Weingut Ziereisen, Syrah "Gestad", 2008

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.

Speak, barrel sample - an afternoon with Dallmayr's winemaking elite (Part one)

Two years ago, I reminisced about student days and staircases. Last year, I got all corduroy trousers and turtleneck sweater about the term "elite". Somewhat disappointingly, this has not stopped Dallmayr, the renowned Munich delicatessen store, from again using the name Winzerelite (wine making elite) for their annual spring tasting of German and Austrian estates. Clearly, we needed to try another tack with Dallmayr, who this year actually invited us to attend as - imaging our proudly beaming faces - press. From a friendly chat with Dallmayr's public relations guy, we gathered that they were happy to have bloggers spread the word, but not yet sure how to understand their reach compared to print journalism. Not a scepticism that you often hear in the English-speaking wine world these days, but we were happy to rise to the occasion: a new journalistic approach was clearly called for here.

pouring forth

We decided not to come along with a preconceived set of questions but to actually let the winemakers steer the conversation. We asked the men and women manning the stalls to pour us just one wine, their most important one. That should not have to be the most expensive one, nor necessarily the best, we insisted, but simply the one most worth talking about. And then we tasted, and we listened.

Koehler-Ruprecht, Weißer Burgunder, Kabinett trocken, 2011

It does not always have to be Mosel. Nor does it always have to be Riesling. Well, there would be worse things in the world than to be limited to Mosel Riesling, but thankfully no demonic power has so far decided to make me choose between German wine growing regions. If that ever were to happen one of the other contenders would have to be the Pfalz. The Palatinate, as some of you may know it, is as large as it is diverse: amongst king Riesling and a range of other white grapes we see more and more exciting reds coming from the region west of Mannheim.

Like this Pinot Blanc most of the wines are dry. The Weißburgunder, as the Germans call it, comes from Koehler-Ruprecht, one of the renowned Pfalz estates. And damn is it drinkable!

Apostelhoeve, Louwberg Maastricht, Auxerrois 2010

Considering how well regarded it is Pinot is a fickle, confusing and rather unstable friend. With that statement I don't mean the wine but rather the grape - you stop watching it closely for just a second and, woosh!, does it mutate into something else. It can be so deceiving it will even confuse you when the mutation is over and it has become something else. Take the white Auxerois variety for instance that descends from Pinot: the first South African Chardonnay cuttings were actually Auxerois and when you think you drink an Alsace Pinot Blanc you could be fooled by 100% Auxerois.

The wine you are looking at here is more straightforward in that, as far as we know, it really is made from Auxerois - but with a twist still as it comes from the Netherlands, a wine region with so small a production that even many Dutch have not yet sampled its wine.

Max Ferd. Richter, Mülheimer Sonnenlay, Riesling "Zeppelin", 2011

Following last week's review of a kick-ass aged Mosel Riesling it seems only fair to follow up with an exploration of a much younger Mosel wine's ass-kicking abilities. Today's hero may just be a baby in comparison but it comes with a good family history and a coup de grâce delivered by one of the grand masters of ass-kicking, Dr Indiana Jones. Most importantly it comes with an airship (not included in the price sadly): "the wine most often drunk during the flights of the 'Graf Zeppelin' (airship)", as the label proudly claims in German.

Martin Müllen, Kröver Steffensberg, Riesling Kabinett trocken, 1996

Old wines are desirable, sophisticated and expensive - that at least is the general perception. Sadly this is usually not true as most wines don't age very well at all - just try the supermarket Chardonnay forgotten for five years in your cupboard to see why. However, and even more sadly perhaps, it tends to be true that desirable and sophisticated aged wines are expensive. Or are they?

How about I tell you that just a few weeks ago I bought the bottle belonging to the cork above for less than ten Euros - about half a Euro per year of age.

It's Only Natural: Impressions from the Real Wine Fair 2013

Natural wine is "in", no doubt. It fits the Zeitgeist of minimal intervention, non-industrial, organic, "honest" produce that is increasingly sought after by consumers. And yet there is also confusion. When I announced I was going to a natural wine fair I received lots of blank stares and the odd question of "you mean organic and stuff?" or "as opposed to unnatural wine?". That confusion partly comes from the fact that there is no generally accepted, legally binding definition so any wine can be marketed as "natural"; personally I also find some proponents of the movement a little overzealous. On the other hand I value sustainable winemaking and seek out artisan wines for individuality and character.

focus on natural wine
focus on natural wine
In short, I am both tempted and confused by natural wine, so last month's Real Wine Fair was a timely chance to explore the field and question my attitude. Or, to get into the musical theme of this post, "It's only natural / That I should want to / Be there with you."

Weingut Friedhelm Rinklin, Eichstettener Herrenbuck, Grauburgunder Kabinett trocken, 2011

I was in Freiburg recently for the wonderful occasion of the baptism of my niece. During the church service, the vicar who celebrated it at some point asked the congregation to join him in a prayer of interecession for the responsible production of healthy and sustainable food. Nothing wrong with that (I fervently joined in that prayer), but surely typical of that corner of the country, as it boasts the oldest organic food producers, highest density of organic anything stores and highest level of general relaxed left-liberal getting-it-right-iness in all of Germany. Small wonder that organic winemaking in the Kaiserstuhl sub-region of Baden, just an hour's bicycle ride away from Freiburg, also has deeper roots than elsewhere and is often into its second or even third generation.

Friedhelm Rinklin, a card-carrying founding member of the organic wine movement in Germany, also has basically done this forever. As early as 1955 already, his father had made the switch to biodynamic winemaking. I imagine that his son looks at those who discover organic wine growing just now with nothing but an ever so slightly raised eyebrow. Does his basic-range, very reasonably prices Pinot Gris exude the same wisdom and experience?

Gusbourne, Blanc de Blancs, 2007

It's so annoying not to be able to call it Champagne, when it is Champagne. This statement about English sparkling wine comes from the Crown's "resident wine expert", the Duchess of Cornwall. It highlights a sparkling rivalry between England and France where the Frenchmen have law and reputation on their side: no matter whether you make sparkling wine in the same way (Méthode Champenoise) and to the same quality only fizz from the Champagne region may bear that prestigious name. The plucky Brits have no chance winning this battle but they do at least have a battle cry: the Méthode Champenoise actually is an English method.

Méthode Anglaise

The banner under which this battle cry is made is that of the three geese of Gusbourne, and it came to me on a bottle of fantastic sparkling wine.

Knipser, Riesling Spätlese trocken, "Kalkmergel", 2009

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.