After last week's venture beyond the world of wine (and into the realm of photography) it is time to come back to the core mission of the Wine Rambler with a piece on a classic: Riesling. Actually, seen from an international perspective the Knipser Halbstück wine may not be a true German classic as it is not one of the sweet Mosel wines that some hold to be the true expression of Riesling.
While some international wine experts still get worked about about the mistake of dry German Riesling, the German consumers have moved on to embrace "trocken", and German winemakers try different styles, including barrique aged Riesling. The Halbstück is not one of them, but barrels do play a role with this wine.
Exciting and reliable - German car makers charge a premium for the promise of both, lovers almost by definition only deliver one and public services are rumoured to be neither. It is a desirable yet hard to find blend of characteristics, unless you turn to Knipsers' Kalkmergel Riesling.
Every vintage of this wine I have tried reliably delivered, and always in an exciting way.
Gelber Orleans, to me, is probably the most exciting wine there is. Sadly I am aware that even if you should believe me it won't help you very much as it is incredibly hard to find - even in Germany, which to my knowledge is the only country where it is grown. It is so rare that whenever, wherever I see a bottle of Orleans I can afford I will buy it. Usually that means turning to the Knipser brothers who grow some in the Pfalz.
Thankfully, despite its rarity it is not an overly expensive wine - if you compare it like for like that is. And that puts this three star dry late harvest against a top Riesling. What do you get for that price?
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.
While sifting through the candidates for this year's Wine Rambler shortlist, we noticed hat we were less generous with top ratings in 2011 than previously, withholding our highest praise, "monumental", completely. Whether that means we are becoming more exacting in our critical standards or whether the truly stellar wines somehow passed us by and we had to make do with the enormously good we can't quite say. A bit of both, most probably.
As you may not want to take our word for it in every case (and indeed you shouldn't!), we have provided direct links to the wineries' websites for the adventurous among you to follow up, get into contact and inquire about distribution and availability. Almost all German wineries do their own shipping and are quite good at it. In case of deliveries to the UK, however, newly estranged from the European mainland, this will probably have to be arranged via the United Nations. Just joking. Needless to say, The Wine Rambler is entirely his own man, as it were, and not commercially associated with any wineries or merchants, although wines like the following sometimes can make us wish we were.
Oh no, the Wine Rambler does yet-another-of-those-obscure-German-grape-varieties, I hear you say? And the answer is, you bet! This one is very obscure indeed - now that is. In the 19th century "Orleans" was reasonably popular in Germany (where its history goes back to the 12th century), but eventually this very late ripening variety was superseded by Riesling and pretty much forgotten. So much so, that it had to be recultivated in the 1980s and there are only a few producers who grow Orleans now, and in tiny quantities.
The leader of the pack appears to be the Knipser family from the Pfalz who produce both substantial Orleans in (dry) Auslese quality and lighter ones like this one. I opened the "trocken" (dry) Orleans for wine-loving English friends who had not even heard of Orleans before.
Usually, if you want to drink aged wine it involves a cellar, a good idea which wines are worth putting away and some kind of idea when you should open them. And then perhaps a decade of doing nothing. Or it may involve spending a lot of money buying an aged wine from a merchant. Sometimes you are lucky though and come across a wine that both looks the right age and is reasonably priced. Today's find is one of them, a ten year old Riesling from a good vineyard site, made by an excellent producer, and sold for less than 15 Euro.
A little while ago I discussed the question of how much a value Pinot Noir should cost with a Canadian and an American on Twitter. With different currencies and tax/duty regimes it was not the easiest discussion, but I made the point that at least in Germany you should get decent Pinot for around, or a little above, ten Euro. Today we are looking at a German Pinot, from one of the country's best "red" wineries, for less than that.
Can Knipser's basic Pinot Noir be my new reference point for value?
You haven't heard of Gelber Orleans? Not even a vague idea what it might be? Despair not, it is hardly a well known grape variety. In fact, it has become so obscure - even in Germany - that when I recently invited a well versed wine blogger over to try it I was confident she would not be able to identify it.
When serving the wine I made sure that the only thing she might have caught a glimpse on was the name and logo of the winery - identifying the producer as Knipser, one of the most accomplished in Germany. So, gentle reader, explore a wine with us which you will most certainly not have experienced before.
As a wine drinking year, 2010 was not without its disappointments. Among them, a Bacchus that bored us to tears, a burgundy that let us down - and, most grimly, a swamp gas attack from the Loire that we would rather not talk about just yet. The ritual that helps us get over these low points is the yearly selection of the Wine Rambler's top five german wines. The shortlist was substantial as always, and the choice was not taken lightly - and by the way, one of our favourite daydreams is that sentences like this might one day cause actual nervousness among german wine makers.
So, national anthem, please, for the winners:
A few years ago, when the Wine Ramblers were not yet Wine Ramblers, we attended our first ever wine tasting together. An unhealthy mix of curiosity and the promise of a free tipple had brought us to downtown Munich's venerable Bayerischer Hof. At this hotel, members of the VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter), an association of some of Germany's most distinguished wineries, were presenting a range of their wines. It was a memorable evening that began with a lot of awkward swooshing and spitting, and ended with a drunken plan of creating a diversion in order to steal a case of Knipser Syrah that, sadly, never came to fruition. But that is a story for some other year.
The tasting is an annual event, we reported on it last year and we will in the future. This year, we decided to cover in more depth the six wineries that most convinced us - and to point out a few wider trends that we think may be worth noting and discussing.
Knipser is the name of a wine making family from the Pfalz region of Germany who keep impressing us with their polished and tasty wines. They are widely known for their expertise in ageing wine in barrique barrels - red wine, of course, but also white. The other day when I was cooking tarragon cream chicken I felt the time had come to open their premier 2003 Chardonnay, a wine that was only released to market after several years of maturing in the Knipser cellars.
What I was expecting, of course, was a substantial (14% ABV and barrique), creamy wine with the first signs of age. What I was hoping for was that it also kept a hint of freshness to go along with the food.
Never heard of Sauvignon Gris? If not, don't be ashamed, it is hardly a well known variety and I have to admit that I was only dimly aware of its existence until I saw this wine in the Knipser portfolio. The Knipser winery is one of Germany's best, so I was very curious to see what they would make of this unknown variety. Knipsers are big believers in maturing wines properly before releasing them to the market, often using barrique barrels, and this beauty only went on sale two years after the harvest. So, what is it like?
Let's start with a boring, albeit short, lecture on the grape variety.
The seasonal wine tastings hosted by the London branch of the Wine Rambler are now something like an institution. So much so that this time change was needed ('change you can believe in' - after all it is election time here in the UK). My message for the electorate was quite simple: 'no Riesling'. This does not mean that I have suddenly lost my love for this amazing variety, not at all. However, it is good to every so often remind people that there is so much more to German wine than just Riesling. So what did I choose for that mission: a sparkling vintage rosé, a Silvaner, a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir and a Bordeaux-style blend of red grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon.
If I think of a German winery that has lots of experience with blending red wines, the Knipsers come to mind. Just a little while ago I tasted their Cuvée X, a great blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc and Merlot. Even though the Cuvée X can stand up to a good French Bordeaux, it is not exactly cheap either, so I was very curious to try the Gaudenz, a significantly cheaper red wine blend made by the Knipsers. In fact, it is surprisingly cheap. It also is a blend of different grapes, including the German variety of Dornfelder, and is matured in used barrique barrels for about a year.
Here I am, back to drinking German red wine from Rhineland-Palatinate. The St. Laurent grape is a fairly old one, possibly of French origin, that is now often associated with good old Austria, but also increasingly popular in Germany (after it had almost been forgotten there). It is probably related to Pinot Noir and often described as the little, less sophisticated, but also more powerful brother to this variety. So it is no wonder that the Knipser brothers, German red wine and barrique specialists, matured this wine in barrique barrels - for 18th months, in fact. The Knipser St. Laurent is no doubt a wine of quality. Perversely, it appears to be exactly this quality that left me with a big question mark regarding this wine. Perhaps you can help me clarify the matter?
If you have read the Wine Rambler recently, you will have been introduced to the Knipser family as specialists for red wine - from Syrah to the Cuvée X, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon / Franc and Merlot, the Knipser winery in Rhineland-Palatinate does it all. Among the many other grape varieties grown is Riesling, and today I have the distinct pleasure to write about a late harvest Riesling that is not only a great example of a dry, focussed white wine, but is also, I like to think, seriously good value.
Recently we reported on a somewhat unusual German wine, a Syrah from the Pfalz. As this wine got a lot of interest, I decided it was time to open a bottle of another, unusual, red wine from the same producer. After having sampled the 2003 Syrah it was time to try the flagship wine of the Knipser winery, the Cuvée X, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot - all grow in Germany, just a few miles left of the Rhine.
... even more good things arrive!
So we were drinking this German Syrah one night and - Wait, a German Syrah, you say? Yes, that is true - a Syrah from Germany, and a bloody marvellous one too.