Every other season I assemble a group of wine loving friends at the Wine Rambler London HQ. The mission is simple: drink some wine and have fun. As that might seem too frivolous in the current times of austerity a little work is also required of my guests - and that is to share their impressions of the wines. For the autumn tasting in November these impressions ranged from 'body shop mandarin lotion' and 'broccoli' to 'tennis balls' and 'cold custard'.
As is the law at Wine Rambler seasonal tastings, all wines have to be tasted blind. This avoids bias and, most importantly, makes it more fun and adventurous. As my wardrobe is mostly stocked with German and some Austrian wines this is what my guests have learned to expect, but I always aim to have at least one surprise in store for them...
First up was a rosé - that much we all agreed upon. Bethan kicked the tasting off by stating the wine smelled of tennis balls, but soon the others added rubber and cold custard to the mix. Don't fear though, it was all good because our noses were also entertained by earthy mineral (almost smoky), nut flavoured, herbal red berry aromas and a flavoursome toastiness.
On the tongue we found the wine to be a little different from the sweeter rosés from the supermarkets. Sure, it was a little floral with juicy fruit, but it also had a good mix of fresh acidity, fine tannins and mineral, all ending in a good finish with spicy, herbal, oaky and mineral notes.
This is a more serious style of rosé, but polished enough to be easy to drink. Pleasing, but not so much a crowd pleaser: a 2008 Spätburgunder Weißherbst from the Salwey estate from Baden, a single vineyard Pinot Noir.
The second wine was a mystery wine my friend Steve had contributed. The colour a straw yellow, the nose almost neutral in its chalkiness. After a while the wine opened up though, exposing us to a fresh and crisp nose whose chalkiness was enhanced by aniseed, sweets, unripe banana, toasted almonds and mushroom. There was an interesting contrast between a certain sharpness and a fruity creaminess, the latter described by one of the judges as 'body shop mandarin hand lotion as opposed to fresh mandarin'. Still not exactly an exuberant nose, but not unpleasant.
On the tongue a crisp wine dominated by chalk and mineral with some fruit (lime and grapefruit) and a crisp, fresh finish. A nicely balanced wine that needs a little time but makes for a pleasant though not mind-blowing entertainer. Where it came from we had no idea though.
Eventually the mystery was revealed and we learned that we had tasted a young Italian wine made from the Greco Bianco grape, a variety of Greek origin that the people in Campania use for their Greco di Tufo wine.
Then came the third wine. Only moments after uncorking the bottle I knew that we had winner. The bouquet screamed fruit, fruit in many varieties in fact - dried fruit, caramelised fruit, exotic fruit (papaya and co), also candyfloss and, most importantly, a good dosage of dusty mineral.
The palate too featured lots of fruit, mostly ripe, exotic fruit, but also steely mineral and a lively, apple-y acidity. Despite all this fruit the wine had a surprisingly dry finish dominated by crisp mineral. A vibrant, lively wine with great balance that was rightly described as 'very morish' by the panel.
Like the Italian, this was a 2009 wine, but from Germany - Van Volxem's Saar Riesling. Fantastic value too!
Eventually, it was time for a red - and what a wine: dark, dense, intense red colour. So intense that one of my drinking companions called it 'dark matter'. Intense is also a good way to describe the bouquet: old leather boots, dark berries and spice mix up nicely with dusty, smoky aromas and notes of buttery, autumnal mushrooms and cocoa. 'Drunk in my nose' is how Steve, a lover of substantial reds, described the bouquet.
On the tongue substantial with power power and lots of fruit. However, it is also smooth, with soft tannins and refreshing acidity plus a tasty nougat-peppery finish to balance things. Not too heavy on the tongue, it still has enough substance to seriously appeal to the friend of heavy reds - who may not expect such a wine to come from Germany. But it did. From the Pfalz, where Philipp Kuhn makes a range of red wines that I'd highly recommend.
Cool mineral, herbs and peach - that would be a good way to describe the last wine of the night, as long as we also mention tropical fruit, citrus and aromas of rubber balls and a faint hint of vegetable, identified as broccoli by Bethan. On the tongue we found a sweet and juicy wine that featured well defined fruit (most notably peach and juicy melon), elegant acidity and some substance. The wine's smoothness made it run down our throats quite easily, spreading sweet mineral all around in a good finish.
If you haven't guessed it already, this was a Mosel Riesling, a 2008 Auslese from the Reinhold Haart estate in fact.
Eventually, all the wine was drunk and my friends ventured out into the cold November night. Had my guests not come to expect unusual German red wines from me, the Merlot would have caused quite some surprise - so it just was cause for joyful drinking. It could have been the star of the evening, had the Van Volxem Riesling not stolen the show completely - it was so well balanced and instantly likeable that we all fell in love with it.
The Haart Riesling is different in style and I think it may need a few more years before it really shines - already very good though. Steve's Greco di Tufo was a little unlucky to be sandwiched between an aromatic rosé and a Riesling with such an awesome bouquet. I was seriously surprised how long it took the wine to open up - maybe not serve it too cold. Steve did not like the rosé very much, but that is because he looks down on rosés on principle, as neither here nor there wines. If you can accept that tension, the lightly oaked Salwey style certainly has something going for it and is also food friendly.
Clearly though, if you trust our four palates, go and get some Van Volxem Saar Riesling!