Tuesday, 31 January 2012

A schooling in Pinot

Jenny and I much enjoyed the following wine at the Ziereisens' pre-Christmas do, so we promptly bought two bottles of it before leaving. Because I acquired another bottle last week from a different source, I thought it wouldn't hurt to crack one open at this relatively early stage in its development.

Weingut Ziereisen, Blauer Spätburgunder "Schulen" 2008, Baden, Germany
A minty, herbally nose with quite a whiff of wet wood. I use "wood" as a descriptor (instead of "oak") deliberately, because this was a well integrated component. Less the smell of a carpenter's (that I would tend not to appreciate anyway), and more that of a damp forest. Lovely tart freshness on the palate, with black cherry and smooth tannins. A dense but light wine, if you get my meaning. With a pleasingly old-school 12% alcohol.

Personally, I thought opening a bottle now wouldn't hurt based on tasting the 2002 vintage of the same wine while we were visiting. There is a school of thought that would argue that 10 years' ageing would have improved such a wine. And indeed, the more mature notes of the 2002 Schulen offered plenty of interest. However, it wasn't half as exciting as 2008 in our view.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Riesling, Pinot & Co.

Organised by the German Wine Institute, "Riesling, Pinot & Co." is an international wine roadshow of sorts for German wine. Last Monday saw the 2012 season kick off in Zurich. Other venues this coming year will include Helsinki, Copenhagen, San Francisco, New York, Amsterdam and Brussels.

I took the train across to Zurich to be there at the Konzerthaus, and there was an interesting cross-section of producers awaiting me. Apart from a sprinkling of VDP producers showcasing their wines at the Konzerthaus, the focus also seemed to be on covering as colourful an array of quality regardless of affiliation. Hence, we had VDP stalwarts such as Mosbacher, von Kesselstadt and Künstler rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Südpfalz Connexion (Messrs Kranz, Siener, Leiner, Scheu and Gies), Weingut Johner, Winzerhof Thörle (whose Pinot Noir came third in that recent London taste-off) and my local favourite Weingut Claus Schneider.

As is normal at such events, I only got round to tasting half as much as I wanted to. I should be more efficient and ruthless, although the opportunity to talk to the vintners in question tends to outweigh other considerations.

Nevertheless, I was especially glad to taste something from the former East Germany for the first ever time, courtesy of Schloss Proschwitz near Dresden. They had a Weissburgunder, a Frühburgunder and a Spätburgunder on show. I liked all three.

I devoted some time to the Mosel, namely [sharp intake of breath] Weingut Witwe Dr. H. Thanisch, Erben Müller-Burggraef. This reminded me that I need to drink more wines from the Mosel and, specifically, traditional Kabinetts and Spätleses with residual sugar.

My experience of Rheinhessen is still relatively limited, but I enjoyed what I tasted. Weingut Riffel was a worthwhile discovery. Erik Riffel comes across as extremely passionate about his wines and the vineyards in which they are grown. His top Riesling, "Turm", was fascinating to smell and taste - imbued with an unusual kick in the nose and the taste of stone (quarzite, apparently) on the palate. Unfortunately, Winzerhof Thörle and Weingut Seehof, Fauth were somewhat of a rush job at the very end of the evening. Of the former, I tried notably the same Spätburgunder from the Saulheimer Hölle vineyard that earned plaudits in London, albeit this one was from the next vintage (2009). The wine seemed very polished but rather too young at this stage. Of Florian Flauth from the latter winery, I noted that he looks a little bit like Chris Martin from Coldplay.

These two aforementioned final stops on my tour were such a rush because of the time I spent at the stands of the following:

Aside from his wines, Patrick Johner from the eponymous Weingut Johner in Baden is also noted for his blog. Although I'd never met the man before, his was consequently a face I already recognised. To be honest, I sometimes feel a bit of a fraud in the company of fellow (wine) bloggers - especially ones who know more than just a bit about wine, as Patrick Johner undoubtedly does. I was therefore in two minds about mentioning my blog to him. In the event, I did. His response was to pour a 2006 Chardonnay for me that wasn't on the official list and ask what I thought it smelt of. "It's a bit a buttery and bread-like" was my answer. That wasn't quite what Herr Johner had in mind: he said it reminded him of chicken broth! Moving swiftly on (in all senses of the meaning), I was particular taken by the young 2011 version of his Weissburgunder/Chardonnay blend. This is an early bottling that shows more overt fruit than the main version that will be bottled in March. Having rested on its lees longer, the latter will be more of a wine for laying down. Despite having been filled very recently, bottling no. 1 is very drinkable. More a wine for instant enjoyment than for philosophising.

I also made a bee line for the Südpfalz Connexion - first Kranz, then Siener, then Scheu (I had to forgo the other two unfortunately). Among other things, it was interesting to compare the Spätburgunders from Boris Kranz and Peter Siener. Kranz's style is very much based on freshness with crunchy dry tannins, while Siener's Pinot Noir is smoother and silkier. I would say the latter interpretation is probably more approachable in youth, but the former will likely come into its own a few years further down the line.

There was an interesting exchange I had with Klaus Scheu regarding vineyard names. He is not permitted to use his old vineyard parcel names Raedling and Strohlenberg on his labels; only those vineyards officially registered in the now infamous German wine law of 1971 are allowed. In his village of Schweigen, Sonnenberg is the one recognised vineyard. No other names can be written out - which is why Scheu renders Raedling and Strohlenberg on his labels as R**DL**G and ST**B**G (excuse my French). Although such names are genuine relics from days of old, when many a lieu-dit within a specific vineyard was demarcated, designated, valued and taxed accordingly, German law is - if you'll excuse the tautology - a rigid beast. It doesn't help either that these two particular sites are actually situated just over the border in France.

Other notable ports of call included Benzinger, Kiefer and Schneider:

I enjoyed tasting Benzinger's Rieslings and red wines, including a Dornfelder that was incredibly smooth and un-Dornfelder-like. A couple of their wines have already been subject of closer examination in this blog. One got the thumbs up, the other sort of did despite the slight caveat I inserted.

Weingut Kiefer's hospitality may be vaguely familiar to the more regular readers of this blog, but their wines are also very decent, with one particular Spätburgunder ("Dreistern" 2007) and a Scheurebe sweety lingering in my memory of what I tasted that evening.

An enjoyable chat with Susanne Scheider of Weingut Schneider in Weil, the town I lived in from 2000 to 2009, was what really caused me to lose track of time at the end of the evening. Not that I was complaining. During my stay in Weil, I'd never really conversed at length with either Frau or Herr Schneider, so it was good to put that right. Susanne served me a wine that wasn't on the official line-up: their top-of-the range, barrel-aged 2009 Pinot Noir, a very youthful wine that will need lots of time - precisely something that I lacked last Monday.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Arachnophobes look away now

Something non-wine-related today.

My brother-in-law and his wife visited us with their seven-month-old son last weekend. Quite an undertaking for them given the round-the-clock attention Baby Harry demands. We had a lovely time and everything passed off smoothly. Apart from simply chilling out, we went to the Fondation Beyeler in nearby Riehen (the village in which Roger and Mirka Federer got married) to see the "Surrealism in Paris" exhibition that runs until the end of this month. I'm not really the arty type, but surrealism has always fascinated me.

And almost just as intriguing as the paintings and sculptures indoors was the giant arachnid outside in the museum gardens.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Weilberg 2006

I don't have many GGs in stock chez Jones, but the ones I do are nearly all from Weingut Pfeffingen. I have two bottles left of the 2005 version, and that is developing nicely and probably near or at its zenith. Pfeffingen gave me the chance to pre-order six bottles of the 2006 vintage when it was released. Despite the questionable vintage, I jumped at the chance. The bottle pictured here is now the fourth of the six I bought back then.

Weingut Pfeffingen, Weilberg GG 2006, Riesling trocken, Pfalz, Germany
Yes, the 2006 vintage was a bit of disaster in the Pfalz - rotting set in early, strict selection was necessary, etc. etc. However, I don't have many quibbles with this wine.

Vinified in stainless steel, so a totally different style to the Knipser. Yet this is thick, viscous gloop in comparison. Super ripe in keeping with the hothouse weather we all saw at the World Cup that year. This has a bright yellow-straw hue and is initially all herbal, piquant and honeyed lemon on the nose. Then quince and apricot take over.

Sweet fruit of the aforementioned varieties on the palate, with other exotic notes. There is something there that reminds me of multi-vitamin juice. Super ripe with great density and substance; this envelops everything including the 13.5% alcohol. There are maybe some malty hints, but they lend a rich, earthy character. As I say, it's quite a thick juice with lots of succulence. The acidity is also quite rounded. But despite its weight, this wine is still very balanced. The finish is lovely and long.

Dud vintage or not, I won't be opening the final two bottles of this in a hurry. I think it could even do with a year or two extra cellaring to shed some of its adolescent puppy fat and gain more profile.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Riesling Réserve

Some things need time. Wine especially so.

In a market such as Germany that wants its GG (grand cru) white wines of a given vintage ready for sale by September of the following year, it's reassuring that there are still some growers out there who hold back in releasing specific wines for a number of years. Obviously, economic considerations mean that not every producer has the luxury of being able to sit on his or her stock interminably. After all, private customers, merchants, restaurants etc. all need supplying.

Being such a successful all-round operation, Knipser Winery from the Pfalz can probably afford to wait longer than most.

Weingut Knipser, "Halbstück Réserve" Riesling Spätlese trocken 2004, Pfalz, Germany
This wine was released for sale in September 2010 after five years of bottle ageing. It was vinified in a traditional Pfälzer 600-litre wooden vat called a "Halbstück". According to the Knipsers, the Riesling grapes used for the wine were selected from old vines in some of their choice vineyard blocks. The result is something quite unlike most Rieslings.

Shimmering gold in appearance, the wine showed an intially oxidised whiff which gradually dissipated to unveil something seriously complex and forceful underneath. During the first hour or so after opening, mature notes from the Halbstück dominated. These felt slightly diffuse and blowsy at first, but then precise ripe citrus fruit took hold - mostly lime - as well as blossom. A day later, banana and pineapple notes emerged. These components were translated almost like-for-like onto the palate. Surprisingly light in alcohol considering the voluminous mouthfeel. The fruit had slowly retreated again 48 hours later, making way for yeasty, multi-layered flavours almost remininscent of dry sherry. Acidity was ever-present, underscoring an elegant, mouthwateringly long finish.

Given its vitality and firm, sinewy, almost "athletic" personality, this is a wine that shows no sign of flagging. Despite drinking excellently now, it might improve even more over the coming decade. I could probably cellar it for 20 years if I had the patience.

The ageing afforded this wine - firstly in the Halbstück, then in the bottle - is what sets it apart from most of its peers, I would say. This is a Riesling built for the duration yet - and this is the good news - one that offers unadulterated drinking enjoyment even now.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Keller's Müller-Thurgau

Müller-Thurgau has a bad name for itself. Which is why its swish modern synonym "Rivaner" was rolled out some time at the turn of the century. The cunning Swiss were on to a winner from the offset, calling it "Riesling x Sylvaner" [sic].

It appears, though, that the best German examples of said grape continue to go by the good old "M-T" moniker.

Weingut Franz Keller, Oberbergener Bassgeige, Müller-Thurgau, 2010, Baden, Germany
There is no mention of trocken on the label, just 2.5 g/l of RS and 12% abv. Dry by nature then, if not by name.

Clear, grey straw in appearance with some miniscule bubbles that cling to the top of the liquid. On the nose, freshly cut chives and some minerally notes, dare I say. Very refreshing on entry and very dry - again with subtle hints of something green and freshly cut. Every so slightly caramelly on the finish according to my moderately trained palate. The overall impression is freshness, but with a level of seriousness I've barely encountered in a Müller-Thurgau. Not too dissimilar in character to a Weissburgunder for the same price. According to the winery, this wine is the perfect accompaniment to oysters.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Power of three

If you'd caught up with this blog since Christmas, you will have gathered that I'd finally opened that Zind-Humbrecht grand cru bottle I'd mentioned previously. Well, how was it?

In one word: immense.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Grand Cru Rangen de Thann, Clos Saint Urbain, Pinot Gris 2005, Alsace, France
Amber gold with a laser-like glow. Initially a slightly oxidative nose - reminding me of how I'd originally mistaken the first bottle I'd owned as having a taint of some sort. In hindsight, I probably would still have come to the same conclusion had the good people at the local wine merchants in Basel not put me to rights. Yet the whiff gradually dissipates this time, and complex aromas unfold. I detect some red berry fruit and plenty of Eastern spice. Chalky layers also emerge.

The palate is rich and opulent. As you may be able to make out in the photo, Olivier Humbrecht denoted this wine as being "Indice 3", i.e. 3 on a sweetness scale from 1 to 5. The resultant lusciousness is obvious. Spices are again prevalent, as are dried prunes and almonds - almost evoking the Christmas pudding that followed our traditional Christmas turkey with all the trimmings. The level of viscosity is relatively high. So is the alcohol, albeit as inconspicuously as 15% abv will ever taste.

Everything is ramped up to the power of three. Complexity and precision countered by a colossal mouthfeel. The finish is extremely long. This is a thrilling (and filling) wine. Almost a meal in itself. Frankly, I'm underqualified to answer to question of whether it's a great wine. That's for others to decide.

But I can say that it's the dream accompaniment to the traditional British Christmas menu.


Short notes on a pretty decent local Pinot Noir, from a producer who, until now, has barely registered on the radar beyond Baden.

Weingut Heinemann, Spätburgunder Alte Reben 2009, Baden, Germany
A fragrant nose of cherry, spice, sweet oak, mint and herbs. Cherry vanilla on the palate. Powerful and woody, but well integrated on the whole with a refreshing kick of acidity. Purchased for around 8 or 9 euros, I think. Providing plenty of enjoyment for that price.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Schloss Lieser

A Happy New Year to everyone.

To kick off 2012, here's a wine I opened just before Christmas.

Schloss Lieser, Riesling trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany
Continuing the 2010 basic estate Riesling theme, I picked up this wine solely on the strength of the producer's reputation. The surname Haag is quite a fixture when it comes to Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr and the like. After learning his trade at his parents' estate, Thomas Haag became winemaker at Schloss Lieser in 1992 - a winery that had once enjoyed world renown but had slipped far down the pecking order from the 1970s or so after it had changed hands numerous times. In 1997, Herr Haag and his wife were able to purchase the estate themselves. Since then, Schloss Lieser has gone from strength to strength.

That's enough background, now to the wine.

The aromas unfold within a matter of minutes on the nose. Fairly expressive with distinct pineapple coupled with wet stone. Quite lively and appetising. This translates into lemon sorbet on the palate with pineapple again. Although the wine is dry, there is a generous succulence in the mouth. Two days later, the fruit has disappeared, leaving predominantly stone and vegetal notes. The wine remains refreshing and elegant throughout, offering a lot of interest for 8 euros (purchased at a wine shop in Freiburg).