Two years ago, I reminisced about student days and staircases. Last year, I got all corduroy trousers and turtleneck sweater about the term "elite". Somewhat disappointingly, this has not stopped Dallmayr, the renowned Munich delicatessen store, from again using the name Winzerelite (wine making elite) for their annual spring tasting of German and Austrian estates. Clearly, we needed to try another tack with Dallmayr, who this year actually invited us to attend as - imaging our proudly beaming faces - press. From a friendly chat with Dallmayr's public relations guy, we gathered that they were happy to have bloggers spread the word, but not yet sure how to understand their reach compared to print journalism. Not a scepticism that you often hear in the English-speaking wine world these days, but we were happy to rise to the occasion: a new journalistic approach was clearly called for here.
We decided not to come along with a preconceived set of questions but to actually let the winemakers steer the conversation. We asked the men and women manning the stalls to pour us just one wine, their most important one. That should not have to be the most expensive one, nor necessarily the best, we insisted, but simply the one most worth talking about. And then we tasted, and we listened.
We could not leave the waning year behind without giving you the official shortlist you've all been nervously waiting for. Just to make sure you don't get the wrong impression: This is a highly subjective parade. It's ours alone, and it's in no way a comprehensive ranking. The following are simply those that impressed and delighted us most out of the minuscule drop of German Wine ocean that we happen to have sampled over the past year. It so happens that all of them were from past vintages, rather than fresh out of the 2011 barrels, but again, that is in no way a judgement on the qualities (or lack thereof) of the current vintage.
Christmas has come early at the Wine Rambler. No, we haven't changed the calendar and yes I know it is almost Christmas anyway, so this line is less effective than it might have been in July. However, the wines I had recently have been so good there can be no doubt that 'tis the season to be jolly. Exciting sparkling Riesling followed by aged Nectar harmony Muscat and now what may very well have been the most accomplished dry white wine I have had this year.
A first rate Silvaner, the exciting and under-rated German grape variety we have been shouting about for a few years now - and it even comes in the traditional Franconian "Bocksbeutel" bottle.
You've had to wait unusually long since the last review, so we owe you something nice. How does a bottle of Germany's most underestimated grape variety sound? Silvaner, and our more regular readers are rolling their eyes heavenward at this point, is Germany's second great signature grape and it deserves to be more widely known as King Riesling's earthier, less capricious brother. Needless to say, we love it. As opposed to Riesling, Silvaner is almost always dry, and it comes in two broad stylistic types: Lighter, crisper, Kabinett-style bottlings, tasting of fresh green apples and summer lawns, and then the richer, creamier, earthier style from riper grapes that give you yellow apples, deep minerality and plush weight such as dry Riesling seldom has.
This offering by the Störrlein winery, consistently good among Franken's producers, falls into the second type:
Frickenhausen-Linsenhofen - say that five times real fast? I would particularly encourage you to try this after you have had a few glasses of wine, for instance the old vines Silvaner pictured below. While you might have to disentangle your tongue afterwards I can at least assure you that it is otherwise perfectly save to say even in polite German company - unless perhaps the Germans are from a neighbouring village that has a long-standing feud with the Frickenhausen-Linsenhofeners.
Now, despite being born in the area my knowledge of local feuds and other details is scant, but I do know that Frickenhausen-Linsenhofen is home to one of Germany's highest vineyards. And it is here where Helmut Dolde makes a Silvaner from 50 year old vines ("Alte Reben").
"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!
Arson, sieges, war - not really the first words that would come to mind when thinking about wine: or a mill. And yet such events feature prominently in the long history of the Steinmühle (stone mill) winery in Rheinhessen. Since the Middle Ages, the mill in Osthofen has been burnt down a few times, and yet there it still stands. And it is still in the hands of the same winemaking family, for eleven generations now.
I did not know that when I was handed a bottle of their 2010 Sylvaner (the date 1275 on the label could have been a hint) - but then wine should mostly be about the enjoyment and the history lesson just a good swashbuckling story to be told after the second or third glass.
There is not much I have in common with Cato the Elder. I am not a politician, I never gave a banquet in honour of Jupiter, my Latin is mediocre and I never supported a ban on women riding in carriages. I don't even drink much Italian wine. And yet at moments I have sympathy for the old grump, and that is when I end statements on German wine with: ceterum censeo you have to try Silvaner! In the UK, where knowledge on German wine beyond sweet Riesling is rather limited, this sometimes makes me feel like a lonely preacher, repeating the same mantra like a bumbling (rambling?) fool. Now imagine my joy when I finally met a man who showed me what real Silvaner obsession is.
Or Sylvaner obsession, as wine grower and maker Michael Teschke prefers to spell it. Michael's dedication to Sylvaner has turned him into a figurehead for the grape variety, so much so that some call him the "Sylvaner God". Interestingly, others refer to Micheal as "Arse Teschke" - and if you want to know how that actually relates to Sylvaner quality you will just have to read on.
Buying clothes and shoes is a difficult business. Even if you happen to know what you want and even if the market agrees that you should want it and offers it to you, there is no guarantee it will fit. I cannot remember how often I have tried trousers or shoes of the size I have bought for years and continued to buy for years after - and the bastards won't fit. Like the EU size 46 trainers that my 43-44 size feet would not even get into. Producers apparently like to interpret size in line with changing fashion. This of course does not fit my modernist brain that believes a size is a size and not a fashion statement. Wine bottles are different though - a 750ml bottle will pretty much always fit your wine rack. Unless it is a Franconian Bocksbeutel, of course.
Admittedly, this is not very practical (and I wonder if there are Bocksbeutel racks for the serious collectors of Franconian wine), but to me it is a satisfying change from the norm, and as you get what it says on the label it is also honest. Like a good Franconian Silvaner should be.
It is hard to imagine, but there are still people out there who have not heard me saying that I think Silvaner is an underrated wine that deserves more attention. Luckily, German quality producers - not only from Franken, the spiritual home of Silvaner - make this job easy and enjoyable. Today's specimen comes from the Pfalz where Hansjörg Rebholz grows Riesling, the Pinot family (Gris, Blanc, Noir) and a range of other varieties including Silvaner.
The red wines, by the way, have red labels, and the whites green ones - so I felt like photographing this one on the windowsill in the bedroom, to frame it in the greenest way possible. Before we jump into the wine (not literally, at least not in your case, I would assume) a quick comment on the perception of German wine as sweet: the Rebholz Silvaner is trocken, i.e. dry, and it seems Hansjörg Rebholz was serious about dry - less than 1g of residual sugar per litre is pretty much as dry as it gets.
If like us you fell in love with the Silvaner grape you will probably forgive me for featuring yet another wine made from this German variety - and if you don't love it yet, well, I am not going to shut up until you do. In fact, there will be more Silvaner coming your way on the Wine Rambler over the next weeks. Anyway, Wittmann. I was really looking forward to try the basic 2010 organic Silvaner from one of Rheinhessen's, in fact Germany's, best producers, especially as the 2008 Silvaner had been such fantastic value.
Can Wittmann repeat the success of putting a highly enjoyable white wine for (a little) less than nine Euro on the table with the 2010 vintage?
It is still Silvaner season at the Wine Rambler. Actually, for us it is Silvaner season throughout most of the year, but over the past few months we have been even more busy exploring this often underrated German grape variety. Today's specimen is a little unusual, even for us, as it is a sweet Silvaner, an ice wine in fact. Ice wine is made from grapes frozen on the vine - a process that helps extract water and thus (relatively) increases extract and sugar levels, making for delicious sweet wines.
This ice wine was made by Pfalz producer Gerhard Klein based in the village of Hainfeld. If you are not familiar with the Pfalz, you may be amazed to hear that among the grapes they grow are Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Now I even read that Kleins also plant Grüner Veltliner! Compared to that, Silvaner is a much traditional German planting, and that's what we will focus on today.
When we first got into wine blogging - and you can add a "...son" to that and imagine us silver-haired connoisseurs absent-mindedly swirling a '78 Bordeaux above our huge mahagoni table to set the scene -, when we first got into wine blogging, we quickly learned there is one bow in the blogger's quiver that seldom misses: hyperbole. We learned that a nice bottle of wine is a revelation, an ordinary bottle of wine is boring you to tears, a good winemaker is a winemaking genius, and so on.
The lesson we have learned very well is that there doesn't have to be a whole lot behind a story to make it a good story. In that spirit, we offer you the great Wine Rambler vertical of Lukas Krauß Silvaner.
Silvaner again? Yes, we're keeping up our coverage. In fact, we mean to grind down any resistance against Germany's second great white grape with the sheer relentlessness of our Silvaner campaign. Great growth Silvaners from lesser known wineries in Franken are arguably some of the best value anywhere in white wine, and we won't stop until every major wine outlet in the english-speaking world carries at least one. Are we not confusing our own partial predilection with an educational mission, you ask, or else: What's in it for me? The two-word answer to this: Food friendliness.
Following up on this month's risotto suggestion, another classic Silvaner pairing is freshwater fish. Franconians love their regional staple, carp, but since that is a little, shall we say, nutritious for most people, we stuck to the more consensual trout.
Like many men who like to cook I have occasional delusions of grandeur. Unfortunately for you, these were made worse when at a Wine Rambler beer tasting an Italian friend (who is as obsessed with good food as any Italian) commented on my risotto: 'And that risotto was simply delicious! Mind you, I am Italian and have got some experience with risotto, very very good indeed! Recipe please?'
Easily charmed by such an appreciation of my cooking skills, I am happy to do as requested - and to make a wine pairing suggestion: Silvaner, the fantastically food friendly German white wine that deserves international attention.
The Keller winery in Rheinhessen is among Germany's finest, no doubt. Keller regularly receive high praise from wine critics and their wines command impressive prices. Recently, a double magnum of what some consider the top wine in the Keller range, the Riesling G-Max, fetched €3,998.40 at an auction, making it Germany's most expensive young dry wine. Now, can you imagine that the German authorities would even consider not allowing winemaker Klaus-Peter Keller to release one of his wines to the market? And yet this is what happened to the Silvaner I am introducing today.
What could have happened, you may wonder? Was the wine contaminated, a health risk perhaps? No. The authorities objected to the 'Feuervogel' arguing the wine was not typical for the region - and hence not worthy of being approved for sale.
As a wine drinking year, 2010 was not without its disappointments. Among them, a Bacchus that bored us to tears, a burgundy that let us down - and, most grimly, a swamp gas attack from the Loire that we would rather not talk about just yet. The ritual that helps us get over these low points is the yearly selection of the Wine Rambler's top five german wines. The shortlist was substantial as always, and the choice was not taken lightly - and by the way, one of our favourite daydreams is that sentences like this might one day cause actual nervousness among german wine makers.
So, national anthem, please, for the winners:
If I am not mistaken, our readers have had to go without Wine Rambler Silvaner coverage since August 31. That is clearly unacceptable and will be remedied as follows ("quickly and unbureaucratically", as german public officials are fond of saying): The Burrlein winery of Mainstockheim, which we have already featured as part of our Müller-Thurgau report, has consistently turned out over-achieving quality Silvaners to its large customer base these last few years. Has it delivered again?
It is Silvaner time again at the Wine Rambler. We have been championing this underrated (or rather unknown) variety for a while now, and even though we have not exactly changed the wine world, we will not shut up either. If you have heard of Silvaner (also known as 'Grüner Silvaner' or 'Sylvaner'), they may have told you that it is a very food friendly wine and a little neutral. While we encountered many seriously food friendly Silvaners, we have yet to find a bland one. We did, however, find some that can party with some of the best white wines in the world, and others that effortlessly age 25 years. The Silvaner that graced the humble Wine Rambler's table the other day was neither old nor did it claim to be a world class wine. It was, however, unfiltered, and that alone seemed to make it worth an investigation.
Being about a Litre bottle, the hardest part of this review was, of course, the choice of pun: "Following the litre" is lame, "Take me to your litre" is good, but has already been taken (I can't remember where I've read it). I'll have to come back to you on the puns. First, here's the message: Anyone can make an expensive wine that is at least very good. To make an estate-grown, non-industrial cheap wine that is enjoyable and has character, that's the difficult part. Dr. Heyden has joined the contest for Litre of the Pack (sorry) with his 2008 Silvaner, and we are talking 3,90 € for 1000 ml of it.