A busy year is coming to an end. I could write about how busy it was, but the very slow trickle of posts on the Wine Rambler makes that obvious enough. Instead I feel like leaning back, pouring myself a comforting wine and relax. A wine with substance and soothing qualities, something with a personal connection but less intellectual challenge than the Rieslings I love so much. It is time to open a special red wine that had been sitting in my cellar waiting for a moment like this.
Or maybe his is just a pretentious way of saying: after maybe five years stored in a wardrobe I feared the Mauro really needed drinking.
After my recent (and completely unsubstantiated, I hasten to add, your honour) comments about dullness of the average Pinot Grigio I felt a reminder was due about how exciting Italian wine can be. This is probably less a reminder to you, gentle reader, than it is to myself and my co-Rambler Julian - after all we both were traumatised by a youth of cheap and dull Pinot Grigio. The therapeutic antidote I am going to serve today is Manzoni Bianco, an Italian grape variety I discovered earlier this year at a natural wine fair. I was instantly impressed by it; and how could I not: it is a cross of Riesling and Pinot Bianco/Blanc, two of my absolute favourite grape varieties.
The wines I tried at the fair mostly impressed me by their freshness and minerality - elegant, light and clean. The first specimen I got into the scientific Wine Rambler tasting labs is a slightly different creature, a bolder and more substantial wine that easily rates as one of the most exciting discoveries of the year.
As some of you may be aware, there has recently been a bit of noise about dry German Riesling. A well respected importer and Riesling fan referred to the dry German wines as "a highly invasive species", much to the dislike of some. I am not planning to enter that debate directly, at least not right now. However, I had a little craving for an invasive species the other night...
...so here it is, a short review of a dry German Riesling, and from the region that wine lovers across the world associate most with sweet: the Mosel.
If you have a look around on the Heymann-Löwenstein website you will eventually stumble upon a message from a Belgian wine merchant. He reports from a blind tasting of Champagnes into which he smuggled a bottle of Löwenstein's non vintage sparkler - and despite being the cheapest wine it got by far the highest score, beating the likes of Billecart-Salmon, Jacques Selosse and Ruinart. This is the type of underdog story that would usually be told about English fizz, but it doesn't hurt to remember that other countries also produce great wines made according to the classic Champagne method.
That Germany is one of them should not be a surprise, after all it consumes around a quarter of the world's sparkling wine and produces close to 400 million bottles a year.
Gelber Orleans, to me, is probably the most exciting wine there is. Sadly I am aware that even if you should believe me it won't help you very much as it is incredibly hard to find - even in Germany, which to my knowledge is the only country where it is grown. It is so rare that whenever, wherever I see a bottle of Orleans I can afford I will buy it. Usually that means turning to the Knipser brothers who grow some in the Pfalz.
Thankfully, despite its rarity it is not an overly expensive wine - if you compare it like for like that is. And that puts this three star dry late harvest against a top Riesling. What do you get for that price?
Germany, for those of you who did not know it, produces some excellent sparkling wine in a style similar to Champagne. It also produces a unique fizze ("Sekt") from Riesling, called "Rieslingsekt". This is style of sparkling wine that tends to be crisper and fresher than Champagne. Some of the more exciting specimens of this type blend French complexity with vibrant German Riesling freshness and mineral.
I was lucky in that the most recent bottle of German fizz I opened was one of this type.
One of the glories of being a wine amateur without an ounce of professionalism is the childish pleasure you can take in things that more knowledgeable folk take for granted. Recently for instance, I rediscovered decanting. Now, of course I do know what pouring a wine into a larger carafe for greater air exposure does in theory, but somehow, I had let the habit slip. After all, there isn't always time for these kitchen rituals. But the exceptionally rewarding Grüner Veltliner on review today showed me what I may have been missing, as decanting did it a world of good.
The first swigs of this very young wine straight out of the bottle were not promising: A heavy, awkward and withdrawn wine. After two hours in the wide-bottom decanter, out on the cool balcony, we found something very different indeed:
Marxists and luxurious sparkling wine surely don't mix well? Well, they do. As Champagne consumers the leaders of Eastern block and other communists states did and do quite well, thank you, although one could question whether they are true Marxists. Marxists winemakers are a rarer breed, but I can think of at least one who not only makes stunning still wines but also very charming sparklers. His name is Reinhard Löwenstein and amongst other things he is famous for his Riesling from terraced Mosel vineyards.
Riesling can also be used to make sparkling wine, of course, and today we take a look at Löwenstein's non-vintage "Fantasie der Schieferterrassen" - Fantasy of Slate Terraces.
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:
Another Austrian wine on the Wine Rambler? Really? Can our national pride and the expectations of our Germanophile readership sustain this Austrian double whammy? They will have to, because the world needs to know about this, the best rosé I've had for months, no make that years, straight away. The way things are going, lives could be lost to summery languor otherwise.
Ever heard of Schilcher? You have now. Schilcher  is a regional speciality of Austria's Steiermark region. Rosés made exclusively from the indigenous Blauer Wildbacher grape, these wines are distinguished by prominent acidity and unusually intensive red and black berry fruit. They are never particularly subtle and they can be rustic to the point of rudeness, but they are rarely bland.
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).
As far as red wine is concerned, Julian and myself have some kind of informal, never-spoken-of division of labour: he does France, I do Spain. Now, as you know we usually do Germany here on the Wine Rambler, but our world would be much less diverse and exciting if we only did Germany. So, when it comes to the more substantial reds Julian does France and I do Spain. How that happened I don't know - and certainly for Burgundy I should make an exception, but there is still some Tempranillo in my magic wardrobe.
And let's face it, when you have a good Tempranillo, who needs the Rhone or Bordeaux? So it's a good thing that they do really nice Tempranillo at Bodegas Aalto...
It's not a typo (my auto-correct feature suggests "Riesling" instead), I haven't had too much to drink (sadly), it's not a new marketing term (as you probably are not sure how to pronounce the full name of this beauty you may have figured this out on your own) --- Rieslaner is indeed yet another of those German grape varieties you may have never heard of. You don't have to be too confused though, as Riesling was in fact one of its parents. I'd like to think Riesling was the father, whereas the Silvaner grape surely must be the mother, but I am probably falling for half a dozen sexist clichés here. However, one cliché is true: this German wine is sweet indeed. Very sweet. And delightful!
So let me introduce you to the child of my two favourite German grape varieties, a bright and fun kid that just doesn't like to travel much from home.
The soul is pink. What, you did not know that? To be honest, I didn't either - until I had an encounter with the Riesling pictured below. While the wine was rather heavenly, it was the name that gave me this deep insight into the conditio humana: "Mandelpfad", meaning "almond path". It is not for esoteric reasons that the Knipser brothers chose to name the wine - Mandelpfad simply is the name of a vineyard in the Pfalz region. It is also the name of a scenic path, under almond trees, that leads hikers past many exciting vineyards.
In spring, I imagine, it must be beautiful with pink almond flowers all over the place, and that is apparently what made a tourism marketing writer whose text I just consulted declare that pink is the colour of the soul. Whether that is true I leave with competent experts such as mystics and marketing specialists, but I can tell you a little something about the soul of the Mandelpfad Riesling.
In a large blind tasting that pitted a selection of German Pinot Noirs against a wide range of international contestants, seven out of ten of the top ten scored bottles were German. This was widely publicised - not least on the Wine Rambler's Twitter account, of course - and even made some small headlines in the German general press. To be honest, I think you're well advised to take tastings of this kind with a pinch of salt, as they tend to follow their own marketing rules and cycles, and are often designed to fit into a Judgement of Paris kind of narrative. You can't help noticing, in fairness, that no Grand Cru Burgundies of the battleship class were lined up.
But I was pleased nonetheless, of course, because it underscored the validity of the case we've been making since the beginning of this blog: German Pinot Noirs can be very, very serious and deeply satisfying reds. And we have another one of these for you right here:
Quoting Shakespeare is fine. In fact, it is recommended to do it at least occasionally when you write in English. For some reason though the Germans are less likely these days to quote their national poet. Unless you write editorial for a conservative newspaper there seems to be something stuffy to it - although I'd recommend reading some of Goethe's obscene love poems if you believe the old man is stuffy. Anyway, today is the day I am going to quote Goethe in a wine review. However, in order not to turn you away before you have at least glanced at a great wine I shall do it at the end of this piece.
So before we get to the national icon, let's take a look at one of the national wine icons, the Rieslings made by the Emrich-Schönleber family.
FX - for most people these letters stands for excitement, explosions and all sorts of sparkles. The same is true for fans of Austrian wine, just that they don't think of digital visual or sound effects, they think of Franz Xaver (Pichler)'s Wachau wines. On 16ha of vineyard land in what to me is one of the underrated wine regions in Europe, the Pichlers grow Grüner Veltliner and Riesling (plus a little Sauvignon Blanc), and over the years have managed to build up an excellent reputation.
Because of all the praise for the Pichler wines, I was confident I would not just get fancy special effects from their 2003 Smaragd Riesling - or would I?
Said Mr. Munich Wine Rambler to a bottle of Lake Constance Chardonnay: "There's nuthin' in this town 's been a surprise, 'cept for you". Oh no, wait, that wasn't me, that was Kevin Costner, the romantic free-grazing, sharp-shooting cowboy in "Open Range", to Annette Bening. But that was exactly my sentiment when I took the first sniff of this 08 offering, my last bottle (for the time being) from the Staatsweingut Meersburg.
After a long, joyless day, any glass of wine would have cheered me up, and I wasn't expecting anything special, really. A white that would work with the nice pumpkin soup set before me, not too acidic, not too thin, with some smooth buttery notes (yes, it had indeed been that kind of day). But as it happens, this eloquent, outstandingly matured Chardonnay surprised and charmed me far beyond my modest designs:
I concluded my recent exploration of the ageing potential of cheap German plonk with a reference to what is a, well, reference point for white wine that often has to age before being at its most enjoyable: a Mosel Auslese. Ideally, these Rieslings have two key ingredients for ageing well - sugar and acidity. A good Auslese can easily improve for a decade and will often last much longer than that.
This means that the 2007 Auslese from Mosel producer St. Urbans-Hof could still be considered a youngling. On the other hand the wine has been living in my wardrobe since I bought it at the winery in 2008 (for €24), hardly the best place to age slowly, and who says you cannot enjoy an Auslese when it is still young?