no other place

Wine is about a sense of place. Or should be. Join us in exploring wine regions largely unknown outside of Germany, wines that can - or are - only made in one place or grape varieties that are almost forgotten.

Provins Valais, Humagne Blanche, "Collection Chandra Kurt", 2009

How do you start the year on a wine blog mostly dedicated to German wine? Writing about German wine, of course, I hear you say. This would seem like the sensible thing to do, and yet today we are not sensible and look for Switzerland instead. For some, at least the German speaking part of Switzerland is more German than Germany itself (but please don't let any Swiss hear this), yet the wine I am writing about today is a truly Swiss thing.

Made by the Swiss and in Switzerland of course, this explosion of herbal aromas and flavours is vinified of Humagne Blanche grapes, an old indigenous variety that now is a rarity even in Switzerland.

Staatsweingut Meersburg, Meersburger Chorherrnhalde, Chardonnay ***, 2008

Said Mr. Munich Wine Rambler to a bottle of Lake Constance Chardonnay: "There's nuthin' in this town 's been a surprise, 'cept for you". Oh no, wait, that wasn't me, that was Kevin Costner, the romantic free-grazing, sharp-shooting cowboy in "Open Range", to Annette Bening. But that was exactly my sentiment when I took the first sniff of this 08 offering, my last bottle (for the time being) from the Staatsweingut Meersburg.

After a long, joyless day, any glass of wine would have cheered me up, and I wasn't expecting anything special, really. A white that would work with the nice pumpkin soup set before me, not too acidic, not too thin, with some smooth buttery notes (yes, it had indeed been that kind of day). But as it happens, this eloquent, outstandingly matured Chardonnay surprised and charmed me far beyond my modest designs:

Knipser, Gelber Orleans trocken, 2008

Oh no, the Wine Rambler does yet-another-of-those-obscure-German-grape-varieties, I hear you say? And the answer is, you bet! This one is very obscure indeed - now that is. In the 19th century "Orleans" was reasonably popular in Germany (where its history goes back to the 12th century), but eventually this very late ripening variety was superseded by Riesling and pretty much forgotten. So much so, that it had to be recultivated in the 1980s and there are only a few producers who grow Orleans now, and in tiny quantities.

The leader of the pack appears to be the Knipser family from the Pfalz who produce both substantial Orleans in (dry) Auslese quality and lighter ones like this one. I opened the "trocken" (dry) Orleans for wine-loving English friends who had not even heard of Orleans before.

Green and pleasant land - A Trollinger tasting and one Wine Rambler's swabian epiphany

If Swabia were a nation, it would as of now be the world's only nation ruled by an environmentalist green prime minister. And it would have a national grape. And that grape's name would be Trollinger. Trollinger, known also as Vernatsch in the Alto Adige region of northern Italy, a grape that Jancis Robinson's authoritative Oxford Companion to Wine classifies as "distinctly ordinary". Not many outside of Württemberg deny that this is so.

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:

After the frost - the trials and triumphs of a Württemberg winery

One Saturday in early may, the regular 08.50 to Ochsenbach left Sachsenheim Station after having waited for the regional train from Stuttgart. The contents of that bus as it wound its way through what in a larger town one would call the outskirts, on to Hohenhaslach, past Spielberg and through increasingly picturesque beech forests, half-timbered villages and sun-streaked fields of flowers: 17 chatty, hiking-gear-attired senior citizens off to a walking tour, one insufferably precocious 13 year old boy giving a lecture on the importance of sunscreen to nobody in particular, and one Wine Rambler from Munich.

I had begun the ride somewhat under the weather due to an impossibly early start, but as we got under way, a feeling of deep provincial calm was beginning to settle over me. I was going for a strolling visit of a recultivated historical vineyard all by myself, and then the tasting room of the winery that made this happen. Shuffling into a more comfortable position in my Swabian-made bus seat, I was loving this already. Little did I expect to also learn the lesson that not all in wine making is sunlight and prosperity.

Staatsweingut Meersburg, Hohentwieler Olgaberg, Weißer Burgunder 2009

Those of you who have ever followed up on our coverage under the no other place-tag know that we have a special thing for out-of-the-way wine growing regions. But that doesn't mean that we want people to judge these wines more benevolently because of the originality or their provenance, nor do we. What we want is emphatically both regionalism *and* quality in wine.

Weingut Darting, Huxelrebe Beerenauslese, Forster Schnepfenflug, 2003

It may sound otherwise, but Huxelrebe is neither a reason to shout "Gesundheit" nor an infectious disease. Instead, it is one of the grape cross-breeds created in Germany in the 1920s, and like many of those it is now mostly grown in Germany and England. Huxelrebe is a very high yielding variety that easily reaches high sugar levels, but it can produce high quality wines if yields are reduced.

You will find dry Huxelrebe ("Rebe" means "vine"), but mostly they are sweet dessert wines, like this one from the Pfalz.

Kalkbödele, Merdinger Bühl, Pinot Gris, 2008

Straw-coloured, with a nose of ripe pears, candied fruit and beeswax, this wine is dominated by the tension between the oak flavours on the one hand and the very robust acidity on the other.

The focus of the fruit seems to get lost a bit between the two, resulting in a somewhat muddied palate and a slightly awkward kind of complexity. Still, a very decent and somewhat original white.

One hill, one grape, two styles - two Tuniberg Pinot Gris

A while ago, I attended one of the commercial wine fairs that hit downtown Munich a couple of times a year. Like the times before, the elitist in me wasn't sure if it would be worth the time, because, to be completely honest, there are many second- and third-rank producers at these gatherings. In the end though, that is precisely why I eventually did go and had a look around. What is going on among the rank-and-file wineries is, I find, more indicative of the wider trends and directions the wine world is taking than the elite estates, who are in a league of their own anyway and always march to their own beat to some extent.

While braving the dense throngs of tasters - these events are notoriously busy - , browsing the winery leaflets and tasting the odd glass, I chanced upon the Kalkbödele winery of Baden's Tuniberg region, and was persuaded to try both their Grauburgunder and their Pinot Gris. Yes, that's right, two versions of the same grape. The naming, I was informed, indeed indicates the two different styles that they were aiming for. What was going on here?