2011 has been a busy year. We fought evil, kissed wine queens, travelled the world (and Swabia), climbed skyscrapers, mastered high-speed drinking, survived dangerous self-experimentations, had English red and whites from the heart of Africa, met mad winemakers and -merchants, stole wine out of our neighbours rubbish bins - and drank a lot of good wine. It was a busy year for the Wine Ramblers (also outside of this hobby of ours), but as far as wine is concerned it certainly was a good year.
And as it is the time of the year to look back I'd like to invite you on a journey across our wine year 2011.
This may be hard to believe, but there is a surprisingly large number of people, even some of those professionally associated with wine, who either don't drink at all or at least drink significantly less in January. "Detox" is the magic word, and my co-Rambler Julian is one of those.
Anyway, I don't believe in detox, so January saw me out and about spitting my way through the seasonal London tastings. The most radical one was Ravenous for Riesling where I had 150 minutes to do justice to 74 Rieslings - a fantastic way to learn about the breadth of Riesling styles available, but also a few dozen bottles too far for me to do the wines real justice.
I also learned about Burgundy en primeur, which was a tasty and educational experience - the latter also because it forced me to learn to taste wine, talk to people and take notes - while at the same time holding an SLR camera to document the tasting. Despite having improved my technique since I still would like to have a lovely assistant for the note taking and a few wine saints to give my camera a wine-proofing blessing.
January was also a sad month, as we learned about the tragic death of Wolf-Dietrich Salwey, one of our wine heroes. On a more positive note, I shared my favourite risotto recipe, Julian expanded the concept of outtakes and b-sides to wine reviewing and there was stunning Silvaner. Oh, and I had a matching ready meals and wine tasting, about which I blogged in February.
February was maybe a little quieter but also full of surprises. At at tasting of German wine in a posh boutique hotel in London, for instance, I met a French girl who admitted she liked German Pinot Noir, and also an English wine legend who gave me an honest answer to a direct question. There was also first class wine, but that may be less of a surprise. Julian had a surprise of his own, when he came to terms with a Champagne that was so good it made him reassess sparkling wine.
Julian also continued looking for an answer to the question of what the f**k is Müller-Thurgau, and is it ever any good, while I had a date with wine history. The other wine highlight of the month was a monstrously good Riesling.
And speaking of Riesling and important questions, we also had a Canadian girl guest rambling about the other all important question: Trockenbeerenauslese Graacher Himmelreich, Anyone?
March is the month where we got stupid. It started with me getting the Wine Rambler committee into a Bordeaux Brawl. And as if that was not enough I also undertook a dangerous self-experiment by tasting the cheapest and most infamous German wines available: Blue Nun, Piesporter and Liebfraumilch.
On the saner side of things, Julian tasted a marvellous 1993 late harvest Riesling, I opened the doors to London's tastiest wardrobe and then there was the Grüner Veltliner that was very drinkable despite 15% ABV.
In April, Sabine (aka Mrs Munich Wine Rambler) looked for signs of spring in a vineyard and found beautiful snowdrops, I fought the dark side with lego and Julian walked up the staircase to wine heaven. In a library. Oh, and the ladybird came for Riesling.
Also, I found out what people really think about Riesling. Among the answers is the following flawed equation: "riesling = skim milk, sauvignon blanc = whole milk, chardonnay = heavy cream"
In May we celebrated two years of wine rambling. Appropriately, I attended a wine tasting and panel discussion that aimed to understand the future of German wine in the British market - where I found that some wine experts here don't seem to understand what is happening in German wine.
On the other hand I also think that quite a few German wine experts should know more about what is happening in English wine - at the tasting of the English wine producers I found the delights of the English countryside in the glass.
Obviously, there was also great Riesling, but I was more interested in Julian's piece of wine travel writing about the dramatic effects of frost on German vineyards.
German wine also came to London, when I explored the tension between sweetness and acidity of the 2010 vintage - in a stunning location next to the Palace of Westminster.
August had Julian taste aged wines from the neighbour's dustbin - how he came to go through his neighbour's rubbish you should ask him. However, Julian was not alone in having adventures with aged wines left behind under mysterious circumstances (although mine was only published in August as I was too lazy to write it up earlier).
August also brought more normal wine adventures - although I would not exactly describe us cool climate suckers falling for a new world red of 15.5% ABV as normal. Also not exactly normal is Julia, a dedicated woman who has put her life's savings into a business dedicated to raise the profile of English wine. While she may be mad, I recommend visiting her English Wine Pantry, as I did in August.
Oh, and Julian found pleasure in the simplest of wines.
September was a month of exceptionably good weather. So much so that I dared writing a piece about how the grasshopper stole my wine homework. Julian and Sabine were more sensible and explored German cider.
Perhaps it was the weather that made me think of warmer regions, so I added an Australian vs German Riesling blind tasting to our blind tasting madness category (and if you don't tell anyone I can reveal that on that night I slightly preferred the wine from down under).
October brought us back to the roots: a grand cru Riesling from Swabia, to remind us of our tribal roots, and a 1990s Haut-Médoc, to remind us of part of our wine roots (the Wine Rambler's first real "wow" wine moment was with an aged Bordeaux).
It was also the month when I hosted a let the people speak tasting, with the tasting notes coming not from Julian or myself, but from my colleagues. They came up with descriptions like: "naughty, sparkly, fizzy, fireworks, cheeky, less aggressive, fruity, essence of vomit, acidic, like a short story that lost its ending".
In terms of wine travel it was our busiest month as I spent some time in and around the German wine region of Rheinhessen. As there was much to be observed I split my impressions into several articles. The first, the October edition, deals with the internationally talented loonies, like myself, who go out on these wine trips, and it also features the spy recruitment scene that got me into that mission.
In early November followed the second part of the Rheinhessen story, this time about the winemakers we met and also about what I discovered to be the overall theme to the trip and perhaps of winemaking as a family business: Death, dreams and destiny - the place of family, obsession and rock 'n' roll in German winemaking. There was also a bit with a dog.
We had other adventures too, with the most unusual one probably being tasting African wine. Not from South Africa, that would be too easy, but from one of maybe five vineyards in Namibia. Overall, November was a little more quiet, so I found the time to write up another earlier adventure - tasting wine over the roofs of London. It is not often that you get to drink Riesling on the 29th floor of a building overlooking a metropolis.
And now the year comes to an end. With a few more good wines, of course - the highlight probably being a fantastic and reasonably priced Pinot Noir from the Ahr and a stunning Riesling from the Nahe.
Another highlight was that we now have it in writing and on very good authority that the Wine Rambler is an international wine lover. My goal has been for a long time to become internationally handsome, but as that seems unattainable I think we can happily settle for the second best label.
The reporting back from Rheinhessen also continued into December (and will go on for a little longer), with a piece about a dedicated and somewhat mad winemaker, organic winemaking and quality buttocks. Silvaner, one of our favourites grapes, also features.
Concluding the year is, quite fitting, another supernatural experience from the wine tasting that is practically our second home. An annual tasting in Munich that features psychedelic carpets, wisecracks from genial geezers and, well, this year shoes. Hip shoes, boring shoes, sexy shoes, sensible shoes. Endless variety with a few common themes, which makes shoes a bit like wine. That's the kind of thought that looking at mind-altering carpeting in state of growing tipsiness will bring up in the course of an afternoon.
Whether there is any wisdom in this that can guide you through 2012 I don't know. But as long as the year has some good wine adventures waiting for us - and I think it will - there will at least be wine enough to induce wisdom of some sorts into us.
Happy New Year to all of you!