For stereotypical American or Japanese tourists who also love wine, a visit to Schlossgut Diel has to equal the feeling of a child realising it has been locked in an ice cream parlour for lunch break. After all we are not only talking about one of Germany's top wine estates, we are also talking about a "castle winery", as that is what "Schlossgut" translates to. Castle Layen, where the Diel family has been based since the Napoleonic wars, was built in the 11th century. The wines in the cellar are not quite as old, but rumour has it some go back to the early 20th century, so the both lovers of medieval towers and old wine should be very happy there.
Sadly, I have yet to visit Schlossgut Diel (preferably leading a raiding party), but at least I managed to get my hands on a few bottles of their Riesling - this Kabinett Riesling from the "gold hole" vineyard being one of them.
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...
Wine, you would think, is the common theme for a wine trip. At least that's what I thought when a few weeks ago I set out on a press trip to the German wine region west of Mainz. Yet while there was wine, and plenty of it, I soon realised that there was another theme to this trip. It was about family, about death, destiny and the dreams of winemakers - and there was a bit about rock 'n' roll and obsession too.
German winemaking is very much about family. Not only have many wineries been in the same family for generations, they also tend to be small enough so that a family can run them without a lot of staff. Whatever happens in the family has real impact on the whole business. A serious argument, the only child turning their back on winemaking or a father dying unexpectedly - such events can be make or brake for an estate. This means that German winemaking is also a story about family. A story about love and death, a story about children following tradition or breaking with it, a story about getting old and growing up. In the end, winemaking is a story about life.
Don't tell this to anyone, but is true, I don't drink much Sauvignon Blanc. At least not voluntary. I drink it involuntary as it often is served at functions, such as the one I attended earlier this week at the Palace of Westminster. That particular wine was inoffensive, but often I find the aggressive fruit-bombiness of Sauvignon Blanc hard to stomach. It is as if it is shouting so loud to get your attention that you cannot actually hear what it says. Having said that, there is also really good Sauvignon Blanc, both from the new and the old world. Interestingly, some of the most pleasant specimens I have tried recently came from Germany. Yes, there is German Sauvignon Blanc.
This particular wine comes from the Pfalz, a region that continues to confuse foreigners with the wide range of grape varieties grown.
Wine travel writing has to feature passionate winemakers, gorgeous vineyards and fabulous wine. I will get to these in future posts on my recent visit to the German wine country around Mainz, but today is about looking at wine writing from the other side. It is about wine writers and communicators, about introducing the press trip and - most importantly to me personally - it is about a man holding up a piece of cardboard. Or rather: his absence.
Ever since I stepped off my first airplane as a child, this man held the key for my ascendancy to a higher level of human existence. Looking at this man, waiting with his piece of cardboard at arrivals, the young Torsten concluded that there are two types of travellers: those who just pass through, and those who, as a person or through their mission, have been deemed worthy enough to by picked up by that man. I travel a lot for work, but the highest appreciation I have been shown so far is being walked from Coventry train station to the university. Walked. And there was no sign with my name on it. Now imagine my joy when the invitation from the German Wine Institute to participate in an "international press trip for bloggers" contained the magic words: "arrivals", "driver" and "sign". On 6th October I would finally meet that man at Frankfurt Airport, and his name would be Mr Würzburger.
My co-rambler is away, ostensibly vacationing in an undisclosed location in Cornwall, but I can reveal that he is really working on a piece of investigative journalism to reveal the craziness of some German wine makers. Like you, I don't have the faintest idea what may be coming. Anything from mild eccentricities to all-out insanity could be on the ticket.
Here's one thing I know about German wine makers, though (segue alert!): They can make quality dry Riesling at crazy prices. Case in point: Karlheinz Schneider, an all but unknown producer from the Nahe, itself an all but unknown region (excepting Dönnhoff!) in the rest of the world.
Whenever I come across good wine from the Württemberg region, I feel some irrational pride - irrational if you consider that while I have been born there, I left my Swabian homeland many years ago and have never looked back. While I went away, others clearly thought it was good to move to Swabia - at least in the middle ages when the noble family of Hohenlohe acquired property in Öhringen, north-east of Stuttgart. They clearly liked it there and after some branching in and out, some pruning etc., there is still a branch of the famous family residing there, the Hohenlohe-Oehringens.
Instead of quelling peasant rebellions, the Hohenlohe-Oehrigens of today are growing wine, organically of course. Like this grand cru Riesling.
My fellow Wine Rambler Torsten has instructed me to stick to this blog's core concern, which is German wine, and also to be on my general best behaviour, because a few more winemakers, fellow bloggers and wine business people may look in here these days. Maybe even, nudge nudge, a couple of German wine queens. As to why that is, that will be duly revealed, much to my intense envy, in a few days' time. In the meantime, no Bordeaux, no ill-fated Burgundy projects and no wines dug out of the trash bin.
Instead, if it please your majesties, a German classic:
Last weekend I organised a wine tasting of a different type for my colleagues. I had particularly high hopes that one of the wines would shine, a Riesling from Rheingau winemaking wizard Peter Jakob Kühn. In the past, I have had some truly stunning wines from Kühn, and I had heard good things about his work with the difficult 2010 vintage. At the tasting though the biodynamic Riesling was overshadowed - in being controversial by a Franconian Silvaner and in receiving general praise by an Austrian Grüner Veltliner.
Not that the Riesling was bad, mind you, but in its leanness it was a little more quiet than I had hoped for. When we divided up the spoils of the night, I grabbed a half full bottle and took it home with me to inquire further.
Other than many of my British acquaintances, I don't often complain about the weather in London as I usually like it. Today though it has thrown a spanner in the works of the carefully planned Wine Rambler schedule. Expecting autumn to make its appearance, I had opened a Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) the other day but now England is hotter and sunnier than it has been all summer - and here I am reviewing a wine that most people would rather associate with autumn. Having said that, a good Pinot should always be a great companion, so I hope you can forgive me for appearing unseasonal.
The Pinot in question comes from a highly respected producer in the Pfalz. On about 20ha, Steffen Christmann grows Riesling, Pinot Noir and a range of other grapes including Pinot Blanc/Gris and Gewürztraminer. Christmann is not only lucky to own parts of several very well known vineyards (such as the Ölberg), he also happens to be head of VDP, the leading German association of premier estates.
Growers' cooperatives, revisited. When we last mentioned them, we tried to be fair-minded and also point out their good and useful side, but ended up somewhat doubtful that particularly interesting wines could come out of them. Well, that only goes to show that the best of us sometimes have to eat our words, for the good wine growing people of Hagnau, a beautiful place on the Lake Constance shore, may have proved us wrong with a bottle of Pinot Blanc from their Burgstall vineyard.
Australia vs Germany - after several blind tasting country battles here at the Wine Rambler this one is a little more difficult to sell. For last year's epic England vs Germany battle we could fall back on 1966, and other blind tastings have their respective stereotypes. But A v G? Football matches, yes, but epic? Dramatic battles - well, El Alamein, but the Australian part there is not really part of popular culture. So what remains is to stay in the wine world and announce an epic match between two of the world's prime producers of Riesling.
Still, there is a little twist. Australia is, after all, mostly know for dry Riesling - but in today's match it sends an off-dry wine against a similarly specked Mosel Riesling. Dong, dong, let the match being.
Willi Schaefer is one of the stars of the Mosel, so much so it seems that he and his son Christoph even in 2011 think they don't need a website so that people can find out about them. Well, they are on our radar anyway, but I am sure others would appreciate the chance to learn more about this small, family-owned estate in Graach. The wine you see in front of you is one of the basic offerings, a "feinherb" or "off-dry" Riesling that comes with a screw cap.
A couple of years ago I discussed German red wine with a lover of red Burgundy. He was mildly curious, but at the same time convinced that German Pinot Noir, or Spätburgunder, might be acceptable yet would not be substantial enough to age for more than three or four years.
Now, with a Spätburgunder of barely seven years of age to review today I am probably not in a position to change that view (for that I would refer to a 1999 from the Mosel and a 1992 from Baden) - but then we drink wine to enjoy it and not to correct Burgundy fans.
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:
This is a story of failure. Not a failure of the wine in question, quite the opposite of it. The wine was great. Instead it was me who failed the wine, in a way at least. Having said that, perhaps someone else is to be blamed for this ramble being a little different. As it happens, I have a photo of the culprit, and they look like this:
What has a pure, innocent grasshopper to do with an aged late harvest Riesling? Well, it is all about focus and light.
Why the garden, you may wonder? There is a reason for why I took this photo in the way I did, but before we come to that let me say that is is a wine for those of you who think of German wine as sweet. Why? Because despite being a not too heavy Riesling, the Natursprung only has 0.7g of residual sugar per litre. It is not quite cola zero territory, but if, after all our preaching, your are still scared of sweetness then you can rest safely knowing that even after drinking seven bottles of this you still don't reach the sugar level of a cup of tea.
And now about the green in the photo. It is not to complement the green colour on the label and foil of the wine, but to comment on the pun that went into the Riesling's name...
Yes, it's true, I should be working on my foolhardy Burgundy project instead of letting myself get sidetracked by stuff that isn't even wine. And I wasn't going to. But I do like Cider. Germany doesn't have a proper Cider tradition like France, northern Spain or Britain. There is a great love for Apfelwein, the fairly sour regional variant, in parts of Hesse, but that has never gained much commercial traction anywhere further than 100 miles from Frankfurt.
So when I found out that Ziereisen, one of my very favourite wineries, had come out with their own cider, and some time after, that a well-known internet wine merchant had begun sourcing a different one from another reputable producer, who was I not to get in line?