Drinking wine is expectation management. It is many other things too, and I would hope on most occasions the expectation management is invisible, but sometimes it can become centre stage when writing a wine review. If your expectations are low but the wine delivers, is there a risk you praise it too much? And if your expectations are very high, will you be led to write a review that compares the wine with your expectations instead of looking at it on its own merit? The above-pictured late harvest from the Mosel tributary Ruwer falls into one of these two categories for me, so approach with care.
free (a gift)
These wines were given to the Wine Rambler as a gift or brought along to a tasting, and we have no idea what they cost.
What you are looking at is nothing less than the best Chardonnay ever made in Germany. Well, sort of. First of all the photo below only shows Chardonnay grapes and not the bottled "R" as, despite following best practice in digital preservation, our shots of the "R" had an unfortunate encounter with oblivion. Secondly, I have no idea whether Bernhard Huber's 2009 Chardonnay really is the best German Chardonnay ever bottled - but when we heard that the respectable wine guide Wein Plus had made that claim it was time to investigate.
So, ladies and gentlemen, come join us for another mission in our never-ending quest to do our journalistic duty.
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.
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.
Can a glass of wine stop the work in its tracks? Okay, the millennium bug did non destroy the world in intercontinentally ballistic style in 2000, the great cosmic whatever that the Mayan calender predicted for 2012 appears to be off-schedule so far. The world's foundations had just started to look a lot less shakeable. But now this: A sparkler? From Haart? I should explain, maybe, that the very fine Haart family winery is my Co-Rambler Torsten's favourite Mosel winery, and has been featured here more times than any other. With their vibrant Kabinetts. With their supremely balanced Spätlesen. With their lip-smacking Auslesen. But never with a sparkler. Because there hasn't been one in our living memory.
But there it was, not to be denied or explained away. There it stood, a classy bottle, and a bit too heavy to be just a figment of some Rambler's unhinged imagination (but then, who would imagine such a thing, a Haart sparkler?).
Christmas has come early at the Wine Rambler. No, we haven't changed the calendar and yes I know it is almost Christmas anyway, so this line is less effective than it might have been in July. However, the wines I had recently have been so good there can be no doubt that 'tis the season to be jolly. Exciting sparkling Riesling followed by aged Nectar harmony Muscat and now what may very well have been the most accomplished dry white wine I have had this year.
A first rate Silvaner, the exciting and under-rated German grape variety we have been shouting about for a few years now - and it even comes in the traditional Franconian "Bocksbeutel" bottle.
Dutch wine - I bet you didn't see that one coming. To be fair, neither did we. And yet here it is, and it is not just any Nederlandse Wijn, it is a wine made from Riesling grapes grown near the Dutch city of Maastricht. The existence of Dutch Riesling is the latest and perhaps most groundbreaking in a range of shocking revelations uncovered by the Wine Rambler's uncompromising investigative journalism. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is true. There is world class German red wine. There is English still wine and it is even drinkable. And yes, there is Dutch wine too.
Is it drinkable though? The Wine Rambler dares another, potentially fatal self-experiment.
Winemaking in Namibia is such a small business, you can actually count the families involved in it on one hand. Wait, did the Wine Rambler just say "Namibia"? Yes, he did. What you see in front of you is a wine from a country you will perhaps just associate with arid Africa, whereas historians and Germans amongst you may be reminded of the German colony "Deutsch-Südwestafrika" (German South West Africa). There is a reason I mention this, as it were German priests who brought vines to Namibia, and the people behind Kristall Kellerei, who, indirectly, brought this wine to me, also seem to have German roots.
The Colombard from Omaruru in Namibia undertook a long journey on its way to my dinner table, and there is a story (and another wine) to be covered another time. The question for today is rather simple: is a wine made from a grape variety often described as boring and coming from an arid, hot African country actually worth drinking?
Grower's cooperatives, in all fairness, are not the category of wine producers that one would look to for outstanding quality or individuality - neither in Germany nor anywhere else. In a way, though, they are more interesting in judging vintages and wine growing regions, because they tend to have somewhat more mixed grape material to work with, and usually cannot organize and motivate everybody to work extra hard and select more thoroughly to make up for weaker vintages, like individual wineries sometimes can. This makes winemaking technology more prominent - not something we wine snobs want to see as such, don't get me wrong, but looking for ever more characterful and expressively "natural" wines, you can loose track of the state of what the rest of us get to drink, other than resorting to supermarket brands. A bit like missing the fact that the chinese takeaway in your street has got much better under the new proprietor because you only ever eat at Gordon Ramsay's - if this clumsy analogy makes any sense.
Anyway, I wasn't thinking anything nearly as coherent when friends from - wait for it - Esslingen presented me with this bottle of cooperatively made, multi-varietal white. It was more along the lines of "Bottle o' swabian wine. Yummy".
This wine is one of two bottles that found their way to me under somewhat mysterious circumstances. As I have covered this elsewhere, let's for the moment focus more on the "what" than on the "how". And that in itself makes for an interesting case. As is common knowledge (even among non-wine drinkers) wine ages. Now, for most wines that just means a constant progression to a state of vinegar. Some will age for a few years without problem, but only a few do improve with ageing. And even among those thirty years is a respectable age.
It would be even more respectable for a wine that back in the day cannot have been very expensive and may very well have been relatively cheap, mass-produced as this blend of unspecified grape varieties from the Mosel. Is it actually still drinkable?