Saturday, 31 March 2012

Kendal Mint Cake

Another one from Stachel now, whose wines I have touched upon recently.

Weingut Erich Stachel, Riesling trocken "Alte Reben" 2009, Pfalz, Germany
Inconspicuous pale straw in appearance, but the nose is more expressive. The aromas remind me of minerals, lime, herbs (rosemary), grapefruit and - I know this will sound quite random - Kendal Mint Cake. I'm sure that Erich Stachel, a keen mountaineer, would appreciate Kendal Mint Cake. All these components are quite fleeting and change with each sniff.

On the palate, refreshing ripe acidity is balanced out by minerally notes. After a day, some slightly exotic fruit notes emerge, but, on the whole, the fruit influence is minimal. The finish is of medium length.

This wine has a pure, unadulterated personality. While not earth-shatteringly complex, it does thrive on its non-fruit notes and mouthfeel, and offers plenty of interest. The vines, Herr Stachel told me, really are quite old. You can imagine their roots digging deep into the ground for the myriad nutrients that give this Riesling a certain depth of character that, in conclusion, is probably more evident on the nose than on the palate.

Friday, 30 March 2012


I once flew back into Basel one afternoon in May and looked out of the window shortly before landing. We had just crossed over the Vosges mountains when, looking up north along the Rhine to Freiburg, I could see the plain dotted with lots of white patches. Most of these patches were on the other side of the river in Germany. "Ah, asparagus!" I thought. The white patches were countless fields covered in tarpaulin - the key to producing white asparagus. The Germans love their "Spargel" (pronounced "shpar-gel" with a hard "g") - and Silvaner, they say, is the wine that suits Spargel to a tee.

That perfect annual marriage between wine and vegetable will have to wait a week or so. In the meanwhile, I've been able to console myself with the following, which went just as well on its own:

Weingut Sander, Mettenheimer Schlossberg, Silvaner trocken "Alte Rebe", 2009, Rheinhessen, Germany
A bread-like whiff on the nose. Burnt brioche. In fact, it reminds me of something just ignited. There is also something faintly vegetal. Imagine you put a match to some brioche and some parsnips, for example - and then ignited them. Quite pungent. The vegetable-like aromas are also akin to pulses, i.e. beans of whatever shape or form.

Vegetables persist on the palate, with no fruit to speak of. Bready again and fairly complex with a pleasant bitter note on the finish. Bone dry. On the second day, some fruit does emerge (pear) - with a hint of opulence and sweetness. Throughout, however, there is a welcome lightness (or coolness) to this wine.

Silvaner is relatively unchartered territory for me. I've tried precious little of the stuff, if truth be told. Spontaneously, it reminds me of Chablis - or at least one I drank last year, to be precise. In relation to other wines, I would place it (taste-wise) somewhere inbetween a good Swiss Chasselas (Gutedel) and a Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc).

There will be a couple more Silvaners to follow over the next couple of weeks or so.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Random Wegeler

The "renowned" winery from the Mosel I referred to in my last post is in fact responsible for the following wine. However, that's where any link with the previous post ends, as this bottle was obtained by pure chance as a bin-end in a local Basel eatery.

It cost CHF 10, which is equivalent to around EUR 8.30. In Swiss terms, that's a bargain.

Weingut Wegeler, Riesling feinherb 2008, Mosel, Germany
Almost effervescent in appearance, but settling down after a few moments. Appley with satsuma hints. Mouthwatering and light on the palate. Certainly a wine for sipping outside on the patio, verandah, balcony, in the garden or - if you have none of these luxuries - with the window open. In any event, you need some of that lovely mild air on a sunny spring afternoon to enhance the experience.
The wine is like biting into a luscious Granny Smith. My one quibble is that it maybe lacks some precision. Yet it has perfect balance, so you can't say fairer than that.

My dear wife, for her part, also asked me to make a mental note along the lines of "this wine is yummy".

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Currying favour

Curries are a tough proposition when it comes to wine. The heat tends to overpower everything. Beer is normally my tipple of choice when faced with a chicken madras.

According to conventional thinking, a wine must be imbued with a certain degree of sweetness to combat the inherent spiciness of the dish. Funnily enough, I recently watched a short feature on German television on how well Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese copes with even the most searingly spicy food. They filmed a couple of human guinea pigs at a renowned Mosel winery trying a variety of hot and spicy delights and then proceeding to wash these morsels down with the aforementioned dessert wine. Apparently, the sticky liquid mastered everything put its way - even the wasabi. Fantastic. But you see the snag, don't you? Cracking open a Trockenbeerenauslese every time you have a curry isn't the most cost-effective option for most people, to put it (chicken korma) mildly.

The alternative is to resort to Gewürztraminer.

"Gewürz" is German for spice. The following specimen was inherited from some friends who, as previously noted in this blog, left for a sojourn in the US last autumn:

Domaine Halbeisen, Gewurztraminer "Vieilles Vignes" 2009, Alsace, France
Being from Alsace, it's Gewurztraminer without the umlaut, thank you very much.

Spice, cloves and roses on the nose. A bit of heat from the alcohol, too. Creamy and succulent in the mouth but rather simple in taste. This wine is also quite sweet despite its relatively whopping 13.5% alcohol. Certainly with scant acidic backbone, it becomes hard work after a while, making me feel quite full even after just one glass.

Poor old Gewürz - you either love it or hate it.

However, this one's saving grace is it's suitability with curry. My better half made a vegetarian version with cashew nuts, fresh spinach and raisins to accompany it: not overly spiced but hot enough to repel most wines.

Yet this particular wine coped admirably.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Spring has sprung in Basel.

After the freezing temperatures of a month ago, it's almost as if Mother Nature has flicked the proverbial switch. The sun is shining and the temperature today is set to peak at 22C. This, at least, is food for the soul in light of a wild driving spree in Basel this week that claimed one victim and injured people, two of whom seriously. Yesterday, I learnt that the victim who died was a former colleague of mine. May she rest in peace.

Saturday, 3 March 2012


Popped into a restaurant in Basel's business district near Aeschenplatz with my dearest on Wednesday evening for a bite to eat before spending a final couple of hours experiencing the sights and sounds of this year's carnival.

Basler Fasnacht begins at 4 a.m. on the Monday after Ash Wednesday and ends 72 hours later at 4 p.m. on the Thursday. Fasnacht doesn't have much in common with carnival in its various shapes and forms throughout neighbouring Germany (such as "Karneval" in Cologne, "Fasching" in Munich, "Fasnet" in Freiburg or "Fastnacht" in Mainz). One of the key differences is that, if you are just a spectator, you do not under any circumstances dress up in party attire. Doing so is an absolute no-no. At no other carnival in the world is there such a clear delineation between participants on the one hand and spectators on the other. Never shall the twain meet.

Participants all wear masks without exception, creating a unique, magical atmosphere that is both celebratory and solemn (or light-hearted and serious) at once. It's really hard to describe unless you've seen it for yourself, but Venice's equivalent carnival probably comes closest to it by all accounts. Even having witnessed Fasnacht 12 times now, I never tire of it.

Anyway, this eatery we visited specialises in "fast-casual" food with an Italian twist. Among other things, it has a decent selection of wines that you can order at the bar. Upon leaving the place, we discovered that their unwanted bin-ends were being flogged at massively reduced prices. Hence, I was able to acquire a bottle of the following wine for a ridiculous CHF 5.

3 Winzer, "Wingert" Riesling trocken, 2008, Rheinhessen, Germany
This is a joint venture between three well-known vintners from Rheinhessen: Jochen Dreissigacker, Stefan Winter and Philipp Wittmann. Based on my research, the 2010 version retails at just under EUR 9.

Inticingly clear, pungent fruit nose of grapefruit, peach and red apple. The palate does not disappoint, showing a good balance of succulent fruit and acidity. Pleasantly pithy with grapefruit again as well as peaches. The slightly citric bitterness reins in any overt sweetness and helps whet the taste buds. An enjoyable dry Riesling that, I suspect, much of the restaurant's Swiss clientele would have passed over due to its country of origin. Too bad for them.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Pfalz Pinot

Erich Stachel was quite clear when he said to us that he thought Spätburgunder from the Pfalz was superior to Spätburgunder from Baden. Quite a confident statement to make, and maybe one tinged with just a little bias, I thought. Nevertheless, you couldn't argue with his wines. This, his top Pinot, cost EUR 18, but it was still fairly priced in my opinion.

Picture taken long after consumption, hence the dry cork.

Weingut Erich Stachel, Spätburgunder
Heiligenberg 2007, Pfalz, Germany
Dark ruby with a brownish hue. Cedary spice aromas with a hint of raspberry. On the second day, this evolved into dark cherries and chocolate. Quite assertive with layers of spicy complexity - in a masculine fashion as opposed to a perfumy scent. Dense and tense on the palate. Packed with flavour and ending with a few pleasantly bitter hints on the finish. After 24 hours, the various elements had bedded together more. Imbued with plenty of muscle but with a fresh vein of acidity throughout.

Unsurprisingly, this wine has plenty of legs for the next few years but is drinking well now. If this is representative of Pfalz Pinot at this price level, I could be on to a good thing here.

Thursday, 1 March 2012


Given its good density of better-than-average wineries, its relatively compact size and easy proximity to a connecting train station, the village of Maikammer seemed as good a venue as any for our little wine-tasting tour to see whether we could help our friends identify some choice wines for their wedding (see last post).

Our first port of call was Weingut Stachel, a traditional yet modern family-run winery. It would probably be fair to say that red wine is their speciality, yet we liked virtually all the wines we tasted - red and white. Erich Stachel himself greeted us as we arrived. Apart from pouring us wine, he happily chinwagged with us about this and that: from extolling the virtues of his hard-working Polish harvest workers, to lamenting the Greek economy, or reminiscing about the south of England. Once he had poured the wines, Herr Stachel also invited us down into the cellar where his son Matthias was hard at work cleaning one of the stainless steel vats from the inside. Having once cleaned a wooden vat from the inside myself, I can assure you that this is no job for claustrophobes.

The Stachels, father and son. Note the head lamp worn by Matthias Stachel - essential headwear for anyone diving head-first into the pitch blackness of a wine vat.

In short, we had a great time chez Stachel. We made sure we bought a few bottles before leaving, because the quality on offer was impressive. My favourite was the top Spätburgunder Heiligenberg from 2007, but other highlights included the Riesling Alte Reben, the smooth Cabernet Sauvignon and the peppery Syrah.

Next stop was Weingut Faubel. Visiting as we did on the second weekend in February, with the new vintage yet to be bottled, the number of white wines on offer was severely limited at this particular winery. This, I suspect, was also a result of their relatively small harvest in 2010. As I'd heard and read good things about Faubel, this was a disappointment. Nevertheless, I bought a decent bottle of a Riesling from 2009 that was still on sale.

Following a hearty lunch at the Golden Ox, we walked down the road to Immengarten Hof. It was here that we appreciated the positive effect a spacious, modern vinotheque with a relaxed ambience can have. Unfortunately, this particularly winery lacks such a conducive setting. Despite the patience and friendliness of our host, it was hard to muster much enthusiasm for wine-tasting in the small, creaky, almost "dining-room-like" room in which we sat. In mitigation, the freezing temperatures outside (around -10C) probably didn't help matters either. Secondly, the same issue reared its head again regarding a lack of white wine. The few whites we did taste were exclusively of basic Gutswein quality. We joked with our friends that they should have scheduled their wedding differently... Thankfully, things looked better on the red front, with the two interestingly named blends, "Fourplay" and "Cupido", standing out.

Our fourth and final winery visit was at Dengler-Seyler. We were the last visitors to their very swish tasting room that afternoon. Winemaker Matthias Seyler was therefore able to pay us a lot of attention, which we very much appreciated. I wouldn't say we "saved the best till last" in view of the great time we'd also had at Stachel. Nevertheless, all the wines we tried at Dengler Seyler were immaculate and impressive without exception, from Riesling and Weissburgunder through to Spätburgunder. It was obvious that Herr Seyler is someone with a deep love of his profession and the natural environment in which he works. Among other things, he explained how he and his counterparts from other wine estates visit Burgundy once a year to select barrels for their cellars and how much he respects the work of local coopers who provide him with the hand-crafted products he requires.

In terms of red wine, Herr Seyler's top Spätburgunder "R" from 2009 impressed me greatly. However, I thought the "lesser" 2008 Spätburgunder "Tradition" stole the show on account of its elegance, balance and drinkability. The whites were on the same quality plane, if not higher. We tried two of the three top Rieslings, Heiligenberg and Heidenstock, and were able to identify the clear differences characterising these two different lieux-dits. The second-level Riesling, DerDenglerSeyler, is a blend of these, the winery's top three vineyard blocks (the third site being Schlangengässel), all of which are situated in Heiligenberg - the name of the vineyard as a whole. One other Riesling worth mentioning was the 2010 Riesling Kabinett - a wine without any designation as to its level of sweetness. However, it was off-dry on the palate - and quite electifying at that. We bought two bottles respectively of that, the Riesling Heiligenberg and the Spätburgunder Tradition.

In conclusion, Stachel and Dengler-Seyler are two wineries firmly on my radar now. I think our two friends also feel the same way. What wines they choose for their wedding - this, after all, was the objective of our a little jaunt in the first place - remains to be seen, but it was pleasure to make acquaintance with some exciting wines.

Barrels at Weingut Stachel