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

Classic

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.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Scharzhofberger

When I worked in summer 1998 at a vineyard in Alsace, I remember there being a bottle of German Riesling in the kitchen fridge at the winery that lay untouched for weeks. On asking about it, the reply was, "Les rieslings allemands sont trop doux" ("German Rieslings are too sweet"). Certain stereotypes are hard to shake off, I guess not least in a country resolutely convinced of its superiority in all things wine-related. The irony that Alsace wines are often anything but dry was not lost on me even back then. The bottle in that fridge was a Riesling Kabinett from the following winery. Sixteen years on, I wonder what Family Ginglinger would make of this:

Weingut Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett feinherb 2013, Mosel
With 9.5 percent alcohol. Straw-yellow with a greenish hue. Reticent at first but then gradually opening up to show lovely clean fruit (mostly Granny Smith with peachy suggestions) and hard, cold slate. More slightly tart apple on the palate, followed by yellower stone fruit as well as darker hints generating a certain sense of sweetness. This is held in check by pointed acidity, which in turn is moderated by a pleasant silkiness lending elegance and complexity. The finish is dry and absolutely refreshing.

This wine's constituents are in great balance. Its energetic core of acidity lends a mouthwatering quality and makes me forget that this wine isn't analytically "trocken" (i.e. under 9 grams per litre of residual sweetness) by a long, long way.

And there we have it: my first ever Scharzhofberger! Egon Müller-Scharzhof is slightly beyond my modest means ...

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Bits and bobs

Detail on Heyl zu Herrnsheim label
Some telegram-style notes on recent wines which would be too short on their own to warrant a single blog post:

Weingut Heyl zu Heynsheim, Riesling 2010, Rheinhessen
Vivid yellow. An unusual and quite brutal herbal smell. Very ripe. Herbal notes on the palate. Very dry but with plenty of inner substance. Zingy, stimulating and very interesting. More of a guilty pleasure than an easy drinker.

Weingut Knab, Endinger Engelsberg Weissburgunder Spätlese trocken 2012, Baden
Straw-yellow. Distinct whiff of freshly sliced melon on the nose. Melons aplenty on the palate too. Fresh, fruity, intense and long. "E gaanz hervorragendi Wiissburgunder", as they would say down in these parts (in Basel dialect, replace the two i's to spell "Wyssburgunder").

Weingut Eugen-Müller, Forster Pechstein Riesling Kabinett halbtrocken 2012, Pfalz
Pale straw-yellow. Mint, lime and dark stone on the nose. Limeade and mint on the palate. Dry, refreshing finish. Very addictive. Perfect for quaffing.

Prima

Edouard Graf is a one-time customer of mine who runs a gourmet restaurant on the shores of Lake Zurich and has also launched his own range of wine glasses under the pseudonym "Edi the Nose". In the past, he has also collaborated with winemakers to produce his own wines that are now served at his restaurant or available via his online shop. This is one such specimen:

"PrimaNose" DOC 2006, Edi the Nose, Azienda Agricola La Fusina, Langhe Rosso, Piedmont
This is a blend of 40% Pinot Noir, 30% Nebbiolo, 25% Barbera and 5% Dogliani. Almost opaque, dark garnet in appearance. Black olives, sultanas and black forest fruit with a hint of red berries. Over the course of three evenings, an iron, blood-like note also emerges.

Not surprisingly, given the presence of Nebbiolo and Barbera, this wine has plenty of acidity on the palate. This and the tannins generate quite a "bite" that is a tad astringent a first but then becomes pleasantly mouthwatering as the hours (and days) go by. A slight sensation of sweetness and a certain mellowness in the mouth help accentuate this. Full bodied and powerful, but elegant. The 14 percent alcohol is well masked by the overall freshness. The finish is long. After eight years, this wine is still a relative spring chicken, but is now beginning to shed some of its initial sharpness. Great stuff.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Falkenlay

As I translated the tasting note for the following wine in volume 1 of Vinipazzi at the beginning of this year, it would have been tempting to leaf through the book in question and simply copy what I wrote back then. But that would have been cheating. I recently bought a single bottle myself, so I thought it would be interesting to write my own notes and only afterwards see if they tallied in any way with author Thom Held's far more detailed impressions.

Weingut Clemens Busch, Riesling Marienburg 1. Lage* Falkenlay 2009, Mosel, Germany
* Referred to as a GG ("Grosses Gewächs" or grand cru) from 2011 onwards.

The Falkenlay plot within the Marienburg grand cru consists of grey slate. "Lay" (pronounced by English speakers in the same way as "lie") comes from the celtic "ley", meaning crag or cliff.

Golden yellow in appearance. Honey on the nose and distinctly so. The scent is already very mature after five years: quite waxy a note that the author generally refers to in his book as "Silberschleier", or a sort of "silvery veil". At the risk of sounding a little very extremely pretentious, it feels to me like a viscous film covering the rest of the wine's inner components.

Again, honey on the palate. Ripe and powerful with a firm, long (and minerally?) finish. There might not be as much zing as I'm used to, but drinking a wine such as this (that is already showing signs of maturing) is all part of the learning process. And besides, the wine's firm base consisting of what might best be described as "extract" that indefinable "stuffing" or substance that tastes dry helps offset any honeyed tail there may be.

Great stuff, but is this, my rather second-rate, badly structured, amateurish, ad hoc description, consistent with the book? Not really. I'd prefer not write out the whole tasting note ad verbatim, but my translation contains snippets such as "heady on the nose with notes of white peach", "emotional energy", "olfactory odyssey", "dense and immaculately round", and "bright pineapple notes".

My notes also lack the visuals of Vinicolori the author's way of depicting wines through the medium of colours and collages. That, however, is something best experienced by purchasing the book itself a piece of work of which, on the other hand, I'm more than a teeny weeny bit proud.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Himmelreich

This is not meant to sound condescending, but Dirk Brenneisen's wines remind me more and more of Hanspeter Ziereisen's. Like his colleague in Efringen a couple of miles down the road, Brenneisen only minimally filters his wines if at all, he chooses not to deal with piddling issues such as whether his wines are "typical" enough to earn the Qualitätswein label (he bottles everything as Landwein instead), nor is he scared of his wines having a good backbone of acidity. Let's take exhibit A.



Weingut Brenneisen, "Himmelreich" Spätburgunder trocken 2009, Baden
Dark ruby. Dense and concentrated at first, then showing forest fruits (red and black). It's less the aromas and more an overall impression of terrific sappiness and freshness that holds my attention even on the nose. I take a sip. A pronounced, bright vein of acidity washes around my mouth. The tannins have a slightly tart bitterness which amplifies this effect. Extremely fresh and vibrant almost Italian style in that way. Tremendous concentration for a wine with just 12.5 percent alcohol, with mostly dark berry fruit and chocolately hints. However, the flavours seem secondary amid the freshness and brightness that return on the finish to lend a satisfying, mouthwatering feel.

This was raised for 20 months in Burgundy barrels (barriques), of which only a third were new. Himmelreich refers to the name of the cadastral plot in which the vines were grown that's another similarity to Ziereisen, who also uses the names of specific plots for his wines.

Even at 16 euro, this is an absolute bargain.