Pinot Grigio is dull. That would be a textbook provocative statement to catch the interest of the reader, and of course the author would qualify that statement to the extent that it was almost turned into the opposite. However, I do honestly believe that Pinot Grigio is dull. Not on principle, but the vast majority of Pinot Grigio I encounter is mass produced dullness to the extent that I'd discourage everyone to choose one - unless there are reasons to have hope for the wine, for instance when sourced from a good wine merchant or knowledgeable sommelier.
That at least is how I see the situation in the UK with imported Pinot Grigio. In Germany, or where German wine is available, there is a second route: buy wine made from the same grape variety, but done in Germany style. Sometimes, these wines are labelled Pinot Gris, like in France, but mostly you will find the German name Grauburgunder.
I was in Freiburg recently for the wonderful occasion of the baptism of my niece. During the church service, the vicar who celebrated it at some point asked the congregation to join him in a prayer of interecession for the responsible production of healthy and sustainable food. Nothing wrong with that (I fervently joined in that prayer), but surely typical of that corner of the country, as it boasts the oldest organic food producers, highest density of organic anything stores and highest level of general relaxed left-liberal getting-it-right-iness in all of Germany. Small wonder that organic winemaking in the Kaiserstuhl sub-region of Baden, just an hour's bicycle ride away from Freiburg, also has deeper roots than elsewhere and is often into its second or even third generation.
Friedhelm Rinklin, a card-carrying founding member of the organic wine movement in Germany, also has basically done this forever. As early as 1955 already, his father had made the switch to biodynamic winemaking. I imagine that his son looks at those who discover organic wine growing just now with nothing but an ever so slightly raised eyebrow. Does his basic-range, very reasonably prices Pinot Gris exude the same wisdom and experience?
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.
One day, I will invite other wine bloggers to contribute to an anthology of awkward introductions to simple wine reviews. The things that you ponder, and then reject, so as not to have to jump in with a straight "Here is a Franconian Pinot Gris that I had recently". One thing that struck me just now, while thinking of something new to write, was how often I, while recalling a tasting experience to put together a review, will sip on a completely different wine. Today, it's Dr. Heyden's very proper old vine-Silvaner from 2009. Then, I ruminated on the pun-producing potential of the Ruck winery's name, since it means something like "jolt" or "lurch" in German.
I thought of former German president Roman Herzog's 1997 speech in which he demanded "durch Deutschland muss ein Ruck gehen" ("A jolt needs to go through Germany"), of the strangeness of this image, and whether it could be put to some kind of humoristic use vis-a-vis the Ruck family of Iphofen, Franconia. But then name jokes are off limits in serious journalism, which led me to the question whether the Wine Rambler actually...
It is one man in particular that every so often makes me crave American wine: Jim Clendenen, the Californian winemaker behind Au Bon Climat. The ABC Pinot Noir and Chardonnay I have tried so far were delicious and, if you consider how insanely expensive Californian wine can be, reasonably priced. As it has been a while since I had the pleasure and as I love all Pinot varieties I could not resist getting a bottle of ABC's Pinot Gris and Blanc blend.
With a label like this, impossible to imagine in France and probably even in Germany, I don't have to tell you what went into the wine, but for you lovers of more "natural" winemaking I can add that this ABC is an unfiltered organic product of spontaneous fermentation.
Helmut Dönnhoff is among the most accomplished German winemakers. The same wine merchants who complain about wine critic Robert Parker's bad influence on consumers will happily tell you that "their" Dönnhoff wines have received Parker's prestigious 100 point scores, while others will point to Dönnhoff putting the German region Nahe on the world wine map or rave over the Dönnhoff trademark elegance.
Dönnhoff has also been crowned as Riesling king for his fantastic dry and sweet Rieslings. Today we will have none of that superlative nonsense and instead take a look at Dönnhoff's basic Pinot Gris.
Our regular readers know that we think highly of Baden's southernmost subregion, the Markgräflerland, have enjoyed its original Gutedels and serious Pinots, and count on it to make its name in the international wine world fairly soon. You also know that we have explored the world of German sparkling wines with growing enthusiasm.
If we put those two together, what do we get? We get this all-organic sparkler from the (as yet) little-known Harteneck winery of Schliengen, halfway between Freiburg and Basel.
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.
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?
A wine with prominent acidity that is worked straightforwardly into a light, simply, but well structured wine. Here, green apple and unripe melon rule the day, with clear, if not endlessly deep fruit on the palate. In its acidity-driven straightforwardness, this is reminiscent of a good Pfalz Riesling, without quite managing the minerality part. I prefer this latter version at this moment in time, because it seemed more refreshing and drinkable to me and for the completely subjective reason that it works wonderfully with a supermarket food favourite of mine, Flammkuchen.
Covered, with more background information, in our posting on Baden's Tuniberg and wider trends in german wine.
Pinot Gris is a funny thing. If it is called Pinot Grigio it comes from Italy, is meant to be drunk young and suffers from too much cheap plonk on the market. If it has Pinot Gris on the label it is probably from Alsace and may be a substantial wine with the potential to age well. When it is called Grauburgunder it comes from Germany and could fall into any of these categories. The wine you see below comes from a reliable, quality focussed producer and has been matured in oak barrels - so you'd think even when stored in my wardrobe (officially London's most delicious wardrobe) it should be at its prime now. But then there is always a risk, are we looking at a wine that's already faded?
Over the years, we have tasted a wide sample of German wines (though still so much more to explore!). However, my German wine experience is very different from that of most people here in the UK or across the globe. While we mostly drink wine from smaller, family owned vineyards, the UK especially downs the likes of Liebfraumilch by the gallon. So it was high time to get in touch with my inner mainstream drinker and get one of those iconic Black Tower bottles you can see in most British supermarkets.
Black Tower claims to be Germany's most widely exported wine brand, in fact, it may very well be Germany's best selling wine globally - it certainly is in the UK. Reh-Kendermann, who own Black Tower, spent a lot on the brand, particularly researching the design.
Despite being as egalitarian and anti-aristocratic in outlook as any wine blog, you will from time to time find the Wine Rambler taking a keen interest in one of Germany's nobleman winemakers.
There are good reasons for that: First of all, while being able to trace your forefathers back through a few centuries of high politics and lordly splendour certainly doesn't make you a better winemaker (or a better man, for that matter), it does often provide us historian Ramblers the kind of background story we enjoy. Secondly, in the spirit of our site's motto, we take cruel pleasure in the phonetic challenge german wine labels confront our readers with, and we believe we have found a little gem here: If Reichsgraf zu Hoensbroech doesn't leave a trail of destruction across anglo-saxon larynxes, we will be disappointed indeed. With our Reichsgraf here specifically, there is a third reason:
Sometimes, a wine tasting among friends turns into an unexpected wine and food orgy. Of course, this could never happen to a moderate and austere German like me, not even with Denise, the Winesleuth, and Douglas, of Intoxicating Prose fame, coming to visit. Denise had been given a couple of German wines by a trade representative, and I had suggested to top that up with a few more wines to set things into perspective. Nothing heavy, just a light evening with a bit of wine and food fun among friends.
After two years of mostly going for Riesling, I currently find myself drinking more and more Pinot, specifically Pinot Blanc and Gris. Well, surprise, this is another of those bastards, and despite being made from the same grape variety it is not exactly like your average Italian Pinot Grigio. It is Grauburgunder time, and yet again am I turning to the warm South-West of Germany, to enjoy a wine from the Kaiserstuhl region.
The first thing to notice about it is the colour. Colour is always difficult to capture well in a photograph, and this one does not quite bring across the fairly dark, gold-brown that the Salwey wine radiates. Pretty, really pretty.
You may find a wonderful surprise delivered to your doorstep! I can already say I am going to enjoy this. A lot!
Imagine a hilly landscape somewhere in Europe. The sun is burning down. The temperature is way above 30° C. Sitting on a porch, you look around an area that was shaped by volcanic activity. While there is no lava any more, you have been told by locals that this small town is the warmest in the country. Your host returns to pour more Pinot Grigio. Southern Italy, you may think? Not at all! Chances are that you are sitting in the town of Ihringen in the South West of Germany, drinking a Pinot Grigio, Grauburgunder I wanted to say, made by the Heger winery. Well, it is still winter while I am writing this, but a few days ago I opened a bottle of a Grauburgunder, as the Pinot Grigio/Gris variety is called in Germany, for two friends here in London - Dr. Heger's Oktav. [read the full post...]
About once per season the London branch of the Wine Rambler assembles a coalition of willing wine drinkers in London. The mission: to drink some god-damn wine. Mostly German wine. This time, however, we had new rules - every wine was tasted blind, its identity only to be revealed after the judges had come to a verdict. Also new was the excessiveness: between the eight of us (two arrived late, one left early) we opened nine bottles, although not every wine was finished. So let's jump right in, shall we?
Sun-kissed Baden, the southernmost of Germany's wine growing regions, specialises on Pinots: Pinot Noir, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Gris/Grigio (or Spätburgunder, Weißburgunder and Grauburgunder), and for some reason we have so far only reviewed Spät- und Weißburgunder from Baden on the Wine Rambler. So it was high time to open a bottle of Grauburgunder and and do some reviewing - and this time it was not just me, but a group of British wine drinkers who joined the London Wine Rambler for a night of fun yesterday. [read the full post...]
Wine tastings are like battlefields, it is everyone for themselves - or so I have heard people say. Actually, at least the recent VdP tasting in Munich was more like playing a part in the submarine movie Das Boot. Periscope out, zoom in on the next lovely wine and then you give the order: 'Both planes zero. Stand by battle stations.' 'Bottle one through four are ready.', the reply is almost instantaneous. However, before you can strike your helpless target, sonar picks up that sound again: Swoosh slurp swoosh schrub slurp. A split second of panic, then you go: 'Close bow caps! Dive!' Luckily, the enemy passes above you and disappears again. 'Is it getting louder?' 'It seems constant. Ahead of us.' The awaits your next move. As the Old Man said in Das Boot: 'Now it gets psychological, friends.'
That it was, but also great fun with some amazing wines, this year's VdP wine tasting in Munich. VdP stands for 'Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter', or Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates, a group of highly decorated German estates, 'the world’s oldest association of top-quality wine estates'. Every year in November some VdP members hold a wine tasting in Munich. And the Wine Rambler attends, hungry for prey.