One of the effects of belonging to the German branch of the international brotherhood of wine snobs is that hot-climate whites have a hard time winning your approval. We have largely kept our hands off whites from the south of france, for example. We don't mean to say, of course, that there can be no great whites from down there. But I can say with a good measure of confidence that the wine under review today is not one of them. Its appeal for me lies in a completely different place. So this is less a wine review than a brief comment on liking certain wines in spite of oneself, which leads naturally to a melancholy micro-meditation on memory and irrationality.
I am a Swabian. It is not easy for me to admit this. Not even in English and to an audience for which this may not mean anything at all. In Germany, there is nothing cool about being born into the tribe that is famous for bringing the world inventions such as the compulsory weekly sweeping of the staircase (I am not kidding, it is called Kehrwoche) or a special mortgage savings account (Bausparvertrag).
The latter may recommend us to the English, but I am coming out tonight for another reason. Yes, I am a Swabian and there is nothing cool about it. But I am also a Swabian who as a child played just a stones' throw from where Rainer Schnaitmann now makes this great value kick-ass Riesling in the town of Fellbach. Also, I am the Swabian who was lucky enough to down the wine with a cool Scottish girl who likes her white wine dry and has a crush on Swabians.
Going out for Japanese food in London is not something I regularly do. This is not because I don't like it. Quite the opposite in fact. It is just that as far as sushi is concerned my heart is lost to a restaurant in Munich that serves high quality fish at very fair prices - and, perhaps more importantly, that I have a Japanese friend in my neighbourhood who treats me to all sorts of delicacies. Unfortunately she will be going back to Japan soon, so I was delighted when Emma from Japanese restaurant Tsuru invited me (and a bunch of other writers) to taste their new menu. So one night in late October I ventured east to the Bishopsgate branch of Tsuru (there is another one near the Tate Modern).
Things have changed since we last reported on this old and well-respected Saar winery. Having run into some dire straits commercially - though not quality-wise, it needs to be pointed out - the estate was hurriedly taken over by one Günther Jauch, who was already in line for the eventual succession in ownership. This was a big piece of news far beyond the wine community in Germany, because Günther Jauch just happens to be a celebrity television host. A corporate makeover duly followed, streamlining label design and setting up what is probably the slickest website in the german wine business.
Mystic, Connecticut, may not sound like the place to go for a wine adventure. And yet the Wine Rambler had an adventure moment there when (while browsing the shelves at a wine merchant) I discovered a wine from Connecticut - a wine region we have yet to explore. Naturally, I had to take the Gewürztraminer home with me (in one of those brown bags that the Americans like to sell their booze in).
The 'Gewurz' is part of the Connectictut product line of the Jonathan Edwards Winery (they also make wine in Napa Valley), a company that produces less than 10,000 cases a year: Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc, Zinfandel, Merlot, Chardonnay, Petite Sirah and a few others, including my Gewürz. The winery is located in North Stonnigton, apparently with a distant view over Long Island Sound. It is part of the Connecticut Wine Trail, a group of some 20 state approved wineries you can visit along a scenic route signposted on state highways.
Summer is over. So what's the point of reviewing wine sold in strange single-serve glasses suited for a picnic? For starters because they are not. The Le Froglet glasses are as misplaced at an August picnic as they would be near my November sofa. 'Obviously, the Wine Rambler will have to say so,' you might think, 'after all how could a wine snob like wine sold in plastic glasses?' Surprisingly, it is not the concept that puts me off. It is the execution.
Some time ago the entrepreneurs of the BBC's Dragons' Den dismissed the idea of investing money in wine sold in single-serve plastic glasses with tear-off lids. As it happened, I had actually watched the episode and found myself disagreeing with the dragons as I could imagine people wanting to use the glasses for outdoor events. Others apparently agreed and from what I hear the Le Froglet glasses do sell quite well now. So when I saw them at Marks & Spencer I had to buy the trio: white, red and rosé.
If I am not mistaken, our readers have had to go without Wine Rambler Silvaner coverage since August 31. That is clearly unacceptable and will be remedied as follows ("quickly and unbureaucratically", as german public officials are fond of saying): The Burrlein winery of Mainstockheim, which we have already featured as part of our Müller-Thurgau report, has consistently turned out over-achieving quality Silvaners to its large customer base these last few years. Has it delivered again?
Drinking aged wines can be a fun adventure, and it gets even better if the wine comes from an unusual vineyard and with a bit of history. This Marsanne, even though not yet terribly old, ticks all of these boxes, and so I am grateful for Karen who recently pointed me in its direction at Philglass and Swiggot's Clapham Junction branch. The Tahbilk Marsanne comes from one of the oldest wineries in Australia and from what may be the oldest planting of Marsanne in the world.
The Marsanne grape variety is most common in the Northern Rhône, but can also be found in Switzerland and a few other countries, including Spain. It seems to be a bit picky if planted in the wrong area: too cold and the wines can be bland, too hot and they turn out to be flabby.
For over 700 years the Haart family has been making wine in the Mosel valley village of Piesport. While I have no idea what wine they may have grown in the middle ages, these days it is exclusively Riesling - and most of it is sweet or off-dry. A small percentage of the wines are dry though, and this Great Growth (GG) is the top dry wine from the famous Goldtröpfchen (=little drop of gold) vineyard.
The colour is a clear, strawish yellow, more on the gold-dark side perhaps. The nose features cool mineral, herbs (more on the sage-mint side) and a hint of petrol (that almost disappeared on the second day).
Here are some pictures taken during a recent vineyard stroll between Meersburg and Hagnau on the Lake Constance shore, revisiting old Wine Rambler territory along the way. It was as serene as you can see, except for eerie fake bird-of-prey calls and canon shot that went off every couple of minutes to scare away any birds interested in sampling Spätlese grapes - it was either that, or a bit of private artillery practice.
After exploring in some depth the potential and perception of residually sweet Riesling, we turn, very briefly, to a style of the variety that is hardly known or appreciated outside of Germany: light, basic range dry Riesling. That type of working man's white is most reliably produced not along the more glamorous Mosel, but in down-to-earth Pfalz (the Palatinate), where vineyards are less capriciously steep and the climate more dependable, and it goes by the name of Kabinett trocken. Almost every half-decent winery there produces a few of those from different vineyards, and almost every inhabitant of the region will have one on their dinner table - almost every day.
Sweet wine is evil. Just mentioning it can make people's faces go grumpy bulldog on you. Even the faces of those who haven't tried any yet. Wine with residual sugar is often seen as nasty plonk, suitable for a cheap hangover or perhaps as a wine for the ladies, and that is usually not meant as a compliment either. In the UK, it is particularly associated with Germany 'thanks' to brands such as Liebfraumilch.
So I have to deal with a lot of bulldog faces in my mission to interest people in German wine. The most successful approach, I find, is to get them to taste the wines, especially with food, but that is a slow process if you are just one guy with a wardrobe full of Riesling in a nation of millions of wine drinkers.
So imagine my delight when I was recently invited to a lunch workshop designed to explore how off-dry and sweet Rieslings pair with food: Who is afraid of Residual Sugar? was organised by St. Urbans-Hof, one of the premier Mosel estates. What started as a very exciting and tasty experiment turned into a far-reaching discussion on the world of wine, customer perception, national (wine)stereotypes and wine marketing.