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. What it makes for, so received wisdom has it, are pale reds with harmless light strawberry aromatics and hints of almonds at best, and a thin, metallic, boiled mash of berries if you're not so lucky.
The Swabians, however, will have none of it, and stubbornly and inexplicably stand by their grape, downing Trollinger as if it had the proverbial cure inside. It weren't so bad if this was a bread-and-butter grape like Müller-Thurgau, unexciting, but at least easy to grow and reliable even on vineyards with less than ideal soil, climate and slope. But it is very much a diva among varieties and needs ideal conditions to fully ripen, effectively making every acre of it an acre lost for Riesling or Pinot Noir. So to see for myself if this is just a lesson in sociology or collective psychology (for which read provincialism, parochialism and auto-suggestion), I decided to taste three Trollingers that had received good press.
Is there something about those wines that a sceptical Rambler could learn to enjoy, appreciate, even love? Could there be a secret to them, an an enchanting, unexpected side, a glimpse onto some taste experience accessible only to loyalists, lovers and native sons? To explain what kind of experience I have in mind, this Wine Rambler being a native of sorts of those parts, here's a true story. Bear with me, kind reader. It so happened that I was travelling by car from Munich to a destination north of Stuttgart on a family assignment. To do that, you have to cross the Swabian Jura, a range of hills, or rather a high plateau that climbs imperceptibly from the south, but falls in a steep precipice down to the Neckar valley in the north. It is also famously cold, inhospitable and often foggy. So it was that day. With poor visibility, the road slippery, and my driving skills being basic at best, it was a nervous crawl over the winding motorway. For a while, I was unable to make out much of the landscape, nor to tell how far I had already come down the slope.
But just as - I'm not making this up - the regional radio station I had on played the old Dire Straits classic "Brothers in Arms"
These mist-covered mountains are a home now for me But my home is the lowlands and always will be,
I had finally descended far enough for the fog to dissolve and the sun to break through. Suddenly, the green and industrious Württemberg lowlands stretched gloriously below me. Memory may play tricks on me here, but it seemed to me that I could see every single Mercedes Benz from Nürtingen to Stuttgart gleaming in the sun. Entranced, I became lost in a vision of what Richard Thompson calls "a life of small horizons". In a kind of out-of body experience, I could see myself open a few extra savings accounts, buy a house with a neat little front garden, polish my car, sweep the side-walk on Saturdays, and vote conservative (or green, for that matter) for the rest of my life. It was so strangely attractive a reverie that I was only jolted out of it by the honk of a very real Mercedes Benz, its headlights inches from my rear bumper, reminding me that the locals don't polish their cars just to have them standing in front of the house - they also take them joyriding on the numerous motorways around Stuttgart, and to hunt down slower cars that get in their way. The rest of the drive then passed in a less visionary mood. But sorry, I think I did promise you three Trollinger reviews. Let's start with the 09 "Steillage" (steep slope) from Weingut Zipf, based in the village of Löwenstein in the lower Neckar region. Light-coloured at a transparent cherry red, but for a Trollinger, actually fairly dark. Cherries and red currants in the nose, and: strawberry fields forever. Not just strawberry juice, I mean to say, but also actual straw and a bit of garden earth, then changing in a cherry jam and almond direction with more air exposure. The palate is unexpectedly substantial, with some spices, juniper and freshly cut green wood in there. A splash of Lemberger in there as well, perchance? In any case, a strong and characterful first contender (enjoyable).
Next, the 2009 Untertürkheimer Herzogenberg "Rädles" from Hans-Peter Wöhrwag. Wöhrwag, one of the long-standing names of the Württemberg wine scene, works the surprisingly steep and spectacular vineyards around Stuttgart. Now here we have Trollinger colour: Light cherry red that would easily pass for rosé in many parts of the world. Strawberry juice and a hint of sour cherries in the nose, not too intensive though. A good dosage of carbon dioxide, almost frizzante, and a slightly metallic, but also earthy strawberry fruit on the palate. Certainly the typical and "traditional" Trollinger I had expected to find, but is that necessarily a good thing? (serviceable)
Finally, high expectations for a winery that has impressed us recently: Aldinger of Fellbach, just outside of Stuttgart. Their two-starred 2010 Fellbacher Lämmler Trollinger positioned itself in the middle, colour-wise, with a nice purple rim to its cherry colour. Strawberries, red currants and violets hit the nose, a hint of something sweaty and funky is coming through as well. But the most interesting nose so for. Nicely balanced on the palate, appetising sour cherry notes with good acidity and a mid-length dry and spicy finish. Here too, carbon dioxide has been added for no good reason, but it's not as stinging as in the last wine, and it passes away quickly once you let the wine breathe for a while. With this nicely balanced and refreshing light red, we have a winner (enjoyable).
So did a get a transcendent glimpse into a yet undiscovered wine country when I took the A 8 down the jurassic hills into the Swabian lowlands? I think rather not. Sadly, no such transcendent states and mind-altering experiences for me so far in Trollinger land. But recognisable varietal character, regional roots and sound quality overall in light reds that benefit from being served slightly chilled. That, too, is very Swabian. And that's got to count for something.