The eagle - particularly on emblems shaped into straight lines and angular form - has to be the quintessential German bird. If you have ever bought a premier German wine abroad there is a good chance you will have seen an eagle on the label and/or capsule. The eagle is the logo of VDP, the world's oldest association of wine estates. It was founded in Germany in 1910 as an association of wine estates selling "natural" (i.e. non-chaptalised) wine via auctions. A major player in the (German) wine world, VDP counts many of Germany's most respected wineries amongst its members.
This wine is fake. Well, a little. If you understand German, that is - otherwise you wouldn't know that "Fass 4" stands for "Barrel 4". Years ago, wines sold under this label were indeed matured in large wooden barrels, but these times are gone at the Ott winery, and now it is all steel tanks for "Barrel 4".
And out of the tanks at Wagram comes a Grüner Veltliner, Austria's signature white wine, and Bernhard Ott's speciality. Does the wine also taste "fake" - or let's rather call it "historical homage"?
In the early 20th century the Germans embarked on a mission to create a genetically modified race of - no, not über-soldiers, but grape varieties. They were also not so much genetically modified as traditionally cross-bred, but the idea was to create varieties that could handle bad weather better, were robuster or addressed some other actual or perceived flaws in existing varieties. Scheurebe ("Scheu's vine") was created in 1916 and was for a long time thought to be a cross between Silvaner and Riesling, but has only recently been revealed to be a cross between Riesling and a wild vine.
Aromatic and with some similarities to Riesling, Scheurebe is often used to create complex sweet wines, and - while not exactly grown on large scale - is increasingly popular with some of Germany's top winemakers.
Straw-coloured, with a nose of ripe pears, candied fruit and beeswax, this wine is dominated by the tension between the oak flavours on the one hand and the very robust acidity on the other.
The focus of the fruit seems to get lost a bit between the two, resulting in a somewhat muddied palate and a slightly awkward kind of complexity. Still, a very decent and somewhat original white.
A while ago, I attended one of the commercial wine fairs that hit downtown Munich a couple of times a year. Like the times before, the elitist in me wasn't sure if it would be worth the time, because, to be completely honest, there are many second- and third-rank producers at these gatherings. In the end though, that is precisely why I eventually did go and had a look around. What is going on among the rank-and-file wineries is, I find, more indicative of the wider trends and directions the wine world is taking than the elite estates, who are in a league of their own anyway and always march to their own beat to some extent.
While braving the dense throngs of tasters - these events are notoriously busy - , browsing the winery leaflets and tasting the odd glass, I chanced upon the Kalkbödele winery of Baden's Tuniberg region, and was persuaded to try both their Grauburgunder and their Pinot Gris. Yes, that's right, two versions of the same grape. The naming, I was informed, indeed indicates the two different styles that they were aiming for. What was going on here?
A wine with prominent acidity that is worked straightforwardly into a light, simply, but well structured wine. Here, green apple and unripe melon rule the day, with clear, if not endlessly deep fruit on the palate. In its acidity-driven straightforwardness, this is reminiscent of a good Pfalz Riesling, without quite managing the minerality part. I prefer this latter version at this moment in time, because it seemed more refreshing and drinkable to me and for the completely subjective reason that it works wonderfully with a supermarket food favourite of mine, Flammkuchen.
Covered, with more background information, in our posting on Baden's Tuniberg and wider trends in german wine.
"This monstrosity tastes monstrously good." - This is what Imperial Chancellor Otto von Bismarck had to say about a wine from the Ungeheuer vineyard. "Ungeheuer" is the German word for "monstrosity", and it is also the name of a famous vineyard in the Pfalz region. It is about time for us to review an Ungeheuer wine, and today we are looking at the premier dry (GG) Riesling from Mosbacher - one of the top Pfalz wineries.
"Premier", "top", "monstrously good" - can the wine stand up to all this praise or were the Wine Rambler and good old Bismarck (posthumously) left disappointed?
What the **** is Müller-Thurgau, and is it ever any good, we asked, respectfully, last summer in our in-depth Müller-Thurgau coverage. We did manage to answer the question to our own satisfaction at the time, if maybe not to everybody's, and a young winemaker named Christian Stahl played no small part in that particular journey. Neither the grape nor the man therefore need much of an introduction to our readers.
But there is some unfinished business dating back to that investigation in the form of this bottle of single vineyard Müller-Thurgau. So let's waste no more time:
You haven't heard of Gelber Orleans? Not even a vague idea what it might be? Despair not, it is hardly a well known grape variety. In fact, it has become so obscure - even in Germany - that when I recently invited a well versed wine blogger over to try it I was confident she would not be able to identify it.
When serving the wine I made sure that the only thing she might have caught a glimpse on was the name and logo of the winery - identifying the producer as Knipser, one of the most accomplished in Germany. So, gentle reader, explore a wine with us which you will most certainly not have experienced before.
During the busy January wine trade tasting season there was one event of special importance for the Wine Rambler, the annual tasting of The WineBarn. The WineBarn is a UK distributor dedicated to German wine with a great portfolio including some of Germany's best wineries and some our the long-standing favourites. So one January afternoon I trekked over to the posh Mayfair neighbourhood of St James's Hotel and Club to enjoy some German wine and German wine conversation.
I found myself in a somewhat labyrinthine room with very low ceilings and an interesting combination of natural and artificial light coming from the roof.
By covering a selection of sparkling wines from Germany and England during the last year or so, we have learned much and have opened up a whole new category of wine for ourselves, but in a way, we also got ahead of ourselves. We could look at sparklers with a fresh and innocent eye by simply ignoring the international benchmark for this whole type of wine, but it was at times also so much dancing around the elephant in the room, namely our utter ignorance of Champagne. On new year's eve of 2010, the Munich branch of the wine rambler manned (and ladied) up and confronted their insecurity. After all, let's face it, when expectation and curiosity are high, the potential for disappointment is also immense.
But sometimes, just sometimes, you hit if off immediately. That night, I fell for grower champagne hook, line and sinker, and it's all thanks to Pierre and Sophie Larmandier from Vertus, Champagne.
"A German wine label is one of the things life's too short for," begins the famous Kingsley Amis quote that is the Wine Rambler's motto, "a daunting testimony to that peculiar nation's love of detail and organization." We will not argue about the love of detail and organisation, but we always try to make the point that the wines behind the labels are worth your time. Today we can leave that task to someone not suspect of national bias: a Canadian - Lesley Trites, also known as Girl on Wine.
In our latest guest ramble, Lesley tells the story of how she was lured into German wine and shares a foreigner's perspective on German wine (labels) and culture. Enjoy, and learn.
Trockenbeerenauslese Graacher Himmelreich, Anyone?
The first time I went to Germany was in 2006. At that time I knew next to nothing about German wine and, to tell you the truth, not all that much about wine in general. But I at least had an interest in trying local wine, in the same way I was interested in trying local food.
Over the past few years I have reviewed quite a few Haart Rieslings, and for this reason I had considered scaling down for a while (with the writing, not the drinking of course) in order not to bore you. It's good I did not make it into a New Year's resolution though, as the latest Haart I opened was so stunning I honestly cannot remember having had a young Mosel late harvest Riesling of this quality.
Unless someone else is doing it for me there is almost never a day in my life when you don't find me in the kitchen throwing around pans, pots and knives. I like to cook, I love to eat well, and whenever there is time I work my way through recipes or London restaurants. That I also love wine with my food cannot have been lost on you as you are reading this on the Wine Rambler. So you may think nothing when I tell you that last week I was invited to a food and wine pairing dinner. But how about it was matching wine with supermarket ready meals?
First of all I should say that Charlie Bigham, who lured me and a group of food and wine bloggers to a secret location near London Bridge, is not too happy having his food called "ready meals". I will do so nonetheless, because it takes me back to one of the darker secrets in my food life.