As a well-behaved historian I can tell you that traditions are fake. Or, if you want it in more professional language: invented. That doesn't mean to say that they can't be fun though, and so today it is time for me to indulge in a tradition we invented for the Wine Rambler a few years ago: the first wine to be reviewed in any year would not come from Germany - to remind us, as far as that is necessary, that there is so much more to the wine world than us krauts.
This year my choice is a little conservative at first glance - that fits the historian cliché nicely - as it is from France. However, not a Claret or Burgundy, no, it comes from the beloved Loire.
2013 was the year of fizz, overcoming prejudice, fighting the good fight and natural wine. 2013 has also been a challenging year. It was not because of rising wine taxes or the global wine shortage that never happened, but rather due to a no doubt coordinated conspiracy. Employers, house moving and renovation projects, bugs and viruses, travel schedules, the weather - yes, the weather! - and other nuisances conspired to keep us off the blog for as much as possible.
The coordinated action resulted in projects being delayed and less general Wine Rambling than usual, but we bravely soldiered on through the year. Ignoring the boring low lights, we can now report back on some of the highlights of 2013 and, as every year, crown the five most exciting German wines we have reviewed.
We don't know what you will be drinking this Christmas - rumour has it at least one of the Wine Ramblers will betray his country by opening a French wine - but as long as you enjoy it and have a truly Merry Christmas it doesn't matter!
So, a Merry Christmas to you all from the Wine Ramblers and from the Munich Santa, who promised to bring many exciting wine presents to all of us.
With the festive season with all its celebrations and debauchery now upon us what could be better to review than a classy sparkling wine? Well, yes and no - I have never held much with going for wines that are in season. Sometimes I want a bold red in summer, sometimes a refined sparkler on a dull Tuesday evening with nothing to celebrate. When it comes to wine I tend to go with the advice the head of department in my first full time job gave me: "A good Riesling in itself is a reason to celebrate." A wise statement, although I think it can be expanded to cover all glorious grapes and wonderful wines of this world. So here is another reason to celebrate - and behold, it is an English sparkling wine.
A Nyetimber 2003, to be precise - a wine from the Nyetimer vintage that caused a little sensation when a few years ago its sibling, the Classic Cuvée, won a respectable international sparkling wine tasting, beating the likes of Bollinger, Pommery and Louis Roederer. How good is the Blanc de Blancs?
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.
And now for something completely different – photography. Or, to be precise, cameras. The photos on the Wine Rambler may not always show it but I do spend a lot of time with the camera these days, and – partly due to an extensive travel schedule over the past years – I also spent much time at airport camera shops. As a result I have handled most cameras currently available and I thought I share my impressions of the different systems as it may be useful for those of you considering a new camera for Christmas (or any other occasion).
I will illustrate this article with a selection of my photos to make this more engaging and also to give you a chance to read my comments in the context of the photography I do.
After my recent (and completely unsubstantiated, I hasten to add, your honour) comments about dullness of the average Pinot Grigio I felt a reminder was due about how exciting Italian wine can be. This is probably less a reminder to you, gentle reader, than it is to myself and my co-Rambler Julian - after all we both were traumatised by a youth of cheap and dull Pinot Grigio. The therapeutic antidote I am going to serve today is Manzoni Bianco, an Italian grape variety I discovered earlier this year at a natural wine fair. I was instantly impressed by it; and how could I not: it is a cross of Riesling and Pinot Bianco/Blanc, two of my absolute favourite grape varieties.
The wines I tried at the fair mostly impressed me by their freshness and minerality - elegant, light and clean. The first specimen I got into the scientific Wine Rambler tasting labs is a slightly different creature, a bolder and more substantial wine that easily rates as one of the most exciting discoveries of the year.
Pinot Grigio is dull. That would be a textbook provocative statement to catch the interest of the reader, and of course the author would qualify that statement to the extent that it was almost turned into the opposite. However, I do honestly believe that Pinot Grigio is dull. Not on principle, but the vast majority of Pinot Grigio I encounter is mass produced dullness to the extent that I'd discourage everyone to choose one - unless there are reasons to have hope for the wine, for instance when sourced from a good wine merchant or knowledgeable sommelier.
That at least is how I see the situation in the UK with imported Pinot Grigio. In Germany, or where German wine is available, there is a second route: buy wine made from the same grape variety, but done in Germany style. Sometimes, these wines are labelled Pinot Gris, like in France, but mostly you will find the German name Grauburgunder.
People, it is said, become more interesting with age. In the same way as our faces start telling a little about the lives we have lived we too have more stories to tell, gain some wisdom - at least that's the theory - and become more distinct characters. The same is true for ageworthy wine, but with a pleasant difference: while people can become a little difficult over time, stuck in their ways and perhaps too edgy, a good wine becomes more harmonious and balanced. At some point the wine will decline rapidly and become an old grump, but that is a question of timing and also not what today's wine story is about.
Today I am revisiting Martin Müllen's exciting Mosel wines and in particular an aged specimen I recently got my hands on.
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.
So there you sit in Tuscany, enjoying the evening sun and sipping on your Sangiovese blend - oh, wait! It is not Tuscany but the German wine growing region of the Pfalz (Palatinate) and you are not drinking a Chianti but a German red. Sounds unlikely? Well, unlikely it may be but certainly not impossible: Pfalz winemaker Philipp Kuhn is well known for his red wines and one of them, the Cuveé Luitmar, is indeed made of Sangiovese.
Not just Sangiovese but also Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger) - not exactly what you would expect from a German wine...
As some of you may be aware, there has recently been a bit of noise about dry German Riesling. A well respected importer and Riesling fan referred to the dry German wines as "a highly invasive species", much to the dislike of some. I am not planning to enter that debate directly, at least not right now. However, I had a little craving for an invasive species the other night...
...so here it is, a short review of a dry German Riesling, and from the region that wine lovers across the world associate most with sweet: the Mosel.
How to start a posting on a topic on which I may have bored half my readership to death, whereas the other half may not even know it exists? Even after a glass or two I haven't worked it out, so you will have to forgive me for this uninspired start. To summarise what I have said on this topic earlier: yes, there is German Sauvignon Blanc, and it brings a lean, mineral and precise elegance to this grape that is just adorable - but there isn't much of it. On the positive side the fact that the grape is rare means that it tends to be grown by vintners who put effort into it, which may explain why my previous encounters have been so enjoyable.
This time I am looking at an SB from Württemberg, my home state in the south west of Germany, and to make it even more unusual it comes from a garage winemaker.
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.
We are back. Well, almost. While I have survived three weeks of scorching heat in North America (a hot and humid torture device otherwise known as summer holiday), my co-Rambler Julian is still out somewhere on a secret mission I am not at liberty to talk about. Even so our summer hiatus is over and it is time to catch up with interesting wines and events of the past few weeks.
And what better way to get back into the swing than a German Riesling!
Earlier this year I published an open letter to Waitrose that within hours became our most widely read, tweeted about and "liked" article of the year. I had criticised Waitrose for stocking a wine that pretends to be "one of the most renowned wines of Germany" and yet is only a generic blend that may not even be from the Mosel village whose name it displays on the label. I had always seen Waitrose as a retailer that champions German wine and so I was disappointed when I discovered the so called "Legends of Germany".
Since the publication of the article Waitrose have gotten back to me with a response.
Rock star, film director or actor - you haven't really made it to the top unless you own a vineyard. If you want to be up there with Aykroyd, Banderas or Coppola making your own wine is now an even better status symbol than a private jet. In the case of Barbara Laithwaite I suspect the motivation was different. Like her husband Tony, the co-owner of the UK's biggest wine company has stayed away from the limelight, and I'd be surprised if she'd own a jet. She also resisted the urge to buy an existing winery in California or Provence and instead planted vines in the Chilterns to make sparkling wine.
Fast forward a few years to find the Wine Rambler sitting down with a glass of 2009 Wyfold Vineyard brut.
We had heard a shy young Franconian winemaker talking about finding his own way, a sage dispensing Riesling wisdom, and the hulking star of the river Saar warn us of his own wines. But in spite of our heads beginning to spin, our palates starting to give out, and the lure of Dallmayr's fine sausages, cheeses and chocolates pulling us away, we had not yet heard enough...
In case you missed the first part of this report about Winzerelite ("wine growing elite"), the annual spring tasting hosted by posh Munich wine and fine food store Dallmayr, in which we were talking.... No we weren't, really. We resolved to, this once, fulfil our journalistic calling and let winegrowers do the talking. One wine each, and whatever they wanted to tell us about it and what choices they made in making it - those were the rules.
A while ago a friend introduced the Wine Rambler by saying that "Torsten and Julian write about German wines, mostly sweet ones". Looking back over the last month, last few years in fact, it is easy to see that that's not true - this year we haven't featured a single sweet wine and only a couple off-dry ones. As much as that reflects the German trend towards "trocken" (dry) it is also a serious oversight on our parts. So, to make up for it we, er, give you another dry Riesling - because the first half of 2013 has been a really "dry" year for us. Well, unless you think of the weather of course.
There will of course be sweeter times again, but for today let's turn to a German wine region that is not as visible internationally as it deserves, Rheinhessen, and an old vines ("Alte Reben") wine made by a young winemaker from grapes grown in a famous vineyard.
Nowadays everyone seems to expect the Spanish Inquisition. Well, maybe not exactly Monty Python's torture team with the comfy chair, but with the internet full of surprising wine finds presenting something unusual has become harder. Even so I hope that writing about German Syrah will be unusual enough to attract some attention - at least enough to keep you stuck to your chairs, trembling with anticipation, until my co-Rambler returns from his holiday to give you part two of Speak, barrel sample.
So here it is, the 2008 Syrah from a Baden producer who is at least as unusual and charming as his wines.