Wine education during lockdown

While the world is evolving towards a complete lockdown due to the Covid-19 virus, people are looking for ways to continue working and having social contacts. Online tools for webinars and videocalls are flourishing and some people are very creative in finding solutions to reach out to other people. But how do you do that in the case of wine classes? Wine education is still very much based on tasting wine together and discussing it. Is it possible to learn about wine without actually tasting it?  Can you imagine how a wine smells and tastes just from the description of it?

Those questions became very real to me after I had accepted to do a temporary replacement at a school for adults, teaching about wine. The timing hardly could have been worse : after my first week, during which I taught two wine classes, the government decided to close down schools as part of the measures to fight the spread of Covid-19. Right! Very unfortunate, I thought, but not much that could be done about that. Until I started seeing how people were organising themselves to do webinars, have online discussions, do video calls and what not. Adam Knoerzer of Burghundy.com is one of those fast movers to have started with online wine classes. Being a certified sommelier based in Pittsburgh, USA, he already gave traditional wine classes. With plans to give online classes already in the back of his mind, however, things sped up considerably with the break out of the corona virus.

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Seeing how many others were getting to grips fast in a very different reality, I decided to give it a try myself and get prepared to give an online class. The perfect way for me to see how things work out for people at the other end was to participate in a class myself, so I enrolled for a class by Adam on Pinotage. The online tool he uses is BlueJeans, which allows you to do video calls, but also share your screen. The latter is a very useful feature for teaching as it allows you to give a slide presentation, just as you probably would in normal circumstances. Since learning about wine still involves a theoretical part, it’s really difficult not to use a visual support, so the screen sharing feature was very useful to visualize maps, but also show pictures of landscapes, vineyards, and wineries.

Joining the session did not work out immediately. There are different ways to join a session : through the app, via the browser or via phone. My attempt to join via the app failed, but I was able to join using the browser. I was pretty impressed by the quality of the sound and the video was more than sharp enough to be able to see everything clearly on the maps that Adam showed. The presentation was really smooth, and especially, not too long. While a traditional wine class can easily take several hours, Adam chose to limit his session to one hour, questions included. I thought that was a wise decision, as it forces the wine educator to focus on essentials, while not keeping people in front of their screens for too long. Listening to someone online for several hours would indeed be overkill, especially without having the actual wines in front on you. What also helped to keep things dynamic was the chat function that allowed people to type in their questions or to comment on something. There is also the option to allow people to comment using their microphone, but since there were 20 participants, things would have been pretty chaotic if everyone came in whenever they felt like it, so Adam put everyone on mute, asking people to use the chat function. And that was fine. So all in all this was a very smooth experience.

Since Adam had made things look very easy, I decided to use BlueJeans as well for my class on Champagne. I am happy, however, that I took ample time to prepare and get familiar with the tool, because things were not as easy as they looked. I tested the tool several times and ran into problems more than once with getting participants to connect.  A question I asked via the online help desk never got answered, and the help desk guy I chatted with after that came back to me with a solution more than a day after the chat. So take that into account if you spontaneously decide to set up a videocall, as you might run into issues you didn’t expect. Luckily Adam was so kind to provide me with a couple of hacks. In fact the organizer cannot see the chat when sharing the slides with the participants. You have to exit the screen sharing mode to see the chat, which is of course very annoying. One way of dealing with this is to join the session with a second device (tablet of smart phone) to monitor the chat ànd to connect headphones to that device. If you don’t do the latter, you will have terrible resonance. It seems that Zoom, a similar tool, does allow you to see the chat function while presenting slides, so you might want to experiment with different tools.

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So how did the class work out? Interestingly, of the two groups to whom I proposed doing an online class, only one was enthusiastic enough to go along with it. The other was the beginners’ class, where it is important to really sample wines together to find out about aromas and tastes. So it wasn’t a complete surprise that people preferred waiting until the normal classes resumed. Other important feedback I got was that many people already spend a whole day in front of a computer at home during lockdown, and that more of that was just not how they wanted to finish the day. And that’s completely understandable of course.

The group that decided to try it out had a class on Champagne. To make things a bit more fun and to stimulate interaction, I invited people to open a bottle of Champagne at home, either during the weekend in the run-up to the class or during the class itself. Several people happily had a glass of Champagne while I presented a short slide show. They also received a few questions in advance with things they could focus on : is it a blend? is it a non-vintage or a vintage? what’s the sweetness level? After the theoretical part I invited people who were having a glass to discuss their Champagne and to talk about the things I asked to focus on. These are of course not very dynamic discussions as it’s difficult to interact without having online chaos, but at least people could come in and share their experience. Several people also posted questions on the chat.

In general I felt people were happy with the alternative that was offered. And probably just as important : it allows to connect with other people during difficult times of confinement and social distancing. Or as Adam put it : “it’s also about creating a sense of community right now”.

So based on my experience, here’s a few tips if you plan something similar :

  • Get to know your tool! Modern technology is supposed to be easy and user-friendly, but you’re better off not taking that too much for granted. You will need time to choose your tool, get familiar with it, test it, and troubleshoot issues. In the worst case you may have to decide that the tool you chose does not deliver, and move to something else.
  • Learn from people with experience. If you’re not familiar with new technologies, you will have to invest time to get to know new tools. Companies do a good job nowadays to post videos and all kinds of manuals, guidance, FAQ, etc. But you will notice that the one thing you absolutely need to know… is not in there. So connect with people who know. Thank you, Adam, for helping me out!
  • Adapt your content to the format. In a normal wine class you can get all geeky and elaborate about all the details you can imagine. But if you’re online, you need to focus on just a few messages. No one wants to spend three hours in front of their screen listening to wine theory. Make it concise and keep it simple.
  • Create opportunities for interaction. Despite the inevitable limitations of online solutions, it is important to leave room for interaction. In a small group you can open up the floor for discussion, even though you will want to moderate the discussion (meaning unmuting people one per one) if you don’t want things to derail. In larger groups the chat function is a perfect way for people to ask questions or post comments.
  • Plan your session in function of your audience. With the technology there for you to connect with almost everyone in the world, you may get excited about all the opportunities that loom on the horizon. Just don’t forget that people on the other side of the world sleep when you’re awake (under normal circumstances). So if you want to reach another audience than the one in your own time zone, you will have to schedule carefully, or plan several sessions at different times catering for people in different places of the world.

The remaining question to all this is : will these online formats continue to exist once the dust has settled (hoping that it will, sooner rather than later) ? Adam definitely plans to continue the online classes and will expand his offer, adding new sessions for people in other time zones (Europe and Africa). Personally, I’m also convinced that there is a future for online wine education. I do think, however, that subjects that target a more “advanced” audience will be more successful as beginner classes require more interaction and of course more tasting together. But I might be wrong. The least that can be said is that despite the human tragedy of Covid-19, the circumstances oblige us to change our ways. It will be very interesting to see how much of all this will stay with us in the future.

 

 

Experimenting with the blind tasting order

If you have organized a blind tasting before, chances are high that you will have prepared wines from white to rosé ro red, and from light to heavy. To start with white before red makes perfect sense of course. Although you might come across wineries in Bourgogne who will present their reds before the whites, in Meursault for example. And I have experienced myself that to have a white, rosé or sparkling wine after a series of reds can be nice and useful to “cleanse” your palate, especially if the reds are quite powerful and tannic. But in general white goes before red.

When you come to the order of the reds , things can get slightly more difficult. The basic idea is to start with light and move gradually to more powerful and structured reds. The reason for this this is pretty obvious : if you have a young, structured Bordeaux before a Burgundy, you might miss some of the nuances of the latter. Especially the build up of tannins in your mouth makes it difficult to appreciate the structure and the quality of the tannins of a lighter wine. Chewing on bread and drinking water in between wines will help, but in general you will try and build up from light to powerful.

One issue, however, that I have come across regularly in tastings, is the contrast between ripe and fresh in red wines. What do I mean with that? Let’s take the example of Burgundy again : if you follow the basic guidelines, you will want to start with the Burgundy (so a pinot noir) before you move to wines with more body/alcohol or wines with more tannins. My experience is that it works, as long as you stay in the same category of “freshness”. If you move from a Burgundy to a Loire Cabernet Franc and then to a Bordeaux, for example, that will perfectly work out. It’s more difficult when you move from a fresh, cool-climate style of wine to something riper. The last time I experienced that was when I had a glass of Valpolicella Superiore after I came home from a tasting of Loire Cabernet Franc. The Valpolicella came across as sweet, something I had not experienced when I drank that wine before. Normally I would perceive the fruit of the Valpolicella as ripe, but in balance with the acidity. When I had it after the Loire Cabernet Franc, I perceived it as sweet, round, and lacking tension. We’re talking about the same wine!

So when I had a blind tasting at my place last week with two Burgundy lovers, I decided to experiment a bit with the order. I reckoned that if I put the riper wines before the  fresher, more elegant wines, the riper wines would show well and there would not be a negative effect on the fresher wines that followed.

These are the red wines I gave :

  1. The Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Superiore 2016 of Stefano Mancinelli. (in my previous blog post you can read that these are very aromatic wines, with loads of ripe fruit)
  2. The Valpolicella Superiore 2014 of Roccolo Grassi, also relatively ripe, but very nicely balanced.
  3. The Barolo Ascheri 2015 of Reverdito, a very typical Barolo with ripe red fruit, and strong tannins.
  4. The Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2012 of Charlopin, the most elegant in the line-up with nice strawberries, relatively ripe though for a Burgundy.

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I gave the wines in this order. And as I had hoped for, the Italian wines were appreciated at their true value and were even lauded for their freshness. My two companions being absolute Burgundy lovers, I knew it was not obvious that they would like the Italian wines, especially the Valpolicella, which was the same wine that I found sweet after a Loire Cabernet Franc. So the experiment was successful! Almost…

If I could re-do the tasting, I would probably change one thing. I would put the Barolo last instead of the Gevrey-Chambertin. You can probably guess why : the tannins. The Gevrey was ready to drink and did not have very strong tannins. The Barolo, however, had tightened up a couple of hours after opening. The wine was actually very balanced and accessible just after opening the bottle. A few hours later the tannins had become quite prominent, very much typical Barolo tannins. And that made the transition to the Gevrey less smooth than I had wished.

That goes to show that reversing the order will not always work. I would not start with a very structured Australian Shiraz to finish with a fragile Burgundy. But you can play with the order of a couple of red wines in your line-up. If both wines have a tannin level that is more or less equivalent, and one has riper fruit than the other, then try putting the riper one first. And let me now if that worked!

 

 

 

 

Beaujolais Nouveau : has it changed?

The first time I consciously drunk Beaujolais Nouveau was in 1998. I was in Angers in the Loire region as an Erasmus student (the EU exchange program for students). A few French guys responsible for helping foreign students to integrate took us to a local bar on the 3rd Thursday of November, the day the new Beaujolais comes out. I wasn’t into wine yet at that stage, but already then I noticed the very specific candy and banana aromas that come with the “nouveau” style, the very young wines that are made with “macération carbonique” or carbonic maceration. I will leave out the technical details of how these wines are made, but the “nouveau” wines are meant to be fruit-forward, easy-to-drink and they are made to be put on the market as soon as they are ready. Ironically, the heavy marketing campaigns of the past for this style of Beaujolais cast a shadow on the rest of the wines made in Beaujolais, and very much gave the whole region a bad name. I remember I wasn’t impressed in 1998, and never picked up a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau again.

Until today… It’s that moment again : the 3rd Thursday of the month, just 21 years later. I happened to be in Paris and entered a local wine shop. There were several Beaujolais Nouveaux on sale, and there was one that caught my attention : Le p’tit nouveau 2019 of Antony Perol, a new kid on the block according to the French press. His Beaujolais Nouveau 2018 received raving reviews in French wine magazines, Bourgogne Aujourd’hui giving it 17,5/20. In addition to that, it’s an organic wine and it contains as good as no sulfites (0,02g/l). If you could expect something different and more interesting from anyone, it would be from a wine maker like Anthony Perol, young and ambitious, and working very differently than traditional wine makers.

The color of the wine was amazing, it was just as purple as the capsule on the bottle! The first sniff was very disappointing : bonbon anglais, as the French say very gracefully. Pure candy, basically. This did not last, however, as the wine evolved into something more metallic, not particularly attractive either, to settle eventually in dominantly green aromas. The wine has a certain freshness, which is pleasant. Nothing too heady or sugary here, and there’s even a bit of tannin, not typical for “nouveau” wines. The herbaceousness, however, is very persistent and makes it difficult to enjoy this. Finally, there is a hint of barnyard in the finish. I can appreciate a bit of “funky” aromas as long as they are not overpowering, but when it stays on the back of your tongue, I simply cannot have it.

Conclusion : I went for a radically different type of Beaujolais Nouveau, and radically different is what I got. Unfortunately, I cannot say I find this better. Next appointment with Beaujolais Nouveau in another two decades. Perhaps.

 

HVE : a complementary label to organic and bio-dynamic

I wrote an article for Meininger’s Wine Business International on the French label “Haute Valeur Environnementale” (HVE). Farmers who have the HVE certified label, pledge to keep the use of pesticides and fungicides to a strict minimum.

You can read it here : https://www.drinks-today.com/wine/news-analysis/france-tries-alternative-organic

Try the 14-day free trial if you don’t have access!

Is France on its way to ban pesticides?

If you thought Brexit was the only source of entertainment with yelling people, bickering politicians and social media exploding with discussions between people who don’t listen to each other, you’re wrong! France experienced a very heated summer, and climate change for once has nothing to do with it. The subject that heated people’s tempers more than the tropical temperatures was the introduction of so-called non-treatment zones for farmers, proscribing them to spray pesticides within a certain distance of neighboring homes and schools. 

On September 9, 2019 the French government launched a 3-week national consultation on a proposal to ban the use of pesticides in a 5 metre zone from housing for low crops and in a 10 metre zone for high crops, including vines. France is the first country to launch non-treatment zones to protect the population’s health, the proposal being a joint effort between the three ministers of agriculture, health and ecological transition. Debates on the use of pesticides are obviously not new, but a very symbolical and highly mediatised case accelerated things substantially in 2014 when school children in Villeneuve, a town in Bordeaux’ Blaye region, became nauseous due to the spraying of fungicides in next-door vineyards.

Several attempts were undertaken since then to introduce non-treatment zones and other measures, that were subsequently withdrawn by court rulings after protest of agricultural lobby groups. French farmers and their representative bodies vehemently oppose government plans to curb the use of pesticides, arguing that they will lose thousands of hectares. They also point to the fact that spraying procedures have evolved already and that they follow strict rules on the use of pesticides, based on scientific research. Factors such as the speed of wind, the amount of pressure, and the type of spraying device used, are indeed taken into account before deciding how, when and where to spray. These arguments, however, did not placate civil society groups and environmental organizations, who find the farmers’ efforts and the government’s current proposal too little too late.

Enter a whole new dimension in the debate, as organic and natural wine enthusiasts started asking why it was necessary to use pesticides in the first place. However appealing this thought may seem, conventional farmers were quick to point out that copper, accepted in organic agriculture, is a fungicide, and not particularly good for people’s health either. The 2014 Villeneuve case aptly demonstrated their point, as one of the two vineyard owners who were charged, was an organic wine maker.

Daniel Cueff, mayor in the Breton town of Langouët, decided to take the law in his own hands and banned the use of pesticides and herbicides within 150 metres of housing. Needless to say that this caused quite a stir, some farmers arguing they would lose entire plots if this became a national measure. Unfortunately for Mr Cueff his decision was overruled in court, the judge arguing that decisions on the use of phytosanitary products are the mandate of the minister of agriculture. The latter, Didier Guillaume, was also quick to declare that non-treatment zones of 150 metres would be “madness for the consumer”.

There is, however, an alternative for the government’s one-size-fits-all regulation, and that’s curiously an alternative that Didier Guillaume favors in the first place : local charters. The idea is that local citizens and farmers get together and work out a compromise that suits them. Only in the absence of a local charter will the national rules be applied. This solution is also largely favored by the farmer organizations, who would hate to see “Paris” imposing rules on them. While the local charters leave room for flexibility and compromise, it is, however, no option not to have non-treatment zones at all. They may be reduced to 5 metres instead of 10 “if more performing spraying devices can be used”. If the idea of locally negotiated charters seems a good idea to some, it may prove challenging in areas where the powers that be are also in the business of wine making. Again, the 2014 Bordeaux case was telling, as the local mayor at that time was actually one of the two vineyard owners who were charged for spraying in the presence of school children.

At the date of publication of this article, the number of comments on the ministry of agriculture’s website grew to a whopping 27,000. While other consultations mostly fail to attract any attention at all, this one clearly shows that the heated summer is very likely to extend in a heated fall. With France topping the Food Sustainability Index, which also looks at sustainable agriculture, for three consecutive years, it comes as no surprise that it is the first country putting non-treatment zones on the political agenda. While it will be interesting to see what the final outcome will be in France, it’s equally intriguing to see how little debate there is in other countries. Will France’s regulation provoke similar initiatives in other EU countries? The French chest-beating that comes with the acknowledgement of their efforts on sustainability might just trigger new dynamics elsewhere. Or then again, it also might not.

Domaine Brana : showing the way in Irouléguy #Winophiles

I’m joing the #Winophiles this month in their exploration of Irouléguy, a wine region in French Basque Country. I’m very excited about this, as it brings back memories of my hiking holidays in the French Basque Country in 2015. This region is very beautiful, at the foot of the Pyrenees but also on the Atlantic coast, where surf’s up. If you hesitate between the mountains or the sea for holidays, you have both there!

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I was hiking in the region with a group, so there was no time to go visiting wineries. But when we were in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, we were given two hours to see the town. I have to admit : I didn’t see town. I took this opportunity to go the winery shop of Domaine Brana instead!

The Brana family was active in the region already since the 19th century, but it was only in the ’70s that Etienne Brana lay the foundations for the current Domaine by starting a distillery. In 1984 he launched himself in the wine business and contributed to putting the AOC Irouléguy on the map. Not that Irouléguy is now known all over the world, or even in France for that matter. There is simply too little wine being produced for that, and finding Irouléguy wine outside France is no simple matter.

It’s for that reason that I bought a mix of Brana’s wines to take home. The whites and rosé didn’t last long, they were simply too good. Nowadays it’s not so unusual anymore to find white Irouléguy, but Etienne Brana made a point of making also white wine of petit courbu, petit manseng and gros manseng (also known from Jurançon) as that was a tradition before in Irouléguy.

His Ilori Blanc 2014 was a very fresh wine with lots of flowers in the nose and a rather high acidity. The Albedo Blanc 2014 was almost completely the opposite, with loads of ripe fruit like pine apple and apricot, a touch of wood and even a bit of honey as it opened up. There was a lovely contrast of ripe and fresh in this wine, the fruit being opulent and the acidity rather in the style of a Chablis. An intriguing wine.

I have a special place in my memories, however, for the Harri Gorri rosé 2014, one of the best rosés I ever had in my life. This was a wine I could sniff on forever, with red currant, strawberries, green herbs and beautiful minerality. Again the profile of this wine was very fresh and precise. Finally a rosé that has its own identity and is more than a white wine with a pink taint! I absolutely loved it. I have spent endless hours looking on the net for a place where I could buy it, but alas…

For the reds Brana also set out to choose his own path, favoring Cabernet Franc over the more common Tannat. Brana argued that Cabernet Franc was a grape that actually originated in the Irouléguy region, and that Tannat is the grape of Madiran. That might have been a smart move. It’s only a few days ago that Peter Dean reported in The Buyer that the Gascogne-based cooperative Plaimont Producteurs is gradually switching to Manseng Noir, as Tannat is producing alcohol levels that are hard to keep under 16°C in recent years.

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When I visited the winery shop in 2015 I tasted the Irouléguy Rouge 2010, but back then, it wasn’t fully coherent yet, and the wood was pretty dominant still. Nevertheless I bought two bottles, knowing this was a wine with great ageing potential. I was a little afraid that it would still be too early to open a bottle now, but a quick sniff after opening the bottle made it clear from the start : this is a beauty! Blackberries, blackcurrant, cigar box, graphite, laurel, all jumping out the glass in a beautiful bouquet. Complex like a maze, precise like a Swiss watch, and fresh like a first year student. My fear of sturdy tannins was ungrounded, the structure being velvety instead.

There’s an additional thing that’s interesting here as well. During my sommelier training we always had to discuss a wine systematically, including things such as color and viscosity. The latter is something I nowadays don’t do anymore as I don’t find it very relevant. But from the first sip of this Irouléguy, I immediately noticed that this wine was very concentrated, the viscosity reminding me of a Valpolicella Ripasso for example, but then without the sweetness. Very remarkable! This is a wine with character. Cool climate character by the way. And not unlike certain Bordeaux. That should not come as a surprise, the blend consisting of 60% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Tannat.

It’s still early days to be thinking of lists, but I’m pretty sure this wine will be in my best of 2019 list somewhere. If I think of how it was when I tasted it in 2015, it’s clear this wine has come a long way. This goes to show that we often drink this kind of wines too early. And it’s nowhere near its end. Quite the contrary I’d say. My next, and sadly last, bottle will probably open in three or four years. If only I could find more of Brana’s wines. It’s clear that this is a visionary winery, a flag bearer for the appellation.

Here are the links to the other Winophiles’ posts :

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Payal at Keep the Peas shares Basque-ing in Irouléguy Wines and More

 

 

 

Sven Nieger : a welcome rebel in Baden

During a recent stop over in Baden-Baden, I had time to visit only one winery. The wine region Baden is mainly known for Pinot Noir, or Spätburgunder in German. It is also known as the hottest wine region of Germany. Everything is relative of course  if you think of summers in the south of Europe, but still, there is a clear difference between the Spätburgunders of the Ahr, situated further north, and those of Baden, the latter being richer and more full-bodied. Not being a huge fan of big and bold wines, I looked for wine makers who dare to go off the beaten track. When I read about Sven Nieger, I knew that he was my man.

Sven Nieger is a relative newcomer in Baden. He only started in 2010 and did not have the advantage of being born in a family of winemakers. He did, however, Go to the Geisenheim institute and worked in other wineries in Germany and New-Zealand before he started on his own. When he came back to Baden, he had to start from scratch, having no land and no winery. Nieger was able to buy vineyards, amongst which three Grosse Gewächse (grand cru), from older colleagues who had no successors and sold off their lands. He showed me a few pictures of the early days, when he was literally making garage wine. He now has a new space with more professional facilities. “But it was more fun working in the garage”, he laughed.

Despite Baden being a red wine region, Nieger focuses on riesling. “Many people don’t like riesling because it’s too sour, but I want to prove that riesling can also be a wine they like”. That is also why he doesn’t mention the grape on his labels. He wants people to judge the wine without any prejudices they might have about riesling. I told him I’m surprised that he is confronted with such opinions on riesling, the grape after all being the nec plus ultra for certain wine drinkers. “We are in Baden”, he reminded me. “People here are used to wines that are round, creamy, and more full-bodied”.  And this is also the second reason why he has rather unconventional labels. The 2014 vintage was not an easy one, producing wines with very high acidity, his rieslings fetching 9g/l instead of the 5,5-6g/l he has in other years. We tasted the Underdog 2014 and indeed the acidity here was high, but not higher than you’d expect in riesling. And then there is Nieger’s rosé : it is bone dry! Again not very much in the tradition of Baden’s wines. The committee judging the region’s wines on their typicity didn’t think much of Nieger’s wines. Eight times he had to send in a bottle. Not wanting to play that game anymore, Nieger decided from then on to declare his wines as Badischer Landwein. And that was the end of that. And of his ambitions to join the VDP at some stage, a German group of top wine makers. When I tasted the 2014 Underdog, it was simply amazing, enormously complex. I think Baden will regret having lost Sven Nieger.

Anyhow, he seems very happy with the path he has chosen. Also no lack of ambitions : “When people drink my wine, I want them to say: This is a Nieger wine.” And so far, things have lifted off quite fast for him, being chosen “newcomer of the year” by Falstaff magazine and getting good press in Germany and abroad.

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We started off with his 2016s. His Riesling range consists of three Grosse Gewächse (Grand Crus), one wine that is a blend of grapes of these three vineyards, and one entry level Riesling. Because of the fact his wines are now declared as Badischer Landwein, he cannot mention the names of the vineyards on his labels, and for sure not call them Grosse Gewächse. So he gave them other names : Ungeschminkt (without make up), Underdog, Unbestechlich (incorruptible), Ungeniert (unashamed), and Ungezähmt (untamed). The message is quite clear.

The entry-level Ungeschminkt was already a nice starter, with lots of fruit and refreshing acidity. The Underdog is  a step up, being the blend of the three Grosse Gewächse. The grapes come from the foot of the hills, where there is more loam. The wine was still a bit shy though, and still needs to develop a bit further. Of the three Grosse Gewächse, the Unbestechlich was my favorite. Here the vineyard is based on granite soil. Slate or schist are probably the types of terroir that are most associated with Riesling, but granite is not unusual either. Alsace’s Charles Baur describes the acidity in riesling from granite soils as “delicate”. And that’s the perfect word to descibe the acidity in Nieger’s Unbestechlich. It is perfectly integrated, leaving the front stage for a beguiling mix of saffran, summer blossom, green herbs, and orange peel. The saffran very much reminded me of the 2014 Rieslings of Mosel’s Markus Molitor. But whereas most of Molitor’s Rieslings are sweet, semi-sweet or have at least some residual sugar, this Unbestechlich is completely dry. The Ungeniert, also from granite soil, was similar to the Unbestechlich but more timid at this stage, and will benefit from further ageing. The Ungezähmt, finally, does have some sweetness, but also a mineral touch and sufficient acidity to keep it nicely balanced.

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It became clear during the tasting how passionate Nieger is about his wines. Even though the 2017s were not on sale yet, I could still taste the whole range. I could also taste the 2015s and certain 2014s. What I thought would be a one hour visit, turned into a three hour one, but time passed as if it were only one hour. Tasting through all these Rieslings was very interesting and clearly showed the differences from one year to another, the 2014s being very fresh and dry, while the 2015s were richer and riper. Nieger decides every year whether he will make the Rieslings dry, off-dry or semi-sweet, letting the vintage decide. While that is probably the best for the wines, that might make it harder for the consumer in terms of knowing what you will get. His experiments do not help to make that any easier, his 2017s having aged in oak barrels, again not a very typical thing to do with Riesling. The oak is not very present, however, only adding a hint of smoke here and there. I’m very curious how the 2017s will evolve, as they were rather shy when I tasted them. Nieger agreed that they are still too young, but is convinced that they will open up with further ageing. That is also why he will put the 2018s on the market before the 2017s, as the 2018s will be more straight-forward and easier to drink, a consequence of the hot vintage.

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19 bottles further, aroma’s of homely cooking started entering the room. I visited Sven Nieger because I wanted something different, and not only did I get a fantastic overview of his wines, I also felt the passion and ambition of an untamed wine maker. I am convinced that that will take him very far.