Friday, 23 December 2011

About to enjoy a good bottle...

My better half is preparing a pre-Christmas feast as I write, and I've emptied the contents of Zind-Humbrecht's Grand Cru Rangen de Thann, Pinot Gris 2005, into the decanter. This wine has been a long time coming, but tonight is the moment of truth. We'll probably murder it, but it at least it will have breathed enough.

Happy Christmas.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Riesling 2010

Any self-respecting winery's basic "estate" bottling, or Gutswein as they call it in Germany, has to be that winemaking operation's calling card, as it were. There's no point in pulling monster grands crus out of the hat if your bread and butter offering is absolute pants. Mosbacher Estate from the village of Forst in the heart of the famed Mittelhaardt district has nailed this basic Riesling, despite what was a tricky vintage.

Weingut Georg Mosbacher, Riesling Gutswein trocken 2010, Pfalz, Germany
Sourced from various plots in and around Forst. Lime on the nose followed by ginger, tree blossom and earthy notes. There is a lemony personality in the mouth with some traces of talc (aka what I like to call "white wine tannins"). Sure, the pincer attack of 2010 acidity arrives on the sides of the tongue, but it is precise and refreshing. The wine is well balanced with a pleasant, juicy pithiness. The finish is unremarkable, but this does not detract one iota.

A wine to enjoy and, at 11.5% alcohol, just right for sophisticated quaffing. I need to try more Mosbacher.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011


"Gneis" is German for gneiss. Confused? Well, gneiss is a type of rock formation. Personally, I've always associated it with granite. Although there was some foundation to this theory, there is apparently a difference between the two.

Weingut Otto & Martin Frey, Grauburgunder "Gneis" trocken 2010, Baden, Germany
From his winery base in Denzlingen in Breisgau, Martin Frey - who succeeded father Otto as winemaker - tends his vines on the south-facing slopes situated at the mouth of the Glottertal valley. The vineyard microclimate is actually quite cool, resulting in more slimlined wines than the norm.

This has blood orange and buttery nuances on the nose. These elements also translate onto the palate, followed by a rather saline characteristic. The finish shows a pleasantly pithy bitterness. On the second evening, there is not much in the way of aroma - apart from some vegetative hints maybe. In the mouth, the salty personality is drier, starker and more blistering than 24 hours previously. This lends complexity.

Overall, I'm impressed.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Grüße aus Deidesheim

My best man and his wife live in the Pfalz. We paid them a visit this weekend for some Christmas market browsing in Deidesheim.

Thursday, 8 December 2011


As the players walked on to the pitch for last night's Champions League clash between FC Basel and Manchester United, the home end unfurled a huge banner reminding those present of past European nights involving their club; this is my photo from where we were sitting. The message was clear: Brugge, Celtic and Liverpool have all copped it in the past; now for the next exploit, to coin a French term.

Being a Man United supporter living in Basel, things could have gone better last night to put it mildly. That said, full credit to FCB.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011


We visited Freiburg last Saturday for the enjoyable ritual of Glühwein, Christmas market stall browsing and a visit to a favourite microbrewery of mine. I also took a detour to Weinhandlung Drexler, where I bought six varied bottles all in the price bracket of between 7 and 10 euros, based on my self-imposed budget. Four came from Baden, while two hailed from the Mosel and the Pfalz respectively. Here's one of them:

Weingut Stadt Lahr / Familie Wöhrle, Weissburgunder Kabinett trocken 2010
A refreshing nose of quince. Mildly spritzy too. Nothing too demanding, but that's fine. The quince theme continues on the palate, along with fresh acidity and some slightly more succulent notes. The finish hints at something minerally. All in all, a good "pick-me-up" of a wine.

As I noted during my visit to the Badische Weinmesse last May, what was produced in the difficult 2010 vintage tended to be on the more refreshing side. This, I feel, was more of a boon than a bane when it came to white Baden Pinot. This Weissburgunder is a good example, even though I would normally be expecting something on the lighter side at Kabinett level anyway.

The winery, incidentally, used to be officially owned by the town of Lahr until 1979, when it was merged with Hans and Monika Wöhrle's property. The Wöhrles have continued to make wine under the "Stadt Lahr" name ever since. Son Markus spent four years as deputy general manager at renowned Pfalz winery Müller-Catoir before returning in 2002 to incorporate his own ideas and expertise.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Bordeaux inheritance

Before you wonder - no, I haven't come into the possession of a top château by way of blood line. However, two British friends who recently relocated from Basel to Houston (Texas) for professional reasons kindly left us numerous wines which they had accumulated during their time in Switzerland. I can assure you it was heart-wrenching for them, but we were very grateful (and humbled) recipients. Here's one of the wines in question:

Château Maypé Lagrave 2003, Graves AOC, Bordeaux, France
Dark ruby/brick red in appearance with a brownish hue at the edges. On the nose: meaty blood notes, rumtopf, lead pencil shavings. No particular fruit personality stands out - maybe more floral lilac hints if anything.

I was optimistic about this wine before opening due to the vintage. If you couldn't make a nice, generous red in 2003, then you never could. Yet this is no hothouse of a wine. There is a refreshing acidic backbone on the palate with a lovely juicy transparency, elegance, iron tones and finely grained, subtle tannins. Minerally yet understated on the finish.

My exposure to Bordeaux has been limited over the years, but this was as good a reintroduction as I could have got. After some research on the Internet, I found out that the producer releases wines under two names - Château Quincaron and Château Maypé Lagrave. This is slightly confusing, but basically this is a property situated in the heart of Graves not too far from Sauternes. The owner and vintner Carlos Asseretto makes sweet Sauternes, red Graves under the Quincaron label and then "Autre vins", one of which is this specimen. A relatively minor château and wine then, by the looks of it. But it's amazing what a few years of ageing does. (And I don't necessarily mean the dusty appearance of the bottle.)

Friday, 25 November 2011

Same procedure

Last Friday, Jenny and I turned up at Weingut Ziereisen to attend their annual Christmas tasting, or Weihnachts-degustation. You know that the Christmas "season" is starting earlier than it used to when an event like this precedes our respective birthdays on 20 and 22 November. Maybe "Pre-Advent wine tasting" would have been a better name for it.

Be that as it may, we spent a very enjoyable evening negotiating what was a veritable assault course of tasting rooms, each with a different selection of wines to try. Even the flower shop next door got in the act, providing Ziereisen with an additional tasting venue showing some of the estate's more "basic" red wines.

I'd been to last year's tasting on a snowy Saturday and had bought three bottles of the Jaspis Pinot Noir "Jungfernlese" 2008. This time, we left the property with two bottles each of the Pinot Noir "Schulen" 2008, the Weissburgunder "Lügle" 2009, and Markus Molitor's Wehlener Klosterberg Riesling Kabinett trocken. We acquired the latter wine as Markus Molitor is friends with Hanspeter Ziereisen and sells some of his Riesling down here in Markgräflerland via Hanspeter's winery. Molitor, Van Volxem and Beurer (of Stetten/Württemberg) were all represented at the tasting, albeit not by the winemakers höchstpersönlich.

The hordes came from near and far to taste Ziereisen's wines last Friday. We even spotted a busload of pensioners from Waldshut, of all places. Consequently, personal space was at a premium and there was no chance of doing anything other than imbibe.

Feeling headstrong and merry after an evening's consumption (including schnapps) for the price of 10 euro, we also put in an order for six bottles of the 2009 Jaspis Syrah. These won't be ready for release until March/April 2012, which is just as well given that our post-wedding finances should hopefully have evened out a bit more by then!

Packing 'em in... The scene at one of the tasting stops (which was basically a garage).

Tuesday, 22 November 2011


It was my birthday two days ago. And it's Jenny's today.

This evening, I shall be treating my wife to my dubious culinary skills chez nous. I may not be able to match what was served up for lunch on my birthday, but I'll do my best.

Talking of which, we went to the Landgasthof Rössle in the village of Hertingen for lunch on my birthday. The restaurant is currently in the middle of its annual "Country Weeks" season - when Thomas and Cornelia Engler, the couple who run the place, deck out the interior in country-western decor and serve various steaks including bison, pretty much the leanest, healthiest beef you can eat. I had visited the restaurant once before with a couple of friends when I was living in Germany in the early Noughties and had really enjoyed the food back then; hence it seemed right to pay the establishment another visit.

We both ordered the bison rumpsteak with jacket potato in foil and a selection of sauces - and we weren't disappointed. In terms of quality, friendliness and ambience, the Rössle scores top marks. Note that this is no high-brow eatery with plush decor but a typical rustic guesthouse in an old village in the middle of the beautiful Markgräflerland countryside.

There was, however, one slight misunderstanding with our waitress: I asked for a "Viertele" (or 0.25 l) of Spätburgunder, thinking it would be served in a small jug for the two of us. But what the girl brought to our table was this:

The glass and the measure tickled us so much that we ordered another one so both of us could quaff away contentedly...

Monday, 21 November 2011

Mr and Mrs Jones

We left Switzerland on 1 November as girl and boyfriend. We returned to Switzerland on 14 November as man and wife.

Our wedding in England was a wonderful, joyful occasion. Guests came from near and far to celebrate with us, and it was simply an unforgettable day.

While I would prefer not to use this blog to write a synopsis or post a photo album of our wedding, I would like to mention the wines we chose to accompany the menu at our wedding breakfast.

As readers of this blog may know, Jenny and I had been doing a fair amount of sampling during our engagement with a view to selecting our wedding wines. Ultimately, we settled on the following:

First, the starter wine:

Riesling "Pfeffo", 2010, Weingut Pfeffingen, Pfalz
, Germany
We opted for a starter wine that would pair well with smoked salmon, beetroot relish, rocket and brioche. Judging by the reactions around the room, this one went down well. The slight touch of sweetness meant it held up to the relish, while the acidity helped to cut through the oiliness of the salmon. It was also relatively light in alcohol but high in taste.

Our idea to have a dedicated starter wine centred around the desire to have everyone enjoying the same wine for at least one part of the meal. It also lent a certain structure to proceedings, I would say.

Main course:

"Quintessenz", 2009, Weingut Rings, Pfalz, Germany
To go with venison in a rich sauce with mustard and chestnut mash, baby onions and root vegetables, we could have gone for a Pinot Noir. However, we chose this red wine from Rings Estate without hesitation after trying it earlier in the spring. Judging by our guests' reactions, "Quintessenz" stole the show on account of its sheer drinkability. I doubt many people in the room would have ever drunk a German red before, not to mention one as rich as this. A blend of Merlot, Saint Laurent and Dornfelder (i.e. of "globetrotter" and native grapes), this was the revelation of the evening, I can safely say.

Riesling "Terra Rossa", 2009, Weingut Pfeffingen, Pfalz, Germany
The "Quintessenz" put this wine in the shade somewhat, though I don't think many white wines would have stood up to what was essentially a very hearty autumnal/wintry dish. Maybe in hindsight we could have gone for, say, a Pinot Gris or Blanc from Baden, but this still did a sterling job in the circumstances and is a dry Riesling we both really love.

After the main course, we had the bridegroom's father's speech, my speech and then the best man's speech. This is where our sparkling wine, which had already been poured out to guests before dinner as an aperitif to accompany their fish and chip canapés, made a reappearance.

Pinot brut, 2007, Weingut Reichsrat von Buhl, Pfalz, Germany
Nothing that detailed to say other than this predominantly blanc de noirs Sekt more than did the trick.

The surprise came later on our return to Switzerland, when our neighbour knocked on our door to deliver a package containing even more Pinot brut which had arrived while we were on honeymoon. After subsequent inquiries, I discovered that von Buhl had originally sent my order to our Swiss address by mistake. After noticing their error, von Buhl tried to recall the bottles while sending a delivery of 30 bottles to the correct address in the UK instead. Subsequently, 16 of the erroneously dispatched bottles made their way back to Deidesheim while the remaining 14 (an admittedly unusual number for a package) must have got stuck somewhere before eventually ending up in Basel.

Herr Graf at von Buhl said that, given the circumstances, he could make me a very good, reduced offer for the extra bottles that had found their way here. I said that was fine and promptly paid up. We now have plenty of bubbly in stock...

Scheurebe Spätlese, 2009, Weingut Pfeffingen, Pfalz, Germany
To round off our very English menu, we had apple/blackberry crumble and custard (with the custard contained in large jugs on each table). This coupled with Scheurebe was a match made in heaven. There was a slight twist here in that the wine was also served on the plate in a shot glass. What may sound uncouth worked a treat in practice. It was Paul the caterer's idea to incorporate the shot glasses as a way to integrate the wine with the dessert and avoid confusion amid a proverbial forest of wine bottles that would have landed on our guests' tables by then. To stop people from necking the wine like a shot of grappa but enjoying it as a component part of the dessert (athough the former is not necessarily something we would have frowned upon!), we deliberately chose not to refer to the glass of wine on the menu explicitly as a "shot glass" but as a "small glass of dessert wine".

The wine itself had just the requisite sweetness and exotic fruit to hold up to all the components of the dessert. Less the sticky pudding wine some people may have been expecting and more the restorative that guests would continue glugging throughout the evening.

That all the wines came from Germany was no coincidence. Amid what was otherwise a quintessentially English wedding, the unashamedly teutonic wine acted as a counterpoint. And, given the teutonic influence in my family (my mother is German), it also seemed to make sense. That we chose wines exclusively from the Pfalz was, however, less by design and more of a coincidence. All the wines served were simply big favourites of ours, and we hope everyone enjoyed them on the day as much as we did.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Exchanging Rings

Not too long to go before our wedding day. Almost everything is in place except for a few minor things. I'm taking advantage of a slight pause in proceedings to post a short synopsis of some recent wines.

Weingut Markus Schneider, Riesling Kirchenstück trocken, 2006, Pfalz, Germany
The last bottle in my possession, which was opened over a month ago now. And, frankly, I was glad to see the last of it. The 2006 vintage was not kind on this wine. Harsh, malty, banana-like aromas, followed by an austere, harsh palate. The wine feels slightly oxidised, and then it's the piercingly citric finish that puts paid to any enjoyment. Compare this with my previous notes on this wine, and make your own conclusion.

Weingut Claus Schneider, Weiler Schlipf Spätburgunder CS trocken, 2007, Baden, Germany
The third bottle of a six-pack case bought nearly a year ago. The contrast to the previous wine is like day and night. In fact, I opened this immediately after the Riesling in order to end the evening on a better note. Jenny was away on her hen do at the time, so I needed solace from some source or other.
Lovely ethereal minty note showing cool herbs and spice (cloves). On the palate, profoundly pure and light-footed with a wonderful coolness borne of the acidity. And yet, there is plenty of sweet chalky extract to lift this wine into luscious territory. This is "exhibit A" in the case against those who think that the quality of red wine is directly proportionate to how opaque it looks.

Weingut Rings, Das kleine Kreuz, 2009, Pfalz, Germany
Rings Estate used to be a bit of an insider tip, but their astronomical rise to prominence in recent years has probably put paid to that. Jenny and I stayed a night at the Rings family's adjacent B&B a couple of summers ago, so we have quite a soft spot for this property. Happily, their prices are still on the fairly sensible side in relation to the quality of their wines. Whether this continues to be the case remains to be seen.

A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, St. Laurent and Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine is the "little brother" of the winery's flagship "Das Kreuz". Both are named after the "Schwarzes Kreuz" vineyard just to the south of the picturesque village of Freinsheim. With gravel being the predominant soil there, big, red, Bordeaux-style blends are de rigueur.

On the nose, luxuriant chocolatey aromas, with cocoa, black cherry and hints of Black Forest gateau. With silky albeit substantial tannins in the mouth, backed up with some vanilla and no lack of richness and concentration, this is showing well already. One of those wines which immediately please yet are demanding enough to be stored for many years. I'm curious as to how "Das Kreuz" might taste. The Rings brothers, Andreas and Steffen, also make a killer Syrah which would be worth trying provided I parted with 30 euro (that's their most expensive wine).

"Das kleine Kreuz", on the other hand, is worth an entirely palatable EUR 16 (cellar price), and - for what you get - is worth every penny. Two bottles of this are lying in our basement.

Friday, 30 September 2011


It's not that long to our wedding, so posts on here will become a rarity as we approach the big day. There has been plenty organised so far, but we'll soon be entering the mildly hectic final phase of preparation, if we haven't done so already.

Nevertheless, I do have some other things to report at this juncture. One concerns a wine I posted about in spring last year. I eulogised about it back then, and until recently, still had three bottles stored away in the basement. A visit from my dad and uncle a couple of weeks ago (the two were due to accompany me on my stag do) was reason enough to crack open another one. It was a good job I did, because the wine in question, Pfeffingens' 2005 Weilberg GG, is undoubtedly at its peak - and will stay this way for quite a number of years, I feel. This time, I served the wine in large round glasses - a move that paid off. The wine has gained an added richness and layer of complexity that impressed us all. The fruit is that little bit more oily but less forward, if you get my meaning. Top stuff.

I didn't want to fall to the floor with a thud after those lofty heights but rather glide down gracefully from vinous cloud nine. The following wine promised a feather-bed landing.

Weingut Benzinger, J! Riesling 2010, Pfalz
This is a wine by the daughter Julia Benzinger. Technically, it's hovering just on the limit of what can legally be called dry, hence the absence of "trocken". Given the more, shall we say, corruscating nature of the vintage, I was expecting a bit of residual sweetness to be just what the doctor ordered. However, this was a funny one in that it actually made me want the wine to be drier than it was (for a change). It certainly made for great quaffing in front of the television while Manchester United were busy throwing away a two-nil lead at home to Basel (didn't know whether to laugh or cry about that result). Yet, on close inspection, I found the sweetness to be ever so slightly cloying; there seemed to be a disconnect between that and the wine's other components, if truth be told. In view of the vintage, this was the last thing I'd have expected.

On the other side of the coin, the wine showed great fruit character very much in line with Frau Benzinger's credo on the bottle's "back label". In this respect, the packaging is very honest: the "front label" is a combination of black and shiny pink with "J!" shouting out in large font. I'll spare your eyes from looking at it. Suffice to say, I think the wine is targeted at a certain demographic and definitely succeeds in this regard. Not that this is a bad thing, I hasten to add.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Champions League in Basel

As some of you may know, Manchester United are my football club of choice. And they've been drawn with FC Basel in the group stages of this season's Champions League. The last time this happened was in the 2002/2003 season when I watched the two fixtures between both clubs in Basel and Manchester respectively. For Basel's home fixture versus United back then, I had to resort to drastic measures and obtain a ticket through, shall we say, "unofficial means". For the match at Old Trafford, my ticket was bought at face-value from a good friend and fellow United fan.

Happily, procuring a ticket for Basel's home match was a lot easier this time. Nevertheless, doing so entailed purchasing the full three-match package - which also included the visit of Romania's relative unknowns FC Oțelul Galați last night, plus that of Portugal's Benfica in October. United don't arrive in Basel until December.

Nevertheless, forgoing the delights of Benfica vs. United on television, we turned up at St. Jakob Park yesterday evening for Basel's first match.

Now, I knew nothing about FC Oțelul other than the fact that coach Dorinel Munteanu had played for Romania a record number of times. He'd also plied his trade in the Bundesliga for Wolfsburg for a number of years - hence it came as no surprise that his team were a well-drilled outfit, if nothing else. Basel had a lot of trouble breaking down their defence, and their 2-1 win was slightly flattering. But a win's a win. And after the 1-1 stalemate between Benfica and United, FCB are now perched at the top of group C.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Sunday picture

The mercury rose to over 30C yesterday - what better weather than to go walking in the heat of afternoon sun? Mad dogs and Englishmen, etc.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Bubbles (or lack thereof)

As mentioned previously, we are looking for a suitable sparkling wine for our wedding. We have almost made our decision. The following Sekt narrowly failed to make the grade - not for lack of quality but more for lack of bubbles.

Weingut Reichsrat von Buhl, Forster Pechstein Riesling Sekt brut, 2007, Pfalz
Sparkling Riesling is likely to be unknown territory for the majority of our English-speaking wedding guests, but this oh so nearly got the thumbs up from us. Disgorged only this year after three years of ageing on the lees. Rich on the nose with lovely flintstone notes. Full and fruity on the palate, but not overly so. Luscious and biscuity with further mineral depth.

The snag? Well, the perlage was very fine but rather modest and short-lived. Too short-lived from our point of view considering the logistics of a wedding reception. Whatever I may think about the undeniable quality of this sparkler, it's a fact of life that people like bubbles. If said bubbles are inadequate, then we have a problem.

Pity, but I'm glad we still have another bottle of this in the cellar.

Thursday, 8 September 2011


The following wine left an impression on me a number of years ago at the Basler Weinmesse. From a hitherto obscure family-run winery in the northern Pfalz, it seemed to ooze the personality I like to associate with good, honest dry Pfalz Riesling: a certain "earthiness" as well as tasty (exotic) fruit and spice. For some reason, I never got round to procuring a bottle to try from the comfort of our living room. Until now.

I say "obscure", but at the time the family's eldest daughter Silvia had just finished her year-long stint as the latest tiara-clad "German Wine Queen". The appointing of "wine royalty" in Germany is a serious business, with each successive incumbant tasked with spreading the word about German wine to all and sundry. The Weinkönigin's reign invariably involves visits to numerous German embassies round the world, swapping handshakes with the German president, random appearances on "Gary Vee"... that sort of thing.

Be that as it may, it's apparently the family's youngest daughter Julia who has been continuing the family winemaking tradition in tandem with her father. This is their top Riesling:

Weingut Benzinger, Steinacker Riesling trocken 2009
Steinacker is the name of the vineyard in Kirchheim an der Weinstrasse.
Highly expressive, "forward" aromas of minerally lime sorbet, dry herbs, some saltiness, a touch of mint and even some berry fruit. Already quite the charmer, this wine, it maintains this form on the palate, with exotic the mango/peach/maracuja triumvirate initially, but then showing a dry herbal, salty personality. The acidity then acts as a razor-sharp counterpoint. All in all, very impressive on first showing, though less so on the following day when the fruit notes seem a little "telegraphed", to coin a footballing term. The herbal depth that was there initially seems to have dissipated 24 hours later. However, the wine really is more-ish regardless of this minor quibble. And for the price of EUR 8 (or even CHF 15 in Swiss terms), it punches above its weight.

[Postscript; 17:56, 08.09.2011: Forty-eight hours later and the herbal sophistication has returned. Maybe it hadn't gone in the first place and I was simply not paying attention. Overall, this wine hits all the right spots.]

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The 2011 harvest

In a few days, I was hoping to report on my experiences as a grape picker at the local vintner's cooperative. Haltinger Winzer are giving people the opportunity to help with the harvest for a day, learn a bit about the work involved, and then enjoy some "Zwiebelwaie" (onion tart) and "neuer Wii" after bringing the grapes back down the hill. Unfortunately, picking on 10 September, the day I was supposed to help out, has been postponed. The other scheduled date for all-comers to carry buckets and secateurs is the following Saturday. However, that's the day of my stag do.

My ambitions as an amateur grape picker have therefore been dashed for the time being. Nevertheless, I can console myself with the fact that the harvest looks a good one this year, judging from what I saw yesterday while out on a stroll just over border in Germany (see the Pinot Gris grapes above). The Gutedel crop looks on the verge of being picked, while Chardonnay and the Pinot varietals (red included) don't look too shabby either. Incredible given that it's still only early September.

[Edit at 20:51, 07.09.2011: I hasten to add that all sorts of meteorological vagaries could still put the cat among the pigeons as far as the 2011 vintage is concerned, one of which is too much rain. We've been there before in 2006, for instance, when the grape skins went "pop" and started to rot. The forecast looks promising for the moment, however. May it stay that way.]


Until last week, I'd never heard of this grape varietal. Like Roter Gutedel, it apparently belongs to to the Gutedel (Chasselas) family. Dirk Brenneisen from the village of Egringen just 13km north of Basel specialises in it.

Weingut Brenneisen, Muskat-Gutedel 2010, Baden
There's Muskat in the name and muscat in the wine. A fair dollop of it, in fact. It fairly dominates the nose, yet hints of nutmeg and almond also emerge, the latter betraying its Gutedel roots, I would say. On the palate, there is certain exoticism, along with grassy, minty, nestlely notes that remind me of dry Scheurebe. Some herbal drops too. Smooth and refreshing, unique and tasty - this offers a little something off the beaten track. Certainly a niche wine, this is best drunk fresh and in ample quantities.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Maisprach wine experience

At present, we are gradually tasting our way through a case of different German sparkling wines for our wedding in just over two months' time. The "Sekt" we choose for our big day will not be showcased here until after the event, if at all, because - to put it simply - we want to keep it a secret.

This explains the relatively fewer wines described here of late and the slightly greater emphasis on excursions, trips and similar gallivanting. Saturday provided another case in point, when "das Wy-Erläbnis", which is Swiss for "das Wein-Erlebnis" (or "wine experience"), took place in the vineyards in and around the villages of Buus and Maisprach in the Swiss canton of Basel-Land.

Participant numbers are limited for this annual event, which tends to get booked up fairly soon after ticket sales begin every January. A spur of the moment thing this definitely is not.

The alloted start time for us early bookers (and around 90 others) was 12 noon on the dot. A total contingent of 2,000 took part throughout the day, leaving the village of Buus at half-hour intervals. We proceeded to cover eight different designated stops along the winding three-mile route from Buus to Maisprach, seven of which served culinary treats. Germans would probably call this a "kulinarische Weinwanderung". As you'd expect, the event was organised like clockwork. There was even someone whose designated task for the day was to hold one of those hanging mustard squeezers to squidge a dollop of the old Thomy onto every punter's plate as he or she passed with a plate full of smoked pork and potato salad.

As for wines, we tried some interesting "Riesling-Silvaner" (Müller-Thurgau), Chasselas (Gutedel) and Pinot Blanc, as well as a fair volume of undemanding yet quaffable Pinot Noir.

As a postscript: two British friends who live in the area were kind enough to procure tickets for our group. Their house acted as a convenient base after the walk before it was time to head into the village for the subsequent festivities. They are due to up sticks to Houston, Texas this coming autumn, but I think there'll always be a place in their heart for their house in the middle of Maisprach.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Alte Reben

I've made one of two surprising vinous discoveries in Basel in recent times. One of these was the presence in a big Swiss supermarket's wine range of two Pinot Noirs from a prominent Kaiserstuhl wine-grower.

My impression is that if you asked the average man or woman on the streets of Basel to name their favourite wine regions, Italy would probably be right up there along with France, Spain and Portugal. Austria is quite trendy. Although its general profile is improving, Germany is still relatively unknown other than being the home of sweet Rieslings from the Mosel.

Which is just as well, because I'd already seen the following wine a number of times at the retail outlet in question and not one bottle had been taken.

Weingut Michel, Spätburgunder "Alte Reben" trocken 2009, Baden
From vines aged over 30 years (hence "Alte Reben"), this was apparently left for 10 months in 500-litre French oak vats. Dark ruby with a watery rim. A basket of freshly picked black cherries on the nose, followed by what I can make out to be dried black prunes, some spicy notes reminiscent of liquorice/cinnamon. The effect is quite heady and warm. This translates into a fiery, warming sensation on the palate. Despite the concentrated mouthfeel, everything is in balance. The tannins are creamy and the oak influence is only noticeable in that it helps bed the different elements together.

Overall, I'm impressed. The wine is quite young but surprisingly accessible, offering a lot for CHF 14.90. I intend to try the "barrique" version before too long. With the best will in the world, there should still be adequate stocks left by the time I get round to buying a bottle or two, irrespective of what I've just written.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Dry Mosel

Along with other notable refusniks such as Van Volxem, Breuer and Köhler-Ruprecht, Weingut Markus Molitor doesn't belong to the VDP. This may or may not be the reason why Herr Molitor's dry and off-dry Rieslings are not named as such as on the label and just carry the names Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese on their own.

Weingut Markus Molitor, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese trocken 2009, Mosel
The wine maybe gives a clue, as I would venture a guess that the level of residual sugar in this dry-tasting wine is somewhere in the feinherb range from 9 to 18 g/l. Thus, the wine is advertised as trocken but doesn't carry trocken on the label.

On the nose, Granny Smith apple emerges at first, though this eventually gives way to yellow fruit such as apricot. The palate shows lovely ripe acidity and good balance (Molitor tends to harvest well into November, and this is 2009 after all). There is a dense wall of nectarine, and the finish is long and satisfying. Picturebook dry Riesling - though I have a feeling that Germany's wine authorities would be loathe to call it dry.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Two Sauvignon Blancs

On a recent train journey from Mannheim back to Basel, I picked up a copy of the June/July issue of German-language wine magazine, Weinwelt. Normally, I don't buy wine-related periodals as they tend to be on the pricy side, and much of the information I want can be gleaned perfectly easily via the Internet. I made an exception this one time.

The issue's leading theme was Sauvignon Blanc. Therein, a certain Professor Ulrich Fischer from the "DLR Rheinpfalz" wine research centre in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse explained that elderflower was often a key aromatic trait of Sauvignon Blancs grown in Germany. I mention this apropos of nothing in particular, except that it serves as an introduction to two SBs I've opened over the last month or so.

Pfaffenweiler Weinhaus, Sauvignon Blanc trocken "Sancta Clara" 2010, Baden
Somewhat of a house speciality of this, one of Baden's top cooperatives. I made no notes on this, and the bottle was opened back in July. However, my overriding impression was that of a wine hitting all the right notes as a quintessentially summer wine: sprightly, packed with sunshine yet very grown-up for it's price (under EUR 9 from the supermarket) with some mineral and creamy notes. The wine is already sold-out, which says it all.

Kellerei/Cantina Terlan, Sauvignon Blanc Winkl 2009, Terlano, Südtirol/Alto Adige
This a first: a wine from Südtirol. Winkl is the name of the vineyard. Although not very twinkle-toed in nature, it provided plenty of interest. Quite unlike any SB I've had, its personality almost reminded me of a Grüner Veltliner. There were hints of elderflower and herbs after a while, but the key notes came more from the wine's biscuity earthiness which almost developed into opulence. Certainly a wine that lives more off its secondary aromas and flavours than off gratuitous goosebery and cat's pee. And that's always a good thing in my book.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Table with a view

A old friend from England who lives in Vienna stayed with us for a night on 31 July, as part of a grand tour of Switzerland he was about to embark on. Being the day before Swiss National Day, there would be a firework extravaganza over the Rhine later on that evening. But prior to this, we hopped into Germany to attend Weiler Weinweg in Flammen - a lovely wine event held along the vineyards from Ötlingen to Weil. Our first stop was in Ötlingen, where we sat in the evening sun behind the vineyard hut belonging to Weingut Schneider and enjoyed the view south down to Basel and beyond. It was 7 p.m. and the sun was still beating down relentlessly. Some vineyards really are heat-traps, and this was one of them.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


The summer blogging recess has been ongoing of late, in which time my better half and I have been to the UK twice - first on wedding business in Suffolk, then to visit my parents in Lancashire. Both visits were prior to the troubles of the past few days in numerous English urban areas. Apparently, the German foreign office has issued a travel warning for the UK - the sort of thing normally reserved for Syria and Iraq.

Normal service will resume on here in due course. However, for the time being, here are a couple photos from a beautiful walk Jenny and I went on last Friday with my parents - in a part of Cumbria that tends to be less well known owing to its location on the border with Lancashire. After our walk, we rewarded ourselves with a delicious meal of fish and chips at a local hostelry.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

No frills

As its Wikipedia entry explains, Kwik Save was a supermarket chain in the UK which went bust in 2007. I remember frequently going to our local Kwik Save on St David's Road South in St Annes as a young lad to do errands for my mother back in the 80s and early 90s. As a grumpy teenager, I was never that enamoured at the prospect, but it was preferable to going hungry.

In some ways, Kwik Save was the pre-emptive British answer to Lidl and Aldi (in the days before these two German powerhouses annexed the UK discounter segment). The shopping experience at Kwik Save was like no other. I'll always remember the functional shop fittings, the seemingly endless supplies of digestive biscuits and Hob Nobs, and their ubiquitous "No Frills" range.

Now, if there is a local winemaker for whom "no frills" might be a fitting tag, it would be Hermann Dörflinger of the eponymous Dörflinger Winery in Müllheim/Baden. It was Dörflinger's father who - much like the father of his famous Pfalz counterpart Hansjörg Rebholz - refused to ride the crest of the wave of cheap and nasty pap in the 1960s and continued fermenting his wines to dryness. Back then, contemporaries belittled Dörflinger's wines as tasting "sour"; it was only in the 1980s when people began appreciating dry wines again that the winery started getting the recognition it deserved.

I would say that Dörflinger's wines have "no frills" in sense that they exhibit utter clarity. Being fermented often right down to bone-dryness but remaining relatively light in alcohol, they have a very transparent, linear personality. They never leave you satiated after a glass or two, but instead encourage you to continue quaffing. That's always a good thing in my book.

The following wine is a case in point.

Weingut Hermann Dörflinger, Müllheimer Reggenhag Weissburgunder Kabinett trocken 2010, Baden
Light straw-yellow colour with yellow apple and cinnamon crumble on the nose. The palate is completely dry but with an underlying fruit character that shines through. Again, yellow apple emerges, along with pear. The overriding impression is one of freshness, and there is a subtle carbon dioxide tingle that accentuates this feeling on the finish. I wouldn't say that this wine is jaw-droppingly complex, but it is pure and exceedingly drinkable (edit: that was until a pesky fruit fly crash-landed in my glass).

Monday, 18 July 2011


This was no mumbo-jumbo sect gathering, but an annual hommage to sparkling wine on Saturday night in the gardens of local vintner's cooperative Bezirkskellerei Markgräflerland. Each year, the Bezirkskellerei opens its doors to the public for an evening of culinary, vinous and - at times, dubious - musical delights. Apart from bubbly, it was also possible to sample the cooperative's normal wines, so there was something for all tastes. Anyway, here are some photographic impressions (look at those industrial-sized vats!).

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Wet stone

Now onto the fruitier, lightier style of Riesling, albeit still tasting fairly dry in the grand scheme of things.

Weingut Markus Molitor, Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett feinherb 2009, Mosel
Pungent wet stone on the nose, with orange zest, floral notes and some yeasty hints. Bantamweight on the palate (i.e. not quite featherweight, to borrow a boxing analogy), with juicy satsuma and a minerally sensation akin to sucking stones. Now, I've never put a piece of slate in my mouth, but I can imagine Zeltinger Himmelreich's slate soils having had an ample hand in this. Following the soupçon of sweetness on entry, the finish is quite dry - and satisfyingly so. Traces of caramel also emerge over time.

I recently bought a case of this wine from a Swiss merchant doing a Markus Molitor promotion. Nearly all the other Molitor wines they were offering were legally trocken, but I consciously chose this one, sensing that it would be more versatile in pairing with food. I don't think I'll be disappointed.

Friday, 8 July 2011


Throughout my 11-year career as a translator in Switzerland, if I'd have earned ten francs for everytime I had to translate a Powerpoint presentation produced by some Swiss banker talking about "ein Win-Win-Szenario", I'd be a rich man by now. Ok, maybe that's an exaggeration. And yet, the phrase "win-win" is one that is beloved of the German-speaking corporate world. Bankers, pharmaceutical executives, HR managers, humble project leaders, IT bods... They're all at it.

And just because they did their MBAs in Boston, speak with an American accent or spent two years in London, it doesn't mean they can write perfect English. I'm a native speaker and I can't write perfect English either - though I hope you get half the gist of what I'm trying to say. On the other hand, I wouldn't think for one minute that my written German was good enough to translate into. Why should it work the other way round?

Anyway, rant over.

Weingut von Winning, Riesling "Win Win" trocken 2009, Pfalz
When wealthy local businessman Achim Niederberger bought Weingut Dr. Deinhard in Deidesheim a few years ago, he completed a treble of sorts following on from his previous acquisitions of Bassermann-Jordan and Von Buhl. This is because these three Deidesheim wine estates make up what is still called the "Jordan'sche Teilung" - the result of a bumper inheritance of vineyards that was split among three respective siblings in 1848.

From 1907 until the Great War, the winery was splendidly known as "Hauptmann von Winning’sches Edelweingut", before reverting back to "Dr. Deinhard" in 1918. It was only after Niederberger arrived on the scene in late-2007 that new life was breathed into the old "von Winning" moniker. Many of the estate's top wines now go by this name, although there is also still a very serviceable "Dr. Deinhard" range of wines, and - slightly confusingly - a Dr. Deinhard website.

But now onto the wine and that "win win" situation.

Appearance: quite a vivid yellow-straw hue, but nothing jaw-droppingly unusual.
Nose: a sheer precipitous wall of dry herbs; at first, it's hard to scale over this wall, but then hints of tobacco emerge (the sort people use to make their own roll-ups), followed by some red berry fruit and lemon zest sprinkled with sugar.
Palate: herbs continue their narrative here; there is a slight (and welcome) sweetness on entry, but that is quickly enveloped by a minerally dryness; this wine is far from austere though - a very Pfalz earthiness persists, and the herbs continue singing right through to a satisfying finish.

This is the most emphatically classy Riesling in its specific price bracket (EUR 10) that I've drunk in a long while - and you can't say fairer than that.

PS: The wine label deserves an honourable mention. It's really beautiful, and reminds me of a Picasso painting the name of which escapes me. The gold-leaved labels for the higher-rated classified vineyard wines are even more wonderful.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Summer sunset

And now for a photographic interlude; pictures taken yesterday evening from the top of Schlipf vineyard above the town of Weil (D).

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Gobelsburger GrüVe

Finally something slightly lighter, from a stately property in the Kamptal region of Austria. The monks who used to run it started growing grapes there in the late 12th century. This wine was a random purchase made at a department store in Basel.

Schloss Gobelsburg, Gobelsburger Grüner Veltliner 2010, Kamptal
Vivid, piercing lemony tones on appearance. This looks more substantial than I imagined. On the nose, apricot jam and white wine jelly with an ample sprinkling of white pepper. Some apricot and peppery notes translate onto the palate - along with some vegetative hints and a knob of butter. I would classify the body as light to medium. The finish is slightly on the short side, and I wouldn't mind a little bit more acidity - even though I realise that "GrüVe" is isn't meant to be that stomach-churning. These are just minor quibbles in the scheme of things. The wine does retain sufficient freshness and interest, and would be a killer with a variety of light dishes.

Thursday, 30 June 2011


I know, I know... It's not what I said I'd do in my last post, but that can wait. I've had to make do with Mario Zelt's humble offering for now. What a hardship.

Weingut Zelt, Cuvée Trilogie 2008, Pfalz
Couldn't resist picking up a bottle of this a few months ago, along with the Saint Laurent I've already written about. This is a Bordeaux-inspired triple blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot and Cab Franc - hence the name. Before you start wondering whether Bordeaux-inspired blends are a good or a bad thing in a world awash with them, let me just get straight on to the wine.

This one has a dense yet attractively pure colour. The nose is pretty muted over the first 48 hours. Ideally, the wine probably needs more laying down, but sometimes you have to dive in early when it's just the one bottle in your possession. After 72 hours (during my final helping), subtle hints of black cherry emerge. I would say that there is also something vaguely Amarone-esque.

However, the palate does better. Lovely finely grained, pure tannins, lending suppleness and depth, as well as some liquorice and black fruit notes. A minerally, rather than acidic, backbone provides what is a medium to full body with added complexity.

Not a wine for everyday glugging.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


So, it's over 30C outside. Time for a low-alcohol Riesling Kabinett, maybe, or at least something along those lines? After all, I've been meaning for some time to drink more Rieslings with residual sweetness, not least because the citrus intensity of some dry Rieslings don't always meet with my better half's approval. Without putting too fine a point on it, her face tends to contort when that citrus zing kicks in on the finish. I usually like the acidic part, within reason. However, I've heard that 2010 - a German vintage of skyrocketing, eyewatering acidity - is excellent for Rieslings with some residual sweetness. The same cannot be necessarily said for the "dry'uns".

Be that as it may, my exploration of Mosel Kabinett and its ilk will have to wait another day. Instead, I have a red wine from the Pfalz. How refreshing.

In my defence, I bought the following bottle for us to taste as a potential wine for our wedding meal later on this year (to precise, they call it "wedding breakfast", but don't ask me why). However, we already made our decision in terms of red wine a couple of weeks ago. I don't want to go into too much detail, but the wine we eventually chose is, like the following wine, a blended red from the Pfalz - and not the Spätburgunder from Baden I'd originally earmarked.

A case of "after the Lord Mayor's show", as us Brits would say. But still worth a try.

Weingut Dengler-Seyler, Cuvée Autumnus 2007, Pfalz
There is a white wine by the same name that combines Chardonnay with Auxerrois. This, its red counterpart, is a blend of Spätburgunder, Frühburgunder and the dreaded Dornfelder. I say "dreaded" because Dornfelders tend to taste rather green and stemmy if the yields are too high - which is often the case. On the other hand, it gives the wine a lot of dark pigment and can lend quite a charming rustic personality to blended reds. If handled correctly.

This is an interesting wine. The Spätburgunder is still very much to the fore, but the other constituents add some substance; less so the Frühburgunder, more the Dornfelder. Dark ruby in appearance, with cherry tones on the nose and a wild berry palate with a dollop of cream and some complexity. In point of fact, Autumnus is a good moniker for this wine. It does have a personality faintly reminiscent of autumn - think red leaves and undergrowth. Quite appealing. For my taste, the oak is well-integrated and unobtrusive, though my better half begged to differ on that count. Chacun(e) à son goût, as our Gallic cousins would say - and I still much prefer the wine we chose for the wedding - but for 10 euro (ordered online from a merchant in the Rhein-Neckar region) this offers good value.