no other place

Wine is about a sense of place. Or should be. Join us in exploring wine regions largely unknown outside of Germany, wines that can - or are - only made in one place or grape varieties that are almost forgotten.

Knipser, Gelber Orleans trocken, 2008

Oh no, the Wine Rambler does yet-another-of-those-obscure-German-grape-varieties, I hear you say? And the answer is, you bet! This one is very obscure indeed - now that is. In the 19th century "Orleans" was reasonably popular in Germany (where its history goes back to the 12th century), but eventually this very late ripening variety was superseded by Riesling and pretty much forgotten. So much so, that it had to be recultivated in the 1980s and there are only a few producers who grow Orleans now, and in tiny quantities.

The leader of the pack appears to be the Knipser family from the Pfalz who produce both substantial Orleans in (dry) Auslese quality and lighter ones like this one. I opened the "trocken" (dry) Orleans for wine-loving English friends who had not even heard of Orleans before.

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.

Zehnthof Luckert, Sulzfelder Maustal, Blauer Silvaner, Kabinett trocken, 2008

We've reviewed wines from Zehnthof Luckert before, and have not so far been disappointed. Today, we turn to Blauer Silvaner, being a blue-skinned variety of Silvaner that is not, as Jancis Robinson's authoritative "Oxford Companion to Wine" proclaims, merely a speciality of Württemberg, but also found along the river Main in Franconia.

If the Luckert family wants to send a bottle of this to Jancis Robinson as proof of that, I suggest they go ahead, because they certainly need not be ashamed of it:

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.

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.

Weingut Darting, Huxelrebe Beerenauslese, Forster Schnepfenflug, 2003

It may sound otherwise, but Huxelrebe is neither a reason to shout "Gesundheit" nor an infectious disease. Instead, it is one of the grape cross-breeds created in Germany in the 1920s, and like many of those it is now mostly grown in Germany and England. Huxelrebe is a very high yielding variety that easily reaches high sugar levels, but it can produce high quality wines if yields are reduced.

You will find dry Huxelrebe ("Rebe" means "vine"), but mostly they are sweet dessert wines, like this one from the Pfalz.

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.

One hill, one grape, two styles - two Tuniberg Pinot Gris

A while ago, I attended one of the commercial wine fairs that hit downtown Munich a couple of times a year. Like the times before, the elitist in me wasn't sure if it would be worth the time, because, to be completely honest, there are many second- and third-rank producers at these gatherings. In the end though, that is precisely why I eventually did go and had a look around. What is going on among the rank-and-file wineries is, I find, more indicative of the wider trends and directions the wine world is taking than the elite estates, who are in a league of their own anyway and always march to their own beat to some extent.

While braving the dense throngs of tasters - these events are notoriously busy - , browsing the winery leaflets and tasting the odd glass, I chanced upon the Kalkbödele winery of Baden's Tuniberg region, and was persuaded to try both their Grauburgunder and their Pinot Gris. Yes, that's right, two versions of the same grape. The naming, I was informed, indeed indicates the two different styles that they were aiming for. What was going on here?

Knipser, Gelber Orleans Auslese, 2003

You haven't heard of Gelber Orleans? Not even a vague idea what it might be? Despair not, it is hardly a well known grape variety. In fact, it has become so obscure - even in Germany - that when I recently invited a well versed wine blogger over to try it I was confident she would not be able to identify it.

a mystery wine

When serving the wine I made sure that the only thing she might have caught a glimpse on was the name and logo of the winery - identifying the producer as Knipser, one of the most accomplished in Germany. So, gentle reader, explore a wine with us which you will most certainly not have experienced before.

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.