It's been a busy few months for me. Almost all of June I spent on the road, or at events in London. So to ease myself back into blogging I thought I write about a nice little wine, nothing extraordinarily expensive or with a long and complicated backstory. There is, after all, a place for those wines that are there just to be enjoyed.
When I unscrewed Gerhard Klein's Grüner Veltliner I hoped it would be one of those quiet, enjoyable companions. And it was. With a little twist...
Not everyone may agree with the National Health Service's classification of nosebleeds as potentially 'frightening', but even tougher characters don't seem to consider them fun. Looking back at one or two childhood nosebleed experiences I am inclined to take sides with the NHS here - and yet a Riesling tasting like a nosebleed was probably the most interesting wine I encountered this year. Enter Müller-Catoir's 2009 Grand Cru Riesling "Breumel in den Mauern".
As you can see from the photo above there is a prominent "1" on the bottle, indicating that this wine comes from one of the most highly rated vineyards in Germany (at least according to the winemakers association VDP). Together with the designation as "Großes Gewächs" (great growth or grand cru) this is designed to inspire some awe - which is, one would hope, at least subtly different from nosebleed fright.
After last week's venture beyond the world of wine (and into the realm of photography) it is time to come back to the core mission of the Wine Rambler with a piece on a classic: Riesling. Actually, seen from an international perspective the Knipser Halbstück wine may not be a true German classic as it is not one of the sweet Mosel wines that some hold to be the true expression of Riesling.
While some international wine experts still get worked about about the mistake of dry German Riesling, the German consumers have moved on to embrace "trocken", and German winemakers try different styles, including barrique aged Riesling. The Halbstück is not one of them, but barrels do play a role with this wine.
So there you sit in Tuscany, enjoying the evening sun and sipping on your Sangiovese blend - oh, wait! It is not Tuscany but the German wine growing region of the Pfalz (Palatinate) and you are not drinking a Chianti but a German red. Sounds unlikely? Well, unlikely it may be but certainly not impossible: Pfalz winemaker Philipp Kuhn is well known for his red wines and one of them, the Cuveé Luitmar, is indeed made of Sangiovese.
Not just Sangiovese but also Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger) - not exactly what you would expect from a German wine...
It does not always have to be Mosel. Nor does it always have to be Riesling. Well, there would be worse things in the world than to be limited to Mosel Riesling, but thankfully no demonic power has so far decided to make me choose between German wine growing regions. If that ever were to happen one of the other contenders would have to be the Pfalz. The Palatinate, as some of you may know it, is as large as it is diverse: amongst king Riesling and a range of other white grapes we see more and more exciting reds coming from the region west of Mannheim.
Like this Pinot Blanc most of the wines are dry. The Weißburgunder, as the Germans call it, comes from Koehler-Ruprecht, one of the renowned Pfalz estates. And damn is it drinkable!
Exciting and reliable - German car makers charge a premium for the promise of both, lovers almost by definition only deliver one and public services are rumoured to be neither. It is a desirable yet hard to find blend of characteristics, unless you turn to Knipsers' Kalkmergel Riesling.
Every vintage of this wine I have tried reliably delivered, and always in an exciting way.
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?
We all have our missions in life. Big missions, casual missions, impossible missions and the odd small mission. One of my small missions is to convince co-Rambler Julian of the qualities of Chardonnay. Not that he dislikes it, he just does not feel the right excitement. Thankfully, today this mission nicely blends (in a pure, single varietal way of course) with the Wine Rambler mission of convincing you, gentle reader, that German wine is well worth exploring - and that includes German Chardonnay.
Whether this is an impossible mission only you will know, but like Jim Phelps I am not one to turn down a mission when it comes to find me.
"Torsten and Julian have this wine blog, and they mostly review sweet wines." This is how a friend introduced the Wine Rambler at a dinner party - much to my surprise as sweet wines make up only a relatively small amount of our wine reviews: not even 1/6 and even with the off-dry ones added we don't quite come to 2/7. Perhaps my outspoken love for Mosel Riesling (which tends to be off-dry or sweet) contributed to this image, or it is just the general perception that German wine is sweet. Instead of fighting this cliché today I shall give in to it. Let's not just drink sweet, let's indulge in sweet.
Ladies and Gentlemen, friends of sweetness and sugar hounds, I give you an ice wine from the Pfalz.
Cheap Pinot Grigio, oaked Chardonnay and fruitbomb Sauvignon Blanc are the three banes of the popular white wine world. For my day job I regularly attend functions organised by public sector bodies who have next to no money for entertainment and, perhaps worse, no one who really cares about finding value, so I have had many an encounter with this unholy trinity. Luckily I know that all these grape varieties are capable of producing fantastic wines, although I have to admit that my relationship with Sauvignon Blanc never has been an easy one. Too often even the better wines have me on my knees begging for mercy after a broadside of pungent grassy aromas, gooseberry, intense vegetal flavours and intense blackcurrant.
On the other hand there are very nicely balanced examples too, and sometimes I just crave crisp, fruity intensity. The other day it was one of those moments and I turned to the German wine region of Franken (Franconia) to satisfy my urge.
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.
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?
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.
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?
Dear readers, you know what we're about here. You know how much we try to promote a sense of place and provenance as the basis of wine culture. And we always will. But when it comes to the traditional German way of naming a wine not by what might catch on with people, but by a hermetic kind of descriptive prose that tells you about the exact vineyard that produced the grapes, how ripe they were when harvested, how dry or otherwise the finished wine will taste and so on, we're torn. It can be great for wine nerds like us, but, language problems aside, it's fair to accept that many people don't care about it: Just tell me what wines are good to buy, ok? Fair enough, and up to a point, I even agree. Branded wines are a great thing, if and in so far as they do what, in a perfect world, brands should do for consumers: Find something they can like and depend on without reading up on what Germans call Warenkunde - specialist knowledge to decipher and recognize product quality and decipher the codes that products are packaged with and sold by.
And by introducing the PinoTimes project created by two young winemakers from the Pfalz, I think I can give you an example of what I mean:
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".
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!
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: