Tag Archives: wine tasting

Michigan vs. Mosel Riesling Tasting with friends

The Michigan vs. Mosel tasting line up

Last Friday (a week ago, I know…) we had our first just-tasting with friends at our place. I have written about my thoughts on doing tastings with friends here. The idea for this tasting was born a while back. Me being the Mosel riesling snob that I am, I have only made small progress into the Michigan riesling scene. Some of them I liked or was intrigued by (see for example here or here or here), some of them, well…Now, two friends of ours got married recently and they decided to spend their honeymoon in and around Traverse City, Michigan’s riesling mecca. While we were talking about that trip, we decided to do a comparison tasting. They had brought some stuff back, and we had some Mosel rieslings to share. We also invited another riesling nut to the tasting, who falls in love with virtually every riesling we serve her, which makes me feel good. And another friend, who was crashing with us, participated as well. To lessen the suspense: We had a blast. We had so much fun, and the comparison went quite well. If we had done that tasting blind, I don’t know whether I would have been able to pick which ones are from there.

Some cork art. It does not get much fancier…

Here is our line up:

1) 2010 Chateau Grand Traverse Riesling Dry (Michigan)

2) 2011 Brys Estate Dry Riesling (Michigan)

3) 2009 Karl Erbes Erdener Treppchen Spätlese halbtrocken (semi-sweet) (Mosel)

4) 2006 St. Julian Riesling (Michigan)

5) 2011 Left Foot Charley Missing Spire Riesling (Michigan)

6) 2011 Karl Erbes Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett (Mosel)

7) 2009 Hohe Domkirche Trier Scharzhofberger Spätlese (Saar)

8) 2009 Macquariedale Hunter Valley Late Picked Semillon (Australia)

In blind tastings, it is fun to throw a wine in that not necessarily fits the restrictions on the wines that you imposed prior to tasting. It is something outside the box, to throw you off, and to make the blind tasting even more fun. We usually referred to these as black pirates. The black pirate in this tasting was the Australian dessert wine, which was brought by the friend crashing with us.

But to my thoughts on the wines:

The Michigan line

First up, the 2010 Chateau Grand Traverse Riesling Dry. I do like their semisweet standard wine and their Late Harvest Riesling, so I was excited about trying the dry. Upon opening and pouring, a dark yellow wine showed itself which was bit confusing. Did not expect that from a young dry wine. The nose showed ripe fruit, but not much of it. On the palate, the first noticeable taste was bitterness. There was some slight peach, but hardly discernible. The wine felt quite alcoholic (which was confirmed when we checked the label: 12.5% ABV). The short finish was topped by a burnt taste. In short, it was quite the disappointment. I could never have guessed this was a riesling if tasted blindly, and it seemed way past its prime already.

(Addendum: I received word from the winery in the comments section that the discoloration in the 2010 CGT Riesling Dry indicates that the wine was actually flawed, either by a bad cork or bad storage…I guess I could have guessed that given that I got all the clues: wrong color, bitter notes and burnt taste; I just did not make the connection when tasting.)

Next in line, the 2011 Brys Estate Dry Riesling. The color was lighter straw, with a nose of ripe fruit, peaches and sugar, slightly confusing in a dry wine. The texture was lovely, it gave you a silky mouthful of wine. It had a nice amount of acidity, and first fruit notes I discovered were grapes, yellow apples, pineapple and then citrus. While holding on to my glass and continuing to try, I thought I discerned some vegetable notes in the beginning (maybe squash, maybe zucchini). The wine had a nicely long finish. The 11% ABV were hardly noticeable. In short: This was delicious. It was fresh, and reminded me of German rieslings, albeit not a German dry riesling, it would have been an off-dry in Germany. Very nice wine!!

Up next, the 2009 Karl Erbes Erdener Treppchen Spätlese halbtrocken (semi-sweet). A tad higher in alcohol content than the Brys wine at 11.5% ABV, I was curious how these two would match up. The color was a light yellow with a nose of sweetness and yellow fruit, with ripe aromas. On the palate, the wine had a quite condensed feel to it. It tasted very ripe, older than a 2009 should taste. It had some apricots and vegetal notes, but I could not get over the fact that it might have been flawed. I did not detect a cork flaw, and if so, it was mild. But the wine tasted off. So I really do not feel like I can rate it.

The Mosel line

The next wine was the 2006 St. Julian Riesling. Our friend had been excited when she found the single bottle of this wine in a wine shop and bought it for us to try. She has been fond of older rieslings, and so we wanted to experience this together. Open opening the screw cap and pouring the wine, we saw a lighter, saturated yellow in our glasses. The nose was …mmmmh…. interesting? To me, it smelled of band aids. Others said glue. It also smelled quite musty. It was very unappealing. On the palate, that continued. The wine was clearly way past its prime, probably had been stored in horrible conditions…this one had been dead for a while.

St Julian 2006 – Stay away!

It was on the 2011 Left Foot Charley Missing Spire Riesling to redeem Michigan. And boy, it did!! Of very light and almost water color, it had a beautiful, beautiful nose of grapes and green grass. The taste was floral and herbal (I also wrote down perfumy, but I know that these descriptions do not really help…), with a wonderful creaminess to it. There were some hints of bitterness towards the end. The finish was rather short, though. I found this wine wonderfully refreshing. Its 43 grams of residual sugar and 9% ABV made it a great sipping wine. In its beauty, it did remind me of Prälat wines, but I might have gotten carried away, especially after the two disappointments we tried before. Nina disagreed with me on that assessment, and I suppose she is right.

By that time, we had brought out the cheeses, and that definitely enhanced the tasting as well. Nothing like sweeter rieslings and cheese…

Up next was the 2011 Karl Erbes Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett. At 8% ABV it had the typical alcohol content of a sweeter Mosel riesling, and I remembered it fondly from our tasting at the winery in June. The color was light straw and the nose had honey and a rather distinct grape note, very fresh. My tasting notes focused on my emotional response rather than the tastes. They read: “refreshing, sweet, honey, warm, nice acidity, deep, not very long, great with cheese”. I admit it, I had already had my fair share of wine, and my tasting capabilities went downhill. The wine just made me smile. It was just so pleasant.

This was followed by my highlight, the 2009 Hohe Domkirche Scharzhofberger Spätlese. You can find the review here (I needed more space for that).

We finished off with the 2009 Macquariedale Hunter Valley Late Picked Semillon from Australia, which is described here.

The black pirate

Like I said, it was a great experience. My cousin asked me who won. I really don’t feel like I can declare a winner here. The Brys and the Left Foot Charley were both pretty awesome wines, and so were the Erbes Kabinett and the Scharzhofberger. I think the biggest surprise for me was the quality of the Brys and the Left Foot Charley. They definitely convinced me that there is great riesling in Michigan and I am determined more than ever to go and find them.

Has anyone tried these wines or others from those wineries? Please share!!

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Thoughts on tasting wines at home

About a week ago, I was asked for ideas for blind tastings. As in what motto could work. I had a couple of ideas, and I figured why not share them, and some more general thoughts on tasting wine at home with friends.

I have great memories of tasting wines with friends at our or their home. There is something inherently communicative in wine. First of all, wine is a sensory experience: We look at the wine, then we smell it, and then we taste it. If the bottle has a cork, we even get to hear the “plopp” when it comes out. Second, wine is also an emotional experience. We taste a wine that we picked out, that we have some sort of connection with. That is even true for supermarket wines, because there was some reason in the first place why we bought that bottle. Maybe we have tried the wine before and are curious about how it will taste like now. Maybe it is a first, and we are not quite sure. Maybe it is a vintage that has some importance to us, and maybe we have been at the winery…there are so many emotions connected with opening a bottle. Wine brings all these emotions back to us.

So, we have a sensory experience and we have an emotional experience. I don’t know about you, but moments are usually enhanced by having a friend and loved ones around me because I need to share them. Sometimes it might be nice to have a bottle alone, but I definitely prefer sharing the experience under most circumstances. Besides, I also am curious what my friends think, how they see the experience while at the same time it is also a great way to find out what your friends drink and like.

In order for the tasting to work, I want to make sure that the people sharing the experience care about wine. In my view that is a crucial point. You can have a great evening with friends drinking wine when the wine is not supposed to be the star. But when you are tasting wines, when this is what you want to do with your friends that particular evening, then the ones joining you should be at least interested in wine.

So, apart from that, what am I suggesting?

First I’d narrow the field down a bit by picking a theme for the tasting: It can be grape varietal; or just the color of the grape; it can be a certain vintage; or a region; or even just wines from one specific vineyard that everyone cares about; your favorite summer wine or everyone brings a bottle of a wine they have never heard before….the topics really are endless and depend on your group. If my friends care as passionately as me about Mosel riesling, then we can do just a Mosel riesling tasting. If you don’t quite know, pick a broader topic.

I fell in love with this wine Yutaka brought for a white tasting at our place in July 2011: a 2000 Van Volxem Scharzhofberger…incredible.

My rule of thumb is to have around 6-7 people tasting, and every person is supposed to provide one wine each (you can up that number, too). With that number of people you need about one bottle per wine tasted and have some marginal leftovers. Also, I think 6-7 wines is a good number to start with…

After that, you have to make a decision on whether you want to do a blind tasting or an open tasting. In a blind tasting, everyone brings the bottle without disclosing what it is. Someone (usually the host or someone with some wine experience) should be designated to bring the wines in a tasting order (dry to sweet, light to heavy). That takes some experience, so don’t shy away from stepping up if you are the one with the most experience or relinquishing that position if you don’t feel up for it. The wine is then served covered (in a brown bag for example) and sampled without knowing what it is.

In my experience, a blind tasting is fun if people are willing and ready to share their thoughts on the wines without being afraid or hesitant, without fearing they might say something wrong (which is usually the case once everybody knows each other, feels comfortable with everyone). We did a lot of these blind tastings with my friends ManSoo and Yutaka, and what I learned from them is this: Nothing is wrong in the description of wine. If it tastes like soapy water or sweaty socks to you, then it does. So don’t be afraid to say it as you taste it. Nothing is wrong. But the exchange of ideas on what we smell or taste can help all of us identify traits in the wine that we otherwise might not have noticed.

For starters, especially if the group has not done a tasting together before, I suggest doing an open tasting. Everyone brings a bottle, as I said, and then you group them in the same way as for the blind tasting (light to heavy, dry to sweet). I suggest having everyone introduce the wines they brought before you try them. Let us know the story behind the wine, why did you bring it, what made you choose it, are there memories or anecdotes connected to it? I always want to know these stories…

Between wines, it is good to clean your palate with bread or water. I find bread the better cleaner, but that might just be me. If you’re not going for drunk, you might also hydrate once in a while…

One thing that we have begun to incorporate, is to provide everyone with tasting sheets by De Long Wine Discoveries, which are a great way to get you focused on what you have in the glass. It is by no means necessary, but definitely has helped me quite a bit.

As the evening progresses, the talk leads from wine to other subjects, and as the wines keep flowing the conversation flows, too. Don’t focus too much on the wines, but let them have their place at your table, like friends or acquaintances that came to the party. I suggest taking some notes, it always helps me to remember afterwards. But it is just as fine to free-float. The main thing is enjoying the company and the moment. As pretty much always.

I also suggest starting with some food before the tasting, a pasta dish or just a cheese platter or something. It is better to have something in your stomach before you start.

We’re having a tasting with a group of friends tonight. I’ll let you know how it went…

PS: As the host, you want to make sure to have some back up bottles ready (something sparkling or desserty), to serve before the tasting or after, in case there is some need…which there often is.

The line up at a red wine tasting in January 2011 (started with a sparkling wine, finished with a port)

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Meeting the vintners: Weingut Karl Erbes, Ürzig (Mosel), Germany

So much better than Hollywood

Some of my readers might remember our awesome tasting at Vereinigte Hospitien in June (if not, the venue is described here and the tasting notes are here). It should not be a surprise to you if I say that this tasting was not the last tasting of the day…we had an appointment with Stefan Erbes at Karl Erbes winery.

From Trier we headed to the autobahn to race to Ürzig (about 35 minutes down the Mosel, but our car was weighed down by the accumulated wine boxes in it, so we might have been a bit slower) because we had made arrangements with Stefan Erbes of Karl Erbes winery there. I first came across this winery, low and behold, through my friend ManSoo (yes, you have heard that name before). When friends of ours had given Nina a wine weekend along the Mosel as a birthday gift in 2011 we were looking at a lot of wineries.  ManSoo suggested we give them a try, so we did. It was not a mistake. The tasting that day was epic: Stefan opened bottle after bottle, and we had tons of fun. We even came back the next morning for some of their sparkling wine (made like champagne, but cannot be called that for trademark reasons). We went back several times since, and Stefan has become a good friend.

View towards Erdener Prälat and Treppchen

For those unfamiliar with Ürzig let me quickly recap why I like that village so much. Ürzig is nestled to some steep hills along the Mosel. Just driving into it from the Autobahn gives you an idea how steep when the view opens up to the Mosel. This village is all about wine. The drive down the sloped roads also reveals vine after vine, even in the village. It is home or close to three of my favorite vineyards: Ürziger Würzgarten (Spice Garden), Erdener Treppchen (Little Steps), and Erdener Prälat (Prelate).

Karl Erbes winery is a rather young winery, founded in 1967. Karl Erbes had been cellarmaster for other wineries when he decided to start his own winery. Stefan, his son who is now in charge of wine making, joined in in 1984. The winery owns about 5 hectares (about 12.3 acres) in the Würzgarten and Treppchen, with ungrafted vines up to 80 years old. They recently were able to snatch a small lot in the much coveted Erdener Prälat (there is usually a scramble for lots there: only a handful of winemakers own or rent land in this tiny vineyard). I am really excited about this, because a) I love the Prälat wines and b) I love Stefan’s style of winemaking, so the combination should be great! The winery has a tasting room and wine bar where you can go and try their wines with some food during the summer months. It is a great way to spend an evening.

Stefan and I

Stefan is a great guy. I will never forget how open and welcoming he was when we first stumbled into their tasting room. There is nothing artificial about him: He is a straight talker, but he also has a wonderful sense of humor. He strongly cares about his wines, but there is also a human connection that I really enjoy. Last fall, I spent one day harvesting with his crew and the way he took care of me was really heart-warming. Silly me had not prepared a lunch package (hell, I was glad I made it out there at 7.30 AM!). So, he just brought me some of his mother’s home-cooked meal with a pastry bun and hot coffee for lunch. It was a great experience working in these vineyards, although I am glad I only did it for a day. My muscles were hurting the next few days…I later went with my mother, and we had a great time as well (Stefan’s uncle, who runs the wine bar, actually was able to convince my mother that riesling can be good…a feat I never accomplished). In short, it is one of the friendliest and most hospitable wineries I know.

Another cool thing is that Karl Erbes was smart enough to stash away bottles of each vintage and hold on to them. Their list of rarity wines is phenomenal (and so are the prices for these wines – for some 25+ year wines you pay as little as $15!). We have had incredible 1996 and 1997 wines, I tried a 1977 (my birthyear), and we have an 1987 put aside for another of Nina’s birthdays. It is a great chance to actually buy and try some old rieslings without paying a fortune.

The line

Alright, with that, to the wines. We tried a total of 15 wines from Kabinett to Beerenauslese and ice wine, all 2011. If you are unaware of the wine levels in Germany, check out my at a glance sheet. As before, I will write about some wines seperately. All grapes are riesling grapes.

We started with two dry spätlesen from Würzgarten and Treppchen (he even produced a dry auslese, but we did not try that one). Again, it became clear that 2011 was a great year for dry rieslings. The 2011 Erdener Treppchen Spätlese trocken was mild with the typical Treppchen aromas of yellow fruit. The 2011 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese trocken was fuller bodied and had more muscle to it with its terroir typical floral notes. Both wines were quite good, but I do prefer the sweeter wines (as you should know by now).

On to the three semi-sweets: The Erdener Treppchen Spätlese halbtrocken was nicely silky on the tongue, with a good amount of acidity. But it was a bit too heavy for my taste. The Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett feinherb was, again, floral but with distinct minerality to it and some not overpowering fruit. My star in this line up was the Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese feinherb: full of minerality, awesome perfume notes in the nose, silky texture, long finish. Just a great, great typical Mosel wine.

On the sweet end of the spectrum, we tried ten wines. This is where Stefan is really strong. The Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett was an explosion of fruit, with some banana, and the sweetness wrapped in healthy acidity. The spätlesen and his auslesen will be dealt with in a seperate post.

We finished with the Beerenauslese (BA) from Treppchen and Würzgarten. The Treppchen had so much fruit in it that it was hard to wrap your head around. The viscosity on the tongue, the sugar and acidity playing on your tongue, the seemingly endless finish made this wine incredibly sensuous. At 301 grams of residual sugar per liter, you would think it is all syrup, but it was not. The Würzgarten, with an insane 315 grams of residual sugar per liter, was much more lively than the Treppchen. The wine was dancing on my tongue with tons of dried fruits. These wines are not for daily consumption, and they are not ready for consumption at this point. But they will be stellar in many years to come…

But we were not quite finished yet. Stefan was pouring us a browny, slightly milky wine without telling us what it was and asked us what we thought of it. The wine tasted somewhat off, it had a somewhat muggy smell. It had some salty notes in it, too. Turned out it was berries he harvested as ice wine on February 3, 2012. That is pretty far into the new year, even for an ice wine. The problem was that some berries were rotten at that point. So, he cannot sell it as an ice wine (grapes have to be healthy), but it was still an interesting experience…

We had big plans to go back once more after an insane 24 hour Rome trip the next week, but it turned out that a night without sleep was not the best starting point for going to theirs the next morning. So we had to skip that. But I am really looking forward to the next visit!! Stefan speaks good English, so please go and visit them if you get the chance. Readers in Europe can order their wines through their website at winery prices plus a modest shipping fee. There is absolutely no reason not to try their wines.

With that, we ended our trip to the Mosel in June 2012. I so cannot wait to go back.

Back in my hometown

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