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 usually takes some convincing to get continental folk to accept that English sparkling wines are not only drinkable, but can be quite excellent. But since we already know that, we hold them to a higher standard than most other German wine drinkers probably would. It is from this fairly lofty perspective, and only from there, that this one disappointed us somewhat when it was soundly beaten by a French sparkler costing less than half in this mildly humiliating Wine Rambler blind tasting.
Tasting wines blind can be cruel. I wonder if Rober Parker Jr. or Jancis Robinson have been there before - that red-faced moment when you realise that what you thought was, say, the 1990 Médoc was in fact the 2001 Lemberger from Württemberg, that where you thought you were on the safe side, you've been as wrong about the identity of two wines as you can possibly be. That sinking feeling. That barely disguised glee in the eyes of the other participants, who knew all along. If so, cheer up, Robert and Jancis, we've been there as well. If you have followed our blind tasting adventures so far, you may get the impression that we have an uncanny tendency to end up there as soon as the paper bags come off, but if so, we do all this in the spirit of selfless sacrifice and journalistic objectivity.
But let's take a step back from the brink of embarassment, and meet the two colour-coded contestants henceforth to be known as Green and Blue. Here is what we knew: One was a classic, somewhat pricey bottle of the very finest English sparkling, provided by London Wine Rambler Torsten, who may be the German-speaking world's most tireless advocate for English Sparklers. The other was a bottle of Vouvray Brut for a mere third of that price, and with absolutely nothing to lose. Not much hope for the underdog, was there?
Much as we here at the Wine Rambler make it our business to spread the word about the fine German, Austrian and English sparkling wines, it would be foolish not to recognize which region of the world sets the gold standard in this category. As a matter of fact, If I could give a few pieces of advice to humanity in general, one would be: Drink a bottle of decent champagne as often as finances allow. But then, that means "never" for such a large part of humanity (It means two or three times a year for me, if you must know) that after some thought I keep my advice to myself.
Speaking of gold standards, it was with a mind to stress-test my own personal one, Larmandier-Bernier's Tradition extra brut against a new candidate from what could be called received Indie Champagne: Jacquesson's "Cuvée 735". So, is there a new kid in town?
A recent encounter with a Swabian Riesling from the Schnaitmann winery has done a lot to build up my pride in Swabian winemaking. The German wine growing region of Württemberg is mostly inhabited by members of the Swabian tribe, who outside of Germany are probably better known for their engineering than their winemaking skills.
They are also known as very tidy, law-abiding citizens, so it is somewhat unusual that a Swabian wine is called 'Evoé!' - this after all being the battle cry of the followers of the Greek god Dionysus. Are we looking at a totally un-Swabian, orgiastic rowdy wine?
Situated in the southern parts of the Pfalz lie the vineyards of Friedrich Becker. Well, actually, he owns a few on the French side of the border too. Maybe this explains (if indeed an explanation would be needed) why Becker is often referred to as a specialist for 'Burgunder-Weine', or 'Burgundy wines': the members of the Pinot family are called 'Burgunder' in German. The sparkling wine we tasted, blind and against an English sparkler, as part of the Wine Rambler birthday celebrations is a good example, after all it is a cuvée of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Auxerrois and Chardonnay (the latter two varietals are at least related to the Pinot family). So, here we have a German sparkler with 'French' varietals and made following the classic Champagne method, which includes having spent about three years on lees. So how does it taste then?
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).
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).
Winter evenings, we are constantly reminded, are the time to open the big reds, bring out the big guns, release the heavy hitters. That may be so, but light, elegant reds that do not clobber the food or the taster are always in season.
From Blauer Portugieser (a red grape once common across Germany, Austria and eastern Europe but now declining), and Schwarzriesling (nothing to do with Riesling, but Pinot Meunier, of blanc-de-noirs champagne fame), Lukas Krauß makes this wonderfully bright cherry-coloured wine, named in honour of his grandfather.
When you have a Bordeaux style French red in your glass and it is actually German, it could very well be Thomas Seeger's Cuvée Anna. I opened a bottle Friday night for a group of friends without telling them what it was and the guesses ranged from Argentinian Cabernet to Syrah or French Malbec. In fact, Cuvée Anna is a blend of Pinot Noir, Schwarzriesling and Lemberger. Lemberger is a grape variety also know as Blaufränkisch (especially in Austria), and is know to create wines with sometimes spicy dark berry flavour, some tannins and good acidity - 'Anna' has all of the above. Schwarzriesling, literally Darkriesling, is also known as Pinot Meunier and is interestingly used in the production of Champagne (although Pinot Noir is much better known in this respect). [read the full post...]