A BRIEF WRAPUP ON THE 2021 SECOND FLUSH DARJEELINGS
Readers interested in the basic background information on this topic – and readers should be interested, as these are wonderful things to drink, with many parallels to wine – are encouraged to go back to an earlier blog post.
While the 2021 summer-flush season wasn’t as covid-afflicted as last year’s had been, it was delayed by wet weather and never really caught up. In 2020 there were numerous teas of “Grand Cru” quality, but in 2021 there are only a few. That said, the general level is higher this year, and it assists in appreciating how fine these teas are even when they are not exceptional.
I bought broadly, from all the merchants I cited earlier. It’s an easy way to obtain teas otherwise scarce in the U.S.. The best teas were these:
GOOMTEE from Darjeeling Tea Boutique, is suave, deep and roundly complex. It stands alone.
Then came a trio from Teabox, a reliable vendor who only rarely reach the peaks on display here. Those teas are two from the garden SEEYOK (which includes the finest ethereal clonal I tasted among all the ‘21s), and a wonderful “muscatel” from GOOMTEE, which is more intense than Tea Boutique’s if a little less fine.
Honorable mention goes to a POOBONG from Tea Boutique, which seems to have over achieved this year. The tea is allusive and insinuating, with a richness that sneaks up on you.
Goomtee is really on a roll of late. The other top gardens – Arya, Jungpana and Castleton – were steadily fine if not quite stellar.
BLOG INTRO TO WEINGUT CARL LOEWEN
Reflecting back on my merchant years it strikes me that you never really know why some things ignite and others don’t. Sure, the “right” reviews in the “right” places drive (“the wrong?”) attention to an estate, but when you look at the more organic elements of creating demand, I think you need a platoon of salespeople who’ve become, for whatever reason, jazzed.
When I first met Loewens they were a young couple on something of a quest to champion the excellence of several great sites upstream from the “known-great names.” I would write that Leiwener Laurentiuslay and Thörnicher Ritsch deserved the same renown as Wehlener Sonnenuhr, and the reason they didn’t receive it was due to the lack of a “flagship” estate, a Prüm or an Egon Müller, a situation Loewens hoped to remedy.
Loewens enjoyed a certain renown among insiders, but only one of the standard guides elevated them to their true stature. Despite remarkably moderate prices, my colleagues remained “cool” to the estate, and so we schlumped along without gaining traction.
Loewen was and remains a lover of ambient-yeast fermentations – spontis in the parlance – and while I agreed with his view that “Behind an early shroud is a fragrance you cannot attain any other way,” the market has neither the luxury nor the patience to consider the fullness of time when they accept or decline a wine based on an admittedly unattractive sample. Honestly,I wouldn’t either.
Yet the wines were beautiful and the vineyards remained undervalued.
Then two decisive things happened.
One, a legacy-estate in the village of Longuich had to sell, as attempts to motivate the reluctant heir to take it over had failed. This estate – another one known to insiders – was Schmitt-Wagner, and the legacy was solidified by the presence of a remarkable number of very old ungrafted vines, planted between 1896 and the early 20th century. Loewen prevailed among a number of interested buyers, and the estate – and its magnificent vines – were enfolded into Weingut Carl Loewen.
It wasn’t only the ancient vines that mattered; it was also the presence of a third great site in the stable. It conferred a critical mass of Grand Cru land that was more difficult to overlook.
And then came Christopher Loewen, with all his energy and his talent and his youthful derring-do, not to mention he spoke excellent English and was easy on the eyes. He took what to all appearances was a seamless place beside his parents in moving the winery along, and he took a perhaps more conspicuous place in our markets moving their sales along.
And now I pause, because you never actually know who or what is responsible for developments in a wine estate. Correlation doesn’t equal causality, etc., but I can confidently say that since Christopher arrived the dry wines have improved in leaps and bounds, and all the wines have obtained an expressive force that creates a WOW effect in tasters. And yet, the first innovation he spearheaded was conservative; he took a portion of the harvest from a site planted in 1896, and made a separate wine from that fruit as it would have been made in 1896. Two things were born: A wine, and just as important, a Story.
The estate was no longer just one of my Strange Preoccupations; it was attracting buzz.
Now it is eight years later, and Loewen isn’t an insider-tip any more. The wines have to be allocated, the press are breathless….and then we come to the wines.
In general Loewen’s wines belong to the traditional, that is, sponti and Fuder (the 1,100-liter cask used along the Mosel) as opposed to cultured yeast and stainless steel. That sponti-Fuder language has several dialects. It can sometimes feel atavistic, not exactly “rustic” but certainly rural, and this is where the most stubborn young stinkers come from. I have a soft spot for this style, and the less approachable it is, the tenderer I feel.
But many growers have learned to tame the sponti (none more virtuosically than Johannes Selbach, in my view), to encourage its more attractive features and suppress (or eliminate) its obnoxious ones. Loewen is moving into this group, though the nature of the 2020 wines encourages a fundamentally sleek sort of polish, and it’s dubious to generalize based on this highly particular vintage.
That said, you’ll see; I found these to be a heart-rending group of Rieslings. They are full of a delicate paradox, or more accurately, paradoxes; they are as clear as can be yet they’re also soft-lit; they have all the evocations of the sponti dialect at its best yet they seem like their flavors were arranged by tiny tweezers; they are para-sensual but too expressive to be mystic; they feel gentle but act forceful; they have everything we desire in Grand Cru Riesling yet they’re as lithe as gymnasts.
Maybe Christopher is moving past expressiveness for its own sake and into greater concern for how the text is read, how the score is played. Maybe! One can only surmise, and when I blurt the question to a vintner they either don’t know what I’m talking about or they give the answer they think I’m looking for. Thus if I tell you that Christopher’s impact on his family’s wines is to seek greater and greater precision and polish, the most I can say is, it could well be true….