At times, I am quietly envious of my fellow Wine Rambler, who recently won British citizenship. I sometimes think I was born into the wrong country, as I rather fancy I would make a passable Brit myself. Case in point: I get acutely embarrassed in situations that nobody else would find even mildly troubling. When strolling through the heart of Munich recently, I stepped into the Dallmayr wine department on an impulse to see if any exclusive and glamorous new discoveries were on display. Having looked around and seen what I had come in to see, it suddenly occurred to me that I could not possibly leave without buying something (that would have been embarrassing, you see, because the shop assistants would form all kinds of disadvantageous opinions about me). Dallmayr, on account of their general adventurous pricing and the kind of impulse shopper they cater for, is not the best place to have a fit like this. At least I was sane enough to not want to leave a lot of money, so, fighting a rising sense of completely self-induced panic, I was relieved to find this bottle from my very favourite German winery lying invitingly beneath a fine cover of dust.
I already knew its story: 2006 had been so poor a vintage in Baden that Hans-Peter Ziereisen, quality-obsessed ruddy-cheeked devil that he is, did not want to bottle either his usual top-of-the-range Pinot Noir nor his varietal Syrah. His solution: Mix the Syrah with Pinot Noir to make a mid-range cuvée that would be interesting, but no more than it claimed to be. Hence the completely unusual grape mix, hence the name, Zunderobsi being a lovely dialect term for "topsy turvy". This is classic Wine Rambler territory.
It usually takes some convincing to get continental folk to accept that English sparkling wines are not only drinkable, but can be quite excellent. But since we already know that, we hold them to a higher standard than most other German wine drinkers probably would. It is from this fairly lofty perspective, and only from there, that this one disappointed us somewhat when it was soundly beaten by a French sparkler costing less than half in this mildly humiliating Wine Rambler blind tasting.
There are not many things I like more than a bad pun. Good wine is among them, of course. During rare moments of hilarity, good wines and bad puns come together. This can be in an intentional way, for instance when Mosel winemakers Haart name a Riesling "Haart to Heart". Other brands are unintentionally funny. And then there are good wines with bad puns that really only exist in my mind: when I moved to England I learned that the polite word for "ass" is "bottom" - and now whenever I hear the East Sussex winery "Breaky Bottom" mentioned I cannot help but giggle.
What a "breaky bottom" looks like I'd rather not imagine, but whatever vision I may now have planted in your brain just forget it. Your are looking at a serious sparkling wine that is neither bottom nor breaky.
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:
If the wine world were a fair place, I would not have to draw your attention to what should by rights be an iconic bottle of Austrian red wine. But I'm happy to: Anita and Hans Nittnaus are founding members of the Pannobile group of wine growers - the name is a combination of "Pannonia" (the historical and geographical name of the east Austrian and Hungarian plain) and the Latin word for "noble". When Austria was first working her way out of the hole it had dug herself with the infamous 1985 adulterated wine scandal with a whole new generation of wines, Hans Nittnaus's reds were hailed as revelations. Then, since the late 1990s, they were increasingly eclipsed by bolder, bigger, heavier-hitting bottles.
This gave him some pause, naturally, and eventually made him adjust his style. Not, however, and to his everlasting credit, in the direction that the wind seemed to be blowing, towards more oak that is, more concentration, and all the latest blinking cellar technology. Instead, Nittnaus went back to the future, towards purity of fruit, drinkability and precise varietal character. A case in point - the 2006 Leithaberg:
"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.
The German tribe of the Franconians do appear to have been geographically misplaced by providence. Not only are they the Protestant outsiders in deeply Catholic Bavaria, they are also a winemaking tribe in a state known mostly for its beer. Perhaps this is why they aim to make up for it by being more distinctive, for instance with their oddly shaped Bocksbeutel wine bottles. Most winemakers use these as a proud statement of origin - not so the Luckert brothers.
Even some of their Franconian signature Silvaner wines ship in standard bottles, and the bottle of the top of the range Pinot Noir looks a little more Burgundian than Franconian - a stylistic message in a bottle shape?
Grüner Veltliner, also known as GruVe and often pronounced "Grooner" by Anglo-Saxons, is certainly hot property these days. Austria's signature white grape has won much critical acclaim and is now seen as cool and trendy. Most of it is consumed in Austria, and - even though Grüner can age very well - traditionally as a young, fresh wine that does not need much ageworthy complexity. Potato salad and Wiener Schnitzel (a breaded veal escalope) is one of the dishes the Austrians serve with it.
Some Grüner is made in a different style though, creating complex wines of beauty. Complexity and substance can be a good thing, but did the Jurtschitsch winery go a step too far by creating a Reserve Grüner with astonishing 15% abv?
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.
Pinot Gris is a funny thing. If it is called Pinot Grigio it comes from Italy, is meant to be drunk young and suffers from too much cheap plonk on the market. If it has Pinot Gris on the label it is probably from Alsace and may be a substantial wine with the potential to age well. When it is called Grauburgunder it comes from Germany and could fall into any of these categories. The wine you see below comes from a reliable, quality focussed producer and has been matured in oak barrels - so you'd think even when stored in my wardrobe (officially London's most delicious wardrobe) it should be at its prime now. But then there is always a risk, are we looking at a wine that's already faded?
We just voted not one, not two, but three dry Rieslings into our top five picks of last year. We didn't do that to make a point, those were just the wines we happened to enjoy most. Having said that, it is true that the effort many english-speaking wine lovers will make to ignore any german wine that is not sweet Riesling have not ceased to amaze us - amaze, and annoy us ever so slightly. This is not, I hasten to clarify, because we fail to appreciate the great sweet Rieslings. They are indeed unique, delightful and still handsomely underpriced in the global scheme of wine. It's just that this fact is already widely known, so frankly, it is not exactly breaking news to report on another little marvel of liquid stone and sweet peachy caress.
But on this January day, the time has come to do just that.
When it comes to wine, it is always worth keeping an eye on central and eastern Europe. When browsing the shelves at Philglas & Swiggot the other day I remembered this maxim and went for a highly recommended Chardonnay from a Slovenian winery. Sutor are located in the Vipava Valley, an extension of the Friuli. Charonnay is quite popular there, as it is in Slovenia in general (where it is the most planted white variety), and as I had not had a Chardonnay in a while, I took the Sutor home with me.
East Sussex may not be the first place on earth coming to mind when thinking of sparkling wine. And yet winemaker Will Davenport has had a lot of success with sparkling wines made in the classic champagne style since he started out with 5 acres of vineyards in Kent in 1991. I bought this wine from a wine bar/shop in South London that specialises in English and natural/organic wines - the Davenport sparkler happens to be both. The Limney Estate wine is made from 49% Pinot Noir and 51% Auxerrois and has been aged on lees for over 2 years, which seemed to make it an ideal candidate for a blind tasting against a German sparkler.
After all those German and Austrian Rieslings, we are now going Australia. Clearly, the Wine Rambler is no nationalist. What could be more Australian, apart from Paul 'Crocodile Dundee' Hogan perhaps, than a Riesling from Adelaide Hills? Well, actually, it is sort of German too - at least the winemaker is (no one would have guess from the name 'Egon Müller').
Recently, I found myself drinking with friends who were discussing which type of vegetable they would like to be. When I asked them how they would rate me, Charlotte suggested I could be a squash. Unfortunately I never really found out why she classified me in this way, partly because she went on to say she would quite like to be a courgette. Today's wine, luckily, is not like a vegetable. Instead it is very easy to describe in terms of fruit: take the most deliciously juicy peach you can imagine, add passion fruit, and caramelise it with lots of sugar and some gold, sprinkle finely with herbs and serve in a stony cup with a dash of menthol, spice and lemon juice. As you can see this description really does not work in relation to vegetables, but I can tell you that if this wine were a human being it would have to be the young Liv Tyler - just in blond.
As far as wine is concerned, there is much more to California than just Napa Valley or Sonoma. In fact, one of the Californian wineries that so far has impressed me most is located a little bit further south, in Santa Maria Valley: Jim Clendenen's Au Bon Climat. On election day in the UK, when a risotto was slowly cooking in the kitchen, it was time to open a Californian Pinot Noir to support us through the long night.
Both my co-Rambler and I recently came to the conclusion that we had somewhat neglected Austria - a country that makes some truly outstanding wines. So Julian went off to have an afternoon of Austrian wine, during which he was particularly impressed with a Riesling made by the Prager winery. At about the same time I found myself talking Prager with Damian from Fields Morris & Verdin on Twitter. As I had never tried a Prager Riesling, Damian kindly provided me with a tasting sample, the 2006 Steinriegl Smaragd - a Riesling that is more than just a reminder of how good Austrian wine can be.
Having had a fun afternoon sipping austrian wines recently, I dediced it was time for another foray into the territory of Grüner Veltliner, also known as "Groona" in the Vayniac universe. The austrian national grape, Grüner Veltliner makes for powerfully spicy, herbal and mineral whites, if, and only if, handled expertly by ethnic austrians with Veltliner strains in their genome. Johannes Hirsch from the Kamptal clearly qualifies here. We have tasted his 06 Heiligenstein a year ago with a very respectable, but didn't-blow-our-socks-off kind of result. So what has an additional year of bottle age done for this wine?
Another venture into Eastern Europe, and into a grape that I like more and more: Cabernet Franc.
Very dark red, a little cloudy (unfiltered, probably), with a purplish edge. Smells of stewed vegetables, beetroot, ripe red peppers, but meaty at the same time. In the mouth, it brings rather hard-edged cassis and tar at first, Cabernet Sauvignon-style, but with more exposure to air, the sweeter and more savoury vegetable flavours take over. While the ripe fruit and oak flavours lean toward the international style, the vegetables give it character and spice. [read the full post...]