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.
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.
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.
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).
I love it when a plan comes together. Seriously, I do. Not only because I used to watch way too much A-Team in the late '80s and early '90s, but also because I do love making plans. One of them is to regularly hunt for aged wine (although I do actually prefer the term 'matured wine'), and so far I have not been disappointed with the results. Quite the opposite, in fact, the good ol' boys have been the source of much pleasure. The wine I am reporting about today is no exception, in fact, it is a pure delight. You may have heard of Austria's signature white variety Grüner Veltliner, you may have tasted some, but - like me until very recently - you may not have had the change to see what a really nicely matured Grüner can be like. This baby here is 16 years old, which is the age by which most white wines have passed the zombie stage and hang between decomposition and vinegar. A few, notably Riesling or perhaps Chenin Blanc, make it to or beyond that age. But what about Grüner?
Never heard of Sauvignon Gris? If not, don't be ashamed, it is hardly a well known variety and I have to admit that I was only dimly aware of its existence until I saw this wine in the Knipser portfolio. The Knipser winery is one of Germany's best, so I was very curious to see what they would make of this unknown variety. Knipsers are big believers in maturing wines properly before releasing them to the market, often using barrique barrels, and this beauty only went on sale two years after the harvest. So, what is it like?
Let's start with a boring, albeit short, lecture on the grape variety.
If you come across a wine called 'Kung Fu Girl Riesling' you can be pretty certain it is a new world wine. I first heard of it on Twitter, where every other day a random American hipster would tweet about how much they liked it. The more radical souls seem to take the Kung Fu aspect literal and share kick ass opinions such as 'Yes, bitch, I like Kung Fu girl riesling. No I don't buy it as a joke. Go fuck yourself sideways you pretentious c-word.' Clearly, a wine that attracts interest, I thought, and made a mental note to get my hands on a bottle. So, when I recently found a bottle of Kung Fu Girl in a New York wine shop for fifteen bucks, I had no choice but to go for it. Is it really as kick ass as Twitter and the label make you want to believe?
Let's start with a few words about the winemaker. Charles Smith is a bit of a rock star among the wine crowd, and that is not only because he used to managed rock bands before going into the wine business.
Ziereisen time here at the Wine Rambler, and with that, a kind of follow-up on the theme of food friendly wines raised by the Wine Rambler's very recent report on Long Island wine growing. While Hanspeter Ziereisen's reputation was largely made by the massive and impressive 03 and 04 vintages, it is not as well known that he has since changed his style completely. Bored by what he came to see as the overconcentration and vacuousness of the "big red"- style he was then aiming for, he decided he would henceforth make the Pinot that he himself likes: Lithe, drinkable, and yes: food friendly. Avantgarde burgundian. In fact, judging by the wine under review, it's not much of an exaggeration to call Ziereisen a one-man french revolution in german Pinot.
Reviewed in our Müller-Thurgau report:
Straw-coloured, this smells sweetly, and even somewhat exuberantly, of sweet apples and peaches, with some canned fruit salad and the faintest touch of Ingwer. Not a miracle of mineral depth, but so far, we're having fun.
The same kind of in-your-face fruit reappears on the palate, and now there is even a hint of minerality. But still, there is more fruit than there is structure, with a finish that is herbally sweet, but also a little watery.
In my quest to find interesting German and Austrian wines in UK supermarkets, I recently came across an excellent Austrian Grüner Veltliner, sold in Sainsbury's 'taste the difference' range. I love Grüner, especially with food, and this wine had the added benefit of being made by a well known Austrian winemaker, Markus Huber. When I saw that the 2009 vintage hit the shelves, I had to grab a bottle to see if it would be as good as the 2008.
Weinhof Herrenberg is Claudia and Manfred Loch's place, a tiny winery with just two hectares in Schoden on the River Saar that they have built up more or less from scratch, plot by plot, and with somewhat precarious resources. This is a very different history from the Van Volxem enterprise, which came with heavy investment, grander plans and more ambitious marketing from day one. Still, both outfits share some similarities. Both were willing to look beyond the winemaking traditions of the last few decades. Both managed to create a new kind of Saar Riesling that was actually a recreation of the pre-1950s style: Ripe wines with more powerful fruit and less prominent acidity than has been, and still is, "traditional" on the Saar. With their enthusiasm and nonconformism they have, between them, managed to break open the wine scene on this Mosel tributary, which had been dominated by an establishment of aristoricatic estates with a somewhat patrician attitude. High time we had a closer look at what Herrenberg has to offer, then, and we'll start with one of their mid-range dryish Riesling (they only make Riesling):
Nice try, Reichsgraf zu Hoensbroech, but you cannot fool the ever-alert Wine Rambler! We know that your whimsically named "Blauer Limberger" is no other grape than Lemberger, known in Austria as - say it with me - Blaufränkisch. In Germany, Lemberger has its home in Württemberg, to which the Reichsgraf's Baden sub-region of Kraichgau is very close.
The 2009 vintage in Germany has received lots of praise, in many cases way before the first wines were bottled and sometimes even before the last grapes were harvested. So it is high time for the Wine Rambler to more systematically explore what the vintage has to offer. Today's object of study, a Riesling (from the Rheinhessen region) that answers to the name of Ice Stream ('Eisbach'). It is one of the basic wines produced by the Battenfeld-Spanier winery, just a little above their range of entry wines. Over the past years, Battenfeld-Spanier have built up an impressive reputation, both for entry and grand cru level wines, so I was curious to eventually get round to try one of their Rieslings.
Traditionally, it is 'Go West' if you want to embark on an adventure. A few weeks ago a friend of mine made the journey eastwards and relocated to Georgia. As one can never be sure where 'East' is with an international audience I should probably add that we are speaking about the country bounding the Black Sea. It is also one of the oldest, if not the oldest, wine growing countries, and one of the countries whose wine I have never tried before. So when I was scanning the shelves at Philglas & Swiggot for something unusual, a massive dark bottle saying 'fine wine of Georgia' immediately got my attention. As if this coincidence would not have been enough to make it interesting, the wine is also made from Saperavi, and indigenous variety that was also new to me.
So here's to exploring new things, for the bold ones who actually venture there, and for the armchair wine snobs who prefer the safer route to try them with pasta and tomato sauce first.
Germans love dry wine - this still comes as surprise to many foreigners who think of Germany as country of sweet wine. Actually, almost two thirds of all wine produced in Germany is dry. On top of that the VdP, the association of top producers, are currently pushing for a new top category in the wine classification system that applies to dry wine only. This is where the label 'GG', short for 'Großes Gewächs' (literally 'great growth') of today's Riesling from Baden comes from.
In order to be classified as GG, a wine has to come from a certified top vineyard, yields have to be low, only grape varieties that have some tradition in the region can be used, grapes have to be harvested selectively by hand and the wine has to have the same quality level as a late harvest. And, of course, the producer has to be a member of VdP. The Baden winemaker family Salwey are, and this is their 2008 GG Riesling.
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.
The Haart winery is a Wine Rambler regular, constantly winning our praise for their elegant and sophisticated sweet Riesling. However, they are also producing a small quantity of dry Riesling, of which we so far shockingly have only reviewed one. This is to change today.
A simple way of describing the bouquet of the Haart Riesling would be to say that it features stone fruit, lemon, mineral, yeast and a hint of vegetable and tobacco. A much better way of describing it would be to ask you to imagine finding an old tobacco chest in a cool, somewhat damp, loamy cave. The bottom layer of the chest would be covered with ground stone and earth, generously sprinkled with lemon juice and pieces of stone fruit - and all of that covered with a wet, mineral heavy ball of cotton wool soaked in yeast.
Having had a fun afternoon sipping austrian wines recently, I dediced it was time for another foray into the territory of Grüner Veltliner, also known as "Groona" in the Vayniac universe. The austrian national grape, Grüner Veltliner makes for powerfully spicy, herbal and mineral whites, if, and only if, handled expertly by ethnic austrians with Veltliner strains in their genome. Johannes Hirsch from the Kamptal clearly qualifies here. We have tasted his 06 Heiligenstein a year ago with a very respectable, but didn't-blow-our-socks-off kind of result. So what has an additional year of bottle age done for this wine?