Friday, 21 December 2012


In total, we went on three domestic flights during our time in India: with GoAir from Jaipur to Mumbai and Mumbai to Goa, and with SpiceJet from Goa back up to Delhi. Budget flying is big business in India - and extremely popular. Both airlines we used were good. No frills involved, as you would expect from such operations. Though we were mildy amused by the SpiceJet in-flight magazine referring to its readership as "Spice-jetters".

Anyway, what we really, really wanted after the cacophanous experience of Mumbai and northern India were a few days of quiet on a beach, with some cultural enrichment spinkled into the mix.

Wednesday 28 November
Arrival in Goa and it's time to sample India's "prepaid taxi" system. We have avoided it to date thanks to airport transfers organised by our respective hostelries, but, if truth be told, it's quite a simple procedure. You go to a desk where the different taxi fares corresponding to the various possible destinations are shown on a board. You pay the requisite fare in advance (700 ruppees in our case) and are given a receipt. Someone then ushers you to your taxi driver and the fun begins.

Heaven Goa
Our mode of transport is a small, slightly rickety jeep. The back seats don't have any seat belts, but the driver tells us not to worry. After a while, we begin to understand his insouciance. Maybe I didn't need to tell you this, but Goa really is a quiet, laid-back part of the world - with much less of the chaos we saw elsewhere on Indian roads.

On reaching our guest house, we give the driver our receipt, tip him and then bid him farewell.

"Heaven Goa" is run by an Indian-Swiss couple, Sunil and Karin. Located just outside the village of Benaulim in south Goa, it is a 10-minute walk away from the beach. Admittedly, we favoured this hostelry on the strength of its Swiss connection. Sure enough, it was perfect for us, with a very homely and friendly feel.

Thursday 29 November
Benaulim Beach
We make a bee line for the beach - probably the most beautiful stretch of sand we've ever seen. We laze on sun loungers, go for strolls, swim numerous times in the Arabian Sea and generally relax. On the culinary front, we acquaint ourselves with delicious Goan fish curry. Seafood is staple fare around here: from pomfret and snapper to baby shark, king fish and tiger prawns. Pork vindaloo is another Goan speciality, and not half as spicy as conventional vindaloo.

Friday 30 November
Sé Cathedral
Culture time. As an addendum to our Delhi Magic experience, we have a guided tour of the Goan hinterland on the agenda today. We leave our guest house with guide and driver at 9 a.m. We first reach the town of Ponda, where we visit two successive Hindu temples. Then it's on to a spice plantation. All imaginable spices, and the plants from which they originate, can be viewed (and tasted) here. Next and final stop is Old Goa (Velha Goa). We visit the Basilica of Bom Jesus and Sé Cathedral - the former is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the latter is the largest church in India (see photo). The Portuguese only left Goa in 1961, so (Roman Catholic) Christians are in the majority in Goa. Pilgrims are beginning to arrive in to Old Goa for the annual Feast of St Francis Xavier, which is due to take place on 3 December.

Saturday 1 December
We hire bikes and cycle north along the beach as far as the resort of Majorda. The going is heavy because the tide is in. Things are much much easier on the way back after the receding tide has hardened the sand. We settle for lunch at a beach shack run by a diminutive yet extrovert character who speaks both English and Russian. (the Russians discovered Goa quite a while ago; they tend to stay in the more exclusive hotel complexes). This cool dude (see opposite) brings out the "catch of the day" on a platter, we chose our preferred fish (the black one in the photo), and they cook it. Simple.

We conclude our day on the beach with another swim in the sea, a Mango lassi at our favourite beach shack ("Greg's") and a nice view of the sunset.

Sunday 2 December
Since last year, beach hawkers have been banned from wandering over and approaching unsuspecting, sunbathing tourists on Benaulim Beach. Instead they must set up their stalls on the side of the beach and hope to attract passing custom. Although extremely persistent, they are actually very polite and friendly. As tourists, we would run the gauntlet each day past their shops and onto the beach. Consequently, we ended up being on first-name terms with a good handful of these locals. In turn, they relieved us of some of our ruppees. It was a good-natured game of cat and mouse at all times.

Paddy fields - a common sight in Goa
We make the most of our final day on the beach, soaking in the sun. Stall-owner Sharon (well, at least that's what she called herself) is the specific recipient of a fair chunk of our day's spending. We warm to her personality and persuasiveness. As Brits who have never mastered the art of haggling, we are her dream customers.

Monday 3 December
We catch a taxi back to Dabolim Airport and leave Goa with heavy hearts. First, it's back to Delhi courtesy of SpiceJet. We then hang around Indira Gandhi International Aiport for what seems an eternity before boarding our flight back to Switzerland in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The eight-hour flight home is torture, as I can never sleep on flights - while nearly everyone else can. To compound the ordeal, my video display isn't working correctly, so no films either!

Tuesday 4 December

And so many memories of an incredible country. Hard to condense in a blog.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


Traveller's dysentery is not just exclusive to India, but we had learnt the dos and don'ts and were pretty confident that our ultra-careful approach would pay off. Happily, my wife would remain healthy throughout the holiday. Instead, it was yours truly who contracted "Delhi belly" - albeit on arrival in Mumbai.
Day 1 - just before start of play; crowds still sparse

Friday 23 November
A new day dawns and it's an early start. Play on the first day of the 2nd Test between India and England is due to commence at 9.30. We have arranged to meet friends Alison and Nick in front of the ticket office at 8.30. I have had to hurry out of bed numerous times during the night but feel just about well enough to walk with Jenny to the ground - only a 10-15 minute stroll away on Marine Drive.

We meet our friends and are eventually able to secure season tickets for INR 600 (or EUR 8.50!) each in the Garware Pavilion - a very good result all round. All is going fine until midway through the morning session at around 11 o'clock, when nausea and shivers suddenly kick in and I have to beat a hasty retreat to our hotel. Although I feel refreshed enough in the afternoon to return to the stadium for us to watch the whole of the final two-hour session of play, the writing is well and truly on the wall.

View from hotel roof - spot the cricket ground floodlights
Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 November
Days 2 and 3 of the test match are spent exclusively in our hotel room. My wife does Florence Nightingale proud, while I either sleep, watch the cricket on television or consume salt tablets and other, stronger medication including antibiotics. These two days see some of the best international cricket in 2012 - Keven Pietersen's 186-run knock being the highlight [sigh].

Monday 26 November
The antibiotics have done their job and I am strong enough for us to return to the ground and watch England wrap up the test by 11 o'clock on the fourth day, with a day and a half to spare. I try to absorb every single second of this final hour and a half.

Cricket practice on Oval Maidan
Of course, my disappointment is great at missing a major chunk of the match. However, this feeling is tempered by the prospect of free time in which to explore southern Mumbai. In the afternoon, we embark on a walk around the Churchgate and Fort districts. We cross Oval Maidan, the huge municipal park on which people of all ages are playing cricket. Apparently, the further a match is being played from the main path that dissects the park from east to west, the better the quality of cricket - or so the local wisdom goes. We pass the imposing buildings of the university and the high court before reaching Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, or CST for short. The latter is the most impressive railway station building I've ever seen. It was also one of the sites of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist who was captured alive, had been hanged just a few days prior to our arrival in Mumbai. What is more, 26 November marked the fourth anniversary of the attacks.

Tuesday 27 November
Feeling even stronger, I'm well enough to accompany my wife on another walking tour - this time through the swanky Nariman Point neighbourhood and into the backpackers' mecca of Colaba. We pay the obligatory visit to the Gateway of India, but get accosted/harassed by incessant hawkers. Not the most pleasant experience, so we take snapshots of the Gateway, the bay and the splendidly restored Taj Mahal Palace (probably the best-known 2008 terrorist target) before seeking refuge in a nearby deli/coffee shop. In the afternoon, we explore Colaba Causeway, continue a mile or so north up to Horniman Circle and then return to the hotel via Oval Maidan. Obviously, this is but a fraction of what a megacity like Mumbai (with a population greater than Greece) has to offer.

Part of Horniman Circle
In the early evening, we eat at a popular pizzeria on Marine Drive - my tummy is still too delicate for Indian fare. Thankfully, things will improve during the final stage of our holiday - in Goa.

Monday, 10 December 2012

From the national capital to the Rajasthani capital

Sunday 18 November
We touch down in Delhi in the early hours. During the taxi ride to our guest house (at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning, incidentally), we quickly familiarise ourselves with the Indian penchant for horn-blowing. In India, you honk to warn fellow drivers of your presence, you honk to tell them to get out of the way, you honk to say thank you, you honk to acknowledge someone else's honk. Or you honk just to pass the time of day. Or night. In short, honking is a fundament part of Indian etiquette.

Rikshaw ride on Chandni Chowk
After a short sleep, our driver and tour guide take us into the heart of Old Delhi. We visit India's largest mosque, Jama Masjid, before embarking on a walking tour of the old town. Given our slightly jetlagged state, it's a stroke of luck that we are there on a Sunday. Otherwise the already bustling streets would be twice as busy. Old Delhi is extremely interesting assault on the senses. Although most traders are closed for the day, there is still plenty to observe. A rikshaw ride takes us along Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi's main thoroughfare. Our rikshaw driver puts his back into it. Fifty rupees is the going rate - a pittence by Western standards.

New Delhi could not be more different. Wide, long avenues and imposing buildings. The Gate of India and the seat of government are impressive and imposing - both hallmarks of Lutyen's Delhi.

To experience something different, we ask our driver to take us to the Lotus Temple - an iconic building and calm, peaceful and welcoming venue, regardless of religious preference.

From a culinary perspective, we discover the delights of pav bhaji and the humble dosa - both at down-to-earth but reliable eateries just off Connaught Place.

Monday 19 November
Our driver takes us down the recently built Yamuna Expressway from Delhi to Agra. The motorway is relatively deserted; apparently, the tolls are a little on the pricey side by local standards.

We are acutely aware of the difference in Indian and Western spending power throughout our India trip, not least in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. To put it mildly, Agra itself is a bit of a dive. We were warned of this before flying out to India, but nothing really prepares you for the reality. The comparative comfort of our hotel, set away from downtown Agra in its own self-containing gardens, only serves to reinforce this impression.

Part of Agra Fort
Although it was in the large cities of Delhi and Mumbai that we encountered child beggars, a noticeable lack of prosperity was evident in Agra compared to elsewhere. You and I might not call it "poverty" as such; most people, after all, seemed to be going about their business like in any other city. Our view was based, rather, on the local infrastructure such as roads, buildings, etc. Put simply, Agra looked in a shabby state. Apart from its obvious tourist attractions, the town seemed to have little going for it. Little wonder that the preferred backpacker option for Agra tends to be the daytrip from Delhi - much along the lines of: "get in and get out as quickly as possible".

In the late afternoon, we visit Agra Fort, before viewing one of the world's most famous buildings briefly at sunset from the northern side of the River Yamuna. We will visit it properly the next morning.

Tuesday 20 November
As birthday presents go, visiting the Taj Mahal has to be the best ever. All the superlatives you may have heard or read are true.

There it is
After leaving Agra behind, our driver begins the five-hour journey to Jaipur in Rajasthan. We break up this road trip with a detour to the abandoned city of Fatepur Sikri and a subsequent stop for lunch at a highway restaurant amply frequented by pink-skinned tourists such as us.

A word on our travel arrangements. During our time in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, we had asked a tour agency ("Delhi Magic") to arrange a driver and three different guides to show us around the three respective cities. As complete novices, we thought this level of organisation would offer us a gentle introduction to India before we were left to our own devices in Mumbai and Goa. Thankfully, this arrangement worked a treat. Our driver was excellent and the different guides were very professional and helpful, their knowledge of their respective stomping grounds proving indispensable on various occasions - especially when local hawkers and scam artists were on the prowl.

As in Delhi, our place of abode in Jaipur is an old heritage homestay converted into a guest house. The Barwara Kothi is a beautifully appointed address just outside the centre of town. Judging by the old photographs of maharajas and assorted polo champions on the walls of the staircase and dining room, the family who own and run the place boast their own fair share of Indian blue blood.

Wednesday 21 November
Our driver Mr Singh is a kindly, mellow soul. More importantly, he is very good at what he does. We feel totally at ease in the back seat of his Toyota Innova. This is not something to be taken for granted, given how frightening roads can be in India (e.g. cars randomly driving in the opposite direction, cyclists riding along the hard shoulder, cattle grazing on the edge of the road or crossing en mass...). The journey to Jaipur is unforgettable in that respect.
Jal Mahal

Although the capital of Rajasthan is a sprawling city of three million, it feels almost intimate. Spread out in a sensible grid system, the old town has surprisingly orderly appearance. One particular city-centre avenue even has diagonal parking along both its sides - reminiscent of numerous market towns in the UK. Although nicknamed the "Pink City", many of the old town's signature buildings are more reddish ocre than pink.

The Amber Fort proves memorable. This is followed by a visit to a Hindu temple, lunch opposite the (unfortunately inaccessible) Jal Mahal water palace, and an afternoon spent at, firstly, the Jantar Mantar Astronomical Observatory, and secondly, the impressive City Palace complex.

Jaipur is an attractive city and well worth a visit. Within a day, we merely skim the surface of what the place has to offer. If we ever return to India, we may well travel there again.

Thursday 22 November
What better way to celebrate Mrs Jones' birthday than with an hour-long elephant safari? I think it's safe to say that my wife was looking forward to riding on an elephant more than anything else on our holiday. Wish accomplished. This little extra was prepaid and included in the tour we had booked.

After the ride, we sit in the shade and eat an ample buffet spread laid out for us and other visitors. Then it's off to the airport, where we bid farewell to Mr Singh. Next stop Mumbai.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Passage to India

My wife and I recently returned from a trip to India - probably one the biggest holidays we will ever go on. Considering this was the first time I'd ever ventured beyond Europe per se, I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a little apprehensive before boarding our flight from Zurich to Delhi on 17 November. Thankfully, any trepidation I had dissipated on arrival. Indian life is too high-octane and technicolour to dwell on such trifling thoughts.

We had divided our India itinerary into three distinct legs, summarised as follows:

1) From 18 to 22 November: a tour of India's "Golden Triangle", taking in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.
2) From 23 to 28 November: five days in Mumbai to watch the 2nd Test Match between India and England (i.e. cricket).
3) From 29 November to 3 December: relaxing on the beaches of south Goa.

My synopsis of our travels will follow shortly, starting with the first leg in northern India.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Anniversary weekend

Basel is a good place to be at the moment. The annual two-week autumn fair is still on until Sunday - a unique event that comprises various sites around the centre of town and holds a place in many local hearts. This Monday past also marked one year since Jenny and I tied the knot. In celebration, we extended the weekend accordingly, taking in the fair and Basel's Paper Museum (where we made paper; it was our "paper anniversary" after all), as well as enjoying some culinary delights and a few drops of good wine.
"z'Basel isch Herbschtmäss!"

Weingut Pfeffingen, Scheurebe Auslese 2010

A notice at Basel's Paper Museum

Our wedding candle
The wines flanking the candle contained Weingut Ziereisen's Pinot Noir Jaspis 2007. It was our one and only bottle - and its time had come. A congenial partner to rack of lamb. No notes on this, nor on the Scheurebe, I'm afraid. Some wines are best left to sip and enjoy.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Ambrosia revisited

It was in early 2010 that I first wrote about this wine. Time for a brief update.

Weingut Aloisiushof, Riesling "Ambrosia" trocken 2008, Pfalz, Germany
Golden/straw-coloured with greenish reflexes. Spicy red fruit, stone fruit and a creaminess jump out of the glass. To capture as much aroma as possible, it's probably best not chilling this wine that much, if at all. Creamy again on the palate but pinpoint dry - meaning that it sports broad shoulders but does not lack focus. Luscious peach in abundance. Full-bodied, spicy Pfalz Riesling.

I liked this wine back then and I love it now. The "bright future" I somewhat boldly predicted is actually starting to come true. There is a generosity about this wine that makes me smile.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012


My first-hand tasting experience of the Ahr region is minimal, yet years of reading wine forums and blogs have taught me via second-hand means that, of all the Ahr's top reds, Jean Stodden's Pinot Noirs are perhaps the least approachable in their youth. In the best Burgundy tradition, his are wines built for the duration. It was with this in mind that I approached the following wine with more than a hint of trepidation.

Weingut Jean Stodden, Spätburgunder JS trocken 2007, Ahr, Germany
Pretty conventional ruby in appearance - nothing to fear so far. Raspberry and cherry on the nose, followed by a smell that reminds me of peas. The whiff is quite distinct. I wonder whether other Spätburgunders grown on slate have this feature? Quite perfumed in a feminine way with liquorice and chocolate emerging on the second day. Aromatic yet firm on the palate. Although the tannins are slightly drying and there is some warmth from the alcohol, this wine is otherwise quite cool, elegant and silky in texture. A nice vein of sour cherry acidity underlines this impression. The finish is long.

In short, this is impressive. The state of the tannins leads me to suspect that a few more years' cellaring would do no harm, but there is nothing to fear now.

Monday, 22 October 2012


Consumed in the afterglow of the previous Riesling, this wine fell short somewhat in comparative terms yet is worthwhile in its own right.

Weingut Battenfeld-Spanier, Riesling Mölsheim trocken 2010, Rheinhessen, Germany
According to the property's internal quality pyramid, this wine should be on a par with a Burgundy cru village, but - in the absence of any Battenfeld-Spanier premiers crus - is in practice one step below a grand cru.

The colour is a pretty conventional straw-yellow. Dry herbs on the nose - reminding me specifically of herbes de provence. Lemon curd (of all things) also emerges, as does a whiff of elderflower. The body is medium but quite lithe, with a grainy/corn-like note. A fair amount of character here, but a touch closed. Though this is a 2010, I would still prefer a squeeze more of acidity. Tasted over three nights, this Riesling shows best on the first evening, holds form more or less on the second evening and falls off considerably on the third and final evening - due in no small part to the aforementioned lack of zing, I would say.

However, this is really only a slight quibble in the scheme of things. Maybe it was little unfair to drink this Mölsheim so soon after the weightier preceding wine.

Sunday, 21 October 2012


By anyone's standards, Weingut Odintal is a unique property in the Pfalz. Occupying a sizeable clearing of land up in the Pfälzer Wald (Palatinate Forest), its vineyards are among the region's highest. The vineyard "chateau" is a country villa that changed hands a few centuries ago after its builder Johann Ludwig Wolf lost a game of cards (they did things differently in those days).

Berlin-born Thomas Hensel bought Odinstal in the late 1990s, originally with the intention of renovating the house as a place for him, his wife and three children to live. After renovation was complete, his attention moved to the adjoining vineyards. Identifying their cool climate characteristics 350 metres above sea level and unique soil formations in close proximity to the mouth of a formerly active volcano (the "Pechsteinkopf"), Hensel promptly hired the services of winemaker Andreas Schumann. Winegrowing methods at Odinstal are biodynamic, all grapes are picked by hand and musts ferment spontaneously via indigenous yeasts.

I had been quite intrigued by Odinstal for some years, but only recently took the plunge - by purchasing this, a lone bottle of one of the property's top Rieslings from a local merchant in Basel.

Weingut Odinstal, Riesling Bundsandstein trocken 2010, Pfalz, Germany
Quite brilliant light yellow. Initially, a nasty whiff of oxidation rises up out of the glass. Trust me to have bought a dud bottle, I chunter to myself. Leaving it overnight in the fridge is the only option. Thankfully, my fears prove unfounded. One day later, the funk has dissipated. What emerge are salty, iodine notes reminiscent of fizzy German mineral water, coupled with something very hard to describe. My best stab at it would be nail varnish remover - laughable, I know, but more pleasant than it reads. And dirt of the soil - or, put simply: good old-fashioned muck. Fruit-wise, the most distinctive note is of ripe pear.

Zingy, pure and highly strung on the palate. I imagine that the grapes used for this wine must have been intensely aromatic. And for me, the main flavour is of grapes. Everything is in high definition, so to speak. The acidity is unbelievable. Unbelievably tasty, I mean - and fully integrated. This wine offers a tremendous amount of substance in the mouth and is also still quite taut - obviously, given how recent the vintage is. The finish is long.

To be honest, I thought the wine's cool climate origins might result in something slimline and maybe even slightly weedy. My preconceptions couldn't have been more misguided. The extra elevation up in the forest has allowed the grapes to ripen "on slow burner". In an already cool vintage such as 2010, this has evidently resulted in something special.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Weilberg 2005

I recently opened the penultimate bottle of this, the oldest wine in our cellar.

Weingut Pfeffingen, Riesling, Weilberg Grosses Gewächs 2005, Pfalz
Herbs and stone fruit on an otherwise reticent nose. Very much stone-fruit-dominated on the palate, Minerally and stern. A touch more austere than last tasted over a year ago. Then it felt quite opulent and generous. Still, I'm sure the final bottle should keep for many years. Which is fortunate, as I suspect this wine may be going through a slightly closed phase right now.

[Footnote: The 2005 vintage was the final vintage featuring Weingut Pfeffingen's old label. Maybe it's just me, but I still prefer this older version to the simplified yet stylishly presented gold-leaf-on-black unicorn emblem that has appeared ever since. I think the revamped label goes too far over to the designer label end of the spectrum and actually feels more anonymous. Anyway, that's my tuppence worth.]

Sunday, 7 October 2012


It's not often I get to taste a wine this old, let alone one from the supermarket. "Hieber's Frische Center", the German supermarket in question is very popular here on the Basel border triangle. For those reading this in the UK, maybe Booths supermarkets in the northwest of England (mostly Lancashire and Cumbria) are comparable in terms of their specific local presence and customer base.

Some good friends of ours regularly frequent Hieber's for their weekly shop. They absolutely love it. My wife and I, on the other hand, tend to avoid Hieber's wherever possible. While offering virtually everything one's heart might desire, the stores are such a maze to get through that we invariably end up losing time and patience, to put it mildly. Spending nearly an hour in a supermarket isn't what either of us would call fun, regardless of how fresh and varied the produce on offer is. For the time being, we are happy to continue cycling over the border to "Kaufring", our regular, smaller supermarket in the centre of Weil am Rhein. A weekly shop there can usually be negotiated within the space of 15 to 20 minutes. Kaufring used to be just across the road while I still lived in Germany. The only difference now is that it's situated over the border 10 minutes away by bike. Some proud Swiss might feel slightly miffed that we don't regularly shop for our groceries in their country, but - to be perfectly frank (excuse the pun) - things are simply cheaper across the border. And the level of customer service edges it too.

However, Hieber's does have an unrivalled selection of local German wine. Once every blue moon, I check up on it. Sometimes, there are some real gems to be found.

Hofgut Sonnenschein, Fischinger Weingarten Regent "Barrique" trocken 2001, Baden, Germany
Fischingen is a lovely little village situated around 10 km north of Basel and one of my favourite destinations for a Sunday afternoon bike ride. Many fellow expats will know of Fischingen on account of its ubiquitous farmer's market-cum-restaurant Fünfschilling that does a roaring trade on the southern edge of the village. Visit the place from Monday to Saturday, and you will see plenty of vehicles with Swiss registrations in its car park (and some French too). If you prefer a little more peace and quiet, Sunday is the time to go when the Fünfschilling is closed.

If you visit on a Sunday, you'll also have greater incentive to explore the rest of village. Hofgut Sonnenschein is situated right in the middle of Fischingen by the church. Run by Markus Bürgin, the property grows wine according to biodynamic methods with a weird and wonderful selection of fungus-resistant grape varietals at its disposal - ranging from from Solaris, Souvignier Gris and Prior to Johanniter, Monarch and Regent.

The latter grape, Regent, is probably the best-known fungus-resistant grape varietal, or "Piwi" as the Germans helpfully call it (short for pilzwiderstandsfähige Rebsorte). As a red grape varietal, its wines tend to have furry tannins and straightforward berry fruit aromas, coupled with an opaque appearance. Not unlike its much-maligned peer Dornfelder, Regent can sometimes be surprisingly good, but - and this is the big but - only if treated with the requisite care and attention. The grape was only released for cultivation in Germany in 1996, so the prospect of tasting an 11-year specimen was intriguing.

In terms of this wine's colour, please refer to the photo above. As you can probably make out in the shadow, there is maybe a slight suggestion of yellowish-brown on the rim. The leathery, eucalyptus notes on the nose remind me more of Aussie Shiraz, yet the impression I have is still a fairly youthful one. On the palate, the mellowest Regent tannins I've ever tasted wash over my tastebuds. Lovely dark fruit with some slightly more matured, complex animally hints. Full-bodied, concentrated yet athletic and clean as a whistle. The finish isn't necessarily the longest but is strangely satisfying nonetheless. I'm in no doubt that this wine is now in its prime, yet could age quite gracefully for a further decade or so. The 13% alcohol is also refreshingly moderate and barely noticeable.

Knowledge regarding the ageability of red cross-breeds such as Regent and Dornfelder is still relatively meagre, but if this wine is anything to go by, the future is encouraging. The barrel has managed to tame the tannins and add considerable complexity, and 11 years barely seem that long.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


Introducing my first-ever Knipser Grosses Gewächs, red or white... I bought two bottles of this over a year ago from a local merchant in Basel, but decided to leave well alone until now.

Weingut Knipser, Spätburgunder Burgweg GG 2007, Pfalz, Germany
Burgweg is the name of the vineyard as a whole, but Knipers' plot is situated in the best part called "Im Grossen Garten" - a sheltered, relatively steep, limestone-rich south-facing slope on the western edge of Grosskarlbach overlooking an old mill. The property itself compares the limestone in Burgweg to the chalky soil found on Burgundy's Côte d'Or. Winery photographs incidentally show an attractive line of cypresses running up the vineyard's spine.

Dense ruby in appearance with black cherry and sappy redcurrant and raspberry. Whenever the soils are chalky, I invariably catch a whiff of menthol in there too. This wine is no exception. There's also a hint of oak ageing, but nothing intrusive.
Pure dark cherry on the palate. Again, the barrel notes are well integrated. Full-bodied in the mouth but a refreshing vein of acidity lends refreshment and refinement. The 14% alcohol is barely noticeable. Minerally characteristics are evident in a certain grip this wine has on the tongue. The tannins are mellow - a year's "speed-cellaring" in our basement may already have helped in this respect - but there is so much density in there that I would say this wine has an exceedingly long life ahead.
Ultra-long on the the finish. Impressive stuff.

Ideally, I would like to hold on to the second bottle for a few more years. Nevertheless, I think this wine is showing well at present and is probably hitting its first stage of maturity.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Lämmlin-Schindler Chardonnay

This wine is quite an improvement on the previous offering, in my view.

Weingut Lämmlin-Schindler, Mauchener Sonnenstück Chardonnay Kabinett trocken 2011, Baden, Germany
Fairly nondescript pale straw in appearance, but the nose is far more interesting - initially showing some Nivea-like notes (The Wine Rambler ™), prickly minerals, a hint of yellow stone fruit and pineapple. Over time, the aromas open up into something more floral. There is maybe also a suggestion of banana. At the risk of over-simplifying, the wine is light, fresh and moderately fruity on the palate. Pineapple again, followed by a mellow wave of soft and crumbly yellow apple.

The flavours here are less "showy" than those of your average Chardonnay, with the emphasis on finesse rather than texture. I would say this specimen is not too dissimilar to a Pinot Blanc/Weissburgunder. It's not the first time I've noticed this phenomenon with light, unoaked Chards from Markgräflerland that often share the same chalk-rich soils. Could this be a regional characteristic?

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Lämmlin-Schindler from Mauchen

Lämmlin-Schindler joined the VDP, Germany's trade association of elite wine estates, back in 2006. However, I would say that they have remained slightly under the radar compared to their peers in the southern Baden sub-region of Markgräflerland. Banal as it may sound, I would hazard a guess that their secluded geographical location may have contributed to this impression. Although still a stone's throw away from the Rhine valley, their home village of Mauchen is rather hidden away in a bucolic little dale in the foothills of the southern Black Forest. I have cycled through on a number of occasions and can vouch for its idyllic setting. It's the sort of place I can imagine a lot of people would enjoy if they knew about it. Mauchen still has a very quiet, rural character, and that's no bad thing.

The vineyards of Mauchen create an amphitheatre-like setting around the village and, as such, enjoy welcome shelter from westerly, northerly and easterly winds. Pretty good conditions for growing wine in anyone's book.

Weingut Lämmlin-Schindler, Spätburgunder Kabinett trocken 2009, Baden, Germany
The temperatures were touching 30C when I bought this bottle. I wanted red wine but something lighter and easier to enjoy on a balmy summer's evening. At least that was the idea.

Intense ruby turning to purplish or almost pinkish red round the edges. Surprising to find such a hue in what is supposed to be a lighter Pinot Noir. The aromas also belie the wine's "Kabinett" weighting, showing spice and black cherry, Christmas cake and a slightly marzipany note. Everything still feels rather diffuse though. Things change 24 hours later, with more precision emerging. The nose now gives off a distinctly "Mon Chéri" whiff.

On the palate, this translates into a fairly substantial wine for its 12% alcohol. The tannins are quite present, as is the acidity. A day later, the wine tastes somewhat sweeter - in a more confectioned than fruit-driven way.

Frankly, I don't know what to make of it. Maybe the ripeness of the 2009 vintage has played a part, but the wine feels so very dense - and oddly so. What is clear though is that I expected more elegance. On balance, not really my cup of tea.

Having said this, I need to persevere with Lämmlin-Schindler. A white wine of theirs will have to be next on the agenda.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Mosel connection

My wife and I bought a couple of bottles of this via local favourite Hanspeter Ziereisen. He is friends with some famous wineries further north, of which Markus Molitor is one. As the photo here shows, Hanspeter Ziereisen, Markus Molitor and Roman Niewodniczanski (of Weingut Van Volxem on the River Saar) share a stand at the annual Prowein fair in Düsseldorf.

Weingut Molitor, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett trocken 2009, Mosel, Germany
An explosion of peach, exotic fruit (mango and passionfruit) and pungent slate on the nose. I wouldn't necessarily guess this was a dry wine, but it dry it most certainly is. Again, exoticism dominates on the palate and the slately notes persist. The finish is middling. Nevertheless, this is highly refreshing and has just 11.5% alcohol. We killed the bottle in record time, hence these meagre notes.

Thursday, 30 August 2012


Before ballooning to 158 hectares in 1971, the Maikammer Heiligenberg vineyard comprised just eight hectares. Grown in this original plot, the following wine probably deserves to be called "Heiligenberg" more than most.

Weingut Dengler Seyler, Heiligenberg Riesling trocken 2009, Pfalz, Germany
Straw yellow. Pronounced minerally character on the nose, distinct pineapple, peachy hints. Despite this being one of the winery's weightier Rieslings, this still feels quite elegant and silky in the mouth. Minerals grip the palate and pucker the lips. Without sharing the exact same taste profile, this wine reminds me a little of Jochen Schmitt's Hochbenn (of Weingut Egon Schmitt), but with more than an extra level of complexity and seriousness. Long finish.

On tasting this at the winery, we compared it to Seyler family's two other lieux-dits Heidenstock and Schlangengässel. This probably got the nod, but it would be instructive to compare all three again.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012


When receiving a bottle of wine as a gift, I am loathe to make notes when it comes to tasting the contents. After all, it goes without saying that the bestower of said gift wants us to enjoy the wine. I find that gurgling and slurping excessively can sometimes dilute the experience.
At a wine tasting event in Blackpool organised earlier this year by UK wine merchant Laithwaites, some close family members were particularly taken by a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. In fact, it was their favourite wine of the evening, hence we felt flattered to receive a bottle from them.

Insight, Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand
Normally I'm suspicious of wines with labels that spell out how the contents of the bottle are supposed to smell and taste. Is the wine really going to be like its description? Does the winemaker want you to believe that it tastes a certain way? I find that label descriptions can play on your subconsciousness in the same way as tasting notes. They can constitute a suggestive "crutch" to fall back on. As you can see, this label takes the practice to a new level.

Admittedly, it does so in original, aesthetically pleasing detail. In the absence of any notes of my own (we murdered the bottle over a meal of dill-seasoned salmon), these label descriptions come in useful now as an aide-mémoire.

Although I will always find it hard to fall in love with Sauvignon Blanc as a grape variety, we enjoyed this wine greatly. Of the various flavour components pinpointed on the label, I could identify "red capsicum" and "ripe pink grapefruit" surprisingly clearly. Whether the wine would have been able to evoke red capsicum and ripe pink grapefruit in my nasal nerves and taste buds without the aforementioned prompts is another matter. (Probably not, which is why I maybe should have covered the label up beforehand.) Nevertheless, this SB was unabashedly Kiwi in character, full of pungent aromas and fresh, upfront exotic notes. It also showed some welcome complexity.

I would love to try another bottle one of these days - though purely for academic purposes, you understand.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012


One bitterly cold Saturday last February, we spent the afternoon in Maikammer tasting a variety of wines. The following Pinot Noir stood out in particular.

Weingut Dengler-Seyler, Spätburgunder "Tradition" 2008, Pfalz, Germany
Ruby in appearance with minty, dried herbal notes on the nose that eventually remind me of breakfast tea. Fresh basil scents also emerge. Some 24 hours later, I can smell strawberry fruit as well as a more earthy, "underground" personality - a bit like clay.
Fine, fresh strawberry on the palate with a sappy, almost limpid feel. Things become slightly creamier a day later. In truth, there is quite a lot of mouth-filling substance and complexity here, but the tannins and acidity are still youthful and vibrant.
There is a lot to like here, plus the lighter 2008 vintage maybe underscores more of this grape's elegant side.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Mandelberg revisited

Bought two bottles of this in early 2009. This first one was opened immediately, I gave the second another couple of years. Without looking back at my previous notes, here is my quick-fire verdict:

Weingut Bergdolt, Mandelberg GG 2008, Weißburgunder, Pfalz, Germany
Dried apricot, herbs and a lovely waxy scent reminiscent of honey. Some chalky minerality - smooth rather than pungent.
Medium-bodied on the palate, slightly bitter pear, hints of apricot. Lots of extract buzzing around the mouth, helping to conceal the alcohol pretty effectively. The acidity isn't pronounced but lends enough freshness for the wine to retain balance.

[After writing the above, I've now taken a look at my admittedly gushing notes of May 2010]
On balance, more fruit has emerged in this Pinot Blanc than was the case two years ago. Whether it is more enjoyable or complex is, however, debatable. Personally, I don't think so. It's just different.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Pretty in pink

Pink and purple seem to have been the most popular decorative colours at London's Olympic venues. Even the "Smurf turf" of the hockey arena has pink on the outside. With pink maybe engrained in our subconsciousness, we recently opened this bottle:

Weingut Kiefer, "Schmetterlinge im Bauch" Rosé feinherb 2011, Baden, Germany
As you can see, even the label has got in on the act. And I love the "butterflies in your tummy" name.

It's fitting, because this really is a slightly garish, purplish-pink sort of rosé. A rosé that's totally comfortable with its pinkness.

A lovely strawberry picnic sort of aroma on the nose, complete with water melons. Much of the same on the palate. Maybe the fruit is a little on the plastic bubblegummy side - lacking the debonair charm of, say, Pinot Noir blush. Yet this is a fun, happy-go-lucky wine and just the ticket for outdoor drinking. Its slightly off-dry personality lent very well to easy quaffing.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Looking towards the 18th, Sunday 22 July.
It's been an exciting couple of weeks - from a sporting perspective.

Firstly, it was the sporting event my home town had been waiting for in eager anticipation for several years: golf's most important major, The Open Championship. My wife and I were in attendance as spectators during all four rounds of golf. To be honest, our season tickets weren't that cheap, but they were worth it considering the fun we had watching Tiger, Rory and co. knock a little white ball around (and the fact that the Open may not return to Lytham St Annes for another 10 years or so).

And now it's the Olympics. I never thought I would say this, but watching an Olympiade take place in your home country is an emotional experience. Watching from afar, the opening ceremony just looked lovely. Very British and unabashedly so. People of other nationalities may not have understood everything, but who cares. The support all the Great Britain competitors are getting is also unbelievable. We didn't apply for tickets given work commitments and the logistics of coming over from Basel, but my in-laws were at the rowing yesterday and are due to attend some other events including the beach volleyball (father-in-law's idea, maybe?).

More of the usual blogging to follow if I can find time between the day job and following all the different sporting events.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

IPA, Basel style

Here's a beer for a change.

"Aypiey" is the German phonetic pronunciation of IPA. Based in white-collar "Grossbasel" (left bank of the Rhine), Unser Bier is one of two best-known breweries in the Swiss canton of Basel-Stadt. The other is Ueli Bier, a well-loved micro-brewery in blue-collar Kleinbasel (or "Glaibasel") on the right bank of the Rhine where we live.

IPA - or India Pale Ale - is a popular beer variation back home. This Swiss interpretation was very enjoyable. Nice amber colour. Quite complex on the nose with a citrus kick. Malt up front on the palate with touch of hoppy bitterness. Still refreshing despite the quite strong alcohol (6.5%).

The image on the bottle label is of Grossbasel's "Lällekonig" - a 15th century gargoyle of a king sticking his tongue out at the citizens of Kleinbasel. Anyone who walks past Restaurant Lällekonig which faces the Mittlere Brücke bridge on the Grossbasel side of the river will see a replica the Lällekönig gargoyle at the corner of the building. Apparently, the original still taunts onlookers at the local Historical Museum.

Saturday, 7 July 2012


Admit it, we're all suckers for rave reviews. Given the favourable score the following wine garnered in this year's Eichelmann, coupled with its price (under 7 euros), I was sure I had nothing to lose in ordering a few bottles. So far, it hasn't let me down.

Weingut Egon Schmitt, Dürkheimer Hochbenn Riesling trocken 2011, Pfalz, Germany
The nose is very much of the yellow-fruit variety and very attractive at that. There is an immediate and distinct likeness to mirabelle plums. A whole basket of them. Ripe apricot and some peach also make an appearance. Peachier on the palate with the obligatory citrus kick to keep things in shape. Yet what stands out are the chalky notes that act in lieu of any fruit. They make what is a dry-as-a-bone Riesling taste improbably juicy and fun - without any of the mango, papaya or multi-vitamin juice concentrate you might associate with a "fun" Riesling. And while it doesn't plunge the minerally depths, this is also a Riesling with complexity and style.

Friday, 6 July 2012


For me, this is the quintessential "summer wine".

Haltinger Winzer, Haltinger Stiege Gutedel trocken 2011, Baden, Germany
This description is based on memory, but writing notes while drinking such a wine would defeat the object.
For the price (EUR 3.99), the quality is nothing short of sensational. In short, it's all about pears, pears and more pears. Fresh and cleanly sliced. Refreshing and light, yet elegant and highly interesting, this wine deserves a wider audience. My parents took a couple of bottles home with them back to England after visiting us recently.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Spätlese trocken

For a moment back in the 1990s, before Germany's elite the VDP set about overhauling its internal classification system, "Spätlese trocken" unofficially stood for the crème de crème of dry German Riesling. Since the introduction of the Grosses Gewächs (GG) (i.e. grand cru) moniker, Spätlese trocken has taken somewhat of a back seat. There are probably several reasons for this, although I think one of the main ones is the term's prescriptive (and restrictive) meaning.

Theoretically, Spätlese trocken refers to wine from grapes of a certain ripeness (a minimum of 85 Oechsle in the Pfalz, Rheingau and Rheinhessen, for example) that are then fermented to dryness. As many of you will know, "Spätlese" means "late harvest". However, climate change means that late harvests as such aren't necessary these days to obtain Spätlese ripeness levels. Notwithstanding enlightened measures in the vineyard to obtain that much-sought-after "physiological ripeness" late into the autumn without overly high Oechsle levels, the use of super-ripe grapes is resulting in Spätlese trockens of 13.5% abv and higher. For people who like wallowing 1990s nostalgia, such wines are bordering more on "Auslese trocken" - the rare, erstwhile term for the dry version of one ripeness notch higher.

This, I think, is why Spätlese trocken has become rather meaningless. In view of this and the fact that ripeness levels aren't the be-all and end-all anyway, lots of wine-growers scrap the term altogether and simply label all their dry Rieslings as Qualitätswein.

For dry Riesling, the Spätlese moniker may be losing its relevance. But not quite. Not while Spätlese trocken throwbacks to yesteryear (ripe but with reasonably modest alcohol) can still be found. I hereby present to you exhibits A and B in the case for good old Spätlese trocken.

Weingut Zimmermann, Wachenheimer Fuchsmantel, Riesling Spätlese trocken 2010, Pfalz, Germany
Yellow straw in appearance with blackcurrant, pineapple and candied citrus on the nose. The scent almost verges on malty, but not quite. Some 24 hours later, the aromas take on a beeswax-y nuance. Keen acidity but balanced on the palate thanks to substance and body that lend a buffer to what is prominently citrus fruit. This wine feels more succulent and appealing a day later, while the finish is none too shabby either.

What stands out are the wine's firm body and keen flavours. The textbook 12.5% alcohol is barely noticeable.

Now, I covered the following wine nearly two years ago. Let's see how it's developed...

Weingut Kranz, Kalmit Riesling Spätlese trocken, 2008, Pfalz, Germany
Thanks to much lobbying by Boris Kranz, the "Ilbesheimer Kalmit" site from where this wine was sourced is now a legally recognised vineyard name in its own right.

The alcohol level is again a relatively modest 12.5%. Golden straw in colour. The initial smell is slightly oxidised and akin to wet cardboard. I immediately fear the worst. But then, all of a sudden, the dud notes disappear leaving something much cleaner. Firstly, I think I can smell aromas of dill and cucumber. Then creamy peaches emerge. This wine has definitely aged during its two-year spell in our basement and does need some "recovery time" after opening to reveal all its secrets. What it eventually shows is an improbable peach-driven succulence, with the acidity well rounded inside a layer of sweet fruit.

Whether the wine is better or worse than two years ago, I'm not sure. Nonetheless, it's still cracking Riesling.

Thursday, 7 June 2012


"H" for Horcher.
Another cuvée to present to you today.

Having bought the Eichelmann this year instead of the Gault Millau, I've managed to gain a slightly different perspective of how the land is lying. Thanks to the Eichelmann's democratic alphabetical layout, I've also "discovered" a few new names I may have otherwise passed over when reading the Gault Millau.

It was in the Eichelmann that I recently chanced upon the name of Horcher. Based in Kallstadt in the Pfalz, they aren't mentioned in the Gault Millau guide at all (the same applies to one or two other wineries). Then again, the Eichelmann doesn't mention Ziereisen either.

Weingut Horcher, Cuvée CM 2008 trocken, Pfalz, Germany
The "C" stands for Cabernet Sauvignon, the "M" for Merlot.

Quite understatedly ruby coloured. Subtle vanilla and lead pencil shavings. Red fruit on the nose but also on the softly-softly side. I'm glad I bought six bottles of this, as it sold out not long after ordering. Elegant, cool fruit on the palate, almost Pinot-like. The finish is long.

The qualities of 2008 as a red wine vintage come to the fore here, in that the delicate, almost watery fruit shines through and that nothing feels overblown.

Paradoxically, this wine still carries a little more substance than my previous offering "Red Moon". Despite its freshness and elegance, it is more a wine to enjoy in small sips, leaving you more satiated than you would expect. But that is not a criticism as such, because Cuvée CM is a surprisingly brilliant wine.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Red Moon

"Football, bloody hell..."
For Manchester United, it was a cruel, teasing way way to lose this season's Premier League. However, Manchester's other club did ultimately deserve to finish ahead of United. I can also understand the emotional reaction to winning the title for the first time since 1968 among City fans. Despite the rivalry between United and City, I don't begrudge someone like Barry Fowden who has experienced the life-long rollercoaster ride of being a City fan. I thought his experience of the events of Sunday 13 May on his blog was quite poignant.

But enough of that.

City fans like singing something called "Blue Moon". This was meant to be my retort after City fell at the final hurdle. Alas, it was not to be. There's always next season.

Weingut Erich Stachel, Red Moon trocken 2009, Pfalz, Germany
I recently left a comment on The Wine Rambler about the value for money that red blends (or cuvées, if you prefer) offer right now in Germany. In hindsight, maybe I expressed myself a little too much in "black and white" terms, but it was more the sentiment I was trying to get across.

As a blend of Pinot Noir, St. Laurent and Cabernet Sauvignon, Erich Stachel's particular specimen fits the bill in that it manages to offer unadulterated fruit without losing any elegance. While notable exceptions abound (and "Red Moon" is one of them), the danger - in my view - in blending international varietals of the Merlot/Cabernet ilk with those closer to home is that it can sometimes result in a "rough and ready" personality that's neither here nor there.

Red Moon shows both red and black berry fruit. It is very polished, but not too polished. It is very approachable. It is very Pfalz. And, above all, it is extremely balanced. It doesn't overdo it on the alcohol front either, leaving you more than inclined to keep pouring and pouring. The Pinot - I would hazard a guess - lends the elegance, the St. Laurent provides the red-fruited sappiness while the Cabernet dots the i's and crosses the t's in terms of substance.

Sir Alex Ferguson is a bit of a red wine connoisseur himself. I'm sure he'd like Red Moon.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Lagrein from Bad Dürkheim

Over a year ago, I attended the annual Pfalz wine fair in Bad Dürkheim. One of the wines I tasted there - Weingut Egon Schmitt's Lagrein trocken 2008 - made a lasting impression. It was quite unlike all the other red wines on account of its mouthwateringly refreshing, stiff spine of acidity. Based on this first-hand experience, I recently bought six bottles of the 2009 vintage.

Lagrein is the red grape of choice in the Südtirol (Alto Adige) region of Italy. It's only relatively recently that a few wineries in Germany have started experimenting with it. Weingut Schmitt's Lagrein vines were planted in 2004 in the Dürkheimer Nonnengarten vineyard on alluvial gravel soils not too disimilar to those found in the variety's home region.

Weingut Egon Schmitt, Lagrein trocken 2009, Pfalz, Germany
Further proof that no two vintages are ever the same. Whereas 2008 was redder, 2009 is a brooding mass of darkness that needs air and, above all, time. Given that the winery itself says that the optimum drinking window for this wine begins from around 2014, my intention was to open one bottle now and lay the other five down. This still seems the best course of (in)action.

Quite opaque garnet red with slightly purplish edges. The nose is unresponsive on the first night. It takes around 24 hours to develop into something defineable, i.e. red fruit, cherries and something reminiscent of chocolate. Tightly woven tannins are what characterises the palate - not of the strigent, abrasive variety, but there is an obvious imperviousness that bears testimony to the wine's relative youth. Full-bodied with some initial suggestions of dark berry fruit. The fruity side of this wine should come the fore once the tannins start mellowing.

This wine has plenty of potential, so I'll certainly give it another couple of years. That said, it offers plenty of enjoyment and character even in its current shy state.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Something for the Swiss

It's easy to see why Josef Michel's wines would be a perfect fit for the Swiss market. Put simply, they offer quality at insanely low prices. In Switzerland, nearly all things (including wine) cost more than they would in the eurozone. Even discounted wines sold on promotion are usually still a bit pricier. However, take a winery such as Michel's that doesn't charge more than 15 euros for any bottle of its best Pinots Gris and Blancs, and you know you're on to a winner.

Michel's reds aren't too shabby either. Currently, the barrel-aged 2009 vintage from the Achkarrer Schlossberg vineyard (one of Herr Michel's top two Pinot Noirs) is retailing for just less than CHF 20 at a well-known Swiss supermarket. Somehow, I think the supermarket's wine buyer got his pricing wrong, because the same wine also costs just under 20 euro in Germany. (At present, EUR 1 equals around CHF 1.20.) Not that many people seem to have noticed - every time I peruse the supermarket's wine section, the same few bottles peer forlornly down at me. A rogue bottle from the 2007 vintage also seemed to have found its way in there. It had been standing there for months begging me to rescue it. I did the decent thing and obliged last week.

Weingut Michel, Achkarrer Schlossberg Spätburgunder *** trocken 2007, Baden, Germany
Dark ruby red. A potent yet elegant whiff of dark cherry, mint, liquorice and cream on the nose. The oak seems well integrated, and the same is true on an approachable, textured palate. Going against conventional wisdom, the last few years of "supermarket-ageing" have probably done this wine some good. Everything is holding well - there is considerable stuffing but this is countered by juicy acidity and soft tannins that lend complexity and provide a longish finish.

To conclude, this is a classy wine that inadvertently achieves that wondrous thing of costing less in Switzerland than it did in Germany.