Grüner Veltliner, also known as GruVe and often pronounced "Grooner" by Anglo-Saxons, is certainly hot property these days. Austria's signature white grape has won much critical acclaim and is now seen as cool and trendy. Most of it is consumed in Austria, and - even though Grüner can age very well - traditionally as a young, fresh wine that does not need much ageworthy complexity. Potato salad and Wiener Schnitzel (a breaded veal escalope) is one of the dishes the Austrians serve with it.
Some Grüner is made in a different style though, creating complex wines of beauty. Complexity and substance can be a good thing, but did the Jurtschitsch winery go a step too far by creating a Reserve Grüner with astonishing 15% abv?
On the Wine Rambler's project to look into regional french reds from time to time, Beaujolais is an obvious, but also daring choice. Obvious, because: Who doesn't know Beaujolais? Daring, because: Who doesn't know Beaujolais is mostly thin and second-rate, to say nothing of that awful testimony to the power of marketing over taste, Beaujolais primeur.
But let's give the defendant his fair chance to speak up for himself, shall we?
For a long time there were rumours and speculation about its contents. Insiders were whispering to each other about it, would-be experts claimed to have had a peek and those in the know smiled in entrancement. And yet only one person has full access to a highly guarded container, hidden away at the Wine Rambler's London HQ.
Come in and join us, gentle reader, for a tour of London's tastiest wardrobe.
The Mosel, Germany's best known wine region, hosts many styles of Riesling winemaking: There are the modernists, there are the traditionalists, there are the ultra-traditionalist. And then, there is Jos. Christoffel Jun. The winery's website nicely underscores their brand of conservatism, in that there isn't one. If you want to get your hands on any of the older vintages (back into the 80s, rumour has it) they still have on offer, get your ass down to the Mosel. Or else get lucky on eBay, like your undeservedly fortunate correspondent. For about 12 €, shipment included, I got this Spätlese from the year Frank Zappa died.
Helmut Dönnhoff is among the most accomplished German winemakers. The same wine merchants who complain about wine critic Robert Parker's bad influence on consumers will happily tell you that "their" Dönnhoff wines have received Parker's prestigious 100 point scores, while others will point to Dönnhoff putting the German region Nahe on the world wine map or rave over the Dönnhoff trademark elegance.
Dönnhoff has also been crowned as Riesling king for his fantastic dry and sweet Rieslings. Today we will have none of that superlative nonsense and instead take a look at Dönnhoff's basic Pinot Gris.
Reinhard Löwenstein is a well known and, at least for some, controversial German wine figure. A communist in his youth, he is among the few writing winemakers (and not afraid to quote Marx) and also a vocal proponent of the idea of terroir in Germany. On his steep Mosel vineyards he almost exclusively grows Riesling, often substantial wines that need time to develop their potential.
I mention this because when the other day I wanted to introduce a friend to Löwenstein Riesling I only had a 2008 to hand and was a little concerned about opening the wine so early.
Admirers of the New York-based writer Jonathan Safran Foer, and their number is large, know what to expect from the author of the acclaimed novels "Everything is illuminated" and "Extremely loud & Incredibly close": Foer-fiction. Tales of human suffering and grief told in a manner that is feathery light, endlessly inventive, hilarious and poignant at the same time. Now consider these sentences from his latest book:
After the bird's heads are pulled off and their feet removed, machines open them with a vertical incision and remove their guts. Contamination often occurs here, as the high-speed machines commonly rip off intestines, releasing feces into the birds' body cavities.
Safran Foer's readers have always been willing to be surprised, but few will have been ready for an all-out manifesto about the systematic cruelty of industrial meat production and the moral quality of vegetarianism. But he has written one.
The book is neither brand new (published 2009) nor about wine, so this is not a straightforward Wine Rambler book review. But if, after all the fun and games of writing guilelessly about wine and food, there is also a place for more serious reflection in wine blogging, this, I think, is a good place to start.
Recently, I have had a lot of cheap, in fact very cheap supermarket wine. As this experience wasn't always enjoyable, I set out to find an affordable wine available on the mass market that I could like, to show it can be done. Remembering some pleasant encounters with wines from the Chilean Cono Sur estate, I grabbed a bottle of their Pinot Noir, sold at £6.49. What can you expect from such a wine?
Making good Pinot Noir is not cheap, and if you consider taxes and duties in the UK this is a very low price. Certainly the cheapest I remember seeing around for a while.
Last autumn I drank my first Kirchmayr wine. It was a 16 year old Grüner Veltliner, and I was very impressed. Beautiful bottle design, marvellous bouquet and a wine that was focussed, sharp and sophisticated - yet not aged, not even old. It was pure joy. Kirchmayr have a whole range of wines - "Solist" - specifically made to age well and only to be released to market after years of maturing. So I had to get a bottle of Riesling to find out if it would be as good as the Grüner.
When I reviewed the Grüner, I took an excessive amount of photos of the bottle (same beautiful design for both varietals), so please take a look at that post, also for some background on the winery. But now to the Riesling.
In what has become a Wine Rambler tradition, whenever we get a full committee meeting (Wine Ramblers proper and significant others) together, we do a little blind tasting comparing two wines that ought in theory be very similar on the basis of grape variety, style or pricing. This time, two aged Cabernet-based Bordeaux blends, one an actual mid-range Bordeaux, Chateau Poujeaux 1994, the other a Napa Valley classic, Mayacamas 1992. Braised vension, red cabbage, Spätzle and chestnuts were on hand to keep the contestants company.
We had been wrong before - and so uncorked bottle No. 1 with due concentration and a sense of humility.
There are wines you fancy, wines you want badly and wines you have to buy. The Mayacamas ticked all these boxes, but particularly the third. An eighteen year old wine from a top Californian producer famous for their age-worthy, lighter Cabernets, and the price reduced to half - I had to get it. Mayacamas Vineyards go back to 1899 and rose to prominence when their Cabernet was included in the famous 1976 Paris blind tasting battle France vs. California.
In 2006, the blind tasting was repeated and the Mayacamas came third out of ten red wines, beating the likes of Château Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion. So, when I saw my Mayacamas at Battersea wine shop Philglass & Swiggot I did not hesitate for second and decided to take it to Munich for a blind tasting at a Wine Rambler full committee meeting.
Find the full and unabridged story of this wine, two Wine Ramblers, some chestnuts and a piece of venison in a blind tasting at a Wine Rambler full committee meeting.
Our regular readers know that we think highly of Baden's southernmost subregion, the Markgräflerland, have enjoyed its original Gutedels and serious Pinots, and count on it to make its name in the international wine world fairly soon. You also know that we have explored the world of German sparkling wines with growing enthusiasm.
If we put those two together, what do we get? We get this all-organic sparkler from the (as yet) little-known Harteneck winery of Schliengen, halfway between Freiburg and Basel.
Piesport is a lovely village in the German Mosel Valley. Because of the peculiarities of the German wine law, the name can show up on the labels of very cheap wines from somewhere in the area (Piesporter Michelsberg), or it can be on first class Riesling from some of the Mosel's best vineyards. After having recently indulged myself in the delights of the supermarket wine version, it is now time to revisit the outstanding Goldtröpfchen vineyard version.
"Goldtröpfchen" means little drop of gold, and the Rieslings made by Theo Haart and family in Piesport can indeed be described as such. Today's Haart Riesling even comes with a gold capsule ("Goldkapsel"), indicating that the Haarts were particularly pleased with the quality of what went into this bottle.
The trio of "Liebfraumilch", "Piesporter" and "Blue Nun" represent the cheapest German wines available in the export market. They are infamous for giving German wine the image of sweet, headache-inducing plonk. But what do British consumers do? They still buy them. En mass. The power of the cheap side is too strong in these wines. Clearly, all the Wine Rambler's preaching has been in vain. And so one day I found myself in desperation considering a range of unthinkable options, ranging from jumping off a bridge to pouring Liebfraumilch over myself and then setting myself alight in front of Tesco. That will teach 'em!
However, as I am afraid of heights and as Liebfraumilch is too weak to burn I had to come up with a different idea. I decided to change tack and, instead of shouting "rubbish", to give constructive advice. I risked my palate and ventured out to learn which of the infamous three was the best. This called for an epic, scientific blind-tasting battle, a painful self-experimentation endured in the interest of humanity's greater good: Liebfraumilch, Piesporter, Blue Nun, which one is it going to be?
Blue Nun is a German wine label that is very successful in the UK. Known for relatively inexpensive, off-dry wines, Blue Nun is especially marketed at younger women. I am not one of those, but in my quest to explore inexpensive German supermarket wine I have reviewed one previously (see also for details on the brand), and now it was time to brave it a second time.
I bought the 2009 Blue Nun at Sainsburys as part of a blind tasting experiment involving cheap German supermarket wines. How did the £4.29 wine fair?
Having written about Liebfraumilch previously, I will keep this introduction short. What once was the name for a highly sought after German wine has since become a label for plonk - a mildly sweet wine, produced as cheaply as possible from vineyards all over German wine growing regions. It is very popular in the English market and sells in bulk.
I bought mine for £3.06 from Sainsburys as part of a blind tasting experiment in cheap German wine. And was a little surprised.
Piesport is the name of a wine growing village in Germany. On steep hills along the Mosel, some of Germany's best Riesling is grown. "Piesporter Michelsberg", however, only indicates that the wine comes from grapes grown somewhere in the area. It is a designation no quality producer with a good vineyard there would use, so when you find it on a label you are most likely looking at a mass-produced wine that will probably not even contain grapes grown in Piesport itself.
I bought my Michelsberg for £3.99 from Sainsburys as part of a blind tasting experiment in cheap German wine. How did it fair?
As far as aged wines go, eight years may not seem seriously old, but Pinot Blanc, especially from Germany, tends to be drunk as a younger wine, light and fresh in style. Having said that, some German wineries also produce more substantial Weißburgunder (German for Pinot Blanc), matured in oak barrels, that can and should age a few years. Dr. Heger is one of those wineries, located in the Kaiserstuhl, the warmest wine growing area in Germany with fantastic volcanic soil.
The dry Auslese from the Winklerberg vineyard is one of those more substantial Pinot Blancs. The colour shows the wine's age, an intense honey coloured gold that promises substance and maturity.
For a mercifully long time, you have had no updates on this Wine Rambler's hare-brained and underfunded quest to find impressive and affordable Pinot Noir from Burgundy. I don't deceive myself that many of our readers more wise to the world of wine have secretly hoped that I would have given up, Burgundy being a region for deep-dyed aficionados only. Au contraire, my friends, and tonight, it is time for a new installment in this ongoing story of quixotic determination and befuddled ignorance.
It was up to Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier this time. Could this bottle of Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru finally be the one to open the floodgates to all that near-orgasmic Burgundy magic?
Looking back over the wines I have enjoyed over the past few months it was an impressive range of delightfulness and excellent quality. Despite having spent quite a bit on wine I think it was worth every penny, but I was also reminded not to forget to explore what is available on the cheaper end of the market. So during a recent visit to Sainsburys I grabbed a random bottle of relatively inexpensive German wine to set my experiences in perspective.
Mind you, there are people out there for whom £4.99 for a bottle of wine is anything but cheap. However, if you consider that around half of the price goes to the government (tax, excise duty etc.) and quite a bit to the retailer (and that does not even take into account the cost of shipping etc.) then you realise that such a wine has to be produced very cheaply indeed to be commercially viable. Too cheaply?