Sunday, 30 January 2011

Oaked Chardonnay from Baden

Going against my better instincts, I purchased this, Schneiders' premium oak-aged white wine, last week for EUR 12.80. I say "better instincts", because there was a time not so long ago when oak-aged Chardonnays were the last wine I would have chosen to buy. This is due to too many past experiences with vinous belly-flop fatties from the New World that smelt like sawdust and gave you whopping headaches the next morning.

Yet, if anyone could get it right, I was sure Schneider could.

Weingut Claus Schneider, Chardonnay "Barrique" trocken 2009, Baden
Jenny was put off immediately by the smell, which she equated to barnyard (which, if you had have seen the impromtu addition she made to my scribbled notes, is somewhat of a euphemism). Certainly, the aromas jumped out of the glass and evoked a certain whiff. Nevertheless, after this initial sensation, there were hints of yeast, banana and Schneiders' signature notes of chalk. The acidity was mild and the mouthfeel slightly chewy, albeit light years from the fatties of the Barossa. The oak was actually fairly well integrated, and the chalk notes helped stop the banana descending into bubblegum kitsch. On the following day, roasted peanut notes appeared, but minerally notes continued to provide firmness and interest.

No doubt a fine wine, if not entirely to my taste. However, I suspect it will show better in, say, three or four years' time, because there is a youthful awkwardness about it at present.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Schlossgut Istein

Not much spare time at the moment between translating and negotiating ongoing red tape related to setting up one's own business. Nevertheless, I managed to "fit in" the following recently:

Schlossgut Istein, Riesling trocken 2009, Baden
This is a fresh and breezy sort of Riesling with firm acidity. Limpid in appearance, slimline in body but with some minerally bite and saltiness. Citrus fruit and maybe some peach. Refreshing if not overly complex. Enjoyable nonetheless.

This property has a very good reputation locally, but fell into a slumber a few years ago when the long-time owner was forced to hand over the reins. Now things seem to be looking up again under the ownership of Swiss jewellery and art dealer Herbert Faubel. The wine estate has also entered into a partnership of sorts with the vintner's cooperative in Schliengen. In future, the property's marketing, sales and logistics will be taken care of by the cooperative, with vintner Thomas Abels taking care of what he probably does best: growing the wine.

Faubel also owns Weingut Emil Marget in Hügelheim, and all of Marget's wines will from now on be vinified in Istein. However, the two wineries will continue to operate independently.

Incidentally, managing director Wolfgang Grether left the winery at the end of October 2010 to rejoin the Schliengen cooperative which he had previously managed for some 15 years. He had only left Schliengen to head up Schlossgut Istein at the end of March 2010. Apparently, the new director at Schliengen, Andreas Slabi, didn't quite see eye-to-eye with his new colleagues as regards business strategy and soon handed in his notice. As Slabi's replacement, the cooperative seems to have opted again for Herr Grether's safe pair of hands.

*PS: [28 Jan. 2011, 10 a.m.] By coincidence, I've just read an article literally 20 minutes after writing this post, in which Faubel firmly denies rumours that he is about the sell Schlossgut Istein. He also puts the relationship with the Schliengen cooperative into perspective, insisting that it is less of a cooperation and more of an interim solution after Grether's sudden departure last autumn.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Wolf-Dieter Salwey

Just heard the news that Wolf-Dietrich Salwey has passed away. I never met him or his son - who is around my age - but it is sad that such an evidently tireless ambassador for German wine is no longer with us. To date, my one and only encounter with a Salwey wine took place last year, but even then, I was struck by its disarming elegance. This prompted a recommendation by Torsten from The Wine Rambler as to what I should maybe try next from the Salwey range. Alas, I've never got round to buying any more. I'll try to make up for that.


Friday, 21 January 2011


Merdingen is probably best known as the village in the Tuniberg district of Baden where former professional cyclist Jan Ullrich used to live. It is also home to Weingut Kalkbödele.

As an admirer of the German Alemannisch dialect (which tends to be slightly gentler on the ear than Baslerdytsch), I think the name "Kalkbödele" is extremely evocative. In standard German, Kalkbödele would be Kalkboden (or "chalk soil"). Its diminutive ending ("-bödele") also conjures up a sense of place and - dare I say it - terroir in a rather playful manner. One senses that the people at Kalkbödele certainly understand terroir as being more than just the soils but also the local people and way of life. I should maybe stop now before I become even more poetic, but you get the picture.

When I met Martin Schärli from Weingut Kalkbödele last November in Lörrach, I expected, and indeed tasted, impressive Pinot Noirs. However, the following wine caught my attention almost just as much. I spotted a bottle of it recently which I simply had to buy. Sadly, it didn't quite live up to my admittedly sizeable expectations.

Weingut Kalkbödele, Pinot Gris trocken "im Holzfass gereift" 2008, Baden
Strangely reminiscent of Chardonnay on the nose. Melons, and lots of them. Some spice and vanilla notes. On the few days that followed, more of an apple compote aroma. On the palate, maybe apricot and more melons. The oak was well integrated. Tasty and excellent with fish. In the grand scheme of things, this wine is very good. It blew me away at a busy wine fair over two months ago, but it didn't quite do so on this occasion.

Sunday, 16 January 2011


Which in English normally means "party piece", "collector's item" or "one for the crowd". In footballing parlance, it equates to, say, the Brazilian Ronaldinho leaving a defender floundering with a fleet-footed piece of skill. However, the problem is that purveyors of such skill are often ultimately destined to have unfulfilled careers due to their lack of application or general all-round flakiness. Ronaldinho is a case in point. He now plays for Flamengo.

Frankly, I'm not sure what this equates to in wine terms; I originally thought the word might make a good pun for this post. However, what I am sure about is that the following Kabinett is a bit of an odd-ball.

Schlossgut Istein, Isteiner Kirchberg Weissburgunder Kabinett trocken 2009, Baden
There was a time when dry Kabinetts had around 11.5 to 12% alcohol at the very most. This one has a whopping 13.5%. I know many dry Spätlesen that have less alcohol than that. Without guessing the grape sugar levels, I'm pretty sure this must have had something approaching 90 Oechsle, which is definitely Spätlese level. Being a Prädikatswein, chaptalisation would have been prohibited.

So, why has the wine-grower decided to call it a Kabinett?

Whatever the rights and wrongs of such an approach, the wine itself deserves to be judged on its merits. And lo and behold, it's actually quite Kabinett-like in appearance: straw yet almost limpid when held in front of a white background. Green apple and kiwi aromas on the nose, followed by pears, nuts and a prickly minerality/dryness on the palate. No hint of oak, which is no bad thing (maybe the difference then is that the Spätlese version had a lick of wood?). This dryness is a maybe touch unforgiving in that it accentuates the alcoholic heat ever so slightly. Nevertheless, this is as light any wine with 13.5% alcohol is ever going to get, and worthwhile for the experience.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Cherry schnapps

Following my previous experience, I was willing this particular Chablis to perform even better.

Domaine Begue-Mathiot, Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume 2004
Alas, it was corked.

When it comes to mistaking certain aromas for cork taint, I do have previous. However, this smelt and tasted of cherry schnapps and nothing else. I know this because we recently bought a bottle of cherry schnapps off a friend who lives in the Black Forest. Best cherry schnapps in the world, in my humble opinion. Shame about the wine.

(Note to German speakers: "Schnaps" really is "Schnapps" in English!)

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Winter sun

Ötlingen (D), looking west over to France. I took this photo yesterday afternoon.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Rivaner's revenge

Müller-Thurgau (or Rivaner) is an oft-derided grape. Planted the length and breadth of wine-growing Germany, it is synonymous with the bad old days of Liebfraumilch. Its planting acreage has generally fallen over the last 15 to 20 years in favour of other varietals. However, there may now be a counter-movement afoot. Berlin-based wine writer Stuart Pigott recently launched his own 2009 "Grosses Gewächs" vintage from a Müller-Thurgau vineyard lent to him by Weingut Stahl in Franconia. And Stahl themselves have been earning plaudits for their own interpretation of this, the ugly duckling of grapes.

Attitudes to Müller-Thurgau are probably more relaxed in Switzerland. This may be because Hermann Müller, the oenologist who cross-bred the varietal, hails from the Swiss canton of Thurgau. Müller didn't want to lend his own name to the varietal's moniker in his country of birth, which is why the Swiss call it "Riesling-Sylvaner" instead (previously "Riesling x Sylvaner"). This synonym conveys quite an imposing if misleading image, given that Müller-Thurgau's cross-breed parentage has relatively little to do with either Riesling or Sylvaner/Silvaner. Nevertheless, the "Riesling-Sylvaner" name has stuck, which, I suspect, has done the wine's domestic sales no harm at all.

The following Müller-Thurgau was interesting as it hails from the Swiss tip of the hill on which Claus Schneider makes his fabulous Pinots barely a 100-200 metres away in Germany.

"Schlipfer", Riehener Riesling-Sylvaner 2009, Gemeinde-Rebberg, canton of Basel-Stadt
This wine is vinified and bottled by Swiss supermarket chain Coop, but the municipality of Riehen is responsible for tending the vines and harvesting the fruit. Very brief notes, these: showing subtle muscat notes on the nose, with a clean, bright palate of lemon zest. Quite elegant for what it's worth. A short yet fresh finish to what is an engaging if everyday wine. I enjoyed quaffing it too much to write much more.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

French connection

The family of one of my better half's French colleagues at work owns and runs a property in Chablis. Before visiting her nearest and dearest there, said colleague took wine orders from some of her fellow workers in Basel. I was able to get my particular order in (relayed via Jenny) just in time.

Of all French regions, I've always been quite interested in Chablis due, ironically, to the similarity of its Kimmeridgian clay/chalk soil to that of Franconia in Germany (the spiritual home of the Silvaner varietal). My experience of Chablis is, however, extremely limited.

Domaine Begue-Mathiot, Chablis Premier Cru Vaucopins 2004
Golden straw in appearance, the nose hints at garden greens, chalk, pineapple and brioche. On the palate, a mineral attack followed by a bright back-palate of pithy, citrusy mouthwatering bitterness. Somewhere inbetween, there are some mild stone fruit notes (greengages maybe). The finish is long. From the 2004 vintage, this is still as fresh as a daisy and could have a few years more of development ahead of it, I would say. Very impressive and, for just under EUR 11, a relative bargain.

Another premier cru to follow shortly.