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.
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.
I haven't been drinking any wine in January (why not? Read all about it). The coverage of the Wine Rambler extended full committee meeting that brought me out of this lenten phase in style is coming up soon, and it will hold novelties and discoveries well worth the wait. But first, since it's still winter outside, how about another foray into the greasy skillet, the red meat, and the hard-chested red wines of the French southwest? Read on, if you not be too faint of heart.
It has been a while since France, the world's greatest red wine country (yes, deal with it!) has drawn me into its sway. This time, it's the unlikely region of the Touraine. Lured by the relative exoticism of that appellation for red wine, by the very original varietal mix of Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Malbec, and not least by my love for regional French reds of any ilk, it was more than easy to give in to temptation.
But don't get the idea that some highly strung luxury cuvée caught my eye with a suggestive wink. No, it was a working man's red, as befits the outcome of the recent presidential election.
It doesn't always have to be Bordeaux. That's a pretty obvious statement from a blog dedicated to German wine, but it also applies to France. Today, however, is not about German Pinot Noir (nor German Dornfelder, Syrah, Lemberger) and it is also not about Burgundy. Today is about Cahors, and that means the Malbec grape. It is also about slow roast lamb shoulder and Easter, but more importantly of course it is about...
...the first magnum bottle of red wine to be reviewed on the Wine Rambler. It took us very long, didn't it?
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?
Wine blogging has its dangers. Fame can change a man, after all. Just joking. I mean it can add certain slight, and mostly pleasurable, pressures to your drinking habits. Instead of just going for what you know and like, you can feel that your wine choices should become a little more wide-ranging and interesting, to give people something new to read about besides the same old turf. So sometimes, it gets close to becoming a battle between the wines you feel like drinking and those you tell yourself you ought to be drinking - as in "I should explore more reds from northern Italy" or "I should be doing something for my asinine Burgundy project". In some happy cases, though, the conscious effort to explore a region turns into familiarity and something like love along the way. This has happened to me, or rather keeps happening to me, in the case of Chenin Blanc from the Loire.
Is this the time when we should start the pre-Christmas season of wine with big hefty reds? No, no, no me brotha. This Wine Rambler abides by his statement of principle: Freshness, freshness, freshness. It's a well-documented fact by now that I am no great fan of the South of France, at least not any more. I've developed a kind of allergy to the overripe cherry and generic dried herbs-approach on offer from there. But there is a style, pioneered mostly, with some hits and misses, by the Gauby family, that I think of as Mediterranean avant-garde: Sprightly, slender-bodied, drinkable reds with a lighter, more focused spectrum of fruit.
Another winery that has moved in this direction is Christophe Peyrus' Clos Marie.
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.
This spring, I discovered Beaujolais. The really astonishing thing in retrospect is how ignorant I was before I stumbled upon one, whereas you of course don't need me to tell you that good Beaujolais, high-end Beaujolais, is to cheap supermarket Beaujolais as Liebfraumilch is to great-growth Riesling. Yawn.
So I can probably keep it short: Beaujolais yummy. Chateau Cambon yummy, too?
On the Wine Rambler's project to look into regional french reds from time to time, Beaujolais is an obvious, but also daring choice. Obvious, because: Who doesn't know Beaujolais? Daring, because: Who doesn't know Beaujolais is mostly thin and second-rate, to say nothing of that awful testimony to the power of marketing over taste, Beaujolais primeur.
But let's give the defendant his fair chance to speak up for himself, shall we?
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.
For a mercifully long time, you have had no updates on this Wine Rambler's hare-brained and underfunded quest to find impressive and affordable Pinot Noir from Burgundy. I don't deceive myself that many of our readers more wise to the world of wine have secretly hoped that I would have given up, Burgundy being a region for deep-dyed aficionados only. Au contraire, my friends, and tonight, it is time for a new installment in this ongoing story of quixotic determination and befuddled ignorance.
It was up to Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier this time. Could this bottle of Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru finally be the one to open the floodgates to all that near-orgasmic Burgundy magic?
By covering a selection of sparkling wines from Germany and England during the last year or so, we have learned much and have opened up a whole new category of wine for ourselves, but in a way, we also got ahead of ourselves. We could look at sparklers with a fresh and innocent eye by simply ignoring the international benchmark for this whole type of wine, but it was at times also so much dancing around the elephant in the room, namely our utter ignorance of Champagne. On new year's eve of 2010, the Munich branch of the wine rambler manned (and ladied) up and confronted their insecurity. After all, let's face it, when expectation and curiosity are high, the potential for disappointment is also immense.
But sometimes, just sometimes, you hit if off immediately. That night, I fell for grower champagne hook, line and sinker, and it's all thanks to Pierre and Sophie Larmandier from Vertus, Champagne.
It is wine tasting season here in London. Events fight for a time slot in the busy schedules of sommeliers, wine writers and other trade folk, and even the humble Wine Rambler had to turn down several invitations. Among the events I decided I had to attend was Bibendum's Burgundy 2009 En Primeur tasting, held 11 January in the impressive rooms of RIBA, the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Burgundy produces some of the world's finest wines, and as they do come at a price a tasting is a fantastic way of learning more about them. Learning about Burgundy is in fact one of our new year's resolutions, so the Bibendum tasting was a great and timely opportunity for me to have a peek into the world of Burgundy.
One of the effects of belonging to the German branch of the international brotherhood of wine snobs is that hot-climate whites have a hard time winning your approval. We have largely kept our hands off whites from the south of france, for example. We don't mean to say, of course, that there can be no great whites from down there. But I can say with a good measure of confidence that the wine under review today is not one of them. Its appeal for me lies in a completely different place. So this is less a wine review than a brief comment on liking certain wines in spite of oneself, which leads naturally to a melancholy micro-meditation on memory and irrationality.
At the beginning of this new year, we resolved that we would try, seriously try, to understand Burgundy. We've just about let you down so far, so let's get into it without any further ado: Let's get into this bottle of Marquis d'Angerville, to be precise. One of the great names of burgundy, a second-rank vineyard (first rank would be "Grand Cru"), a vintage that should now have reached good drinking age. Should be a safe bet.