Drinking wine is expectation management. It is many other things too, and I would hope on most occasions the expectation management is invisible, but sometimes it can become centre stage when writing a wine review. If your expectations are low but the wine delivers, is there a risk you praise it too much? And if your expectations are very high, will you be led to write a review that compares the wine with your expectations instead of looking at it on its own merit?
The above-pictured late harvest from the Mosel tributary Ruwer falls into one of these two categories for me, so approach with care.
When the topic of really expensive wine comes up, my dad has a story to tell. Years ago, when he was working in a Michelin-decorated restaurant, one of the guests told him that he had made a good deal that day and now wanted to find out. To find out whether the most expensive wine on the menu was really worth it. So he asked my dad to bring that bottle and get his colleagues too so they all could taste the wine. A few minutes later a group of highly trained sommeliers and waiters clustered around the guest and sampled the wine - I think it was a Bordeaux - to conclude: nice, very nice in fact; but not nice enough that any of them would spend even remotely as much money on a bottle. Even so they were all happy, especially the guest as he now had found out what he always had wondered about.
Today I am embarking on a, somewhat, similar mission. Behold, and you will see the most expensive wine I have ever bought, a Riesling older than yours truly. And the question is: was it worth it?
"Torsten and Julian have this wine blog, and they mostly review sweet wines." This is how a friend introduced the Wine Rambler at a dinner party - much to my surprise as sweet wines make up only a relatively small amount of our wine reviews: not even 1/6 and even with the off-dry ones added we don't quite come to 2/7. Perhaps my outspoken love for Mosel Riesling (which tends to be off-dry or sweet) contributed to this image, or it is just the general perception that German wine is sweet. Instead of fighting this cliché today I shall give in to it. Let's not just drink sweet, let's indulge in sweet.
Ladies and Gentlemen, friends of sweetness and sugar hounds, I give you an ice wine from the Pfalz.
Supermarkets are fascinating. They are evil, they are convenient, they are uniform, they are where we shop. Not all of us, not all of the time, but still often enough that the big chains have a turnover that dwarfs the GDP of many a country. And, despite what wine critics with their writings about hand-crafted wines from family-run vineyards sold by independent shops will make you believe, supermarkets are also where most people get their wine from - about 80% of the UK retail market. This means that if you want to reach the average wine consumer or if you want to understand what or how they buy, supermarkets are the place to go.
So every once in a while I venture into a supermarket and buy whatever German wine I find. If you have followed my supermarket wine exploits you will know that at times this has led to dangerous self-experimentation, and often to disappointment. Is today's wine any different?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After all the excitement of wines dug out of the garbage and superbly aged supermarket plonk (whatever next?), dare we even bother you with a simple Kabinett from the Mosel, a sweet young thing from the slopes of Erden? We do indeed and, in all modesty, I think we may have found a minor classic for you.
One to even hide away now, maybe, and in ten years' time, follow our example and write your own semi-informed little piece on what you dug out of your cellar, wardrobe or customised wine storage appliance?
I concluded my recent exploration of the ageing potential of cheap German plonk with a reference to what is a, well, reference point for white wine that often has to age before being at its most enjoyable: a Mosel Auslese. Ideally, these Rieslings have two key ingredients for ageing well - sugar and acidity. A good Auslese can easily improve for a decade and will often last much longer than that.
This means that the 2007 Auslese from Mosel producer St. Urbans-Hof could still be considered a youngling. On the other hand the wine has been living in my wardrobe since I bought it at the winery in 2008 (for €24), hardly the best place to age slowly, and who says you cannot enjoy an Auslese when it is still young?
It is still Silvaner season at the Wine Rambler. Actually, for us it is Silvaner season throughout most of the year, but over the past few months we have been even more busy exploring this often underrated German grape variety. Today's specimen is a little unusual, even for us, as it is a sweet Silvaner, an ice wine in fact. Ice wine is made from grapes frozen on the vine - a process that helps extract water and thus (relatively) increases extract and sugar levels, making for delicious sweet wines.
This ice wine was made by Pfalz producer Gerhard Klein based in the village of Hainfeld. If you are not familiar with the Pfalz, you may be amazed to hear that among the grapes they grow are Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Now I even read that Kleins also plant Grüner Veltliner! Compared to that, Silvaner is a much traditional German planting, and that's what we will focus on today.
The Schloss Lieser estate, dear readers, is the one winery that has had more of their bottles consumed chez Mr. Munich Wine Rambler than any other I've never told you about (except very briefly here). Admittedly, this also involves an order I placed twice in considerable confusion, but mostly, it is because Ute and Thomas Haag have been offering arguably the most consistent value in fruity and sweet Riesling for the last seven or eight years. Thomas Haag is known to Mosel afficionados as the son of Wilhelm Haag from the Fritz Haag estate, wine being a family affair in that part of the country. The 2005 Kabinett from the iconic Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr vineyard was the first of their wines I ever got to taste, four or five years ago.
So how has it been holding up?
Even Wine Ramblers do have a birthday. Just recently, it was the birthday of THE Wine Rambler and also of my co-Rambler Julian. My birthday is already a few months past, but there is still something to report on: When I met our Munich branch as part of my birthday celebrations, I found myself presented with a special gift.
Co-Rambler Julian likes to hunt for aged wines on eBay (great if you are in Germany, imppossile in the UK because of legal restrictions), and for my birthday he managed to find a bottle of a suitably aged Riesling from a Mosel winery that has my personal seal of approval.
"Gold, gold, gold - molten gold flowing into our glasses." That was the impression Markus Molitor's late harvest Riesling had left when I first tried it in the summer of 2008. Now, opening my last bottle, I had the same, most pleasant sensation, just enhanced with a little more wisdom of age (the wine I mean, certainly not me).
Late harvest (Spätlese) Riesling from the Mosel to me is one of the most exciting manifestations of wine, ideally light, elegant, full of character and with the right dosage of residual sugar to tempt you for yet another glass without cloying you with too much sweetness.
It may sound otherwise, but Huxelrebe is neither a reason to shout "Gesundheit" nor an infectious disease. Instead, it is one of the grape cross-breeds created in Germany in the 1920s, and like many of those it is now mostly grown in Germany and England. Huxelrebe is a very high yielding variety that easily reaches high sugar levels, but it can produce high quality wines if yields are reduced.
You will find dry Huxelrebe ("Rebe" means "vine"), but mostly they are sweet dessert wines, like this one from the Pfalz.
Piesport is a lovely village in the German Mosel Valley. Because of the peculiarities of the German wine law, the name can show up on the labels of very cheap wines from somewhere in the area (Piesporter Michelsberg), or it can be on first class Riesling from some of the Mosel's best vineyards. After having recently indulged myself in the delights of the supermarket wine version, it is now time to revisit the outstanding Goldtröpfchen vineyard version.
"Goldtröpfchen" means little drop of gold, and the Rieslings made by Theo Haart and family in Piesport can indeed be described as such. Today's Haart Riesling even comes with a gold capsule ("Goldkapsel"), indicating that the Haarts were particularly pleased with the quality of what went into this bottle.
In the early 20th century the Germans embarked on a mission to create a genetically modified race of - no, not über-soldiers, but grape varieties. They were also not so much genetically modified as traditionally cross-bred, but the idea was to create varieties that could handle bad weather better, were robuster or addressed some other actual or perceived flaws in existing varieties. Scheurebe ("Scheu's vine") was created in 1916 and was for a long time thought to be a cross between Silvaner and Riesling, but has only recently been revealed to be a cross between Riesling and a wild vine.
Aromatic and with some similarities to Riesling, Scheurebe is often used to create complex sweet wines, and - while not exactly grown on large scale - is increasingly popular with some of Germany's top winemakers.
Over the past few years I have reviewed quite a few Haart Rieslings, and for this reason I had considered scaling down for a while (with the writing, not the drinking of course) in order not to bore you. It's good I did not make it into a New Year's resolution though, as the latest Haart I opened was so stunning I honestly cannot remember having had a young Mosel late harvest Riesling of this quality.