Württemberg

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:

Fürst Hohenlohe-Oehringen, Verrenberg, Riesling GG, 2009

Whenever I come across good wine from the Württemberg region, I feel some irrational pride - irrational if you consider that while I have been born there, I left my Swabian homeland many years ago and have never looked back. While I went away, others clearly thought it was good to move to Swabia - at least in the middle ages when the noble family of Hohenlohe acquired property in Öhringen, north-east of Stuttgart. They clearly liked it there and after some branching in and out, some pruning etc., there is still a branch of the famous family residing there, the Hohenlohe-Oehringens.

coat of arms - capsule detail

Instead of quelling peasant rebellions, the Hohenlohe-Oehrigens of today are growing wine, organically of course. Like this grand cru Riesling.

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".

Green and pleasant land - A Trollinger tasting and one Wine Rambler's swabian epiphany

If Swabia were a nation, it would as of now be the world's only nation ruled by an environmentalist green prime minister. And it would have a national grape. And that grape's name would be Trollinger. Trollinger, known also as Vernatsch in the Alto Adige region of northern Italy, a grape that Jancis Robinson's authoritative Oxford Companion to Wine classifies as "distinctly ordinary". Not many outside of Württemberg deny that this is so. What it makes for, so received wisdom has it, are pale reds with harmless light strawberry aromatics and hints of almonds at best, and a thin, metallic, boiled mash of berries if you're not so lucky.

The Swabians, however, will have none of it, and stubbornly and inexplicably stand by their grape, downing Trollinger as if it had the proverbial cure inside. It weren't so bad if this was a bread-and-butter grape like Müller-Thurgau, unexciting, but at least easy to grow and reliable even on vineyards with less than ideal soil, climate and slope. But it is very much a diva among varieties and needs ideal conditions to fully ripen, effectively making every acre of it an acre lost for Riesling or Pinot Noir. So to see for myself if this is just a lesson in sociology or collective psychology (for which read provincialism, parochialism and auto-suggestion), I decided to taste three Trollingers that had received good press.

After the frost - the trials and triumphs of a Württemberg winery

One Saturday in early may, the regular 08.50 to Ochsenbach left Sachsenheim Station after having waited for the regional train from Stuttgart. The contents of that bus as it wound its way through what in a larger town one would call the outskirts, on to Hohenhaslach, past Spielberg and through increasingly picturesque beech forests, half-timbered villages and sun-streaked fields of flowers: 17 chatty, hiking-gear-attired senior citizens off to a walking tour, one insufferably precocious 13 year old boy giving a lecture on the importance of sunscreen to nobody in particular, and one Wine Rambler from Munich.

I had begun the ride somewhat under the weather due to an impossibly early start, but as we got under way, a feeling of deep provincial calm was beginning to settle over me. I was going for a strolling visit of a recultivated historical vineyard all by myself, and then the tasting room of the winery that made this happen. Shuffling into a more comfortable position in my Swabian-made bus seat, I was loving this already. Little did I expect to also learn the lesson that not all in wine making is sunlight and prosperity.

Weingut Kistenmacher & Hengerer, Lemberger Alte Reben, 2008

I confess that I read my co-Rambler Torsten's fine report on the marketing of German wine in the UK with the kind of sinking feeling that comes over me when faced with the strange irreality of wine marketing - a loop of popular perceptions created by marketing trends, which then need to be catered for by even cleverer marketing, a sense that I found nicely captured in Andrew Connor's comment as well. But how to leave the loop behind? By trying some goddamn German wine, instead of "German wine". Recently, we have been looking a lot at Württemberg, land of the engineers and car-parts manufacturers, and recently also the country's environmentalist stronghold, for that kind of new blood and new places. An example of how much can be achieved outside the classic growing areas, and outside pre-defined stylistic moulds, is the Kistenmacher-Hengerer winery of Heilbronn, a smallish town on the river Neckar.

So you're not quite prepared yet to move your Piesporter Goldtröpfchens and your Bernkasteler Doktors aside to make room in your cellar for this? Well then, here is our review:

Schnaitmann, Evoé!, Rosé trocken 2009

A recent encounter with a Swabian Riesling from the Schnaitmann winery has done a lot to build up my pride in Swabian winemaking. The German wine growing region of Württemberg is mostly inhabited by members of the Swabian tribe, who outside of Germany are probably better known for their engineering than their winemaking skills.

They are also known as very tidy, law-abiding citizens, so it is somewhat unusual that a Swabian wine is called 'Evoé!' - this after all being the battle cry of the followers of the Greek god Dionysus. Are we looking at a totally un-Swabian, orgiastic rowdy wine?

Torsten Friday, 14/01/2011

Weingut Hofmann, Tauberschwarz Propstberg R, 2007

Time to go regional on you again, with a grape variety hardly ever talked or thought about outside of the roughly 35 acres of land where people actually grow it. Tauberschwarz literally translates as "River Tauber black". While this does seem to provide a first tentative clue about the colour of the wine, a bit more remains to be explored: A bit more about what Weingut Hofmann, an estate that specialises in the all-but-forgotten grape, has brought to the bottle, and a bit more about the vinous backwater that has conserved this endangered species.

Schnaitmann, Riesling ** Fellbach, 2007

I am a Swabian. It is not easy for me to admit this. Not even in English and to an audience for which this may not mean anything at all. In Germany, there is nothing cool about being born into the tribe that is famous for bringing the world inventions such as the compulsory weekly sweeping of the staircase (I am not kidding, it is called Kehrwoche) or a special mortgage savings account (Bausparvertrag). The latter may recommend us to the English, but I am coming out tonight for another reason. Yes, I am a Swabian and there is nothing cool about it. But I am also a Swabian who as a child played just a stones' throw from where Rainer Schnaitmann now makes this great value kick-ass Riesling in the town of Fellbach. Also, I am the Swabian who was lucky enough to down the wine with a cool Scottish girl who likes her white wine dry and has a crush on Swabians.

Weingut Schnaitmann, Muskattrollinger Rosé, 2009

Before we give this unexpectedly gorgeous rosé from - get this - Württemberg its due, a word about its grape variety: Muskattrollinger is a cross between - you'd never have guessed it - Trollinger and Muscat that has been grown in Württemberg since the mid 19th century. Trollinger is the signature grape of Württemberg and usually produces very light, unmistakeably fruity reds - usually. Muscat is well known and adds its trademark floral explosiveness to the genetic mix.

And what a mix it is: It starts with an appetising salmon-copper-colour. It has red and white currants (yeah, get the white currants), gooseberry, elderberry and orange in its smell, and great fresh acidity and intensive spicy and floral fruit flavours in its taste. Wonderfully light on the alcohol as well. We are not known as the world's greatest rosé advocates here at the Wine Rambler, but you simply need to call a killer wine a killer wine.