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.

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