January 2012

Gulps of glory - our top five German wines of 2011

While sifting through the candidates for this year's Wine Rambler shortlist, we noticed hat we were less generous with top ratings in 2011 than previously, withholding our highest praise, "monumental", completely. Whether that means we are becoming more exacting in our critical standards or whether the truly stellar wines somehow passed us by and we had to make do with the enormously good we can't quite say. A bit of both, most probably.

Please do not throw the Wine Rambler's favourite wines. Drink them!

As you may not want to take our word for it in every case (and indeed you shouldn't!), we have provided direct links to the wineries' websites for the adventurous among you to follow up, get into contact and inquire about distribution and availability. Almost all German wineries do their own shipping and are quite good at it. In case of deliveries to the UK, however, newly estranged from the European mainland, this will probably have to be arranged via the United Nations. Just joking. Needless to say, The Wine Rambler is entirely his own man, as it were, and not commercially associated with any wineries or merchants, although wines like the following sometimes can make us wish we were.

Provins Valais, Humagne Blanche, "Collection Chandra Kurt", 2009

How do you start the year on a wine blog mostly dedicated to German wine? Writing about German wine, of course, I hear you say. This would seem like the sensible thing to do, and yet today we are not sensible and look for Switzerland instead. For some, at least the German speaking part of Switzerland is more German than Germany itself (but please don't let any Swiss hear this), yet the wine I am writing about today is a truly Swiss thing.

Made by the Swiss and in Switzerland of course, this explosion of herbal aromas and flavours is vinified of Humagne Blanche grapes, an old indigenous variety that now is a rarity even in Switzerland.

Old yet fresh - drinking 1994 Chimay Trappist beer and thinking of old times

I am sitting at home, drinking beer. Gillian Welch sings of "Tennessee". The computer post-processes photos. It could be a normal evening at the Wine Rambler's London HQ, if it had not become rather unusual for me to drink beer at home. And rather unusual is also the beer that I am drinking - a beer that, at an age when many wines have turned to vinegar, is still more than drinkable. In fact, there are two stories fermented into this 1994 Chimay. And both are stories of loss.

torsten Saturday, 07/01/2012

Hahndorf Hill Winery, GRU Grüner Veltliner, 2011

I have committed my fair share of sins, but now I have to confess the first one committed on Christmas Eve. It was not strictly a religious sin, more a wine sin - although for some Austrians, I suspect, it would be the same. I had Grüner Veltliner for dinner. Grüner Veltliner - from Australia! Even worse, this is the second time I have sinned against the Austrian prerogative of making Grüner Veltliner: recently I tasted a sample from New Zealand - with the Austrian national dish Wiener Schnitzel.

Well, oops, I did it again...

Steinbachhof, Ensinger Schanzreiter, Riesling ***, 2009

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:

Von Winning, Riesling Win-Win, 2009

We all have something we want to steal. Well, maybe I should not judge others by my criminal standards, but I have my eyes on a few items. For instance those two bottles of Riesling, one from 1933 and the other from the 1870s, who live in a posh wine shop in Munich. The list is longer, but I haven't actually executed any of my evil plans yet. Others sadly are more decisive: in the early hours of 17th September 2011 thieves drove a harvesting machine through the Herrgottsacker vineyards near Deidesheim in the Pfalz. I like to imagine the scene filmed with lots of flash light, fog, shades, fast camera movements and perhaps "X Files" sound. In reality it was probably more boring, but whoever drove that harvester got away with super ripe Pinot Noir grapes worth €100,000 and destined for fermentation tanks at the von Winnigen winery.

I have an alibi for that night, and I'd anyway much rather steal the finished product. Such as this Riesling made by von Winnigen and called, well, "win-win".

Retox / Detox, or: Standing up for lent. A historical ramble

This new year, as every January, a good many people decided to lay of alcohol for a few weeks and cleanse their bodies of its joyful, but unhealthy effects. But this time, the numerous "detox"-tweets were countered by, a spirited innovation, those advocating a rigorous programme of "retox". As it happens, the authors of this blog are also divided on this topic: One Wine Rambler will have nothing of it, while the second is writing these very words with a cup of peppermint tea before him.

Carnival (detail), by Pieter Brueghel the younger

That alone is nothing to write home about, after all, we differ on all kinds of things, wine or non-wine. But it did give me the idea for what follows, namely the attempt to probe the subject a little more deeply than the tweet and counter-tweet format allows for. Read on for some thoughts on lent, puritanism and the boredom of plenty.

Knipser, Riesling Mandelpfad, GG, 2008

The soul is pink. What, you did not know that? To be honest, I didn't either - until I had an encounter with the Riesling pictured below. While the wine was rather heavenly, it was the name that gave me this deep insight into the conditio humana: "Mandelpfad", meaning "almond path". It is not for esoteric reasons that the Knipser brothers chose to name the wine - Mandelpfad simply is the name of a vineyard in the Pfalz region. It is also the name of a scenic path, under almond trees, that leads hikers past many exciting vineyards.

In spring, I imagine, it must be beautiful with pink almond flowers all over the place, and that is apparently what made a tourism marketing writer whose text I just consulted declare that pink is the colour of the soul. Whether that is true I leave with competent experts such as mystics and marketing specialists, but I can tell you a little something about the soul of the Mandelpfad Riesling.

Winkler-Hermaden, Cuvée Caphenstein, 2009

It's nearly time to end my self-imposed quasi-lent (punctured as it was by a Wine Rambler committee meeting and its inevitable by-effects), and to get myself back in the mood for wine (as if that needed any extra effort), so let me report on an enjoyable discovery from last autumn: From Austria's southern Steiermark region, to be precise, a lovely corner of Europe with rolling green hills and scattered villages. It is predominantly a white wine producer, with emphasis on Sauvignon Blanc, which they do excellently, and aromatic varieties like Muscat and Traminer. But there is also red, and some of it is seriously good.

This basic red blend from the Winkler-Hemaden winery takes its name from the Castle where they reside. It's made up of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, two more or less indigenous grapes, and some Merlot for the ladies and the more internationally trained palates. Good mixture?