Monday, 29 July 2013

Bischel Riesling

This wine was the theme tune to the summer rain that arrived yesterday evening to wash away the dust and the grime after temperatures of around 38C during the earlier part of the weekend. Rarely was there a more fitting accompaniment.

Weingut Bischel, Appenheimer Riesling trocken "Terra Fusca" 2012, Rheinhessen, Germany
Christian and Matthias Runkel run the show at Weingut Bischel. The two brothers belong to a new generation of twenty and thirty-somethings who are knocking on the door of Germany's elite club of winemakers. I had the pleasure of talking briefly with Christian Runkel at the Prowein fair in Düsseldorf last March and was able to taste through a small selection of his wines.

As I attended a state school in the UK, I was lucky to avoid Latin. However, the ancient (i.e. dead!) language is still part of the curriculum at grammar-school ("Gymnasium") level in Germany. As a result, Latin phrases still pop up surprisingly regularly in German popular culture, regardless of context. According to the helpful site, "terra fusca"  is Latin for "brown earth". This is Weingut Bischel's village wine, produced from the estate's oldest Riesling vines in and around Appenheim.

Innocuous greyish straw yellow in appearance, but then the fireworks begin. At first, we verge on greenish fruit territory (pineapple, gooseberry?), but that's probably just my mind playing tricks on me. Instead, herbal notes come to the fore along with a more luscious, exotic touch that suggests mango but is probably more along the lines of peach and apricot. On the second day, an almost candied lime aroma springs from the glass along with fresh herbs.

Medium-bodied on the palate with a knife-edge balance between sweet stone fruit on the one hand and lime and mineral on the other. These minerally notes add complexity. The acidity, meanwhile, is electrifying and lends pinpoint focus. The finish is more than ample.

Like much of Rheinhessen, this wine is on the veritable cusp between southern ripeness and northern coolness. By all accounts, the 2012 vintage offers a teeny weeny bit of that mind-altering 2010 acidity but retains much of the overall ripeness found in 2011 and 2009. Sounds like the perfect year for Rheinhessen.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Weiler Weinweg in Flammen

Now to recount a lovely event that took place on 20 July in the vineyards overlooking the German town of Weil am Rhein. Weil is Germany's most southwesterly town, situated adjacent to the Swiss border and the city of Basel. The "Weiler Weinweg" is a 4-km public route through these vineyards, starting just below the village of Ötlingen, taking in the lieux-dits of Ötlinger Sonnhole and Haltinger Stiege, and finishing in Weiler Schlipf which overlooks the old, original neighbourhood of Weil.

The inaugural "Weiler Weinweg in Flammen" took place in 2005, borne of an idea among the local vintners of Weil, Haltingen and Ötlingen. This event featured wine and food stands amid a sequence of logs (see above) that were set on fire along the footpath. This culminated in the "Tulpe" (or Tulip, see photo) at the end of the route. Visitors who stayed long after sunset were treated to a grandstand view of the big firework show in Basel to mark Swiss National Day.

Unfortunately, a long hiatus followed until the local wine-growers next hung out their bunting in 2011. Due to the novelty factor and the beauty of the location, they were overrun by the sheer number of visitors this second time round. Food ran out at all the stands long before sunset.

They tried again this year but with more success. This was thanks in no small measure to some judicious scheduling. As it clashed with a popular local wine fest in Efringen-Kirchen, there were maybe less visitors than there might have been. The decision to bring it forward away from any Swiss festivities was also a good idea in itself, I think.

Anyway, es war wunderschön!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Shelter Winery sparkler

My wife and I recent recently enjoyed this bubbly together one Friday evening on the balcony with a selection of antipasti goodies: green and black olives, tapenade, sun-dried tomatoes and other savoury nibbles.

Shelter Winery, Sparkling brut 2008, Baden, Germany
Yes, this is "Shelter Winery" despite being a German vineyard. Based in Kenzingen in the northern part of the Breisgau district of Baden, the winery owes its name to the air shelters (or bunkers) of the old Canadian NATO airforce base near Lahr. Today, "Black Forest Airport Lahr" operates mainly as a freight airport and occasionally as a destination for privately chartered jets. In 2003, vintners Hans-Bert Espe and Silke Wolf moved their fledging winery into one of the airport's holes in the ground. Although a grass-clad roof, thick concrete walls and a heavy steel door provided a functional home of sorts, Lahr was always going to be a temporary base given that the airport authorities kept forcing Espe and Wolf to move like nomads from one shelter to another. The two winemakers, both of whom studied together at the renowned Geisenheim wine school, consequently built their own tailor-made winery in Kenzingen from where they now access their vineyard land in and around Kenzingen and Malterdingen.

Before establishing Shelter Winery, Espe and Wolf spent some time learning their trade in the Pinot Noir hotbed of Oregon, USA. (Hotbed? Maybe "cool climate" would be more accurate.) I met Herr Espe briefly a couple of years ago at a wine fair in nearby Offenburg, where he came across to me as a studious yet down-to-earth sort of bloke. I was quietly blown away by the small selection of wines I tasted, all of which, I am tempted to suggest, were embued with the same calm, unhurried personality of their maker.

I especially remember the above-mentioned sparkler from that day's tasting in Offenburg. As a Pinot blanc de noir, its fresh strawberry aromas and finely toasted notes also paired excellently with our antipasti spread. Its fine bubbles as well as its mouth-filling creaminess and complexity were top notch. I didn't make any written notes as such, but I would conclude by stating that this bubbly was a veritable treat and, even at 19 euros, a snip compared to other sparklers of similar quality I can think of.

Friday, 19 July 2013


Ah, the smack of leather on willow, cucumber sandwiches and cream teas on the boundary, ripples of applause from the members' pavillion, wearing ties in the midday sun... On a glorious summer's day, I doubt there are few things more quintessentially English than the game of cricket. And just as the weather was coming good last week, the Ashes series between England and Australia began.

Cricket was, is and will always be part of the fabric of English life. This is reflected, among other things, by the sport's contribution to the English language through metaphors. You can be stumped, hit for six, or bowled a googly. Alternatively, you can break your duck, get caught out, have a good innings (normally after having passed away), swing both ways, go in to bat (sometimes for the other side), keep your end up, play off the back foot, play off the front foot, or offer a straight or dead bat (especially to awkward, niggling questions from newspaper journalists). Cheating, on the other hand, is just not cricket. Even on a sticky wicket.

Talking of wickets, it would be worth pointing out that a cricket groundsman in Australia is referred to as the "curator". In UK English, the "groundsman" or, occasionally, "groundswoman" is generally the person in charge of maintaining and nurturing the (grass) surface of play in cricket and other sports (except for golf - they're called "greenkeepers"). Unfortunately, Germans now commonly refer to all groundsmen and groundswomen, regardless of sport, as "Greenkeeper" - with a capital "G" and no "s" in the plural, in keeping with German grammar. Personally, I blame Uli Hoeness.

As a romantic, I would like to think that winemaker Roland Pfleger grew up watching cricket in Australia in some sort of parallel universe. Herr Pfleger's top red wines belong to his "Edition Curator" line. Although, in reality, Herr Pfleger probably sees himself more as a curator in the sense of someone who nurtures his vineyards and wines as opposed to ensuring a decent batting track that still offers a chance for the bowling side. (Strictly speaking, the German noun "Pfleger" means "carer", "care worker" or "nurse".)

This, I admit, is a slightly roundabout way of introducing my next wine, which is not one of Herr Pfleger's top wines but worthwhile nonetheless.

Weingut Jakob Pfleger, Herxheimer Kirchenstück Merlot trocken 2010, Pfalz, Germany
Generally ruby in appearance with violety hints. Cool and cherry-like on the nose with leathery notes and a touch of dark chocolate. On the palate, the impression is similar. Coolness of flavour and overall elegance are the main themes. This wine has a lovely silky texture but with adequate acidity to keep the juices flowing.

Priced just below 10 euro, this is a very good effort and - I am sure - a good introduction to the more rarified quality of the Curator range.