Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ernst Loosen and Dr. L. Riesling - His Hugely Popular Entry-level Wine Sold Throughout the World

Picture: Ernst Loosen and his Dr. L at Rasika in Washington DC

Ernst Loosen was in town (Washington DC) and I had a chance to meet him and taste his wines several times. A highlight was a tête-à-tête dinner at the trendy Indian fusion restaurant Rasika, where Ernst also poured his hugely popular Dr. L Riesling. Ernst Loosen is a charismatic figure and has done loads for promoting German Riesling around the world.

Picture: Rasika in Washington DC

This is the first posting in a series of 3 postings: (1) Ernst Loosen and Dr. L. Riesling - His Hugely Popular Entry-level Wine Sold Throughout the World, (2) Riesling, Pinot Noir and Indian Cuisine: A tête-à-tête Dinner with Winemaker Ernst Loosen, Weingut Dr. Loosen, at Rasika in Washington DC and (3)Riesling from Germany and Pinot Noir from Oregon: A Winemaker Dinner with Ernst Loosen, Weingut Dr. Loosen and J.Christopher Wines, at Black Salt in Washington DC.

Weinrallye # 62: Not more than Euro 5

This posting is being published as part of the Weinrallye, a monthly blog event in Germany. Participating wine bloggers - mainly in Germany - are all releasing postings today under the heading "Not More Than 5 Euros”. Weinrallye is the brainchild of Thomas Lippert, a winemaker and wine blogger based in Heidelberg, Germany. This month's wine rally is organized by Nico Medenbach, who runs the wine blog “Drunkenmonday”.

Picture: Weinrallye

Dr. L is Ernst Loosen’s entry level wine, hugely popular all over the world, but virtually unknown in Germany. The lowest price according to wine searcher is $8.89, which equals about Euro 6.60 at the current exchange rate, i.e. a bit more expensive than the Euro 5.00 criterion.

Picture: Dr. L

Ernst Loosen in the World

Ernst Loosen is a winemaker based in Germany, who now makes 4 different wines in Germany and the USA: First, Mosel Valley Rieslings, mostly fruity-sweet that made him so famous in the world; second, Pinot Noirs and other wines from the Pfalz, all dry, where he owns Weingut J.L. Wolf; third, the J. Christopher Wines, a collaboration of Ernst Loosen and Jay Somers, mainly Pinot Noir, from Oregon and fourth, the Eroica wines, a collaboration between Dr. Loosen and Chateau Ste. Michelle, the giant wine producer, in Washington State. At the dinner at Rasika, we tasted and focused on Rieslings from the Mosel Valley and Pinot Noirs from Oregon.

 
Pictures: Ernst Loosen at Rasika telling a story

Ernst Loosen in the Mosel Valley

The wines of Weingut Dr. Loosen are known all around the world as prime examples of Germany’s famous delicious low alcohol, fruity-sweet Rieslings from the Mosel. These are exceptional wines, skillfully made by first-class winemakers like Ernst Loosen, essentially made by not letting the fermentation going its full course so that natural sugar remains in the wine. Alternatively, German winemakers are allowed to add sweet-reserve (sterilized grape juice) to increase the sweetness level in the wine, but today, this is mostly done, if at all, for fine tuning the residual sweetness. These fruity-sweet wines are the wines that are so popular among the fans of German wine in the world.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller at Weingut Dr. Loosen

But today, wine loving Germans drink dry. There is no doubt about it. The large majority of the premium wines produced in Germany is dry. And the German (dry) grand cru Rieslings can compete with the best wines in the world. The word is getting around - slowly but surely - and more and more dry German Rieslings appear on the international market. So, it was not a surprise that during his stay in Washington DC, Ernst Loosen presented also is dry Red Slate wine as well as Grosses Gewaechs wines – the ultra-premium dry wines from Germany. “But while in Germany the demand for my fruity sweet wines is low, the Grosses Gewaechs wines are very high in demand. Here in the US, it is the other way around” said Ernst.

Weingut Dr. Loosen is located just outside Bernkastel in the Mosel wine region. The vineyard area totals 22 hectares. Production amounts to 15.000 cases. Ernst Loosen won the "Riesling of the Year" of the German wine magazine Der Feinschmecker in 1989. In 2001, the Gault Millau Weinguide named Ernst Loosen as the German Winemaker of the Year.

The American Wine Portfolio of Weingut Dr. Loosen

Ernst explained to us that his wines can be grouped into 3 quality categories.

Single Vineyard Wines

These are wines from the premium vineyards of Weingut Dr. Ernst Loosen. In fact, all of Weingut Dr. Loosen’s six major vineyards were designated as Grosse Lage (grand cru) in the 1868 Prussian classification of Mosel vineyards, which was undertaken for tax assessment purposes. This classification predates the grand cru system in Burgundy, and was updated by Stuart Pigott and Hugh Johnson in the Wine Atlas of Germany (1995). “We use this historically proven classification at Dr. Loosen. Only wines from the six top-rated sites (indicated on the map to the right) are bottled with a single-vineyard designation. All others are labeled simply as estate wines” Ernst said.

Berkasteler Lay, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, Ürziger Würzgarten, Erdener Prälat, Erdener Treppchen - A full range of Prädikat wines is made from the six grand cru single-vineyard sites. In addition, Weingut Loosen makes Grosses Gewaechs wines – ultra premium dry wines from Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Ürziger Würzgarten, Erdener Treppchen.

Picture: Ernst Loosen at Rasika

Ernst explained that the vineyards of Weingut Dr. Loosen owe their excellent quality to three major factors: the exceptional regional climate of the Middle Mosel area, the mineral-rich slate and volcanic soils, and the incredible age of the estate’s ungrafted Riesling vines. These elements are the building blocks of each vineyard’s terroir and have long been recognized for their importance in producing outstanding wines.

See:
The Doctor Made a House Call - A Tasting with Ernst Loosen, Weingut Dr. Loosen, at MacArthur Beverages in Washington DC, USA

Estate Wines

All the grapes that do not go into single vineyard wines are used for the 2 Estate Wines, Blue Slate and Red Slate. In the USA, Ernst offers a dry Red Slate wine and a fruity sweet (Kabinett) Blue Slate wine.

The Red Slate Riesling is sourced from parcels in Uerzig and Erden, while the Blue Slate Riesling is sourced from vineyards in Bernkastel, Graach and Wehlen, where the soil is pure blue slate.

Dr. L

Dr. L is Ernst Loosen’s hugely popular entry-level wine (more on it see below).

Ernst Loosen in Oregon

Ernst Loosen’s most recent project is a joint venture with Jay Somers in Oregon. Located in Oregon’s Northern Willamette Valley, J. Christopher Wines is a small winery that specializes in Pinot Noir made in the traditional style of Burgundy. The winery also produces Sauvignon Blanc modeled after the great wines of Sancerre. The philosophy at J. Christopher is to produce wines in an Old World style that emphasizes focus, length and balance. Jay Somers is not only a gifted winemaker, but also a killer guitarist.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller at the J. Christopher Winery

Jay Somers and Ernst Loosen met years ago, and quickly realized that they shared a similar taste and passion for Pinot Noir. Their friendship led to a partnership, and in 2010, they began building a winery and vineyard in Newberg, Oregon. As winemaker for the joint venture, Jay is in charge of all winery operations. Ernst sees his role as that of an investor who both supports the growth of the brand and broadens the winery’s exposure to Old World ideas and techniques.

Loosen Christopher Wines LLC produces wines under the J. Christopher brand. The venture purchased a 40-acre property for a new vineyard and J. Christopher Winery on Hillside Drive in Newberg, Oregon. Planting of the first block of Pinot Noir began last year. The first phase of the winery construction, the barrel cellar construction, occurred before the 2010 harvest. When I visited the winery with Tim Malone, the Phase II construction had just begun. At full build-out, the winery will have a production capacity of 8000 cases of Pinot Noir and 2000 cases of Sauvignon Blanc and other white wines.

See:
A Riesling Guru and a Killer Guitarist cum Cult Winemaker: Ernst Loosen and Jay Somers and their J. Christopher Winery in Newberg, Oregon

Ernst Loosen in the Pfalz

In 1996, Ernst Loosen took over the J.L. Wolf estate so that he could make traditionally crafted Pfalz wines to complement the light and elegant Dr. Loosen Rieslings he produces in the Mosel. In the classic style of the Pfalz, these wines are more full-bodied than Mosel wines, with higher alcohol and rich flavors of ripe fruit and stone.

The Pfalz region lies between the Haardt Mountains and the Rhine River, directly north of France’s Alsace region. As in Alsace, the mountains protect the area from harsh Atlantic weather, making it one of the warmer and drier areas of Germany. In this climate, achieving full ripeness is possible in nearly every vintage. Mature, fully ripened fruit is the key to making concentrated dry-style wines that have enough body to balance the naturally high acidity.

Ernst Loosen in Washington State

Promoting the worldwide ascendancy of Riesling was a big reason why Ernst Loosen began a joint venture with Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington State a bit more than 10 years ago. He was convinced that it would take a seriously good New World Riesling to help bring the variety back to the forefront. Eroica was launched in 1999. Named for Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Eroica is supposed to reflect not only its variety and site, but also its heritage: bold and forward from its Washington roots, elegant and refined from German inspiration.

The wine is made at Chateau Ste. Michelle from grapes grown in the Columbia Valley. They make three kinds of the Eroica. The regular Eroica, an icewine and a single berry selection. The latter is made in the traditional German Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) style and is one of the few TBAs in North America.

See:
Wine ratings: Two American/German wines - Eroica and Poet's Leap - on Top 100 Wines from Washington State list for 2009 
German American Wines: (1) Pacific Rim Riesling (2) Eroica and (3) Woelffer's Schillerwein 

Loosen Bros. Imports in the USA

Ernst Loosen is not only a producer of wines, but also runs – with his brother Thomas Loosen - an import company, with a remarkable portfolio.

Dr. Loosen (Mosel, Germany),
Villa Wolf (Pfalz, Germany)
Weingut Robert Weil (Rheingau, Germany),
C. von Schubert - Maximin Grünhaus (Ruwer, Germany),
Domaine de Bellene and Maison Roche de Bellene (Burgundy, France),
Gantenbein (Graubünden, Switzerland) and
J. Christopher Wines (Willamette Valley, Oregon).

Dr. L – Ernst Loosen’s Hugely Popular Entry-level Wine

Dr. L is Ernst Loosen’s hugely popular entry-level wine produced for a global market. It is made by Ernst and Thomas Loosen (Loosen Bros.). Ernst explained: “Dr. L comes exclusively from traditional vineyards with steep slopes and slate soil. This introductory, non-estate wine embodies the elegant and racy style of classic Mosel Riesling. By working closely with growers on long-term contract, we are able to assure excellent quality in every vintage.”

Pictures: The tête-à-tête dinner at Rasika was with Washington Post Wine Columnist Dave McIntyre and me. We were later joined by Rasika Sommelier Paul Ruttiman and Annette Schiller, wine tours by ombiasy. Indeed, the forthcoming Germany trip of Annette Schiller includes a wine tasting at Weingut Dr. Loosen in the Mosel Valley.

See:
Germany Wine and Culture Tour August 2013
Bordeaux Wine Tour September 2013 

The wine has 8.5% alcohol and is off-dry. The lowest price according to wine searcher is $8.89, which equals about Euro 6.60 at the current exchange rate. The average score on cellar tracker is 87.7 (of 100) points.

Here are the tasting notes of Natalie MacLean, the well known wine journalist from Canada: “ Dr. L is the exceptional entry-level Mosel Riesling made by the dynamic Ernst Loosen. If you are a Riesling newbie, this is an excellent place to begin. It shows all the bright fruitiness and refreshing acidity one should expect from the grape. Wrapped up in a very easy-drinking style, it can be enjoyed as a sipper or as a very versatile food partner. My note: This is a favorite of so many people I know and for good reason: packed with flavor, floral notes and melon essence. Light- to medium-bodied and low in alcohol. Food matches: mildly spiced seafood pasta dish.”

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The Doctor Made a House Call - A Tasting with Ernst Loosen, Weingut Dr. Loosen, at MacArthur Beverages in Washington DC, USA

A Riesling Guru and a Killer Guitarist cum Cult Winemaker: Ernst Loosen and Jay Somers and their J. Christopher Winery in Newberg, Oregon

Wine ratings: Two American/German wines - Eroica and Poet's Leap - on Top 100 Wines from Washington State list for 2009

German American Wines: (1) Pacific Rim Riesling (2) Eroica and (3) Woelffer's Schillerwein 

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