Some wines are good, some wines are bad, some are exceptional. And then there are the wines that are special because they have a story to tell. When I discovered today's wine on the shelves of London wine shop The Winery I was already certain that I was looking at a wine with a story. What I did not know was that this Franconian gem would be willing to share it with us.
Maybe we start with the question of why we got so interested in a dusty old bottle with a funny purple cap. Well, for starters because it was just that, a dusty old bottle with an unusual purple cap. It did not only look old-fashioned, it also was quite old, almost twenty-five years old, in fact. Aged wine is always an adventure - sometimes even a gamble on whether you have waited too long or just caught it at the right time. Under the label good ol' boys we have so far only looked at aged red wines and Riesling, the white variety that probably has the best potential for ageing. And here we were, starring at a twenty-five year old Silvaner, the signature grape of the German wine region of Franken (Franconia, about two hours north of Munich). We have been championing this often underrated variety for a while, but we never had the change to try a really old Silvaner.
Well before reaching twenty-five years of age most wines turn to vinegar. Not many wines are really worth keeping for more than a couple of years. Some last five to ten years, but only a tiny minority will make it beyond. With the exception of a few first class wines, sweet Riesling among them, not many wines are drinkable, far less enjoyable at the age of twenty-five. And yet here we are looking at a Silvaner, an often underestimated variety, of this age - does it still deliver?
Right from the start, the Franconian Silvaner impressed us with an intense, very clear golden colour that still had hints of green (which is often said to be a sign of a younger wine). It certainly looked beautiful and also as if it could comfortably age a few years more.
When the two Wine Ramblers met in London early in June to celebrate one year of wine rambling, it was obvious that we had to do a blind tasting. Because of our increasing interest in sparkling and English wine the choice of wine was easy: get an English sparkler and a German Sekt and then let's have the two of them slug it out.
It would be 1966 all over again, Geoff Hurst facing Helmut Haller. The bottle is round and finishing it takes 90 minutes (or so). So, who will win the 2010 battle of the sparklers? And will it tell us anything about the England vs. Germany match at the 2010 world cup?
East Sussex may not be the first place on earth coming to mind when thinking of sparkling wine. And yet winemaker Will Davenport has had a lot of success with sparkling wines made in the classic champagne style since he started out with 5 acres of vineyards in Kent in 1991. I bought this wine from a wine bar/shop in South London that specialises in English and natural/organic wines - the Davenport sparkler happens to be both. The Limney Estate wine is made from 49% Pinot Noir and 51% Auxerrois and has been aged on lees for over 2 years, which seemed to make it an ideal candidate for a blind tasting against a German sparkler.
Situated in the southern parts of the Pfalz lie the vineyards of Friedrich Becker. Well, actually, he owns a few on the French side of the border too. Maybe this explains (if indeed an explanation would be needed) why Becker is often referred to as a specialist for 'Burgunder-Weine', or 'Burgundy wines': the members of the Pinot family are called 'Burgunder' in German. The sparkling wine we tasted, blind and against an English sparkler, as part of the Wine Rambler birthday celebrations is a good example, after all it is a cuvée of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Auxerrois and Chardonnay (the latter two varietals are at least related to the Pinot family). So, here we have a German sparkler with 'French' varietals and made following the classic Champagne method, which includes having spent about three years on lees. So how does it taste then?
When you put your nose into a glass of wine and it smells a little bit like a car dealership, but in a good way, you can be fairly certain that you have a Riesling in front of you. This Haart Riesling from the Mosel is not one of the petrol noses, so please don't think of a garage wit lots of oil and grease, but its bouquet has a little of the more refined version of that smell, just think of a BMW car dealership salesroom. Or rather walking through one while eating a peach.
Back in the very first days of the Wine Rambler, when we couldn't reasonably expect anyone to want to read what we had to say, we started a little series reporting on german online wine merchants. This ran to three or four issues, and in none of them did we mince our words about the pros and cons of the places we featured. Pinard de Picard, one of our most frequent and important sources, and one that we do think highly of, especially had to take it on the chin. Would a revised reissue maybe be in order? But there is not one word of our original review that we should or honestly could change. So that's the thinking-over done. But there is one point we'd like to make: Pinard de Picard has wonderful hand-drawn graphics to illustrate their wines, which they and artist Susanne Lehen-Friedrich have graciously allowed us to use, and which now grace this Wine Rambler reissue. Enjoy.
At the Wine Rambler, we have this ongoing love affair with the Silvaner grape. Today's Silvaner comes from the German wine region of Franken, the spiritual home of this grape variety.
This is a textbook Silvaner in the best sense of the word. You get earthy, grassy notes, almost smoky. There is apple, refreshing in the nose and well defined on the tongue. At its core the Silvaner is robust, but smooth round the edges with notable minerality.
If you are one of those thinking of German Pinot Noir as very light wine, pale in colour and neither substantial nor worth ageing then have a look at the wine below. And if you do not think about German red wine at all, well, then do the same. The two Wine Ramblers, at any rate, did also spend some time looking in amazement at the incredibly rich colour of the ten year old Spätburgunder that they had opened last weekend to celebrate one year of The Wine Rambler. Join us in the merriment:
After all those German and Austrian Rieslings, we are now going Australia. Clearly, the Wine Rambler is no nationalist. What could be more Australian, apart from Paul 'Crocodile Dundee' Hogan perhaps, than a Riesling from Adelaide Hills? Well, actually, it is sort of German too - at least the winemaker is (no one would have guess from the name 'Egon Müller').
Following the success of our recent beer tasting, host Mike returned with a selection of unusual beers. This time he brought, amongst other delicacies, four vintages of the same beer: 2009, 2003, 2001 and 1991 of the Grande Réserve from Chimay, a brewery run by Belgian Trappist monks. Our mission was to run a purely scientific experiment on how well this beer would age and what we thought was the optimum age to drink it at. For this mission, a crack team was assembled at the Wine Rambler's South London headquarters, their eyes on only one goal:
Asparagus is said to be difficult to match with wine. The reason is that asparagus contains substances that can make wine taste bitter, vegetal and strangely 'green', sometimes even bordering on outright weird. If you stick to a few very simply rules though there is no reason to be afraid of asparagus and wine, quite the opposite - it can be an excellent match, as I discovered last weekend when I serves a Riesling with pan-fried smoaked cod and English asparagus. Read on for a little background and, most importantly, a few suggestion on how to match asparagus and wine.
If it comes to the Salwey winery, we have so far mostly sampled their range of excellent Pinots - Noir, Gris/Grigio and Blanc. Located in the warmest area of Germany, the volcanic Kaiserstuhl in the South West, the Salwey vineyards are very well suited for growing Pinot. As it turns out, they also make good Riesling there, and I had one of them recently with a nice piece of fish and English asparagus.
Karthäuserhofberg. Nothing demonstrates the place vineyards occupy in german wine culture like wineries that are synonymous with the vineyards that surround them. This must put some pressure on the staff, must it not? If you work at a place called Karthäuserhof and produce wine from a site that has been called Karthäuserhofberg from time out of mind, you better not screw it up. Not to worry. They never do.
In 2006, when I was still living in Munich, the World Cup came to Germany. For those of you who know me a little it will not be a surprise to hear that I did not see a single match. In fact, I remember being food shopping when Germany scored a key goal, being just one of two people in the cinema watching 'Hard Candy' when Italy defeated Germany and visiting my co-Rambler for food and wine during the final. This year, however, is different. Yesterday I attended the final of the 2010 World Cup, with the champion Italy playing the host South Africa. The key difference though is that this was the World Cup of Wine, hosted by the lovely people of Bibendum in their North London headquarters, with me being one of the judges.
Recently, I found myself drinking with friends who were discussing which type of vegetable they would like to be. When I asked them how they would rate me, Charlotte suggested I could be a squash. Unfortunately I never really found out why she classified me in this way, partly because she went on to say she would quite like to be a courgette. Today's wine, luckily, is not like a vegetable. Instead it is very easy to describe in terms of fruit: take the most deliciously juicy peach you can imagine, add passion fruit, and caramelise it with lots of sugar and some gold, sprinkle finely with herbs and serve in a stony cup with a dash of menthol, spice and lemon juice. As you can see this description really does not work in relation to vegetables, but I can tell you that if this wine were a human being it would have to be the young Liv Tyler - just in blond.