Do you eat ice cream on cold winter days? I do, and for some reason I fancy it more often when it is cold than during the few really hot days of summer which London allows me. Maybe for that reason I don't seem to be buying into seasonal wine reviews and I don't find that I crave heavy reds more often in winter than in spring. Therefore it is purely coincidental that I am reviewing this year's first rosé just in time for the official start of spring.
However, if you do enjoy strawberry goodness with sunshine I am sure this English rosé will deliver the goods for you this summer - almost too much, in fact.
Northwest of Stuttgart, there is a land of wooded hills and industrious little towns called the Stromberg. In the Stromberg, there is the tiny village of Schönenberg. In Schönenberg, there is an Inn called Lamm, the lamb. There, I've had some of the best, most unpretentious Swabian regional food of my life, and took away this bottle of home-produced Lemberger.
Price tag: below 4 €. You can't say fairer than that, can you?
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.
Following last week's review of a kick-ass aged Mosel Riesling it seems only fair to follow up with an exploration of a much younger Mosel wine's ass-kicking abilities. Today's hero may just be a baby in comparison but it comes with a good family history and a coup de grâce delivered by one of the grand masters of ass-kicking, Dr Indiana Jones.
Most importantly it comes with an airship (not included in the price sadly): "the wine most often drunk during the flights of the 'Graf Zeppelin' (airship)", as the label proudly claims in German.
There is nothing unusual with me drinking Mosel Riesling from the village of Piesport. Quite the opposite in fact - it would not be far off to call this my favourite tipple. This time it was unusual though as I tasted the Kabinett from the Goldtröpfchen vineyard blind, against a much cheaper Mosel wine produced for the export market.
Why would I do that? It is a long-ish story, but if you care you can read it in my open letter to Waitrose. For the moment let's just say I needed to demonstrate what a good wine from the Mosel village of Piesport tastes like.
You may have heard of Sisyphus. He is the bloke doomed to roll a giant bolder up a hill, only to watch it roll down and having to do it all over again. Forever. I am not there yet, but my quest to find good, affordable German wine in a British supermarket feels a little similar. Here is the next instalment from the series, and it takes us to upmarket supermarket chain Waitrose.
It also takes us to the Mosel region - Piesporter Michelsberg is the name for a fairly large sub-region of the Mosel. Theoretically it is named after the village of Piesport, where they have been making outstanding wine since the time of the Romans. In reality though "Michelsberg" on the label pretty much guarantees that the wine in your bottle has never seen Piesport and is in fact a cheap blend, mostly from Müller-Thurgau grapes. That Waitrose sell such a wine as "Legends of Germany" made me almost angry, so much so that I wrote them an open letter.
There is no German wine that pairs with chocolate - this is what I have been told at a recent event on matching German wine with food. Whether you agree with this statement depends on what type of wine you would pair with chocolate of course. If you are amongst those who believe that sweeter red wines might work, well, then that statement is wrong. After all not only is about 40% of all wine made in Germany red, some of these do come in sweeter style too.
"Avantgarde", a semi-sweet Mosel red wine in an, er, avantgardistically shaped bottle is one of them. It is also a wine I have been scared of for a long time.
Remember that one perfect meal? That special memory that has been with you for years? A taste or texture you can still recall? Some treasure these memories so much that they do not want to go back to the restaurant in question as they fear it might not live up to the memory and spoil it. Now, I think it is worth taking that risk, but in the few cases when you are let down I do wonder whether the disappointment might come from expectations that are just too high for anyone to meet.
Today's wine is such a case, but luckily I had help judging it.
"The law made me do it!" is probably one of the excuses judges don't hear very often. If it comes to German wine, however, it may be more common than you think. The infamous German Wine Law, in combination with the regional wine establishment, is a very odd beast, so much so that you will find top producers who deliberately rate some of their top wines in a fairly low category as they don't quite meet inspectors' expectations. There are all sorts of complaints about the wine law of 1971, but it is still enforced with German precision. So much so that when winemakers wanted to print a new word on labels, "feinherb", they had to go to court as you cannot possibly print something on a label that has not been regulated beforehand.
Well, they succeeded and now we have a new, completely unregulated term in the precisely structured German wine classification: feinherb.
It's a sad thing indeed when a wine lover is failed by a wine, but can a wine also be failed by its tasters sometimes? We had such a case on our hands at a recent Wine Rambler full committee meeting: You judge for yourselves whether we are being too hard on ourselves. While the dry wines that go with dinners at Wine Rambler Munich HQ are usually settled on beforehand, the dessert offering is, for some reason, usually selected spontaneously during the course of the evening after lively, alcohol-fuelled debate. This has led to some very fortunate choices, inspired by the moment, but sometimes, some prior planning would have been preferable.
When the name Merkle came up on the most recent of these occasions, I thought of the 2009 Riesling-Gewürztraminer cuvée I had tasted at the winery last year. I remembered Gewürztraminer lushness, coupled with the Merkles' typical herbal spiciness, and I remembered above all sweetness. Just the thing, and a change from the more usual Mosel Spätlese or Auslese. I should have realised that the 2010 I had in my cellar was as different from the previous vintage as can be:
Here's a fun fact of German wine geography: From the one region that most people would intuitively associate, as a landscape, with German Riesling, you will most likely never have tried one. The Mittelrhein region, the slopes of the Rhine valley from just south of Bonn, past Koblenz, to the mouth of the river Nahe in Bingen, is an iconic landscape of germanophile romanticism. It is strange to hear, then, that quality winemaking is actually having a hard time there, with potentially superb vineyards unworked and given over to scrubland, terraces in some disrepair, and only a handful of creditable producers holding on. Among those, some say foremost among them, the Weingart family. I have long wanted to place an order there, but only last summer got around to do it for the 2010 vintage.
In the shipment, this off-dry Kabinett. The utter classicism of the category within German Wine is nicely underscored here, I think, by the sylishly subdued label, and the old-school brown bottle. But this alone will not get the Wine Rambler to approve, so let's get to the more significant qualities:
If it isn't overly original of a German wine blog to bring you another Riesling review, then this one is at least as close to the heart of this whole enterprise as you're ever going to get. We bring you what is, despite our previous coverage, arguably the best unknown Riesling producer anywhere: Weinhof Herrenberg, the jewel of the river Saar. Please also note this outstanding micro-winery's fondness for bad puns. In Claudia and Manfred Loch, we salute two kindred souls.
And we duly salute this 2008 offering:
When touring the Mosel in 2008, we visited, amongst other places, a village called Leiwen. It was chosen for very practical reasons, as the wide and comfortable cycle paths along the river lead right past it, but more importantly for bacchanal reasons as it is the home of the St. Urbans-Hof winery. Small by New World standards, the 33ha vineyard area owned by the Weis family actually make the estate one of giants of the Mosel/Saar region and they include sections of several prestigious vineyards.
One of them is the Bockstein, near the village of Ockfen at the Saar river. There was no time to visit Ockfen in 2008, and until that can be remedied I will have to make due with enjoying the odd bottle of Ockfener Bockstein Riesling.
This little review revisits old Wine Rambler territory: Swabia's Stromberg region, last seen in the throes of a damaging freak frost in the spring of last year. This time, another winery, just one picturesque beech-forested ridge away. The Steinbachhof is an ancient estate created by the cistercian abbey of Maulbronn, then owned by the dukes, later kings of Württemberg, and now by two adventurous young people, Nanna and Ulrich Eißler, who supplement their income from wine growing by hosting wedding and business receptions in a beautifully refurbished old barn.
From a recent short visit, I brought a bottle of Riesling that, sadly, you won't be able to find outside of Germany, or Swabia for that matter, for any time soon:
For stereotypical American or Japanese tourists who also love wine, a visit to Schlossgut Diel has to equal the feeling of a child realising it has been locked in an ice cream parlour for lunch break. After all we are not only talking about one of Germany's top wine estates, we are also talking about a "castle winery", as that is what "Schlossgut" translates to. Castle Layen, where the Diel family has been based since the Napoleonic wars, was built in the 11th century. The wines in the cellar are not quite as old, but rumour has it some go back to the early 20th century, so the both lovers of medieval towers and old wine should be very happy there.
Sadly, I have yet to visit Schlossgut Diel (preferably leading a raiding party), but at least I managed to get my hands on a few bottles of their Riesling - this Kabinett Riesling from the "gold hole" vineyard being one of them.
Willi Schaefer is one of the stars of the Mosel, so much so it seems that he and his son Christoph even in 2011 think they don't need a website so that people can find out about them. Well, they are on our radar anyway, but I am sure others would appreciate the chance to learn more about this small, family-owned estate in Graach. The wine you see in front of you is one of the basic offerings, a "feinherb" or "off-dry" Riesling that comes with a screw cap.
"But it is a little sweet", was the warning when I expressed an interest in buying this Riesling - as if that had ever stopped a Wine Rambler! Quite the opposite, I was very exciting to find an off-dry Australian Riesling as I had never before tasted one. It also seemed to me it would be a great change to taste it blind against an off-dry German Riesling.
This made even more sense as the label told me that "This early picked Riesling is loosely based on the German "Kabinett" style." Well, bring it on Australia.
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?