Dry Riesling Bonanza!

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It used to be so simple. Everyone knew that if you wanted sweet Riesling you bought German and if you wanted dry, you looked to Alsace or Austria. It’s true that the Alsatians and Austrians have been making great dry Rieslings for years, but the Germans wanted in on the action and had to go and complicate matters. Now there’s more stellar-quality dry Riesling out there than ever before and sweet wine production in Germany is on the wane. In fact, so the story goes, no German wants to be anywhere near a Riesling with residual sugar. On more than one occasion I’ve been told by a German winemaker that sweet wines simply don’t have a place at the table, unless it’s an Eiswein or TBA enjoyed with or for dessert. We must have much better Thai and Szechuan restaurants here in the U.S. than they have in Germany, since this is clearly not true. We’ll concede, though, that with many styles of classic European food, a Spätlese isn’t our first choice. 

With every successive vintage, dry Rieslings in Germany have continued to improve and quite a few are now achieving the world-class status aimed for by the producers. Now that spring is here and white wine weather is back, we’re fortunate to have an abundant and diverse selection of these remarkably terroir-expressive wines to offer, not just from Germany, but from all three of the classic European Riesling-producing nations. Highlights include selections from Boxler, Bott-Geyl and Frick in Alsace; the best value in Smaragd Riesling you’re likely to come across, from Weingut Högl in the Wachau; and top wines from some of Germany’s most highly regarded vineyards (Grosses Gewächs) from the organic Wagner-Stempel and Wittmann in the Rheinhessen, plus critics’ darlings Schäfer-Fröhlich and Dönnhoff in the Nahe.

Be sure not to overlook the wines of Clemens Busch, who consistently makes the best, most lushly textured dry wines in the Mosel. The 2008s are stellar and his collection of 2010s is even more remarkable.  -jfr

P.S. A quick note about sulfur dioxide: for us this remains an issue in German wine, with many winemakers whacking their dry wines with amounts that would only be appropriate for a sweet wine that would otherwise be in danger of refermenting. While few-to-no winemakers are working without SO2, we’ve worked to specifically avoid those who are the worst offenders in over-sulfuring their dry wines. Just taste our delicious selections to see for yourself.

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Busch, Clemens 2010 Mosel Pündericher Marienburg Grosses Gewächs

The Pündericher Marienburg is the primary site farmed by Clemens Busch and the separate bottlings such as Fahrlay, Falkenlay, Rothenpfad and Felsterrasse are all individually named parcels within the larger vineyard. This standard Grosses Gewächs comes from 30-35 year old vines planted on gray slate. The 2008 was Clemens' best GG yet and the 2010 is, not surprisingly, even better. Busch makes distinct, nuanced, textured Rieslings of uncommon depth and the 2010 is, to my palate, just perfect. The aromas and flavors are similar to the '08, with anise, white flowers, apricots, light citrus tones and tons of crushed rocks. Perfectly in balance between weight and acidity, and incredibly long and persistent. This is top-quality dry Riesling from one of the Mosel's greats. -jfr

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Busch, Clemens 2010 Mosel Riesling Trocken

Nose is pure slate with dark floral notes and fresh citrus aromas. The palate is boldly acidic, but in a mouthwatering, delicious way. Less creamy and more linear than previous vintages, but with apparent mineral and citrus tones, it's much more complex and interesting than your typical Kabinett trocken. Achingly delicious and long, with lemon, lime-rind and grapefruit flavors. Laced with minerals and a leesy finish, and with plenty of fruit. With lowish-alcohol and high acid, this is not what we're used to from Clemens but I'd be happy if this were the new norm. As time goes on, I'm really going to miss having fresh 2010s around to drink... -jfr

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Busch, Clemens 2008 Mosel Pündericher Marienburg Riesling Felsterrasse

The 2008 Felsterrasse comes from a tiny parcel of 50+ year-old vines on the steep, crumbly, gray slate just at the top of the Falkenlay parcel (within the Marienburg, along with almost all of Busch’s other holdings). Only a halbfuder (500 liters) was produced. This wine could technically be labeled as Grosses Gewachs but was not because in previous vintages it has not always fermented completely dry. Enjoyed over a leisurely lunch at one of our favorites in the East Village, Prune. My caraway omelet was the perfect foil for the wine which continuously blossomed over the course of the meal. The nose is laced with notes of honeysuckle and deeply mineral, evincing a pure essence of slate. Bronzed citrus fruits show up on the palate and the wine is extraordinarily long, fresh, balanced and broad. This has heft and a chalky minerality along with honeyed meyer lemon, orange citrus, crushed slate notes. Piercingly dry but with monumental stature, slight creaminess, lovely, sappy and long. From 50-year old vines planted in gray slate at the top of the Falkenlay parcel. Only 5 cases in the US, and a Chambers Street Wines Exclusive. -jfr

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Busch, Clemens 2008 Mosel Pündericher Marienburg Erste Lage Fahrlay

From 60-65 year old vines on a blue slate parcel within the Marienburg. Traditionally this has finished off-dry but in this vintage Busch allowed the native yeasts to completely ferment the wine dry (the 2009 vintage will be GG, as the style fits the parcel well). Sternly mineral with notes of anise. Profound and bigger than the Marienburg GG, with more intense fruit on the mid-palate but flavor profile is similar, leaning toward grapefruit and tangerine. Really taut and compact but there's so much stuffing here -- it's really just a baby! -jfr

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Clüsserath, Ansgar 2010 Mosel Vom Schiefer Riesling Trocken

Similar to the terrific work of Clemens Busch and the Rheinessen's Philipp Wittmann, young Eva Clüsserath (who also happens to be married to the latter) is making compelling wines while farming without chemicals and applying minimal intervention in the cellar. Her wines are chiseled, mineral-driven examples of Middle-Mosel slate terroir and this entry-level Trocken is a stand-out value. Eva farms 5 hectares of vines and uses much less sulfur than her neighbors, adding only a small bit at bottling. The Vom Schiefer Trocken is aromatically quite pretty, with creamy hints, slate, yellow fruits and classic Mosel apple notes. The palate is zippy and lively and with enough charming fruit to hover at the upper reaches of "trocken," yet is balanced by plenty of crisp, lively acid. It is a blend of fruit from three well-sited but lesser known vineyards, Mulheimer Sonnenlay, Neumagener Rosengärtchen and Trittenheimer Altärchen. Eva is an up and coming grower who deserves to be watched. -jfr

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Dönnhoff 2010 Nahe Kahlenberg Riesling Trocken

From south-facing slopes just north of the Nahe river in Bad Kreuznach. The palate is rich, long, and wonderfully fruity with a focused core of acidity. This is an elegant, shimmering dry wine from 2010, not at all austere and beautifully demonstrative of what good dry Riesling can be. There's a crunchy, crystalline, quartzite-like mineral quality on the finish as well as a hint of salt, and the fruit tends toward peach, green apple, lime pith and orange peel. Even without the sweetness it still has that lush yet ethereal fruit quality that I associate with Donnhoff. Fermented in stainless steel then aged in large 2400-liter barrels for four months, and (like the best 2010s) not de-acidified. It's seemingly contradictory how there can be so much density yet weightlessness, but that's really what Helmutt and Cornelius Donnhoff do best. -jfr

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Falkenstein, Hofgut 2010 Saar Krettnacher Altenberg Ries Spät Trocken

The Spätlese Trocken from Altenberg is both essentially Weber's entry-level wine but also his signature bottling. It's certainly the wine of his stable that tastes the least like one's common perceptions of Mosel Riesling. The soil is composed of classic blue-gray slate, and the intense mineral tones in the wine are a rock-lover's dream. Aromatically it's minty, steely, herbal and has a distinct note of sea-spray. The wine actually reminds me more of a great Muscadet or a low-alcohol Fino Sherry than typical Saar. Wonderfully unique and compelling wine. AP #7 -jfr

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Haag, Fritz 2010 Mosel Estate Riesling Trocken

Rich and ripe for a Mosel Trocken, with fruit tones that border on the bright and tropical. An excellent introduction to one of the Mosel's most well-respected and beloved properties. -jfr

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Immich-Batterieberg 2010 Mosel Batterieberg Riesling

From the famous dynamite-derived Batterieberg vineyard in Enkirch, this is perhaps the most imposing wine of the vintage. Very tightly-coiled, this needs much time in the decanter or cellar to unwind, but when it does the results are magnificent. According to Dan Melia it is "chiseled, fine, balanced, mineral-driven, and just packed with flavor in a way that only 2010 can achieve." If you are choosing just one dry-styled wine to cellar this vintage, look no further. -jfr

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Knebel 2010 Mosel Riesling

The wine we all love and formerly knew as "Knebel Trocken" has gone for a bit of re-branding, as the estate has decided to simply refer to it as "Riesling." This most likely reflects the fact that this is more of a feinherb-style in 2010, as the acid may have been a bit much for the wine without a little RS to balance things out. From steep slate sites in the staggeringly beautiful Terrassenmosel, this continues to be one of the best entry-level wines in all of Germany. Pretty notes of honey, white fruit and steely minerals on the nose followed by clean hints of lemon, lime, tangerine, ripe melon and crushed rock on the palate. -jfr

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Künstler, Franz 2010 Rheingau Stielweg "Old Vines" Riesling Trocken

Working way out at the far end of the Rheingau in Hochheim, Gunter Künstler is making some of the best dry wines in the region, hands down. Stielweg is always the best value of the bunch, coming in at a lower price than the various Erstes Gewächs bottlings. The soil is composed of clay and loam, and this combined with the Stielweg's 50-year-old vines provide the wine with a sense of sturdiness yet terrific depth and a steely mineral quality. The aromas are clean and precise, with notes of fresh green herbs and apricot blossoms. The interplay between the classic Rheingau extract and the bright, penetrating minerality is compelling and this is one to drink now or follow over the course of 5-10 years. Exceptional! -jfr

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Kuntz, Sybille 2008 Mosel Riesling Trocken

Sybille Kuntz is one of the Mosel's few female winemakers. She works ungrafted, old 40-60 year-old parcels in the Lieser Niederberg Helden, the source for the grapes in this dry wine. The nose is very mineral-driven and there's great texture on the palate; round but balanced with good acidic cut and citrus-driven, orange blossom notes. -jfr

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Lauer, Peter 2010 Saar Ayler Kupp Riesling Fass 12 'Unterstenbersch'

Like Stirn and Kern, Unterstenbersch is another special parcel within the Ayler Kupp that was formerly considered its own vineyard. It is illegal for Lauer to put the actual name of the site, Unterstenberg, on the label, so he's changed the spelling to circumvent the law. It is located toward the southeastern end of the Kupp and has an ideal south-facing exposure. The vines are up to 60 years-old and planted on weathered slate, while the wine is vinified again in the "trocken bis feinherb" style. This vintage, though, shows far less sugar than is actually there, due to the racy acids. -jfr

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Schaefer, Karl 2010 Pfalz Wachenheimer Gerümpel Riesling Trocken

Gerümpel isn't your typical terroir for German Riesling, consisting of sand and clay with a very deep top soil. Fermented and raised in stainless steel tanks, the wine has crisp, fresh aromatics of minerals, sea spray, yellow apples and white flowers. 2010 acidity helps keep things remarkably focused and the yellow fruit flavors are long and deeply refreshing. Wonderfully balanced with plenty of fruit and extract to keep things from being austere. Great, light Riesling for spring and summer weather. -jfr

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Stein 2010 Mosel Blauscheifer Riesling Trocken

Stein's Blauschiefer is our first 2010 from Mosel Wine Merchant to hit the shelves, and believe me, it's a harbinger of great things to come. Lots of text has been wasted and hands have been wrung trying to make sense of the vintage but all you need to do is try a bottle of this and see for yourself what one of our favorite winemakers was able to accomplish. Expertly balanced, lean in texture and quite dry, though not in an austere way. There's plenty of nervy citrus notes to give the wine charm and, of course, it's all wrapped in signature "Stein-Wein" minerality. -jfr

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Wittmann 2010 Rheinhessen Riesling Trocken

Philipp Wittmann farms organically in the Rheinhessen and his vines are planted on limestone and heavy clay soils. The 2010 Trocken Riesling is clean and floral aromatically, with zingy, bright acid and pure, intense mineral tones. Lovely stuff. -jfr

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Wittmann 2009 Rheinhessen Westhofen Morstein Riesling GG

Morstein is Witmann's flagship vineyard, and 2009 was a pretty exceptional vintage for GGs, especially from a grower of Philipp's caliber. Organic farming and complex soils give the wine intense ripeness but laced with cool-toned mineral notes. Incredible persistence and depth, with a mid-palate that is first somewhat reminiscent of sweet meyer lemon, fleshed out by waves and waves of mineral and savory flavors on the finish. This is dry Riesling for the ages; one to hold onto and watch for years as it slowly reveals everything it has to offer. -jfr

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Schäfer-Fröhlich 2010 Nahe Bockenauer Felseneck Grosses Gewächs

Rockstar Nahe winemaker Tim Fröhlich's signature bottling. John Gilman went bananas for it and so did we. Like citrus dipped in gold. -jfr

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Wagner-Stempel 2010 Rheinhessen Heerkretz Riesling GG

This magnificent Grosses Gewachs originates in the remarkably complex volcanic soil of the Siefersheim hills. Clay, limestone, gravel and porphyry all intermingle in these gently rolling south/southwest facing slopes. Heerkretz is typically leaner than its counterpart Höllberg, and the 2010 has all the finesse of a professional dancer. The nose is intensely mineral and floral, veering in the direction of roses and all sorts of crushed rock. A huge, very long stone fruit finish is laced with a clinging, out of this world minerality. The fruit flavors are a whole array of bright citrus including lime blossom, lemon zest and tangerine and there's phenomenal power and structure here. This is simply great dry Riesling. The image shows Heerkretz from the west, with an example of the scrubby,wild brush that's all that can survive in the poor, volcanic soil. -jfr

 

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Wagner-Stempel 2010 Rheinhessen Höllberg Riesling GG

Höllberg is warmer than Heerkretz, so the resulting wine is more powerful, but of course not lacking for vivid acidity. Electric wine with terrific length, vibrancy, saltiness and restrained peach and apricot notes. Keller gets all the hype, but count Wittmann and Wagner-Stempel up there as important new stars in the Rheinhessen. In Muscadet terms this is the Gras Moutons to Heerkretz' Granite de Clisson.The wine has no bitter or out-of-place elements, and will age well for at least 6-8 years. The image looks Höllberg from about halfway up the slope. -jfr

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Alzinger 2010 Wachau Federspiel Riesling Durnsteiner

A fun, fresh and bright Alzinger to enjoy now while the Smaragd wines sleep in the cellar. Sunny aromas of citrus and stone fruit tinged with crystalline mineral notes and vibrant acid. -jfr

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Ambrositsch, Jutta 2010 Wien Riesling Dreieinigkeit

I've had the good fortune of tasting this wine on two occasions now and both times I've been startled by the quality, the delicacy and the mineral precision. Jutta has been making wine only since 2002 and 2010 will surely be seen as her breakthrough vintage. Practicing biodynamic, she normally would bottle Riesling from three single sites but blended them together given the low yields of 2010. Floral, salty, and beautifully spiced, the vineyards have a high content of ancient seashells in the soil and this comes across on the chalky, mineral-laden palate. While this isn't cheap, a wine of this quality from the Wachau or Kamptal would be almost twice as expensive, and this is one of the best wines there is from the fascinating terroir of Vienna. -jfr

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Buchegger 2010 Kremstal Riesling Loessterrassen

As the name implies, Lössterrassen comes from terraced Riesling vines planted on loess soils in various sites in and around the village of Krems. This sustainably farmed dry Riesling shows aromatic stone fruit flavors, crisp citrus notes and an enticingly long, salty mineral finish. Perhaps the best value in dry Austrian Riesling. -jfr

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Hirsch 2009 Kamptal Riesling Zöbing

Terrific entry-level village Riesling from Johannes Hirsch, coming from various old terraced vineyards throughout the town's immediate area. The nose has intriguing notes of apricot, lime pith and light petrol. The palate retains terrific acidity for the 2009 vintage and is focused, floral and deeply mineral. One of Hirsch's great feats is to produce wines that are both light in weight yet incredibly rich and detailed texturally. This layered Riesling is a terrific introduction to the great potential of the Kamptal. -jfr

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Hirsch 2009 Kamptal Riesling Heiligenstein

Austria's leading wine magazine, Falstaff, named Johannes Hirsch "Winemaker of the Year" in 2011, and it was refreshing for us to see others give Hannes the recognition we've long known he's deserved. Heiligenstein is a special terroir for Riesling, and along with the best Wachau sites, among the best in all of Austria. The vines face south and are planted on sandstone interlaced with volcanic rock. In 2009 this is somewhat more tightly wound than the more gregarious Gaisberg. The nose is initially more muted but also more purely mineral. Fleeting aromas of wintergreen and stone fruits are hinted at but quickly recede again. On the palate the wine is chiseled and focused, with a long, stone and rock-salt inflected finish. There's so much quiet complexity here, one really has to sit with it for a while just to see how everything unfolds. -jfr

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Hirsch 2009 Kamptal Riesling Gaisberg

My favorite thing about Hannes Hirsch's wines in 2009 is that even in this warm, powerful vintage, in the south-facing, warm Gaisberg vineyard, the wine comes off as deft, elegant and loaded with minerals. White flowers, citrus, finesse, great length, and that classic mineral crunch on the finish. Like many a great Austrian Riesling, this will develop very well for at least 15 years. -jfr

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Hirsch 2007 Kamptal Riesling Heiligenstein 1.5L

Tasted from tank in May 2008, this made a great impression with a really interesting and complex nose showing quince, pear, then intense peach and slate, wet stone, spice (pepper, anise). Equally precise and complex on the palate with great length and beautiful fresh acidity. Geat wine! JW

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Högl 2006 Wachau Riesling Smaragd Loibner Vision

Joseph Högl isn't one of the biggest names in the Wachau, but he was formerly the assistant to one: F.X. Pichler. He's been making excellent wines on his own since 1995 to critical acclaim in Austria, but without much recognition in the U.S. That works to our favor in some ways, since we're able to drink rich, concentrated and complex Smaragd Riesling for a song. "Vision" is a tiny enclosed plot that doesn't appear on any Wachau maps, as it's now been incorporated into the larger Oberhauser, just below the famed Kellerberg. The wine is incredibly rich and layered, with citrus, cream and pineapple notes and a steely mineral grip that penetrates the long, pulsating finish. Intense, invigorating Smaragd that costs half what it should. -jfr

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Nikolaihof 2008 Wachau Riesling Vom Stein Smaragd

I've been floored every time I've had the opportunity to taste the 2008 Vom Stein Smaragd, with my chicken-scratch notes filled with words written in ALL CAPS and a silly amount of exclamation points. To put it briefly and without too much unnecessary repetition, the structure and length of this wine are phenomenal. It's technically dry, but there is still a taut balance here between heather, honey and crunchy rock notes. The wines of Nikolaihof-Wachau remain a bit idiosyncratic, but when the estate is operating in top form, like in 2008, they have no peers. It bears mentioning that the wine was very good in June 2011 and had gained significant complexity over the course of the next 7 months in bottle. -jfr

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Prager 2000 Wachau Smaragd Riesling Klaus

Cleaner and less savage than the wild, mineral-driven 2000 Achleiten, Klaus shows great purity of fruit, high-toned floral elements and a sharp mineral cut on the well-balanced, exceedingly long finish. -jfr

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Schloss Gobelsburg 2011 Kamptal Riesling Gobelsburger

Michael "Michi" Moosbrugger continues to produce startlingly good-value wines from his 'Gobelsburger' négociant line. This excellent dry Riesling combines richness and depth with lithe flavors of lime-pith and mineral. Ripe, full-flavored and an excellent introduction to Austrian Riesling. This is, without a doubt, one of the best example out there for under $20. -jfr

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Stift Goettweig 2008 Kremstal Riesling Silberbichl

A very pretty example of Fritz Miesbauer's great work here at the Benedictine Stift Goettweig. Miesbauer also makes the excellent wines at Stadt Krems and became most well-known for his excellent work at the Domane Wachau. This Riesling is incredibly light on its feet, sprightly, mineral-driven and unassuming. Slightly creamy with an unmistakeable essence of fresh tangerine on the finish, this is a great example of well-priced Austrian Riesling. -jfr

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Boxler 2005 Alsace Riesling Grand Cru Sommerberg "E"

The "E" cuvee is from the upper slope of Sommerberg, on decomposed granite with mica, usually the more purely mineral of Boxler's Sommerberg rieslings. In 2005 there is a lovely richness to the fruit but the aromas have an aspect of stony acids mingling with the exotic yellow fruits, flowers and lime. Very complex aromas, to describe them would be a bit ridiculous. The palate is dense, but not heavy, round and supple but with good acidity. A gorgeous riesling from a ripe vintage that's delicious now and will age beautifully.

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Boxler 2009 Alsace Riesling

This is a great bottle of Riesling from Jean Boxler. Yes, there's less acidity than 2008 or 2007 but this wine is remarkably well-balanced, subtle and mineral, with lovely white fruits and terrific length. The lower price for the last of our stock makes this an excellent value.

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Frick, Pierre 2008 Alsace Riesling

From the superb biodynamic vineyards of Pierre Frick, the vintage 2008 was a beautiful combination of ripeness with high acidity, giving wines with great expression of terroir and lovely fruit as well. The palate on the Riesling classique is quite marked by the limestone parcel and has terrific length and acids underlying the pretty pear, apple and floral fruits. Pierre and Chantal Frick are real heroes of organic farming and pure, natural wines...

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