The German word "Handwerk" stands for the trades that build, that craft things with their hands. It can be translated as "craft", "handicraft" or "artisanry" and it has a very solid connotation. Solid work, handmade for the customer, set against industrial mass-production, this is the message that Sven Leiner's wine range "Handwerk" is meant to convey. Thankfully, Leiner's artisanry is not of the type that will put you out of pocket - priced below €9 these wines are perhaps not cheap enough for everyday drinking if you are on a budget, but also not expensive for a quality product that is also certified organic.
It all sounds rather nice and I would have reviewed a "Handwerk" much earlier, were it not for a not so pleasant encounter with a Leiner wine a few years ago from which I only remember an unbalanced acidity which had put me off. Can Sven win back my trust with his craftsmanship?
This is the season to write about summer wines. You have to dig up something fresh and light and go on about how well it would go with a garden party or that fresh, light food we all enjoy under the blazing heat. It will either be a light white wine or a rosé that even those who dislike rosé will enjoy as it goes so well with summer. I am having none of that, and for two reasons. First of all there is no summer in London - as I am writing this post the wettest June in history is behind us and water is pouring down outside Wine Rambler London HQ into a wet and cold July.
More importantly perhaps the category "summer wine" would be unfair to a wine that is much more than just an accessory to the hot season. IF there was such a thing as a hot season in London of course.
While German wineries, even quite good ones, can seem unduly modest about their own accomplishments and shy about marketing to new groups of consumers, no such light treading for our southern neighbour, Austria. Austria's wine reputation was all but shattered by the dramatic adulterated wine scandal of 1985. From this low point, Austrian wine has - and here, the tired metaphor makes sense for once - pullet itself up by its own bootstraps, and wineries are rightly and vocally proud of their successes. Austrians themselves have fuelled the growth of a new wine scene with all but insatiable home demand. That, too, makes a great difference from Germany, where wine patriotism was lukewarm for the longest time and has only really taken off in the wake of the Große Gewächse (great growth/grand cru) campaign.
The Thermenregion south of Vienna is one of those success stories, as it supplies the ever-thirsty throats of Vienna with original whites from indigenous grapes such as Zierfandler and Rotgipfler. The Schellmann winery, run as a side project by the Kamptal winemaker Fred Loimer and some partners, is one of those confident establishments, as you can tell by the label: Love me or leave me, it seems to say, and I don't think you're going to leave me, are you now?
This is a story of failure and sloppiness. My failure and sloppiness, I hasten to add - no such crime was committed by the Salweys. In fact the Baden winemaking family have done everything right. Not only did they make a substantial, interesting Grauburgunder (internationally better known as Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio), they also shipped a bottle of it in the most timely manner when a few years ago I put an order in with them. Since then it waited for a special occasion.
And when the occasion came I failed it - by accidentally deleting the photo I had taken before I did my backup, and then only realising this when the bottle was on the way to the recycling plant. So blame me, but please do read on.
There have always been two audiences for the Wine Rambler. One audience is, of course, you. A few thousand people come to visit our humble blog every month to follow our adventures in German wine (or laugh at us or disagree with us or end up here by mistake when googling for "Scottish nose", as happened yesterday) and we are very grateful for your interest and support; and laughter too. The other audience, in a somewhat autistic way, that's ourselves. The Wine Rambler was, after all, born when I moved to London and Julian and myself were looking for a way to share our wine adventures across the Channel. On many things we agree, but with the exception of sparkling wine I have always found Julian's enthusiasm for Chardonnay somewhat lacking.
So whenever I review a Chardonnay I mostly think of Julian standing in his Munich wine cellar full of Riesling and Pinot, hoping to give him a gentle encouragement to add some German Chardonnay to the next delivery. Maybe you should too?
Every once in a while I realise my education in practical Englishness is lacking. A PhD in English history only gets you so far and serious gaps remain that studying early modern pamphlets will never close. Among the things they won't prepare you for in university is sherbet. You may think this is not overly relevant, especially not in the context of German wine - and to be fair so did I (or would have, had I been aware of sherbet). Turns out sherbet actually matters, at least if you are English and for the first time in your life exposed to Nahe Riesling.
Meet the wine that tastes like sherbet.
A highly recommended, reasonably priced Riesling with Art Nouveau/Jugendstil label and named after the world's most famous intelligence agency - I pressed "add to shopping cart" before my brain had even processed this properly. You may not know this, but I am intrigued by the world of espionage, I like cheap puns and I have the marvellous ability to misread pretty much everything to make me giggle. So it took my brain another second after I had added the wine to my latest delivery to realise that (while the label really does feature angels with a Riesling gun!) there is no German humour reference to the CIA here.
Instead we are looking at the estate Riesling of one of the world's oldest wineries, and CAI stands for Carl August Immich. Please don't be disappointed, after all we are speaking about a man who blew up a mountain in order to make good Riesling.
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.
Pinot Blanc. Currently 50th grape variety in the order of acreage planted worldwide. Often seen as Chardonnays less expressive brother. And one of Germany's most reliably satisfying grapes. Most British wine lovers, and indeed most of them around the world, primarily associate this grape with Alsace, a connection that won't be easily challenged (we have tried before). To prove that Germany can indeed do outstanding Pinot Blanc could seem an uphill battle, therefore, but in fact it's the easiest task in the world, as we can let wonderful German Pinot Blancs prove it for us (and get to drink them into the bargain).
"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!
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:
Following Julian's recent debacle with a Württemberg Riesling I felt our shocked and terrified readership is in need of comfort and reassurance. Will the Wine Rambler now drink Liebfraumilch only? Has German Riesling failed? Will Modern Talking re-unite? The world may indeed be doomed, I won't dare speculate what Dieter Bohlen might do, but I can assure you that German Riesling has not gone bad.
And to give us some comfort after the shocking events of last episode, here is a classic: Riesling Auslese from the Mosel.
Our regular readers (is there any other kind?) know that we have a special fondness for wines that come with a bit of history. Today, I would like to take you with me, if you'll come, to the vineyards of the former Cistercian abbey of Maulbronn, some 50 kilometers north-east of Stuttgart. For their monasteries, the monks of the Cisterican order sought out places of utter solitude, far from any previous settlement. At least this was the theory since the 12th century. While that was mostly technically true, remote land doesn't mean bad land. In fact, the Cistercians were more like agricultural property developers, with an canny sense of where the most fertile new land could be found, and with an unrivalled grasp of the technology and organisation to remake it and reap its riches.
Among other clever things, they pioneered grape varieties and wine growing techniques exported out of Burgundy in much of the German-speaking lands.
Philipp Kuhn, so his website proudly proclaims, is not only a 50%/50% but also a 100% man. Mathematically that may be sound, in a confusing way, but how does it relate to German wine? In a confusing but sound way, I would say. With his percentage rule the Pfalz winemaker stands for an internationally still overlooked, but nationally even more important trend: while half of Philipp's wines are white, the other 50% are red. And all 100% are dry. Well, every other year there may be a few bottles of sweeter stuff, but if we generously round up the 100% is probably still true.
Anyway, this Riesling is dry. A top Riesling from a grand cru vineyard. Is it more a 50/50 affair or a 100% win?
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:
It usually takes some convincing to get continental folk to accept that English sparkling wines are not only drinkable, but can be quite excellent. But since we already know that, we hold them to a higher standard than most other German wine drinkers probably would. It is from this fairly lofty perspective, and only from there, that this one disappointed us somewhat when it was soundly beaten by a French sparkler costing less than half in this mildly humiliating Wine Rambler blind tasting.
As the wine review I posted on Good Friday revealed a lack of spiritual cohesiveness with regards to what an appropriate wine for Easter should feel like, I have decided to play it safe on Easter Monday. Rheingau winery Ankermühle have moved away from the usual German approach of confusing customers with long and unpronounceable vineyard names and instead use snappy ones like "Jungfer" (spinster), "Maria" and "Hölle" (hell) - or today's Gabriel.
Admittedly, Gabriel's feast day is 29 September and not today, but I figured that going with a archangel would somehow be keeping in line with the easterly spirit.
Is it wrong to celebrate two Rieslings in a row? After Julian's ecstatic praise of an off-dry Saar Riesling I am now getting all excited about a dry specimen from the Pfalz. While I may ask for your forgiveness for presenting yet another German Riesling, the grand cru Reichsrat von Buhl needs no excuse - even if it was caught stealing from the cookie jar repeatedly. Yes, it is that good.
And it has a striking advantage over its friend from the Saar: you can get it outside of Germany too!
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: