August 2011

Trash or treasure? A random tasting of aged wines

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.

Shinn Estates Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007

Following my recent Californian adventure I have now paid the US East Coast a visit. At least so far as you can call opening a bottle of wine "paying a visit". I had visited the New York region last year though, and on a tour through Long Island discovered one of its vinous gems, Shinn Estate Vineyards. Among the lessons I learned there was that you can make very strong wines that can still feel light - if you get the balance right.

Now, if the warning of the Surgeon General on the label of the Shinn Cabernet has not scared you away, will the fact that it has 15.4% ABV?

J. B. Becker, Eltviller Sonnenberg, Riesling Spätlese, 1988

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:

Ökonomierat Rebholz, Silvaner trocken, 2009

It is hard to imagine, but there are still people out there who have not heard me saying that I think Silvaner is an underrated wine that deserves more attention. Luckily, German quality producers - not only from Franken, the spiritual home of Silvaner - make this job easy and enjoyable. Today's specimen comes from the Pfalz where Hansjörg Rebholz grows Riesling, the Pinot family (Gris, Blanc, Noir) and a range of other varieties including Silvaner.

The red wines, by the way, have red labels, and the whites green ones - so I felt like photographing this one on the windowsill in the bedroom, to frame it in the greenest way possible. Before we jump into the wine (not literally, at least not in your case, I would assume) a quick comment on the perception of German wine as sweet: the Rebholz Silvaner is trocken, i.e. dry, and it seems Hansjörg Rebholz was serious about dry - less than 1g of residual sugar per litre is pretty much as dry as it gets.

A. Pies Söhne, Bernkasteler Kurfürstlay Q.b.A., 1979

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?

torsten Thursday, 11/08/2011

The Curious Case and Survival of two Bottles of Plonk that should have died Years ago

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.

Jean Stodden, Spätburgunder JS, 2008

You may not have heard about the Ahr. It is a small tributary of the Rhine; it is also a valley; and it is also a wine growing region. And a very unusual one too. Despite being located far north between 50th and 51st parallel, the Ahr is red wine country - way over 80% of all grapes grown here are red because of a favourable micro-climate. And one of the producers best know for Ahr red wine is Jean Stodden, "das Rotweingut" (the red wine winery).

It is almost shocking that in over two years of wine rambling we don't seem to have featured a single Ahr wine, and to change that Stodden seemed the obvious choice.

St. Urbans-Hof, Ockfener Bockstein, Riesling Auslese, 2007

I concluded my recent exploration of the ageing potential of cheap German plonk with a reference to what is a, well, reference point for white wine that often has to age before being at its most enjoyable: a Mosel Auslese. Ideally, these Rieslings have two key ingredients for ageing well - sugar and acidity. A good Auslese can easily improve for a decade and will often last much longer than that.

This means that the 2007 Auslese from Mosel producer St. Urbans-Hof could still be considered a youngling. On the other hand the wine has been living in my wardrobe since I bought it at the winery in 2008 (for €24), hardly the best place to age slowly, and who says you cannot enjoy an Auslese when it is still young?

Dr. Hermann, Erdener Treppchen, Riesling Kabinett, 2009

After all the excitement of wines dug out of the garbage and superbly aged supermarket plonk (whatever next?), dare we even bother you with a simple Kabinett from the Mosel, a sweet young thing from the slopes of Erden? We do indeed and, in all modesty, I think we may have found a minor classic for you.

One to even hide away now, maybe, and in ten years' time, follow our example and write your own semi-informed little piece on what you dug out of your cellar, wardrobe or customised wine storage appliance?

London wine merchants: Wine Pantry, home of English wine

"Good luck to her, she may need it.", was the comment a wine loving Englishman made when I told him I was about to meet a woman who had just invested her life's savings in a shop. Not just any shop. A shop dedicated to English wine. To set this in context: when I tell people I blog about German wine I sometimes get the "is there such a thing?" look, or perhaps the "enjoy the Liebfraumilch" comment. These come from people who are not familiar with the wine world, otherwise they would know that some of the world's best wines come from Germany. Now imagine what the reaction is when someone dedicates their life to the cause of English wine - a cause that even wine professionals often respond to with the "is there such a thing" look. So there you have the above quoted reaction.

Julia

Enter Julia Stafford, a spirited woman who thought London could do with a shop dedicated to raise the glory of English wine: Wine Pantry at Borough market.

Weingärtner Esslingen, Esslinger Schenkenberg Blanc de Blanc, 2010

Grower's cooperatives, in all fairness, are not the category of wine producers that one would look to for outstanding quality or individuality - neither in Germany nor anywhere else. In a way, though, they are more interesting in judging vintages and wine growing regions, because they tend to have somewhat more mixed grape material to work with, and usually cannot organize and motivate everybody to work extra hard and select more thoroughly to make up for weaker vintages, like individual wineries sometimes can. This makes winemaking technology more prominent - not something we wine snobs want to see as such, don't get me wrong, but looking for ever more characterful and expressively "natural" wines, you can loose track of the state of what the rest of us get to drink, other than resorting to supermarket brands. A bit like missing the fact that the chinese takeaway in your street has got much better under the new proprietor because you only ever eat at Gordon Ramsay's - if this clumsy analogy makes any sense.

It's summer in Swabia, too

Anyway, I wasn't thinking anything nearly as coherent when friends from - wait for it - Esslingen presented me with this bottle of cooperatively made, multi-varietal white. It was more along the lines of "Bottle o' swabian wine. Yummy".

Knipser, Gelber Orleans trocken, 2008

Oh no, the Wine Rambler does yet-another-of-those-obscure-German-grape-varieties, I hear you say? And the answer is, you bet! This one is very obscure indeed - now that is. In the 19th century "Orleans" was reasonably popular in Germany (where its history goes back to the 12th century), but eventually this very late ripening variety was superseded by Riesling and pretty much forgotten. So much so, that it had to be recultivated in the 1980s and there are only a few producers who grow Orleans now, and in tiny quantities.

The leader of the pack appears to be the Knipser family from the Pfalz who produce both substantial Orleans in (dry) Auslese quality and lighter ones like this one. I opened the "trocken" (dry) Orleans for wine-loving English friends who had not even heard of Orleans before.

Schäfer-Fröhlich, Weißer Burgunder trocken, 2009

We have had a lot of Pinot Blanc this spring and early summer - because it is a wonderful grape, because it seems to be made for this season and because it is one of the best companions for asparagus. And especially I tend to eat a lot of asparagus when it is in season. The asparagus season is over now, of course, but that does not mean it can't still be Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder) season!

This dry specimen comes from the Nahe valley and is made by a producer who has received a lot of praise for his Riesling over the past few years. Earlier this year, I met Tim Fröhlich at a wine tasting in London and was particularly impressed with his grand cru Rieslings. What about the entry level Pinot Blanc though?