Every hype brings with it the danger of disappointment. I mostly suffer from this with regards to movies (which is why I am staying away from reviews of "The Dark Knight Rises" until I have had a chance to see it), but the same can happen with wine. When it comes to the Saar Riesling from the Van Volxem estate hype was never needed to convince me to buy a few bottles every year as it has been consistently good, and also good value.
Even so I could not help notice the bold headlines that my wine merchant threw at me with this wine - headlines of high praise from respected wine critics for a Riesling that does not even follow the "single vineyard" paradigm. Because of the quality of the previous vintages I was confident it would be good, but would the hype spoil my enjoyment when I would not be quite blown away?
I sometimes think that I could, at some time in the distant future, grow conservative. I would remove myself to the country, improve my tax evasion skills and shake my head at the foolishness of do-gooders, environmentalists and labour unions. "They grow good people in our small towns", I would drawl, in the manner of an American republican. But since, for the time being, I'm a European left-leaning, city-dwelling, wine-sipping intellectual (of sorts), I'll have to amend this to the factually indisputable "they grow good wines in our small towns". Baden's out-of-the-way Markgräflerland region, covered for the Wine Rambler by Simon Jones, is the place to go if you want to celebrate small town life. But, far from conservative, it's actually frightfully progressive and reforming when it comes to tackling wine quality. And they grow not only good winemakers, but a speciality: The Gutedel grape, known as Chasselas in Switzerland.
These fresh, light, softly fruited whites can come over a touch boring, but then, they come so invitingly priced that you can afford to taste yourself through a couple before you find one that tickles your palate. I got lucky at the small winery run by the Brenneisen family:
The German word "Handwerk" stands for the trades that build, that craft things with their hands. It can be translated as "craft", "handicraft" or "artisanry" and it has a very solid connotation. Solid work, handmade for the customer, set against industrial mass-production, this is the message that Sven Leiner's wine range "Handwerk" is meant to convey. Thankfully, Leiner's artisanry is not of the type that will put you out of pocket - priced below €9 these wines are perhaps not cheap enough for everyday drinking if you are on a budget, but also not expensive for a quality product that is also certified organic.
It all sounds rather nice and I would have reviewed a "Handwerk" much earlier, were it not for a not so pleasant encounter with a Leiner wine a few years ago from which I only remember an unbalanced acidity which had put me off. Can Sven win back my trust with his craftsmanship?
This is the season to write about summer wines. You have to dig up something fresh and light and go on about how well it would go with a garden party or that fresh, light food we all enjoy under the blazing heat. It will either be a light white wine or a rosé that even those who dislike rosé will enjoy as it goes so well with summer. I am having none of that, and for two reasons. First of all there is no summer in London - as I am writing this post the wettest June in history is behind us and water is pouring down outside Wine Rambler London HQ into a wet and cold July.
More importantly perhaps the category "summer wine" would be unfair to a wine that is much more than just an accessory to the hot season. IF there was such a thing as a hot season in London of course.
This is a story of failure and sloppiness. My failure and sloppiness, I hasten to add - no such crime was committed by the Salweys. In fact the Baden winemaking family have done everything right. Not only did they make a substantial, interesting Grauburgunder (internationally better known as Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio), they also shipped a bottle of it in the most timely manner when a few years ago I put an order in with them. Since then it waited for a special occasion.
And when the occasion came I failed it - by accidentally deleting the photo I had taken before I did my backup, and then only realising this when the bottle was on the way to the recycling plant. So blame me, but please do read on.
There have always been two audiences for the Wine Rambler. One audience is, of course, you. A few thousand people come to visit our humble blog every month to follow our adventures in German wine (or laugh at us or disagree with us or end up here by mistake when googling for "Scottish nose", as happened yesterday) and we are very grateful for your interest and support; and laughter too. The other audience, in a somewhat autistic way, that's ourselves. The Wine Rambler was, after all, born when I moved to London and Julian and myself were looking for a way to share our wine adventures across the Channel. On many things we agree, but with the exception of sparkling wine I have always found Julian's enthusiasm for Chardonnay somewhat lacking.
So whenever I review a Chardonnay I mostly think of Julian standing in his Munich wine cellar full of Riesling and Pinot, hoping to give him a gentle encouragement to add some German Chardonnay to the next delivery. Maybe you should too?
Every once in a while I realise my education in practical Englishness is lacking. A PhD in English history only gets you so far and serious gaps remain that studying early modern pamphlets will never close. Among the things they won't prepare you for in university is sherbet. You may think this is not overly relevant, especially not in the context of German wine - and to be fair so did I (or would have, had I been aware of sherbet). Turns out sherbet actually matters, at least if you are English and for the first time in your life exposed to Nahe Riesling.
Meet the wine that tastes like sherbet.
A highly recommended, reasonably priced Riesling with Art Nouveau/Jugendstil label and named after the world's most famous intelligence agency - I pressed "add to shopping cart" before my brain had even processed this properly. You may not know this, but I am intrigued by the world of espionage, I like cheap puns and I have the marvellous ability to misread pretty much everything to make me giggle. So it took my brain another second after I had added the wine to my latest delivery to realise that (while the label really does feature angels with a Riesling gun!) there is no German humour reference to the CIA here.
Instead we are looking at the estate Riesling of one of the world's oldest wineries, and CAI stands for Carl August Immich. Please don't be disappointed, after all we are speaking about a man who blew up a mountain in order to make good Riesling.
Even sensible people shy away from dentists. I have never quite understood this, after all the pain will only get worse if you don't go, but it is a fact of life I have learned to accept. So I am aware that my next sentence risks damaging the reputation of a respected German winemaker, but the truth has to come out: Georg Rumpf wanted nothing more than to become a dentist. I wasn't aware of this when I visited the Kruger-Rumpf winery last October, but it provided an important piece of the puzzle for understanding the role of family in winemaking as part of my investigation into death, dreams and destiny.
Luckily, neither death nor dentists will feature in the following story, but lots of good Riesling, great food and a little something on the philosophy of winemaking. It won't hurt a bit. Promise!
Andreas Durst likes his photography natural, but stylish. And, not being one to be taken in by glossy surfaces and wines that wear a lot of make-up, as it were, Andreas Durst likes his own wines straight and clear. So when he makes a rosé, it's no surprise that it doesn't turn out all fruity and sweet.
By now word has got around that there is German red wine. I mean, it has, right? If it hasn't, can you please just nod politely and leave me the illusion that after shouting about it for a few years we have at least got that message out? So, as we all know by now that there is German red wine, let's deal with the fact that there is quite a lot of it these days. Germany, for instance, is the world's third largest producer of Pinot Noir - or Spätburgunder as it is known there and as you can see on the label below.
At the Langenwalter winery they don't just make some of this - almost half the grapes grown in the Pfalz vineyards are red, actually. This includes Portugieser, Dornfelder and Cabernet Sauvignin. So you'd think that with that much quantity around and a few hundred years of family history the Langenwalters will know something about making good red wine.
Pinot Blanc. Currently 50th grape variety in the order of acreage planted worldwide. Often seen as Chardonnays less expressive brother. And one of Germany's most reliably satisfying grapes. Most British wine lovers, and indeed most of them around the world, primarily associate this grape with Alsace, a connection that won't be easily challenged (we have tried before). To prove that Germany can indeed do outstanding Pinot Blanc could seem an uphill battle, therefore, but in fact it's the easiest task in the world, as we can let wonderful German Pinot Blancs prove it for us (and get to drink them into the bargain).
"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!
It's a sad thing indeed when a wine lover is failed by a wine, but can a wine also be failed by its tasters sometimes? We had such a case on our hands at a recent Wine Rambler full committee meeting: You judge for yourselves whether we are being too hard on ourselves. While the dry wines that go with dinners at Wine Rambler Munich HQ are usually settled on beforehand, the dessert offering is, for some reason, usually selected spontaneously during the course of the evening after lively, alcohol-fuelled debate. This has led to some very fortunate choices, inspired by the moment, but sometimes, some prior planning would have been preferable.
When the name Merkle came up on the most recent of these occasions, I thought of the 2009 Riesling-Gewürztraminer cuvée I had tasted at the winery last year. I remembered Gewürztraminer lushness, coupled with the Merkles' typical herbal spiciness, and I remembered above all sweetness. Just the thing, and a change from the more usual Mosel Spätlese or Auslese. I should have realised that the 2010 I had in my cellar was as different from the previous vintage as can be:
Following Julian's recent debacle with a Württemberg Riesling I felt our shocked and terrified readership is in need of comfort and reassurance. Will the Wine Rambler now drink Liebfraumilch only? Has German Riesling failed? Will Modern Talking re-unite? The world may indeed be doomed, I won't dare speculate what Dieter Bohlen might do, but I can assure you that German Riesling has not gone bad.
And to give us some comfort after the shocking events of last episode, here is a classic: Riesling Auslese from the Mosel.
Philipp Kuhn, so his website proudly proclaims, is not only a 50%/50% but also a 100% man. Mathematically that may be sound, in a confusing way, but how does it relate to German wine? In a confusing but sound way, I would say. With his percentage rule the Pfalz winemaker stands for an internationally still overlooked, but nationally even more important trend: while half of Philipp's wines are white, the other 50% are red. And all 100% are dry. Well, every other year there may be a few bottles of sweeter stuff, but if we generously round up the 100% is probably still true.
Anyway, this Riesling is dry. A top Riesling from a grand cru vineyard. Is it more a 50/50 affair or a 100% win?
Dear readers, you know what we're about here. You know how much we try to promote a sense of place and provenance as the basis of wine culture. And we always will. But when it comes to the traditional German way of naming a wine not by what might catch on with people, but by a hermetic kind of descriptive prose that tells you about the exact vineyard that produced the grapes, how ripe they were when harvested, how dry or otherwise the finished wine will taste and so on, we're torn. It can be great for wine nerds like us, but, language problems aside, it's fair to accept that many people don't care about it: Just tell me what wines are good to buy, ok? Fair enough, and up to a point, I even agree. Branded wines are a great thing, if and in so far as they do what, in a perfect world, brands should do for consumers: Find something they can like and depend on without reading up on what Germans call Warenkunde - specialist knowledge to decipher and recognize product quality and decipher the codes that products are packaged with and sold by.
And by introducing the PinoTimes project created by two young winemakers from the Pfalz, I think I can give you an example of what I mean:
Here's a fun fact of German wine geography: From the one region that most people would intuitively associate, as a landscape, with German Riesling, you will most likely never have tried one. The Mittelrhein region, the slopes of the Rhine valley from just south of Bonn, past Koblenz, to the mouth of the river Nahe in Bingen, is an iconic landscape of germanophile romanticism. It is strange to hear, then, that quality winemaking is actually having a hard time there, with potentially superb vineyards unworked and given over to scrubland, terraces in some disrepair, and only a handful of creditable producers holding on. Among those, some say foremost among them, the Weingart family. I have long wanted to place an order there, but only last summer got around to do it for the 2010 vintage.
In the shipment, this off-dry Kabinett. The utter classicism of the category within German Wine is nicely underscored here, I think, by the sylishly subdued label, and the old-school brown bottle. But this alone will not get the Wine Rambler to approve, so let's get to the more significant qualities:
As the wine review I posted on Good Friday revealed a lack of spiritual cohesiveness with regards to what an appropriate wine for Easter should feel like, I have decided to play it safe on Easter Monday. Rheingau winery Ankermühle have moved away from the usual German approach of confusing customers with long and unpronounceable vineyard names and instead use snappy ones like "Jungfer" (spinster), "Maria" and "Hölle" (hell) - or today's Gabriel.
Admittedly, Gabriel's feast day is 29 September and not today, but I figured that going with a archangel would somehow be keeping in line with the easterly spirit.
Is there any wine that feels truly like Easter? I have been pondering this question for a while in order to pick the most suitable wine review to publish today - but I have failed miserably. For me every year Easter feels different, and every day of Easter feels different and stands for something else. Good Friday officially would be about loss, death and most importantly sacrifice, but I am not sure I'd enjoy a wine that tastes like this nor does today actually have any resemblance to these feelings.
So with Easter being so elusive I have decided to write about the most elusive wine I have tasted recently: Philipp Kuhn's "Incognito".