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The first swigs of this very young wine straight out of the bottle were not promising: A heavy, awkward and withdrawn wine.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:
I like Pinot Blanc. It's is that simple. As our regular readers know I am always in danger of rambling on for too long, so I will keep this short. I really like Pinot Blanc. In Germany it is called Weißer Burgunder or Weißburgunder ("white Burgundy") and one of the more popular white grape variety (although nowhere as common as Riesling or Müller-Thurgau). What I find particularly attractive about Weißburgunder is how it manages to be a very enjoyable drink but also has a more serious side, either in a leaner, smoky and edgy style or, especially when aged in oak barrels, a more complex and substantial one.
Julian has recently been somewhat unhappy with a Pinot Blanc from one of the top producers in Baden, so I wonder how this more inexpensive specimen from less prestigious Rheinhessen will do.
I always love it when a review is a first: To be able to report on a winery, or better still, a whole region of the wine world, that we have not yet touched upon. A mere check-up review, so to speak, on a well-represented winery and a vintage a few years past, seems much less exciting. But these, too, are very important. When wine guides, such as the very serious German online publication "Wein-Plus" regularly hold samples back for re-tasting and re-evaluation a few years after the first tasting, the results are often surprising, and always instructive. More wine guides and publications should do it, rather than to just keep celebrating each new vintage's potential.
I remember exactly the moment I first tasted this particular Pinot Blanc. It was at the annual autumn tasting extravaganza at Munich's Bayerischer Hof. I loved it right away for its streak of vibrant freshness that distinguished it among some of the blander white Pinots also on offer. My Co-Rambler Torsten, I also recall, was a bit more reserved. His may have been the better judgement.
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 wine from the Gutedel (=Chasselas) grape? Indeed. The more serious and objective international wine critics may point out that two wines from this rather pedestrian grape are already too much, when there is so much Riesling to talk about. But we talk about whatever we like here on the Wine Rambler, and I happen to have a soft spot for wines from the Markgräflerland, that pleasant stretch of wine country near Germany's southwestern border with Switzerland. I have another soft spot, incidentally, for the Ziereisen winery, that elite/anti-elite rogue/boutique family outfit that arguably makes Baden's most stylish wines, but that's another story.
And I've come to enjoy Gutedel quite a bit, why the hell not. So what are we looking at here?
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.
Should I resist the tired cliché, should I raise above the overused joke? Even if I were that strong and even if I were not secretly in love with clichés I still could not do it in this case. Even my wine merchant felt powerless against the buying-wine-by-the-label joke: "We bought it despite the label!", was her excuse. I didn't have any: I bought it because of the label. Because of the name. And because that day I had set out with a desire to buy something different.
I trust that even after just a cursory glance at the Wine Rambler you will agree that I fulfilled that mission - but was it a success?
When we last heard of Martin Tesch, the brain behind the Tesch vinery of Germany's Nahe region, my fellow Wine Rambler Torsten reported on the young winemaker's gift for marketing and label design and, not least, his manic laugh. The bottle of 2010 dry Riesling from his St. Remigiusberg vineyard recently on this Rambler's kitchen table emitted no sound whatsoever, but the other qualities of its creator were very much in evidence:
With its mixture of the historical seriousness and visual overload associated with old-style German Riesling, the hint at family traditions in the stern look and the the sideburns of the Tesch ancestor who presides over it, and finally the memorable colouring of the screw cap, this is no doubt a very well-designed bottle of wine. Is it any good?
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.
My love of German Riesling clearly has crossed the fine line that separates "famous" from "infamous": earlier this week a wine acquaintance on Twitter apologised to me for looking forward to having an Australian Riesling! To improve my image I decided there had to be a token non-German Riesling review on the Wine Rambler asap to hide that fact the deep down we do of course believe that the only good Riesling is a German Riesling.
So what better country to turn to than Austria, a country that like Germany has a range of confusing quality levels for wine, that features labels of a similar style and that, if it was not for the Austrian colours on the cap of every bottle, would on account of the language probably be mistaken for German by most international customers anyway. Selecting an Austrian Riesling will surely boost our post-nationalist credentials!
Frickenhausen-Linsenhofen - say that five times real fast? I would particularly encourage you to try this after you have had a few glasses of wine, for instance the old vines Silvaner pictured below. While you might have to disentangle your tongue afterwards I can at least assure you that it is otherwise perfectly save to say even in polite German company - unless perhaps the Germans are from a neighbouring village that has a long-standing feud with the Frickenhausen-Linsenhofeners.
Now, despite being born in the area my knowledge of local feuds and other details is scant, but I do know that Frickenhausen-Linsenhofen is home to one of Germany's highest vineyards. And it is here where Helmut Dolde makes a Silvaner from 50 year old vines ("Alte Reben").
After the epic ramble on which Torsten took you last time, along the sheer slopes of the Mosel valley and the bold challenges they afford the winemaker, it seems an uphill trek for me to interest you in a less dramatic setting for German Riesling. But I think I may have the region to do it, and the winemaker as well. The Place is the Ortenau, the Baden subregion made up by the last few hills of the Black Forest as it rolls gently down to the Rhine valley between Freiburg and Baden-Baden. A place of homely beauty, renowned for the richness of its cuisine and the temperateness of its climate, which is almost as sunny as Baden's Kaiserstuhl, but not quite as warm, with the cooler, pine-shaded Black Forest at its back. Riesling country.
The Winemaker: Alexander Laible, son of Andreas Laible, who has been for years, if not decades the uncontested number one among the winemakers of the Ortenau. Due to the enthusiastic press Alexander is getting, I have wanted to try one of his wines for some time, so I'll try not to lose too many introductory words now that the moment has arrived:
If you're a regular follower of this blog (and you better had be) you know that there are several threads or agendas woven into it without much subtlety. One, doomed to failure, is the notion that we could get to understand Burgundy. Another, with better progress, is to bring the use of cheap puns in wine reviews to new lows. A third is that, both of us with roots in the German southwest, we are tirelessly working to see Swabia rise. Not so much rise to world dominance through thrift, Kehrwoche and the manufacture of car parts. That will happen inevitably, without our doing. No, we would see her rise in the world of wine also. And rise she will, as Germany's up-and-coming red wine region.
Quietly pruning their vines to this goal, plotting away, are people like those from the Zimmerle family winery of Württemberg's Remstal subregion, northeast of Stuttgart. Could their three-varietal red wine cuvée be another step forward in the quest?
Every hype brings with it the danger of disappointment. I mostly suffer from this with regards to movies (which is why I am staying away from reviews of "The Dark Knight Rises" until I have had a chance to see it), but the same can happen with wine. When it comes to the Saar Riesling from the Van Volxem estate hype was never needed to convince me to buy a few bottles every year as it has been consistently good, and also good value.
Even so I could not help notice the bold headlines that my wine merchant threw at me with this wine - headlines of high praise from respected wine critics for a Riesling that does not even follow the "single vineyard" paradigm. Because of the quality of the previous vintages I was confident it would be good, but would the hype spoil my enjoyment when I would not be quite blown away?
I sometimes think that I could, at some time in the distant future, grow conservative. I would remove myself to the country, improve my tax evasion skills and shake my head at the foolishness of do-gooders, environmentalists and labour unions. "They grow good people in our small towns", I would drawl, in the manner of an American republican. But since, for the time being, I'm a European left-leaning, city-dwelling, wine-sipping intellectual (of sorts), I'll have to amend this to the factually indisputable "they grow good wines in our small towns". Baden's out-of-the-way Markgräflerland region, covered for the Wine Rambler by Simon Jones, is the place to go if you want to celebrate small town life. But, far from conservative, it's actually frightfully progressive and reforming when it comes to tackling wine quality. And they grow not only good winemakers, but a speciality: The Gutedel grape, known as Chasselas in Switzerland.
These fresh, light, softly fruited whites can come over a touch boring, but then, they come so invitingly priced that you can afford to taste yourself through a couple before you find one that tickles your palate. I got lucky at the small winery run by the Brenneisen family:
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.
While German wineries, even quite good ones, can seem unduly modest about their own accomplishments and shy about marketing to new groups of consumers, no such light treading for our southern neighbour, Austria. Austria's wine reputation was all but shattered by the dramatic adulterated wine scandal of 1985. From this low point, Austrian wine has - and here, the tired metaphor makes sense for once - pullet itself up by its own bootstraps, and wineries are rightly and vocally proud of their successes. Austrians themselves have fuelled the growth of a new wine scene with all but insatiable home demand. That, too, makes a great difference from Germany, where wine patriotism was lukewarm for the longest time and has only really taken off in the wake of the Große Gewächse (great growth/grand cru) campaign.
The Thermenregion south of Vienna is one of those success stories, as it supplies the ever-thirsty throats of Vienna with original whites from indigenous grapes such as Zierfandler and Rotgipfler. The Schellmann winery, run as a side project by the Kamptal winemaker Fred Loimer and some partners, is one of those confident establishments, as you can tell by the label: Love me or leave me, it seems to say, and I don't think you're going to leave me, are you now?
This is a story of failure and sloppiness. My failure and sloppiness, I hasten to add - no such crime was committed by the Salweys. In fact the Baden winemaking family have done everything right. Not only did they make a substantial, interesting Grauburgunder (internationally better known as Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio), they also shipped a bottle of it in the most timely manner when a few years ago I put an order in with them. Since then it waited for a special occasion.
And when the occasion came I failed it - by accidentally deleting the photo I had taken before I did my backup, and then only realising this when the bottle was on the way to the recycling plant. So blame me, but please do read on.
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?