About once per season the London branch of the Wine Rambler assembles a coalition of willing wine drinkers in London. The mission: to drink some god-damn wine. Mostly German wine. This time, however, we had new rules - every wine was tasted blind, its identity only to be revealed after the judges had come to a verdict. Also new was the excessiveness: between the eight of us (two arrived late, one left early) we opened nine bottles, although not every wine was finished. So let's jump right in, shall we?
We started off with a white wine that was noted for its creamy nose and fresh acidity (it also had a hint of speck in the nose), apple and a creamy finish. Overall well liked, especially by Steve, the Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder) from the German region of Baden also had a few critics who felt the acidity was a bit out of balance. A good showing from Baden though: Holger Koch, Grauburgunder Herrenstück 2008.
Next we moved on to a wine that caused some confusion, when I said that it tasted of Nivea hand lotion. If you know my palate well, this could have told you that we were on a Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder), but luckily it confused the judges enough not to come to that conclusion. With less acidity than the previous wine, but also creaminess, a hint of shellfish and some lemon it felt very well balanced and was liked a lot and in constant request over the course of the evening: Markus Molitor's Weißburgunder * 2006. Anna got it almost right when she suggested this may have been a Chardonnay - seeing that both varietals do seem to have a long history of being mistaken for each other.
After this introduction, we moved on to a good old classic: the battle of the dissimilar similar wines. For pretty much every wine tasting I pick two wines that theoretically should be similar, but might turn out to be quite different. Similarity could mean: same colour, similar price, same vintage, same alcohol level, same grape(s) and, most importantly, marketed in a similar way. So far, contestants always came from a different country though. This time, however, I made a mistake: I picked two white wines, 11.5% alcohol, both young and light, about the same price (ca. £6 vs £7+) - all fine. I had tasted neither, but I expected one to be dry, but very fresh, and the other one was marketed as fresh too, but in a moment of confusion I misread the label to say 'dry' when it was actually 'off dry'. There you go, bad preparation.
Anyway, we started with wine #1 that almost overwhelmed us with a fruit explosion bouquet: gooseberry, grapefruit and something exotic, passion fruit. It was also very fruity on the tongue, but had an underwhelming finish and one of our tasters felt the nose had an element of cat piss (I would say cat piss soaked carpet), which, I hasten to add, was not as unpleasant as it sounds. Another taster felt a sharp acidic component hurt her tongue. Overall the wine is a charming crowd pleaser and judge Anna declared it to be a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. This could not have been further away from the truth, as the wine was actually an English blend of the Müller-Thurgau, Bacchus and Ortega grapes, the Denbie Wine Estates Surrey Gold (£7.49 from Waitrose). While some of us really loved it, a few found it a little unbalanced with the massive fruit and the somewhat weak finish. We all agreed that the very light colour was nothing to write home about though.
The second contestant was of light colour too (more intense than #1 though), but the bouquet fell totally flat against the English fruit monster. It took us a while to readjust and appreciate the rough nose: dry, fresh acidity of unripe green apples, a hint of smoke and vegetable and some freshly mowed grass with ground white pepper - I have to add that some of these elements I could only get on the second day, with more distance to the Surrey Gold. I also believe that the wine initially smelled just a little bit of vomit; this caused an uproar among the judges, but Steve suggested the compromise of 'a sharp burp'. Anyway, contestant #2 was very consistent: nose, tongue, finish, all of a similar calibre with much better balance than #1 and nice crisp lemony acidity. This did not vow most of the judges though who liked #1 better; I was somewhat undecided at first, but was attracted to the better balance of #2. Even so, Anna suggested this might be "some kind of north Italian rubbish". In a way this was geographically not so far off, seeing as it was some kind of Austrian rubbish, a 2008 Grüner Veltliner from the Sonnhof winery.
After this epic battle we moved back to safer ground, I thought, and sampled a wine that had what some judges felt was a very intense nose of honey, petrol, caramel and paraffin wax. For regular readers of the Wine Rambler this might have been an indication that we sampled a Riesling that was at least a couple of years old, but the judges were initially too busy commenting on whether they liked the petrol and how the peach and stone fruit came together. Vocal Anna had a clear opinion on this topic: 'Not sure I would go near a man who smells liked that!' Even the camomile and honey in the nose of this contestant could not vie her, although the full body and good structure of the wine were noted by the judges, and Matthias rightly identified the wine as Riesling: Clemens Busch's vom Roten Schiefer, 2006, maybe aged a little faster from being stored in my living room for two years.
Now it was time to move on to the reds. Again, we had quite a contrast, because the first red was rather dry and not very fruity. It presented a somewhat stern nose, smoky, toasted oak, a little yeast and a little cherry fruit - more serious than playful, I would say. The wine was also not very fruity on the tongue, where leather and a hint of pepper are added to the mix. It did not feel heavy though, partly due to its fresh acidity. The finish is good, marinated cherries, acidity and tannins, but reasonably smooth, and a bit of woodland aroma with the tiniest hint of chocolate - some of that, however, only came out on the second day when I re-tasted it and the bitterness that we all noticed in the finish had disappeared. Better on the second day, the 2007 Dr Heger Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) 2007 may very well profit from a year or two of further ageing, or from a good talking to by our friend Mr Decanter - I really liked it on the second day, on the first it was quite likeable, but also a little stern.
'Argentinian Cabernet', 'Syrah', 'French Malbec' - this were some of the reactions the jury had with regards to the last red of the night. Dark colour, lots of dark berries in the nose, plus straw, manure, leather and a bit of spice; full-bodied on the tongue with more dark berries, leather, a certain animal-woodland component and a good finish with more spice. A wine of good structure, some force and good tannins but enough smoothness, this contestant was instantly liked, especially by the fans of more robust red wines such as Sarah and Steve. Tom, interestingly, remarked that it was not so interesting to him as it tasted like the average type of red you would buy in a British supermarket. I am not disagreeing here, but I would add that while this may be true in terms of style, it does not really fit in terms of quality. A really good showing, and it is the German region of Baden again! Thomas Seeger's Cuvée Anna, 2006, a blend of Pinot Noir, Schwarzriesling and Lemberger.
After this wine, something seriously sweet was in order, and Steve had brought along a Vin Santo: La Regina, Vinsanto de Chianti (2001) that we enjoyed with cantucci biscuits. A fairly strong (16%) dessert wine, the Vin Santo should have been the end of the night. But after most judges had left, a few of us were tempted to open another bottle and we jumped right into another German Riesling, the 2007 Deidesheimer Leinhölle, Riesling Spätlese trocken, from Georg Mosbacher. In a way this should have been no match for the Vin Santo as it is always hard to go from sweet to dry, but even so the late harvest Riesling stood its ground. A nose of cool mineral, herbs, lemon and peach - very pleasant peach indeed, but not overwhelming, and some apple, which adds just the right amount of bitter. The peach continues right onto your tongue, giving the Riesling an elegant juiciness, while the apple and especially mineral dominate the first half of the long finish. A wine with good structure, elegance but also a certain assertiveness, this Riesling convinces from start to finish.
As it had now become really late and we had just about the right amount of alcohol intake, we called it a day and went to bed. I cannot really say that a clear winner emerged. Both the Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc we completely finished, as opposed to the Busch Riesling (maybe a good glass left over) and the two contestant whites (almost half a bottle of each left). My favourite was the Mosbacher Riesling, as it was new to me, but I also adore the Molitor Weißburgunder that got lots of praise from the judges, especially from Laura. The jury verdict on the two contestants was split, but somewhat in favour of the English wine - Tom especially made his voice heard here. The Busch Riesling was liked, but was too much of a little petrol stinker to be a favourite with the crowds (I like that though). Both reds were liked, but the Cuvée Anna was clearly more popular and I have to say it is a really good wine.
We also learned quite a few things. Anna would not go near near Ernest Hemingway (at least I remember being told that he felt men had to smell of tobacco, sweat and petrol - admittedly the Busch Riesling also had camomile and honey), while Sarah and Laura think it is ridiculous that a Pinot Blanc can smell of Nivea hand lotion. Steve seems to like his white Italian style (which Anna thinks is rubbish) and his red French, while Tom is a sucker for off-dry and fruity. Matthias, perhaps due to his being German, can correctly identify a Riesling, whereas Anna can make outrageously funny comments on any wine. Perhaps this is a good note to end this review to, seeing as the most important thing we had Friday night was lots of fun!