Thursday, 31 January 2013

Halenberg GG

Owing to - shall we say - a very fortuitous alignment of the stars, a single bottle of this, the 2011 vintage of Emrich-Schönleber's Halenberg grand cru, recently landed in my possession. If asked to name one particularly feted Grosses Gewächs (GG) requiring ample cellar time, this would be many people's choice. And yet, as Frank Schönleber himself commented on his winery's Facebook page at the end of August 2012, "Jetzt wunderschön zu trinken sind folgende Jahrgänge ["The following vintages are now drinking wonderfully]: 2011, 2008, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001".

"Ah well," I thought, "life's too short to prevaricate." If I had six bottles of this elixir, I would probably drink one now anyway (but then hide the remaining five away at least for another half a dozen years or so).

Weingut Emrich-Schönleber, Halenberg GG, Riesling trocken 2011, Nahe, Germany
Pale yellow. Minerally, mildy pungent opening that positively bristles with slate. Initially imposing on the nose, but by no means unapproachable. Over the course of three evenings, this Halenberg partially unveils its mask to reveal yellow stone fruit, hints of pineapple and dry herbs. I say "partially" because you can positively smell the potential. The complexity is there but remains akin to a clenched fist.

And yet, Herr Schönleber was right. This wine is wonderful to drink. Again, blistering minerals on the palate. Highly taut at first, with a ultra-cool entry that grips your gills. A taste sensation that slams you onto the proverbial canvas. Wham! Over 48 hours, the wine loosens up to reveal beautiful, silky acidity. The mouthfeel is velvety while the (yellow) fruit is surprisingly smooth and accessible. And the aftertaste lingers and lingers - at which point the minerally substance returns. Medium-bodied despite packing such a punch.

Genuinely, I would say that this wine puts as great a demand on your concentration as any other I have had. On the other hand, it is up there as one of the best Rieslings I've had the pleasure of drinking.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


Although often overlooked, vintners' cooperatives are an essential part of the wine-producing fabric of Baden. Privately run wineries might deservedly get all the plaudits, yet the output of your average Winzergenossenschaft is less shabby than you might imagine.

Which takes me to the village of Britzingen - one of Markgräflerland's most picturesque villages and home to one of the region's best cooperatives. Last September I drank the cooperative's flagship Pinot Noir, "Muggardt", at a restaurant in Müllheim. Named after a nearby hamlet where the vineyard is situated, Muggardt is an impressive wine by anyone's standards. Buoyed by this experience, I bought one of the cooperative's cheaper Spätburgunders just before Christmas.

Winzergenossenschaft Britzingen, Britzinger Sonnhole Spätburgunder trocken 2009, Baden, Germany
This wine originated partially from old vines, with a proportion of the grapes pressed with their stems. Unusually, carbonic maceration was the vinification method applied, i.e. the whole grapes were fermented without any pressing. The wine matured for nine months in a wooden vat.

Dark ruby in appearance. Initial blackcurrent and cherry notes on the nose, followed by chocolatey, cocoa aromas along with raisin, coffee and like pencil lead; unnervingly reminiscent of a Bordeaux-esque red. The palate begins with chocolate and cherry again, which continues through to a warm, smooth finish. Despite the carbonic maceration, which normally results in more fruit than tannins, this wine has quite finely grained tannins. I wouldn't say there is much complexity; the emphasis is more on velvet texturing and spice than on Burgundian cherry fruit with a good acidic backbone.

And, yet, it somehow works. The wine is in balance and is eminently enjoyable.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Siener's Spätburgunder

Part of the embossed "S" on the label
Peter Siener came across as a genial, friendly character during the short chat I had with him about a year ago at a fair in Zurich while tasting through a brief cross-section of his wines. What also struck me was how approachable his Pinot Noirs were. I mean approachable yet serious. Recently, I finally got round to buying a bottle of his estate bottling.

Weingut Siener, Spätburgunder No. 1 trocken 2009, Pfalz, Germany
Light ruby in appearance. An interesting, pungent nose that, despite the ripe vintage, still has a quite appealing minty, greenish note. This characteristic may or may not be a result of keeping the stalks on the grapes during pressing, or it may be something imparted by the oak vats. In any case, I actually like it because it still smells ripe. What I also appreciate is the delicate whiff of raspberry.

Aromatic raspberry continues on the palate, then evolving into something lighter, sappier yet drier. There's also a soupçon of vanilla, but really only a soupçon. In the mouth, the wine is straightforward yet elegantly dancing. Both tasty and comforting, though the flavours remain refined as opposed to overly jammy or in-your-face. An altogether fun wine - which, at Gutswein (estate wine) level, is more or less how it should be, in my view.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Friedrich Becker's Grauburgunder

And now for the final wine in this, January's little Grauburgunder excursion. At EUR 15, it is the priciest - by a clear margin - of the four GBs covered, so any comparison of quality may be slightly askew. But here's an assessment nonetheless.

Weingut Friedrich Becker, Grauburgunder "Kalkmergel" trocken 2011, Pfalz, Germany
As intimated in the description on the back label (see below), this wine has quite a flushed appearance. More a hint of roasted salmon than anything too overt - the result of the juice being left on the dark Grauburgunder skins over a 42-hour period.

An elegant, walnut/hazelnut nose with a suggestion of toasted aromas, honeydew and some citrus. Succulent and sappy on the palate with a touch of berry fruit (strawberry) and honeydew again. Juicy, satisfying yet still fairly light-footed. The finish is medium. However, if I were to be hyper-critical, I would say I'm missing some of the complexity you would expect in this, the more expensive wine.

Whether the extended period of maceration was worth the three to four euros more, apart from lending the wine a darker appearance, is a moot point. Strangely, this Grauburgunder reminds me a little of a blanc de noirs I had last year that punched above its weight and cost some 5 euros less. In quality terms, I would put it on a pedestal with that and with Keller's Grauburgunder.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Laumersheimer Grauburgunder (2)

Philipp Kuhn and the Knipsers. Both run stellar wineries in the same village, in a part of the Nordpfalz with an abundance of chalk soil under foot.* Great for Pinots and Riesling. Not bad either for a multitude of other weird and wonderful grape varietals. Both producers are revered throughout the land, although the Knipsers probably had a head-start in the celebrity stakes. I tasted Kuhn's 2011 Grauburgunder last November. Here's its counterpart now from across the road.

Weingut Knipser, Grauburgunder trocken 2011, Pfalz, Germany
Straw with beige hints (a tautology if there ever was one!). Initially, a touch of ginger spice on the nose with a hint of minerals. Yellow apple then takes over and dominates proceedings, continuing into the second day, albeit with a blossomy note thrown in. Grapey on entry, then quite tart/bitter in the middle and on the finish, to the point of being cranky. Thankfully, this funk has dissipated 24 hours later. What still remains is yellow apple. Were it not for its smoky Pinot Gris finish, I might mistake this for a Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc). The juice itself is light to medium in body. The finish has improved on the second day, but is middling at best. Merely from memory, I would place Kuhn's effort slightly above. But this is not to belittle the Knipsers' version - we're really talking about nuances here and there.

* Of course, I say something like that, then realise half an hour later that Kuhn's Grauburgunder was grown on loess...

Monday, 7 January 2013

Grauburgunder from Rheinhessen

A few months ago, I bought four Grauburgunder wines from four different producers. Three of them, from Kuhn, Knipser and Klaus-Peter Keller respectively, were priced between EUR 11 and 12; I've already covered Philipp Kuhn's GB. The fourth, from Friedrich Becker, cost 15 euros and shall be saved for last.

Weingut Keller, Grauer Burgunder trocken 2011, Rheinhessen, Germany
Straw-coloured in the glass, this tickles the nose with a whiff of pumpkin soup and melted butter. Twenty-four hours later, the aromas are more reminiscent of starfruit with slightly citrusy, almost orangey hints. However, the pumpkin notes subtlely re-emerge as the wine increases in temperature.

Clean with a medium body on the palate. The orange and mild citrus theme continues on the back of a surprisingly refreshing spine of acidity. The mouthfeel is cool yet succulent. After a while, the fruit notes retreat more into the background. I am sure that Klaus-Peter Keller harvested while the grapes were at the perfect point of ripeness but not overcooked. The result is a very appetising wine with a certain understated elegance. On the whole, I prefer it slightly to the more honeyed, smoky effort from Philipp Kuhn.

Thursday, 3 January 2013


In German wine circles, they refer to it as Babymord: the infanticidal act of drinking a bottle that, ideally, should be left well alone to age at least for another decade or so. But what to do when this is your one and only specimen? Wait a virtual lifetime until the wine has marginally improved by the odd Parker point or two gained all those wonderful tertiary flavours, or neck it now while the going is good? Egged on by my wife, I was happy to oblige.

Weingut Emrich-Schönleber, Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen Riesling Spätlese 2011, Nahe, Germany
Quite pale in appearance (greyish straw). Delicate floral notes, pineapple in a coating of honey, mandarin and a light minerally prickle on the nose. Undeniably sweetish on entry but gradually buffered by ripe, soft acidity that lends elegance, balance and sure-footedness culminating in a long, lingering finish. At just 9% alcohol, this is absolutely delicious. Complex fruit and floral flavours are dancing on the tongue. I'm reminded here of American wine importer Terry Theise, who once wrote something along the lines of great Riesling being tastier than most foods we eat. And my goodness is he right.

If Spätlese is still the blue-riband event when it comes to Riesling, this is Daley Thompson standard.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Laumersheimer Grauburgunder

Laumersheim is the village, loess the soil, Grauburgunder the grape. Here's a transcription of some almost-forgotten notes I made back in early November.

Weingut Philipp Kuhn, Grauburgunder "vom Löss" trocken, 2011, Pfalz, Germany
Almost peanut-buttery with orange glints. Smoky, nutty, melted butter, a touch of alcohol, sage and honeydew. The acidity is typically soft on the palate. Honey notes in abundance. Medium body. Eminently enjoyable but with enough interest to elevate it above everyday fare. Dry and clean on the finish.