Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Schneider CS

The "CS ***" 2007 version, I've already covered this year, but Schneiders' "basic" CS (short for "Claus and Susanne") also deserves some attention. It's a wine I've come back to again and again over the past three vintages or so. I tried the 2007 back at the wine fair in Lörrach, when it was drinking particularly well, and promptly ordered six (at a 10% fair-only discount), which I picked up earlier this week.

Weingut Schneider, Weiler Schlipf, Spätburgunder trocken "CS" 2007, Baden
An enticing ruby colour, this one. Strangely, there are notes in this that are vaguely reminiscent of cool peppermint. Creaminess and chalkiness abound on the nose - by no means "chalk 'n' cheese", but an elegant combination. More strawberry than raspberry, underscored with some darker fruit and more savoury notes.

On the palate, this seems to have no less stuffing than the "CS ***". I feel the difference - or one of the differences - is in the ageability; the latter seemed a lot more reticent and closed when I tried it again at the fair. Here, my mind is drawn back to a recent observation made on The Wine Rambler blog about the fact that you can't just simply load more concentration and power onto your wines the higher up the quality range you get. The differences, as Julian wrote, are more in the fine-tuning.

Having said this, the basic "CS" could barely be more fine-tuned for its own particular price bracket (EUR 8.90). Both light and firm, this has excellent balance, fine tannins, elegance in spades, freshness and yet an almost haunting mineral undertone. Exceedingly drinkable, but with a gravitas that would surprise many a Burgundy lover.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Maispracher Sunneburg

The area around Basel boasts some notable pockets of wine-growing activity, one of which is the idyllic village of Maisprach. The following 50 cl bottle of wine was received as a Christmas gift from some friends who live there. Their house appears in the drawing on the bottle label.

Maispracher Sunneburg, Buess Weinbau und Weinhandel AG, Baselbiet
As for the vintage, I haven't a clue - no such information was given on the label. I only realised this when I came to writing this post - not that it would have prejudiced my opinion of the wine (I'd like to think). Yet, it would be pretty for safe for me to say that the varietal was Pinot Noir.

Cherry, cloves and burnt rubber on the nose - and I mean this in a good way. Sappy fruit, nice tension and acidity on the palate, but smooth and moreish. Great complexity is not this wine's raison d'être, nor would I expect it to be. Just good, honest wine for sipping on a Sunday evening. I wonder why it had no specified vintage, though?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Einzelstück

We got the Christmas tree up last Sunday - or that is, Jenny got the Christmas tree up while I fretted about various bureaucratic matters related to setting up a business. I know who had the more enjoyable time. That said, I'll be glad next year when the new day-job can begin in earnest.

To sooth my disposition, I opened this, the last of the six "Einzelstücke" I bought around three years ago.

Weingut Markus Schneider, Einzelstück 2005, Pfalz
Opaque ruby with brownish cherry rim. Fruity, floral, earthy and mildly savoury aromas all at once. Plum, cherry schnapps and violet perfume underscored with wild mushroom, dark chocolate, creamy vanilla and mocha. Supple, smooth and understated body with finely grained, silky tannins enveloping the palate, savoury roasted notes, some minerals and ample complexity. What follows is a long finish. This is not the jammy fruit blockbuster one might expect. The moderate aging has mellowed the various components, while the acidity is just sufficient to keep the taste buds keen.

At EUR 26, these wines weren't cheap. At the time, it was way more than I had ever coughed up per bottle. In fact, it's a figure that has only been exceeded once or twice since, and even then, only for the odd bottle - not a whole case. However, this particular purchase was made out of curiosity.

So, was the outlay worth it? I would say yes, to a degree.

When I first tasted this three years ago, I was dubious as to the merits of barrel aging for a wine made from Portugieser vines that were almost 80 years old, subscribing to the view that it was a shame that oak should get in the way of something so unique. However, the last three bottles consumed over the past year were eminently more enjoyable. They seemed to be at their peak already, "So why wait another three years?" I thought. Overall, the experiment was a good one.

Anyway, they're all gone now. Would I invest - if that's the right word - in another six bottles? I wouldn't rule it out, but maybe I should simply look at it as another box to tick off on my list.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Ungeheuer

In the Pfalz, Bassermann-Jordan are one of the three "b"s, alongside Bürklin-Wolf and von Buhl - the three wine estates whose wines have graced many a royal dining table over the last 150 years or so.

The following bottle was purchased last June at the winery's vinothèque in Deidesheim.

Weingut Bassermann-Jordan, Forster Ungeheuer "S", Riesling trocken, 2009
I love Stelvin enclosures. So easy. The only problem with a wine like this one is treating it like a bottle of pop and forgetting to open it in good time before tasting. Into the decanter it went for some fast-track airing...

Laser lime-yellow appearance in the decanter, this shows a salty minerality on the nose somewhat reminiscent of flint. The soil in Ungeheuer has smatterings of basalt running through it, and one is indeed tempted here to make that association with the terroir. On the palate, a certain richness emerges, with stone fruit and more exotic notes. The acidity is taut and fine, lending elegance and structure. There are also some hints of redcurrant and, again, some stoney saltiness. What I like about the finish is the total lack of alcoholic heat. Instead, the faintest hint of sweetness is gently smothered in warm minerals and a talcy powderiness. This is less of a charmer and more a wine with pretentions.

As legend has it, Otto von Bismarck is supposed to have taken a shine to wines from Ungeheuer (German for "monster"), once exclaiming, "This Ungeheuer tastes monstrously good." Depending on whom you believe, the name Ungeheuer dates back either to 1460 when the term "Ungehuwer" is supposed to have been recorded, or to Johann Adam Ungeheuer, a scribe who lived in nearby Deidesheim and died in 1699.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Cheer up Alan Shearer

As a certain football chant sung by Manchester United fans begins... I was humming the tune to it while writing this post, so please bear with me - it's not as incongruous as it may seem.

We've just returned from a long weekend at my parents' in Lytham St Annes for some pre-Christmas festivities. The main reason for returning to England in early December, however, was to watch the Premier League match between Blackpool and Manchester United. Courtesy of family connections, we had been kindly invited to take in the match from one of the executive boxes, complete with the proverbial three-course menu of prawn sandwiches. Being a United supporter who was born in Blackpool, I can safely say that it would have been one of the highlights of my footballing life, irrespective of the hospitality on offer. I had also been looking forward to throwing chicken scraps down to my dad and aunt sat with the have-nots in row one.

All the more disappointing then to hear the day before that the match had been postponed due to the freezing weather. Blackpool's pitch is the only one in the Premier League without undersoil heating, and it was apparently bone-hard even despite the slight thawing we had on the morning of the game. The fixture should be rescheduled for midweek some time, but whether I'll be able to fly back to watch it is another question.

As consolation, here's a picture of the tangarine chocolate delight I received instead.

Incidentally, on our easyjet flight from Zurich to Manchester last Thursday, fellow passengers on the plane included former players Andy Cole, John Barnes and a rather glum-looking Alan Shearer. All three were on the way back home after England's World Cup bidding debacle.

Cheer up Alan.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Mea culpa

As a belated celebration at home last weekend, I cracked open a bottle of Zind-Humbrecht's finest. My better half bought it for me as my birthday present last year. A special treat indeed, and now it's time had come.

I poured the wine into the decanter, and... oh: "This looks suspiciously brass-coloured," I said. I've drunk extremely luscious Pinot Gris before, but this time I wasn't entirely convinced. Not sure what to expect, I dipped my nose into the glass - and was none the wiser. Hm.

Not one to take risks with such a lovely bottle (which cost my dearest a good few bob), I returned it to the shop in Basel on Monday, citing oxidation and/or cork taint.

The next day, another bottle of the same wine and vintage was ready for me to collect. The gentleman behind the counter proceeded to explain to me that he and all his colleagues had tasted the dubious bottle in question, and the unanimous verdict was that the wine was perfect in every respect. He went on to say that it was common for such wines to be more than a touch amber in appearance, but it was no problem, here was another bottle to take home with me..

Oh, the embarrassment.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Ziereisen Christmas tasting

Amid a flurry of snow, I ventured out on Saturday to attend the Ziereisens' Weihnachtsdegustation. A very enjoyable few hours ensued, tasting the winery's latest bottlings and sampling some wines from befriended properties such as Van Volxem, Beurer and Domaine de l'Horizon. What struck me most was the friendly, down-to-earth welcome I received from all concerned.

As a little treat, I bought three bottles of Hanspeter Ziereisen's maiden vintage from newly planted vines up in the Jaspis vineyard above Efringen. As the vines are so young, the wine costs slightly less than the established Jaspis Alte Reben. You normally wouldn't think such youthful vines would make such a substantial wine.

Weingut Ziereisen, Pinot Noir Jaspis "Jungfernlese" 2008
Quite opaque ruby for a Spätburgunder. Wet wood on the nose, some cherry/raspberry fruit as well, but very understated. On the palate the elements are still quite tight but loosen markedly on the second day. Sweetness from the well-integrated oak, plenty of extract, well-integrated tannins, strangely pleasant bitterness on the finish. Astoundingly tightly woven, although this needs time (i.e. years) to unfold. The other two bottles will be left well alone for now.

Incidentally, things have been fairly quiet of late on the blogging front. But for good reason. In addition to preparing to become freelance, I proposed to Jenny on 20 November. We were in Paris to celebrate our respective birthdays, which are two days apart, and it seemed to me the perfect time to fall on one knee and pop the question.

She said yes!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Pride of Swabia

Some of you may already have heard that Germany's "Gault Millau Wineguide" has awarded Weingut Aldinger with this year's "Collection of the Year" prize. Based in Fellbach on the outskirts of Stuttgart, the Aldingers enjoy an excellent reputation throughout Germany for their consistently outstanding range of reds and whites. Yesterday evening, I watched Gert and Matthias Aldinger being interviewed on the weekday magazine programme Landesschau Baden-Württemberg, with presenter Jürgen Hörig quizzing them about winning the accolade.

It was an entertaining little feature. Hörig descended somewhat into hyperbole, referring to the Aldingers' Lemberger as the "bester Lemberger aller Zeiten" ("the best Lemberger of all time"), and as a "Wuchtbrumme" ("powerhouse" may be the best translation given the context). Matthias Aldinger's reference to "Kontrolliertes Nichtstun" ("Measured idleness") to describe his approach to vinification also rang a bell as a particular mantra employed by umpteen winemakers across the land. Rather quaintly, Herr Hörig mistook this for modesty.

Anyway, a proud day for all Swabians.

The interview can be viewed here.

[Edit: In hindsight, the comment "Rather quaintly, Herr Hörig mistook this for modesty." sounds a bit snobbish. However, I just think sometimes it would be refreshing if Winemaker XY said something like, "No, actually, we ensure optimum cleaniness in the cellar, add a cultured strain of yeast to kick-start the fermentation process, apply temperature control throughout, regularly rack the wine..."]

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Expovina and Gaga

Another wine fair was on the agenda last Sunday, as was Lady Gaga.

Travelling to Zurich with my better half and a handful of other friends at midday, we first hit the wine ships at Bürkliplatz. Wine tasting on a boat is not something I'd attempted before, so this seemed novel enough to try out. From my point of view, the idea of attending was somewhat less professionally motivated than it had been at the previous two wine fairs, and more for the sheer fun of it. Having said that, I still managed to part company with a few business cards. Overall, we had an enjoyable visit, despite feeling vaguely seasick by the end.

Now, Lady Gaga is probably not to everyone's taste, but she certainly can't be accused of not putting on a good show. Originally, I had passed up the chance for a ticket to her concert. However, I was lucky enough to claim a ticket at the second time of asking. Which was just as well, because it was a brilliant show.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Wine fairs

On the last two weekends, I've attended two different wine fairs. The first one was the Basler Weinmesse, Switzerland's second-biggest wine fair), the second a more local affair in Lörrach, Germany: "Hieber's Weinmesse". Armed with my new business cards, my respective visits were admittedly less about the wines and more about meeting winegrowers face to face and explaining what I have to offer from a translation perspective. It was a worthwhile experience for me on both occasions, and I even managed to get my face in the paper after the fair in Lörrach (click here; it's an unflattering photo: I'm the one smiling goofishly and looking deceptively thin as the man from Winzer Krems pours some Grüner Veltliner into my glass).

Aside from professional matters, some general observations:

The Basler Weinmesse was without doubt the bigger, slicker affair. Nevertheless, the fair in Lörrach is also very well organised (by local supermarket chain Hieber). At both fairs, the emphasis was both regional and international.

In Basel, you had stands devoted to Swiss growers from the Basel region and further afield, and stands devoted to wines from "old world" countries such as France and Italy (the latter being a firm Swiss favourite) and from the new world. Then there were the guest regions: Austria and the Geneva area.

In Lörrach, the "demographics" very much reflected the make-up of the wine community in Baden, i.e. cooperative-focused yet with a good handful of private properties. There was also a fair selection of wines presented from overseas.

On balance, I probably preferred the slightly cosier, more familiar experience offered in Lörrach. Set in a popular concert house, the event has become a firm fixture on the local social calendar. And I could see why. With room to mingle and free finger food (antipasti) included in the price of the ticket, the ingredients were there for having an enjoyable time. The idea of splitting the event into three distinct sessions (Fri night, Sat afternoon and Sat night) was also inspired, I thought. I went on the Saturday afternoon as the other two sessions were already sold out. This was probably the best option in hindsight, as I had more chance to devote enough time to all of the stands I visited.

There were a number of highlights, although the following two encounters stood out for me: 1) the lovely chat I had with Simone Lanz at the Basler Weinmesse and the beautiful Grüner Veltliners she poured me from Kremstal, and 2) talking in Lörrach with Martin Schärli, the head of operations at Weingut Kalkbödele and tasting his winery's gorgeous selection of Weiss-, Grau- and Spätburgunders.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Fruit cake

My aunt and uncle visited us last weekend, bringing with them the most succulent, raisiny English fruit cake you could imagine. Baked from a mixture that included more than a good dash of brandy, it is one of those cakes that would probably last a year and more if stored correctly. Interesting as it would be to test that theory, I can't imagine it lasting that long, if you catch my drift.

We both ate a piece each this evening, to follow a main meal of steak with mushroom and red wine sauce. The accompanying wine was purchased earlier this year.

CARM, Quinta do Côa Reserva 2006, Douro DOC
Firstly, CARM stands for "Casa Agrícola Roboredo Madeira". The grapes are all indigenous Portuguese varietals - Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz - and were harvested from one of the Douro's synonymous terraced sloped vineyards. Quinta da Côa estate is found found in an area "designated as a World Heritage Site, where the paleolithic rock carvings in the valley of the Côa, a tributary of the Douro, reveal a flourishing culture which goes back 25,000 years" (see website).

Opaque in appearance with a ruby rim; we're talking Australian Barossa darkness. The nose is a brooding mass, showing floury black and red fruit, spicy, oaky sweetness and raisin. This floury notes continue on the palate. Almost monolithic in body. However, in terms of structure, a juicy vein of acidity lends immense drinkability, belying the 14.5% alcohol, while the tannins are suggestive of a certain wildness and minerality. The finish is long and smooth. A wine to be drunk when the weather is dank and cold outside. Potential for a good few years to come, but drinking just fine at the moment. Decanted over two hours prior to serving, which was just as well.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Wine translation

Dear Reader,

You may have noticed from my blog profile that I am a translator by profession. Specifically, my job involves translating written texts from German and French into English, my native language. Since 2000, I have worked mainly as an in-house, salaried translator specialising in a wide range of texts - primarily for financial services providers, but also in other areas such as tourism and life sciences.

Over a month ago, I handed in my notice with my current employer with a view to setting up my own freelance business from 1 January 2011. I intend to offer English translation services to clients within the wine trade. It is something I have wanted to do for a long time. My focus will be on providing English-language translations of websites, advertising material, newsletters, brochures and more besides. I aim to collaborate with winemakers, wine marketing agencies, regional wine associations, journalists and other wine professionals. It is a prospect that excites me.

Wineries, in particular, need quality English translations of their websites and other written output in order to appeal to a wider audience. Unfortunately, many such websites are translated into English by non-native English speakers. However well meant, and regardless of whether the author has an excellent command of spoken English, the results can still leave a lot to be desired. Although I speak fluent German, that does not necessarily make me qualified to translate into flawless written German - there is no reason why it should be different the other way round. A significant part of my job will be to get this message across.

This blog will soon include relevant contact details and information relating to my business. However, "From Blackpool to Basel" will otherwise remain non-commercial in nature, albeit with some judicious plugging for my business in the right-hand margin.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Freisamer

Freisamer? No, I'd hadn't heard of it either.

Apparently, it's a cross between Silvaner (Sylvaner) and Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and is a varietal almost exclusive to the eastern Swiss canton of Graubünden. It does have some minor plantings in Baden (D), too. Be that as it may, it was certainly new to me.

The Cottinelli property is based in the relatively high-altitude climes of Malans, in the heart of Graubünden's wine country.

Weinhaus Cottenelli, Freisamer AOC 2008, Graubünden
Straw in appearance with golden reflexes. Medium nose of the finest honey you could ever want to taste, married with the succulency of William's pear, a certain nuttiness I find hard to fathom, plus a hint of marzipan and minerals. Even some floral notes. A merry dance between pear and honey on the palate. Bitter pithy pip notes and subtle acidity which offsets the lusciousness of what is a powerful, filling mouthfeel. A slightly wild, yeasty note, too. Maybe more akin to Pinot Gris than to Silvaner, yet unique in character and highly interesting and enjoyable.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

From Spätburgunder to Riesling

Two wines tasted over the last week. Alas, notes again are rudimentary. The first one was finished in the space of an hour with the help of friends, the other one was a slow burner drunk over three days.


Weingut Kranz, Ilbesheimer Rittersberg Spätburgunder trocken 2006, Pfalz
Had I opened this too early in its lifetime? The rim looked quite purple around an otherwise ruby core. My last glass of this was the best one, again demonstrating the often underestimated effect of air on wine. Very pure and focused with good depth. Some sour cherry, some raspberry. Held in shape by drying tannins and keen acidity. Almost Italian style in that respect. Balanced and understated, although still showing the puppy fat of youth.

Curiously, the back label showed "Ilbesheimer Rittersberg" as the vineyard of origin, yet "Kirchberg" was shown on the front (the name of an old vineyard delineation?).

Weingut Becker-Landgraf, Riesling trocken (Gutswein) 2008, Rheinhessen
Green-gold leaf tinge, reticent nose, but slowly developing an interesting steely sharpness. The palate is as clear as glass. Lime and puckering, steely acidity. Clean and refreshing. Slight heat from the alcohol. In my book, it could do with a touch more residual sugar to be more accommodating, although I do respect it for it's no-holds-barred dryness. A solid estate wine.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Swiss on a roll?

A picture from last Tuesday's Euro 2012 qualifier in Basel between Switzerland and Wales. In the end, a fairly straightforward if slightly flattering 4-1 win for the hosts. We were in exactly the same seats as we were for the England match, only this time the fencing behind the goal was gone!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Autumnal

There's currently more than an autumnal nip in the air here in Basel; it's getting quite cool and the thermometer is set to drop to single figures (in celsius) during the day this weekend. We were in shorts last Saturday.

Time then for a pinot noir to warm the proverbial cockles.

Weingut Leiner, Spätburgunder trocken -reserve- 2006, Pfalz
Attractive ruby red with a watery, slightly brick-red hue around the rim. Mushroomy, savoury "forest floor" on the nose (imagine hunting for truffles). On the palate, spice, chocolate, cooked raspberry/blackberry and marzipan. In terms of structure, subtle, finely woven tannins combine with refreshing acidity to show smoothness, balance and texture. Complex spices reverberate in the finish. Quite a lateral instead of a linear taste. By that, I mean the tautness that keeps everything together initially yet gradually broadens, becomes more generous but maybe no more complex with more air and warmth. Less a cerebral sort of wine and more the kindly, weathered, saddle-worn country yokel, if you get my gist. But no less fascinating for it.

There were "issues" with the 2006 harvest throughout large swathes of the Pfalz, but I have few with this wine.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The problem with Grosses Gewächs

David Schildknecht - Robert Parker's eyes and ears in Germany - recently wrote a thought-provoking piece about the Grosses Gewächs (grand cru) classification in Germany. It was originally posted on the members-only Mark Squires' Wine Bulletin Board but has since been integrated into free-access content. Admittedly, it's quite lengthy, but worth a read by anyone with an interest in German wine; click here.

I'll nail my colours firmly to the mast now and say that I am in firm agreement with virtually all of Mr Schildknecht's critique. I hope it's taken on board in the constructive manner it deserves. Sometimes, people on the "outside" are what are needed to point out the blindingly obvious to those on the "inside" who are oblivious. This is a case in point, I feel. Although Schildknecht would seem to have such a deep knowledge of German wine that it almost seems dismissive to call him an "outsider".

Monday, 11 October 2010

Von der Fels 2009

Just a very brief summary* today of one of Keller's most popular wines of recent years:

Weingut Keller, Riesling "von der Fels" 2009, Rheinhessen
My notes on this are scarce and based purely on memory, because frankly, it was so enjoyable we quaffed it down of an evening while watching some especially mind-numbing Saturday night television. I tried last year's vintage, which was very good, yet 2009 is maybe even better.

Complex fruit aromas, of which mandarin stands out the most. Overlaid with peaches and minerals on a juicy, elegant palate. Light-footed yet oozing gravitas. Ripe, juicy, mouthwatering acidity. Pinpoint precision in a lingering finish.

* If you're looking for an altogether more detailed and thoughtful look at "vdF", try this for starters (it's in German though).

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Pfeffingen Scheurebe

Although drunk in small doses over a four-day period, the following wine grabbed my attention from the off. Weingut Pfeffingen in the Pfalz should need no introduction to Scheurebe lovers. The 2009 vintage marked the maiden bottling of a new wine from the Fuhrmann-Eymael family: Scheurebe SP (the "SP" stands for "Selektion Pfeffingen") - a dry Scheurebe inspired, according to the winery, by the best white wines of the Loire and Bordeaux. One-third of the juice was fermented in new American oak barrels, the rest in stainless steel vats.

You know, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that the dry Scheurebes that "work" are the ones where the levels of residual sweetness are pushed to the permissible legal boundaries.* This is "exhibit A", so to speak:

Weingut Pfeffingen, Scheurebe SP Spätlese trocken 2009, Pfalz
A crazy nose of lime, blackcurrant and passion fruit. The fusion of aromas almost knocked me back. There is also a slightly vegetative note, but a far cry from the weedy aromatics of certain other trockens. Elegance and poise dominate a palate of zingy lime sherbet and pinpoint-precision lemon sorbet. Barely a suggestion of wood, but enough to lend character and body. Cool, exotic, smooth and chalky, culminating in a complex, long finish. Outstanding grand cru quality for a very un-grand cru price.

This wine has a screw-top enclosure and is certainly fine for drinking now. It is still has a lot of potential though.

*On later referring to the technical sheet that was enclosed with the delivery, I saw that the amount of residual sweetness was over 7 g/l. The statutory ceiling for trockens is 9 g/l. Normally, I wouldn't quote such piffle, but I think it's of relevance here.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Indian summer on the Rhine

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Acoustic session

Acústic Celler is a project based in the DO Montsant appellation in Catalonia. I'd tried their red earlier this year at a wine tasting in Basel and was suitably impressed. Their white is just as compelling. As the name implies, the wine-growing philosophy is akin to the "unplugged" concept seen from Tesch: use of traditional wine-growing methods and tools, and avoidance of modern technology to make wines that are as natural a reflection of their origins as possible... [it says here]. Admittedly, I am aware that worthy phrases such as "actionism in the vineyard, minimalism in the cellar" (see Werner Elflein's German-language blog) sometimes appear to be no more than a marketing gimmick if not backed up in practice. But no chance of that with the following wine, I think.

Acústic Celler, Acustic Blanc 2009, DO Montsant
Straw yellow with greenish hints. Made from the Macabeu (Castillian: Macabeo) and Garnatxa (Garnacha) Blanca grapes, this hits you with a burst of finest red rust and a squeeze of lime. For me, the effect is strangely reminiscent of fish. Quite pungent. There is a certain wildness amid the fresh and bright aromatics that otherwise abound. An ever-so-subtle creaminess then emerges. On the palate, the riff of noble (bicycle?) rust continues relentlessly. Another twist of lime rushes around the mouth. Only then do I get some tell-tale hints of vanilla - but we're talking top-draw Notarianni. Normally, I'm not a big fan of vanilla in white wine, but this works because it's just irresistible. Lots of extract swishes around, lending the wine complexity and depth and accompanying what is a long, satisfying finish. Brilliant.

Price: a little over 11 euros or CHF 22.50; although I bought it for CHF 17.10 thanks to a double-whammy special offer + wine-tasting-related discount.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Riesling from the flats

Traditionally, the eastern slopes of the Haardt range are the undisputed cradle of quality wine-growing in the Pfalz. In contrast, much of the vineyard area further east on the Rhine valley rightly or wrongly used to be tainted by the bad old days of Liebfraumilch. Thankfully, this is virtually no longer the case, now that the latest generation of young local vintners have begun to eke out the best possible wines from the specific micro-climates and myriad soil formations at their doorstep. Hence, what was previously regarded as cabbage-patch land is now lauded for its sandstone, gravel or loess underfoot.

While at Hofgut Gönnheim, my attention was drawn to their small wine list comprising affordable estate-bottled Rieslings, Chardonnays and Pinot Blancs. Frau Jaus, who runs the guest house, told me her favourite in their collection was the Weissburgunder Spätlese trocken. I bought a bottle of that and one of the following Riesling:

Hofgut Gönnheim, Gönnheimer Sonnenberg, Riesling Spätlese trocken 2008, Pfalz
For a rare map showing the exact location of the vineyard, click here. However, I have no idea what soil formations are underfoot in Gönnheimer Sonnenberg. Lovely golden hue, but quite reticent in all respects on the first evening. Thankfully, it had opened up by the second day. Well-structured aromas of citrus and a distinctive honey (or rhubarb?) note. A crunchy citrusy acidity on the palate that counterbalances the stone fruit and minerals. Bone dry in taste, if not on paper. The wine has a pleasant freshness and honesty that deserves respect. With no pretensions to complexity but no lack of character, this is a snip at EUR 5.90.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Brief notes on Sauvignon Blanc

The other week, Jenny and I were at a wine tasting in Basel featuring a Sauvignon Blanc from the Astrolabe Winery in the Marlborough region of New Zealand - a wine offering that typical gooseberry fix. We bought a couple of bottles and opened them with friends (and raclette) not long after. I enjoyed this particular Kiwi Sauvignon for its aromas and uncomplicated freshness.

Which brings me to the hinterland of Rheinhessen... Siefersheim in the Rheinhessische Schweiz is not one of the most renowned sources of Sauvignon Blanc, but its climate would, ostensibly, seem ideal for cool-climate gooseberry juice. Wagner-Stempel are one of the leading lights of Rheinhessen.

Weingut Wagner-Stempel, Sauvignon Blanc trocken 2008, Rheinhessen
Straw colour, although the nose is far more intriguing: minerals abound and lend an unexpectedly creamy exoticism to aromas of freshly mown grass and apple. The palate combines flinty minerals and gooseberry, swallowing up the 13% alcohol quite easily and culminating in a balanced, elegant finish. An intelligent interpretation of an old classic, but far removed from blatant gooseberryism.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt

Yet another trip up north to the Pfalz - this time to take in the world's biggest winefest at the weekend. Strictly speaking, the trip wasn't my idea, but I happily took care of the logical side of the visit.

We stayed at Hofgut Gönnheim, in the lovely village of Gönnheim situated east of Wachenheim. Set in the centre of the village, the hotel has a beautiful courtyard with an adjoining winery and restaurant. And great hospitality, too.

We sampled virtually everything the Pfalz has to offer at this time of the year: Federweisser, Saumagen with chestnuts, Leberknödel, "Worscht", Weinkraut and a few Rieslingschorlen while sitting down at some of the Wurstmarkt's thirty-six Schubkarchstände.

Lots of fun, and yet very civilised. The "in-laws" from England also loved it, I think.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Choo-choo train

Another Saturday outing last weekend, as we went on an impromtu trip through the Black Forest in an old train dating back to the 1950s, pulled over the course of the day by a variety of locomotives, the oldest of which is shown here.

I'm no trainspotter, but it was a real treat.

Organised by Nostalgie Rhein Express, the route took us from Basel along the Hochrhein to Waldshut, and then on the old Wutach Valley Railway bahn or Sauschwänzlebahn (Pigtail Line). This was followed by brief stops in Immendingen and Donaueschingen, before we reached Titisee with an hour to kill. The village of Titisee is well known as a holiday destination for, shall we say, the more mature generations. Although my hair's already starting to turn grey, so I probably fitted in. Nevertheless, we forced our way through the geriatric throng and down to the lakeside, where we hired an electric motor boat and ventured out into the watery expanse for half an hour (see photo).

After a delay leaving Titisee, we double-backed on ourselves by returning to Donaueschingen, before heading northwest on the Schwarzwaldbahn all the way to Offenburg. Unfortunately, we were two hours late by that stage, due to one or two waits to let scheduled trains pass as well as a longer stop at dusk in one of the deepest parts of the Black Forest caused by a slight technical problem with the locomotive's brakes. It meant that we didn't get back down to Basel from Offenburg until midnight, making it the longest either have us have spent on a train in one day (we left Basel that morning at 9.30).

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Vimto

Five years ago, I first learnt of the existence of Weingut Winter from an article written by Stuart Pigott. To my knowledge, the only version of the article freely available on the world-wide web is here (after clicking on the link, you need to scroll down a bit). After reading Mr Pigott's piece, the name of Winter's vineyard site, Leckerberg, became engrained in my memory, if only for the fact that the modern German adjective lecker means "tasty" or "yummy".

After all this time, I've finally been able to get my hands on a Winter wine, albeit a Scheurebe. In order to obtain a Leckerberg Riesling, you normally need to be a bit quicker off the mark than I usually am.

Weingut Winter, Dittelsheimer Scheurebe 2008, Rheinhessen
Exotic or what? The holy trinity of grapefruit, lychee and blackcurrant bursts into life. At first, grapefruit takes a bow, offering a luxuriant palate held together by a moderate dose of acidity. Other exotic notes develop without going over the top. Quite filling, but rather elegant too. Over the next 72 hours, blackcurrant notes gradually take the upper hand, offering a sensation vaguely reminiscent of Vimto.

Hm, I've just re-read the above. At this juncture, you would be forgiven for wondering how anything "rather elegant" can evoke memories of a long-standing British soft drink made of grapes, raspberries and blackcurrants.

This wine really does hit the spot, though. Without putting too fine a point on it, I feel that the secret is a little touch of residual sugar. There isn't really a lot of it, but there's just enough to lift the wine from one-dimensional to kaleidoscopic without descending into kitsch. As such, this Scheurebe rises above the everyday.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Swiss rolled

Last night, my better half and I were at the Joggeli, as St. Jakob-Park is nicknamed, to watch the Switzerland-England Euro 2012 Group G qualifier. Final score: 3-1 to England and a surprisingly pleasing and entertaining match all round.

For anyone who wishes to further their trivial knowledge, a definition of "Swiss roll" can be found here. For everyone else: please excuse the tabloid pun.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Calling card

Hans-Oliver Spanier once wrote on his website website that he was "der einzige Spanier, der etwas von Riesling versteht", or: "the only Spaniard who knows a thing or two about Riesling" (ho ho). This pun has since been discarded in favour of "Liquid Earth". This is all fine and dandy, but how do his wines taste? "My basic wines are my calling card," he continues. Well, here is one of his basic bottlings for starters:

Weingut Battenfeld-Spanier, Weissburgunder trocken 2008, Rheinhessen
An attractive, bright colour, this one. Nose of lightly baked bread. Oh, hold on - it smells of scones and butter! Mmm. Herr Spanier himself might not care for such descriptors (read the second half of this interesting blog post), but please indulge me here. Over time, the nose take on pleasant hints of yellowish apple. For me, the palate is savoury instead of fruity, bone dry but balanced, fresh yet substantial. The finish is tinged with a slightly stony bitterness, but this adds instead of detracts. Overall, a good introduction to the world of Battenfeld-Spanier, I would say.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Busy bee

Photographed today on a stroll through the vineyards above Weil (D).

Dry Scheurebe

As cross-breed grape varietals go, Scheurebe (roughly pronounced shoy-rey-ber) is probably my favourite. The first ever Scheurebe I drank was back in 1997: an Auslese from Reichsrat von Buhl (the vineyard was "Ruppertsberger Reiterpfad") and a pyschedelic explosion of blackcurrant, grapefruit and lychee if there ever was one. At its best, Scheu also has a refreshing level of acidity.

Without exception, all the Scheurebe I'd had until now contained residual sugar to differing degrees. For one thing, they certainly weren't trocken. And yet dry Scheu is all the rage these days among Germany's trocken-conscious clientele. So, what better intoduction to Scheu trocken than a wine from a reputable vineyard in Rheinhessen, Germany's Scheu hotbed (along with the Pfalz).

Weingut Kühling-Gillot, Qvinterra Scheurebe trocken 2008, Rheinhessen
The name "Qvinterra" refers to the fact that the fruit for this wine came from five different villages along Rheinhessen's famed left bank of the Rhine: Oppenheim, Nierstein, Nackenheim, Bodenheim and Laubenheim.

Initially, this Scheu was hard to warm to: from its grey/straw-yellow appearance to its rather "stemmy", weedy aromatics and smoky palate. A totally different animal from the slightly sweeter Scheus to which I've become accustomed.

Leaving the bottle in the fridge for a day helped to change this first impression to a certain extent. Twenty-four hours later, the wine still showed a certain greenness on the nose but had also developed more flowery characteristics. According to the rather rudimentary notes I made, the palate was "juicy, clean, crisp though not overly complex", with more smoky aromas and little in the way of fruit. The finish was short and, strangely, with very little cleansing acidity.

Although this isn't the last dry Scheurebe I'll be tasting, this, frankly, was not my cup of tea. I can't help thinking that, with a bit more residual sugar, the aromatics in this Scheu would have come more to life and made for a more interesting wine.

(**Double-barrel name alert**) Now, I'll save you the spiel about Carolin Spanier-Gillot, who runs Weingut Kühling-Gillot, being married to Hans-Oliver Spanier, who runs Weingut Battenfeld-Spanier. Suffice to say that I will be covering one of Hans-Oliver's wines in my next post.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Monkey business

The image of a monkey adorns the labels on Boris Kranz's wines. This is a nod to the fact that the path which runs along the side of the Kleine Kalmit is called the Affenschaukel. This word can mean "monkey swing", but it is also slang for a variety of things about which I have no particular desire to go into detail.

Anyway, I digress.

Boris Kranz, along with Ilbesheim colleague Sven Leiner and Peter Siener from Weingut Siener in Birkweiler, belong to the VDP Pfalz's selected group of vintners who are aspiring to become fully fledged VDP members. Judging by the following wine, Kranz's credentials are excellent in that regard.

Weingut Kranz, Kalmit Riesling Spätlese trocken, 2008, Pfalz
With a nice clear straw-yellow appearance, this wine opened up dramatically in the glass within the space of 20 minutes or so. Multi-layered citrus aromas developing into orange and more exotic fruit. Opening on the front of palate with orange zest, then building up to a gorgeous mid-palate of minerals and succulent yellow stone fruit and mango. The acidics are tingly (as is the 2008 vintage's wont) but ripe. Not totally bone dry, but that's no fault in my book. The finish is long. This wine has poise. I would say this is safely grand cru/Grosses Gewächs standard, despite it "only" costing me EUR 12.90. Although it isn't Kranz's top Riesling, which is around two to three euros more expensive.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Reggenhag

The type of light wine I love coming back to again and again. Gutedel doesn't really do the whole Parker lark. The highest scores it gets tend to be around the mid-80s. This, as people acquanted with this lovely varietal know well, is neither here nor there.

Weingut Dörflinger, Müllheimer Reggenhag, Gutedel 2009, Baden
Hermann Dörflinger likes to ferment his wines virtually all the way through, taking no prisoners. This specimen has 1.6 g/l of residual sugar (as shown on the label) yet a gratifyingly low alcohol level of 11.5%.

Limpid in appearance, this has a subtle, structured nose hinting at bread and citrus. Fresh and spritzy on the palate, with an almondy complexity and another squeeze of citrus. Light yet packed with character. Gutedel as it should be.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Hagedorn

The following wine, also from Weingut Leiner, comes in one of those heavy burgundy-shaped bottles which yell out, "I'm important, taste me!" The punt at the bottom is the deepest I've come across: long enough to plunge the whole length of my thumb in and to hold the bottle between that and my forefinger. Not that I'd attempt to pour the wine like that... I'm usually "all thumbs", which means that such a manoeuvre would invariably end in tears (and half the wine would end up on the floor).

Weingut Leiner, Chardonnay "Hagedorn" 2007, Pfalz
Hagedorn is a slightly sloping south-facing vineyard approximately equidistant from the forest to the west and from Kleine Kalmit to the east. The soil is predominantly clay and therefore quite heavy.

Straw yellow with greenish tones. The initial aromas are laden with butterscotch and, again, this wild, grassy note of a summer meadow or pasture. On the second day of tasting, there is less of the butterscotch and more a suggestion of something tinned (asparagus?) or rubbery. At a pinch, you could still describe it as buttery. There is also red melon in the style of a Grauburgunder. Intriguing, if somewhat odd.
The palate is minty, cool, minerally and viscous, with sweet fruit (red melon) and just enough acidity to prevent the wine from tasting fat. This Chardonnay is highly individualistic, of that there is no doubt. It's also quite a mouthful. Definitely a food wine to be consumed in moderation. Maybe lacking in a bit more dimension to send it to the next level, as it were, but there's plenty to admire here nonetheless.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Setzer

After a brief and inconclusive encounter with Sven Leiner's wines last month, I decided it was only right to give them another shot.

Weingut Leiner is a biodynamic winery. As you can see on their website video (SWR report), one of their viticultural practices is that of filling cow horns with cow manure and burying them into the soil. According to Wikipedia, this is supposed to channel "new life forces from the cosmos". Whatever your view of biodynamics and its more "fringe" practices, this holistic approach to the soil and nature is compelling. The winery's labels reflect this vocation, with each bottle depicting a different insect that inhabits the local soils and vines, supposedly helping to aerate the earth and maintain a balanced eco-system that, in turn, helps to strengthen the vines' own immune system.

The Leiner wine I tasted last month - the Calvus Mons 2008 - is Sven Leiner's top Riesling. It had a certain wildness about it, but - as you may have read in that particular blog entry - my overall impression wasn't the best. Instead of trying a different Calvus Mons, I decided to go for Leiner's "second wine" instead. As I also wanted to include some wines by Weingut Kranz in the same order, I made my purchase via a third party instead of contacting the winery directly. The Calvus Mons they had on offer was from the notoriously flabby 2003 vintage, so I steered clear of that and went for the Setzer 2007.

Weingut Leiner, Riesling Setzer 2007, Pfalz
Some wines can sometimes be such a pleasant surprise that all you can do is let out a goofy chuckle. This was one such wine.

A gold-yellow hue offering a pot pourri of wild grass and hay on the nose. Coy yet playfully alluring (or verspielt, as they say in German), with ripe stone fruit and lime. The palate of peaches and spicy minerals is just as good. This is Riesling as I like it - offering juicy textures and considerable enjoyment. The acidity and chalky "tannins" are well integrated. If I were marking this wine and advocating a certain amount of pedantry, I would maybe penalise it for its relatively short finish. That, however, would be missing the point. Best Riesling in a long while for sheer pleasure.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Schliengen to Ebringen

After various deluges in recent weeks, yesterday's weather was something to savour: 30C and barely a cloud in the sky. Perfect then for a leisurely bike ride through the heart of wine country in Markgräflerland, with yours truly acting as tour guide for four lovely ladies from Basel - including my better half, I hasten to add. Some jobs are absolute purgatory. The final destination was Ebringen, the venue of yet another wine fest (Ebringer Weintage). Despite alighting the train in Schliengen at 11.15 a.m., we only made it to our destination until after 7 p.m. following various refreshment breaks along the way. Staufen (see photo) was one of those stopping points. The wine fest itself was a relatively brief but enjoyable affair. Due to general fatigue, we decided to catch the train back to Basel fairly early. Jenny and I were at home by 11 - just in time for Match of the Day. The end of a perfect day.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Markowitsch

A Grüner Veltliner from Austria's Carnuntum appellation.

Weingut Markowitsch, Grüner Veltliner - Alte Reben 2009, Carnuntum
The name Markowitsch has a certain ring to it - almost suggestive of a Tolstoy or Dostoevky novel. However, these particular Markowitsches (Gerhard and Christine) are Austrian winegrowers from the village of Göttlesbrunn, not too far from the Slovakian border. I'd "clocked" the Markowitsch wine label some time ago, which is why I decided to order a red wine of theirs to go with a meal at a family reunion we had in Schruns (of all places) last May. A "Redmont", I think it was: a blend of 55% Zweigelt, 15% Blaufränkisch, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and 10% Merlot.

Anyway, this GrüVe was harvested from 40 to 45-year old vines, hence the "Alte Reben" tag. Grown on sandy loam and loess, the resultant juice was fermented in stainless steel to weigh in at just over 14% alcohol.

Straw-yellow in appearance with greenish gold hue. Flinty, burnt aromas on the nose, with plenty of the trademark GrüVe black pepper and spice. Tremendous ripeness too but fresh, with maybe a touch of dried apricot. The concentration and extract continues on the palate, although the acidity is low. Despite the relatively high alcohol level, in no way is this a hot-house wine. There is a certain viscosity at first, and then dried fruit (apricot again), vegetative notes and spice take over. This is what buffers the alcohol and results in a fairly long finish. The total number of Grüner Veltliners I've ever drunk barely reaches into double figures, but this wine whets my appetite for more.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Local

In geographical terms, this could hardly be further away from the previous wine. Given it's proximity to Basel, this is a local wine, so to speak.

Despite enjoying increased attention of late, Claus and Susanne Schneider's winery are still a well-kept secret, I would say. Firstly, their location at the southwestern extremity of German territory means that they simply tend to get overlooked. Secondly, there are so many other "Schneiders" knocking around the German wine scene already, some of whom overshadow Claus and Susanne Schneider's operation either in terms of their reputation or on account of their meteoric commercial success.

Weingut Schneider, Weiler Schlipf, Spätburgunder trocken *** "CS" 2007, Baden
Opened on Sunday at midday and left in the bottle with the cork on between servings until the last drop was poured on Monday evening. Decanting is too much of a risk, what with those pesky fruit flies starting to hatch. Still, it had received plenty of air by Monday evening.

A lovely ruby colour with a watery rim. Quite the delicate little rose. The dainty appearance belies a grippy nose that shows initial chalkiness and unfolds over time into earthy, animally, savoury notes of bacon fat and leather and hints of dark cherry/plummy schnapps. This continues on to the palate, with the various components - mineral, fruit, animally notes, alcohol - in balance. The acidity is slightly astringent at first but beds down well with more air, as do the tannins and the oaky hints. The impression of grip remains (the best German translation of this would probably be "Druck"), leading me to the conclusion that years of potential lie ahead for this wine to develop further complexity and precision. However, it's already drinking extremely well. What I like about it is its integrity. Nothing is loud or pretentious. A local wine in every sense.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Blackpool FC

After decades of obscurity, my local football club have returned to English football's top flight. Not many people are giving them much hope of staying up by the end of this season, but for now at least, they're sitting pretty behind Chelsea at the top the league. Stanley Matthews will be chuckling in his grave.

Although being my local team, I've never been a supporter as such. A number of dispiriting, tedious trips to what was a dilapidated Bloomfield Road back in the 80s and early 90s put paid too that. Manchester United and Bryan Robson - my childhood idol - had already gained my allegiance by then. Be that as it may, I think it's great that Blackpool are back in the spotlight and I'm already looking forward to attending their home fixture against United in December.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Fruit flies

So, I open a bottle of Meyer-Näkel Pinot Noir, take a sniff and then... a fruit fly lands in the glass. Yes, it's that time of the year again. Fruit flies ruin the taste of wine, as explained here.

Ok, take two - this time with a piece of paper protecting the inside of the glass from the little buggers whenever I'm not sipping the wine...

Weingut Meyer-Näkel, Spätburgunder QbA trocken 2009, Ahr
My first ever wine from the Ahr, Germany's most northerly wine region and yet one of its best areas for growing Pinot Noir. This cost EUR 13.50 and is one of the Meyer-Näkel winery's more "basic" offerings. One of its premium wines, costing over 40 euro, won the Decanter International Trophy for Pinot Noir a couple of years ago. The first slightly surprising thing to note is the vintage. Quite early to be drinking a supposedly half-decent Spätburgunder from 2009, one would think. However, this was a new addition on the shelves of one of our local supermarkets and was too tempting an opportunity to pass up.

Cherry coloured with tell-tale violet around the rim betraying the wine's youthfulness. On the nose, hints of cherry, youthful freshness and some pleasant herbal notes. The palate is light and pure. Everything feels understated, even the 13.5% alcohol. This is a style of wine that focuses more on elegance than power or extract. Cherry fruit, dry as a pork scratching yet balanced. Good stuff.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Reminiscences

As promised a while back, some brief memories of my short stint at Reichsrat von Buhl in the summer of 1997.

I had come into contact with a member of their administrative staff earlier that year while researching for a university dissertation during my "academic year abroad" as an English-language assistant at a school in Germersheim. This work, written in my scratchy German and entitled Pfälzer Wein ("Pfalz wine"), was a general synopsis of the wines, grapes and wineries of the Pfalz region. I still have a copy of it somewhere at home, although much of the content now seems quite simplistic with the benefit of hindsight.

After visiting the wine estate in person to interview said member of staff, I was granted a brief tour of the grounds and cellars, and also given a complementary ticket to the winery's annual vintage tasting in May. Inspired by this little excursion and by the wines I subsequently tasted, I contacted von Buhl again, inquiring as to the possibility of doing a work placement there at the end of my stint in Germersheim. To my surprise, they decided to take me on for a one-month Praktikum.

My time at Von Buhl was split into two halves. The first two weeks were spent working as the proverbial cellar rat, doing everything from riddling the winery's bottles of fizz to packing and labelling bottles. The second fortnight was spent outside "uff'm Feld", where I basically pruned, defoliated and tidied the vines all day long. Fellow Pratikantin Daniela and I would be picked up by one of the vineyard staff each morning at 7 outside the now defunct bakery opposite von Buhl's main gates and taken a couple of kilometres down the road to the winery's other base in Forst, from where we would then take the tractor up to our workplace in the famed vineyards of Freundstück, Pechstein and Ungeheuer. In the summer heat, working days would be physically demanding but would finish at 4. One particular day, however, I was asked to put in some serious overtime back at headquarters in Deidesheim. A party of around 30 Japanese tourists had descended on the winery, and I was required to pour a dozen different wines for all our guests as part of a tasting presentation. Afterwards, it was straight to bed and then up at 6.30 next morning for more hard labour in the vineyards.

My most abiding memory of von Buhl, however, was the cameradery among fellow workers, a lot of whom were from Portugal. Above is a photo of three of my colleagues taking their 9.30 a.m. break next to Buhl's vineyard holding in Ungeheuer. From left to right: Jorge the Portuguese, Daniela the German (who was training to become a sommelier), and one of the winery's more experienced workers (his name escapes me, unfortunately).

Fritz (I'll call him that for the benefit of doubt, although that may indeed be near the mark if memory serves me well) liked talking to vines in the manner of Prince Charles. He also swore at them like a trooper, what with their annoying ability to attach themselves to anything they could lay their tendrils on. His local Pfälzer dialect was unintelligible at times, but he would have us all in stitches with his humour and mannerisms. Daniela and I didn't really get on, to be honest, although I think this was more down to our differing backgrounds and outlook on life than to any real emnity. Jorge, meanwhile, who was the unofficial "head" of the Portuguese faction, was an amiable, wise soul. Fluent in English, he was on good terms with the then resident winemaker Frank John and a useful person to have around and chat with.

One of the key things which my time at von Buhl taught me was that working hands on at a winery involves a lot of hard yakka. Added to that the scientific and technical acumen as well as managerial and sales expertise demanded of most winemakers, then it is clear that running a vineyard is no stroll in the park. I have the utmost admiration for anyone who takes such a career path.

Monday, 2 August 2010

"Wingerter Woi- und Gässelfescht"

Owing to various summer activities, there's not much time at the moment for Jenny and I to sit down and enjoy a bottle of wine together and for me to then write corresponding notes. Not that I'm complaining, as we've both had a lovely time. Things should normalise somewhat from next week, though.

Just a quick entry today with a photograph from Saturday's latest trip to the Pfalz: to visit two good friends at their new house out in the country in the aptly named village of Weingarten. The annual village fest ("Woi- und Gässelfescht") happened to be taking place. In the photograph above, I present to you a familiar "double-act" at fests of such ilk. The garish orange shorts which you may also be able to make out in the picture are not mine.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Monastery wine

As we were gently whiling away the time last Sunday in the centre of Landau following our winefest excursions, we chanced upon a place called Cafe Akzent that specialises in organic produce. On detailed inspection, I noticed they had a small selection of wines on offer to buy (all organic, of course). Subsequently, I bought the following wine.

Weingut Kloster Heilsbruck, Cuvée Essence 2007, Pfalz
Kloster Heilsbruck is the site of an old monastery in the town of Edenkoben. The vineyard contained within the walls of the monastery, Klostergarten Heilsbruck, is one of the oldest and most prestigious patches of vineyard land in the area.

Judging by the winery price list, this wine is one of establishment's more "basic" reds. Obviously a blend of something, but of what? Well, from its appearance, I instantly thought of the native Dornfelder as one of its components. Maybe Regent was the other. The colour was an almost opaque, with purply edges. On the first day, the nose was virtually non-existent while the palate hinted at sour cherry and nothing else. Obviously Dornfelder. I dismissed it as a dud. However, the next day it showed up a lot better. Aromas of flour, dark cherry and - just as described in the price list - elderberry. To be honest, I would never have detected elderberry had the price list not nudged me in that direction, but it's funny how previous wine descriptions help you put names to smells...

On the palate, quite spicy and savoury. Great with a barbecue. And I mean this in a good way. A couple of years ago, one of my friends gave me some stick for calling Dornfelder a "barbecue wine", as if there was nothing else the grape was good for. To tell the truth, I'm still of this opinion. It's great with anything meaty and grilled. In fact, I can't think of a better barbecue wine this side of the Barossa Valley. Juicy, uncomplicated, rough n' ready tannins, sometimes a little bit green around the gills...but, at the end of the day, it's the enjoyment that counts.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Summer trips

It's been a rather enjoyable few weeks. Firstly, we went home to Lytham St Annes in north-west England to see my parents, and last weekend saw us visit the Pfalz again on another winefest jolly.

Unfortunately, it rained a lot during our time back in Blighty. Moist, ashen skies like the one here in Blackpool (see photo) were par for the course. Not that it dampened our spirits. Activities included an afternoon in the torrential rain of the Lake District, a round of pitch and putt with Jenny in St Annes, a day of barbecue and drinks with family and friends, the obligatory meal of fish and chips, and the even more obligatory trip to The Taps in Lytham. Ironically, a local hose-pipe ban had been in force before our arrival, owing to a lack of precipitation in recent months. I suspect this ban may already have been lifted by the time we flew back to Switzerland.

On arriving back in Basel, it seemed as if the rain had followed us. Luckily, the weather up in the Pfalz held sufficiently at the weekend to enable ample outdoor activity. The object of our visit was the "Kalmitfest", a lovely winefest that takes place literally in the middle of vineyards on the side of the Kleine Kalmit hill that overlooks the village of Ilbesheim. This 270-metre elevation set off to the east of the vineyard slopes bordering the Pfälzerwald offers a unique microclimate and a variety of soils (chalk, marl, loess and loam).

Earlier in the day, however, we made our way to Birkweiler to take in some of the village's 725th anniversary festivities, which by coincidence also happened to be taking place that weekend. We settled down at Weingut Siener for a mid-afternoon "lunch" and a small aperitif - the same Riesling I covered here a few months ago - before continuing on our trek to Ilbesheim.

Sven Leiner and Boris Kranz are two young local winemakers who have been making waves in recent years, and I was particularly interested in trying some of their wines at the Kalmitfest. For some reason, we never got round to ordering a Kranz wine, but we did try a glass of Leiner's Calvus Mons and Fusion rosé respectively. After taking a whiff and gulp of the Calvus Mons, I instinctively thought it was more than a touch maderised. The colour of the wine also looked suspiciously over-cooked. To my slight embarrassment when taking the glass back to inquire, the woman who had served me explained that the wine had been fermented spontaneously, i.e. via the natural yeast flora in the grapes and in the air, and that this oxidised characteristic in the wine was completely normal. Still, she gave me the benefit of the doubt and refilled my glass. With the best will in the world, I was still unable to take to Calvus Mons. Perhaps wines with this "sponti note" - as the Germans call it - are an acquired taste, or perhaps the disappointment I felt was down to my uneducated palate. Despite this initial knock-back, I intend to persevere with Weingut Leiner.

Another peculiarity of the Kalmitfest is the opportunity given to the public to taste Pinot Blancs from ten different Pfalz producers short-listed for the annual "Weissburgunderpreis". Down in the centre of the village, the ten wines were laid out in a row, and for EUR 3.50, you had the chance to taste them all and cast your vote. A novel idea. Our problem with this set-up, however, was that each wine was poured freezing cold in a noisy, crowded environment. What is more, it was near the end of our evening, and our objective faculties were somewhat blunted by that stage. After only two wines, we gave up and slowly walked back to our hotel in Leinsweiler.

Despite these minor dud notes, our overriding memory of the Kalmitfest is an extremely pleasant one. Enjoying the fantastic setting from our perch on the hill, watching the sun go down in the west behind the forest, chatting to fellow "fest-goers", sipping wine amid the vines and simply soaking up the atmosphere... It could hardly have been better.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

German Hill

My focus today is on a curious wine I discovered a while back in a shop at Basel SBB station. A Pinot Noir called "Leo". Apparently, it was sourced from grapes in the Pfalz and produced by "German Hill GmbH", a German business run by Austrian winemaker Leo Hillinger. From what I've seen, Herr Hillinger seems to have quite a slick marketing machine in place, name puns aside. I remember him talking on an American news channel a number of years ago regarding the swish new winery building he'd just constructed. The place looked like a designer boutique, and he looked more like a male model than a vintner. However, the substance is in the wines, I suppose.

Here are the Hillinger wines I've tried so far until today: Small Hill red (a pretty lush quaff, full of dark, uncomplicated fruit flavours); Small Hill white (very much the perfumed summer wine); Cabernet Sauvignon (impressed me: more complex and full-bodied, if a little formulaic).

This German Hill business is a bit of a curiosity, though. Based in Deidesheim, according to the wine label, the enterprise seems to have had a dedicated website of sorts, although the link no longer works. Apart from a few comments on forums and blogs, the only official material I've seen is an official notice on the main Hillinger website dating back almost three years. Strange. To all intents and purposes, you would be mistaken for thinking that German Hill have gone downhill.

Today's bottle was one of only three left in store. Over a long period, I'd noticed that no one seemed to be buying them. This being Switzerland, it didn't surprise me. Or deter me. What might have detered me was the vintage, 2006 - a fluctuating, sometimes difficult year in the Pfalz. No matter, it was still worth a try.

German Hill, Leo Pinot Noir 2006, Pfalz
Austrian bottles invariably have the red and white of the Austrian flag on the top of the neck wrapping. This one has the black, red and yellow (sorry, gold) of the German flag. Touché.

Taken out of the fridge fully chilled (due to the weather), poured in a decanter, left for half an hour and then poured back into the bottle. In appearance, quite substantial ruby red - maybe a bit darker than your average Spätburgunder. On the nose, creamy black cherry and some dark forest fruits, with a touch of oak vanillin in the background. On the palate, full-bodied and chewy for a Pinot, yet very smooth. Primary fruit flavours come very much to the fore, and there is some cream and vanilla again. The finish is medium to long.

This is a well-made wine very much in the creamy New World style. What's not to like? Well, I have one minor quibble with this wine. This is a smooth, slick Pinot, yet it lacks character and complexity. Which is not to be mistaken for full-bodiedness. I would hope for maybe a little bit less "designer wine" and little more subtlety and nuance. Due to the style in which it has been made, I doubt it will improve that much with age. Nevertheless, this is very much a wine for the here and now that would go very well with a whole variety of meaty dishes.