decent

Wines that are, well, decent - well made wines, drinkable, but perhaps also lacking that little something to be exciting or memorable.

Weingut Ruck, Grauburgunder trocken, 2010

One day, I will invite other wine bloggers to contribute to an anthology of awkward introductions to simple wine reviews. The things that you ponder, and then reject, so as not to have to jump in with a straight "Here is a Franconian Pinot Gris that I had recently". One thing that struck me just now, while thinking of something new to write, was how often I, while recalling a tasting experience to put together a review, will sip on a completely different wine. Today, it's Dr. Heyden's very proper old vine-Silvaner from 2009. Then, I ruminated on the pun-producing potential of the Ruck winery's name, since it means something like "jolt" or "lurch" in German.

I thought of former German president Roman Herzog's 1997 speech in which he demanded "durch Deutschland muss ein Ruck gehen" ("A jolt needs to go through Germany"), of the strangeness of this image, and whether it could be put to some kind of humoristic use vis-a-vis the Ruck family of Iphofen, Franconia. But then name jokes are off limits in serious journalism, which led me to the question whether the Wine Rambler actually...

Jules Taylor, Grüner Veltliner, 2010

Grüner Veltliner is an Austrian success story. Increasingly popular, well, fashionable - cool actually -, it stands for the renaissance of Austrian winemaking after the scandal of the 1980s. Leaving fashionability aside, the consistent quality of the Grüner ending up in my glass never fails to amaze me, and if you delve deeper into the subject you also learn how well these wines can age and how much substance they can have. So yet another Grüner to be reviewed on the Wine Rambler, you may say? Yes, but this one is different - it comes from New Zealand.

Never having tried a NZ Grüner before, I was very curious when I saw it in my favourite Battersea wine shop and took a bottle home with me to do some research - with Wiener Schnitzel, of course, and potato salad. Does New Zealand deliver?

Karlheinz Schneider, Riesling trocken, 2010

My co-rambler is away, ostensibly vacationing in an undisclosed location in Cornwall, but I can reveal that he is really working on a piece of investigative journalism to reveal the craziness of some German wine makers. Like you, I don't have the faintest idea what may be coming. Anything from mild eccentricities to all-out insanity could be on the ticket.

Here's one thing I know about German wine makers, though (segue alert!): They can make quality dry Riesling at crazy prices. Case in point: Karlheinz Schneider, an all but unknown producer from the Nahe, itself an all but unknown region (excepting Dönnhoff!) in the rest of the world.

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".

Lucashof, Forster Pechstein, Riesling Spätlese trocken, 2000

Sometimes before going to bed I browse the websites of wine merchants and dream what I could order if only I had a proper wine cellar store wine long term (or, depending on the wine, a larger purchasing budget). During one of those sessions I came across a wine that seemed like the ideal solution to both problems: at over ten years of age it would not need more cellaring and at €9 it would not put a strain on my budget - considering the age it was a bargain.

I had heard of the Lucashof winery before, so I was curious to find out what one of their aged dry Rieslings (and from a well-know vineyard) would taste like.

Johann Topf, Green, 2010

Among the trusted recommendations you will get when asking for a wine to go with Wiener Schnitzel (breaded veal escalope) and potato salad is Grüner Veltliner, Austria's signature white wine. A little while ago I was browsing the wine selection in one of Munich's more upmarket department stores, looking for a wine to bring to a Schnitzel dinner, when something green got my attention.

Green, with a clean and minimalistic design, the Grüner Veltliner "Green" seemed to promise exactly what I was looking for - a clean, minimalistic but very fresh wine.

Staatsweingut Meersburg, Hohentwieler Olgaberg, Weißer Burgunder 2009

Those of you who have ever followed up on our coverage under the no other place-tag know that we have a special thing for out-of-the-way wine growing regions. But that doesn't mean that we want people to judge these wines more benevolently because of the originality or their provenance, nor do we. What we want is emphatically both regionalism *and* quality in wine.

Dr. Heyden, Chardonnay & Weißburgunder, 2009

After taking a look at Pfalz wines in the last three reviews, time to bring you up to date on Germany's other bread-and-butter region, Rheinhessen. Many german wine drinkers turn there for lower-priced, everyday wines that they order in larger quantity, but don't necessarily talk about the way they would about last weekend's Großes Gewächs or the Mosel Auslese they serve at their own posh dinner party. Everybody has their place of choice - at the moment, mine is Dr. Heyden, whose workhorse wines are carefully made and very dependable, but who also overachieve significantly with their stylish and concentrated old vines-Silvaner and their truly excellent Frühburgunder. In what has become a little tradition, I have been going to see Frank Heyden behind his table at a twice-yearly wine fair in Munich for two years now, both to have a chat and to slip him a follow-up order.

Another wine that he served me there is his Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc cuvée. I liked it there and then. But how will it fare under the cruel light shone on the Wine Rambler's tasting table, where neither friendship nor enmity can hope to sway the incorruptible critic?

Cono Sur, Pinot Noir, 2009

Recently, I have had a lot of cheap, in fact very cheap supermarket wine. As this experience wasn't always enjoyable, I set out to find an affordable wine available on the mass market that I could like, to show it can be done. Remembering some pleasant encounters with wines from the Chilean Cono Sur estate, I grabbed a bottle of their Pinot Noir, sold at £6.49. What can you expect from such a wine?

Making good Pinot Noir is not cheap, and if you consider taxes and duties in the UK this is a very low price. Certainly the cheapest I remember seeing around for a while.

Kalkbödele, Merdinger Bühl, Pinot Gris, 2008

Straw-coloured, with a nose of ripe pears, candied fruit and beeswax, this wine is dominated by the tension between the oak flavours on the one hand and the very robust acidity on the other.

The focus of the fruit seems to get lost a bit between the two, resulting in a somewhat muddied palate and a slightly awkward kind of complexity. Still, a very decent and somewhat original white.

Julian Sunday, 20/02/2011