Riesling

Alexander Laible, Riesling trocken "Chara" ***, 2010

After the epic ramble on which Torsten took you last time, along the sheer slopes of the Mosel valley and the bold challenges they afford the winemaker, it seems an uphill trek for me to interest you in a less dramatic setting for German Riesling. But I think I may have the region to do it, and the winemaker as well. The Place is the Ortenau, the Baden subregion made up by the last few hills of the Black Forest as it rolls gently down to the Rhine valley between Freiburg and Baden-Baden. A place of homely beauty, renowned for the richness of its cuisine and the temperateness of its climate, which is almost as sunny as Baden's Kaiserstuhl, but not quite as warm, with the cooler, pine-shaded Black Forest at its back. Riesling country.

The Winemaker: Alexander Laible, son of Andreas Laible, who has been for years, if not decades the uncontested number one among the winemakers of the Ortenau. Due to the enthusiastic press Alexander is getting, I have wanted to try one of his wines for some time, so I'll try not to lose too many introductory words now that the moment has arrived:

Searching for the Soul of Riesling. Reflections on Mosel magic and the wines of St. Urbans-Hof

Wine is nothing without people. It is people who make wine. It is the company of the right people that makes for a great evening with wine. And it is people's stories that make for engaging wine writing. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting a man who not only makes excellent wine but who also talks about it in such an engaging way that there is only my writing to blame if you don't walk away from this article at least a little inspired.

I certainly left inspired after my encounter with Nik Weiss, the owner of the St. Urbans-Hof estate in the Mosel wine region of Germany. It made me think about the magic that happens when you fall in love with a piece of land and the produce you bring forth from it. It is a magic that over thousands of years has transformed the land but it also transforms the people who work it. This is a story about how the Mosel transformed a man and how he in turn set out to transform his part of the Mosel - and about a little magic that happened when I spent an evening with him and his Riesling.

Van Volxem, Saar Riesling, 2011

Every hype brings with it the danger of disappointment. I mostly suffer from this with regards to movies (which is why I am staying away from reviews of "The Dark Knight Rises" until I have had a chance to see it), but the same can happen with wine. When it comes to the Saar Riesling from the Van Volxem estate hype was never needed to convince me to buy a few bottles every year as it has been consistently good, and also good value.

Even so I could not help notice the bold headlines that my wine merchant threw at me with this wine - headlines of high praise from respected wine critics for a Riesling that does not even follow the "single vineyard" paradigm. Because of the quality of the previous vintages I was confident it would be good, but would the hype spoil my enjoyment when I would not be quite blown away?

A. Christmann, Riesling Pfalz, 2010

This is the season to write about summer wines. You have to dig up something fresh and light and go on about how well it would go with a garden party or that fresh, light food we all enjoy under the blazing heat. It will either be a light white wine or a rosé that even those who dislike rosé will enjoy as it goes so well with summer. I am having none of that, and for two reasons. First of all there is no summer in London - as I am writing this post the wettest June in history is behind us and water is pouring down outside Wine Rambler London HQ into a wet and cold July.

More importantly perhaps the category "summer wine" would be unfair to a wine that is much more than just an accessory to the hot season. IF there was such a thing as a hot season in London of course.

Schellmann, In Gumpoldskirchen, 2009

While German wineries, even quite good ones, can seem unduly modest about their own accomplishments and shy about marketing to new groups of consumers, no such light treading for our southern neighbour, Austria. Austria's wine reputation was all but shattered by the dramatic adulterated wine scandal of 1985. From this low point, Austrian wine has - and here, the tired metaphor makes sense for once - pullet itself up by its own bootstraps, and wineries are rightly and vocally proud of their successes. Austrians themselves have fuelled the growth of a new wine scene with all but insatiable home demand. That, too, makes a great difference from Germany, where wine patriotism was lukewarm for the longest time and has only really taken off in the wake of the Große Gewächse (great growth/grand cru) campaign.

The Thermenregion south of Vienna is one of those success stories, as it supplies the ever-thirsty throats of Vienna with original whites from indigenous grapes such as Zierfandler and Rotgipfler. The Schellmann winery, run as a side project by the Kamptal winemaker Fred Loimer and some partners, is one of those confident establishments, as you can tell by the label: Love me or leave me, it seems to say, and I don't think you're going to leave me, are you now?

Emrich-Schönleber, Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen, Riesling trocken, 2009

Every once in a while I realise my education in practical Englishness is lacking. A PhD in English history only gets you so far and serious gaps remain that studying early modern pamphlets will never close. Among the things they won't prepare you for in university is sherbet. You may think this is not overly relevant, especially not in the context of German wine - and to be fair so did I (or would have, had I been aware of sherbet). Turns out sherbet actually matters, at least if you are English and for the first time in your life exposed to Nahe Riesling.

Meet the wine that tastes like sherbet.

Immich-Batterieberg, C.A.I., Riesling Kabinett, 2010

A highly recommended, reasonably priced Riesling with Art Nouveau/Jugendstil label and named after the world's most famous intelligence agency - I pressed "add to shopping cart" before my brain had even processed this properly. You may not know this, but I am intrigued by the world of espionage, I like cheap puns and I have the marvellous ability to misread pretty much everything to make me giggle. So it took my brain another second after I had added the wine to my latest delivery to realise that (while the label really does feature angels with a Riesling gun!) there is no German humour reference to the CIA here.

Instead we are looking at the estate Riesling of one of the world's oldest wineries, and CAI stands for Carl August Immich. Please don't be disappointed, after all we are speaking about a man who blew up a mountain in order to make good Riesling.

torsten Sunday, 17/06/2012

Visiting the Kruger-Rumpf winery and restaurant: a story of herbs, dentists and winemaking generations

Even sensible people shy away from dentists. I have never quite understood this, after all the pain will only get worse if you don't go, but it is a fact of life I have learned to accept. So I am aware that my next sentence risks damaging the reputation of a respected German winemaker, but the truth has to come out: Georg Rumpf wanted nothing more than to become a dentist. I wasn't aware of this when I visited the Kruger-Rumpf winery last October, but it provided an important piece of the puzzle for understanding the role of family in winemaking as part of my investigation into death, dreams and destiny.

Georg Rumpf

Luckily, neither death nor dentists will feature in the following story, but lots of good Riesling, great food and a little something on the philosophy of winemaking. It won't hurt a bit. Promise!

Apostelhoeve, Louwberg Maastricht, Riesling 2010

Dutch wine - I bet you didn't see that one coming. To be fair, neither did we. And yet here it is, and it is not just any Nederlandse Wijn, it is a wine made from Riesling grapes grown near the Dutch city of Maastricht. The existence of Dutch Riesling is the latest and perhaps most groundbreaking in a range of shocking revelations uncovered by the Wine Rambler's uncompromising investigative journalism. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is true. There is world class German red wine. There is English still wine and it is even drinkable. And yes, there is Dutch wine too.

Is it drinkable though? The Wine Rambler dares another, potentially fatal self-experiment.

torsten Thursday, 31/05/2012

Weingut Merkle, Ochsenbacher Liebenberg, Gewürztraminer mit Riesling "Weinhähnchen", 2010

It's a sad thing indeed when a wine lover is failed by a wine, but can a wine also be failed by its tasters sometimes? We had such a case on our hands at a recent Wine Rambler full committee meeting: You judge for yourselves whether we are being too hard on ourselves. While the dry wines that go with dinners at Wine Rambler Munich HQ are usually settled on beforehand, the dessert offering is, for some reason, usually selected spontaneously during the course of the evening after lively, alcohol-fuelled debate. This has led to some very fortunate choices, inspired by the moment, but sometimes, some prior planning would have been preferable.

When the name Merkle came up on the most recent of these occasions, I thought of the 2009 Riesling-Gewürztraminer cuvée I had tasted at the winery last year. I remembered Gewürztraminer lushness, coupled with the Merkles' typical herbal spiciness, and I remembered above all sweetness. Just the thing, and a change from the more usual Mosel Spätlese or Auslese. I should have realised that the 2010 I had in my cellar was as different from the previous vintage as can be: