half-dry

These wines are half-dry, or 'halbtrocken' in German terminology, - either according to our palate or the classification of the winery.

Weingut Merkle, Ochsenbacher Liebenberg, Gewürztraminer mit Riesling "Weinhähnchen", 2010

It's a sad thing indeed when a wine lover is failed by a wine, but can a wine also be failed by its tasters sometimes? We had such a case on our hands at a recent Wine Rambler full committee meeting: You judge for yourselves whether we are being too hard on ourselves. While the dry wines that go with dinners at Wine Rambler Munich HQ are usually settled on beforehand, the dessert offering is, for some reason, usually selected spontaneously during the course of the evening after lively, alcohol-fuelled debate. This has led to some very fortunate choices, inspired by the moment, but sometimes, some prior planning would have been preferable.

When the name Merkle came up on the most recent of these occasions, I thought of the 2009 Riesling-Gewürztraminer cuvée I had tasted at the winery last year. I remembered Gewürztraminer lushness, coupled with the Merkles' typical herbal spiciness, and I remembered above all sweetness. Just the thing, and a change from the more usual Mosel Spätlese or Auslese. I should have realised that the 2010 I had in my cellar was as different from the previous vintage as can be:

Florian Weingart, Schloß Fürstenberg, Riesling Kabinett halbtrocken, 2010

Here's a fun fact of German wine geography: From the one region that most people would intuitively associate, as a landscape, with German Riesling, you will most likely never have tried one. The Mittelrhein region, the slopes of the Rhine valley from just south of Bonn, past Koblenz, to the mouth of the river Nahe in Bingen, is an iconic landscape of germanophile romanticism. It is strange to hear, then, that quality winemaking is actually having a hard time there, with potentially superb vineyards unworked and given over to scrubland, terraces in some disrepair, and only a handful of creditable producers holding on. Among those, some say foremost among them, the Weingart family. I have long wanted to place an order there, but only last summer got around to do it for the 2010 vintage.

In the shipment, this off-dry Kabinett. The utter classicism of the category within German Wine is nicely underscored here, I think, by the sylishly subdued label, and the old-school brown bottle. But this alone will not get the Wine Rambler to approve, so let's get to the more significant qualities:

Weinhof Herrenberg, Riesling 'Saartyr', 2008

If it isn't overly original of a German wine blog to bring you another Riesling review, then this one is at least as close to the heart of this whole enterprise as you're ever going to get. We bring you what is, despite our previous coverage, arguably the best unknown Riesling producer anywhere: Weinhof Herrenberg, the jewel of the river Saar. Please also note this outstanding micro-winery's fondness for bad puns. In Claudia and Manfred Loch, we salute two kindred souls.

And we duly salute this 2008 offering:

St. Urbans-Hof, Ockfener Bockstein, Riesling Kabinett, 2010

When touring the Mosel in 2008, we visited, amongst other places, a village called Leiwen. It was chosen for very practical reasons, as the wide and comfortable cycle paths along the river lead right past it, but more importantly for bacchanal reasons as it is the home of the St. Urbans-Hof winery. Small by New World standards, the 33ha vineyard area owned by the Weis family actually make the estate one of giants of the Mosel/Saar region and they include sections of several prestigious vineyards.

One of them is the Bockstein, near the village of Ockfen at the Saar river. There was no time to visit Ockfen in 2008, and until that can be remedied I will have to make due with enjoying the odd bottle of Ockfener Bockstein Riesling.

Steinbachhof, Ensinger Schanzreiter, Riesling ***, 2009

This little review revisits old Wine Rambler territory: Swabia's Stromberg region, last seen in the throes of a damaging freak frost in the spring of last year. This time, another winery, just one picturesque beech-forested ridge away. The Steinbachhof is an ancient estate created by the cistercian abbey of Maulbronn, then owned by the dukes, later kings of Württemberg, and now by two adventurous young people, Nanna and Ulrich Eißler, who supplement their income from wine growing by hosting wedding and business receptions in a beautifully refurbished old barn.

From a recent short visit, I brought a bottle of Riesling that, sadly, you won't be able to find outside of Germany, or Swabia for that matter, for any time soon:

Schlossgut Diel, Dorsheimer Goldloch, Riesling Kabinett, 2009

For stereotypical American or Japanese tourists who also love wine, a visit to Schlossgut Diel has to equal the feeling of a child realising it has been locked in an ice cream parlour for lunch break. After all we are not only talking about one of Germany's top wine estates, we are also talking about a "castle winery", as that is what "Schlossgut" translates to. Castle Layen, where the Diel family has been based since the Napoleonic wars, was built in the 11th century. The wines in the cellar are not quite as old, but rumour has it some go back to the early 20th century, so the both lovers of medieval towers and old wine should be very happy there.

Sadly, I have yet to visit Schlossgut Diel (preferably leading a raiding party), but at least I managed to get my hands on a few bottles of their Riesling - this Kabinett Riesling from the "gold hole" vineyard being one of them.

Willi Schaefer, Graacher Riesling feinherb, 2009

Willi Schaefer is one of the stars of the Mosel, so much so it seems that he and his son Christoph even in 2011 think they don't need a website so that people can find out about them. Well, they are on our radar anyway, but I am sure others would appreciate the chance to learn more about this small, family-owned estate in Graach. The wine you see in front of you is one of the basic offerings, a "feinherb" or "off-dry" Riesling that comes with a screw cap.

When I recently had two wine loving friends visiting, I pitted the Schaeffer against an off-dry Australian Riesling in another epic Wine Rambler blind tasting battle.

Delatite, Sylvia Riesling, 2008

"But it is a little sweet", was the warning when I expressed an interest in buying this Riesling - as if that had ever stopped a Wine Rambler! Quite the opposite, I was very exciting to find an off-dry Australian Riesling as I had never before tasted one. It also seemed to me it would be a great change to taste it blind against an off-dry German Riesling.

This made even more sense as the label told me that "This early picked Riesling is loosely based on the German "Kabinett" style." Well, bring it on Australia.

A. Pies Söhne, Bernkasteler Kurfürstlay Q.b.A., 1979

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?