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.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Sun dial

On a day like today (35C and humid outside), the only vinous refreshment that makes sense is something light and low in alcohol. Time to open a bottle of Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel, then.

Weingut Markus Molitor, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2007, Mosel
Barely tipping the scales at 7.5% alcohol, this Sonnenuhr (or "sun dial") is in the classical style of German Riesling. Harsh though it may sound, Germans rarely drink these any more. However, there is no other wine in the world that combines low alcohol with such delicate prettyness and downright yummyness

And this one has it in spades. Granny Smith and a minerally, crushed stone core on the nose, with a slightly sweet (but, thanks to the acidity, in no way cloying) palate of ripe apple and tangarine, and more minerality on the finish. So light on the tongue, but full of flavour. A medium finish. A wine that could easily last a decade, no joke. But why wait a decade?