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.