Sunday, 27 December 2009

A review of sorts

Last March - in my previous blog - I compiled a short "to do" list summarising the types of wine I wanted to try over the remainder of 2009:

1. Try more wines from other regions than just Baden and the Pfalz
2. Try more Weißburgunder - it is an underrated and beautiful thing
3. Try more wines from the best, and nearest, local producers (e.g. Schneider in Weil, Ziereisen from Efringen, Blankenhorn from Schliengen, Schlossgut Istein..)
4. Try more "international" varietals grown increasingly in Germany, such as Chard, Sauv Blanc, Cab Sauv - but don't overdo it.
5. Continue my quest for decent but inexpensive Spätburgunder

In hindsight, making such a list was a tad presumptuous (or pretentious!), I feel. Firstly, because things tend not to work out the way you expect. Secondly, because it imposes a needless straitjacket. Nevertheless, for the record, I would say I gave priorities 1, 2, 3 and 5 a fairly decent shot. However, no. 4 was an objective doomed from the outset. The problem is, whenever I see a wine from these climes with the words "Merlot" or "Cabernet Sauvignon", for example, my eyes still tend to glaze over. The world is awash with these varietals, so any desire to try yet another variation on a well-worn theme is scant.

So, although I'm usually a fan of lists, I think I'll just follow my nose next year.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Happy Christmas

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Not to be sniffed at

The next particular wine was acquired at the weekend while staying with friends near Heidelberg. On the Saturday, we walked through town, along Philosophenweg on the northern side of the River Neckar and down through the edge of the Odenwald to Stift Neuburg, a local monastery. A Christmas market is being held there during Advent, so we rewarded ourselves after an hour-long walk through the wintery woods with a Glühwein or two. And believe me: with the outside temperature a bone-chilling -12 C, we were more than happy to drink something warm and fortifying.

Apart from imbibing Lemberger Glühwein, we went into the monastery shop which sells local produce (including a tasty monastery beer), and - low and behold - I found a St. Laurent by Weingut Clauer. Those in the know in the German wine blogging "scene" will tell you that this is the wine estate of the Winzerblogger himself, so curiosity got the better of me (purchase price: EUR 8.20).

Weingut Clauer, Heidelberger Dormenacker, St. Laurent 2008, Baden
Again, my sense of smell was rather numbed for this one. No matter, as this wine was intended as a congenial accompaniment to the beautiful rack of lamb my girl-friend Jenny served up for a special pre-Christmas meal last night. On that score alone, it was a very enjoyable wine.

Sniffle or not, the aromas on this St. Laurent were quite reticent even after some airing. Jenny - her nasal valves in proper working condition - would vouch for that too. However, both on the palate and in texture, it had a lovely sappiness. Medium-bodied, it cut through the lamb elegantly without being at all overbearing. With hints of juicy forest fruit, this a very quaffable wine, yet focused and already with some complexity. Its complete lack of oak character also went down very well with both of us. It shows that such wines can still pack a punch without any noticeable lick of wood. Recommended.

As for the varietal itself, this is the first time I'd tried a St. Laurent on its own, i.e. not as part of a blend. A speciality in Austria, it also has a respectable following in the Pfalz and Rheinhessen, but is only grown sporadically in Baden. I need to try more of them in future.

Blankenhorn, 2007 Spätburgunder QbA trocken, 1 L

As promised, a synopsis of Weingut Blankenhorn's Spätburgunder trocken by the litre, albeit a brief one, as I have a slight sniffle and the senses were deadened somewhat at the time of tasting:

With an alcohol content of 13.5%, this is a full 1.5% more than the Schlossgut Istein. Quite surprising for a "lowly" one-litre bottling. Then again, 2007 was a pretty decent year as far as Oechsle levels were concerned, if I recall correctly. Whether it has been chaptalised or not, I'm not sure, but I would hazard a guess that it hasn't.

On the nose, quite vegetative. Clean and sappy on the palate with quite smooth tannins. In my less-than-ideal state, I would say that this wine is a little more forgiving than its counterpart from Istein in hindsight. I do like the generally smoother feel to this.

[Edit: Another good thing about litre bottles is that you can use some of it for cooking and still have plenty left. My girl-friend and I ate lamb last night, and this worked a treat in that respect.]

*PS: Tasted again this evening (22.12.2009) and it has really opened up. Spicy cherry on the nose, more complex than you would ever expect from something that barely costs EUR 6, if my memory serves me correctly (I've thrown away the receipt).

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Follow the litre

Unless wineries send me freebies to taste (I'm not Stuart Pigott, alas), commenting on myriad wines via the medium of a blog can be a potentially expensive pastime. I have to ration my purchases.

It was with this in mind that I stood in the supermarket wine section this evening looking for a red wine. The supermarket in question (in Weil am Rhein) has an excellent selection of German wines to choose from, including some good reds over and above the 20 euro mark - well above my normal price range.

So, forget about the €22 Spätburgunder by Schlossgut Istein that I'd been contemplating longingly. I thought I'd apply some "reverse kidology" and go back to basics instead. Back to litre basics, to be precise.

For the most part, wine by the litre is a quaintly Germanic phenomenon. At their best, these wines can be delicious. Like the eye-opening off-dry Portugieser rosé by Darting I once had. Admittedly, some other examples I've tried were barely worth the price of the bottle. They've tended to be of the mass-produced variety. However, if ye seek, ye shall eventually find some good litre bottles. These tend to be estate-bottled and thus subject to little bit more care and attention than your average specimen. They can be good, clean, uncomplicated, honest wines. Nothing more, nothing less.

The two estate-bottled litre wines I eventually purchased are by the aforementioned Schlossgut Istein and Blankenhorn (whom I mentioned yesterday). I cracked open the former this evening. Notes on the latter will follow at a later date.

Schlossgut Istein, Isteiner Kirchberg Spätburgunder trocken 2007, 1 L
I chose to chill this slightly before opening and let it warm up in the glass. Typical cherry aromas, but in no way perfumed or confectionery. For a wine of this price class (€6.20 - that's €6.20 per litre), this is promising. The nose carries to the palate with cherry and redcurrant - noticeable tannic backbone that almost puckers the lips, but everything is clean. Acidity is omnipresent but well integrated. Most importantly, this wine has character. It would definitely stand up to some good pasta dishes. In the "one litre" stakes, this is a great effort.

To be honest, all my previous Schlossgut Istein experiences have been positive, so I was fairly optimistic before trying their most basic wine.

The Schlossgut Istein wine estate itself is an oddity in that, until recently, it was state-owned. For many years, the winery was expertly run by Albert Soder. However, due to health reasons, the Soder had to hand over the reins at the end of 2006 to owners Landkreis Lörrach. The Lörrach government were eventually able to sell the estate to Royal Vinum Verwaltungs- und Betriebsgesellschaft GmbH in 2007.

Monday, 14 December 2009

GG Sonnenstück

Something I missed recently:

Weingut Blankenhorn, from Schliengen, Markgräflerland, have released their first ever Grosses Gewächs (grand cru) bottling: a 2007 Spätburgunder from the Schliengener Sonnenstück vineyard. As yet, there is no mention of this vineyard in the official list of Baden "GGs" on the VDP website, although I expect this will change. As VDP members located south of Freiburg are limited to Blankenhorn in Schliengen, Lämmlin-Schindler from Mauchen (joined in 2006) and Schlumberger in Laufen (joined in 2006), it's not that surprising that Markgräflerland is somewhat under-represented in terms of official GG terroir. Potential grand cru vineyards in the region might also include Weiler Schlipf, Ötlinger Sonnhole, Efringer Ölberg or the steep, south-facing parcels of Blansinger Wolfer - and that's just from Basel up to Schliengen, barely halfway to Freiburg.

Maybe if wineries like Schneider from Weil or Ziereisen from Efringen-Kirchen joined the VDP, the terroir down here would get the recognition it deserves. But on the flip side, prices might then shoot up.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Petrol and oak

This bottle was purchased at the Alte Wache (Haus der badischen Weine Freiburg) solely on the basis that this is a Riesling from Durbach, probably the only wine village in Baden genuinely famous for wines from this noble grape - as opposed to the Burgundian varietals.

Weingut DZ-Danner, Riesling Typ 2, 2007

This has a fair lick of petrol on the nose. I'm slightly surprised, given that 2007 is the vintage. I stop swirling the wine and let it settle. After a few minutes, I poke my nose into the glass and, what's this? Oak? But then I remember what I read while researching the wine on the Internet after we got back from Freiburg:

This winery has a very clear concept behind its product line. Firstly, it categorises those wines which have been vinified in stainless steel as Typ 1 (Grauburgunder, Riesling). Next comes Typ 2 (Grauburgunder, Riesling, Pinot Noir) which refers to wines that have - for wont of a better description - spent time in large(r), "German-style" style barrels. Finally, Typ 3 wines (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) are matured in traditional barriques.

So, this "category 2" Riesling really has had a dose of wood.

There is a mineral core on both the nose and the palate. To me, the fruit component tastes like a compote of some type. In a leftfield sort of way, it reminds me of my mother's best rhubarb crumble. A day after opening the bottle, I taste the wine again, and the oak seems better integrated and the fruit is more apricot - or at least something along those lines.

To be honest, I wasn't sure what to make of this oak-aged Riesling to begin with, but I think it's an acquired taste. I think I appreciated it more after tasting it again 24 hours later. There is barely any sense of sweetness in this wine, so I think it would be best suited to the dining table. Definitely thought-provoking.

A blog I've enjoyed

The creator and author of Schreiberswein signed off his blog today. A German-language wine blog which has been a pleasure to read over the past couple of years. I don't know Herr Breidenreich personally, but I wish him all the best in his future endeavours, whatever they may be.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Alexander Laible, Riesling trocken ** 2007

The first time I've tried one of Laible's wines. Alexander Laible is the ARTVINUM young winemaker of the year for Europe, no less.

A petrolly nose which turns increasingly minerally. And the palate follows in the same vein: a mineral core, but then hints of ripe, maybe canned, peach. Quite a chewy texture. The acidity is fruity and refreshing, while the alcohol - at a sensible 12%, given today's tendency to produce 13.5-14% behemoths - is well integrated. And the finish is long. After a while, I can detect honey blossom, or at least something suggestive of honey, although the wine is basically dry tasting.

Very good, and it definitely lives up to the hype.

Saturday, 5 December 2009


Local winemakers Claus and Susanne Schneider, from Weil am Rhein, are currently on the up and up thanks to their wonderful Pinot Noir. However, they also make great white wines. This is what I wrote about them in my old blog:
"Their range of wines covers Spätburgunder, Gutedel, Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder and Chardonnay, but thanks to the chalky soil of the Weiler Schlipf vineyard, it's the Burgundy varietals which you could call their specialities. Steep limestone slopes - very reminiscent of Burgundy terroir - and a favourable climate lend both reds and whites tremendous elegance and minerally character. The wines also offer great value for money."

Johanniter is a relatively new grape varietal (a cross-breed between Riesling, Ruländer (Pinot Gris), Gutedel and Sayve-Villard). An absolute rarity. Weingut Schneider are responsible for the only bottling from this grape I've come across.

Weingut Schneider, 2008 Weiler Johanniter Kabinett trocken
Muted opening on the nose. Immediately, though, this wine shows the characteristic which seems to run through the Schneider collection like a golden thread: minerality. This sensation is particularly intense in the white wines. The aromas gradually take on a vegetative nature but there is also a discernable squeeze of lime (must be the Riesling part of the cross-breed!). Bone dry with furry, mildly bitter tannins on the palate - a pithy citrus pip taste, but not unpleasant at all, I hasten to add. I've noticed this in other Schneider white wines and, I must say, I like it. I give the wine more air, and pure citrus fruit now emerges from the ever-present, crushed chalky limestone rock. There is a lovely purity about this wine. I try to make comparisons with other, more common single-varietal wines, but it's hard to pin down. Maybe there's even some likeness to Weissburgunder, albeit a Pinot Blanc without the creaminess and of a more refreshing style. In any case, it's very much a food wine, and was a perfect match with the salmon, broccoli, spuds and carrots I cooked this evening.

Very good indeed.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

A bridge too far

This has been picked up in both the German and international press and on countless wine blogs for quite a few months: plans to build a huge viaduct over the Mosel river which could damage one of Germany's viticultural gems for ever. For more information, click here.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Discovery from Kirchhofen

After perusing the Christmas market in Freiburg on Saturday, my girl-friend and I stopped for a while at a small wine shop where we were treated to an impromtu wine-tasting by an amiable man by the name of Franz Herbster. He poured an off-dry Sauvignon Blanc for us first, followed by a generous Gewürztraminer and an off-dry Spätburgunder. It was the Sauvignon Blanc that impressed us the most. Herr Herbster explained to us that he had intentionally planted his Sauvignon Blanc vines on a "cool climate" parcel to make a wine with a fresh character and relatively low alcohol. The off-dry interpretation of this particular wine seemed to complement the freshness perfectly ("knackig frisch" were Mr Herbster's exact words to us). We therefore decided to purchase a bottle (EUR 7.50) and enjoy the wine at home.

Weinküferei Herbster, Sauvignon Blanc Kabinett feinherb, 2009
Yes, I kid you not: this really is 2009 vintage. According to the winery website, this is - unsurprisingly - his first bottling of the new vintage.

Grey straw in appearance. On the nose, I'm getting lychee... This is unexpected. By the second glass, this sensation seems to dissipate somewhat, to make way for the signature gooseberry aromas which Herr Herbster also mentioned to us. Maybe also some floral notes.
Bright, fruity and off-dry on the palate, maybe some lychee again, but in no way is this kitschy. Fresh and light. A very pretty wine. It almost reminds me of Scheurebe. The hint of sweetness, which had a favourable effect on the nose, helps to balance the wine and lends it its character. The relatively modest alcohol is welcome, too. In conclusion, I would drink this on its own on the veranda - if I had one - on a mild April afternoon, or else with something mildly spiced and "coconutty" like Chicken Korma.

Franz Herbster is a professionally qualified Weinküfer (wine cooper) - which basically means he is a trained winemaker. However, his is a profession which, before the age of stainless steel vats, also used to be associated with the crafting of wine barrels - a family tradition which was last practiced by Herbster's great-grandfather back in the 1930s, apparently. After working for other wine producers, including WG Ehrenstetten and Weingut Fischer (the latter owned by Joachin Heger from the renowned Weingut Heger), Herbster harvested his first ever vintage in 2005. Based in Kirchhofen, a village situated just south of Freiburg on the southern foot of the Batzenberg hill, a 4-km long and 1-km wide expanse of vines on all sides, his winery comprises 4 hectares in three specific lieux-dits: Kirchhofner Kirchberg, Norsinger Batzenberg and Ehrenstetter Oelberg.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Friday, 27 November 2009

Mapping out Germany's vineyards

A friend of mine from Heidelberg tipped me off yesterday about an interesting wine-related, online project called Some wine-mad work colleagues of his have created an application based on Google Maps with the intention of mapping out Germany's wine regions (apparently, they will expand it to other areas of Europe in time).

Admittedly, the content still needs fleshing out, and the makers of the website are grateful for any outside input regarding the location and identity of individual vineyards that are still to be documented. I think they've made a very good start, though.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Flying Dutchman

I love German Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) - almost as much as I love German Riesling. Thankfully, the rest of the world is relatively oblivious to its merits. It remains a well-guarded secret - and long may it remain so.

Recently - and on my birthday, no less - my girl-friend and I had the rare pleasure and privilege of trying something new and wonderful: the 2004 Pinot Noir SD by Weingut Duijn from Bühl in Baden. Now, I'd already read a bit about the wines of Jacob Duijn, a Dutchman who entered the winemaking profession as a relative latecomer, but had tasted none of his wines to date.

In my book, this is how all red wines should be. Elegantly structured and profound - the "old world" European antidote to all those thick, oaky, alcoholic fruit bombs. I wish I'd taken notes for a change. I could start with the word "savoury", but that barely begins to describe it. Everything is where it should be. Certainly one of the best pinot noirs I've ever had. And definitely not everyday fare. The rack of lamb we ate with it went perfectly.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Pinot bubbly

On 21 May 2009, my girl-friend and I decided to ride our bikes along the "L125" from Müllheim to Staufen. It was Ascension Day and hence a public holiday. It was also Gutedeltag, the day on which this aforementioned road was closed to all motorised traffic. We, and many others, had a lovely time riding along from village to village and stopping to sample the wines.

One of these we tasted at Privatweingut H. Schlumberger in Laufen. It was a bottle of fizz, or a 2005 Pinot Brut, to be precise. Brick-coloured in appearance - with a hint orange. Vivid, biscuity aromas and a juicy, complex palate of pure pinot fruit. It quite possibly is the best German Sekt I've ever had to date.

Needless to say, I bought half a case of the stuff. On entering Switzerland during the day of our big move, I would have had to have paid duty on it had the customs officer not shown some understanding. What a good man.

We've been enjoying the occasional bottle ever since, so that stocks are running low again.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The "Bebbi Sagg"

I knew this long before crossing the border into CH, but a "Bebbi" is local patois for an "inhabitant of Basel". A "Sagg" is local spelling for "Sack" in proper German, i.e. "bag" or "sack" in English. A Bebbi Sagg is the term used round here for the ubiquitous rubbish bags which people leave out for the refuse collectors every week. I learnt yesterday that a roll of these bags costs a whopping CHF 23.

Unlike in Germany, where things like plastic packaging and cardboard containers are sorted separately into a Gelbe Sack (yellow bag), you can theoretically dispose of all your everyday household rubbish in the Bebbi Sagg. Quite convenient, plus there's less of the daily dilemma you face in Germany as to which rubbish bag you can use without committing a "refuse-related infringement". However, on the down side, you can get through a roll of these bags relatively quickly, if you're not careful.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

A local friendly

It's not often that FC Basel and SC Freiburg get to face each other, but that's what they did yesterday evening in Rheinfelden (D). Not one to miss a footballing trip involving cheap tickets, beer and bratwurst, Karl-Heinz my German colleague and I attended the match. This was a friendly scheduled just before internationals weekend, hence a lot of the FCB first-teamers and a couple of Freiburg players were away on international duty. However, it ended up being quite an entertaining little spectacle, which included an impressive solo goal from Freiburg's Daniel Caliguiri. The final score was 3-2 to Freiburg.

The game also marked the grand finale of celebrations this year to mark the 100th anniversary of Swiss club 1. FC Rheinfelden 09. However, the match itself took place at the home of their German counterparts, SC Rheinfelden 03, who, I assume, were founded in 1903. Slightly odd, really, but there you go.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Needless facts

1. Semi-skimmed milk in Germany has 1.5% fat. Semi-skimmed milk in Switzerland (somewhat strangely called Milchdrink) tends to have 2.5% fat, although I think Coop recently reduced their fat content to 1.5%.

2. A deposit - in my case, the extra few pennies you pay for a beer bottle - is called "Pfand" in proper German, but "Depot" in Swiss-German.

Sunday, 8 November 2009


A new country, a new blog.

I'm not a newcomer to blogging, but it's been a while since my last blog post - or should that be a Weil?

Since my last blog post, I've upped sticks and moved into Switzerland. It's been a long time coming, but I'm finally here in the land of the cookoo clock. Suitably, I've decided to change the name of this blog to reflect the slightly less Germano-centric nature of my witterings.

As my blog profile suggests, I've come from Blackpool to Basel the long(ish) way, after hovering nearby on the German side of the border for a good few years. Well, I'm here now, finally.