So there you sit in Tuscany, enjoying the evening sun and sipping on your Sangiovese blend - oh, wait! It is not Tuscany but the German wine growing region of the Pfalz (Palatinate) and you are not drinking a Chianti but a German red. Sounds unlikely? Well, unlikely it may be but certainly not impossible: Pfalz winemaker Philipp Kuhn is well known for his red wines and one of them, the Cuveé Luitmar, is indeed made of Sangiovese.
Not just Sangiovese but also Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger) - not exactly what you would expect from a German wine...
Should I resist the tired cliché, should I raise above the overused joke? Even if I were that strong and even if I were not secretly in love with clichés I still could not do it in this case. Even my wine merchant felt powerless against the buying-wine-by-the-label joke: "We bought it despite the label!", was her excuse. I didn't have any: I bought it because of the label. Because of the name. And because that day I had set out with a desire to buy something different.
I trust that even after just a cursory glance at the Wine Rambler you will agree that I fulfilled that mission - but was it a success?
If you're a regular follower of this blog (and you better had be) you know that there are several threads or agendas woven into it without much subtlety. One, doomed to failure, is the notion that we could get to understand Burgundy. Another, with better progress, is to bring the use of cheap puns in wine reviews to new lows. A third is that, both of us with roots in the German southwest, we are tirelessly working to see Swabia rise. Not so much rise to world dominance through thrift, Kehrwoche and the manufacture of car parts. That will happen inevitably, without our doing. No, we would see her rise in the world of wine also. And rise she will, as Germany's up-and-coming red wine region.
Quietly pruning their vines to this goal, plotting away, are people like those from the Zimmerle family winery of Württemberg's Remstal subregion, northeast of Stuttgart. Could their three-varietal red wine cuvée be another step forward in the quest?
When we first launched the Wine Rambler, we anticipated, rather optimistically, that wineries might at some point in the future might send us samples to review. But we also always insisted, a touch self-defeatingly perhaps, that we would be very strict about ethics and transparency in doing this. And we are. But the good people of the Terras Gauda winery of Spain, which makes and markets a range of wines from different regions of northwestern Spain did not let themselves be deterred by this, much to their credit, and were kind enough to send us a six bottle sample to review. And it fell to the Munich branch of the blog to do it.
How to go about such a task? I decided on the following course of action: I would not research anyone else's reviews, ratings or scores beforehand. I would not research prices either, which means I could not comment on value, but I wouldn't be influenced by it either. I would also not set up a single tasting where I would compare them in a professional setting. Instead, we would drink the wines at Munich HQ, one at the time, over a couple of weeks, like almost anyone who buys them would: On the kitchen table, after a day's work, with food.
It's all rather melancholy. It's raining outside, autumn is coming on, and there's only one antidote against heaviness of heart that never fails: 1990 Bordeaux. Chateau Malescasse is said to be one of the very dependable producers of the Haut-Médoc, and in a more lucid moment, I secured this bottle on eBay.
And when I woke up this morning with the rain lashing against the windows, I knew it : Tonight is its night.
Following my recent Californian adventure I have now paid the US East Coast a visit. At least so far as you can call opening a bottle of wine "paying a visit". I had visited the New York region last year though, and on a tour through Long Island discovered one of its vinous gems, Shinn Estate Vineyards. Among the lessons I learned there was that you can make very strong wines that can still feel light - if you get the balance right.
Now, if the warning of the Surgeon General on the label of the Shinn Cabernet has not scared you away, will the fact that it has 15.4% ABV?
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.
Wow, this doesn't look very German! - with these words an English friend of mine greeted Philipp Kuhn's Mano Negra. I opened this bottle recently at a small tasting I had organised for friends. Most had never tried a German red, and none had ever seen anything (German) quite so intense in colour. This cuvée of Blaufränkisch (literally 'Blue Frankish) and Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the Pfalz, a region that keeps impressing me with its variety of exciting red wines.
The subject of German red wine would certainly deserve a whole series of postings, for instance making the point that there is a lot of it (about a third of all grapes grown in Germany are red) and that it is not just wine of a lighter type. For today I leave the wider context aside and focus on a wine that is an example of a more substantial type German red, a blend of different varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon and Dornfelder. Winemaker Friedrich Becker is a well known specialist for red wine, with the red wine cuvée Guillaume being one of the cheaper wines from a range that can be quite pricey (just recently I saw one of his premier Pinot Noirs in a Munich department store for around a hundred Euro).
If I think of a German winery that has lots of experience with blending red wines, the Knipsers come to mind. Just a little while ago I tasted their Cuvée X, a great blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc and Merlot. Even though the Cuvée X can stand up to a good French Bordeaux, it is not exactly cheap either, so I was very curious to try the Gaudenz, a significantly cheaper red wine blend made by the Knipsers. In fact, it is surprisingly cheap. It also is a blend of different grapes, including the German variety of Dornfelder, and is matured in used barrique barrels for about a year.
Recently we reported on a somewhat unusual German wine, a Syrah from the Pfalz. As this wine got a lot of interest, I decided it was time to open a bottle of another, unusual, red wine from the same producer. After having sampled the 2003 Syrah it was time to try the flagship wine of the Knipser winery, the Cuvée X, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot - all grow in Germany, just a few miles left of the Rhine.
2009. London is hit by snow twice. Usain Bolt breaks the record in breaking world records. A German chancellor is re-elected and a German goalkeeper decides to go. The Royal Bank of Scotland announces a loss of £24.1 billion. Swine flu strikes; or so. British MPs spend money on moats and birdhouses. And the Wine Rambler drinks some wine. Quite a bit, actually, especially considering that we only launched the website in June 2009 (after having rambled between Munich and London via email for more than two years). And while others may still look back at what happened in sport, politics or the economy, we remember five wines that really impressed us last year. Here they come, the Wine Ramblers' top 5 wines of 2009: [read the full post...]
Very dark, blackish colour.
Great smell: Cassis, plums, cherry jam, tar and candied sugar.
Seems to go through two phases in the mouth, with nice sour cherry fruit, fresh acidity and coal at first, followed by subtle oak, vanilla, smoke and ash.
This more than convincing Bordeaux takes its stand between the traditional and the more accessible "international" style and actually gains complexity and tension from that. We (Mr. and Mrs. Munich Wine Rambler with two nice guests) really enjoyed this one, because it seemed to appeal to the snob as well as to the occasional drinker, without being a bland compromise.
Here I am, drinking a wine from the end of the world. This is both true in geographic terms, seeing as the wine is from Patagonia, and it is also true as the winery is called 'Winery from the end of the world' (Bodega del Fin del Mundo). This Bodega is a fairly new venture, about ten years old, and they grow a variety of red and white varietals on 870 hectares of land. As this part of Patagonia is fairly dry, the vineyards need a computer controlled irrigation system - the water comes from 20 kilometres away and a complete water channel system had to be built for the irrigation. This apparently took two years, and the first vineyards were planted in 1999 - protected from the wind by a complex system of windbreakers. Scared away by all that technology? [read the full post...]
Brick red colour, going brown on the edges.
Surprisingly wild smell, a little animal even, leather, some tar, some cocoa.
Slender-bodied in the mouth, very fresh acidity, aged cherry and plum flavours, surprisingly rough-grained, rustic tannin that has retained its sharp edge. Nice aftertaste of prunes and coffee that lingers for quite a while. [read the full post...]
Germany has cast its vote in the general election and looking at the result I felt the need to drink some wine. I leave it to you whether you want to see it as a comment that I am not drinking German wine tonight - I am off to Spain. This may be a bit unfair, but so far Spanish red seems to me to be the most exciting Mediterranean red wine (leaving out most of France as not Mediterranean) - send those flame emails and, even better, recommendations for Italian, Greek and southern French wines that will blow my socks off. At the moment, however, I enjoy this Navarre blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. [read the full post...]
German organic supermarket chain Alnatura has a small, but convincing wine selection, much of which comes in half bottles as well. A good marketing move, since, apart from being good for single drinkers or weekdays, this always makes me less hesitant about trying a wine I know nothing about.
Deep cherry red, with a brick-red edge.
Nice smell of tannic cherries, raw beef, some red and black currants.
In the mouth, thick-skinned cherries again, red currants, medium bodied, a little leathery, a spicy, but also mouth-drying after-taste with a real pinch of tannic roughness. [read the full post...]