Pheasant is one of my favourite birds, and luckily it is available in abundance in England. Obviously, it is no longer in season, but as I did not get around to write this posting in winter let me invite you to join me in the memory of past delights. And to think ahead to the pleasures of next autumn. I am not only a fan of pheasant, I also adore Pinot Noir. Even better, I think the two can be an excellent match, particularly when you roast the bird in the oven and serve it with a lighter sauce and herbs.
The reason I mention the sauce is that it is actually more important to match sauce and wine than to think too much about matching meat and wine. Chicken with a spicy sauce might be good with Riesling, but in a casserole with a cream sauce it could go with a Chardonnay and if it was a red wine casserole even a heavier red might be suitable. So why pheasant and Pinot Noir then?
If you ask me to name a winemaker who has really impressed me with consistently, year for year letting the quality (let's avoid the word terroir here, shall we) of an outstanding vineyard shine, well, then I would probably name Theo Haart. Sure, there are others, but I have now tasted his late harvest Rieslings from the famous Piesporter Goldtröpfchen for the vintages 1999 and 2001-2008 (the 05 though is still sitting here, waiting for its day), and not only are they all first class wines, they are also very distinct and consistent in style. The '08 is no exception and, boring as it may sound when I write about Haart late harvest Riesling, just a lovely wine.
This is a story about a dialogue, a dialogue between English and German wine - or rather my personal experience of it. Moving from Germany to London made me see wine differently and I think I have benefited from this experience. In particular, it was a blending of national perspectives, perhaps even bias, that had some fruitful effects and made me look out for and experience things in wine I would otherwise not have done. While this is partly a personal story, it can also be read as a plea to look at wine in different ways and turn whatever national drinking bias we might have into a force that makes us see more, not less.
When the Wine Rambler committee assembles in Munich, we often send two evenly matched wines into a blind tasting battle. Last weekend was no exception and two formidable contestants were preparing themselves for the main event. To get us in the right mood for this epic battle, a good supporting act was needed. So I brought along a mystery wine. It was pretty obvious that the properly wrapped wine was a rosé, but little did my co-ramblers know that it was from the County of Kent. However, I too was in for a surprise - little did I know that this support-act blind tasting would turn into a triumph for English wine (to be followed by a defeat for German winemaking, but that is another story).
After having tried a few English Bacchus-based wines I was curious to see what I would make of a German representative of this variety (Bacchus was, after all, created in Germany). However, it is not that easy as Bacchus is not very popular in Germany. It is mostly blended into cheaper wines and not really a variety wine connoisseurs think of a lot, which is probably why none of my online wine merchants sell it. So I was pleased when, while visiting Munich and food shopping for a Wine Rambler committee meeting, I came across a Bacchus in a similar price range to the English ones I had tried. Little did I know what disappointment would lie ahead.
Ink-coloured, almost black, smelling of plum jam, eucalyptus and donkey stable and puckering your mouth all over with overwhelmingly rough tannins, here we have a text book Tannat (note the linguistic closeness to "tannin" as well as to "tanning").
Wine Rambler full committee meeting. Two sauvignon blancs nice and cool, ready for the first sip. The tasting would nominally be blind, but it should be a walk in the park to tell them apart. One from New Zealand: more explosively, exotically fruity, surely. One from Germany: more subdued, but with more depth and minerality, maybe? We knew what we were doing, we had done it before. It would be a pleasant evening with a laid-back broadening of wine horizons. Glasses rinsed, loup de mer and shrimp already in the frying pan, wine ramblers contented and full of calm anticipation. What could possibly go wrong?
Check back here soon for the full story of a blind tasting that confronted us with rather more than we had bargained for.
As Albus Dumbledore said to Harry Potter: "It is a thrilling tale. I wish to do it justice"
Sometimes, sometimes I smell the cork of a freshly uncorked bottle of wine and I know great things are ahead. Sometimes, sometimes I do not even have to get my nose close to the wine glass to sing and jubilate. Sometimes, sometimes I set a wine glass down in utter awe, in quiet yet powerful excitement because I have found a wine that is pure awesome. And guess what, I just had one of these moments. Without doubt, this is the best dry white wine I have had in 2010, such a wonderful dream of peach, mineral and elegance that I could still cry tears of joy: the 2008 Goldberg, a Riesling from the Mosel(le) tributary Saar.
The Wine Rambler is all about wine - or are we? Actually, we also sometimes, oh shock!, drink beer. This Tuesday, the London branch of the Wine Rambler had a few friends over to try an unusual selection of beers, all provided by my friend Mike. Mike, it turns out, is a beer aficionado. Like other people buy wine, Mike buys beer and then stores it for a decade or longer to see how it develops; some of the beers he likes do actually require to be stored for a few years before they develop their full potential. If this seems odd to you, the next sentence may seem even more strange: fifteen year old beer can be damn tasty and certainly age better than many wines.
Bavaria, home of the BMW, the original Disney castle and German red wine. Oh, wait, did I say 'German red wine'? Obviously, I should have said 'German beer' or something along those lines. However, I am just now looking at a bottle coming from Bavaria that features no lion or young maiden on the label; instead, it has a red screw cap and says 'Spätburgunder' (Pinot Noir) and 'unfiltriert' (unfiltered). And it looks, smells and tastes like a red wine. More importantly, it looks, smells and tastes like a good red wine. So while I am not telling you to forget about Bavarian lager, you may want to keep an eye out for red wine from the Bavarian wine growing region of Franken (Franconia).
Since the well-remembered Silvaner symposium, Wine Rambler full committee meetings have regularly featured a pair of wines with a characteristic similarity (grape variety and vintage, mostly) that we taste without knowing which is which. Is this a sensible thing to do? The detractors of tasting blind argue two things: It favours bolder, more easily understandable wines at the expense of quieter, more refined types, thereby contributing to a levelling of taste and the loss of originality and regionality in wine. It also, in their view, turns tasting wine, which should be about enjoyment and open minds, into a sort of competitive sport. Valid concerns, surely, but we keep finding that without putting your own palate to the test once in a while, you lay yourself open to the twin dangers of preconceived notions and of auto-suggestion ("Label says this has notes of ripe blackberries. Yeah, I think I'm picking them up..."). So we're stumbling on with the blind tastings.
An English wine? Yes, very much so. One of the Wine Rambler's wine resolutions for 2010 is to explore the subject of English wine, and report back here. Today, that mission (virtually) leads me to Oxfordshire, specifically to Wallingford, about eight miles from Oxford, where Bob and Carol Nielsen planted 14 acres of wine in 1988. Today, Brightwell Vineyard make five different wines, including a rosé, a red (mostly made from Dornfelder) and a sparkling Chardonnay. They have won several prices for their wines and the 2007 Bacchus was awarded the Silver Medal in the 'Wine of the Year Competition' of the UK Vineyards Association.
It has been a while, way too long, actually, since I reported on a wine made by the lovely people from the Haart winery. The winery is based in the village of Piesport, a name that is infamous in the UK for cheap wine, but famous among wine lovers for the Goldtröpfchen (little drop of gold) vineyard, one of the best at the Mosel. The Haart family has been making wine since the 14th century and the sweet Rieslings of Theo Haart, who runs the family estate with his wife and son, have an excellent reputation. For me they are also the embodiment of what I love about the Mosel style of winemaking.
I have written about so many Salwey wines recently, I almost feel bad to pay that much attention to a single producer. Almost, I said, because Salweys know what they are doing and I am in a Pinot (Noir, Blanc, Gris) phase anyway. So I will keep it sweet and short today in order not to repeat myself. Here it is, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc/Weißburgunder:
My last few wine weeks were dominated by Pinot Blanc, so it seemed a good idea to return to the wonderful world of Riesling - in this case to the German wine region of Rheinhessen, where the Keller winery is based. Kellers have an awesome reputation and the demand for their premium wines is high enough that they can sell them in subscription. The wine to introduce today is not one of them, it is Keller's basic Riesling, no subscription necessary and a reasonable price.
Ever since I moved to the UK I have been in a constant love affair with scallops. I had them before on a few occasions, but living in London makes it so easy to get fresh, hand-dived scallops for a reasonable price that they became a regular guest in my kitchen. Today I want to share a recipe that, I think, goes perfectly with a good sparkling wine:
Matching food and wine is rarely an easy task. The basic rule of fish=white, meat=red, for instance, is sometimes correct and sometimes wrong, but even when it fits it is way too general to be really helpful. Would you know whether a dover sole goes better with an off-dry Riesling, a full-bodied Pinot Blanc or an Austrian Grüner Veltliner? There just is no answer to this question as it mostly depends on how you intend to cook the fish and, in particular, what sauce you are going to serve with it (the same goes for meat, btw). What I think works best is to think about the different elements of your dish, how they will taste and what type of wine could go with it. You are serving a rich, creamy sauce? A rich and creamy Chardonnay could be a good partner. Or you are going for a roast game bird with herbs - why not have a lighter Pinot Noir with toasty aromas and herbal notes? Your wine merchant should be able to help you here. And the Wine Rambler has a few suggestions too, for instance about scallops, avocado and sparkling wine.
Sparkling wine is very popular in Germany. Very. As a matter of fact, the Germans consume more than a fifth of the world's production of bubbly. The Wine Rambler is a little less addicted, but we are getting more and more into Sekt, as sparkling wine made in Germany is called. We even made it one of our New Year's resolutions to pay more attention to the world of sparkling wine. This is my first contribution, and it was a most pleasant task.
The sparkling wine in question was made by the Raumland winery. Raumland, based in a village with the wonderful name of Flörsheim-Dalsheim in Rhineland-Palatinate, are specialists for sparkling wine, or 'Sekt' as the Germans call it. So much so that some of Germany's top estates trust Raumland with producing their sparkling wines for them. Raumland are doing such a good job with this that you can find listings of top German sparkling wines that only contain Raumland Sekt or sparklings produced by Raumland (which is not always mentioned on the label).