Dr. Loosen And Jim Barry‘s LoosenBarry: Two Suspenseful Rieslings From Germany’s Mosel Region And Clare Valley, Australia
by Ken Gargett
Joint ventures in the wine world are nothing new and far from uncommon. Indeed, in the world of spirits in general. Readers may recall I reviewed a whiskey from Irish producer Teeling, who worked with Australian wine producer Jim Barry in providing casks.
Jim Barry is a leading winery from Australia’s Clare Valley famous for its Rieslings and one of the region’s top shiraz, The Armagh – a wine that now fetches prices around AUD$150 to AUD$200 per bottle.
Prior to Peter Barry, who succeeded his famous father, Jim, and came up with the idea to bottle the shiraz, the grapes went into an Aussie vintage port-style wine. One of the better wines of the day was called the Sentimental Bloke after a character in a much-loved old Aussie poem. It was lucky to get AUD$5 a bottle.
Perhaps the most famous joint wine venture is the international collaboration between Robert Mondavi and Château Mouton-Rothschild known as Opus One, but there have been many others in all sorts of forms.
The team at Jim Barry is at it again, this time with one of the most famous German producers, Ernie Loosen from Dr. Loosen in the Mosel region.
It must have been enormous fun to be involved in the early meetings when the crucial decisions were made (not least because you can bet that such meetings are fueled with top wines).
Some decisions would be easy – two of the world’s Riesling specialists, so what else could they make?
In the end, they decided to blend a Riesling from Mosel grapes, but in the Australian style, with a Riesling from Clare Valley grapes, but in the German style.
So Loosen sent over large old casks known as fuder for the Australian grapes, and the German grapes went into stainless steel. Both wines come out, and future wines may continue to come out, under the LoosenBarry label.
Also worth mentioning is that while Peter Barry still rules the roost, his sons Sam and Tom, who also operate their own winery, Clos Clare, are doing the heavy lifting for these wines rather than Peter himself.
LoosenBarry Walhalla: tasting notes
So we have the LoosenBarry Walhalla Riesling 2016 (around AUD$55) from Mosel fruit and made by the team at Dr. Loosen, which is made as close to bone dry possible with a lengthy period of aging on lees in stainless steel.
Walhalla is German for Valhalla, the majestic hall of fallen gods and Germanic heroes and kings in Norse mythology.
This is a fitting name for a beautifully perfumed wine with spices, citrus, lavender, and more, followed up with a pear note emerging in the second half.
The structure is tight with what might be termed “white wine grip.” If it has a failing, there is no great length, but the appeal is the gorgeous aromatics. Nicely balanced and fine aromatics. Fine acidity. 90.
The winery states that it spent 24 months on lees in tanks. It was intended to be 12 months, but apparently no one told the winemaker at the time.
LoosenBarry Wolta Wolta: tasting notes
From the other side of the world comes the LoosenBarry Wolta Wolta Riesling 2017 ($120) with Clare Valley fruit orchestrated by the Barry boys, but using the 2,800-liter German fuder for 12 months, with another 12 in stainless steel.
It has around 7 grams/liter residual sweetness. For me, this exhibited more finesse and elegance. Steely, with a hint of lime and slightly crunchy acidity.
Good length, nicely focused, and lingers well. A lovely refined style. Still very young. 92.
Some Loosen history
Some years ago, Ernie Loosen told me his story. It was a while back, so I am hoping the memory is accurate (and apologies for anything I may have twisted).
Even though the family is extremely well connected and even related – closely linked to the J.J. Prüm family, for example – the Loosen wines, which had been around for about 200 years, had certainly not set the world on fire.
When Ernie’s father, a lifetime politician, passed away, his mother threatened to sell the estate unless one of the family took it over. Ernie was studying archaeology at the time with no intention of entering the wine world, but his siblings were doctors and lawyers. They decided that, as Ernie did not have a real job, he could do it.
He turned up for his first vintage with a friend, who worked with him for decades thereafter, and advised the staff at the time that he had some ideas and would be changing the way things were done.
If anyone wanted to leave, he told the assembled staff, they could do so immediately.
So they all did. Not quite what he expected and far from an auspicious start.
Ernie then realized that not only did he not have any idea where the family’s vines were, there was no map. So he came up with the brilliant idea to wait until everything was picked throughout the region (not easy given that in the Mosel region many grapes are left on the vine for extended periods) and whatever was left must be theirs.
Brilliant indeed! It worked perfectly. And to make certain that they would not be in the dark again, Ernie tied ribbons to the end of each of their rows.
The problem was that the phone then started ringing off the hook with locals wanting to buy his vines – and he had no intention of selling. He could not work out why everyone suddenly thought he wanted to offload the vineyards, so he asked around. Apparently, local tradition was that if you wanted to sell you tied a ribbon to the end of your row. The ribbons came down.
He has come a long way since then. The Dr. Loosen wines are now world famous, sought after by wine lovers around the globe. It is perhaps more famous for its sweeter styles, as are most German producers, but it has been making some really exciting drier styles. The best are known as the GGs.
“GG” stands for “Grosses Gewächs,” which translates effectively as Grand Cru and applies to the best dry German wines, although it is not officially part of German wine law.
Rather, it was something that came from a meeting of some of the top producers in the early 2000s and subsequently as part of a plan to establish a roll call of just which are the top German vineyards. The majority of these sites are planted to Riesling.
It has been agreed that for a vineyard to fall within the GG classification, the yield must not exceed 50 hectoliters/hectare. The grapes must be “physiologically, fully ripe” and hand harvested. The wines are released on September 1 of the year following harvest.
Bonus: tasting notes on Dr. Loosen’s GGs and other wines
Dr. Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten GG Riesling 2014: Hints of dry herbs and spices with a slight basil note. Lovely aromatics. Good concentration with juicy grapefruit acidity over a minerally backdrop. Fig notes. Vibrant acidity. Really good length. A very impressive wine. Approx. AUD$70/€50. 93.
Dr. Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten GG Riesling 2017: This famous vineyard of red volcanic soil is the exception to the slate-everywhere-in-the-Mosel rule. The vines here are more than 100 years and up to 120 years old as there has been no phylloxera here. The wines are fermented in the fuder for 12 months with no bâtonnage. This wine offers more figgy notes. Orange rind and dry herbs. Spices. Lovely, lifted aromatics. Good punchy acidity with serious length. Finishes with pleasing citrus/orange notes. Approx. AUD$70/€50. 94.
Dr. Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten GG Riesling 2018: The vineyard DNA runs through all three UW wines. Lovely, lifted lemony notes. Spices. Bright, lemony acidity. The wine has a lemon pie touch and offers terrific texture. Really good length. Maintains the acidity and intensity right through the length. Laser-like focus. A star. Approx. AUD$70/€50. 95.
Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr GG Riesling 2018: One of Germany’s most famous vineyards, this is a popular spot for wine lovers to come to see the giant sundial that gives the vineyard its name (Sonnenuhr means sundial). A clue as to the stellar vineyards in the region is that they are usually those facing south – and those vineyards are where they built the sundials. It is almost all broken shards of blue Devonian slate with vines around a century in age. Indigenous yeasts used with the wine sitting on full lees for a year, in a 3,000-liter neutral cask. No bâtonnage.
This is a leaner style, but that focus and finesse is immensely appealing. Spices, citrus, fig flavors explode over the palate. Wonderful length. This is vibrant and it really does have amazing length. A cracking Riesling. One thing – I have absolutely no idea why this is so ridiculously inexpensive, especially in comparison with some of the other Loosen wines, and all queries were unable to resolve this mystery (definitely not complaining!). Approx. AUD$55/€25. 95.
Dr. Loosen Erdener Pralat GG Riesling 2016: This is a 1.6 hectare, south-facing site that is considered one of the region’s finest. Of the 1.6 hectares, Dr. Loosen owns 0.7 hectares. The remainder is shared among another 18 owners. There is a little red slate here. Century old vines, indigenous yeasts, 12 months on lees in 1,000-liter barrels with no bâtonnage. Herbs and spices and a slight earthy, minerally note. Nicely textured with fine acidity, but for me not the length of the very best. At least, it was not showing it that day. Approx. AUD$130/€49. 90.
Dr. Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Reserve GG Riesling 2014: The Reserve version of the wine seen earlier. Wonderful stuff. Intense and complex. A lovely supple texture. Pristine. Long, with a slightly rounded finish. Florals and citrus. Juicy acidity. Should age brilliantly. Compare this with a Grand Cru white burgundy and it is easy to see what fabulous value it represents. Approx. AUD$150/€50. 96.
Dr. Loosen Ürziger Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling 2018: This and the other two sweeter styles were all just 8.5 percent alcohol. Fresh, clean, bright, and floral. A joy to drink. The aromatics, freshness, and juicy explosion of flavor on the palate. Gentle, nicely balanced, and lingering. A summer afternoon, a good book, and a bottle of that and I’d be in heaven. Approx. AUD$35/€25. 91.
Dr. Loosen Ürziger Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese Riesling 2018: This wine is much more minerally, a little more serious, but still with fig, citrus, and spice notes. Bright and balanced. Good length. A fine wine with a promising future. Approx. AUD$45/€35. 92.
Dr. Loosen Ürziger Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 2016: Tight with floral notes and pineapple flavors. A hint of honey. Delicious. Nicely balanced and even though there is noticeable sweetness the balance more than covers this. Really persistent. Amazing length. Approx. AUD$45/€20 for the half bottle. 94.
For more information, please visit www.jimbarry.com/news/loosenbarry-unique-collaboration.