Behringer und Sohn
Earlier this month, Bernhard Huber died. As the last few weeks have been very busy with work I am only now catching up with news from the wine world - and with news like this I almost wish I hadn't. While I have never met him in person I have appreciated his outstanding wines on more than one occasion, and I am only too aware of what he has done for the reputation of German wine, Pinot Noir in particular.
Looking through my cellar, the only Huber wine left is a Müller-Thurgau, not quite the obvious choice, but it has to do for a toast to one of the greats of wine making.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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'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.
Sometimes Burgundy is not in France. Well, technically it might still be in France, for all I know, but metaphysically speaking I believe Burgundy is also a state of wine that can travel - and like the holy spirit of wine it can come down elsewhere and turn red wine into true Pinot Noir. Some of you heathens will now think of Oregon, New Zealand or California, but I have seen it happen in one of the more unlikely places on earth: the cool climate Mosel.
Yes, the Mosel makes Pinot Noir that can rival Burgundy. There may not be much of it, but I think of one man in particular, driven by faith in his vines: Markus Molitor.
We have all been there. You meet someone. At a wine bar, a pub, a club. They look nice, approachable. You talk a little and it goes easy, very easy. Almost too easy - you realise: a smooth operator. Now you should be careful, but somehow it feels good. Until disappointment finds you at last. However, as you get older, more experienced, you learn to spot them before it is too late: pleasant surface, charming, very smooth - but shallow and hollow, a disappointment. You are now a grown-up, and you won't fall for that trick.
I am a grown-up, and I won't fall for that trick. Or will I?
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.
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.
One of the venerable German wineries we have yet to introduce here on the Wine Rambler is Müller-Catoir. Established in the 18th century, the Pfalz estate has been in the same family for nine generations. There is also a generational theme about how I first came across Müller-Catoir - my dad is a big fan, and he always mentions MC when the topic of German Riesling comes up. On 20 hectares, the Catoirs are mostly growing Riesling and Pinot (Noir, Blanc and Gris), but also a range of other wines including the Germanic variety Scheurebe.
Scheurebe is famously aromatic and often made into sweeter wines, but in Germany the trend goes to dry - as with everything -, and so I was looking forward to sampling my first dry Scheurebe in a while.
Sometimes you have no idea what you are looking at. The other day I pulled a bottle out of a newly arrived cask of wine that I hadn't actually ordered - nor had I heard of the winery before! Turns out that the wine merchant had sneakily squeezed it into the box as a thank you for a good customer. Herr Behringer also asked me for my opinion.
Following the recent debate on neutrality of wine bloggers I should probably add that this is the first wine we have received from Behringer without paying, that he did not ask us for a review and that the wine is not in his portfolio (I wonder if he plans to change that though). Anyway, Mr Behringer, here goes.
A little while ago I discussed the question of how much a value Pinot Noir should cost with a Canadian and an American on Twitter. With different currencies and tax/duty regimes it was not the easiest discussion, but I made the point that at least in Germany you should get decent Pinot for around, or a little above, ten Euro. Today we are looking at a German Pinot, from one of the country's best "red" wineries, for less than that.
Can Knipser's basic Pinot Noir be my new reference point for value?
When the topic of Merlot comes up, most people will think of Paul Giamatti's 'I am not drinking any fucking Merlot' rant from the movie Sideways. Some will leave it at that as they dislike (or think they dislike) Merlot. Others will point out that Merlot isn't actually that bad. The number of people who will look to Germany for Merlot would be rather small though. Since my recent experience with Philipp Kuhn's Merlot from the Pfalz, I am definitely one of them though.
Philipp Kuhn is one of those German winemakers who confidently cover what seems like the whole spectrum of wine, from Riesling to Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscat, Viognier, Pinot Noir, St. Laurent, Lemberger, a few others - and Merlot.
Knipser is the name of a wine making family from the Pfalz region of Germany who keep impressing us with their polished and tasty wines. They are widely known for their expertise in ageing wine in barrique barrels - red wine, of course, but also white. The other day when I was cooking tarragon cream chicken I felt the time had come to open their premier 2003 Chardonnay, a wine that was only released to market after several years of maturing in the Knipser cellars.
What I was expecting, of course, was a substantial (14% ABV and barrique), creamy wine with the first signs of age. What I was hoping for was that it also kept a hint of freshness to go along with the food.
Never heard of Sauvignon Gris? If not, don't be ashamed, it is hardly a well known variety and I have to admit that I was only dimly aware of its existence until I saw this wine in the Knipser portfolio. The Knipser winery is one of Germany's best, so I was very curious to see what they would make of this unknown variety. Knipsers are big believers in maturing wines properly before releasing them to the market, often using barrique barrels, and this beauty only went on sale two years after the harvest. So, what is it like?
Let's start with a boring, albeit short, lecture on the grape variety.