Franken

Along the River Main - Riesling and Silvaner with a particularly earthy touch

Zehnthof Luckert, Müller-Thurgau trocken, 2011

I want to believe. Not in UFOs, Armageddon or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but in wine - in all the lost causes, regions and plucky little grape varieties that no one trusted to ever produce anything of worth. I want to believe, to give them a chance, to celebrate their triumph over the expected. One grape variety that needs such a triumph is Müller-Thurgau. Looking at the statistics you would not believe it, after all MT is the second most planted grape variety in Germany.

However, no one loves it as it is seen as the boring main ingredient for German bulk wine, not even worthy to be mentioned on the label. Can we still believe in it?

Weingut Ruck, Iphöfer Julius-Echter-Berg, Silvaner GG, 2009

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.

Weingut Störrlein & Krenig, Randersacker Pfülben, Silvaner Spätlese trocken, 2008

You've had to wait unusually long since the last review, so we owe you something nice. How does a bottle of Germany's most underestimated grape variety sound? Silvaner, and our more regular readers are rolling their eyes heavenward at this point, is Germany's second great signature grape and it deserves to be more widely known as King Riesling's earthier, less capricious brother. Needless to say, we love it. As opposed to Riesling, Silvaner is almost always dry, and it comes in two broad stylistic types: Lighter, crisper, Kabinett-style bottlings, tasting of fresh green apples and summer lawns, and then the richer, creamier, earthier style from riper grapes that give you yellow apples, deep minerality and plush weight such as dry Riesling seldom has.

(Anti-)Oktoberfest still life with Silvaner

This offering by the Störrlein winery, consistently good among Franken's producers, falls into the second type:

Schmitt's Kinder, Randersacker Sonnenstuhl, Silvaner Kabinett trocken, 2010

"Oh my god, this looks so cheap." This is a common reaction I get when showing a "Bocksbeutel" bottle to British wine drinkers. What to me is the traditional bottle shape in the Franconian wine region of Germany reminds the UK of Mateus rosé, a mass produced, Portuguese wine brand invented in the 1940s. However, the Franconian bottles are much older than Mateus, in fact the bottle shape goes back to antiquity, and there is nothing unrespectable to it.

The same is true for the winery, although - like the bottle shape - it needs explaining. And don't worry, I won't forget about the wine either!

Zehnthof Luckert, Sulzfelder Cyriakusberg, Silvaner Kabinett trocken, 2010

Buying clothes and shoes is a difficult business. Even if you happen to know what you want and even if the market agrees that you should want it and offers it to you, there is no guarantee it will fit. I cannot remember how often I have tried trousers or shoes of the size I have bought for years and continued to buy for years after - and the bastards won't fit. Like the EU size 46 trainers that my 43-44 size feet would not even get into. Producers apparently like to interpret size in line with changing fashion. This of course does not fit my modernist brain that believes a size is a size and not a fashion statement. Wine bottles are different though - a 750ml bottle will pretty much always fit your wine rack. Unless it is a Franconian Bocksbeutel, of course.

Admittedly, this is not very practical (and I wonder if there are Bocksbeutel racks for the serious collectors of Franconian wine), but to me it is a satisfying change from the norm, and as you get what it says on the label it is also honest. Like a good Franconian Silvaner should be.

Weingut Ruck, Grauburgunder trocken, 2010

One day, I will invite other wine bloggers to contribute to an anthology of awkward introductions to simple wine reviews. The things that you ponder, and then reject, so as not to have to jump in with a straight "Here is a Franconian Pinot Gris that I had recently". One thing that struck me just now, while thinking of something new to write, was how often I, while recalling a tasting experience to put together a review, will sip on a completely different wine. Today, it's Dr. Heyden's very proper old vine-Silvaner from 2009. Then, I ruminated on the pun-producing potential of the Ruck winery's name, since it means something like "jolt" or "lurch" in German.

I thought of former German president Roman Herzog's 1997 speech in which he demanded "durch Deutschland muss ein Ruck gehen" ("A jolt needs to go through Germany"), of the strangeness of this image, and whether it could be put to some kind of humoristic use vis-a-vis the Ruck family of Iphofen, Franconia. But then name jokes are off limits in serious journalism, which led me to the question whether the Wine Rambler actually...

Weingut Trockene Schmitts, Randersackerer Marsberg, Scheurebe Kabinett trocken, 2010

You will be dismayed to hear it, but sometimes, we drink and enjoy a bottle of wine, but the review that is consequently due here at the Wine Rambler is moved a little down-schedule at first and later lost sight of. This is what happened to this bottle of a rather unusual German summer wine. I do feel a little guilty about it now that the leaves are already falling and - oh no, not so soon! - Oktoberfest has started here in Munich. But since it's much nicer to reminisce about summer days gone by and nice Scheurebe from Franken than to face the thought of the vomit-coated subway trains I may have to ride on in the coming two weeks, it is actually good to have kept this one for later.

So Scheurebe, Franken, winery with silly name - speak, notes:

Julian Saturday, 17/09/2011

Zehnthof Luckert, Sulzfelder Maustal, Blauer Silvaner, Kabinett trocken, 2008

We've reviewed wines from Zehnthof Luckert before, and have not so far been disappointed. Today, we turn to Blauer Silvaner, being a blue-skinned variety of Silvaner that is not, as Jancis Robinson's authoritative "Oxford Companion to Wine" proclaims, merely a speciality of Württemberg, but also found along the river Main in Franconia.

If the Luckert family wants to send a bottle of this to Jancis Robinson as proof of that, I suggest they go ahead, because they certainly need not be ashamed of it:

Zehnthof Luckert, Spätburgunder ***, 2006

The German tribe of the Franconians do appear to have been geographically misplaced by providence. Not only are they the Protestant outsiders in deeply Catholic Bavaria, they are also a winemaking tribe in a state known mostly for its beer. Perhaps this is why they aim to make up for it by being more distinctive, for instance with their oddly shaped Bocksbeutel wine bottles. Most winemakers use these as a proud statement of origin - not so the Luckert brothers.

Even some of their Franconian signature Silvaner wines ship in standard bottles, and the bottle of the top of the range Pinot Noir looks a little more Burgundian than Franconian - a stylistic message in a bottle shape?

Winzerhof Stahl, Müller-Thurgau Herrschaftsberg "Damaszenerstahl", 2009

What the **** is Müller-Thurgau, and is it ever any good, we asked, respectfully, last summer in our in-depth Müller-Thurgau coverage. We did manage to answer the question to our own satisfaction at the time, if maybe not to everybody's, and a young winemaker named Christian Stahl played no small part in that particular journey. Neither the grape nor the man therefore need much of an introduction to our readers.

Müller-Thurgau in front of <em>Bildungsbürgertum</em> background

But there is some unfinished business dating back to that investigation in the form of this bottle of single vineyard Müller-Thurgau. So let's waste no more time: