marvellous

Excellent wines that we would not only happily drink again but celebrate. You will find better wines, but not that many.

Wittmann, Weißer Burgunder "S", 2008

Every spring I look forward to the asparagus season. Leaving aside the fantastic Silvaner grape, Pinot Blanc is one of my favourite wines to be enjoyed with asparagus. It also happens to be one of my favourite white wines, and so I used the last couple of months to reduce my stock of Weißburgunder, as the Germans call it. Wittmann's 2008 Pinot Blanc has been sitting in my wardrobe for two years now, waiting for a special moment.

When a fantastic looking turbot and two handfuls of lovely English asparagus found their way into my kitchen, that special moment had come. I had fairly high hopes for this wine, as Wittmann's "S-Class" have never let me down, some of them turning out to be truly stunning.

Anita & Hans Nittnaus, Blaufränkisch Leithaberg, 2006

If the wine world were a fair place, I would not have to draw your attention to what should by rights be an iconic bottle of Austrian red wine. But I'm happy to: Anita and Hans Nittnaus are founding members of the Pannobile group of wine growers - the name is a combination of "Pannonia" (the historical and geographical name of the east Austrian and Hungarian plain) and the Latin word for "noble". When Austria was first working her way out of the hole it had dug herself with the infamous 1985 adulterated wine scandal with a whole new generation of wines, Hans Nittnaus's reds were hailed as revelations. Then, since the late 1990s, they were increasingly eclipsed by bolder, bigger, heavier-hitting bottles.

This gave him some pause, naturally, and eventually made him adjust his style. Not, however, and to his everlasting credit, in the direction that the wind seemed to be blowing, towards more oak that is, more concentration, and all the latest blinking cellar technology. Instead, Nittnaus went back to the future, towards purity of fruit, drinkability and precise varietal character. A case in point - the 2006 Leithaberg:

Künstler, Hochheimer Hölle, Riesling Erstes Gewächs, 2007

Abroad Germany is mostly know for its delicious sweeter Riesling, but at home it is the top dry Rieslings that get most media attention. They are labelled as "Großes Gewächs" (great growth) or, in the Rheingau, as "Erstes Gewächs" (first growth), at least for the wineries that are members of the growers associations that created these classifications. Quality standards are relatively strict and include low yields, selective harvesting by hand and using only grapes from individual, certified top vineyards.

The price for these grand cru wines is constantly going up, so if you find one from a top producer such as Künstler for less than 20 Euro it is lucky times.

Bodegas Mauro, Vendimia Seleccionada, 2000

I have been a fan of the Mauro wines since my dad casually handed me a bottle several years ago, remarking that I may like this. Well, he was right. Every other year since I had one of those Spanish beauties, and the most recent one we enjoyed at a Wine Rambler meeting in Munich.

Our regular readers may have noticed that Julian is more likely than me to go for the more substantial red wines, but the beautiful and deep Tempranillos from Mauro are just too pleasing to ignore.

Jos. Christoffel Jr., Ürziger Würzgarten, Riesling Spätlese, 1993

The Mosel, Germany's best known wine region, hosts many styles of Riesling winemaking: There are the modernists, there are the traditionalists, there are the ultra-traditionalist. And then, there is Jos. Christoffel Jun. The winery's website nicely underscores their brand of conservatism, in that there isn't one. If you want to get your hands on any of the older vintages (back into the 80s, rumour has it) they still have on offer, get your ass down to the Mosel. Or else get lucky on eBay, like your undeservedly fortunate correspondent. For about 12 €, shipment included, I got this Spätlese from the year Frank Zappa died.

Kirchmayr, Riesling, 'Solist', 1992

Last autumn I drank my first Kirchmayr wine. It was a 16 year old Grüner Veltliner, and I was very impressed. Beautiful bottle design, marvellous bouquet and a wine that was focussed, sharp and sophisticated - yet not aged, not even old. It was pure joy. Kirchmayr have a whole range of wines - "Solist" - specifically made to age well and only to be released to market after years of maturing. So I had to get a bottle of Riesling to find out if it would be as good as the Grüner.

When I reviewed the Grüner, I took an excessive amount of photos of the bottle (same beautiful design for both varietals), so please take a look at that post, also for some background on the winery. But now to the Riesling.

Reinhold Haart, Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, Riesling Spätlese Goldkapsel, 2006

Piesport is a lovely village in the German Mosel Valley. Because of the peculiarities of the German wine law, the name can show up on the labels of very cheap wines from somewhere in the area (Piesporter Michelsberg), or it can be on first class Riesling from some of the Mosel's best vineyards. After having recently indulged myself in the delights of the supermarket wine version, it is now time to revisit the outstanding Goldtröpfchen vineyard version.

"Goldtröpfchen" means little drop of gold, and the Rieslings made by Theo Haart and family in Piesport can indeed be described as such. Today's Haart Riesling even comes with a gold capsule ("Goldkapsel"), indicating that the Haarts were particularly pleased with the quality of what went into this bottle.

Weingut Seehof, Westhofener Morstein, Scheurebe Beerenauslese Goldkapsel, 2007

In the early 20th century the Germans embarked on a mission to create a genetically modified race of - no, not über-soldiers, but grape varieties. They were also not so much genetically modified as traditionally cross-bred, but the idea was to create varieties that could handle bad weather better, were robuster or addressed some other actual or perceived flaws in existing varieties. Scheurebe ("Scheu's vine") was created in 1916 and was for a long time thought to be a cross between Silvaner and Riesling, but has only recently been revealed to be a cross between Riesling and a wild vine.

Aromatic and with some similarities to Riesling, Scheurebe is often used to create complex sweet wines, and - while not exactly grown on large scale - is increasingly popular with some of Germany's top winemakers.

Störrlein, Randersacker Sonnenstuhl, Silvaner trocken Großes Gewächs, 2007

Silvaner again? Yes, we're keeping up our coverage. In fact, we mean to grind down any resistance against Germany's second great white grape with the sheer relentlessness of our Silvaner campaign. Great growth Silvaners from lesser known wineries in Franken are arguably some of the best value anywhere in white wine, and we won't stop until every major wine outlet in the english-speaking world carries at least one. Are we not confusing our own partial predilection with an educational mission, you ask, or else: What's in it for me? The two-word answer to this: Food friendliness.

Franconian still life with Silvaner

Following up on this month's risotto suggestion, another classic Silvaner pairing is freshwater fish. Franconians love their regional staple, carp, but since that is a little, shall we say, nutritious for most people, we stuck to the more consensual trout.

Weingut Bercher, Burkheimer Feuerberg, Weißburgunder Großes Gewächs, 2007

It's been a while since we last talked Pinot Blanc. So gather round me, friends: Pinot Blancs's reputation is generally lacklustre. In Burgundy, it's rather like Stephen Baldwin to Chardonnay's Alec - the younger brother who doesn't quite have the talent and will always be outshone. Mostly though, it is because international drinkers get their Pinot Blanc bearings from Alsace and Northern Italy, where results are often very drinkable, but ultimately rather bland, that Pinot Blanc is still underrated. In Germany, though, where it makes for about 3.5% of vines planted, it can be granted great growth status when grown in the best vineyards, and can indeed turn out distinctive and quite majestic wines. When we last checked in with one of the country's very best Pinot Blanc producers, the Bercher family of Baden's Kaiserstuhl subregion, we were confronted with rather too majestic a specimen: The 2004 great growth dry Spätlese. Impressive for its power, but pulled out of balance by high alcohol content, was our verdict back then.

Well, I'm most happy to report back to you on a younger version of the same wine: