I want to believe. Not in UFOs, Armageddon or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but in wine - in all the lost causes, regions and plucky little grape varieties that no one trusted to ever produce anything of worth. I want to believe, to give them a chance, to celebrate their triumph over the expected. One grape variety that needs such a triumph is Müller-Thurgau. Looking at the statistics you would not believe it, after all MT is the second most planted grape variety in Germany.
However, no one loves it as it is seen as the boring main ingredient for German bulk wine, not even worthy to be mentioned on the label. Can we still believe in it?
Christmas has come early at the Wine Rambler. No, we haven't changed the calendar and yes I know it is almost Christmas anyway, so this line is less effective than it might have been in July. However, the wines I had recently have been so good there can be no doubt that 'tis the season to be jolly. Exciting sparkling Riesling followed by aged Nectar harmony Muscat and now what may very well have been the most accomplished dry white wine I have had this year.
A first rate Silvaner, the exciting and under-rated German grape variety we have been shouting about for a few years now - and it even comes in the traditional Franconian "Bocksbeutel" bottle.
You've had to wait unusually long since the last review, so we owe you something nice. How does a bottle of Germany's most underestimated grape variety sound? Silvaner, and our more regular readers are rolling their eyes heavenward at this point, is Germany's second great signature grape and it deserves to be more widely known as King Riesling's earthier, less capricious brother. Needless to say, we love it. As opposed to Riesling, Silvaner is almost always dry, and it comes in two broad stylistic types: Lighter, crisper, Kabinett-style bottlings, tasting of fresh green apples and summer lawns, and then the richer, creamier, earthier style from riper grapes that give you yellow apples, deep minerality and plush weight such as dry Riesling seldom has.
This offering by the Störrlein winery, consistently good among Franken's producers, falls into the second type:
"Oh my god, this looks so cheap." This is a common reaction I get when showing a "Bocksbeutel" bottle to British wine drinkers. What to me is the traditional bottle shape in the Franconian wine region of Germany reminds the UK of Mateus rosé, a mass produced, Portuguese wine brand invented in the 1940s. However, the Franconian bottles are much older than Mateus, in fact the bottle shape goes back to antiquity, and there is nothing unrespectable to it.
The same is true for the winery, although - like the bottle shape - it needs explaining. And don't worry, I won't forget about the wine either!
Buying clothes and shoes is a difficult business. Even if you happen to know what you want and even if the market agrees that you should want it and offers it to you, there is no guarantee it will fit. I cannot remember how often I have tried trousers or shoes of the size I have bought for years and continued to buy for years after - and the bastards won't fit. Like the EU size 46 trainers that my 43-44 size feet would not even get into. Producers apparently like to interpret size in line with changing fashion. This of course does not fit my modernist brain that believes a size is a size and not a fashion statement. Wine bottles are different though - a 750ml bottle will pretty much always fit your wine rack. Unless it is a Franconian Bocksbeutel, of course.
Admittedly, this is not very practical (and I wonder if there are Bocksbeutel racks for the serious collectors of Franconian wine), but to me it is a satisfying change from the norm, and as you get what it says on the label it is also honest. Like a good Franconian Silvaner should be.
One day, I will invite other wine bloggers to contribute to an anthology of awkward introductions to simple wine reviews. The things that you ponder, and then reject, so as not to have to jump in with a straight "Here is a Franconian Pinot Gris that I had recently". One thing that struck me just now, while thinking of something new to write, was how often I, while recalling a tasting experience to put together a review, will sip on a completely different wine. Today, it's Dr. Heyden's very proper old vine-Silvaner from 2009. Then, I ruminated on the pun-producing potential of the Ruck winery's name, since it means something like "jolt" or "lurch" in German.
I thought of former German president Roman Herzog's 1997 speech in which he demanded "durch Deutschland muss ein Ruck gehen" ("A jolt needs to go through Germany"), of the strangeness of this image, and whether it could be put to some kind of humoristic use vis-a-vis the Ruck family of Iphofen, Franconia. But then name jokes are off limits in serious journalism, which led me to the question whether the Wine Rambler actually...
You will be dismayed to hear it, but sometimes, we drink and enjoy a bottle of wine, but the review that is consequently due here at the Wine Rambler is moved a little down-schedule at first and later lost sight of. This is what happened to this bottle of a rather unusual German summer wine. I do feel a little guilty about it now that the leaves are already falling and - oh no, not so soon! - Oktoberfest has started here in Munich. But since it's much nicer to reminisce about summer days gone by and nice Scheurebe from Franken than to face the thought of the vomit-coated subway trains I may have to ride on in the coming two weeks, it is actually good to have kept this one for later.
So Scheurebe, Franken, winery with silly name - speak, notes:
We've reviewed wines from Zehnthof Luckert before, and have not so far been disappointed. Today, we turn to Blauer Silvaner, being a blue-skinned variety of Silvaner that is not, as Jancis Robinson's authoritative "Oxford Companion to Wine" proclaims, merely a speciality of Württemberg, but also found along the river Main in Franconia.
If the Luckert family wants to send a bottle of this to Jancis Robinson as proof of that, I suggest they go ahead, because they certainly need not be ashamed of it:
The German tribe of the Franconians do appear to have been geographically misplaced by providence. Not only are they the Protestant outsiders in deeply Catholic Bavaria, they are also a winemaking tribe in a state known mostly for its beer. Perhaps this is why they aim to make up for it by being more distinctive, for instance with their oddly shaped Bocksbeutel wine bottles. Most winemakers use these as a proud statement of origin - not so the Luckert brothers.
Even some of their Franconian signature Silvaner wines ship in standard bottles, and the bottle of the top of the range Pinot Noir looks a little more Burgundian than Franconian - a stylistic message in a bottle shape?
What the **** is Müller-Thurgau, and is it ever any good, we asked, respectfully, last summer in our in-depth Müller-Thurgau coverage. We did manage to answer the question to our own satisfaction at the time, if maybe not to everybody's, and a young winemaker named Christian Stahl played no small part in that particular journey. Neither the grape nor the man therefore need much of an introduction to our readers.
But there is some unfinished business dating back to that investigation in the form of this bottle of single vineyard Müller-Thurgau. So let's waste no more time:
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.
If I am not mistaken, our readers have had to go without Wine Rambler Silvaner coverage since August 31. That is clearly unacceptable and will be remedied as follows ("quickly and unbureaucratically", as german public officials are fond of saying): The Burrlein winery of Mainstockheim, which we have already featured as part of our Müller-Thurgau report, has consistently turned out over-achieving quality Silvaners to its large customer base these last few years. Has it delivered again?
Reviewed in our Müller-Thurgau report:
Straw-coloured, this smells sweetly, and even somewhat exuberantly, of sweet apples and peaches, with some canned fruit salad and the faintest touch of Ingwer. Not a miracle of mineral depth, but so far, we're having fun.
The same kind of in-your-face fruit reappears on the palate, and now there is even a hint of minerality. But still, there is more fruit than there is structure, with a finish that is herbally sweet, but also a little watery.
Reviewed in our Müller-Thurgau report, and updated accordingly:
Light straw colour
Smells like ripe apples, sliced raw Kohlrabi (cabbage turnip?) and maybe a little freshly cut grass. In the mouth, mild acidity, again ripe apple fruit and an earthy, limestony kind of minerality.
Quite an achievement for Luckert to get such power and relative depth out of a grape variety otherwise known for high yields and little character. It could easily pass for a dry Silvaner Spätlese, both in taste and in substance.
a) have had a Silvaner from Franken before and liked it,
We have long found that, much as we give due reverence to king Riesling, the most august sovereign of german wine, those grapes in the second and third rank also deserve respect from time to time. Today, we bring you the one german grapes that has been further from the spotlight than any other, and yet is almost ubiquitous. And it all starts with the stern-faced gentleman below. Intrigued? Not exactly? Read on anyway, for a story of mishap and unexpected success, a mystery solved, some wines tasted, and a human bumblebee.
Reviewed in our Müller-Thurgau report:
This single-vineyard Müller Thurgau from Stahl's nicely named Hasennest ("hare's nest") vineyard smells of hay, dried herbs, apples and what I always think of as chalk. Yeast and carbonic acid still dominate the palate a bit too much at this point, but behind that white vegetables (celery root, cabbage turnip, radish), beeswax and herbs are lurking - and stay for the finish, which is quite long.
After more than one year of rambling across the homely green landscape of german wine, there are still a great many places the Wine Rambler has hardly even begun to go. Among them, the many white grapes outside the Riesling-Silvaner-Pinot triangle: One, the ubiquitous, but not-quite-so-banal Müller-Thurgau, we will investigate in some detail in the coming weeks. Another omission is Scheurebe. Scheurebe like this one here, made by Christian Stahl, one of the most interesting and ambitious young vintners of Franken:
Some wines are good, some wines are bad, some are exceptional. And then there are the wines that are special because they have a story to tell. When I discovered today's wine on the shelves of London wine shop The Winery I was already certain that I was looking at a wine with a story. What I did not know was that this Franconian gem would be willing to share it with us.
Maybe we start with the question of why we got so interested in a dusty old bottle with a funny purple cap. Well, for starters because it was just that, a dusty old bottle with an unusual purple cap. It did not only look old-fashioned, it also was quite old, almost twenty-five years old, in fact. Aged wine is always an adventure - sometimes even a gamble on whether you have waited too long or just caught it at the right time. Under the label good ol' boys we have so far only looked at aged red wines and Riesling, the white variety that probably has the best potential for ageing. And here we were, starring at a twenty-five year old Silvaner, the signature grape of the German wine region of Franken (Franconia, about two hours north of Munich). We have been championing this often underrated variety for a while, but we never had the change to try a really old Silvaner.
Well before reaching twenty-five years of age most wines turn to vinegar. Not many wines are really worth keeping for more than a couple of years. Some last five to ten years, but only a tiny minority will make it beyond. With the exception of a few first class wines, sweet Riesling among them, not many wines are drinkable, far less enjoyable at the age of twenty-five. And yet here we are looking at a Silvaner, an often underestimated variety, of this age - does it still deliver?
Right from the start, the Franconian Silvaner impressed us with an intense, very clear golden colour that still had hints of green (which is often said to be a sign of a younger wine). It certainly looked beautiful and also as if it could comfortably age a few years more.
At the Wine Rambler, we have this ongoing love affair with the Silvaner grape. Today's Silvaner comes from the German wine region of Franken, the spiritual home of this grape variety.
This is a textbook Silvaner in the best sense of the word. You get earthy, grassy notes, almost smoky. There is apple, refreshing in the nose and well defined on the tongue. At its core the Silvaner is robust, but smooth round the edges with notable minerality.