red

Red wines reviewed by the Wine Rambler.

Willi Opitz, Pinot Noir, Beerenauslese, 2005

Dessert wine. Think Riesling so thick with sugar that you could grease your bicycle with it. Think Sauternes with even more sugar than the Riesling and twice the level of alcohol. Think Château d'Yquem. Think Austrian red wine. Ah, wait, did he just say 'Austrian red wine'? Yes he did, and he wrote that in a perfectly sober state. So let me start with saying that that there is Austrian red wine (in case you did not know) and that it can be outright fantastic. Most of it is dry, so I got very excited when I saw this sweet, half bottle beauty on the shelves at Harrods. So what is a sweet Austrian red wine like?

Markus Molitor, Graacher Himmelreich, Spätburgunder trocken, unfiltriert, 2001

When you speak about the Mosel valley in a wine context, chances are that Riesling will be the topic. On occasion though I feel the need to raise my hand and confuse both class and teacher by saying: 'and what about Pinot Noir?' Yes, you have heard correctly, for me the Mosel can also be Spätburgunder (the German name of the variety) territory, at least as far as Markus Molitor is concerned. It must have been around early 2007 when I bought my first Spätburgunder from Molitor, and I have been a fan ever since. A few days ago the time had come to open the last of the 2001 and find out how well it had stood the test of time.

It was in the late eighties that Molitor planted Pinot Noir in some if his vineyards, including the ones near Graach, an area where even today Riesling is grown pretty much exclusively.

Philipp Kuhn, Mano Negra, 2007

Wow, this doesn't look very German! - with these words an English friend of mine greeted Philipp Kuhn's Mano Negra. I opened this bottle recently at a small tasting I had organised for friends. Most had never tried a German red, and none had ever seen anything (German) quite so intense in colour. This cuvée of Blaufränkisch (literally 'Blue Frankish) and Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the Pfalz, a region that keeps impressing me with its variety of exciting red wines.

Reichsgraf und Marquis zu Hoensbroech, Blauer Limberger, 2007

Nice try, Reichsgraf zu Hoensbroech, but you cannot fool the ever-alert Wine Rambler! We know that your whimsically named "Blauer Limberger" is no other grape than Lemberger, known in Austria as - say it with me - Blaufränkisch. In Germany, Lemberger has its home in Württemberg, to which the Reichsgraf's Baden sub-region of Kraichgau is very close.

Orovela, Saperavi, 2005

Traditionally, it is 'Go West' if you want to embark on an adventure. A few weeks ago a friend of mine made the journey eastwards and relocated to Georgia. As one can never be sure where 'East' is with an international audience I should probably add that we are speaking about the country bounding the Black Sea. It is also one of the oldest, if not the oldest, wine growing countries, and one of the countries whose wine I have never tried before. So when I was scanning the shelves at Philglas & Swiggot for something unusual, a massive dark bottle saying 'fine wine of Georgia' immediately got my attention. As if this coincidence would not have been enough to make it interesting, the wine is also made from Saperavi, and indigenous variety that was also new to me. So here's to exploring new things, for the bold ones who actually venture there, and for the armchair wine snobs who prefer the safer route to try them with pasta and tomato sauce first.

J. M. Alquier, Réserve "La Maison Jaune", Faugeres, 1998

When it comes to french reds - and as I've said before, you can't be a real wine snob unless you can take a sip and say "ahh, zees, my friends, is terroir..." - I've had the distinct feeling for some time now that France is being rolled up for me from south to north. First to go was the southern Rhone. Done. I can't stand this tepid heaviness any more. Then, the more generic Languedoc blends followed suit. Bo-ring. With a lukewarm Gauby experience recently, I've even become doubtful about the Roussillon. So what about Faugères, one of the more characterful Languedoc appellations? Won't say "last try" yet, but let's just say there's some pressure on Alquier, by common agreement one of the very best names in all of southern France.

Domaine Gauby, Les Calcinaires, Côtes du Roussillon Village, rouge 2005

Wine, it seems, is still getting more and more alcoholic, a trend to which climate change happily contributes. After all, there is not much that producers can do against rising temperatures. Or is there? Gérard Gauby, a Roussillon winemaker, seems to believe they can. A decade ago he switched to biodynamic winemaking and successfully developed methods to reduce the alcoholic strength of his wines.
I had a 2005 Gauby sitting in my wine rack for a while now, until Julian kicked me into action by commenting on Gauby's 2004: 'Aromatics of overripe plum and dried herbs, but fairly imprecise and unfocused, with sweet and oxidised port notes that didn't work for me. I think very highly of Gauby, but this one doesn't seem to age well. Or maybe a reminder that "natural" wines are at all times capricious, moody fellows?' After reading this it seemed high time to drink up my 2005, in case it had suffered a similar fate. Had it?

Descendientes de J. Palacios, Petalos del Bierzo, 2004

Wine rambling-wise, Spain has not been among my preferred hunting grounds. As with Italy, I've not yet figured out what makes it tick as a wine country, and some of the more stream-lined reds I've tried have not encouraged me to invest more energy. Which is my loss, as afficionados and Spain experts will be quick - and correct - to point out. A notable exception over the last few years has been this red that Alvaro Palacios (of Priorato fame) makes from the Mencia grape in the little known northern Spanish region of Bierzo. This was the last of three bottles, and none of them failed to satisfy. So here's making it up to Spain:

Dr. Heyden, Oppenheimer Schloss, Frühburgunder, 2007

Today, we continue our exploration of under-the-radar grape varieties in german wine by introducing Pinot Noir's little brother (come on out, don't be shy): Frühburgunder literally translates as "early Burgundy", so we are dealing with a particularly early-ripening member of the Pinot family. Like any precocious child, this small-berried variety can be difficult to raise, but promises great complexity and aromatics once it really comes into its own. In France, it is known as Pinot Pommier or Pinot Madeleine - except that it isn't really, because it is routinely blended with Pinot Noir without declaring this on the label. In Burgundy, for example, it is often not even known in which of the older Pinot vineyards it exists, and in what proportion. Such ignorance is not for us systematically-minded Germans, of course, and in the 1970s, a winemaking college sent out researchers with clipboards, pens behind their ears (as I like to imagine it), into the vineyards to find out. One of the places where they were pleased at what they found must have been Dr. Heyden's vineyards in Rheinhessen, which have given us this excellent example for the grape's qualities:

Dr. Heger, Ihringer Winklerberg, Spätburgunder ***, 2000

If you are one of those thinking of German Pinot Noir as very light wine, pale in colour and neither substantial nor worth ageing then have a look at the wine below. And if you do not think about German red wine at all, well, then do the same. The two Wine Ramblers, at any rate, did also spend some time looking in amazement at the incredibly rich colour of the ten year old Spätburgunder that they had opened last weekend to celebrate one year of The Wine Rambler. Join us in the merriment: