment of the notion that you can have an intense, even exotic, sense of fruit, without the barest hint of sweetness.  We often refer to wines pejoratively as “fruit bombs” as if fruit were something to be universally disparaged, but this is a wonderful counterpoint, a fruit celebration if you will.  The comparison with Riesling is obvious, but you could also think of this as a more floral answer to a light Grüner Veltliner or Sauvignon Blanc.  Endlessly versatile and a pure joy to drink.


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Barrique: The Limitations of Tasting Notes

Some years ago, Eric Asimov wrote an article for the New York Times in which he suggested, more or less, abandoning tasting notes as we know them in favor of broad descriptors such as “sweet” and “savory”.  At the time, I thought the suggestion was pretty silly, but looking back on it, I do think he was genuinely on to something.  I think the essence of what he was saying I pretty much agree with: that much of the supposed precision in the way we identify and describe the flavors and aromas of wine is completely spurious.

Different life experiences will cause you to interpret the flavor profile of a wine in different ways.  I once worked at a shop with a large design and marketing team, who I’d often invite to taste because I enjoyed seeing how educated, articulate people tasted wine who weren’t polluted by the wine trade’s dictates on wine tasting.  I once described an Austrian Zierfandler to one of our graphic designers as tasting of “lava rock and rotten pineapple” to which she shot back “no, it’s more like rotten star fruit”.  Turns out she had a star fruit tree in her backyard growing up in South Florida and was intimately acquainted with the aroma of decaying star fruit.

For all the supposed precision with which we pick out flavors and aromas of wine, our vocabulary for describing texture and balance, the overall “shape” of a wine is remarkably poor.  There are no generally agreed-upon ways of describing something as basic as the level of sweetness in a wine (simply stating the amount of residual sugar doesn’t do it, because the perception of sweetness also depends on the level of acidity, as well as about a dozen other, more minor factors).  This is terribly inconvenient when you’re describing (surprise!) a German Riesling to someone and they stop you to ask “it’s not too sweet, is it?”  Whether a wine is “too sweet” depends not only on the wine, but also on what you’re doing with it, as well as on your palate.

It can be terribly frustrating to try and use an aroma wheel, to be asked to identify a particular set of aromas as blackberry, or huckleberry, or black raspberry, as if any of these were literally present in the wine, to be told that you’re wrong if you interpret it one way rather than another, as if you’re making a factual error.  That Muscat you’re tasting doesn’t contain any roses at all; that’s just one way of interpreting the presence of geraniol and linalool (two terpenes, chemicals that are responsible for some of the aromas of wine, especially aromatic whites like Muscat, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling).  But this is not the only valid way to interpret those aromas!  I’m a big believer that there are certain things that are objectively true about wine (or any aesthetic subject), but it does wine drinkers everywhere a disservice to insist that there is a degree of precision that can be captured in an aroma wheel or list of taste descriptors.  Of course it would greatly simplify the lives of wine consumers, salespeople, and sommeliers everywhere if we had a standardized vocabulary for describing wine, if one could describe a wine in such a way that everyone who read this description imagined the wine in the same way and instantly knew if they would like it.  Nothing in my experience suggests that this is possible.

Tasting, talking, and writing about wine is an art, not a science.  And just like any art, there is an element of skill to it, but there is also room to inject your personality and life experience.  Don’t be afraid to be authentic when describing what you like or dislike about wine.  I encourage you to try describing wines without reference to any specific fruit or other substance that is not actually in the wine.  Ask yourself about specific aspects of the wine while you taste.  Here are some things I like to think about:

What is the overall balance of this wine?  What is its texture?  Is it viscous? astringent?  prickly?  sweet or dry?  taut or slack?  

How aromatic is it?  

To what degree does this wine suggest greenness?

and perhaps the most important:

What in my life does this remind me of?



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Celebrate Tempranillo Day with Vina Ardanza!

“Who among us would not like the opportunity to drink aged wines without paying a fortune or waiting them out?”

-New York Times, April 9th

La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva 2005 $34.99


“Deep ruby.  Sexy, highly perfumed aromas of red fruit preserves, vanilla, mocha and fresh flowers, with a hint of pipe tobacco coming up with air.  Sappy and broad on entry, then more taut in the middle, with sweet cherry-vanilla and spicecake flavors given lift by juicy acidity.  Closes smooth, spicy and long, with lingering smokiness and fine-grained tannins adding grip.  A touch more lively than the excellent 2004 version of this wine and of equal quality, which makes it an outstanding value in old-school Rioja.”

Josh Raynolds, International Wine Cellar

Win $150 ftempranillor Tasting Rioja!

This Thursday, from 6-7:30, we’ll be celebrating International Tempranillo Day with a killer tasting of Rioja.  Not only will we have some of the benchmark wines (including the Ardanza mentioned above) open to sample but anyone who attends can sign up to win a basket featuring a $75 gift certificate to Le Du’s wines, a $75 Gift Certificate to Atrium Dumbo, and 2 bottles of Rioja!

Montebuena Rioja Cuvee KPF 2010

La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserve 2005

Lopez de Heredia Cubilo 2006

Bodegas Muga Reserva 2010

Bodegas Pescina Gran Reserva 2001

Every person who attends the tasting or purchases Rioja in the next 2 days will be entered to win! 


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Barrique: JT’s Whiskey Notebook

The Whiskey Notebook

Lots to talk about!  I’ve had a breakneck couple of weeks of Whiskey and I want to tell you all about it!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is a very fortunate time to love whiskey.  From the burgeoning golden age of American Craft to the continued dominance of Scotch to the Bourbon boom, Whiskey is in the spotlight like never before.  As the poet Christopher Wallace said, “If you don’t know, you better ask somebody.”

A Very Charismatic Glaswegian

jt 1

A few weeks ago, we hosted our World Atlas of Whiskey Dinner with Dave Broom.  For those who don’t know, Dave Broom is the heir to Michael Jackson (the whiskey writer, not the King of Pop, though upon reflection I never actually met either man so they could very well be the same person in which case I have a whole new respect for both Thriller and The Complete Guide to Single Malt because THAT, my friends, is multi-tasking).  Dave is, without hesitation, the best and most cogent voice writing about whiskey in the world today.  His new edition of The World Atlas of Whiskey is a Must-Read for anyone even remotely interested.  He certainly keeps his Whiskey Geek cred with detailed descriptions of the variations on individual distilleries still construction, and how that affects the ultimate style.  But he can also wax poetical.

Here he is speaking about a subject close to my heart, the craft whiskey movement:

            “When the philosophies of these new distilleries emerge, you can see that this not simply a pioneering 21st century approach, discovering what is possible, but also a palimpsest of American whiskey, redressing an imbalance.  Craft is breaking new territory by rediscovering what was lost, recasting what whiskey in the USA migh have looked like were it not for Prohibition, the Depression, and war.  Here’s the country that perfected The Brand now witnessing small-scale revolution, where distillers are establishing new links with farmers, who themselves have existed outside of the agro-industrial system, preserving heritage grains and a holistic relationship with the land.  Craft is America asking questions about itself.  It can be dismissed as nostalgic, looking at the past through sepia-hued glasses, but if it is true to itself, it is a deep examination of what is possible.”

That is the most beautiful and precise explanation of the excitement which surrounds and invigorates Craft whiskey as I have ever read.  It was an absolute thrill to have him as our guest host at Bouley last Monday guiding us through 12 of the world’s greatest drams with the incomparable cuisine of David Bouley.  The first 2 courses were Scotch with the third course being international followed by a fourth of American.  We focused heavily on Independent Bottling for the Scotch, specifically some excellent releases from Gordon & Macphail.  For anyone who has ever talked to me about Scotch, you know I think the best way to go is Independent.

Jim Murray, author of The Whiskey Bible, recently released his list of best whiskey in the world and there wasn’t a Scotch in the Top 5.  He called it a wake up call.

“Where were the complex whiskies in the prime of their lives?”, he asked.

With all respect to Mr. Murray, I reckon one of the great oversights of the whiskey critic community is not coming to terms with Independent Bottling.  A VAST majority of the 100+ Scotch distilleries are owned by massive spirits corporations.  That doesn’t necessarily make them poor in quality but a corporate structure tends to favor homogeneity.  They push towards market trends, like a hunting dog pointing its nose at a rabbit.  There’s a great big reason so many Single Malts are heavily sherried these days.  That’s what the market wants so that’s what the market gets.  The Master Blenders of major Scotch houses have to take thousands of highly individual barrels of whisky and make them into something that tastes the same, year after year, batch after batch.  Independents don’t have to care.  They release what they want to, when they want to, how they want to.  This can be maddening, no doubt, because if you fall in love with a specific release, as I have with the Gordon & Macphail Mortlach 15, you can’t be guaranteed it will ever be the same, once the current run is gone.  But if you want an answer to Mr. Murray’s question, “Where were the complex whiskies in the prime of their lives?”, then pick up a bottle of G&M (or Signatory, or Rattray, or Chieftains, or Black Adder).

Quick Plug…if you’d like to hear more about the jewels we have from Independent Bottlers, or you just want to talk whiskey, e-mail me!

On a personal note, I can’t tell you how proud I was to be a part of the World Atlas of Whiskey Dinner.  To my knowledge, no one in New York City had ever attempted a Whisky dinner on the scale we pulled off last Monday night.  It was a tremendous pleasure to be able to sit, side by side, with enthusiasts who share a passion for the spirit we love so dear.

Whiskey Carnival

Carnival 3Jt 4

So, you’d think such a dinner would be enough for one week.  Not for JT.  WhiskeyFest, the massive tasting/celebration of all things whiskey related, was held two days later.  Jean-Luc and I bought tickets ages ago, never imagining we would still be recovering from a giant whiskey dinner less than 48 hours before.  But we’re professionals and we do all this for you, gentle reader.

To be honest, WhiskeyFest can be a bit of carnival.  It can’t be helped.  Put a couple thousand people in a giant room able to sample just about every whiskey produced on Planet Earth, things are bound to get a bit rowdy.  That being said, it is always a ball.  I’m always struck by how much of a community there is around whiskey.  It’s an amazing thing to walk around a whole floor of the Times Square Marquis-Marriot and feeling like everyone you pass is in on the same secret.  We were all there for the same reason.  Everyone B-Lines for their favorite style, their favorite producer or region.  They revel in the opportunity to talk to the Master Distillers who make their all-time top drams.  I, myself, pulled Harlan Wheatley, Master Distiller at Buffalo Trace, aside and told him the story of a 22 year old JT, working as a stock guy at Martin’s Wine Cellars in New Orleans, tasked with cleaning up after an EPIC bourbon tasted hosted by Harlan himself.  At the time, it seemed a shame to me to let all those glasses of Eagle Rare 17 or George T. Stagg or Pappy (yes those were those days when they poured Pappy at tastings) just get thrown out.  So, I tasted them.  All of them.  Repeatedly.  And 2 things happened.  I got about as drunk as I’ve ever been and I fell in love with Bourbon.  It’s an amazing thing to be able to look a man like Harlan Wheatley in the eyes and say, “Thanks for doing what you do.”


Finally, I’d like to reference a very neat article just put out by the whip smart folks over at Punch.


Without demanding you read the whole thing, the main thrust of the story is to put out into the open the vast gulf between how whiskey is marketed and the reality of its provenance.

“The practice of sourcing whiskey, acquiring whiskey from one distillery and bottling it at another location under a different name, isn’t inherently a problem (and is a common practice of top distilleries including High West, Willett and Jefferson’s). But lying about origins in an attempt to capture a continually growing obsession with craft everything is what rubs the whiskey crowd the wrong way.”

This is an issue very close to my heart.  I won’t carry any whiskey which isn’t transparent in its sourcing and I very strongly believe this should be an issue which even the casual whiskey drinker should be aware.  There are a lot of people in the United States right now, and the whole world for that matter, who are putting their hearts and souls into making genuine Craft whiskey.  But that word has to mean something (which is why I capitalize it).  I have no intrinsic problem with sourced whiskey.  We carry the Willet Pot Still, which is sourced from Heaven Hill, but the guys at Willet (or KBD as it’s actually known) don’t try to disguise that fact.  They aren’t coming out and saying they’re making whiskey according to a recipe they found from their grandpa or Al Capone or dug up with E.H. Taylor’s bones.  They’re sourcing quality whiskey and releasing it to a thirsty public.  I have no issue with that, as a consumer or a retailer.  But there should be a differentiation made between what is made at a distillery, start to finish, and what is bought, then packaged as a brand.  Otherwise, it does a grave disservice to the distillers who are only releasing what they make and suddenly everyone’s saying to me, “This is a 2 year and it costs $45 and this is a 6 year and it costs $30. What’s the difference?”  The difference is the 2 year was actually made by a distillery and the 6 year was bought from either Heaven Hill or LDI (in Indiana), then bottled like it was made in Vermont or Utah or California or wherever.  REAL Craft whiskey deserves our support.  It’s going to be more expensive than the cynically branded “Craft” whiskies but if we get behind these now then in a decade we’ll be awash in a renaissance of American spirits.

Try reading the Punch article and, for your own reference, if something says “Bottled In….” and not “Distilled In…”, that means they didn’t make it.

Conclusions & Random Musings

Over at Balcones, there’s lots of bad juju going on.


Balcones, with owner/Master Distiller Chip Tate, has been at the forefront of the new wave of Craft whiskey.  It’s looking not very likely Chip will be making whiskey at Balcones anymore, which makes the juice currently on the market not only a piece of history, but a serious collector’s item!

Pappy Van Winkle was released a few days ago.  The demand is insane!  Average Price of the 23 Year on Winesearcher:  $2,432!!!

Finally, I just want to thank everyone who came out for our World Atlas of Whiskey Dinner.  We’re trying to program more and more whiskey related events so if you have any ideas or feedback, please let me know!

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Despesse Cornas: A Labor of Love

 Domaine_J_Despesse_-_Cornas_591wThis wine has loads of trademark spicy Syrah aromatics, like black pepper, ceylon cinnamon, violets, and crushed granite.  Seductive blackberry and cassis fruit are framed by finely-structured ripe grape tannins, fading to black cherries and iron on the finish.

Despesse Cornas 2010 – $48.99

Jérôme Despesse does not earn his living making wine, and likely never will.  His main job is handling sales in the Rhône valley for Amorim, a leading cork supplier.    While selling corks might not be the most glamorous profession, his work does have the advantage that it keeps him in touch with many of the region’s top vignerons and allows him to keep his finger on the pulse of the region.

Domaine_J_DespesseJérôme’s labor of love is the 0.6 hectares (1.4 acres) of Syrah vines planted by his grandfather.  Outside of the harvest, the only help he gets is from his brother-in-law, who occasionally pitches in on Saturdays.    His father was the first to bottle wine for sale in 1991; previously the wine was just for the family’s own consumption and to sell to the négoce.   He makes about 300 cases a year, comprising just two wines:  a Côtes-du-Rhône and this lovely Cornas.  Jérôme is quickly gaining critical recognition as an up-and-coming young grower, and it is to journalists’ tremendous consternation that he does not seem interested in expanding his holdings.  He remains an amateur in the best, truest sense: a devoted craftsman who pursues excellence not for monetary gain, but for love of vine and wine.

Duncan McRoberts

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