It's been a busy few months for me. Almost all of June I spent on the road, or at events in London. So to ease myself back into blogging I thought I write about a nice little wine, nothing extraordinarily expensive or with a long and complicated backstory. There is, after all, a place for those wines that are there just to be enjoyed.
When I unscrewed Gerhard Klein's Grüner Veltliner I hoped it would be one of those quiet, enjoyable companions. And it was. With a little twist...
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.
Drinking wine is expectation management. It is many other things too, and I would hope on most occasions the expectation management is invisible, but sometimes it can become centre stage when writing a wine review. If your expectations are low but the wine delivers, is there a risk you praise it too much? And if your expectations are very high, will you be led to write a review that compares the wine with your expectations instead of looking at it on its own merit?
The above-pictured late harvest from the Mosel tributary Ruwer falls into one of these two categories for me, so approach with care.
Earlier this month, Bernhard Huber died. As the last few weeks have been very busy with work I am only now catching up with news from the wine world - and with news like this I almost wish I hadn't. While I have never met him in person I have appreciated his outstanding wines on more than one occasion, and I am only too aware of what he has done for the reputation of German wine, Pinot Noir in particular.
Looking through my cellar, the only Huber wine left is a Müller-Thurgau, not quite the obvious choice, but it has to do for a toast to one of the greats of wine making.
As this week will have a French wine theme - Wednesday I am invited to a French rosé and food event - I figured I should kick it off with a wine from one of my favourite French regions: the Loire. Admittedly, its more famous cousins Burgundy, Champagne or Bordeaux would usually be mentioned first, but I love both the freshness and the quirkiness of the Loire wine. In many ways it is the French region that suits my style most.
It is also the French wine region that got me hooked on Chenin Blanc, partly due to the exciting wines coming from Domaine Huet.
Not everyone may agree with the National Health Service's classification of nosebleeds as potentially 'frightening', but even tougher characters don't seem to consider them fun. Looking back at one or two childhood nosebleed experiences I am inclined to take sides with the NHS here - and yet a Riesling tasting like a nosebleed was probably the most interesting wine I encountered this year. Enter Müller-Catoir's 2009 Grand Cru Riesling "Breumel in den Mauern".
As you can see from the photo above there is a prominent "1" on the bottle, indicating that this wine comes from one of the most highly rated vineyards in Germany (at least according to the winemakers association VDP). Together with the designation as "Großes Gewächs" (great growth or grand cru) this is designed to inspire some awe - which is, one would hope, at least subtly different from nosebleed fright.
When the topic of really expensive wine comes up, my dad has a story to tell. Years ago, when he was working in a Michelin-decorated restaurant, one of the guests told him that he had made a good deal that day and now wanted to find out. To find out whether the most expensive wine on the menu was really worth it. So he asked my dad to bring that bottle and get his colleagues too so they all could taste the wine. A few minutes later a group of highly trained sommeliers and waiters clustered around the guest and sampled the wine - I think it was a Bordeaux - to conclude: nice, very nice in fact; but not nice enough that any of them would spend even remotely as much money on a bottle. Even so they were all happy, especially the guest as he now had found out what he always had wondered about.
Today I am embarking on a, somewhat, similar mission. Behold, and you will see the most expensive wine I have ever bought, a Riesling older than yours truly. And the question is: was it worth it?
What you are looking at is nothing less than the best Chardonnay ever made in Germany. Well, sort of. First of all the photo below only shows Chardonnay grapes and not the bottled "R" as, despite following best practice in digital preservation, our shots of the "R" had an unfortunate encounter with oblivion. Secondly, I have no idea whether Bernhard Huber's 2009 Chardonnay really is the best German Chardonnay ever bottled - but when we heard that the respectable wine guide Wein Plus had made that claim it was time to investigate.
So, ladies and gentlemen, come join us for another mission in our never-ending quest to do our journalistic duty.
Is it too early to say that Italy, once haughtily ignored, is making a comeback on the Wine Rambler? In November, Torsten has had his eyes opened by a white from Trentino, and I, for my part, am more and more impressed with its northern neighbour, Alto Adige.
Now that everybody seems to concur that 2012 was over the roof on the banks of the Adige and the Isarco rivers, I have looked closer on reports of the last few vintages, and would you believe it, this has been going on for some time: Excellent on international varietals like Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, excellent on local growths like the reds Lagrein and Vernatsch.
So I've woken up to it: The Alto Adige has been stealthily creeping up on us. We can't have that, of course. So at the risk of blurring our core germanic focus, I will from time to time over the coming year report on what I have stocked up on.
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.
With the festive season with all its celebrations and debauchery now upon us what could be better to review than a classy sparkling wine? Well, yes and no - I have never held much with going for wines that are in season. Sometimes I want a bold red in summer, sometimes a refined sparkler on a dull Tuesday evening with nothing to celebrate. When it comes to wine I tend to go with the advice the head of department in my first full time job gave me: "A good Riesling in itself is a reason to celebrate." A wise statement, although I think it can be expanded to cover all glorious grapes and wonderful wines of this world. So here is another reason to celebrate - and behold, it is an English sparkling wine.
A Nyetimber 2003, to be precise - a wine from the Nyetimer vintage that caused a little sensation when a few years ago its sibling, the Classic Cuvée, won a respectable international sparkling wine tasting, beating the likes of Bollinger, Pommery and Louis Roederer. How good is the Blanc de Blancs?
After last week's venture beyond the world of wine (and into the realm of photography) it is time to come back to the core mission of the Wine Rambler with a piece on a classic: Riesling. Actually, seen from an international perspective the Knipser Halbstück wine may not be a true German classic as it is not one of the sweet Mosel wines that some hold to be the true expression of Riesling.
While some international wine experts still get worked about about the mistake of dry German Riesling, the German consumers have moved on to embrace "trocken", and German winemakers try different styles, including barrique aged Riesling. The Halbstück is not one of them, but barrels do play a role with this wine.
After my recent (and completely unsubstantiated, I hasten to add, your honour) comments about dullness of the average Pinot Grigio I felt a reminder was due about how exciting Italian wine can be. This is probably less a reminder to you, gentle reader, than it is to myself and my co-Rambler Julian - after all we both were traumatised by a youth of cheap and dull Pinot Grigio. The therapeutic antidote I am going to serve today is Manzoni Bianco, an Italian grape variety I discovered earlier this year at a natural wine fair. I was instantly impressed by it; and how could I not: it is a cross of Riesling and Pinot Bianco/Blanc, two of my absolute favourite grape varieties.
The wines I tried at the fair mostly impressed me by their freshness and minerality - elegant, light and clean. The first specimen I got into the scientific Wine Rambler tasting labs is a slightly different creature, a bolder and more substantial wine that easily rates as one of the most exciting discoveries of the year.
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.
People, it is said, become more interesting with age. In the same way as our faces start telling a little about the lives we have lived we too have more stories to tell, gain some wisdom - at least that's the theory - and become more distinct characters. The same is true for ageworthy wine, but with a pleasant difference: while people can become a little difficult over time, stuck in their ways and perhaps too edgy, a good wine becomes more harmonious and balanced. At some point the wine will decline rapidly and become an old grump, but that is a question of timing and also not what today's wine story is about.
Today I am revisiting Martin Müllen's exciting Mosel wines and in particular an aged specimen I recently got my hands on.
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.
How to start a posting on a topic on which I may have bored half my readership to death, whereas the other half may not even know it exists? Even after a glass or two I haven't worked it out, so you will have to forgive me for this uninspired start. To summarise what I have said on this topic earlier: yes, there is German Sauvignon Blanc, and it brings a lean, mineral and precise elegance to this grape that is just adorable - but there isn't much of it. On the positive side the fact that the grape is rare means that it tends to be grown by vintners who put effort into it, which may explain why my previous encounters have been so enjoyable.
This time I am looking at an SB from Württemberg, my home state in the south west of Germany, and to make it even more unusual it comes from a garage winemaker.
We are back. Well, almost. While I have survived three weeks of scorching heat in North America (a hot and humid torture device otherwise known as summer holiday), my co-Rambler Julian is still out somewhere on a secret mission I am not at liberty to talk about. Even so our summer hiatus is over and it is time to catch up with interesting wines and events of the past few weeks.
And what better way to get back into the swing than a German Riesling!