July 2009

Neumeister, Gelber Muskateller, Steirische Klassik, 2007

In some ways, the biggest surprise about this wine was that the grape I know as Gelber Muskateller (yellow muscat) seems to be know to English speakers as Muscat blanc à petits grains. Does that mean the wine is unexciting or boring? Not at all.

Pale colour with a greenish touch, still lots of small bubbles, almost algae-like at first. A fresh nose dominated by floral, herbal notes with a decent bit of elderflower and some fruitiness. In the mouth the wine is much drier than you would expect it after that intense floralness, but it still packs a nice bit of fresh acidity, combined with elderflower and some bitter apple.

Brits are cutting back on European wine

Journalists are sometimes a bit slow. I am just reading an article in the German newspaper Die Welt and they have come to the surprising conclusion that Brits are less likely to buy European wine these days as Sterling is so weak compared to the Euro. I am not quite sure why this article comes out now, after all Sterling was pretty much on par with the Euro around Christmas and has since picked up 17%, but it is true that buying wine from the continent is not as exciting as it was two years ago.

The UK has very high duties and taxes on wine, but if you order only for your personal consumption you do not have to pay these. This means that in 2007 I could import German Riesling for about 50% less than what it would have cost me to buy the same wine in the UK. It is still cheaper now, but not as good value as it was before. However, that is not really news.

One interesting fact though: the UK taxes wine 65 times as much as France. Cheers!

Reinhold Haart, Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, Riesling Spätlese, 2007

Not many things in life beat a late harvest Riesling from the Mosel - sweet, yes, but usually well balanced with acidity and mineral that combine to a perfect sensation that is way too elegant and vibrant to be simply considered a sweet dessert wine. On top of that many of these wines are low on alcohol too. One of my favourite producers of sweet Riesling is Reinhold Haart, a small family owned estate overlooking the Mosel river in the old winemaking village of Piesport.

German winemakers 'declare war' on Gault Millau

You may be aware of Gault Millau as a restaurant guide, but they also publish Wine Guide Deutschland, the "definitive guide to German wine". Today, a group of leading German winemakers has announced that it will not only stop sending their wines to Gault Millau, they also refuse to even have their wineries listed in the wine guide.

The list of winemakers who have signed the open letter reads like a who is who of German wine: Helmut Dönnhoff, grand master of Riesling, Knipser, who had just won the title "vintner of the year", Pinot Noir experts Dr. Heger and Meyer-Näkel, Josef Leitz (famously called "our friend Josi" by wine merchants Pinard de Picard) and Heymann-Löwenstein, who has redefined the Wine Rambler's understanding of what mineral means in a Riesling, to name just a few.

Wine Rambler Music Hour: Doc Watson

Thought it'd be nice to have some music here from time to time, to go with all that wine.

And it's my great honour to have a real legend of american music open this segment: This charming little video captures the great folk musician Doc Watson in a guitar maker's workshop, obviously trying out a new instrument.

"Telling my troubles to my old guitar" is just a harmlessly swinging Chet Atkins tune. But in Doc's off-the-cuff-version, this becomes a little marvel of thumping guitar strings and stoic perfection.

And I dare say my co-rambler Torsten will enjoy the little hint of a yodel at the end.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqjFT65KAA0 autoplay:0]

Von Othegraven, Riesling trocken, 2007

This Riesling from yet another Mosel tributary, the Saar, has a very understated smell, in fact, apart from a little ripe grape and mineral hints, it has little smell at all.

The taste is all ripe fruit as well, "yellow" taste, sweet ripe grapes again, dried herbs, some honey, fairly concentrated. This is a very ripe and smooth style of Riesling, very well made I'm sure, and great for people who can't have too much acidity, but frankly, I was looking for something a bit livelier, and this seems prematurely aged somehow.

This is not a summer wine. Very likely the "boring"-ranking will seem very unfair once I've tried the second bottle of this on some chilly october day. But right now, it didn't work for me.

Gault Millau Wine Guide and the critics, continued

The German wine community is in uproar (well, a little). Hundreds of Twitter messages or blog comments are addressing the conflict between the Gault Millau WineGuide and a group of vintners. As is often the case with the blogosphere, most repeat what they have read in other blogs and the discussion can become a little self-referential. However, there are two reasons why I am revisiting this topic today: some of the more knowledgeable bloggers do indeed have a few interesting comments; also, most of the discussion is in German, so it will be hard to follow for our international readers.

The first posting I would like to summarise is Werner Elflein's (yes, this is German for 'little elf') article Quo vadis Wineguides? - published three weeks ago. Elflein starts with a few comments on the structural crisis of the media and the problems wine guides have to make a profit. He argues that winemakers do profit much more from the work of professional tasters than many of them realise and that it is often the producers of third or fourth rank who complain about unfair treatment (Wine Rambler addendum: this does obviously not apply to the winemakers who signed the Gault Millau letter).

Wine Guide controversy: Tasting blind and tasting open

I'd like to point out one more aspect of the Gault-Millau debate, namely that the way scores come about plays an important part in the sorts of arguments that can be made against a wine guide.

Gault Millau tastes openly, that is to say every taster knows which wine he is about to score. That has a positive side, as a wine can of course be appreciated more fairly when you have some context to go with it, some experience of the kind of quality that a certain producer has shown in the long range, and other things. The negative side is this: Faced with one producer's range of wines, any taster will tend to give scores that reflect the hierarchy of quality that the pricing suggests, rather than a strictly objective evaluation of every individual wine.

Cono Sur, Gewürztraminer 2008

After all this recent writing about German wine guides, we go back to the revisit supermarket wine - only to get seriously confused. Really, this wine is probably the most confusing tasting experience in a long while.

Gewürztraminer is a grape that I mostly know in a French context (Alsace), also from Germany and perhaps Italy. So I was quite pleased to see a reasonably priced Traminer at Sainsburys yesterday - and it is from Cono Sur, who have in the past convinced me with their entry range wines.

Gault Millau controversy: publisher responds

The current controversy is finding its way into mainstream media. The Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany's leading newspapers, published an article entitled "Aufstand der Winzer" (rebellion of the vinters). This almost sounds like the title for Star Wars 7, and inevitably it would have to be followed by "The Publisher strikes back" - which they did. But first things first.

The Süddeutsche article starts with an introduction to Gault Millau's Wein Guide and explains the 195 Euro "voluntary" contribution issue. It then quotes Werner Knipser who thinks it is outrageous to pay to be reviewed. Knipser feels this would be a dingy practice and equivalent to paying for the actual ranking. He said he wanted to start a broad discussion. Contrast that to Jörg Bauer, who is quoted saying that charging was a common practice with regards to tests and that it was only to be expected that Gault Millau would introduce that; Bauer also feels that less well known wineries needed the publicity of the Wein Guide.

Domaine du Bel-Air, Bourgeuil "Jour de Soif", 2007

From the Loire valley comes this nicely named Cabernet Franc ("Day of thirst").
Nice colour for a start: dense, purple-tinged red. Nice smell, too: Sour cherries, some cassis. Bone dry, fresh, pure fruit in the mouth, reminds me of a lighter Bordeaux, but with none of the unpleasant greenness you can get there. This is fresh and nicely rustic, but ripe and with harmonic tannin. Two things I particularly like about this wine: No oak at all, and a kind of vegetable earthiness, like tasting a spade you've used to dig up vegetables.

Original, yet very easy to drink, this is a rare thing: a terroir summer wine. To me, this says "grilled vegetables" all over. Nicely chilled, I would even give it a go with grilled fish.

Steindorfer, Eisgöttin Welschriesling, 2004 (half bottle)

Intense yellow gold colour. A nose of honey and peach, with a hint of a medicinal smell (that almost completely faded away after a few hours). A thick and creamy sensation in the mouth - according to the producer this baby has 190 gram of residual sugar per liter - and a flavour mix of peach and honey with a decent kick of spice. Initially, the Eisgöttind (ice goddess) reminded me of a Sauternes, but the fresh spice gave a welcome contrast to the sweetness. Still a very heavy wine, the kind of wine that ends the drinking for that day, full stop. Yummy as a desert wine, perhaps a bit too heavy for me to drink on its own - I guess I will just always be a sucker for the light Mosel late harvests.

Evan Bakke, Ventoux Clos de Trias, 2007

K&U is frothing at the mouth about this Mont Ventoux red made by a Norwegian from California - it's all very special, you understand...

At first, this tasted devastatingly like a cheap Cotes du Rhone - alcoholic, sweet, and fizzy. But oh, the wondrous change that comes over this wine, as it becomes drinkable after 10 minutes open, quite tasty after 30, and an iconic Southern Rhone wine after an hour: Thick raspberry jam, dried herbs, salty smoked bacon, and a mouthfeel that was pure and smooth, but at the same time viscous and fat. The high alcohol became unnoticeable, but hadn't gone away, as I found out this morning.

Still, a killer wine for those who like reds to chew on.

Gault Millau editor resigns and thoughts on the future of wine reviewing

Following the recent controversy, Armin Diel, the editor of the Gault Millau Wein Guide for Germany, has resigned. According to a statement issued earlier this week, Diel felt he had to protect the Wein Guide, the VDP, his winery and his family from what has turned into attacks on his person. In another statement, the publisher of the Wein Guide also referred to increasing personal attacks on Diel. The publisher reiterated that will be completely independent of wineries opting to pay for the voluntary 200 Euro package that triggered the conflict. Despite resigning from his role as editor of Gault Millau, Diel will continue to be involved with VDP, the association of Germany's premier wine makers - the fact that Diel was both vintner/functionary and reviewer was certainly not popular with everyone.

Subjectivity, Objectivity and a Chardonnay from Rheinhessen

I had a surprisingly charming Chardonnay from one of Rheinhessen's countless family wineries with sunday lunch today (full review). It was recommended via twitter and co-rambler Torsten by German wine guru Mario Scheuermann.

Going on an "objectively" correct ranking like WeinPlus wine guide's 81 points ("Nicht allzu tief. Ordentlicher Abgang"), I wound never have bought it. I can just about see what Scheuermann means by the "lustvolle Subjektivität" (joyful subjectivity) that he would like to see in wine journalism. After emptying the rest of the bottle, I couldn't care less if he plays cards with Runkel's second cousin, or his critical neutrality was impaired in any other way.

Cork, wine faults and missed chances

It does not happen often, but it always leaves me a little sad when it happens. You open what promises to be a nice bottle of wine and then you realise that something has gone terribly wrong. Today it was a 2008 Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc) from Keller - it should have been a nice and jolly food companion, perhaps creamy with hazelnut, and just pleasant to drink. What came out of the bottle is still causing pain to my palate.

It started with a smell of smoke - not unpleasant, actually quite tempting and unusual. Lots of bubbles in the glass and the wine not as clear as it could have been. And then a bitter taste of smoke, burned wood, sharp, almost acidic bad feet and nothing pleasant about it. Most wines I have come across that had cork did have something pleasant, some hint of character below the nasty taste (often wet cardboard). Here: nothing. It is like something very bad had creped into the bottle and killed the wine, destroyed every memory of it.

Domaine les Filles de Septembre, Delphine de Saint André, 2005

So here I sit, listening to Billy Bragg and Wilco, waiting for a Riesling to reach drinking temperature, and I am really pleased with this French red. The winery, Domaine les Filles de Septembre, was named after the four daughters of wine makers Françoise and Roland Géraud. And Delphine is one of the four. If she is anything like this cuvée of Syrah and Carignan, she must be lovely indeed.

torsten Friday, 17/07/2009
Dr. Heger, Ihringer Winklerberg, Riesling Auslese, 1998 (half bottle)

White crystals on the cork. Shiny, golden colour. A nose of (flowery) honey and stone fruit, with a faint hint of mineral; peach. In the mouth honey, smooth, caramelised peach, very smooth, a little spice, nicely aged. At first, we noticed a little malt in the finish (think malt beer), but that disappeared after 15 minutes or so; a little bitter towards the finish - not entirely unpleasant though. It made me want to have a soft, not too sweet cheese cake.

A nicely aged Riesling that was very drinkable but lacked that little something to be truly, truly memorable.

torsten Saturday, 18/07/2009

Blue Nun Original, 2008

Keen to learn what British women in their twenties want to drink? Get a bottle of Blue Nun. You will also learn that you might not want to spend too many 'Heavenly Nights In' or 'Wicked Nights Out' (to quote the Blue Nun website) drinking with the Blue Nun girls. Well, you might want to, but then it better be not only about the wine.

Fernando Cabrini, Malbec "Home Ranch Selection", 2007

K & U have been having quite a winning streak in my cellar for the last couple of months, so I had high hopes for this argentinian malbec, a variety I felt pressured into trying by all the buzz about it - on this blog and elsewhere.

And a wonderful bottle it is:

Julian Sunday, 19/07/2009
Van Volxem, Saar Riesling, 2007

Nice yellow colour and even nicer mineral in the nose; also notes of vegetable, citrus fruit and peach. The nose is not very intense, but quite pleasant. Pleasant is also a key word for my palate reaction to this wine. Mineral, a bit of candied peach with nice, almost creamy mineral and well integrated fresh acidity.

torsten Tuesday, 21/07/2009

Weingut Bercher, Burkheimer Feuerberg Weißburgunder Spätlese trocken, Großes Gewächs, 2004

No one in their right mind would open a 14.5 % wine on a hot summer evening, I know, but we had a chicken in a wonderful creamy tarragon sauce to take care of, we needed a heavy hitter, so I took a desperate gamble. It was a crazy plan, but it might just have worked...

In the nose, classic pinot blanc: honeydew melon, salted almonds, biscuit, a hint of dried herbs. In the mouth, think - and I've had time to think, tasting this on the second day - think melon again, artichokes, aloe skin cream. Now coat this mixture in white chocolate with salted pistachio pieces, and you have it - it's a meal, really.

Hermann Dönnhoff, Kreuznacher Krötenpfuhl, Riesling Spätlese, 2007

Light golden colour. At first, the nose is a little closed - mineraly yeast with herbs and a hint of peach; not unpleasant, but also not very intense. And while you still wonder where Dönnhoff is going with this, something gorgeous hits your taste buds. Even within seconds after opening the bottle, the sensation on your palate is just marvellous. And it gets better over time, as does the nose.

Matthias Müller, Bopparder Hamm Feuerlay, Riesling Spätlese, 2005

Straw-coloured. Fairly understated smell of candied citrus peel, camomile tea and a hint of petrol.

The taste is so much fresher and more open: Wonderful rich sweetness, elegant ripe pineapple notes, the world's fruitiest camomile tea, the tiniest hint of caramel, good stable acidity, a mineral background. What makes this Spätlese wonderful is that it has the complex flavours of maturity (the typical lemon, peach and apricot aroma of young riesling is almost completely gone), but is still vibrant and fresh. It seems that, out of pure luck, I have opened it at a very good point in its development.

From a region not often talked about, a producer to watch out for.

Emrich-Schönleber, Rivaner trocken, 2007

Very pale colour; a few tiny bubbles. The nose is very closed at first, some mineral, flowery notes; later also aniseed. A seriously dry wine, the Emrich-Schönleber combines strong, sharp dry acidity with vegetable notes, a hint of liquorice and a broadside of bitterness.

This is a serious wine with character and some class. While I appreciate wines with attitude, this one leaves a certain heartburn sensation on my palate that forced me to give up soon. I am sure there is someone out there who, especially with the right food, will appreciate this wine. However, that someone is not me.

Black Tower, Rivaner 2008

When you find a bulky black bottle that looks like it holds Black Forest schnapps or some unspeakable cod liver oil in your supermarket, it will almost certainly be a German wine: Black Tower, a brand designed for the UK mass market. Perhaps it makes the Brits think of German Gemütlichkeit of the rustic type.

I was actually after the Black Tower Liebfraumilch, but as I could not find it I went for this Rivaner for £3.88 instead (Rivaner, btw, is another name for the grape variety Müller-Thurgau, if you wondered).

Learn to taste German Riesling in London

I just received this email from the guys at The Winery - go, if you have a chance, as they are both fun and knowledgeable:

Last week’s German Riesling module sold out so quickly we had to schedule a second one for next month.

You are invited to The Winery Wine Course on Tuesday 25th August, in which we will be focusing on the glories of German Riesling.

We will be exploring variations and nuances of different regions such as the Mosel, Rheingau and Nahe.

We will revel in its transparent expression of terroir – the steep slate slopes of the Mosel or the softer inclines of the historic Rheingau.

Tasting: France vs California and Bottle Shock at the Clapham Picturehouse

Thursday evening we ventured to the Clapham Picturehouse to see a movie about wine. And to drink some, of course. The movie is Bottle Shock and it features the (in)famous 1976 Paris wine tasting during which the French wine elite was defeated by the products of the (then) newcomers from California. To re-enact the Judgement of Paris, the cinema offered eight wines, four each from France and California, and the movie ticket for £22. So off we went!

torsten Friday, 31/07/2009