Tuesday, 9 December 2014


Here are two quite different wines that got the juices flowing in their own unique ways.

Weingut Carl Loewen, Riesling Alte Reben 2013, Mosel
Pale straw in appearance. Reticent at first on the nose, but gradually evolving into grapefruit scents with suggestions of red berry, sweetish spice, stone fruit and ethereal herbs. Spice on the palate, with a light to medium body and warm undertones. Very juicy and succulent. The acidity is perfectly integrated, generating a silky feel in the mouth. Reddish berry hints again (mainly raspberry). Medium finish. With its slightly off-dry taste profile, this reminds me of Clemens Busch's "Vom roten Schiefer" another Mosel Riesling that I've enjoyed over the past year on account of its slightly creamy, "reddish", mouthwatering personality with that very subtle hint of sweet fruit lifting the wine onto another plane.

Weingut Egon Schmitt, Lagrein trocken 2009, Pfalz
Very opaque purple/garnet with a velvety rim. Dark, spicy berry aromas with a red fruit underlay. There is also a distinct stemminess that lends an interestingly sappy and enticing element, as well as pencil lead shavings and floral notes. Fresh and slightly spicy on the palate, with red and black fruit and a lingering finish. Last tasted in spring 2012. The ensuing couple of years have done this serious but highly drinkable wine a world of good. The tannins have loosened since last showing and are more integrated with the other elements (fruit, acidity, alcohol, body). A Lagrein that seems quite ready for drinking now but should retain its brilliantly sappy personality for a good few years to come.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


The Swiss lady from the local wine shop told me that the following varietal was quite old and native to Rheinhessen. Although I'd never heard of the grape, I was somewhat sceptical of her claim. Lo and behold, when I researched online at home I found out that Würzer is actually a crossing of Müller-Thurgau and Gewürztraminer, courtesy of Georg Scheu (he of Scheurebe fame) in 1932. Nothing that old or native about it at all, despite the fact that around 40 of the 60 or so hectares of vineyard it accounts for in Germany were admittedly planted in Rheinhessen. Here instead is the bastard love child of two grapes everyone loves to hate. What could possibly go wrong?

Schlossgut Schmitt, Guntersblumer Kreuz Kapelle Würzer Kabinett feinherb 2011, Rheinhessen
In truth, the wine turns out to be a revelation. Almost a golden yellow colour. The main theme on the nose is starfruit. It is a bitter kind of citric zing that maybe tends more to lime on the second day. On the periphery, we also have mildly honeyed, waxy notes hinting at oncoming maturity as well as a somewhat rubbery whiff (think warm squash balls or the inner tubing of your bike tyres). Starfruit continues on the palate, followed by a suggestion of something honey-related. Then the acidity attacks with short, sharp precision. Were it not for its slightly bitter starfruit characteristic, you might be forgiven for mistaking this wine as a Riesling if you tasted it blind. In fact, it feels a bit like Riesling on steroids. It may lack a certain depth and grace, and the finish is dry and straightforward, but it made a great pairing with the sweet and sour dish I concocted.

To be honest, I was expecting something spicy and sweetish, but this wine is bright, alert, refreshing and a more-than-worthwhile discovery. Judging by its keen, bitter acidity, I would say that the off-dry idiom suits it to a tee. The alcohol level is a mere 9.5 percent. Price: CHF 14.90.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Breumel in den Mauern

Two bottles of the following wine found their way into my possession one for immediate consumption, and one to leave in the cellar and "forget about". I need to apply this strategy more often for some of the better wines, as it's a lot easier on the wallet.

Riesling lovers outside Germany still go crazy for Müller-Catoir. However, since Hans-Günther Schwarz retired in the early 2000s 2001 having been his last vintage this particular jewel in the Pfalz crown seems to have enjoyed less of the limelight in Germany itself. The Battenfeld-Spaniers, Von Winnings, Kellers and Wittmanns of this world tend to fill more blog and wine forum page inches these days. Viewing from afar (and with my experience of their wines being too scant for me to theorise in this regard), it appears to me that Müller-Catoir have simply continued doing what they do well. For whatever reason, this approach might not attract quite the same acclaim as before domestically, but neither does it seem to have dampened enthusiasm for "M-C" overseas. I suspect Schwarz's successor Martin Franzen was on a hiding to nothing whatever he did. It can't be easy replacing a living legend and role model for so many other winemakers who have since made their mark in Germany.

"Breumel in den Mauern" is the name of a walled clos situated at the top of the Burgergarten vineyard site that slopes gently down from the village of Haardt. Having stayed in the village myself once and viewed the vineyard myself, I can confirm that it's an attractive if relatively unspectacular spot of earth. Certainly, the walls must play a part in retaining the sun's warmth during the growing season. The soil consists of pure mottled sandstone gravel.

Weingut Müller-Catoir, Breumel in den Mauern GG 2013, Pfalz
I had the opportunity to taste lots of 2013 Rieslings last spring, most of them freshly bottled. After a while, the searing acidity was simply too much even for me. Every Riesling began tasting the same. I almost made an appointment with the dentist afterwards. Admittedly, this sullied my view of the vintage from the outset, at least in terms of bone-dry Riesling. Happily, some exceptions have proven me wrong since. What is more, difficult vintages are ones that tend to separate the wheat from the chaff, they say. Looking back, for example, the oft-derided high-acidity 2010s have excited me more of late than any other recent vintage.

Now for this, the best dry Riesling in the M-C portfolio:

A fairly vivid pale yellow. Day one and the nose is not revealing much, if anything at all. Maybe some stone fruit, but that's your lot. Acidity dominates on the palate, though nowhere near as sharply as some others I've had the dubious pleasure of tasting. (I know, I know ... it's my own fault for opening a bottle as young as this, how uncouth). Day two, let's start again: faintly exotic fruit is now emerging along with some minerally notes. The acidity is noticeably less piercing though not quite integrated just yet. Day three, eureka. Wonderfully distinct and complex scents of pear, along with yellow-fruit hints, a suggestion of exoticism (though less than on the previous day), and the smell of what can best be described as both crumbly and stony crushed soil. Now the acidity is just right, neither too much nor too little. Instead of puckering my lips, it generates succulence and brightness. In the mouth, the sensation is slightly more filling within the wine's medium body and less austere than it was. I find myself sipping and sipping ... and forget to take any further notes. If you can wait a couple of days, this is a wine already very much assured with itself. Its initial reticence is a good sign in view of the long journey it has ahead. The finish is long.

My other bottle has already been stashed away and forgotten amid the murky clutter of our cellar.

Thursday, 30 October 2014


Weingut Vollenweider, Wolfer Goldgrube Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel
Very pure lime scents along with the best, most expensive lemons you could think of and an ever-so-slight sprinkling of top-quality sugar. Multi-faceted, bright and appetising. Sweetish at first on the palate, but then lemon, lime and apple dance a jig on my palate. Incredibly mouthwatering and tremendously bright, like a shining beam of light. Wet stone puckers my mouth slightly. Lip-smackingly good. Light but with ample flavour concentration. Great balance, finishing long and dry. Only 8.5 percent alcohol. Satisfying and extremely moreish.

Or, as my wife said in her understated way: "Yummy."

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Mosel trocken

From my point of view, dry Mosel Rieslings used to have a bit of "fear factor". Although climate change has helped further the trend towards Mosel trockens, it was not until the revelatory experience of tasting the Rieslings of Clemens Busch last year that I fully appreciated what was possible. Obviously, Clemens Busch is a top grower and, as such, maybe not that reflective of the rank and file of Mosel vintners. But how about this relative unknown then purchased for a mere 10 Swiss francs (!) as a bin-end, bargain-basement deal here in Basel?

Weingut Paul Knod, "Mons Prin" Riesling Spätlese trocken 2011, Mosel
Quite a high-definition light-coloured yellow in appearance. Pineapple and wet stone, already showing some mature wax-like tones, but otherwise bright in character. Overall, the impression is quite dense and reminds me of crushed stone not slate, but maybe chalk. Personally, it also reminds me of warm squash balls, however strange that may sound. There is also a slightly nutty whiff that suggests ageing in wooden casks (I might be totally wrong though).

Clear with a medium body on the palate, but ripe and quite concentrated, with a continuation of the mature notes I mentioned, along with lovely red apples, stone fruit and even suggestions of red berry fruit. Nuts then come to the fore again, helping to buffer the acidity. All this lends the wine a certain inherent sweetness within its otherwise trocken idiom. All in all, quite long and refreshing and very drinkable.

According to the bottle's "back label", the Romans used the Latin term "mons prin" to mean "Erste Lage" or "premier cru". Monnbring, the old name of the cadaster plot in which this wine was grown, is derived from this.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Müller-Catoir Muskateller

It was a tasting note by American wine importer Terry Theise that motivated me to buy the following wine. Although I do find wine descriptions useful from time to time, it is rare for me to buy a particular bottle purely and solely on the strength of such notes. Then again, Theise's prose which I've enjoyed reading year in year out for over more than a decade in his annual catalogues is very unlike most other trains of thought I've read on wine. And I mean that in a good way.

Weingut Müller-Catoir, Haardter Muskateller trocken 2013, Pfalz
Straw-yellow in appearance with exceedingly bright aromatics: fresh garden blossom, nutmeg, greenish appley notes, but also some yellowish suggestions and even a hint of fennel. Quite an exciting panoply of different elements. Cool, complex and vibrant on the palate. No less exciting than on the nose. A slightly glazed feel in the mouth midway through with light-to-medium concentration, although the overriding impression is that of a wine that is cleansing, "grapey" in the best sense, and above all exceedingly vivid with a long finish.

Or, as Terry Theise puts it in his 2014 Germany Estate Selections catalogue: "It break-dances over the palate and sizzles away with this crazy incipient salivating sense of sweetness but of course it isn't sweet. It's like drinking wine while you're stoned, it's derangedly vivid and you can't stop laughing."

Amen to that.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014


Back in the year 2000, the German Wine Institute decided to coin two wine terms or categories in a bid to revive Germany's export market. These were "Classic" and "Selection". The latter was meant to equate to some sort of glorified "premium" level of dry wine with no more than 9 g/l of residual (but with an exception made for Riesling, whereby the sweetness was allowed to be 1.5 times the acidity level up to a maximum of 12 g/l). These would be labelled as having been grown in a specific vineyards and were subject to a yield cap of 60 hectolitres per hectare and a minimum ripeness level of 90 degrees Oechsle. "Classic", on the other hand, applied to wines that were meant to be "harmoniously dry" ("harmonisch trocken") with residual sugar levels of no more than 15 g/l, that had a good intensity of flavour and were typical of the specific region from which they originated. Unsurprisingly, neither of these terms caught on outside Germany. As Owen Bird pointed out in his worthwhile study on German wine, Rheingold, The German Wine Renaissance (2005), English-native-speaking consumers might believe "Classic" was something "old-fashioned" or "traditional" as opposed to a laser-sharp representation of a specific wine-growing area or grape variety, which is the meaning the German Wine Institute mistakenly thought the word would convey. The term "classic" is not the first and definitely won't be the last English word that somehow gets lost or warped in translation when used in a German context ...

Be that as it may, the "Classic" moniker within Germany does at least seem to have outlasted "Selection". I can understand why this would be the case. Notwithstanding the unfortunate "Anglo-German" usage of this particular c word, "harmoniously dry" is a style a lot of people can relate to. Consequently, the "Classic" tag plays a role in some wineries' basic entry-level ranges to this day. Such wines are relatively inexpensive and, assuming the consumer is vaguely aware of the "harmonisch trocken" remit, quite easy to grasp and enjoy. This was a good example:

Weingut Werner, Riesling Classic 2013, Mosel
A producer totally unknown to me until now. Purchased for just under 12 Swiss francs from Liechti Weine here in Basel, this wine is pale straw-yellow in appearance. Quite straightforward and linear, but by no means simplistic with pleasing scents of exotic and stone fruit. As clean as a whistle on the palate with exceedingly fresh, bright acidity. On the one hand, the lack of any of the Mosel's typically "slatey" notes maybe makes what little residual sweetness there is seem a little more obvious. On the other hand, the acidity is so pure and electrifying that this impression remains but a fleeting one. All in all, a very balanced, harmonious wine that does not pretend to hit the heights of the previous wine but simply offers good value within its price bracket.