Autumn is upon us. Had I missed this fact before, cycling through cold, autumnal rain and over streets covered in brown leaves tonight would have driven home that message clearly. For some this is a sign to bring out the heavy red wines, but to me right now this is a reminder that summer is over and I still haven't written about my visit to RAW 2013. It has been a very busy summer during which I was abroad a lot, and all sorts of other circumstances conspired against me finding the time to do much wine writing.
Now my visit to RAW in May feels too far removed to make a detailed report seem useful or appropriate, but I still wanted to share impressions from a few hours of tasting through "natural" wines.
It was always about food. I am not saying you cannot, should not have wine without food (quite the opposite), but without my love for food there would be no Wine Rambler. The crucial moment was a Friday afternoon, years ago, when I decided to open a random bottle of Mosel Riesling with some mildly spicy Asian food because I had heard the two go together - resulting in my first moment of true wine excitement and the decision to track down the wine and learn more about it. Wine and food have been with me since and put me on the slippery slope to wine blogging. Considering that it is surprising that it has taken me so long to organise the first Wine Rambler dinner...
...but when it finally happened I made up for the delay by organising it in style, with the help of the fabulous team of Trinity Restaurant in Clapham - and five German wines.
Natural wine is "in", no doubt. It fits the Zeitgeist of minimal intervention, non-industrial, organic, "honest" produce that is increasingly sought after by consumers. And yet there is also confusion. When I announced I was going to a natural wine fair I received lots of blank stares and the odd question of "you mean organic and stuff?" or "as opposed to unnatural wine?". That confusion partly comes from the fact that there is no generally accepted, legally binding definition so any wine can be marketed as "natural"; personally I also find some proponents of the movement a little overzealous. On the other hand I value sustainable winemaking and seek out artisan wines for individuality and character.
In short, I am both tempted and confused by natural wine, so last month's Real Wine Fair was a timely chance to explore the field and question my attitude. Or, to get into the musical theme of this post, "It's only natural / That I should want to / Be there with you."
There are several philosophies about kids growing up to into mature adults, but the successful ones tend to include the Muppet Show. And as our readers naturally are mature adults I can take it for granted that you will know the Swedish Chef. As do I, of course. Apart from where I don't: in the dubbed German Muppets version I grew up with he is actually Danish. Confused as we may be in that regard, us Germans have loved Scandinavian food way before the success of Noma. And Scandinavians, it turns out, love to pair their food with German wine.
Scandinavia is a very important export market for German wine and earlier this month I received a tasty demonstration of how well our friend Riesling in particular pairs with northern cuisine.
Music does not taste. Wine does. Rather obvious, but not nearly as simple as you may think. What we perceive as the taste of wine is actually our brain combining all sorts of information and the tongue only plays a relatively small part in this. What we see, know or hear, everything has an influence on how we taste. And as music and wine are often enjoyed together Classic FM and Laithwaites Wine argue it may be worth thinking about how to match them.
To make this point they hosted a wine and music tasting in London last week and the Wine Rambler went to investigate.
2012 is the year of Britishness. We had the long weekend of celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. We have the success of the London 2012 Olympics. And a public sphere proclaiming a rebirth of Britishness. British wine drinkers apparently felt the same: the Jubilee weekend meant record sales for British wine. All is good then, expect for the fact that I will now face a very stern talking to from about every representative of the wine industry in this country for calling their product British. It may be English, it may be Welsh, in the future it even may be Scottish - but don't you dare call it British.
This distinction is so important to the industry - and for good reason, as we will discover later - that the first ever English wine consumer class held at the WSET started with explaining it. More importantly perhaps it was a great introduction to English wine, and a necessary one as the quality of English wine will still come as a surprise to many a seasoned wine drinker, foreign or British.
Wine is nothing without people. It is people who make wine. It is the company of the right people that makes for a great evening with wine. And it is people's stories that make for engaging wine writing. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting a man who not only makes excellent wine but who also talks about it in such an engaging way that there is only my writing to blame if you don't walk away from this article at least a little inspired.
I certainly left inspired after my encounter with Nik Weiss, the owner of the St. Urbans-Hof estate in the Mosel wine region of Germany. It made me think about the magic that happens when you fall in love with a piece of land and the produce you bring forth from it. It is a magic that over thousands of years has transformed the land but it also transforms the people who work it. This is a story about how the Mosel transformed a man and how he in turn set out to transform his part of the Mosel - and about a little magic that happened when I spent an evening with him and his Riesling.
You don't go to South East London. At least that is what my friend Sarah thinks, and yesterday she told me so when the question of where to live in London came up. After having lived in the South West, North and West Sarah now contemplates the East - but the South East just seems too far away, like another world. This is a common view in the murky blend of London post codes and identities. It is opposed by a smaller group of those who have lost their hearts to SE London, and they tell me of vibrant local communities with quirky shops, excellent and authentic food offerings and a satisfying restaurant scene. The other day I followed an invitation to explore this world at the East Dulwich wine shop and bar Green & Blue Wines.
It is no coincidence that I used the words "authentic" and "local", as Green & Blue champion wines from smaller producers, especially organic and natural wines.
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.
London, wine metropolis. You may not think of it in those terms, but I have learned to appreciate the dynamic wine scene and the exciting range of wine events and venues here. You can explore wine in cellars built into Thames or railway bridges, at fantastic food markets, in world class restaurants, you can drink it on bridges spanning the river, at the Tower of London, in post-modern temples of glass, and you can engage with wine merchants with centuries of history, with entrepreneurs with new approaches or with a vibrant scene of wine writers and communicators. It is an exciting place and I love every minute of being here - especially when a unique place and wine meet.
I would like to invite you to share one of those moments with me.
Wine is just too complicated. People want an enjoyable experience, a wine to complement a nice evening, perhaps a story to tell friends. Instead they are confused by a confusing selection of wine in supermarkets and find not much help from the wine press and wine trade either. On top of that the language of wine is pretentious and mostly meaningless. So I hear it said very often, and while it is perhaps an overly gloomy picture there is some truth in it.
Instead of adding another piece of snobbish wine rambling, today's report from the latest Wine Rambler tasting is a little different. Instead of ourselves it will be the people who speak and tell you what they made of a range of wines selected by yours truly.
"Good luck to her, she may need it.", was the comment a wine loving Englishman made when I told him I was about to meet a woman who had just invested her life's savings in a shop. Not just any shop. A shop dedicated to English wine. To set this in context: when I tell people I blog about German wine I sometimes get the "is there such a thing?" look, or perhaps the "enjoy the Liebfraumilch" comment. These come from people who are not familiar with the wine world, otherwise they would know that some of the world's best wines come from Germany. Now imagine what the reaction is when someone dedicates their life to the cause of English wine - a cause that even wine professionals often respond to with the "is there such a thing" look. So there you have the above quoted reaction.
Enter Julia Stafford, a spirited woman who thought London could do with a shop dedicated to raise the glory of English wine: Wine Pantry at Borough market.
One of the pleasures of living in London is the vibrant wine trade and more wine-related activities going on than a Wine Rambler can participate in. I try to cover what happens in German wine though, and so earlier this month I set out to a Mosel-Saar-Ruwer tasting in the Great Hall at One Great George Street in Westminster. I had visited this fantastic location previously, for instance for the recent English Wine Producers tasting.
On 4th July it was not English but German wine in my glass, and from Germany's most famous wine region - a chance to try some of the off-dry and sweet Riesling from the 2010 vintage. And to be presented with an apple, the most unusual tasting gift so far.
The future of German wine in the UK market. You will not be surprised that this is a topic the Wine Rambler is very interested in. Earlier in May I went to the Delfina Gallery, near London Bridge, to attend the Riesling & Co tasting and the German Wine Question Time panel discussion that aimed to address the topic of how to improve Germany's place in the UK market.
The Riesling & Co agenda is closely linked to this, driven by "a group of dynamic German winemakers who collectively have set themselves the task of reviving the German wine industry across the world." An ambitious mission, and one that also influenced the brief for the panel discussion:
The UK trade has been talking of a Riesling renaissance for the last 10 years, but despite the hype, Germany - arguably the home of the greatest Rieslings worldwide - still hasn’t cracked it. What can the UK trade do to make sure that UK consumers don’t miss out on what Germany has to offer?
A few years ago I came across an international wine guidebook that had a, tiny, section on England. I don't remember the exact wording of the first sentence, but it basically said that English winemaking was no longer exclusively dominated by rather mediocre efforts of retired army and navy officers. Not the most flattering of compliments perhaps, but still a sign of the wine world starting to notice that something is happening in England. To learn more about what exactly is going on in the green and pleasant land, I attended the English Wine Producers press tasting.
Held in early May in a very traditional venue - One Great George Street, right next to the Houses of Parliament in London - the EWP tasting was a chance to try over a hundred English wines, not only dozens of sparklers, but also rosés, whites (from dry to aromatic, oaked and sweet) and reds. Yes, English reds.
For a long time there were rumours and speculation about its contents. Insiders were whispering to each other about it, would-be experts claimed to have had a peek and those in the know smiled in entrancement. And yet only one person has full access to a highly guarded container, hidden away at the Wine Rambler's London HQ.
Come in and join us, gentle reader, for a tour of London's tastiest wardrobe.
During the busy January wine trade tasting season there was one event of special importance for the Wine Rambler, the annual tasting of The WineBarn. The WineBarn is a UK distributor dedicated to German wine with a great portfolio including some of Germany's best wineries and some our the long-standing favourites. So one January afternoon I trekked over to the posh Mayfair neighbourhood of St James's Hotel and Club to enjoy some German wine and German wine conversation.
I found myself in a somewhat labyrinthine room with very low ceilings and an interesting combination of natural and artificial light coming from the roof.
A friend of mine gave me ten little bottles / Of some special stuff that he brewed up his-self / So I took it and hid it down in my basement / But my wife found out about it and she told me to get rid of it or else / And since I didn't like the way she said or else / I went down there and proceeded to carry out her instructions [...] Picked up the first bottle, pulled the cork out of it...
It did not quite happen like this. Admittedly, there was a basement. And I went down there. Picked up a bottle. Or two. Actually, there were 74. Also, they were not small. And despite the time it will have taken him to put it all together, I am fairly certain host Robert Giorgione did not brew them up by his-self. Even so, he managed to get Riesling from all over the world to London for a blind tasting that I could not miss. And so I went down there and proceeded...
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.
Every other season I assemble a group of wine loving friends at the Wine Rambler London HQ. The mission is simple: drink some wine and have fun. As that might seem too frivolous in the current times of austerity a little work is also required of my guests - and that is to share their impressions of the wines. For the autumn tasting in November these impressions ranged from 'body shop mandarin lotion' and 'broccoli' to 'tennis balls' and 'cold custard'.
As is the law at Wine Rambler seasonal tastings, all wines have to be tasted blind. This avoids bias and, most importantly, makes it more fun and adventurous. As my wardrobe is mostly stocked with German and some Austrian wines this is what my guests have learned to expect, but I always aim to have at least one surprise in store for them...