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.

Saturday, 28 April 2012


This is more like it. And it's pungent.

Weingut Gysler, Silvaner "S" trocken 2009, Rheinhessen, Germany
This comes from red soils in western Rheinhessen, where Alexander Gysler practices biodynamic winegrowing. The Gyslers' descendents incidentally came from Switzerland, spent some time in Markgräflerland before settling in Rheinhessen.

Vivid straw-yellow with a greenish-gold hint. When I say pungent, it really is. Cabbage all the way, but not of the rotten or sauerkraut variety. Cabbage might not sound that appetising a characteristic in a serious wine such as this, but it's the most accurate descriptor I can provide. Medium-bodied, juicily succulent and slightly creamy on a palate showing the ubiquitous cabbage plus hints of pear. Blistering in the mouth - and I mean that in a good way. Slightly caramelly on an otherwise wonderfully sappy finish. A wine with lots of character. What I like about it most is its sheer drinkability.

A Silvaner that rocks my boat.

Friday, 20 April 2012


This particular Silvaner didn't really rock my boat.

Weingut Hahnmühle, Silvaner "Gäseritsch" Spätlese trocken 2009, Nahe, Germany
I mean, I really wanted it to rock my boat, but it was not to be. Pear all round - both on the nose and the palate. Clean, crisp and dry. This wine has been praised to the high heavens elsewhere, and I'm not about to deny that it has something that some people would find very attractive. For one thing, it's probably the perfect asparagus accompaniment. Secondly, it tastes a whole lot better than your average Chablis for the same price. And yet, I was rather uninspired. Maybe it's my problem. Maybe I prefer Gutedel to Silvaner. Maybe that sounds parochial. Oh well.

Monday, 16 April 2012


In my opinion, Paul Scholes is a genius. He may be getting on a bit now having just returned from retirement for a final swansong, but he is still England's most naturally gifted footballer of a generation. It is no coincidence that a current star such as Barcelona's Xavi has such high regard for the "Ginger Ninja".

Ginger is of course the colour of Scholes's hair - which leads me in a highly round-about/tenuous way to this, a ginger-coloured wine called "Genius".

Winzerhof Ebringen, Pinot Noir Blanc de Noir Spätlese trocken "Genius" 2010, Baden, Germany
As you can see, it's probably more salmon-pink than ginger, but why let that get in the way of a convenient analogy. Oddly, it also smells quite salmony. It also shows savoury roasted aromas. The fruit remains firmly in the background throughout. The effect is the same on the palate. More complex than your average Spätburgunder rosé, with less of the perfumy red fruit that might otherwise dominate such a wine. This result is delicious. You can tell that this has been vinified with a lot of thought and care and made with more than just the barbecue in mind.

The weather was sunny and mild when I tried it just a few weeks ago. Maybe not the wine to have when it's raining and 6C outside (like today). The "Genius" moniker refers to the fact that the fruit was sourced from some of the estate's top vineyard blocks.

Unlike the pale-skinned Paul Scholes, whose natural habitat is a cool, drizzly Old Trafford, this wine probably performs better the higher the mercury rises.

Thursday, 12 April 2012


Some wines are just there to be enjoyed. Forget the notes.

Weingut Erich Stachel, Maikammer Kirchenstück Syrah trocken 2009, Pfalz, Germany
I recently ordered six bottles of this as a spiritual replacement (of sorts) for another German Syrah that cost over twice as much and for which I'd originally placed a pre-order last year in a slightly inebriated state. In February, I decided to cancel that particular order and go for this wine instead, as its intensely black peppery personality was quite something. Stachel's Syrah doubtless has a long life ahead of it, but we decided to open one bottle now to test its current drinkability. It went well with a similarly spicy, peppery dish I served up on Easter Sunday. Honestly, you wouldn't have known it'd originated from Germany. Supple and with heaps of character - we enjoyed it the following day as well.

This Syrah is drinking just fine already. I may lay down some of the other bottles - but, then again, I won't get all precious about it if the time is right to open another one again soon.

Friday, 6 April 2012


After the previous dry Riesling, a slightly sweeter one.

Weingut Bassermann-Jordan, Deidesheimer Leinhöhle Riesling Kabinett 2008, Pfalz, Germany
Leinhöhle is a moderate south-to-southeasterly slope situated between the edge of Deidesheim and the Palatinate forest. In earlier times, the village's womenfolk recognised the warmth of this site and used it as their favoured place to hang up their washing. For details on the etymological origins of "Leinhöhle", please refer to the winery website.

Leinhöhle is less "cool climate" than maybe other adjacent vineyards. It often seems to be a favourite among the local wine estates as a source of off-dry Riesling, lending to a succulent fruity style.

Despite having 9.5% alcohol, this wine is still less sweet and more off-dry than you would initially imagine.

Pale straw in appearance with pungent saline aromas and notes of quince (jam), apple, grapefruit and dried herbs. On my personal sense-of-sweetness (SOS) scale, it's certainly slightly more honeyed than the usual feinherb - but not by much. Still with a dry finish, this is simply a fun wine but one that offers more than enough precision and bite. Sadly, non-trocken Kabinetts from the Pfalz are facing extinction. I hope they don't die out altogether.

[NB: The lovely bottle label is used by Bassermann-Jordan for their non-dry wines. In their own words, "for all wines with residual sugar content ranging from restrained and spicy to highly concentrated, elegant and sweet".]

Thursday, 5 April 2012

La Roche

Here's a charmingly French name for what is an uncompromisingly dry German Riesling.

Villa Bäder, Uffhofener La Roche Riesling trocken 2008, Rheinhessen, Germany
I had to look hard to locate Uffhofen on any map. As far as I can see, it's a little addendum to the village of Flonheim situated out in the hinterland of Rheinhessen - although it's not even mentioned on the map. "La Roche" is the name of the vineyard. I'm just speculating, but this may have something to do with it rocky soils. In any event, you certainly get a taste of the earth with this wine.

Immediately focused and expressive on the nose, despite having only just been opened. Almost bubble-gummy at first, then with red berries (redcurrants) and some banana and grapefruit. Elegant. On the palate, a lovely film of chalky viscosity covers the teeth. It's hard to describe, but it's less a taste and more a tactile experience. There is barely any fruit as such, but ample minerality. (I know the word "minerality" often gets bandied about willy-nilly, but in this instance it describes what is essentially a physical sensation in the mouth.) Somehow, this generates a certain sweetness which is balanced by some refreshing acidity and maybe some bitter hints on the finish.

The end result is a complex, bone-dry wine that still manages to taste satisfyingly succulent. Great stuff.

[NB: Villa Bäder has been known as Weingut Bäder since 2009.]