When last encountered on this blog, the plucky little Württemberg winery of Georg and Anja Merkle was in the immediate aftermath of a damaging freak frost. I reported on the brave face that Georg and Anja Merkle put on what was a serious (and completely undeserved) setback, as well as on their philosophy of quality winemaking (you'll find the full story here). It seemed to me then, as I tasted my way through their portfolio, and I tried to put this very politely in the article, that their red wines especially might be pushing too hard. Too hard for power, too hard for concentration, that, impressive as they are, they may sometimes have left lightness and charm behind in order to run with the big boys.
As it so happens, I found the biggest boy of those I took home with me last year still sitting in my cellar, silently flexing his muscles. So is it time for another look, and maybe a reassessment?
Is it wrong to celebrate two Rieslings in a row? After Julian's ecstatic praise of an off-dry Saar Riesling I am now getting all excited about a dry specimen from the Pfalz. While I may ask for your forgiveness for presenting yet another German Riesling, the grand cru Reichsrat von Buhl needs no excuse - even if it was caught stealing from the cookie jar repeatedly. Yes, it is that good.
And it has a striking advantage over its friend from the Saar: you can get it outside of Germany too!
If it isn't overly original of a German wine blog to bring you another Riesling review, then this one is at least as close to the heart of this whole enterprise as you're ever going to get. We bring you what is, despite our previous coverage, arguably the best unknown Riesling producer anywhere: Weinhof Herrenberg, the jewel of the river Saar. Please also note this outstanding micro-winery's fondness for bad puns. In Claudia and Manfred Loch, we salute two kindred souls.
And we duly salute this 2008 offering:
It is one of our favourite projects for the Wine Rambler that someday we should explain to you the German wine classification and labelling system in a coherent and mildly entertaining fashion. Today, however, we meet another clear-thinking winemaker who has willingly downgraded his own wine to the simplest category available (in this case: "Pfälzer Landwein") to be spared the bureaucratic nightmare otherwise required - in my humble experience, that step is always a good sign. Andreas Durst is a part-time winemaker only, his real job is to professionally photograph other winemakers, wines and vineyards, which he does so well that in the hipper part of the German wine scene, wine-related photography is simply synonymous with his name.
About this and about his wines, we won't say too much just now, because we hope to read and see a little more of Andreas on this blog soon (fingers crossed for a real treat). For now, let's turn to the dry Riesling from his small portfolio that he was nice enough to send ahead to Munich Wine Rambler HQ:
It's not a typo (my auto-correct feature suggests "Riesling" instead), I haven't had too much to drink (sadly), it's not a new marketing term (as you probably are not sure how to pronounce the full name of this beauty you may have figured this out on your own) --- Rieslaner is indeed yet another of those German grape varieties you may have never heard of. You don't have to be too confused though, as Riesling was in fact one of its parents. I'd like to think Riesling was the father, whereas the Silvaner grape surely must be the mother, but I am probably falling for half a dozen sexist clichés here. However, one cliché is true: this German wine is sweet indeed. Very sweet. And delightful!
So let me introduce you to the child of my two favourite German grape varieties, a bright and fun kid that just doesn't like to travel much from home.
Sometimes Burgundy is not in France. Well, technically it might still be in France, for all I know, but metaphysically speaking I believe Burgundy is also a state of wine that can travel - and like the holy spirit of wine it can come down elsewhere and turn red wine into true Pinot Noir. Some of you heathens will now think of Oregon, New Zealand or California, but I have seen it happen in one of the more unlikely places on earth: the cool climate Mosel.
Yes, the Mosel makes Pinot Noir that can rival Burgundy. There may not be much of it, but I think of one man in particular, driven by faith in his vines: Markus Molitor.
If you want to test the German wine savvy of your knowledgeable friends, here's a little experiment you can conduct in the safety of your own living room. Tell them you want them to taste a German rosé, and inform them that it will be off-dry, well over ten years old, and come with a label sporting a coat of arms and cryptic Germanic font. Mention in passing that this bottle will come from the Müller-Catoir winery. 95 per cent of all wine drinkers will at this point have run away screaming, the living daylights scared out of them.
The remaining 5 % will ask for a screwpull without further ado. From then on, listen to those people.
We got drunk on that stuff as students because we didn't know any better and had no money. That is not what I would say, at least not in public, but it summarises how many British acquaintances refer to German wine - in particular the dreaded Liebfraumilch. German wine is associated with sweet, and sweet with bad. The British wine trade tend to love Riesling, dry or sweet, and some also appreciate German Pinot Noir. This is usually where the knowledge ends though. There are even "wine experts" who say Germany should not move away from the sweeter style of Riesling - whereas the reality is that the German wine industry has become so diverse it has long gone beyond that. German dry wines are now so varied as would confuse even the most sober foreign beholder.
Last week the German Wine Agencies, a new distributor of German wines in the British market, invited members of the trade to be confused (and to leave everything else but sober, one would hope) by German wines.
Swabian Muscat, anyone? There's no doubt that solid old Swabia (that's "Württemberg" for you, in wine label terms) can do much: She can do somewhat dubious specialties like Trollinger and Samtrot, harmlessly light regional reds, but then she can also come out with powerful Rieslings and surprisingly high-brow Lembergers and Pinot Noirs. But dry Muscat, that feathery-light, elderflower whiff of springtime? Let's just say it takes a certain leap of faith. To be honest, if this offering had not come from Kistenmacher & Hengerer, an up-and-coming winery that has recently impressed us with the seriousness of their old-vines Lemberger, we might not have given it a chance either.
Have they actually pulled it off?
We have all been there. You meet someone. At a wine bar, a pub, a club. They look nice, approachable. You talk a little and it goes easy, very easy. Almost too easy - you realise: a smooth operator. Now you should be careful, but somehow it feels good. Until disappointment finds you at last. However, as you get older, more experienced, you learn to spot them before it is too late: pleasant surface, charming, very smooth - but shallow and hollow, a disappointment. You are now a grown-up, and you won't fall for that trick.
I am a grown-up, and I won't fall for that trick. Or will I?
Arson, sieges, war - not really the first words that would come to mind when thinking about wine: or a mill. And yet such events feature prominently in the long history of the Steinmühle (stone mill) winery in Rheinhessen. Since the Middle Ages, the mill in Osthofen has been burnt down a few times, and yet there it still stands. And it is still in the hands of the same winemaking family, for eleven generations now.
I did not know that when I was handed a bottle of their 2010 Sylvaner (the date 1275 on the label could have been a hint) - but then wine should mostly be about the enjoyment and the history lesson just a good swashbuckling story to be told after the second or third glass.
When touring the Mosel in 2008, we visited, amongst other places, a village called Leiwen. It was chosen for very practical reasons, as the wide and comfortable cycle paths along the river lead right past it, but more importantly for bacchanal reasons as it is the home of the St. Urbans-Hof winery. Small by New World standards, the 33ha vineyard area owned by the Weis family actually make the estate one of giants of the Mosel/Saar region and they include sections of several prestigious vineyards.
One of them is the Bockstein, near the village of Ockfen at the Saar river. There was no time to visit Ockfen in 2008, and until that can be remedied I will have to make due with enjoying the odd bottle of Ockfener Bockstein Riesling.
This humble review is actually a double tribute. First, to wines that don't dazzle the nose or titillate the palate so much as enable food to shine by their ready availability, selfless service and smooth background operation. We Germans call them "bread and butter-wines". The kind of wine that you buy by the case and whose steady supply you take for granted, so much that it is only with the final bottle that you get round to properly appreciate (and review) it. Because of that, this is also a tribute to that specially cherished sixth bottle.
So here's to the very last taste of Heiner Sauer's more-than-serviceable 2009 Pfalz Pinot Blanc that I will ever have:
The soul is pink. What, you did not know that? To be honest, I didn't either - until I had an encounter with the Riesling pictured below. While the wine was rather heavenly, it was the name that gave me this deep insight into the conditio humana: "Mandelpfad", meaning "almond path". It is not for esoteric reasons that the Knipser brothers chose to name the wine - Mandelpfad simply is the name of a vineyard in the Pfalz region. It is also the name of a scenic path, under almond trees, that leads hikers past many exciting vineyards.
In spring, I imagine, it must be beautiful with pink almond flowers all over the place, and that is apparently what made a tourism marketing writer whose text I just consulted declare that pink is the colour of the soul. Whether that is true I leave with competent experts such as mystics and marketing specialists, but I can tell you a little something about the soul of the Mandelpfad Riesling.
We all have something we want to steal. Well, maybe I should not judge others by my criminal standards, but I have my eyes on a few items. For instance those two bottles of Riesling, one from 1933 and the other from the 1870s, who live in a posh wine shop in Munich. The list is longer, but I haven't actually executed any of my evil plans yet. Others sadly are more decisive: in the early hours of 17th September 2011 thieves drove a harvesting machine through the Herrgottsacker vineyards near Deidesheim in the Pfalz. I like to imagine the scene filmed with lots of flash light, fog, shades, fast camera movements and perhaps "X Files" sound. In reality it was probably more boring, but whoever drove that harvester got away with super ripe Pinot Noir grapes worth €100,000 and destined for fermentation tanks at the von Winnigen winery.
I have an alibi for that night, and I'd anyway much rather steal the finished product. Such as this Riesling made by von Winnigen and called, well, "win-win".
This little review revisits old Wine Rambler territory: Swabia's Stromberg region, last seen in the throes of a damaging freak frost in the spring of last year. This time, another winery, just one picturesque beech-forested ridge away. The Steinbachhof is an ancient estate created by the cistercian abbey of Maulbronn, then owned by the dukes, later kings of Württemberg, and now by two adventurous young people, Nanna and Ulrich Eißler, who supplement their income from wine growing by hosting wedding and business receptions in a beautifully refurbished old barn.
From a recent short visit, I brought a bottle of Riesling that, sadly, you won't be able to find outside of Germany, or Swabia for that matter, for any time soon:
Of all the longer and shorter wine tours and winery visits I have undertaken the 2008 trip to the Mosel is the one I have the fondest memories of. Not only was it part of a longer holiday and involved the full Wine Rambler committee, I also had the chance to meet some of my favourite winemakers and cycle along the fantastic Mosel cycle paths. And it was asparagus season - easy access to white asparagus is probably where London is weakest on the food supply front.
Among the wineries we visited was Reuscher-Haart, one of several branches of the Haart family living in the famous wine village Piesport. The last wine left from that visit is (or was) this 2006 late harvest Riesling.
In a large blind tasting that pitted a selection of German Pinot Noirs against a wide range of international contestants, seven out of ten of the top ten scored bottles were German. This was widely publicised - not least on the Wine Rambler's Twitter account, of course - and even made some small headlines in the German general press. To be honest, I think you're well advised to take tastings of this kind with a pinch of salt, as they tend to follow their own marketing rules and cycles, and are often designed to fit into a Judgement of Paris kind of narrative. You can't help noticing, in fairness, that no Grand Cru Burgundies of the battleship class were lined up.
But I was pleased nonetheless, of course, because it underscored the validity of the case we've been making since the beginning of this blog: German Pinot Noirs can be very, very serious and deeply satisfying reds. And we have another one of these for you right here:
Quoting Shakespeare is fine. In fact, it is recommended to do it at least occasionally when you write in English. For some reason though the Germans are less likely these days to quote their national poet. Unless you write editorial for a conservative newspaper there seems to be something stuffy to it - although I'd recommend reading some of Goethe's obscene love poems if you believe the old man is stuffy. Anyway, today is the day I am going to quote Goethe in a wine review. However, in order not to turn you away before you have at least glanced at a great wine I shall do it at the end of this piece.
So before we get to the national icon, let's take a look at one of the national wine icons, the Rieslings made by the Emrich-Schönleber family.
The Germans and their compound words. Even people who haven't heard more than three words of German (presumably those will include "Achtung", "nein" and "Fuehrer", although amongst the more sophisticated "Kindergarten", "Zeitgeist" "Schadenfreude" und "Weltschmerz" are also candidates) know that the Germans like to build long words into even longer ones by attaching them to each other. Worry not though, I shall not be troubling you with yet another very complex word the length of the journey from Land's End to John O'Groats. Instead I will use a review of a Rheingau Riesling to introduce you to a short compound word every wine drinker should know.
The word is Zechwein.