Calgary Wine Life: Weingut Thörle Tasting @ Vine Arts

2 06 2017
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Christoph Thörle

It’s been a bit of a banner wine week, seven days tailored to the precise preferences of my palate.  My personal favourite types of red and white wine are Washington Syrah and German Riesling respectively, and late May has seen visionary producers specializing in each of these areas visit our fair city.  My Washington wine prayers were answered last week when Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars put on a remarkable Master Class in Calgary; this week it was Germany’s turn, thanks to an eye-opening portfolio tasting put on by the dynamic Christoph Thörle of the eponymous Weingut Thörle, from the global home of Riesling’s Rheinhessen region.  Through four different earth-shattering Rieslings and seven total wines, Thörle took us through what must be some of the world’s best expressions of my first vinous love.

If you say the word “Rheinhessen” to a wine person, the tenor of their reaction might be a generational one.  The region, located in west-central Germany, due south of Rheingau and southwest of Frankfurt, is the largest in the country in terms of planted acres and is tailor-made for grape-growing:  it’s dry, sunny and relatively warm, with limestone-based soils overlaid by a variety of alluvial deposits, as long ago it was largely part of an underwater seabed.  Rheinhessen once had a reputation to match its physical advantages, and was long considered one of the pinnacle areas of German viniculture.  But a mid-20th-century flirtation with new lab-crossing grape varieties and mass-market, quantity-focused bottlings turned into a 1970s and 80s Liebfraumilch obsession that saw lesser varietals dominate much of the vineyard area and Blue Nun and Black Tower nearly obliterate the world’s prior impressions of German wine.  If you stopped paying attention to Rheinhessen then (as many did), you will have missed out on what’s going there now:  a quiet quality renaissance, and a return to the right grapes properly planted and tended on the right sites, perhaps not better personified than by Christoph Thörle and his brother Johannes.

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They took over the operation of the Thörle family winery in 2006, when Christoph was just 22 and Johannes 24.  Together they have overseen an expansion of the estate’s vineyard holdings and a corresponding increase in annual production, paired with a return to simple, hands-off viticulture and winemaking practices:  no pesticides or herbicides in the vineyards, multiple-pass harvests, all natural yeasts and no additives in the cellar, minimal sulphur at bottling.  Weingut Thörle now has 80 acres of vine holdings, remarkably spread over 100+ different vineyard parcels but largely centered around the town of Saulheim in north-central Rheinhessen.  The area features a wide array of different slopes, soils and sun exposures, allowing for the production of multiple different varietals, and Saulheim itself is surrounded by Thörle’s three crown-jewel vineyards:  Probstey, Schlossberg and Hölle.

Thörle has been generating increasing acclaim for both its white (Riesling, Silvaner, Chardonnay and more) and red (Pinot Noir, known Germanically as Spätburgunder) wines and made its glorious entrance into the Alberta market last year.  Now some new offerings are on their way to the province, and we were fortunate enough to have Christoph talk us through most of them, including a few bottles that might change your perspective on, well, everything. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct: German Riesling Powerhouses

3 11 2016

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

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Serious wine, serious value.

You owe it to yourself to drink more German Riesling.  You may not know it yet, but you do.  I know the idea of turning to something German doesn’t conjure up the same (somewhat oversold) feelings of art or romance that something French or Italian might, but I’m here to tell you that startling clarity, absolute transparency and unfailing precision can be much sexier than you give them credit for.

And I know, I know – you don’t like sweet wine and all German wine is sweet, right?  Except (1) your palate may be more attuned to sweetness than you expect, and (2) no, no it’s not.  In fact, some German Rieslings are as dry as a bone, often helpfully highlighted by the label indicator “trocken”. A “trocken” designation doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be no residual sugar left in the wine, but any that remains will be minimal (9 grams per litre or less) and the wine will taste dry, thanks to a helpful assist from German Riesling’s often raging levels of scouring acidity.  Another hint of dryness in German whites is (relatively) elevated levels of alcohol, since this is an indication that the bulk of the sugars in the grapes have been converted to alcohol during fermentation instead of left in the finished wine.  Generally speaking, if it’s 10.5%-11% abv or higher, it probably won’t taste sweet (and frankly, even if there is some discernible sweetness, you will probably welcome it given how much else will be going on.  Trust me.) Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2008 Ratzenberger Bacharacher Riesling Sekt Brut

13 12 2015

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Redefining the world of German bubbly.

Redefining the world of German bubbly.

What’s this?  A wine review?  Isn’t this a whisky blog now?  OK, I probably deserved that.  But Advent only comes around once per year, and since no one yet has taken up the torch of my idea to find 24 good half-bottles and make a Wine Advent Calendar, this is what you get instead.  For those wine lovers out there just dying for the calendar to turn to January, this one’s to tide you over.

This bottle is another selection from Cellar Direct (cellardirect.ca), the online Canadian Natural Wine Club that allows people from all over the country to have high-quality, artisanal, naturally made wines shipped to their door via an array of tailored subscription packages ranging from $40 to $80 per month depending on your location and the package selected.  Since I last wrote about the service back in September, it has revamped its website, introduced an offer of two free bonus bottles for every 24-bottle annual subscription, and added an online shop (which will be operational in January) where Cellar Direct members can order more of their favourite bottles over and above their subscription.  It has also gotten rave reviews in BC, where price increases and regulatory chaos have otherwise made reasonably priced access to many good wines a pipe dream.

The one thing I can so far say for sure about Cellar Direct is that its selections are not fooling around; each of the three bottles I’ve now had the chance to try from their library have been of exceptional quality and proud ambassadors of where they’re from.  These are wines from somewhere as opposed to wines that could be from anywhere, and this gets all the more impressive given that this latest wine is a bottle of Sekt.  Nobody usually makes quality and terroir proclamations about Sekt (German sparkling wine), and for good reason:  most Sekt doesn’t deserve it.  In fact, it’s hard to say anything specific about Sekt as a category because it might be the least regulated category of Old World wine I’ve come across.  German wine law doesn’t mandate that Sekt be made of any particular types of grapes; it doesn’t even require those grapes to be from Germany; and it doesn’t require the wine to attain its bubbles any particular way.  Sekt is required to be at least 10% abv, but after that, all bets are off. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: St. Urbans-Hof Riesling Tasting @ Co-op Crowfoot

25 09 2012

[Cross-posted at www.calgaryisawesome.com]

Consider this less of a blog post and more of a public service announcement.  If you’re going to remember a single message out of everything I’ve ever written about wine, make it this little piece of advice:  DO NOT BE AFRAID OF GERMAN RIESLING.  I wish I could tell you that this was self-evident information, but there remains this persistent and lingering seed of doubt planted deep in the brains of casual wine drinkers in North America irrationally warning them that German wine in general, and German Riesling in particular, is something to be wary of.  Even (or rather, especially) people who haven’t tried it tend to avoid it, looking askance at its tall tapered bottles and Gothic multisyllabic labels, spouting the well-worn syllogism:  “I don’t like sweet wines.  German Riesling is sweet.  Therefore, I don’t like German Riesling.”  Most people who say this probably don’t realize that:

1.  NOT all German Riesling is sweet — in fact, there has been a concerted movement towards drier (“Trocken”) styles of wine in Germany over the past decade or so; and

2.  Even sweeter German Riesling isn’t sweet like other wines are sweet.  To me, the best expressions of Riesling are those where there is a little residual sugar left in the wine after fermentation, because that hint of sweetness is a necessary counterpart to the firestorm of acidity usually present in good German wines.  The delicate razor’s-edge dance between sweet and tart is the very essence of what German Riesling is all about, and to dismiss a key component of that ballet as something akin to what you find in a $6 bottle of insipid white Zinfandel is to do both yourself and these amazing wines a disservice.  Most people who say they don’t like “sweet wines” actually don’t like UNBALANCED sweet wines, wines with a bunch of leftover sugar and nothing else to level it out.  German Riesling is the antithesis of these kinds of bottles, and the best illustration that not all “sweet” wines are created equal.

If you get past the stereotypes and try a bottle of German Riesling for yourself, I predict you will quickly fall in love; to me they are the most individual, remarkable and memorable wines in the world.  And the best part about joining the German Riesling Revolution is that the wines usually offer remarkable levels of quality for a bargain price.  Many top producers make entry-level bottles that are widely available for under $20 CDN, some of the most impressive of which come from the well-known Mosel Valley winery of St. Urbans-Hof, instantly recognizable for its striking black and copper label design (see the bottle pics below).  Last Thursday, a lucky few of us attended at the Crowfoot location of Co-op Wine & Spirits to hear Urbans-Hof owner and winemaker Nik Weis talk about his property and share a half-dozen of his recent wines.

Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2007 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett

5 06 2011

I will always be attached to this wine. Pure heaven.

As I hinted at yesterday, tonight’s wine is special to me.  It’s one of my “eureka” wines, one of those rare bottles that turned my general interest in wine into a huge passion and that continues to drive me to learn, read, taste and write about wine.  If you’re wondering why German Riesling is my favourite kind of wine, this bottle can take a lot of the credit.  The first time I had it was at a casual tasting that some friends and I organized a couple years ago.  I picked the wine as a curiosity, as something new to try en route to the more expensive and exciting big reds waiting at the end of the evening.  Instead, the first sip of this Riesling stopped time and drowned out everything else.  I couldn’t tell you what any of the other wines I had that night tasted like, but I remember this one intensely.  I haven’t had it again until tonight. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2009 Muller-Catoir Mussbach Riesling Kabinett

24 03 2011

German wine aristocracy.

After last night’s CNDP debacle, I wanted to make sure I bounced back strong tonight.  So I turned to my go-to varietal (Riesling) in my go-to wine country (Germany) to bring you the first ever non-dessert white wine featured in PnP, the 2009 Mussbach Kabinett Riesling from Muller-Catoir.  I bought this wine a few months ago from Bin 905 on 4th St and 23rd Ave SW, on which visit I discovered that they have the most ludicrously large German Riesling selection in Calgary, probably in Canada…it’s like Anglo-Saxon Mecca in there.  I don’t go to Bin a lot, but I foresee a few periodic Riesling pilgrimages in my future. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 1989 Schloss Reinhartshausen Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen Riesling Beerenauslese

19 03 2011

Today was as good as it gets in terms of wine-drinking occasions:  we had two great friends over to our place to celebrate their recent engagement.  They are both amazing people and are perfect together, so this was definitely cause for opening something special.  Most people might think to toast news like this over Champagne — me, not so much.  We went with German Beerenauslese dessert wine instead, and once we tried it, there was no doubt that we came out ahead. Read the rest of this entry »