I like Pinot Blanc. It's is that simple. As our regular readers know I am always in danger of rambling on for too long, so I will keep this short. I really like Pinot Blanc. In Germany it is called Weißer Burgunder or Weißburgunder ("white Burgundy") and one of the more popular white grape variety (although nowhere as common as Riesling or Müller-Thurgau). What I find particularly attractive about Weißburgunder is how it manages to be a very enjoyable drink but also has a more serious side, either in a leaner, smoky and edgy style or, especially when aged in oak barrels, a more complex and substantial one.
Julian has recently been somewhat unhappy with a Pinot Blanc from one of the top producers in Baden, so I wonder how this more inexpensive specimen from less prestigious Rheinhessen will do.
Remember that one perfect meal? That special memory that has been with you for years? A taste or texture you can still recall? Some treasure these memories so much that they do not want to go back to the restaurant in question as they fear it might not live up to the memory and spoil it. Now, I think it is worth taking that risk, but in the few cases when you are let down I do wonder whether the disappointment might come from expectations that are just too high for anyone to meet.
Today's wine is such a case, but luckily I had help judging it.
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?
You and I have unfinished business. Don't be afraid, gentle reader, the unfinished business is not with you and I won't come after you with my katana - just to put those of you familiar with movie references at ease. My unfinished business was with Washington D.C., the capital of the richest, most powerful nation on earth. At the Wine Rambler, we don't do feuds small scale, nor do we forget. It had happened to me in 2009 in D.C., and three years later I armed myself properly, booked a flight and returned to settle the score.
In the course of this mission I fought mighty lions, returned to the scene of my disgrace and (well prepared and armed) I did battle, restored our reputation and came home with molten Riesling gold, snatched from the dragon's lair.
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.
You've had to wait unusually long since the last review, so we owe you something nice. How does a bottle of Germany's most underestimated grape variety sound? Silvaner, and our more regular readers are rolling their eyes heavenward at this point, is Germany's second great signature grape and it deserves to be more widely known as King Riesling's earthier, less capricious brother. Needless to say, we love it. As opposed to Riesling, Silvaner is almost always dry, and it comes in two broad stylistic types: Lighter, crisper, Kabinett-style bottlings, tasting of fresh green apples and summer lawns, and then the richer, creamier, earthier style from riper grapes that give you yellow apples, deep minerality and plush weight such as dry Riesling seldom has.
This offering by the Störrlein winery, consistently good among Franken's producers, falls into the second type:
Another wine from the Gutedel (=Chasselas) grape? Indeed. The more serious and objective international wine critics may point out that two wines from this rather pedestrian grape are already too much, when there is so much Riesling to talk about. But we talk about whatever we like here on the Wine Rambler, and I happen to have a soft spot for wines from the Markgräflerland, that pleasant stretch of wine country near Germany's southwestern border with Switzerland. I have another soft spot, incidentally, for the Ziereisen winery, that elite/anti-elite rogue/boutique family outfit that arguably makes Baden's most stylish wines, but that's another story.
And I've come to enjoy Gutedel quite a bit, why the hell not. So what are we looking at here?
Cheap Pinot Grigio, oaked Chardonnay and fruitbomb Sauvignon Blanc are the three banes of the popular white wine world. For my day job I regularly attend functions organised by public sector bodies who have next to no money for entertainment and, perhaps worse, no one who really cares about finding value, so I have had many an encounter with this unholy trinity. Luckily I know that all these grape varieties are capable of producing fantastic wines, although I have to admit that my relationship with Sauvignon Blanc never has been an easy one. Too often even the better wines have me on my knees begging for mercy after a broadside of pungent grassy aromas, gooseberry, intense vegetal flavours and intense blackcurrant.
On the other hand there are very nicely balanced examples too, and sometimes I just crave crisp, fruity intensity. The other day it was one of those moments and I turned to the German wine region of Franken (Franconia) to satisfy my urge.
Should I resist the tired cliché, should I raise above the overused joke? Even if I were that strong and even if I were not secretly in love with clichés I still could not do it in this case. Even my wine merchant felt powerless against the buying-wine-by-the-label joke: "We bought it despite the label!", was her excuse. I didn't have any: I bought it because of the label. Because of the name. And because that day I had set out with a desire to buy something different.
I trust that even after just a cursory glance at the Wine Rambler you will agree that I fulfilled that mission - but was it a success?
When we last heard of Martin Tesch, the brain behind the Tesch vinery of Germany's Nahe region, my fellow Wine Rambler Torsten reported on the young winemaker's gift for marketing and label design and, not least, his manic laugh. The bottle of 2010 dry Riesling from his St. Remigiusberg vineyard recently on this Rambler's kitchen table emitted no sound whatsoever, but the other qualities of its creator were very much in evidence:
With its mixture of the historical seriousness and visual overload associated with old-style German Riesling, the hint at family traditions in the stern look and the the sideburns of the Tesch ancestor who presides over it, and finally the memorable colouring of the screw cap, this is no doubt a very well-designed bottle of wine. Is it any good?
2012 is the year of Britishness. We had the long weekend of celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. We have the success of the London 2012 Olympics. And a public sphere proclaiming a rebirth of Britishness. British wine drinkers apparently felt the same: the Jubilee weekend meant record sales for British wine. All is good then, expect for the fact that I will now face a very stern talking to from about every representative of the wine industry in this country for calling their product British. It may be English, it may be Welsh, in the future it even may be Scottish - but don't you dare call it British.
This distinction is so important to the industry - and for good reason, as we will discover later - that the first ever English wine consumer class held at the WSET started with explaining it. More importantly perhaps it was a great introduction to English wine, and a necessary one as the quality of English wine will still come as a surprise to many a seasoned wine drinker, foreign or British.
Another Austrian wine on the Wine Rambler? Really? Can our national pride and the expectations of our Germanophile readership sustain this Austrian double whammy? They will have to, because the world needs to know about this, the best rosé I've had for months, no make that years, straight away. The way things are going, lives could be lost to summery languor otherwise.
Ever heard of Schilcher? You have now. Schilcher  is a regional speciality of Austria's Steiermark region. Rosés made exclusively from the indigenous Blauer Wildbacher grape, these wines are distinguished by prominent acidity and unusually intensive red and black berry fruit. They are never particularly subtle and they can be rustic to the point of rudeness, but they are rarely bland.
My love of German Riesling clearly has crossed the fine line that separates "famous" from "infamous": earlier this week a wine acquaintance on Twitter apologised to me for looking forward to having an Australian Riesling! To improve my image I decided there had to be a token non-German Riesling review on the Wine Rambler asap to hide that fact the deep down we do of course believe that the only good Riesling is a German Riesling.
So what better country to turn to than Austria, a country that like Germany has a range of confusing quality levels for wine, that features labels of a similar style and that, if it was not for the Austrian colours on the cap of every bottle, would on account of the language probably be mistaken for German by most international customers anyway. Selecting an Austrian Riesling will surely boost our post-nationalist credentials!
"The law made me do it!" is probably one of the excuses judges don't hear very often. If it comes to German wine, however, it may be more common than you think. The infamous German Wine Law, in combination with the regional wine establishment, is a very odd beast, so much so that you will find top producers who deliberately rate some of their top wines in a fairly low category as they don't quite meet inspectors' expectations. There are all sorts of complaints about the wine law of 1971, but it is still enforced with German precision. So much so that when winemakers wanted to print a new word on labels, "feinherb", they had to go to court as you cannot possibly print something on a label that has not been regulated beforehand.
Well, they succeeded and now we have a new, completely unregulated term in the precisely structured German wine classification: feinherb.
The principles of good customer service are the same in any industry, be it the wine trade - or media and cable services. Issues may and will arise, it is how you deal with them. Over the past four months, Virgin Media have failed me in an impressive way with regards to customer service. Whether sharing my story via this open email will make Virgin Media reconsider their approach I am not sure, but at least it should inform or, all else failing, entertain others.
Dear Virgin Media,
This is a lengthy email, but it also chronicles a lengthy story of bad service, broken promises and days of my time wasted by Virgin Media – all for nothing.
The short version starts with a ‘special’ deal to recognise me having been with Virgin for almost five years and ends after 7 visits of Virgin engineers, days wasted waiting, hours on the phone and broken promises – only to be finally told that my issue could not be addressed as Virgin Media is not capable of delivering clear TV quality anyway. Needless to say it also involves me paying money for this loyalty reward.
Frickenhausen-Linsenhofen - say that five times real fast? I would particularly encourage you to try this after you have had a few glasses of wine, for instance the old vines Silvaner pictured below. While you might have to disentangle your tongue afterwards I can at least assure you that it is otherwise perfectly save to say even in polite German company - unless perhaps the Germans are from a neighbouring village that has a long-standing feud with the Frickenhausen-Linsenhofeners.
Now, despite being born in the area my knowledge of local feuds and other details is scant, but I do know that Frickenhausen-Linsenhofen is home to one of Germany's highest vineyards. And it is here where Helmut Dolde makes a Silvaner from 50 year old vines ("Alte Reben").
After the epic ramble on which Torsten took you last time, along the sheer slopes of the Mosel valley and the bold challenges they afford the winemaker, it seems an uphill trek for me to interest you in a less dramatic setting for German Riesling. But I think I may have the region to do it, and the winemaker as well. The Place is the Ortenau, the Baden subregion made up by the last few hills of the Black Forest as it rolls gently down to the Rhine valley between Freiburg and Baden-Baden. A place of homely beauty, renowned for the richness of its cuisine and the temperateness of its climate, which is almost as sunny as Baden's Kaiserstuhl, but not quite as warm, with the cooler, pine-shaded Black Forest at its back. Riesling country.
The Winemaker: Alexander Laible, son of Andreas Laible, who has been for years, if not decades the uncontested number one among the winemakers of the Ortenau. Due to the enthusiastic press Alexander is getting, I have wanted to try one of his wines for some time, so I'll try not to lose too many introductory words now that the moment has arrived:
Wine is nothing without people. It is people who make wine. It is the company of the right people that makes for a great evening with wine. And it is people's stories that make for engaging wine writing. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting a man who not only makes excellent wine but who also talks about it in such an engaging way that there is only my writing to blame if you don't walk away from this article at least a little inspired.
I certainly left inspired after my encounter with Nik Weiss, the owner of the St. Urbans-Hof estate in the Mosel wine region of Germany. It made me think about the magic that happens when you fall in love with a piece of land and the produce you bring forth from it. It is a magic that over thousands of years has transformed the land but it also transforms the people who work it. This is a story about how the Mosel transformed a man and how he in turn set out to transform his part of the Mosel - and about a little magic that happened when I spent an evening with him and his Riesling.
If you're a regular follower of this blog (and you better had be) you know that there are several threads or agendas woven into it without much subtlety. One, doomed to failure, is the notion that we could get to understand Burgundy. Another, with better progress, is to bring the use of cheap puns in wine reviews to new lows. A third is that, both of us with roots in the German southwest, we are tirelessly working to see Swabia rise. Not so much rise to world dominance through thrift, Kehrwoche and the manufacture of car parts. That will happen inevitably, without our doing. No, we would see her rise in the world of wine also. And rise she will, as Germany's up-and-coming red wine region.
Quietly pruning their vines to this goal, plotting away, are people like those from the Zimmerle family winery of Württemberg's Remstal subregion, northeast of Stuttgart. Could their three-varietal red wine cuvée be another step forward in the quest?
Every hype brings with it the danger of disappointment. I mostly suffer from this with regards to movies (which is why I am staying away from reviews of "The Dark Knight Rises" until I have had a chance to see it), but the same can happen with wine. When it comes to the Saar Riesling from the Van Volxem estate hype was never needed to convince me to buy a few bottles every year as it has been consistently good, and also good value.
Even so I could not help notice the bold headlines that my wine merchant threw at me with this wine - headlines of high praise from respected wine critics for a Riesling that does not even follow the "single vineyard" paradigm. Because of the quality of the previous vintages I was confident it would be good, but would the hype spoil my enjoyment when I would not be quite blown away?