Andreas Durst likes his photography natural, but stylish. And, not being one to be taken in by glossy surfaces and wines that wear a lot of make-up, as it were, Andreas Durst likes his own wines straight and clear. So when he makes a rosé, it's no surprise that it doesn't turn out all fruity and sweet.
By now word has got around that there is German red wine. I mean, it has, right? If it hasn't, can you please just nod politely and leave me the illusion that after shouting about it for a few years we have at least got that message out? So, as we all know by now that there is German red wine, let's deal with the fact that there is quite a lot of it these days. Germany, for instance, is the world's third largest producer of Pinot Noir - or Spätburgunder as it is known there and as you can see on the label below.
At the Langenwalter winery they don't just make some of this - almost half the grapes grown in the Pfalz vineyards are red, actually. This includes Portugieser, Dornfelder and Cabernet Sauvignin. So you'd think that with that much quantity around and a few hundred years of family history the Langenwalters will know something about making good red wine.
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:
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:
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 there any wine that feels truly like Easter? I have been pondering this question for a while in order to pick the most suitable wine review to publish today - but I have failed miserably. For me every year Easter feels different, and every day of Easter feels different and stands for something else. Good Friday officially would be about loss, death and most importantly sacrifice, but I am not sure I'd enjoy a wine that tastes like this nor does today actually have any resemblance to these feelings.
So with Easter being so elusive I have decided to write about the most elusive wine I have tasted recently: Philipp Kuhn's "Incognito".
It is one of our favourite projects for the Wine Rambler that someday we should explain to you the German wine classification and labelling system in a coherent and mildly entertaining fashion. Today, however, we meet another clear-thinking winemaker who has willingly downgraded his own wine to the simplest category available (in this case: "Pfälzer Landwein") to be spared the bureaucratic nightmare otherwise required - in my humble experience, that step is always a good sign. Andreas Durst is a part-time winemaker only, his real job is to professionally photograph other winemakers, wines and vineyards, which he does so well that in the hipper part of the German wine scene, wine-related photography is simply synonymous with his name.
About this and about his wines, we won't say too much just now, because we hope to read and see a little more of Andreas on this blog soon (fingers crossed for a real treat). For now, let's turn to the dry Riesling from his small portfolio that he was nice enough to send ahead to Munich Wine Rambler HQ:
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.
This humble review is actually a double tribute. First, to wines that don't dazzle the nose or titillate the palate so much as enable food to shine by their ready availability, selfless service and smooth background operation. We Germans call them "bread and butter-wines". The kind of wine that you buy by the case and whose steady supply you take for granted, so much that it is only with the final bottle that you get round to properly appreciate (and review) it. Because of that, this is also a tribute to that specially cherished sixth bottle.
So here's to the very last taste of Heiner Sauer's more-than-serviceable 2009 Pfalz Pinot Blanc that I will ever have:
It's nearly time to end my self-imposed quasi-lent (punctured as it was by a Wine Rambler committee meeting and its inevitable by-effects), and to get myself back in the mood for wine (as if that needed any extra effort), so let me report on an enjoyable discovery from last autumn: From Austria's southern Steiermark region, to be precise, a lovely corner of Europe with rolling green hills and scattered villages. It is predominantly a white wine producer, with emphasis on Sauvignon Blanc, which they do excellently, and aromatic varieties like Muscat and Traminer. But there is also red, and some of it is seriously good.
This basic red blend from the Winkler-Hemaden winery takes its name from the Castle where they reside. It's made up of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, two more or less indigenous grapes, and some Merlot for the ladies and the more internationally trained palates. Good mixture?
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:
I have committed my fair share of sins, but now I have to confess the first one committed on Christmas Eve. It was not strictly a religious sin, more a wine sin - although for some Austrians, I suspect, it would be the same. I had Grüner Veltliner for dinner. Grüner Veltliner - from Australia! Even worse, this is the second time I have sinned against the Austrian prerogative of making Grüner Veltliner: recently I tasted a sample from New Zealand - with the Austrian national dish Wiener Schnitzel.
Well, oops, I did it again...
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.
Don't tell this to anyone, but is true, I don't drink much Sauvignon Blanc. At least not voluntary. I drink it involuntary as it often is served at functions, such as the one I attended earlier this week at the Palace of Westminster. That particular wine was inoffensive, but often I find the aggressive fruit-bombiness of Sauvignon Blanc hard to stomach. It is as if it is shouting so loud to get your attention that you cannot actually hear what it says. Having said that, there is also really good Sauvignon Blanc, both from the new and the old world. Interestingly, some of the most pleasant specimens I have tried recently came from Germany. Yes, there is German Sauvignon Blanc.
This particular wine comes from the Pfalz, a region that continues to confuse foreigners with the wide range of grape varieties grown.
Last weekend I organised a wine tasting of a different type for my colleagues. I had particularly high hopes that one of the wines would shine, a Riesling from Rheingau winemaking wizard Peter Jakob Kühn. In the past, I have had some truly stunning wines from Kühn, and I had heard good things about his work with the difficult 2010 vintage. At the tasting though the biodynamic Riesling was overshadowed - in being controversial by a Franconian Silvaner and in receiving general praise by an Austrian Grüner Veltliner.
Not that the Riesling was bad, mind you, but in its leanness it was a little more quiet than I had hoped for. When we divided up the spoils of the night, I grabbed a half full bottle and took it home with me to inquire further.
You will be dismayed to hear it, but sometimes, we drink and enjoy a bottle of wine, but the review that is consequently due here at the Wine Rambler is moved a little down-schedule at first and later lost sight of. This is what happened to this bottle of a rather unusual German summer wine. I do feel a little guilty about it now that the leaves are already falling and - oh no, not so soon! - Oktoberfest has started here in Munich. But since it's much nicer to reminisce about summer days gone by and nice Scheurebe from Franken than to face the thought of the vomit-coated subway trains I may have to ride on in the coming two weeks, it is actually good to have kept this one for later.
So Scheurebe, Franken, winery with silly name - speak, notes:
We have had a lot of Pinot Blanc this spring and early summer - because it is a wonderful grape, because it seems to be made for this season and because it is one of the best companions for asparagus. And especially I tend to eat a lot of asparagus when it is in season. The asparagus season is over now, of course, but that does not mean it can't still be Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder) season!
This dry specimen comes from the Nahe valley and is made by a producer who has received a lot of praise for his Riesling over the past few years. Earlier this year, I met Tim Fröhlich at a wine tasting in London and was particularly impressed with his grand cru Rieslings. What about the entry level Pinot Blanc though?
You may not have heard about the Ahr. It is a small tributary of the Rhine; it is also a valley; and it is also a wine growing region. And a very unusual one too. Despite being located far north between 50th and 51st parallel, the Ahr is red wine country - way over 80% of all grapes grown here are red because of a favourable micro-climate. And one of the producers best know for Ahr red wine is Jean Stodden, "das Rotweingut" (the red wine winery).
It is almost shocking that in over two years of wine rambling we don't seem to have featured a single Ahr wine, and to change that Stodden seemed the obvious choice.