Every spring I look forward to the asparagus season. Leaving aside the fantastic Silvaner grape, Pinot Blanc is one of my favourite wines to be enjoyed with asparagus. It also happens to be one of my favourite white wines, and so I used the last couple of months to reduce my stock of Weißburgunder, as the Germans call it. Wittmann's 2008 Pinot Blanc has been sitting in my wardrobe for two years now, waiting for a special moment.
When a fantastic looking turbot and two handfuls of lovely English asparagus found their way into my kitchen, that special moment had come. I had fairly high hopes for this wine, as Wittmann's "S-Class" have never let me down, some of them turning out to be truly stunning.
If the wine world were a fair place, I would not have to draw your attention to what should by rights be an iconic bottle of Austrian red wine. But I'm happy to: Anita and Hans Nittnaus are founding members of the Pannobile group of wine growers - the name is a combination of "Pannonia" (the historical and geographical name of the east Austrian and Hungarian plain) and the Latin word for "noble". When Austria was first working her way out of the hole it had dug herself with the infamous 1985 adulterated wine scandal with a whole new generation of wines, Hans Nittnaus's reds were hailed as revelations. Then, since the late 1990s, they were increasingly eclipsed by bolder, bigger, heavier-hitting bottles.
This gave him some pause, naturally, and eventually made him adjust his style. Not, however, and to his everlasting credit, in the direction that the wind seemed to be blowing, towards more oak that is, more concentration, and all the latest blinking cellar technology. Instead, Nittnaus went back to the future, towards purity of fruit, drinkability and precise varietal character. A case in point - the 2006 Leithaberg:
Abroad Germany is mostly know for its delicious sweeter Riesling, but at home it is the top dry Rieslings that get most media attention. They are labelled as "Großes Gewächs" (great growth) or, in the Rheingau, as "Erstes Gewächs" (first growth), at least for the wineries that are members of the growers associations that created these classifications. Quality standards are relatively strict and include low yields, selective harvesting by hand and using only grapes from individual, certified top vineyards.
The price for these grand cru wines is constantly going up, so if you find one from a top producer such as Künstler for less than 20 Euro it is lucky times.
I have been a fan of the Mauro wines since my dad casually handed me a bottle several years ago, remarking that I may like this. Well, he was right. Every other year since I had one of those Spanish beauties, and the most recent one we enjoyed at a Wine Rambler meeting in Munich.
Our regular readers may have noticed that Julian is more likely than me to go for the more substantial red wines, but the beautiful and deep Tempranillos from Mauro are just too pleasing to ignore.
The Mosel, Germany's best known wine region, hosts many styles of Riesling winemaking: There are the modernists, there are the traditionalists, there are the ultra-traditionalist. And then, there is Jos. Christoffel Jun. The winery's website nicely underscores their brand of conservatism, in that there isn't one. If you want to get your hands on any of the older vintages (back into the 80s, rumour has it) they still have on offer, get your ass down to the Mosel. Or else get lucky on eBay, like your undeservedly fortunate correspondent. For about 12 €, shipment included, I got this Spätlese from the year Frank Zappa died.
Last autumn I drank my first Kirchmayr wine. It was a 16 year old Grüner Veltliner, and I was very impressed. Beautiful bottle design, marvellous bouquet and a wine that was focussed, sharp and sophisticated - yet not aged, not even old. It was pure joy. Kirchmayr have a whole range of wines - "Solist" - specifically made to age well and only to be released to market after years of maturing. So I had to get a bottle of Riesling to find out if it would be as good as the Grüner.
When I reviewed the Grüner, I took an excessive amount of photos of the bottle (same beautiful design for both varietals), so please take a look at that post, also for some background on the winery. But now to the Riesling.
Piesport is a lovely village in the German Mosel Valley. Because of the peculiarities of the German wine law, the name can show up on the labels of very cheap wines from somewhere in the area (Piesporter Michelsberg), or it can be on first class Riesling from some of the Mosel's best vineyards. After having recently indulged myself in the delights of the supermarket wine version, it is now time to revisit the outstanding Goldtröpfchen vineyard version.
"Goldtröpfchen" means little drop of gold, and the Rieslings made by Theo Haart and family in Piesport can indeed be described as such. Today's Haart Riesling even comes with a gold capsule ("Goldkapsel"), indicating that the Haarts were particularly pleased with the quality of what went into this bottle.
In the early 20th century the Germans embarked on a mission to create a genetically modified race of - no, not über-soldiers, but grape varieties. They were also not so much genetically modified as traditionally cross-bred, but the idea was to create varieties that could handle bad weather better, were robuster or addressed some other actual or perceived flaws in existing varieties. Scheurebe ("Scheu's vine") was created in 1916 and was for a long time thought to be a cross between Silvaner and Riesling, but has only recently been revealed to be a cross between Riesling and a wild vine.
Aromatic and with some similarities to Riesling, Scheurebe is often used to create complex sweet wines, and - while not exactly grown on large scale - is increasingly popular with some of Germany's top winemakers.
Silvaner again? Yes, we're keeping up our coverage. In fact, we mean to grind down any resistance against Germany's second great white grape with the sheer relentlessness of our Silvaner campaign. Great growth Silvaners from lesser known wineries in Franken are arguably some of the best value anywhere in white wine, and we won't stop until every major wine outlet in the english-speaking world carries at least one. Are we not confusing our own partial predilection with an educational mission, you ask, or else: What's in it for me? The two-word answer to this: Food friendliness.
Following up on this month's risotto suggestion, another classic Silvaner pairing is freshwater fish. Franconians love their regional staple, carp, but since that is a little, shall we say, nutritious for most people, we stuck to the more consensual trout.
It's been a while since we last talked Pinot Blanc. So gather round me, friends: Pinot Blancs's reputation is generally lacklustre. In Burgundy, it's rather like Stephen Baldwin to Chardonnay's Alec - the younger brother who doesn't quite have the talent and will always be outshone. Mostly though, it is because international drinkers get their Pinot Blanc bearings from Alsace and Northern Italy, where results are often very drinkable, but ultimately rather bland, that Pinot Blanc is still underrated. In Germany, though, where it makes for about 3.5% of vines planted, it can be granted great growth status when grown in the best vineyards, and can indeed turn out distinctive and quite majestic wines. When we last checked in with one of the country's very best Pinot Blanc producers, the Bercher family of Baden's Kaiserstuhl subregion, we were confronted with rather too majestic a specimen: The 2004 great growth dry Spätlese. Impressive for its power, but pulled out of balance by high alcohol content, was our verdict back then.
Well, I'm most happy to report back to you on a younger version of the same wine:
We just voted not one, not two, but three dry Rieslings into our top five picks of last year. We didn't do that to make a point, those were just the wines we happened to enjoy most. Having said that, it is true that the effort many english-speaking wine lovers will make to ignore any german wine that is not sweet Riesling have not ceased to amaze us - amaze, and annoy us ever so slightly. This is not, I hasten to clarify, because we fail to appreciate the great sweet Rieslings. They are indeed unique, delightful and still handsomely underpriced in the global scheme of wine. It's just that this fact is already widely known, so frankly, it is not exactly breaking news to report on another little marvel of liquid stone and sweet peachy caress.
But on this January day, the time has come to do just that.
Cool mineral, herbs and peach - whenever I hear these words I have to think of the bouquet of the Rieslings Theo Haart produces from grapes grown in the famous Goldtröpfchen vineyard at the Mosel. This wine is no exception, it just adds tropical fruit and a hint of citrus to the mix, plus aromas of rubber balls and a faint hint of vegetable, identified as broccoli by my friend Bethan. For a wine of Auslese quality it is still relatively young, so maybe give it some decanter love to allow it to develop properly.
Knipser is the name of a wine making family from the Pfalz region of Germany who keep impressing us with their polished and tasty wines. They are widely known for their expertise in ageing wine in barrique barrels - red wine, of course, but also white. The other day when I was cooking tarragon cream chicken I felt the time had come to open their premier 2003 Chardonnay, a wine that was only released to market after several years of maturing in the Knipser cellars.
What I was expecting, of course, was a substantial (14% ABV and barrique), creamy wine with the first signs of age. What I was hoping for was that it also kept a hint of freshness to go along with the food.
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?
When you speak about the Mosel valley in a wine context, chances are that Riesling will be the topic. On occasion though I feel the need to raise my hand and confuse both class and teacher by saying: 'and what about Pinot Noir?' Yes, you have heard correctly, for me the Mosel can also be Spätburgunder (the German name of the variety) territory, at least as far as Markus Molitor is concerned. It must have been around early 2007 when I bought my first Spätburgunder from Molitor, and I have been a fan ever since. A few days ago the time had come to open the last of the 2001 and find out how well it had stood the test of time.
It was in the late eighties that Molitor planted Pinot Noir in some if his vineyards, including the ones near Graach, an area where even today Riesling is grown pretty much exclusively.
When 2009 came to an end, for some reason the Wine Rambler got infected with the idea of developing new year's resolutions. Among the ones Julian came up with was to 'try more from lesser-known French wine regions like the Jura or the Loire Valley'. Traditionally, I leave France more to Julian, but his recent excitement about a Loire Chenin Blanc made me memorise the word 'Vouvray'. Vouvray is a region of the Loire Valley where they specialise in Chenin Blanc, wines that can rival Riesling in terms of their potential to age for decades. So when (following a phase of drinking much Pinot Blanc, Riesling and some Chardonnay) I came across a Vouvray that was recommended by trustworthy wine merchants Philglas & Swiggot, I did not hesitate and grabbed their last bottle. Lucky me, I can now say.
East Sussex may not be the first place on earth coming to mind when thinking of sparkling wine. And yet winemaker Will Davenport has had a lot of success with sparkling wines made in the classic champagne style since he started out with 5 acres of vineyards in Kent in 1991. I bought this wine from a wine bar/shop in South London that specialises in English and natural/organic wines - the Davenport sparkler happens to be both. The Limney Estate wine is made from 49% Pinot Noir and 51% Auxerrois and has been aged on lees for over 2 years, which seemed to make it an ideal candidate for a blind tasting against a German sparkler.
If you are one of those thinking of German Pinot Noir as very light wine, pale in colour and neither substantial nor worth ageing then have a look at the wine below. And if you do not think about German red wine at all, well, then do the same. The two Wine Ramblers, at any rate, did also spend some time looking in amazement at the incredibly rich colour of the ten year old Spätburgunder that they had opened last weekend to celebrate one year of The Wine Rambler. Join us in the merriment:
Karthäuserhofberg. Nothing demonstrates the place vineyards occupy in german wine culture like wineries that are synonymous with the vineyards that surround them. This must put some pressure on the staff, must it not? If you work at a place called Karthäuserhof and produce wine from a site that has been called Karthäuserhofberg from time out of mind, you better not screw it up. Not to worry. They never do.
Recently, I found myself drinking with friends who were discussing which type of vegetable they would like to be. When I asked them how they would rate me, Charlotte suggested I could be a squash. Unfortunately I never really found out why she classified me in this way, partly because she went on to say she would quite like to be a courgette. Today's wine, luckily, is not like a vegetable. Instead it is very easy to describe in terms of fruit: take the most deliciously juicy peach you can imagine, add passion fruit, and caramelise it with lots of sugar and some gold, sprinkle finely with herbs and serve in a stony cup with a dash of menthol, spice and lemon juice. As you can see this description really does not work in relation to vegetables, but I can tell you that if this wine were a human being it would have to be the young Liv Tyler - just in blond.