good ol' boys
When the topic of really expensive wine comes up, my dad has a story to tell. Years ago, when he was working in a Michelin-decorated restaurant, one of the guests told him that he had made a good deal that day and now wanted to find out. To find out whether the most expensive wine on the menu was really worth it. So he asked my dad to bring that bottle and get his colleagues too so they all could taste the wine. A few minutes later a group of highly trained sommeliers and waiters clustered around the guest and sampled the wine - I think it was a Bordeaux - to conclude: nice, very nice in fact; but not nice enough that any of them would spend even remotely as much money on a bottle. Even so they were all happy, especially the guest as he now had found out what he always had wondered about.
Today I am embarking on a, somewhat, similar mission. Behold, and you will see the most expensive wine I have ever bought, a Riesling older than yours truly. And the question is: was it worth it?
People, it is said, become more interesting with age. In the same way as our faces start telling a little about the lives we have lived we too have more stories to tell, gain some wisdom - at least that's the theory - and become more distinct characters. The same is true for ageworthy wine, but with a pleasant difference: while people can become a little difficult over time, stuck in their ways and perhaps too edgy, a good wine becomes more harmonious and balanced. At some point the wine will decline rapidly and become an old grump, but that is a question of timing and also not what today's wine story is about.
Today I am revisiting Martin Müllen's exciting Mosel wines and in particular an aged specimen I recently got my hands on.
Old wines are desirable, sophisticated and expensive - that at least is the general perception. Sadly this is usually not true as most wines don't age very well at all - just try the supermarket Chardonnay forgotten for five years in your cupboard to see why. However, and even more sadly perhaps, it tends to be true that desirable and sophisticated aged wines are expensive. Or are they?
How about I tell you that just a few weeks ago I bought the bottle belonging to the cork above for less than ten Euros - about half a Euro per year of age.
"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.
Seven years is not a biblical age for a bottle serious red wine, but the Austrian wine scene being obsessed with youth and each new vintage, it is not quite so easy to find older bottles of interesting Austrian reds. Except if you manage to navigate this Wine Rambler's tiny cramped cellar. Recently, I got lucky down there, and found this. Upon seeing the label and suddenly remembering having bought it all those years ago, I made the executive decision that its time had come. It had that in common with the goose who had lost her life for Martinmas and was about to be cooked with some apples and red cabbage.
The Leithaberg is a range of low hills northwest of Lake Neusiedl that a few winemakers from Austria's Burgenland region discovered for its cooler, steeper vineyards after they had become bored by the powerfully fruity, but somewhat complacent wines to be made from their lakeside plots.
If you want to test the German wine savvy of your knowledgeable friends, here's a little experiment you can conduct in the safety of your own living room. Tell them you want them to taste a German rosé, and inform them that it will be off-dry, well over ten years old, and come with a label sporting a coat of arms and cryptic Germanic font. Mention in passing that this bottle will come from the Müller-Catoir winery. 95 per cent of all wine drinkers will at this point have run away screaming, the living daylights scared out of them.
The remaining 5 % will ask for a screwpull without further ado. From then on, listen to those people.
It's all rather melancholy. It's raining outside, autumn is coming on, and there's only one antidote against heaviness of heart that never fails: 1990 Bordeaux. Chateau Malescasse is said to be one of the very dependable producers of the Haut-Médoc, and in a more lucid moment, I secured this bottle on eBay.
And when I woke up this morning with the rain lashing against the windows, I knew it : Tonight is its night.
This is a story of failure. Not a failure of the wine in question, quite the opposite of it. The wine was great. Instead it was me who failed the wine, in a way at least. Having said that, perhaps someone else is to be blamed for this ramble being a little different. As it happens, I have a photo of the culprit, and they look like this:
What has a pure, innocent grasshopper to do with an aged late harvest Riesling? Well, it is all about focus and light.
Yes, sometimes we Wine Ramblers find aged wines in our neighbours' garbage (although Julian would hasten to add that he never forages there systematically). At other occasions, the aged wine seems to find us, and so it happened earlier this year when I went to the Netherlands to taste two seriously aged German wines, two wines so old that by rights they should have been dead.
I did not know this when I set out, of course, but I was about to learn a lesson about ageing and storing wine and about not to underestimate hopeless losers.
This wine is one of two bottles that found their way to me under somewhat mysterious circumstances. As I have covered this elsewhere, let's for the moment focus more on the "what" than on the "how". And that in itself makes for an interesting case. As is common knowledge (even among non-wine drinkers) wine ages. Now, for most wines that just means a constant progression to a state of vinegar. Some will age for a few years without problem, but only a few do improve with ageing. And even among those thirty years is a respectable age.
It would be even more respectable for a wine that back in the day cannot have been very expensive and may very well have been relatively cheap, mass-produced as this blend of unspecified grape varieties from the Mosel. Is it actually still drinkable?
Contrary to the impression given by my recent confessional posting, I do not generally source my aged Rieslings by going through the neighbours' garbage. Here's one I bought absolutely regularly from a Munich wine shop. J. B. Becker is Rheingau winery known for the uncompromising traditionalism of its winemaking and the longevity of its Rieslings.
So while we are on the topic, I thought another little review may be in order:
This rather pointless little posting is for fans of aged wines. I don't mean wines cellar-matured to an ideal drinking point, but those left to grow old beyond any responsible borderline moment. It is for those of you who might hunt for old wines on eBay or via specialised merchants, but would never stoop so low as to actually drink what other people throw out in disgust. You don't have to, because this is where your self-sacrificing correspondent comes in. Let me stress, though, that I was not, I was emphatically not rummaging through my next door neighbours' garbage in the hope of finding discarded, but still filled wine bottles. It was rather that someone had left the four of them standing outside of the bin, maybe having been tipped off that there is a pervert living nearby who might have a use for that kind of stuff. He could indeed.
Here, then, is a little report about four random wines whose history is open to anyone's imagination and who have absolutely nothing to lose in terms of taste.
Sometimes before going to bed I browse the websites of wine merchants and dream what I could order if only I had a proper wine cellar store wine long term (or, depending on the wine, a larger purchasing budget). During one of those sessions I came across a wine that seemed like the ideal solution to both problems: at over ten years of age it would not need more cellaring and at €9 it would not put a strain on my budget - considering the age it was a bargain.
I had heard of the Lucashof winery before, so I was curious to find out what one of their aged dry Rieslings (and from a well-know vineyard) would taste like.
Liebfraumilch does not need much introduction, seeing as it is probably the wine most foreigners, certainly the British, associate with Germany. What hundred years ago was one of the best white wines in the world has since become cheap supermarket plonk. Hardly a reason to look out for those wines then, I hear you say - and yet I got extremely excited when a little while ago I got my hands on a bottle. Why? Because it was over 25 years old.
At this age, most wines are undrinkable, and even quite a few age-worthy white wines don't look exactly fresh anymore. Surely, the Liebfraumilch must have turned into vinegar. Or did it?
Usually, if you want to drink aged wine it involves a cellar, a good idea which wines are worth putting away and some kind of idea when you should open them. And then perhaps a decade of doing nothing. Or it may involve spending a lot of money buying an aged wine from a merchant. Sometimes you are lucky though and come across a wine that both looks the right age and is reasonably priced. Today's find is one of them, a ten year old Riesling from a good vineyard site, made by an excellent producer, and sold for less than 15 Euro.
Even Wine Ramblers do have a birthday. Just recently, it was the birthday of THE Wine Rambler and also of my co-Rambler Julian. My birthday is already a few months past, but there is still something to report on: When I met our Munich branch as part of my birthday celebrations, I found myself presented with a special gift.
Co-Rambler Julian likes to hunt for aged wines on eBay (great if you are in Germany, imppossile in the UK because of legal restrictions), and for my birthday he managed to find a bottle of a suitably aged Riesling from a Mosel winery that has my personal seal of approval.
The Mosel, Germany's best known wine region, hosts many styles of Riesling winemaking: There are the modernists, there are the traditionalists, there are the ultra-traditionalist. And then, there is Jos. Christoffel Jun. The winery's website nicely underscores their brand of conservatism, in that there isn't one. If you want to get your hands on any of the older vintages (back into the 80s, rumour has it) they still have on offer, get your ass down to the Mosel. Or else get lucky on eBay, like your undeservedly fortunate correspondent. For about 12 €, shipment included, I got this Spätlese from the year Frank Zappa died.
Last autumn I drank my first Kirchmayr wine. It was a 16 year old Grüner Veltliner, and I was very impressed. Beautiful bottle design, marvellous bouquet and a wine that was focussed, sharp and sophisticated - yet not aged, not even old. It was pure joy. Kirchmayr have a whole range of wines - "Solist" - specifically made to age well and only to be released to market after years of maturing. So I had to get a bottle of Riesling to find out if it would be as good as the Grüner.
When I reviewed the Grüner, I took an excessive amount of photos of the bottle (same beautiful design for both varietals), so please take a look at that post, also for some background on the winery. But now to the Riesling.
There are wines you fancy, wines you want badly and wines you have to buy. The Mayacamas ticked all these boxes, but particularly the third. An eighteen year old wine from a top Californian producer famous for their age-worthy, lighter Cabernets, and the price reduced to half - I had to get it. Mayacamas Vineyards go back to 1899 and rose to prominence when their Cabernet was included in the famous 1976 Paris blind tasting battle France vs. California.
In 2006, the blind tasting was repeated and the Mayacamas came third out of ten red wines, beating the likes of Château Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion. So, when I saw my Mayacamas at Battersea wine shop Philglass & Swiggot I did not hesitate for second and decided to take it to Munich for a blind tasting at a Wine Rambler full committee meeting.
Find the full and unabridged story of this wine, two Wine Ramblers, some chestnuts and a piece of venison in a blind tasting at a Wine Rambler full committee meeting.