Earlier this month, Bernhard Huber died. As the last few weeks have been very busy with work I am only now catching up with news from the wine world - and with news like this I almost wish I hadn't. While I have never met him in person I have appreciated his outstanding wines on more than one occasion, and I am only too aware of what he has done for the reputation of German wine, Pinot Noir in particular. Looking through my cellar, the only Huber wine left is a Müller-Thurgau, not quite the obvious choice, but it has to do for a toast to one of the greats of wine making.
Well made, good wines that we enjoyed and would recommend.
Sometimes it is about the simple pleasures. When I first got really excited about wine I was drawn to the more expensive, prestigious wines. The average price I paid per bottle started creeping up. Looking for something "unusual" for the Wine Rambler contributed to this trend. Over time though I got a little frustrated with this approach. After all, all these "special" bottles need "special" attention. They want to be carefully selected, properly photographed, precisely analysed and interestingly described. What happened to just enjoying a nice looking bottle with dinner without feeling the need to pay too much attention? This feeling led me to order more "drinking" and less "reviewing" wines, and recently I even managed to put an order in where the average price per bottle was below seven quid.
The wine you see above is one of these wines, although I put a little more effort into selecting it. After all tradition dictates that the first wine to be reviewed on the Wine Rambler each year does not come from Germany.
Is it too early to say that Italy, once haughtily ignored, is making a comeback on the Wine Rambler? In November, Torsten has had his eyes opened by a white from Trentino, and I, for my part, am more and more impressed with its northern neighbour, Alto Adige.
Now that everybody seems to concur that 2012 was over the roof on the banks of the Adige and the Isarco rivers, I have looked closer on reports of the last few vintages, and would you believe it, this has been going on for some time: Excellent on international varietals like Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, excellent on local growths like the reds Lagrein and Vernatsch.
So I've woken up to it: The Alto Adige has been stealthily creeping up on us. We can't have that, of course. So at the risk of blurring our core germanic focus, I will from time to time over the coming year report on what I have stocked up on.
Northwest of Stuttgart, there is a land of wooded hills and industrious little towns called the Stromberg. In the Stromberg, there is the tiny village of Schönenberg. In Schönenberg, there is an Inn called Lamm, the lamb. There, I've had some of the best, most unpretentious Swabian regional food of my life, and took away this bottle of home-produced Lemberger. Price tag: below 4 €.
At times, I am quietly envious of my fellow Wine Rambler, who recently won British citizenship. I sometimes think I was born into the wrong country, as I rather fancy I would make a passable Brit myself. Case in point: I get acutely embarrassed in situations that nobody else would find even mildly troubling. When strolling through the heart of Munich recently, I stepped into the Dallmayr wine department on an impulse to see if any exclusive and glamorous new discoveries were on display. Having looked around and seen what I had come in to see, it suddenly occurred to me that I could not possibly leave without buying something (that would have been embarrassing, you see, because the shop assistants would form all kinds of disadvantageous opinions about me). Dallmayr, on account of their general adventurous pricing and the kind of impulse shopper they cater for, is not the best place to have a fit like this. At least I was sane enough to not want to leave a lot of money, so, fighting a rising sense of completely self-induced panic, I was relieved to find this bottle from my very favourite German winery lying invitingly beneath a fine cover of dust. I already knew its story: 2006 had been so poor a vintage in Baden that Hans-Peter Ziereisen, quality-obsessed ruddy-cheeked devil that he is, did not want to bottle either his usual top-of-the-range Pinot Noir nor his varietal Syrah. His solution: Mix the Syrah with Pinot Noir to make a mid-range cuvée that would be interesting, but no more than it claimed to be.
Hence the completely unusual grape mix, hence the name, Zunderobsi being a lovely dialect term for "topsy turvy". This is classic Wine Rambler territory.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Saying that I am drinking more Italian wine these days would be almost cheating, at least in the case of today's specimen. After all, Riesling is hardly the grape variety that would make you think of olives, pasta and Mediterranean heat - and the Alto Adige region for some does seem to belong more to the German/Austrian wine world than to Italy. After all Italy's northernmost wine region used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and German is still spoken widely, as is also reflected in my wine labels.
So let's just say I am slowly working my way into the Italian wine world from the north through a multi-cultural sphere of many influences. Is it also a tasty one?