Sometimes it is about the simple pleasures. When I first got really excited about wine I was drawn to the more expensive, prestigious wines. The average price I paid per bottle started creeping up. Looking for something "unusual" for the Wine Rambler contributed to this trend. Over time though I got a little frustrated with this approach. After all, all these "special" bottles need "special" attention. They want to be carefully selected, properly photographed, precisely analysed and interestingly described. What happened to just enjoying a nice looking bottle with dinner without feeling the need to pay too much attention? This feeling led me to order more "drinking" and less "reviewing" wines, and recently I even managed to put an order in where the average price per bottle was below seven quid.
The wine you see above is one of these wines, although I put a little more effort into selecting it. After all tradition dictates that the first wine to be reviewed on the Wine Rambler each year does not come from Germany.
Do you eat ice cream on cold winter days? I do, and for some reason I fancy it more often when it is cold than during the few really hot days of summer which London allows me. Maybe for that reason I don't seem to be buying into seasonal wine reviews and I don't find that I crave heavy reds more often in winter than in spring. Therefore it is purely coincidental that I am reviewing this year's first rosé just in time for the official start of spring.
However, if you do enjoy strawberry goodness with sunshine I am sure this English rosé will deliver the goods for you this summer - almost too much, in fact.
At times, I am quietly envious of my fellow Wine Rambler, who recently won British citizenship. I sometimes think I was born into the wrong country, as I rather fancy I would make a passable Brit myself. Case in point: I get acutely embarrassed in situations that nobody else would find even mildly troubling. When strolling through the heart of Munich recently, I stepped into the Dallmayr wine department on an impulse to see if any exclusive and glamorous new discoveries were on display. Having looked around and seen what I had come in to see, it suddenly occurred to me that I could not possibly leave without buying something (that would have been embarrassing, you see, because the shop assistants would form all kinds of disadvantageous opinions about me). Dallmayr, on account of their general adventurous pricing and the kind of impulse shopper they cater for, is not the best place to have a fit like this. At least I was sane enough to not want to leave a lot of money, so, fighting a rising sense of completely self-induced panic, I was relieved to find this bottle from my very favourite German winery lying invitingly beneath a fine cover of dust.
I already knew its story: 2006 had been so poor a vintage in Baden that Hans-Peter Ziereisen, quality-obsessed ruddy-cheeked devil that he is, did not want to bottle either his usual top-of-the-range Pinot Noir nor his varietal Syrah. His solution: Mix the Syrah with Pinot Noir to make a mid-range cuvée that would be interesting, but no more than it claimed to be. Hence the completely unusual grape mix, hence the name, Zunderobsi being a lovely dialect term for "topsy turvy". This is classic Wine Rambler territory.
As a well-behaved historian I can tell you that traditions are fake. Or, if you want it in more professional language: invented. That doesn't mean to say that they can't be fun though, and so today it is time for me to indulge in a tradition we invented for the Wine Rambler a few years ago: the first wine to be reviewed in any year would not come from Germany - to remind us, as far as that is necessary, that there is so much more to the wine world than us krauts.
This year my choice is a little conservative at first glance - that fits the historian cliché nicely - as it is from France. However, not a Claret or Burgundy, no, it comes from the beloved Loire.
Pinot Grigio is dull. That would be a textbook provocative statement to catch the interest of the reader, and of course the author would qualify that statement to the extent that it was almost turned into the opposite. However, I do honestly believe that Pinot Grigio is dull. Not on principle, but the vast majority of Pinot Grigio I encounter is mass produced dullness to the extent that I'd discourage everyone to choose one - unless there are reasons to have hope for the wine, for instance when sourced from a good wine merchant or knowledgeable sommelier.
That at least is how I see the situation in the UK with imported Pinot Grigio. In Germany, or where German wine is available, there is a second route: buy wine made from the same grape variety, but done in Germany style. Sometimes, these wines are labelled Pinot Gris, like in France, but mostly you will find the German name Grauburgunder.
As some of you may be aware, there has recently been a bit of noise about dry German Riesling. A well respected importer and Riesling fan referred to the dry German wines as "a highly invasive species", much to the dislike of some. I am not planning to enter that debate directly, at least not right now. However, I had a little craving for an invasive species the other night...
...so here it is, a short review of a dry German Riesling, and from the region that wine lovers across the world associate most with sweet: the Mosel.
Rock star, film director or actor - you haven't really made it to the top unless you own a vineyard. If you want to be up there with Aykroyd, Banderas or Coppola making your own wine is now an even better status symbol than a private jet. In the case of Barbara Laithwaite I suspect the motivation was different. Like her husband Tony, the co-owner of the UK's biggest wine company has stayed away from the limelight, and I'd be surprised if she'd own a jet. She also resisted the urge to buy an existing winery in California or Provence and instead planted vines in the Chilterns to make sparkling wine.
Fast forward a few years to find the Wine Rambler sitting down with a glass of 2009 Wyfold Vineyard brut.
It does not always have to be Mosel. Nor does it always have to be Riesling. Well, there would be worse things in the world than to be limited to Mosel Riesling, but thankfully no demonic power has so far decided to make me choose between German wine growing regions. If that ever were to happen one of the other contenders would have to be the Pfalz. The Palatinate, as some of you may know it, is as large as it is diverse: amongst king Riesling and a range of other white grapes we see more and more exciting reds coming from the region west of Mannheim.
Like this Pinot Blanc most of the wines are dry. The Weißburgunder, as the Germans call it, comes from Koehler-Ruprecht, one of the renowned Pfalz estates. And damn is it drinkable!
If you have a look around on the Heymann-Löwenstein website you will eventually stumble upon a message from a Belgian wine merchant. He reports from a blind tasting of Champagnes into which he smuggled a bottle of Löwenstein's non vintage sparkler - and despite being the cheapest wine it got by far the highest score, beating the likes of Billecart-Salmon, Jacques Selosse and Ruinart. This is the type of underdog story that would usually be told about English fizz, but it doesn't hurt to remember that other countries also produce great wines made according to the classic Champagne method.
That Germany is one of them should not be a surprise, after all it consumes around a quarter of the world's sparkling wine and produces close to 400 million bottles a year.
I want to believe. Not in UFOs, Armageddon or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but in wine - in all the lost causes, regions and plucky little grape varieties that no one trusted to ever produce anything of worth. I want to believe, to give them a chance, to celebrate their triumph over the expected. One grape variety that needs such a triumph is Müller-Thurgau. Looking at the statistics you would not believe it, after all MT is the second most planted grape variety in Germany.
However, no one loves it as it is seen as the boring main ingredient for German bulk wine, not even worthy to be mentioned on the label. Can we still believe in it?
2013 has now begun in earnest, and for the Wine Rambler that means it is time to start regular service again and write about wine. With our focus on Germany you would naturally expect the first bottle of the year to be of Teutonic origin - but, behold!, it is not. Geographically and linguistically Austria may not be far away, but even if some see the Austrians as Bavarians with charm, the Austrians themselves insist on their independence. Every single screw cap or capsule of Austrian wine says so in proud colours.
So why not pick a German wine as the first in 2013 on this (mostly) German wine blog? Well, first of all because we are not *that* German, but more importantly because of: tradition, quality and availability.
Germany, for those of you who did not know it, produces some excellent sparkling wine in a style similar to Champagne. It also produces a unique fizze ("Sekt") from Riesling, called "Rieslingsekt". This is style of sparkling wine that tends to be crisper and fresher than Champagne. Some of the more exciting specimens of this type blend French complexity with vibrant German Riesling freshness and mineral.
I was lucky in that the most recent bottle of German fizz I opened was one of this type.
Marxists and luxurious sparkling wine surely don't mix well? Well, they do. As Champagne consumers the leaders of Eastern block and other communists states did and do quite well, thank you, although one could question whether they are true Marxists. Marxists winemakers are a rarer breed, but I can think of at least one who not only makes stunning still wines but also very charming sparklers. His name is Reinhard Löwenstein and amongst other things he is famous for his Riesling from terraced Mosel vineyards.
Riesling can also be used to make sparkling wine, of course, and today we take a look at Löwenstein's non-vintage "Fantasie der Schieferterrassen" - Fantasy of Slate Terraces.
I like Pinot Blanc. It's is that simple. As our regular readers know I am always in danger of rambling on for too long, so I will keep this short. I really like Pinot Blanc. In Germany it is called Weißer Burgunder or Weißburgunder ("white Burgundy") and one of the more popular white grape variety (although nowhere as common as Riesling or Müller-Thurgau). What I find particularly attractive about Weißburgunder is how it manages to be a very enjoyable drink but also has a more serious side, either in a leaner, smoky and edgy style or, especially when aged in oak barrels, a more complex and substantial one.
Julian has recently been somewhat unhappy with a Pinot Blanc from one of the top producers in Baden, so I wonder how this more inexpensive specimen from less prestigious Rheinhessen will do.
I always love it when a review is a first: To be able to report on a winery, or better still, a whole region of the wine world, that we have not yet touched upon. A mere check-up review, so to speak, on a well-represented winery and a vintage a few years past, seems much less exciting. But these, too, are very important. When wine guides, such as the very serious German online publication "Wein-Plus" regularly hold samples back for re-tasting and re-evaluation a few years after the first tasting, the results are often surprising, and always instructive. More wine guides and publications should do it, rather than to just keep celebrating each new vintage's potential.
I remember exactly the moment I first tasted this particular Pinot Blanc. It was at the annual autumn tasting extravaganza at Munich's Bayerischer Hof. I loved it right away for its streak of vibrant freshness that distinguished it among some of the blander white Pinots also on offer. My Co-Rambler Torsten, I also recall, was a bit more reserved. His may have been the better judgement.
Cheap Pinot Grigio, oaked Chardonnay and fruitbomb Sauvignon Blanc are the three banes of the popular white wine world. For my day job I regularly attend functions organised by public sector bodies who have next to no money for entertainment and, perhaps worse, no one who really cares about finding value, so I have had many an encounter with this unholy trinity. Luckily I know that all these grape varieties are capable of producing fantastic wines, although I have to admit that my relationship with Sauvignon Blanc never has been an easy one. Too often even the better wines have me on my knees begging for mercy after a broadside of pungent grassy aromas, gooseberry, intense vegetal flavours and intense blackcurrant.
On the other hand there are very nicely balanced examples too, and sometimes I just crave crisp, fruity intensity. The other day it was one of those moments and I turned to the German wine region of Franken (Franconia) to satisfy my urge.
When we last heard of Martin Tesch, the brain behind the Tesch vinery of Germany's Nahe region, my fellow Wine Rambler Torsten reported on the young winemaker's gift for marketing and label design and, not least, his manic laugh. The bottle of 2010 dry Riesling from his St. Remigiusberg vineyard recently on this Rambler's kitchen table emitted no sound whatsoever, but the other qualities of its creator were very much in evidence:
With its mixture of the historical seriousness and visual overload associated with old-style German Riesling, the hint at family traditions in the stern look and the the sideburns of the Tesch ancestor who presides over it, and finally the memorable colouring of the screw cap, this is no doubt a very well-designed bottle of wine. Is it any good?
Another Austrian wine on the Wine Rambler? Really? Can our national pride and the expectations of our Germanophile readership sustain this Austrian double whammy? They will have to, because the world needs to know about this, the best rosé I've had for months, no make that years, straight away. The way things are going, lives could be lost to summery languor otherwise.
Ever heard of Schilcher? You have now. Schilcher  is a regional speciality of Austria's Steiermark region. Rosés made exclusively from the indigenous Blauer Wildbacher grape, these wines are distinguished by prominent acidity and unusually intensive red and black berry fruit. They are never particularly subtle and they can be rustic to the point of rudeness, but they are rarely bland.
After the epic ramble on which Torsten took you last time, along the sheer slopes of the Mosel valley and the bold challenges they afford the winemaker, it seems an uphill trek for me to interest you in a less dramatic setting for German Riesling. But I think I may have the region to do it, and the winemaker as well. The Place is the Ortenau, the Baden subregion made up by the last few hills of the Black Forest as it rolls gently down to the Rhine valley between Freiburg and Baden-Baden. A place of homely beauty, renowned for the richness of its cuisine and the temperateness of its climate, which is almost as sunny as Baden's Kaiserstuhl, but not quite as warm, with the cooler, pine-shaded Black Forest at its back. Riesling country.
The Winemaker: Alexander Laible, son of Andreas Laible, who has been for years, if not decades the uncontested number one among the winemakers of the Ortenau. Due to the enthusiastic press Alexander is getting, I have wanted to try one of his wines for some time, so I'll try not to lose too many introductory words now that the moment has arrived: