I always love it when a review is a first: To be able to report on a winery, or better still, a whole region of the wine world, that we have not yet touched upon. A mere check-up review, so to speak, on a well-represented winery and a vintage a few years past, seems much less exciting. But these, too, are very important. When wine guides, such as the very serious German online publication "Wein-Plus" regularly hold samples back for re-tasting and re-evaluation a few years after the first tasting, the results are often surprising, and always instructive. More wine guides and publications should do it, rather than to just keep celebrating each new vintage's potential.
I remember exactly the moment I first tasted this particular Pinot Blanc. It was at the annual autumn tasting extravaganza at Munich's Bayerischer Hof. I loved it right away for its streak of vibrant freshness that distinguished it among some of the blander white Pinots also on offer. My Co-Rambler Torsten, I also recall, was a bit more reserved. His may have been the better judgement.
This is a story of failure and sloppiness. My failure and sloppiness, I hasten to add - no such crime was committed by the Salweys. In fact the Baden winemaking family have done everything right. Not only did they make a substantial, interesting Grauburgunder (internationally better known as Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio), they also shipped a bottle of it in the most timely manner when a few years ago I put an order in with them. Since then it waited for a special occasion.
And when the occasion came I failed it - by accidentally deleting the photo I had taken before I did my backup, and then only realising this when the bottle was on the way to the recycling plant. So blame me, but please do read on.
If you follow this blog regularly (and if not: why not?), you will know that the VDP, Germany's trade association of elite wine estates, hosts an annual tasting in Munich every November that has special significance for the Wine Rambler. We have reported on it last year and the year before that. And we will do so again in a minute. Just a few words to introduce the photographic theme of this posting: Since that chandeliered, psychedelically carpeted lounge has become an extension of our living rooms, as it were, we also take a keen interest in the other tasters gathered there. There are always some sociological observations to make, of course, and to discuss afterwards, about age structure and gender of the sample group, and in fact I think we can report some tentative progress in those two categories, wink wink. But this time, it was something rather different that caught our attention: Shoes.
Hip shoes, boring shoes, sexy shoes, sensible shoes. Endless variety with a few common themes, which makes shoes a bit like wine. That's the kind of thought that looking at mind-altering carpeting in state of growing tipsiness will bring up in the course of an afternoon. In pursuing it, however, we could profit from Wine Rambler Torsten's keen photographic eye, as well as some underhanded camera moves he learned by prowling London as a street photographer.
A couple of weeks ago when I drafted the wine review below and scheduled it for publication today I had no idea that it would, for very sad reasons, be rather timely. It is a review of a great wine from Baden that faded away too early. And just as I have published it I hear the sad news that a great man from Baden has also passed away way too early. Wolf-Dietrich Salwey, vintner, winemaker and ambassador for high quality Pinot from Baden was killed in a car accident yesterday.
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?
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.
Weißherbst, literally 'white autumn', is a special German style of rosé. Basically, it involves red grapes done in white wine style, but the grapes can only be of one variety. The grapes do also have to be sourced from the same area. In the case of the Salwey RS wines - Reserve Salwey - they do actually come from the same vineyard and are of late harvest quality.
The Salwey Weißherbst comes from sun-kissed Baden, and it has been matured in oak barrels. I did not tell that to my friends who tasted it blind, which resulted in an interesting description of the wine's bouquet - that it was a rosé they could clearly see, of course.
And yet again I am drinking a Pinot from sun-kissed Baden; this time it is a Pinot Blanc, known in Germany as Weißburgunder (=white Burgundy). As I have written a lot about the producer, the Salwey family recently, I will keep this introduction short and jump right into the wine:
The bouquet is a mixture of melon and apple - Bramley apple, in particular -, with earthy mineral, soft notes of hand lotion and, surprisingly, the faintest hint of petrol. Light, smooth and enticing.
It is Silvaner time again at the Wine Rambler. We have been championing this underrated (or rather unknown) variety for a while now, and even though we have not exactly changed the wine world, we will not shut up either. If you have heard of Silvaner (also known as 'Grüner Silvaner' or 'Sylvaner'), they may have told you that it is a very food friendly wine and a little neutral. While we encountered many seriously food friendly Silvaners, we have yet to find a bland one. We did, however, find some that can party with some of the best white wines in the world, and others that effortlessly age 25 years. The Silvaner that graced the humble Wine Rambler's table the other day was neither old nor did it claim to be a world class wine. It was, however, unfiltered, and that alone seemed to make it worth an investigation.
Germans love dry wine - this still comes as surprise to many foreigners who think of Germany as country of sweet wine. Actually, almost two thirds of all wine produced in Germany is dry. On top of that the VdP, the association of top producers, are currently pushing for a new top category in the wine classification system that applies to dry wine only. This is where the label 'GG', short for 'Großes Gewächs' (literally 'great growth') of today's Riesling from Baden comes from.
In order to be classified as GG, a wine has to come from a certified top vineyard, yields have to be low, only grape varieties that have some tradition in the region can be used, grapes have to be harvested selectively by hand and the wine has to have the same quality level as a late harvest. And, of course, the producer has to be a member of VdP. The Baden winemaker family Salwey are, and this is their 2008 GG Riesling.
If it comes to the Salwey winery, we have so far mostly sampled their range of excellent Pinots - Noir, Gris/Grigio and Blanc. Located in the warmest area of Germany, the volcanic Kaiserstuhl in the South West, the Salwey vineyards are very well suited for growing Pinot. As it turns out, they also make good Riesling there, and I had one of them recently with a nice piece of fish and English asparagus.
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.
Recently, I have been drinking quite a few Salwey wines, both red and white. So far the wines from the sun-kissed south-west of Germany have entertained me very well, so it was time to try a sparkling Salwey - even more so as I had a few friends over the other night who had not yet tried a German sparkler. Time to change that!
Pop, went the cork and a wonderfully bubbly sparkling wine of the most amazing amber colour foamed into our glasses. I don't think I have seen such a wonderful deep amber in a wine, it was just perfect. One of my British friends described the colour, and this reference may be lost on many, as 'not quite Irn-bru'. This was a most promising start!
I have written about so many Salwey wines recently, I almost feel bad to pay that much attention to a single producer. Almost, I said, because Salweys know what they are doing and I am in a Pinot (Noir, Blanc, Gris) phase anyway. So I will keep it sweet and short today in order not to repeat myself. Here it is, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc/Weißburgunder:
After two years of mostly going for Riesling, I currently find myself drinking more and more Pinot, specifically Pinot Blanc and Gris. Well, surprise, this is another of those bastards, and despite being made from the same grape variety it is not exactly like your average Italian Pinot Grigio. It is Grauburgunder time, and yet again am I turning to the warm South-West of Germany, to enjoy a wine from the Kaiserstuhl region.
The first thing to notice about it is the colour. Colour is always difficult to capture well in a photograph, and this one does not quite bring across the fairly dark, gold-brown that the Salwey wine radiates. Pretty, really pretty.
One day it will become summer again. And when that happens you will want to drink a wine like this one here - or at least you should. The aptly named 'Sommer Cuvée' ('Sommer' being German for 'summer') is one of the basic wines of the Salwey winery. They make it from 95% Silvaner and 5% Riesling, two grapes the Wine Rambler loves. Together, they produce a light and fresh wine that is just a pleasure to drink.
It is time again to drink a Salwey wine - this time with Borough Wines and the Winesleuth as part of my mission to spread the word on German wine. Salwey is a producer I really like. Based in the hot South-West of Germany, they specialise in Pinot (Noir, Gris, Blanc), but do also demonstrate that you can make good Riesling and Chardonnay in the hot, volcanic area of the Kaiserstuhl.
This Pinot Noir comes from the Oberrotweiler Käsleberg, a terraced vineyard with loam soil that is said to produce wines that develop quickly and have an elegant note to them. Is this reflected in the Spätburgunder in front of us?
You may find a wonderful surprise delivered to your doorstep! I can already say I am going to enjoy this. A lot!
Deep, but transparent cherry red, going brown around the edge.
Wonderful mature pinot smell, wet forest floor, plum juice, quite dense and so seductive.
Dense, but also transparent fruit, salty mineral flavours, noticeable, but by now perfectly integrated oak. It ends like a great lunch, with chocolate and coffee notes.
Excellent, a real pleasure to smell and drink.
This was my second-to-last bottle, and I didn't enjoy the previous ones nearly as much. Maybe my palate is adjusting more and more to the lighter, more elegant style of Spätburgunder (possible), or else this wine has just reached the drinking age that brings out its very best (also possible, four to six years being generally a good age to drink the better german pinots at, in my humble experience).
Wine tastings are like battlefields, it is everyone for themselves - or so I have heard people say. Actually, at least the recent VdP tasting in Munich was more like playing a part in the submarine movie Das Boot. Periscope out, zoom in on the next lovely wine and then you give the order: 'Both planes zero. Stand by battle stations.' 'Bottle one through four are ready.', the reply is almost instantaneous. However, before you can strike your helpless target, sonar picks up that sound again: Swoosh slurp swoosh schrub slurp. A split second of panic, then you go: 'Close bow caps! Dive!' Luckily, the enemy passes above you and disappears again. 'Is it getting louder?' 'It seems constant. Ahead of us.' The awaits your next move. As the Old Man said in Das Boot: 'Now it gets psychological, friends.'
That it was, but also great fun with some amazing wines, this year's VdP wine tasting in Munich. VdP stands for 'Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter', or Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates, a group of highly decorated German estates, 'the world’s oldest association of top-quality wine estates'. Every year in November some VdP members hold a wine tasting in Munich. And the Wine Rambler attends, hungry for prey.