After my recent (and completely unsubstantiated, I hasten to add, your honour) comments about dullness of the average Pinot Grigio I felt a reminder was due about how exciting Italian wine can be. This is probably less a reminder to you, gentle reader, than it is to myself and my co-Rambler Julian - after all we both were traumatised by a youth of cheap and dull Pinot Grigio. The therapeutic antidote I am going to serve today is Manzoni Bianco, an Italian grape variety I discovered earlier this year at a natural wine fair. I was instantly impressed by it; and how could I not: it is a cross of Riesling and Pinot Bianco/Blanc, two of my absolute favourite grape varieties.
The wines I tried at the fair mostly impressed me by their freshness and minerality - elegant, light and clean. The first specimen I got into the scientific Wine Rambler tasting labs is a slightly different creature, a bolder and more substantial wine that easily rates as one of the most exciting discoveries of the year.
Pinot Grigio is dull. That would be a textbook provocative statement to catch the interest of the reader, and of course the author would qualify that statement to the extent that it was almost turned into the opposite. However, I do honestly believe that Pinot Grigio is dull. Not on principle, but the vast majority of Pinot Grigio I encounter is mass produced dullness to the extent that I'd discourage everyone to choose one - unless there are reasons to have hope for the wine, for instance when sourced from a good wine merchant or knowledgeable sommelier.
That at least is how I see the situation in the UK with imported Pinot Grigio. In Germany, or where German wine is available, there is a second route: buy wine made from the same grape variety, but done in Germany style. Sometimes, these wines are labelled Pinot Gris, like in France, but mostly you will find the German name Grauburgunder.
As some of you may be aware, there has recently been a bit of noise about dry German Riesling. A well respected importer and Riesling fan referred to the dry German wines as "a highly invasive species", much to the dislike of some. I am not planning to enter that debate directly, at least not right now. However, I had a little craving for an invasive species the other night...
...so here it is, a short review of a dry German Riesling, and from the region that wine lovers across the world associate most with sweet: the Mosel.
Considering how well regarded it is Pinot is a fickle, confusing and rather unstable friend. With that statement I don't mean the wine but rather the grape - you stop watching it closely for just a second and, woosh!, does it mutate into something else. It can be so deceiving it will even confuse you when the mutation is over and it has become something else. Take the white Auxerois variety for instance that descends from Pinot: the first South African Chardonnay cuttings were actually Auxerois and when you think you drink an Alsace Pinot Blanc you could be fooled by 100% Auxerois.
The wine you are looking at here is more straightforward in that, as far as we know, it really is made from Auxerois - but with a twist still as it comes from the Netherlands, a wine region with so small a production that even many Dutch have not yet sampled its wine.
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.
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.
Saying that I am drinking more Italian wine these days would be almost cheating, at least in the case of today's specimen. After all, Riesling is hardly the grape variety that would make you think of olives, pasta and Mediterranean heat - and the Alto Adige region for some does seem to belong more to the German/Austrian wine world than to Italy. After all Italy's northernmost wine region used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and German is still spoken widely, as is also reflected in my wine labels.
So let's just say I am slowly working my way into the Italian wine world from the north through a multi-cultural sphere of many influences. Is it also a tasty one?
Christmas lies behind us, the new year hasn't quite started yet - it is the supposedly quiet time "zwischen den Jahren", or between the years as the Germans say. It is the time when memories and hangovers of heavy Christmas food and wine are still close enough to feel physical, and yet New Year's eve calls with classy Champagne and another set of booze-heavy parties.
In short, it is a good time to leave the heavy, deep, expensive, mindblowing wines behind and think about lighter alternatives that don't lack the enjoyment factor. Enter Hanspeter Ziereisen's Heugumber.
When I woke up this morning to the news of Barack Obama being re-elected I immediately realised how I had to write tonight's Riesling review. It would have to be about expectation management. This is something the 44th President of the United States would have a lot to say about as the disappointment some Democrats seem to feel towards him originated from perhaps unrealistically high expectations in his first presidency. Expectation management goes beyond politics of course and I suspect all of us will have been disappointed in something or someone when actually their only "failure" was not to have fulfilled our expectations.
Film is an area where I suffer from this effect occasionally, despite struggling not to be infected by the most recent hype. It also happens with regards to wine, but to me as a Wine Rambler it poses a more serious issue. How can we ensure not to be negatively influenced by our expectations? And this is how the poor, innocent Rheingau Riesling gets dragged into this malarkey.
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.
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?
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?
"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.
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?
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.
A highly recommended, reasonably priced Riesling with Art Nouveau/Jugendstil label and named after the world's most famous intelligence agency - I pressed "add to shopping cart" before my brain had even processed this properly. You may not know this, but I am intrigued by the world of espionage, I like cheap puns and I have the marvellous ability to misread pretty much everything to make me giggle. So it took my brain another second after I had added the wine to my latest delivery to realise that (while the label really does feature angels with a Riesling gun!) there is no German humour reference to the CIA here.
Instead we are looking at the estate Riesling of one of the world's oldest wineries, and CAI stands for Carl August Immich. Please don't be disappointed, after all we are speaking about a man who blew up a mountain in order to make good Riesling.
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.