German Riesling reviews... It's time to - finally - stop the snoozing...

Call this a One Man Crusade against sloppy reviewing of German wines, if you will…

Whenever I read about wine in discussion forums like this, it seems as if certain wine regions and types of wine draw most people’s interest. The classic wine regions Burgundy and Bordeaux for sure, followed by Barolo & Barbaresco and…everywhere, it seems…also Riesling. In particular German Riesling.

However, regular, TIMELY and extensive reviews of German Riesling seem to be an utopia. Like that magical unicorn no one will ever see. Why is that? I mean, it’s a popular grape among consumers, not to mention among winemakers of the world, yet the “professional” wine publications seems to be in sleep mode when it comes to do some proper ground work, with a boots-on-the-ground-approach. Meaning: to step into a pair of boots and actually make the effort to visit estates, taste their wines, talk to the winemakers and write up a report with impressions from the visit. Oh, and if you’re about to mention “covid”, I also include pre-covid times and what I fear will become post-covid times as well. My guess is that most wine reviewers will continue to follow the same pattern as they have done in the past:

“Please send me all of your wines for FREE, to me personally or to my office and I promise to open them, taste them and tell you what I think about them.”

That seems be the standard protocol of reviewing wines these days. Quite understandably during covid times but it was very much the case before and, I suspect, will continue also after. In my opinion, covid really hasn’t changed anything, and won’t in the future either. Wine reviewers assigned to a particular region taking photos of pallets (yes, pallets, not cases) of free sample bottles sent to their home or their office is, mostly, the norm. Or no, wait, there’s actually an alternative - a wine critic visiting a region, setting up a temporarily office at a location for two weeks and then asking winemakers to send their bottles to that location. Giddyup y’all winemakers and let’s begin the lottery, hoping that your wine won’t be number 114 and onwards of the bottles standing on the table for tasting that particular day.

Enter…THE RIESLING REPORT

This is by no means a solution to the problems discussed above. Not at all. Not even close. I’m alone. I have very limited resources, and I hardly have any spare time. It’s just a first framework, a beginning, an attempt to pursuel a fun little insignificant amateur project of mine and it will require patience from any reader. But if nothing else, it’s an attempt to show so called “professional” wine publications, that they can do a better job. Much better. How? By making a friendly wager, challenging any wine publication, with all their financial strength and vast resources, to do a better job of covering German wines from the 2021 vintage. If I fail and the professionals outcompete me with their excellent work, you can all laugh at me but we’ll still all be winners. If they in fact accept the wager and make sure they do a much better job, it’s a win-win. If my report is more timely and more extensive than the professional wine publications like The Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, Vinous, Jancis Robinson, etc, then it will be a friendly reminder that the money you all are paying them as subscribers, might not be invested in the most optimal way, at least not if you’re a fan of German Riesling. In that case, the question posed will be - "If I can, why can’t they?"

Admittedly, making an effort takes time. It requires stamina, passion and knowledge. And it will cost the professional wine publications…money. They will need to send someone out and cover the expenses of airfares, rental cars, fuel, insurances, lodging, food and salary. But again, that’s what you and I are paying them to do. For publications that have full-time wine critics, this should be no problem. Especially not if, like Vinous, you have a controversial “Preview subscription” that makes retailers fork out USD 24,000 per year to see their reviews 2 days before others. I mean, ten retailers and you have amassed close a whooping quarter of a million dollars. Surely some ground coverage could be etched out of that kind of money?

This is my friendly wager. The Riesling aficionados among you can follow it at your own will and become the final judges when the challenge is over next year. Why not for the current (2020) vintage?, you may ask. Because many travel restrictions are still in place and I haven’t even received the necessary vaccinations, so too many obstacles for now. But by this time next year, there should be loads of Riesling reviews published. Until then, I’ll play around with my amateur homepage and start preparing for the challenge by offering reports from previous vintages and visits (whenever I have time to write).

Meanwhile some thoughs and musings about…Riesling. What a magical grape this is. The electricity, the transparency, and the elegant lightness of being. In my humble opinion, people drinking Riesling are simply smarter, more successful and happier than others. [dance2.gif]

It’s a grape that seems to bring passionate people together. I have lost count on the many occasions when I have sent a mail and politely asked if it would be possible to visit an estate in California, Piedmont, Rhone, Stellenbosch, Barossa, you name it - only to receive a reply with exclamation points shouting out “You’re the Riesling guy! Welcome! When can we meet?” Somehow Riesling seems to have this hypnotic allure among international winemakers, wherever you travel. Not much unlike the KAVORKA of Kramer, in Seinfeld (the lure of the animal…). Same thing whenever I happen to pull out a bottle of Riesling that I have brought to a visit. There seems to be a sort of devotion, as winemakers calls out and gathers whoever happens to be around at the winery, with a “Folks, we are about to drink Riesling. Buckle up!”. In particular German Rieslings. Somehow, when bringing a bottle of Riesling while visiting other wineries around the world, it’s like you have a magical password for doors to be opened because everyone seems to recognise the unique sense of place this lovely grape offers its consumers.

Yet… It’s seems as if Riesling has been having a hard time among the professional wine publications. I cannot help thinking of the words by Oz Clarke’s excellent book on grapes, where he describes the Riesling grape like this. “I wonder what it feels like being the wine experts’ favourite grape, yet failing to excite the palates of the vast majority of drinkers across the world? Does it feel like as though you’re the class swot cooed over by teachers for your straight A’s in all your exams, yet when it comes to break-time you’re left shunned and alone at the edge of the playground as your more raucous colleagues cavort and shout and delight in each other’s company? It’s no good that the teacher comes by and tells you not to cry, that your time will come - because right now, no-one will play with you, however much you try to please them. And anyway, who says your time will come? Straight A’s and teacher approval is no guarantee of a successful and happy life. And I’m afraid that’s how it is with Riesling. In the German-speaking world, Riesling is lauded as the globe’s great white grape. A significant number of wine writers and experts elsewhere in Europe, and particularly in the UK, relentlessly repeat their view that Riesling is the greatest white grape in the world. Yet the world doesn’t get the message.”

By now, 20+ years have passed since those words were publised and I would argue that today the situation among consumers is a bit different. With wine bars popping up everywhere and people getting both more informed, sipping on a glass of Riesling is both a more common sight and above all, looks to be recognised as some of the highest Bang for the Buck around, when comparing to many other grape varietals. However, many professional wine publications appear to be trapped in a constant sleep mode when it comes to timely and extensive Riesling reports. It’s about time they stop hitting the snooze and get to work. Being passionate about Riesling, I’ve been contemplating from where I get my own information, aside from the traditional way I’ve been adhering to for 20+ years by now (= meaning, gathering impressions and forming my own opinion by simply travelling to the wine regions in person, knocking on producers’ doors and politely asking them if it would be possible to taste their wines - similarly to what most of you wine aficionados do, I’m sure). It strikes me that by far the best and most reliable and timely Riesling reviews on the market actually comes from non-professionals, like my friends Jean and David whose Mosel Fine Wines is nothing less than brilliant and uncomparable, with its limited region covered as the only drawback. Other great sources of information are from private wine aficionados, like Robert Dentice, Martin Zwick, the folks at RieslingKenner, etc.

The Jancis’ crew seem to form their opinions mostly from large importer tastings and wine fairs in London, as opposed to actually visiting the producers (with some exceptions). Stephan (The Wine Advocate) and Stuart (James Suckling) are actually living in Germany and should be the ones with the best and easiest access to winemakers - and they do visit winemakers in person. And then we have the American posse, David Schildknecht, John Gilman and Terry Theise, who all suffer from one common drawback. They all live across the big, blue pond, limiting their possibilities of visiting Europe on a regular basis (unless someone pays them to visit more often). For now, whenever they do drop us a visit here in the Old World, it’s often in the form of a single road trip per year, where they try to squeeze in as many producers as they can in a limited amount of time. This results in various drawbacks, either that only a limited set of reviews are shared or in some cases, a prolonged time before their impressions are actually published. But who knows, maybe next year will be a Renaissance of German wine reviews?

Thanks for listening. [bye2.gif]

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It’s the nature of the beast. There are a limited number of people interested in German wines, as well as limited resources and time.
You put all the onus on the critics, but there is little cohesion by the German producers to make it easier for foreign journalists.

Very cool Miran. Eager to see how your project will go. Best of luck in it!

On your website I couldn’t find a way to sign up for any form of mailing list for updates on your project.

Keep us all posted.

Keep pushing that rock uphill Miran.

Mark, please elaborate…

Email, phone numbers and addresses are all displayed on the homepages of the wineries. Visiting and asking them to taste their wines is…easy-peasy.

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Miran, it seems as if your RR page only opens up photos. How do I open and download your reports?

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Paul, covid times… No travels and some more time to start filling the reports. There will be no particular time schedule but as the reports are finished, the front page will be linked to downloads.

Braga, I don’t want to collect any info from anyone so no mailing list.

I don’t have any particular view on whether German producers are easy/hard to see but perhaps something like a UGC, which travels globally to do some Johnny Appleseed work could help, especially to reach critics/writers/consumers who might not be able to visit.

Also what about Portes Oevrs (sp?) like what they have (again) in Bordeaux where an AOC or village has effectively an declared open house day, when a number of estates nearby all open up to show their work to visitors.

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I think those may not be great comparisons in the end, since Bordeaux generally has huge quantities of wine to sell, generally under one or two brands per house, which makes marketing more effective.

If Germany is already placing most of its wines in the domestic market, and production is more typically a half dozen vineyards/pradikats, then a lot of branding for the export market might just be time, money, and wine wasted.

Still great project and I wish you well with it!!

Just think of the logistics involved. Hundreds of producers in several areas each taking a lot of time in order to fully understand the wines and the producer. If you are a German specialist like David Schildnecht, you have that time, but if like most critics you are covering multiple regions, and can only hit a few or spend a month doing it properly.

And don’t forget my original point; there are passionate lovers of German wines, but they are a small percentage of the fine wine universe.

In answer to your question, even if the producers aren’t able to travel to major cities, make it easy for critics to taste the wines. Plenty of options from shipping the wines ( one of the things we learned with Covid is that it is pretty effective) to holding festivals where you can meet, greet and taste.

I’m sorry, Mark, but that’s simply not true. Not even close. Where do you get this information from? Simply wild guesses or just a viewpoint based on your own, personal beliefs?

First, you forget a simple fact - subscribers are actually paying the wine publications to do just that - travelling and visiting wineries. Give me a part of that quarter of a million dollars and I’ll happily buy a commuter airpass at Lufthansa and visit every German winery to your liking…

Second, are you referring to the possibilities of tasting German wines in addition to actually making the effort of visiting them in person? I wouldn’t know where to even begin listing the numerous opportunities to get a broad gimpse of the new vintage… Mainzer Weinbörse in April for starters, then around Ascension day in May you have heaps of wineries offering “open houses” where even a novice are invited to taste their full range. End of May/beginning of June you, have some of the major players opening up almost every wine they produce, Mythos Mosel beginning of June allows you to basically taste until you drop from almost every major estate along the rivers of Mosel, Saar and Ruwer. Add to it numerous possibilities where the wineries of a region come together to celebrate the new vintage and often even invite winemaker friends from other regions. You have the VDP presentation in Wiesbaden end of August and the big premier to the public in Berlin the first days in September. Not to mention the substantial tastings offered by Bernkasteler Ring and to top it up, you have the VDP acutions AND pre-tastings in September (where they open a wide array of non-auction wines from each estate). Any professional wine publication with the ambition of doing a decent job covering German wines, has more than enough opportunities to gather impressions and publish them in a timely manner.

Sure, it would be easier to just stay at home because this type of passionate work requires some level of grit, but…

This really is pretty condescending to three real experts on German wines. Terry Theise was an importer, not a wine critic, but all three of them have historically gone to Germany on a regular basis. They are real experts on German wines and I have not ever read German wine reviews from anywhere that are any better than those from David and John (although I would put the guys from Mosel Fine Wines in the same class). You should start reading the wines writings of these three much more regularly. You might learn something.

I have found myself wondering before if there is a Jasper Morris of the Mosel. There is a comparable complexity I would say to the producers and regions.

Miran knows who those writers are. Miran is himself an expert in German wines. The initial post originated in a very long thread on the Vinous board where several people had complained about David Schildknecht’s lagging reviews (he’s about two vintages behind, having just finished up the 2018s recently). He had some back-and-forth with Antonio about how to fix the problem. The initial post is Miran’s (tongue-in-cheek?) solution. He posted the same post on the Vinous board.

My own response to Miran is similar to Mark’s. Even publications with “boots on the ground” (i) are slow to get notes published and (ii) can’t cover every region and new producer out there. To do so would require more boots on the ground and the region doesn’t warrant the expense, at least for an English-language publication.

I keenly await your first timely report Miran.

As much as I love David Schildknecht’s writing (and consider him a personal friend), he has been critically late with reviews for 15 years. Complaining about it now is pointless. It’s a feature, not a bug.

If he knows them, then it is even more offensive that he dismisses them and terms them as “sloppy.”

I think “sloppy” refers to the reviewing industry’s approach to covering German wines in general, not to any individual’s approach.

Thanks for your kind advice, Howard.

However, the “condescending” part comes entirely from your own interpretation, taken from the section in my post where I simply stated where I get my own information from when I want to read about German Riesling, including those that you mention. Nowhere have I stated anything negative about the quality of their work (unless you could be so kind to point out where and thus allow me to change that, since it is not my intention). On the contrary, I have mentioned their work in positive terms and regarding the Americans (all of whom I know personally…so hold your horses before advicing me any further), all I did was to point out the limitations of their commendable efforts. As I stated, all three are basically just doing one single annual road trip to Germany - thus limiting the possibilities of covering a wider part of the German landscape. It’s a simple fact - not a condescending opinion.

Terry Theise is indeed not a wine reviewer but his annual German catalogues while working with Skurnik were a mine of information on German wine. For anyone interested, I can warmly recommend his excellent book Reading between the wines. John is simply brilliant and has a prose that makes you salivate while reading his tasting notes. At least that’s how I feel when I read his impressions. I very much enjoy tasting with him. And the uncomparable David is unquestionably a tour de force with a knowledge about German wines few can compete with. I very much enjoy tasting wines with him too. As I do with my friends Jean and David, who are great ambassadors for Mosel wines - no one else comes even close to their knowledge and the work they put in. I’m not even a junior in comparison. But again, Howard, I’ll take your advice and make sure to start reading the wine writings of these people much more regularly.

Chris, to answer you - I completely agree. To proper cover a diverse wine region as Germany, would require even more boots on the ground and that wouldn’t warrant the expenses for most publications. The purpose with my friendly wager is not to challenge the major publications to cover ALL German wineries, but rather my ambition and purpose of challenging them is much more modest than that - to simply do a little better job than they are currently doing. Covering a bit more estates and publishing more timely reports. I’m teaching only math and science but I’ve heard that in business school, they teach you about how a healthy amount of competition leads to improvements of a product or service. I’d like to put that theory to the test by my insignificant challenge. Surely the profesional wine publications with their formidable resources, will do a better job reporting on German wines than I do in my spare time. And thanks, Chris, for explaining the bleeding obvious to Howard - his mission apparantly seems to be limited to interpreting every single word he can to the most negative. I wish you good luck with that, Howard.

Russell, you will need to have patience with me - the challenge will start (and end) only with the 2021 vintage in Germany. Meanwhile I’ll use my jumble of an amateur homepage as a practice ground, preparing for what’s to come next year.

It’s exactly a year today since you announced this project! I wish you all the best with it.

Totally agree as much as am I’m interested in reading what Miran has to say. I’m partial to TT, DS, and Fisch/Rayer here, although Terry is no longer publishing his catalogs now that he’s left Skurnik, and David Beuker’s assessment of David Schildnecht’s work is spot on (great guy, love his work and his knowledge of older German wines, but he’s often a behind the others coming out with his reviews). Interested in reading more from Anne Kreibehl as well.

Perhaps incorrectly, I’m inclined to blame Gilman’s ratings for the exponential increase in price of Keller’s GGs over the past few years, but I most certainly respect his palate.