Saturday, 30 January 2010

Huck's musk

The following wine reminds me that I should try aromatic grape varietals more often. Get going on Scheurebe, for instance, and it's hard to stop me. (Far more interesting than Sauvignon Blanc, in my opinion.) Muskateller is another delight, if done properly. Weingut Huck-Wagner have nailed it with this one.

Weingut Huck-Wagner, Muskateller, Blansinger Wolfer trocken, 2008
A fresh and lightly spritzy appearance gives way to aromas that sing. Exotic, flowery spice enveloped in luscious blossomy peach. I rack my brain to remember when I last smelt something like that, and my mind takes me back to last summer and a beer I drank at my parents' house in St Annes. The resemblance is uncanny. (Incidentally, the Swiss and Germans - among others - may scoff at British claims to beer-brewing prowess - citing the ignorant stereotype of "warm ale" - but beers like "Golden Glory" are one of the things I miss here in Basel.)

A beer comparison would normally put you off a wine, but, believe me, this one shouldn't. The same sensations take over on the palate - all peaches (and I mean emphatically peachy, and not the peach people "get" in Riesling, when they quite possibly mean something else), with a refreshing, mouth-watering zing. So far, this beats "Essence" for next summer's wine of choice, me thinks (but don't tell Jenny).

EUR 6.40, bought at my local supermarket.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Wine tasting with Ziereisen and Zind-Humbrecht

This week, Jenny and I attended a special event hosted by Paul Ullrich AG, showcasing the wines of Weingut Ziereisen of Efringen-Kirchen (Baden) and Domaine Zind-Humbrecht of Turckheim (Alsace). Both winemakers were there in person, pouring the wine and chatting to the public. We both enjoyed what was a brilliant evening.

The Paul Ullrich wine shop is situated in Basel's old town on the corner of Schneidergasse and built on three levels - ground floor, upstairs and cellar. It was Olivier Humbrecht and his wines on the first floor which we made a bee-line for on entering. A lot has been written about Monsieur H and his fantastic biodynamic wines, so we wanted to see and taste for ourselves.

The setting was quite informal, so I hardly made any notes - see scanned list below (and the prices in Swiss francs - ouch!). That was just as well, really, because there was so much to take in, and, frankly, the wines were stunning. We started with the lovely Zind VdP, a blend of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Auxerrois, which is labelled as a simple vin de pays (VdP) because Chardonnay - while allowed in Crémant d'Alsace - is not permitted in AOC Alsace wines. We then carried on through a phalanx of top Rieslings and Pinot Gris - with the Rangen de Thann, Clos Saint Urbain grand crus of both grapes shining most strongly. Borne of volcanic soils, the 2004 Riesling in particular will stay long in the memory. Almost yellow-gold in appearance, unbelievably intense with flinty aromatics and kinetics inside my mouth.

Something of more anecdotal nature to point out is that Olivier Humbrecht is a very tall man! An absolute man-mountain, and he literally towered over everyone while conversing in German, English - and French, naturellement.

Afterwards, we headed back down the stairs to the sous-sol, where Hanspeter Ziereisen was holding court. In comparison, the feel of this downstairs area seemed more conducive to a relaxed atmosphere, although Herr Ziereisen's happy, down-to-earth manner also proved quite infectious. Whereas the Paul Ullrich staff seemed to be constantly hovering round their guest from Alsace upstairs, it felt like a more "hands-on" experience in the company of Herr and Frau Ziereisen.

These wines were fantastic as well. From Weißburgunder and Grauburgunder to Chardonnay, the Ziereisen whites were for me the biggest revelation of the evening. Hanspeter Ziereisen explained that his vines grow on limestone, pointing out that there is in fact a chalk quarry situated round the back of the hill. This was borne out in the lovely minerally and, at times, unusually citrussy character of the wines. The Gutedel Steingrüble, for example, is so unlike most other wines of that varietal that the Baden authorities refuse to classify it. Ziereisen chooses to sell it (and his other wines) as Tafelwein instead.

Frau Ziereisen, with whom we had a lovely and amusing conversation, told us that her personal favourite from their whole collection was the 2007 Grauburgunder Alte Reben Jaspis. She said that the Jaspis plot was situated near the top of the hill not far from where the various local carnival clubs light their annual fire (Fasnachtsfeuer). Needless to say, the wine didn't disappoint. That and the Pinot Noir Jaspis were the two highlights of his collection, I felt. Honorable mentions for the Syrahs, too, though maybe I'd like to taste them again at the beginning of an evening - and not at the end!

As Paul Ullrich were offering a 10% discount on all the wines that evening, we thought it would be rude not to splash out on six bottles: 2 x 2007 Pinot Gris Calcaire (Zind-Humbrecht), 2 x 2007 Weißburgunder Lügle, a bottle of the aforementioned Grauburgunder and - as a little treat - a bottle of the 2007 Pinot Noir Jaspis. Comments on these wines to follow at a later date.

Monday, 18 January 2010


After our Sunday walk along the Rhine, Jenny and I visited this micro-brewery pub on Sunday for a snifter. Situated in the old town on the northern Kleinbasel side of the river, this establishment is a little haven and the purveyor of some of the best ales in town.

The service was friendly and speedy, although the waitress wasn't exactly rushed off her feet either. I ordered a large glass of Reverenz (lovely, cloudy, hoppy and unfiltered beer) while Jenny had a small glass of the darker, maltier Robur. Both very tasty indeed.


I had been eyeing this wine for some time: at EUR 5.99, a very affordable off-dry Riesling by a well-known Mosel producer - and very sleekly branded, too.

S.A. Prüm, Riesling "Essence", 2008, Mosel
Orange peel and red apple on the nose. Same pleasant orangely tang on the palate with a squeeze of lime. There are obvious sweet and sour dynamics going on there. Not sure how much residual sugar there is, but, essentially, the medium finish tastes dry once the sweet fruit hits the juicy wall of acidity. For the record, I would place this in the halbtrocken (feinherb) category, though, frankly, who cares? At 10.5% alcohol, this is nice and quaffable - nothing more, nothing less. What's not to like?

Jenny certainly loves it and has instructed me to buy more bottles forthwith.

Mini-rant: [For those who might regard the following as an overgeneralisation, apologies in advance.]
Within Germany, such wines are being passed over increasingly by consumers in favour of all that is trocken. Rieslings that are off-dry or sweeter (on paper, if not sensorially) tend to be regarded as overly sweet and dismissed with contempt as "wines for the export market". Sometimes, even legally trocken Rieslings which - to my mind - often feel more balanced with a few reconciliatory grams per litre of residual sugar are subject to sniping about their Zuckerschwänzchen. There's no accounting for taste, it seems.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Domaine Nussbaumer, take two

Domaine Nussbaumer, Gutedel, Aesch, Vordere Klus, 2008
Unusually, the German name is used here, and not Chasselas. To tell the truth, I went into the local wine shop with the intention of purchasing the Räuschling I mentioned in my previous blog post. That would have been interesting. Alas, they don't stock it - I would have to contact Nussbaumer directly - so I went for the Gutedel instead.

With 11.5% alcohol, this wine is light on its feet. Vegetative nose with - bizarrely - a whiff of fish. This dissipates completely after a little while, leaving a pleasant coolness and a slightly nutty (or peanutty?) aroma which carries over to the palate. Minimal acidity - unlike the previous wine, it could maybe do with more acidity, if anything. Not exactly testing on the complexity front, but with an agreeable, cool texture. Hm, I suppose it tastes better than that description just sounded. Not exactly the text-book wine for these cold winter nights, but it redeems the first impression I had of Nussbaumer at the weekend to a certain extent. Price: CHF 16.10.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Domaine Nussbaumer

Domaine Nussbaumer is probably the best-known wine estate in the Basel area on the Swiss side of the border. I've come across their wines a couple of times at the annual Wymäss and was suitably impressed. Based in the village of Aesch (pronounced in Basel as a nasally "Aaaash!"), their range of wines emcompasses three red and five white varietals, including Räuschling, a little-known grape grown only in pockets of German-speaking Switzerland. The business also includes a restaurant.

Vineyards include the south-facing Klus in Aesch, which is the main Nussbaumer holding. There are also some smaller holdings: Arlesheim Schlossberg and Flüh Landskron - the latter situated literally a stone's throw from France (see my previous blog entry).

I recently tried the following Nussbaumer wine:

Domaine Nussbaumer, Pinot Noir Cuvée Spéciale, Aesch Klus, 2008
Ruby red in appearance with pale, watery edges. Spicy, almost Christmas cake aromas. After time in the decanter, it opens up into lovely marzipan and earthy notes. Minimal fruit but earthy on the palate. The acidic mouthfeel is quite edgy and stringent, and not would you expect after it being such a shower on the nose. The wine still tastes a bit harsh even hours later. Slightly disappointing, but maybe it needs more time to balance out. The litre red from Blankenhorn was more forgiving. However, maybe I should give this the benefit of the doubt until I try more Nussbaumer wines. Price: a little under CHF 19 (this is Switzerland, after all).

Monday, 11 January 2010

Flüh Landskron

Photos from our Sunday walk yesterday. A 30-minute tram ride away from Basel. The Flüh Landskron vineyard lies half in Switzerland, half in France. Landskron, the castle at the top, is situated in France.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Carbon footprint

Part of the "Schlipf" vineyard from which German Claus Schneider makes his excellent wines also stretches into the Basel suburb of Riehen on the Swiss side of the border. There's even a little winery situated just on the Swiss of the hill.

What's less well known, however, is Grenzacher Hornfelsen, a tiny and steep 1.7-hectare parcel of vines that overlooks the Rhine. It is Baden's most southerly vineyard, situated in a curious enclave almost surrounded by Swiss territory. The chemical works of Birsfelden (CH) are located on the other side of the Rhine, while downtown Basel is but a short bus ride away to the west.

I've always been fascinated by this small patch of land, and not only marvelled at its incongruous setting but also wondered why anyone in their right mind would be prepared to grow wine there and still make a profit, given that all the fruit is "merely" sent to the local cooperative for vinification. Apparently, though, there is someone out there willing to do just that.

Interestingly, Hornfelsen used to be a chalk quarry, with rocks transported from there in the medieval times to help in the construction of buildings in Basel. This probably helps explain its particular suitability as a vineyard. Not surprising, also, that Spätburgunder is the prominent varietal grown there, in addition to crossings Cabernet Carol and Cabernet Carbon. It's these three varietals which were used make the following wine:

Bezirkskellerei Markgräflerland, Grenzacher Hornfelsen Rotwein trocken 2007
Costing EUR 9.99, this is a notch more expensive than most of the reds made at that this Efringen-based coop. The big question for me was whether this reflected both the work that went into tending the vines and the quality of the wine itself.

On appearance, a lovely deep ruby red. Darker than your normal Pinot Noir. On the nose, brambly fruit. There is some blackberry in there as well, which maybe belies the Cabernet Sauvignon origins of one of this wine's components, Cabernet Carbon. On the palate, it's like Spätburgunder with shoulder pads. In fact, any overt Pinot characteristics are minimal and smothered by some very up-front primary dark fruit aromas. Nothing that delicate or complex about it, but I could imagine this wine being a real crowd-pleaser. Indeed, the more I think about it, this reminds me uncannily of Zinfandel. I don't know whether that's a compliment, but I'll leave you to make your own conclusion.

If I were a nit-picker, maybe I would want something more complex than just "clean" and "well made" for that price, but it's certainly very quaffable and - over a period of four days (I was a good boy this time and drank in moderation) - it become more and more enjoyable.

When a draw feels like a win

What other sporting contest can last for five days, end in a draw but still captivate millions of people? Test cricket, of course.

As an Englishman, it's always good to get one over the South Africans in any sport, so today was especially sweet.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Boom boom...

Boris Becker's home town of Leimen is situated just to the south of Heidelberg. On our recent trip up Heidelberg, I purchased a bottle by Clauer (see previous entry) and one by Seeger of Leimen which cost EUR 8.90. Let's see if this is as bombastic as a Becker serve...

Weingut Seeger, Blauer Spätburgunder trocken 2008, Baden
Pale Pinot appearance. Candied cherry on the nose with quite overbearing oak on nose and palate, meaning that the effect is very dry and almost too "sawdusty" for my liking. Some complexity there, but the finish also feels rather alcoholic, to be honest. Finished off today, 24 hours after opening, it seems to have taken on a slightly more savoury aspect, with hints of bitter chocolate, suggesting that further cellaring (or, failing that, decanting) would be a good idea. The alcohol seems to have bedded in a bit. In conclusion, not bombastic as such - though that's a good thing. I think the wine is fairly good value for the price. However, the oak is a touch too prominent for my taste, seemingly overpowering all else - which is a shame.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Wild thing

Georg Breuer, Sauvage Riesling trocken 2006, Rheingau
The first time I've tried a Rheingau in a long time. Georg Breuer's "basic" dry Riesling - no vineyard or village name given. Consumed over three days, this held its form throughout. On the nose: petrol, lime, then hints of something more tropical. Minerally on the palate - maybe flinty. The mouthfeel is quite puckering. There is, indeed, a certain untamed character here. Bone dry but "only" 11.5% alcohol; quite pithy citrus notes, which might not be to everyone's taste, but not shrill at all. It went well with fish at lunch on New Year's Eve.* A good wine.

* Only one glass, mind (because of the revelries later).

Friday, 1 January 2010

From the rocks

Happy New Year. I hope it's a good one for everybody.

The first post for 2010 concerns a special wine that was drunk with my family back home in the UK over Christmas.
Weingut Keller, Riesling "Von der Fels" 2008
Much has been written about Klaus-Peter Keller and his famous wines from what, ostensibly, would appear to be the pretty unremarkable hinterland of Rheinhessen. His "G-Max" is regarded as one of the best dry Rieslings in the world, if not the best. Mortals like you and I can but dream of tasting such wines. Coming from a coastal town near Blackpool, it's also hard not to think of a certain rollercoaster at the Pleasure Beach whenever I read the name G-Max, but I digress.

This was the first ever Keller wine I'd tried, and it didn't disappoint. No tasting notes as such here. However, drunk with our starter of mussel soup, "Von der Fels" (or "From the rocks") was a winner on our Christmas table. Of great purity and focus, with a profound mineral core, it gradually opened up in the glass and complimented the soup perfectly. I wish the glass had gone on for ever. The mind boggles as to what the Keller grand crus are like.