10 May, 2021 @ 10:30 am – 11:30 am BST
Famille Hugel, possibly Alsace’s most renowned producer, and Pewsey Vale Vineyard, Australia’s leading Riesling producer from the Eden Valley, have come together to give you – the members of The Sommelier Collective – the inside track on the some of the world’s best Rieslings.
Louisa Rose, head winemaker at Pewsey Vale and Jean-Frédéric Hugel, 13th generation of Famille Hugel are joining us to showcase the spectacular versatility and class of this classic grape when produced in two different totally different parts of the globe.
Join us on Monday 10 May at 10;30am to discover the subtleties of terroirs, the versatility of the grape and the reason why Hugel and Pewsey Vale are considered the best in their field when it comes to Riesling.
Wines to be tasted
- Famille Hugel Riesling Classic 2019
- Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling 2020
- Famille Hugel Riesling Grossi Laüe 2012
- Famille Hugel Riesling ‘Schoelhammer’ 2010
- Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling 2015
- Pewsey Vale The Contours 10YO Museum Release Riesling 2010
POLITE NOTICE TO ALL
Tasting kits are very popular. We give priority to new members and those who have not yet received one of these fabulous FREE tasting kits. Every member is eligible to apply for a tasting kit, and there are hundreds of you now – so please do not be disappointed if you don’t get a set of wines on this occasion. We have plenty more tastings planned and we will ensure everyone gets their fair share (we have a lovely excel spreadsheet keeping track of all requests – so you won’t be overlooked!).
The Rheingau is close to my heart. Frankfurt is where I was allowed to manage my very first wine list as a sommelier, and from there I was able to visit the prestige vineyards and producers based around the famous villages along the Rhine River.
Once you cross the Schiersteiner Brücke from the south and turn left, a route packed with history and tradition opens up in front of you.
From Eltville in the east to Rüdesheim in the west, this is one of the most famous 20km stretches in the German wine world: the home to such A-list vineyards as Schlossberg, Nussbrunnen, Gräfenberg, Berg Schlossberg and Höllenberg.
The reason for this is simple. Most of the time, the Rhein flows from south to north. But here it briefly turns through 90 degrees to run east to west. This means that the Rheingau’s vineyards have a full southern exposure and are protected by the hills of the Taunus mountain range to the north.
The Rhine River has a warming effect during the night but also maintains a constant temperature during the ripening phase.
Don’t forget, we are at 50 degrees north here. This is still a cool wine region and grapes sometimes struggle to ripen fully.
All About Riesling
The Rheingau is Riesling. Fact. There is some Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, and good Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) on the west-facing, slate soils of Assmanshausen when the river makes a turn back to the north.
But 80% of the Rheingau is planted to the White Queen.
Though some of the country’s best Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenausles come from here, the wines generally tend towards the dry style.
Soils change constantly, from slate in Assmannshausen, to quartzite in Rüdesheim, and löss/clay soil in the centre of the region and on the top of the hills. The slopes are steep and can quickly climb to almost 350m above the river.
Located above the village of Kiedrich the Gräfenberg is owned almost exclusively by Weingut Robert Weil, which has 9.7ha of its 10.5ha. Only two other producers take grapes from here.
It is famous for wine of higher, sweeter qualities such as Beerenauslese, Trockenberenauslese and Eiswein. But what people don’t know is that it also produces some of the best dry Rieslings, from fresh crisp Gutswein, through the delicious Kiedricher up to Grand Cru (Großes Gewächs – usually known as GG) quality.
For GG, low yield, 40hl/ha is a standard, the use of large Stück (1200l) or Doppelstück (2400l), mostly old casks, is a given.
As the vines became older, the Riesling in some smaller parcels of the Grafenberg vineyard stood out, for giving wines with more complexity, flavour intensity and the character.
Home of Monte Vacano
One such ‘special’ parcel was the Gräfenberg-Lay in the north-west, very close to the Turmberg. The soil here is predominantly slate, called Phylliteschiefer, which is spread throughout the Gräfenberg but has a higher content in this parcel. The vines on this 0.5ha parcel are now 40-60 years old.
And this is the home of a special new launch from the Robert Weil winery: Monte Vacano.
Named after the founder’s wife (she was a descendant of the Vacano family in Lombardy) 100 years ago, it used to be made just for the family. After the 1922 vintage it was incorporated into the regular GG Gräfenberg.
But Wilhelm Weil decided to revisit his family’s traditions and bottle the 2018.
Wild-fermented, and matured for 24 months on its lees in large traditional Stück, the Monte Vacano comes 100% from the Lay parcel of the Gräfenberg. Production is tiny – there are only 1200 bottles (plus a few magnums and one double-magnum) – and prices are around the €130 mark.
On the 6th of March at the VDP Rheingau Reserve Auction, one 12l bottle 2018 was under the hammer for an incredible €18,000. The Magnum got auctioned off at 520€.
This new arrival is not cheap. But it is a genuinely exciting arrival on Germany’s fine wine scene – innovative and experimental. And I really hope that this will inspire other Rheingau producers to follow Wilhelm Weil and his team – to respect the region’s traditions while still trying to do something different.
Two years ago, I joined a group of sommeliers on a Wines of Germany trip to Berlin. The idea was to ask top restaurateurs / sommeliers over there for their thoughts on the country’s wines. They would pick out key trends, and some of their favourite producers and the group would try them – often with food.
Some trends – single vineyard Rieslings and Pinot Noir – the group were expecting. Others, such as a big rise in natural wine, tapped into movements that were appearing all over the world.
But there was one trend the group had not been expecting: the resurgence of sekt.
It’s popular, but…
At five bottles per person, Germany has the highest per capita consumption of sparkling wine in the world – and a lot of it is sekt.
Much of it is sold at a low price in the country’s supermarkets where it does a sterling job of slaking the population’s thirst in the evenings and at weekends.
And successful though they are, it’s safe to say that these standard expressions of fizz are not typically sought after by UK sommeliers.
But the last ten years has seen a big rise in what you might call ‘artisanal’ sekt – much more ambitious wines made with real care and attention.
Sekt instead of Champagne
The quality of these wines is reflected in the fact that the Restaurant am Steinplatz in Berlin has now felt able to de-list the two dozen champagnes on its sparkling list and replace them with sekts.
It’s not a gimmick, it’s a stylistic choice – and one the restaurant felt it could make without sacrificing quality.
Pascal Kunert of two-star restaurant Coda in Berlin has called it a ‘revolution’, and certainly these wines often had our Berlin tasters scrabbling for superlatives.
While the cheaper sekts are usually tank fermented, the top classification levels – somms should look for ‘Winzersekt’ or ‘VDP sekt’ on the label – must be made by the traditional method, with time on lees.
Winzersekt (which means ‘grower’s sekt’) uses only estate grapes – often Riesling – and must spend at least nine months on the lees. Typically, the Riesling sekts have bright green apple and peach flavours, with toasty, smoky notes.
VDP sekt must come from an estate that is a member of the country’s premium group of wine producers – the Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter. The fruit must be grown specifically for Sekt production, early-picked (and by hand) and whole-cluster pressed.
There are two tiers of VDP sekt: one that requires a minimum of 15 months on the lees and a second for single-vineyard and all vintage wines that require 36 months on the lees.
Riesling + bubbles = happy
Riesling, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the most common grape in the upper quality levels of sekt. It’s used in 40% of the Winzersekts, for instance. And given the historical love for the variety amongst most sommeliers, this, in itself, is a major attraction.
The ‘Riesling plus bubbles’ factor was a big attraction for Joan Torrents, too. The Pantry & Co restaurateur included two Riesling sekts by the glass as part of his activity during the last 30 Days of Riesling in 2019.
While the sparklers needed a little hand-selling, it was worth the effort.
‘It was reassuring to see such a positive feedback from the public,’ he says. ‘There was an overwhelming majority of people suddenly woken up to the greatness of both German Riesling and sekt.’
Pinots and Chardonnay too
That said, there is more to sekt than just Riesling. A quarter of the varieties used in the wines are Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc or Chardonnay. In fact, the rise of ‘Pinot’ varieties in sekt is adding real stylistic breadth to the category. They are broader, richer and less ‘zingy’ than Riesling versions.
When it comes to sekt, the huge range of options available is very much a strength.
‘It’s all there, from serious vintage sekt to more casual non-vintage bubbly,’ says Jan Konetzki. ‘There is much more than Riesling sekt. Sekt brings you variety. It’s very 2021 and beyond!’
Two years ago Wines of Germany ran a competition to find the 20 best Sekts. Over 200 were tasted, and the top 20 unveiled at Prowein 2019. Interestingly, they came from across the country, from Baden up to Nahe and the Rheingau across to Franken.
The most expensive wine had an RRP of €39, but most were well under €20, positioning them somewhere between Prosecco and English sparkling wine. These are wines, in other words, that are not just interesting and different, but affordable. They can add a real layer of interest to your wine list without being outside most customers’ price range.
So, where to start? If there is one downside to sekt, it’s that it remains – for the moment at least – relatively hard to pick up in the UK. Though increased demand from Riesling-loving somms would probably help to change this.
‘I am certain that market would love sekt if they had the chance to taste it,’ says Pantry & Co’s Joan Torrents. ‘It’s a fabulous food-matching fizz and adds diversity in the world of bubbles. So let’s find a way to embrace it!’
Paul Morgan, Fourth and Church, Hove
We have stocked Bibo Runge ‘Provokateur’ Rheingau Sekt for a while now. It is a great wine: Riesling character, nice sparkle, and a touch of red fruit which I understand to be a dosage of Pinot. Really cool label as well.
To sell a wine like this, the team needs to get behind it, try it and understand it with some detail. Then I will limit other sparkling wines by the glass so it makes customers try something new. I reckon 95% of the time they love it and will buy it again. They seem pleased that they have some additional knowledge.
The Sekt message is not all that clear here, but we try to always have a selection of unusual lines and push the fact that they are high quality/niche/special etc. They have to be hand-sold though so we have to keep the team abreast of what we have and why we have it.
Find your own winner
Sommelier Collective members wanting to find out which producers are making quality sekt could do worse than start with the results for the competition that Wines of Germany ran in 2019: Germany’s Best Sekt Wines Selected.
Over 200 entries were received, and a judging panel of 11 jurors, from 10 different countries, narrowed them down to a shortlist of 20 and then, finally, three winners.
The wine that came second, from Griesel in the Hessische Bergstrasse region south of Frankfurt, is available through Wine Barn.
The results and write up are here, click here.
This article was sponsored by Wines of Germany.
Without a doubt the question that I get asked the most in life is “what is your favourite wine?”. I’m sure it’s the same for many of you. Of course, we all know that there is no “one best” wine, and that our answer will depend on occasions, moods and food.
That being said, I do have one constant – an affinity for the wines of the country I grew up in: Canada. I like the Syrahs and Merlots from British Columbia; the steely Rieslings and meaty Cabernet Francs from Ontario.
When I came to London as a sommelier 10 years ago, people were only talking about icewine. Nobody had even tasted a still Canadian wine. Now it’s quite the opposite, people don’t want to drink sweet wines and particularly not icewine because it is so extraordinarily sweet.
Because of this many sommeliers do not get the opportunity to taste very much icewine. And when they do its rarely against other icewines. Ironically, Canada has worked hard to shake its “icewine only” image but is now in danger of losing it all together.
This would be a tragedy. The icewines of the Niagara peninsula in Ontario are very special. They are among the great sweet wines of the world and as a profession we need to give this category of wine a better look.
These are beautifully crafted wines that are made with a sense of terroir. Maybe not a terroir in the traditional sense where you can taste the slate and limestone but they showcase richness and concentration that is quintessentially Canadian.
The heat of the Canadian summer gives sugar levels that could never be achieved in Germany or Austria, while the moderating effect of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie gives freshness to these massive stickies that is natural and unparalleled even within the other regions of Canada.
What really separates the Niagara peninsula from other sweet wine regions of the world is the diversity, both varietally and stylistically. There’s everything from Roussane to Tempranillo, and any vitis vinifera variety is allowed to be used in icewine production. Hybrids are not allowed apart from Vidal.
The fact that Canada is a new world region that doesn’t have tradition to adhere to is one of its most charming and, ironically, defining characters. Each variety keeps its character and makes such individually interesting wines, many of which you will never see elsewhere.
The main three varieties used are Riesling, Vidal and Cabernet Franc. Most wineries will make at least two of these but again the stylistic differences are huge.
Riesling is still king as far as I am concerned. These are the only icewines that benefit from aging and actually develop more complex notes and aromas while retaining their balance of sugar and acids. Riesling also has the ability to showcase minerality in icewine and that is just not the case with any other varietal.
Vidal is by far the most planted varietal for icewine, and there is good reason for this. Apart from being hardy to the harshness of the Canadian climate Vidal has very thick skins that help it keep rot at bay. This makes for higher yields in a notoriously low yielding category – a real incentive for growers. And in Niagara there are a lot of growers.
Most wineries do not use 100% estate grown fruit. So when the farmers are the ones choosing what gets planted… of course the safe bet will win out much of the time.
We often think of sweet wines as being very-long lived, but actually this is not the case for most icewines. Vidal, especially, needs to be drunk in its youth as the freshness and vitality that we love it for dissipates and is not replaced with the most interesting secondary or tertiary characteristics.
Cabernet Franc is a relatively new variety to the icewine party. This grape is a bit polarizing in the winemaking community. Often the acidity is not as bright as it could be and the delicate red berry notes border on or above cloying. This needs a very skilled hand to give it personality and a delicacy.
The first red graped icewines were more of an afterthought. Unsold grapes were left on the vines to freeze with a view to hopefully turning a profit in the winter. Malbec, Shiraz and Pinot Noir are all popular.
Apart from the different varieties, there are many styles of icewine that will have a producer’s touch. The most obvious is the addition of barrel aging. Weight is so important and the use of older barrels to add a touch more complexity and richness to a fruit forward style works really well. Rarely will you have an icewine where the woody notes are actually apparent in the wine.
Icewine is a wine that is made in the vineyard and in the winery equally. So much of the production needs to be closely monitored in the vineyards. The grapes are netted and propane cannons are used to keep the birds at bay as the winter slowly creeps in. On top of that, freezing winds can take much of a crop leaving growers with as little as 10% of the grapes they could have harvested in October.
December to January is when the grapes are usually picked and the largest stylistic choice to the wine is made. When the grapes freeze for the first time, the cell wall of the skin starts to break down. This will slowly allow the grape juice to start to oxidize. It is important to remember that the lakes that border the Niagara peninsula moderate the area and keep it quite warm in comparison to the rest of Canada. Large parts of winter may be above freezing temperatures and definitely above the -8 degrees needed for legal harvesting of the grapes .
Berries picked early in the season after the first freeze will usually be a bit one-dimensional with an emphasis on honey and bright tropical fruits. Farmers will sometimes pick early to avoid any further loss of crop.
But leaving the grapes on the vine for subsequent freezes, allows the grapes to go through a ‘freeze-thaw-freeze’ cycle that adds a lot of complexity to the grapes and gives toffee, caramel, cotton candy notes.
It’s a tricky balancing act though. The more freezes and thaws that a grape goes through the riskier it is, since it increases the risk of rot. And many of the wines made in January after subsequent freezes are absolutely massive wines with huge sugar levels and confected sugar notes. Choosing when to harvest and after how many freezes and thaws really is the defining factor when it comes to making your style of icewine.
It’s expensive. Here’s why
What most people don’t realize is that icewine cannot be made on a yearly basis from the same vines. When the vines hold on to their berries late into the winter they do not go dormant as they are supposed to. They still continue to give energy to the berries and this will stress the vines out as it disrupts their normal lifecycle. It can take years for a vine to recover from this and vineyards planted for icewine have to be used once every three or four years only for ice wine production.
This has given rise to a large amount of blending in Ontario. Vidal is highly sought after for icewine but not for table wine production where it’s decidedly average. So do the maths. Making icewine only every four years from your vineyard can be tough when you sell your crop the other three years for a pittance, especially if you have something that isn’t desirable as a table wine at all, like Vidal.
This is something that needs to be taken into account when we talk about the price of these great wines. We think of icewine as expensive and it is, but when you start to account for all the variables it is actually a very well-priced product and gives a lot of value.
The wines of Canada have come a very far way (literally and figuratively) in a very short period of time. It seems hard to find a wine list without a token Canadian wine on it these days. I hope that as Canadian wines continue their climb out of obscurity and into the mainstream we do not lose sight of what a treasure icewines are. Let us not lose sight of these great wines that put Canada on the wine map of the world.
Four producers to LOOK OUT FOR
Currently seeking importer
Their Riesling Icewine is consistently one of my favourites. Much lighter and leaner in every way from a lot of the larger producers, these wines are elegant and feminine without having to show off. They age well over a 20 to 30 year period as well.
These guys made the first Vidal icewine in 1984 and it is still the benchmark for the variety today. This wine is structured and luscious with tropical fruit salad acacia honey notes that last for days.
Currently seeking importer
Their Cabernet Franc Icewine is a fantastic example of this sometimes overlooked variety. Delicate and spicy with seductive garden berries and bright acids that balance it all out.
Along with Inniskillin these guys have very good examples of barrel-aged ice wines, the old casks giving added butterscotch and caramel notes.
The professional journey in hospitality is rarely straightforward. You can begin as a sommelier and end up running a hotel, or start by pulling corks and polishing glasses, and end up as a world-beating bartender.
Take Giovanni Ferlito.
It might be hard to believe, but the current head of wine and beverages at the Ritz Hotel began as a bartender at the Hard Rock Café in his home town of Catania. His main influence was not Gerard Basset or Paolo Basso, but Tom Cruise in Cocktail.
The Sommelier Collective caught up with him to find out how he got to where he is now, and who and what has inspired him on his amazing journey.
You said you came into wine ‘sideways’ – tell us a bit about your journey
After Hard Rock Café I worked for a big Italian resort company, Valtur. That job took me all over the world and I made my way up to Bar Manager, then F&B Manager. It was an opportunity to understand the whole hospitality operation, to know a bit of everything about costs and leadership.
When did you come to the UK?
In 2010. I planned to continue as an F&B Manager, but the problem was that my English at the time meant that I wasn’t even able to do an interview! It was really, really poor.
So you started to study, I guess?
Yes. I would have taken any job just to pay my studies. I knew a lot about hospitality, spirits and cocktails, and I’d taken a few wine courses, but I wasn’t a real professional sommelier. I sent out a few applications, and got a call from Locanda Locatelli. Virgilio Gennaro was the head sommelier, but it was really funny. He did the interview in English, even though we were from the same part of Italy. He really wanted to put some pressure on me, to see my potential.
And was that what lit the wine spark for you?
It was my first experience as a sommelier, but I wasn’t yet sure that it was going to be my new career. I was just learning something new. It’s Virgilio’s fault that I’m in wine. He was so passionate about it, and he transferred that passion into me.
Where did you go from there?
To Hélène Darroze at the Connaught. I found another passionate wine lover with great charisma as my boss: Hugues Lepin. And I though that’s the person I want to work with – I want to learn everything from him. Then it was clear that I wanted to do wine.’
Do you think qualifications are an essential part of wine education?
It depends. It’s important to take courses, but something that is non-negotiable is that you have to have passion. You might have the knowledge, but if you don’t have the passion you won’t be able to share it with your guests. Hugues Lepin, for instance, has no qualifications at all. But if you speak to him he knows the producers, the soils, the stories, everything. You can learn more from someone like him than taking WSET Level 3. For someone at my level you’d probably already expect that I am a Master Sommelier or have a Diploma, but in fact I started my Diploma last year.
How do you go about working with your suppliers?
I’m a big fan of building the relationship with the suppliers, rather than just looking at pure contract. My job would be much easier if I just worked with ten suppliers, signing contracts based on retros and volumes, but it would lack dynamism and uniqueness. With wine we have 20 main suppliers, and we work with another 15. I’m more interested in the story behind each product than the retro stock they might be offering.
What do you love most about the job?
The variety. It’s like being an entrepreneur – I need to do a bit of everything. I need to be on the floor, but there’s a lot of work to do behind the scenes too. I’m lucky to have a strong team – I couldn’t do this on my own. I delegate a lot.
What are your favourite wine styles?
In general I’m interested in the expression of the terroir, and I like diversity. I prefer wines made with indigenous varieties – a Nero di Troia from Puglia, for instance, or a Lacrima di Morro d’Alba from the Marche. And I love Germany. I really appreciate Riesling.
And what excites you about being part of The Sommelier Collective?
I’m looking forward to sharing my knowledge and transferring my passion to youngsters in the hospitality industry – and to be able to talk to my peers. There’s nothing else in our industry that brings all the sommeliers under one roof.