Monday, May 6, 2013

Riesling, Pinot Noir and Indian Cuisine: A tête-à-tête Dinner with Winemaker Ernst Loosen, Weingut Dr. Loosen, at Rasika in Washington DC, USA

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Ernst Loosen 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. Ernst Loosen is a charismatic figure and has done loads for promoting German Riesling around the world.

This is the second 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.

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

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

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.

Pictures: Ernst Loosen at Rasika

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).

Pictures: Ernst Loosen at Rasika

“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 from a number of his grand cru vineyards, including Ürziger Würzgarten, Erdener Prälat and Erdener Treppchen.

Pictures: The tête-à-tête dinner at Rasika was with Washington Post Wine Columnist Dave McIntyre and me. We were later joined by Rasika Somelier 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.

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

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.

Estate Wines

Ernst said that 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. 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.”

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

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.

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller and Jay Somer's Poncho Luxurio at Portland's White Eagle Saloon

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.

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.

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).

What Ernst Poured

2011 Dr. L

This introductory, non-estate wine embodies the racy style of classic Mosel Riesling.

2011 Riesling Dry Red Slate

The 2011 Red Slate Dry has a pronounced, enveloping aroma of slate minerality. There is good impact on the palate, with a nicely lifted mid-palate and a rounded, harmonious structure.

2011 Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett

This wine comes from parcels owned by Weingut Dr. Loosen in the blue slate villages of Bernkastel, Graach and Wehlen. It is bright and pure with the classic white peach fruit and floral, flinty minerality that is so typical from blue slate. A plush attack on the mid-palate leads to a deliciously firm, delicate finish. This wine makes an elegant aperitif and is an excellent match for seafood, spicy Asian cuisine and lighter dishes.

2011 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett

Wine and Spirits (93 points): Firm and delicate, this gives the sense of looking from the top of the rocky Treppchen hill, with the scent of herps and wildflowers growing between sun-warmed stones.

2010 Willamete Valley, Pinot Noir, J. Christopher Wines

From a very small crop in a cool vintage, the 2010 Willamette Valley Pinot has great fruit purity and a fine, clean structure. The signature of this vintage is superb balance, with bright, juicy fruit, moderate alcohol and supple tannins all working together in elegant harmony.

2007 Appassionata, J. Christopher Wines

The Wine Advocate: J. Christopher 2007 Pinot Noir Appassionata represents the first, 150-case lot of what proprietors Jay Somers and Ernst Loosen intend will always be released only when they feel it is drinking especially expressively. This year – a challenging one in which to inaugurate a flagship bottling – it came from Bella Vide and Abbey Ridge vineyards. The mingling of game and resinous herbs with lightly-cooked red fruits puts me a bit in mind of the South of France, even if there is certainly admirable buoyancy on exhibit. Low-toned fungal and forest floor suggestions offer more Pinot-typical themes, and faintly grainy tannins add a faint and attractive sense of chew to a finish still possessed of ample primary juiciness. I could well imagine this being worth following for several more years, though there is a faintly nutty, smoky whiff of oxidative development about it, and I expect that its tannins will easily outlast the rest of its features.

2011 Uerziger Wuerzgarten Riesling Spaetlese

Light yellow in the glass, attack of lychee, ripe pear, and honeysuckle flowers notes on the nose, good structure, silky texture with honeysuckle fruit flavors on the palate, combined with a crackling mineral undertone, long finish. 

Gosses Gewaechs (Grand Cru) Wines

At Rasika, Ernst did not pour Grosses Gewaechs wines, but a day before I had a chance to taste two of his Grosses Gewaechs wines.

2010 Uerziger Wuerzgarten Riesling Grosses Gewaechs

Würzgarten means ‘spice garden’ and this wine shows exactly that. White pepper, curry, cumin and other spices dominate the nose. Exotic fruits sweeten it up. Rose and peach petals, exotic spices and acidity showing in the long finish. The acidity is mellow and more integrated.

2010 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Grosses Gewaechs

From avery steep parcel of the original Erdener Treppchen  vineyard, this penetrating dry wine reflects the muscular minerality that is characteristic of the iron-rich red slate of this site. 92 Points Wine and Spirits


Washington Post’s food critic Tom Sietsema says: “When visiting food critics solicit suggestions for where to eat, no matter what hot spot has just ignited in Washington, Rasika tops my list. “There's nothing like this in" New York/Chicago/San Francisco/Houston, my fellow mouths-for-hire all say after tasting the handiwork of chef Vikram Sunderam.”

The Food

We shared a selection of starters and a selection of main dishes.


My favorite starter was the palak chaat--fried leaves of spinach zigzagged with yogurt and tamarind.

Main Dishes

My favorite main dish was the black cod marinated in honey, dill, star anise, and vinegar.

schiller-wine: Related Postings

Germany’s 2011 VDP Grosses Gewaechs – Grand Cru - Wines Released. Notes from the Pre-release Tasting in Wiesbaden, Germany

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

German Spaetlese Wines Can Come in Different Versions. I Have Counted Five.

Approaches to Classifying German Wine: The Standard Approach (the Law of 1971), the VDP Approach and the Zero Classification Approach

The VDP - the Powerful Group of German Elite Winemakers - Refines its Classification System, Germany

Tasting with Wilhelm Weil the 2010 Weingut Weil Wines in Kiedrich, Germany

Visiting Weingut Josef Leitz in Ruedesheim – Johannes Leitz is Germany’s Winemaker of the Year, Gault Millau WeinGuide 2011

Hanging out with Rheingau Winemakers: Dirk Wuertz, Desiree Eser, Alexander Jakob Jung, Hansi Bausch and Christian Ress in Hattenheim, Rheingau, Germany

A Pinot Noir Star: Visiting August Kesseler and his Weingut August Kesseler in Assmannshausen, Germany

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 

Germany Wine and Culture Tour August 2013

Bordeaux Wine Tour September 2013 

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