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.
These are wines given to us by a friend, so most likely these were gifts or people brought them along to a tasting.
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?
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?
Liebfraumilch does not need much introduction, seeing as it is probably the wine most foreigners, certainly the British, associate with Germany. What hundred years ago was one of the best white wines in the world has since become cheap supermarket plonk. Hardly a reason to look out for those wines then, I hear you say - and yet I got extremely excited when a little while ago I got my hands on a bottle. Why? Because it was over 25 years old.
At this age, most wines are undrinkable, and even quite a few age-worthy white wines don't look exactly fresh anymore. Surely, the Liebfraumilch must have turned into vinegar. Or did it?
It has been a while since we reviewed an Italian wine, but how can the Wine Rambler resist if a bottle almost magically materialises in front of him? This one was brought all the way from Italy by my friend Steve, who contributed it to a blind tasting I hosted a little while ago at the London headquarters of the Wine Rambler. As far as I can remember this is my first encounter with the Greco Bianco grape, a variety of Greek origin that the people in Campania use for making the Greco di Tufo wine. So let's be Italian for a moment.