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?
It's been a while since I have given Hungary a try, and high time to spread the word about this Kékfrankos (a.k.a. Blaufränkisch, a.k.a Lemberger - you know the drill) from Sopron. It is made from organically grown grapes by the Weninger family of Austria, who has built up a branch of their winery across the border on the other side of Lake Neusiedl.
Recently, I have been drinking quite a few Salwey wines, both red and white. So far the wines from the sun-kissed south-west of Germany have entertained me very well, so it was time to try a sparkling Salwey - even more so as I had a few friends over the other night who had not yet tried a German sparkler. Time to change that!
Pop, went the cork and a wonderfully bubbly sparkling wine of the most amazing amber colour foamed into our glasses. I don't think I have seen such a wonderful deep amber in a wine, it was just perfect. One of my British friends described the colour, and this reference may be lost on many, as 'not quite Irn-bru'. This was a most promising start!
May the day never come when streamlined wine marketing gets rid of the german custom of labelling wines by place of origin and vineyard name. Yes, those make for clumsy label design. Yes, they are phonetically intimidating to non-german speakers. But here's their great glory: The best of them already say everything that can be said about a wine more evocatively than anything a wine marketing agency could dream up. Take "Frühlingsplätzchen", a well-known vineyard of Monzingen, in the Nahe region. This could be translated either as "the little springtime place in Monzingen", or as "the Monzingen springtime biscuit". Isn't that wonderful?
'Sekt' is what the Germans call their sparkling wine, and Volker Raumland has an excellent reputation for making sparklers, so much so that many top wineries in Germany trust him with turning their grapes into Sekt. This non-vintage Riesling Sekt, the cheapest in the Raumland range, was made according to the methode champenois and disgorged in 09/2009, creating a wine that is like being struck by a well balanced and expertly-handled sledgehammer made of mineral and fresh acidity.
Sparkling wine is very popular in Germany. Very. As a matter of fact, the Germans consume more than a fifth of the world's production of bubbly. The Wine Rambler is a little less addicted, but we are getting more and more into Sekt, as sparkling wine made in Germany is called. We even made it one of our New Year's resolutions to pay more attention to the world of sparkling wine. This is my first contribution, and it was a most pleasant task.
The sparkling wine in question was made by the Raumland winery. Raumland, based in a village with the wonderful name of Flörsheim-Dalsheim in Rhineland-Palatinate, are specialists for sparkling wine, or 'Sekt' as the Germans call it. So much so that some of Germany's top estates trust Raumland with producing their sparkling wines for them. Raumland are doing such a good job with this that you can find listings of top German sparkling wines that only contain Raumland Sekt or sparklings produced by Raumland (which is not always mentioned on the label).
I cannot drink, or even think of, this wine without the memories coming back. It was a couple of years ago, and almost summer, and the Wine Rambler committee visited the Mosel. One of our stops was the village of Traben-Trarbach, where we visited the Müllen winery - and we got more than we bargained for. The full story is better to be told over a glass of Riesling, but very generous tasting samples that kept and kept and kept coming are part of it. And stories that kept and kept and kept coming. And there was a bit about a cat. We sampled many Rieslings that day, different styles too, and also a few other varieties. Among them was an impressive Pinot Blanc, a Weißburgunder, and today I opened the last bottle.
If you ever come across ruddy-cheeked, twinkly-eyed, chatty Hanspeter Ziereisen, do me a big favour: Don't underestimate him. And do yourself another: Try his wines. There has hardly been another Pinot Noir winemaker in Germany who has a more consistent, sharp-edged stylistic vision for the grape, or taken a more principled, self-critical and determined path to realising it. Excepting maybe Bernhard Huber in Malterdingen, we know of no greater francophile in german Pinot than Hanspeter Ziereisen. High time he made his debut on the Wine Rambler.
Imagine a hilly landscape somewhere in Europe. The sun is burning down. The temperature is way above 30° C. Sitting on a porch, you look around an area that was shaped by volcanic activity. While there is no lava any more, you have been told by locals that this small town is the warmest in the country. Your host returns to pour more Pinot Grigio. Southern Italy, you may think? Not at all! Chances are that you are sitting in the town of Ihringen in the South West of Germany, drinking a Pinot Grigio, Grauburgunder I wanted to say, made by the Heger winery. Well, it is still winter while I am writing this, but a few days ago I opened a bottle of a Grauburgunder, as the Pinot Grigio/Gris variety is called in Germany, for two friends here in London - Dr. Heger's Oktav. [read the full post...]
Nine days into the new year and we're already sticking our noses into the sparkling wine again. Is that hedonistic cheek on our part or a commendable discipline in making good our new year's resolution number 2? Actually, it's neither, since this is a postscript to our new year's eve.
Lively, but not over-strong bubbles, a smell of ripe apples and quince. Bone dry and almost austere at first taste, but at the same time fairly creamy and intense, with the tiniest hint of oak maybe, and in the end, it's mature quince and apple fruit again, maybe also a hint of tangerine, with very fresh acidity all the way through.
Sometimes I think that we should have a wine history segment on the wine rambler. Maybe we will some day. It should be fun to explore some of the microhistory in individual vineyard names, and to maybe get a grip on parts of the larger story of how the wine world that we know and love (well, some of it) came about. The breakup of large noble and monastic estates after 1803 within the crumbling holy roman empire would have to be such a period that changed the landscape of wine making beyond recognition. Or did it? [read the full post...]
Sun-kissed Baden, the southernmost of Germany's wine growing regions, specialises on Pinots: Pinot Noir, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Gris/Grigio (or Spätburgunder, Weißburgunder and Grauburgunder), and for some reason we have so far only reviewed Spät- und Weißburgunder from Baden on the Wine Rambler. So it was high time to open a bottle of Grauburgunder and and do some reviewing - and this time it was not just me, but a group of British wine drinkers who joined the London Wine Rambler for a night of fun yesterday. [read the full post...]
Perhaps unusually for a Mosel winemaker, Clemens Busch is well known for his dry Riesling - he also makes off-dry and sweet wines, but when we visited the winery in 2008 I mostly brought home dry wines. Vom Roten Schiefer - "from red slate" - was one of them.
All starts with a nice golden colour and a nose of a mineral, stone fruit (peach and plum), camomile tea, honey and paraffin wax. All of that made for a substantial, matured impression. On the tongue the Riesling is quite full-bodied and a well rounded, caramel richness. Exotic fruit and ripe plum mix well with noticeable, fresh acidity and a kick of spice. A rich yet elegant wine with a little attitude.
It is still 2009, the year of the Silvaner grape in Germany - and the Wine Rambler is of course drinking Silvaner. After a full committee meeting last Saturday enjoyed an outstanding Silvaner from Franconia, the London branch of the Wine Rambler jumped right back into Silvaner, this time with a more aged wine - another outstanding example of what a competent winemaker can do with this grape.