Wednesday, 28 April 2010

160 years

With their myriad names and designations, German wine labels are often a thing of beauty for anoraks like me. To the uninitiated, they can be utterly bewildering. Admittedly, things have improved on that count in recent years, with an increasing proportion of wineries choosing to move all the mandatory stuff to a "back label", as it were. Bottles don't have front or back sides, but I hope you know what I mean.. The result now is that the "main" label is free of the statutory teutonic clutter.

While some such labels can still be rather hard on the eye, often little more than an abomination of pseudo stripes and squiggles in assorted garish colours and shades, others are beautiful to behold. The following bottle from Weingut Blankenhorn falls into the latter category.

Weingut Blankenhorn, Spätburgunder QbA trocken Barrique, 2007, Baden
Opened last Saturday. Of course, I didn't buy the wine for the label (honest!). However, it is quite an unusual specimen, celebrating 160 years of the Blankenhorn estate. Sourced in Karstadt, the well-known German department store, this was a touch more expensive than the winery price of EUR 15.

On the nose, typical Spätburgunder cherry, coupled with wild bramble and a lovely savoury character (including dark mushrooms). Decanted over two hours beforehand, these aromas had developed nicely by dinner time. On the palate, refined, well-integrated tannins. An elegant body - as light as a feather but with a supple contours and some complexity. The barrique influence beds in well. "Chapeau" (Hats off!), as they say in Switzerland.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Müllheim to Staufen

Here's a photo from a bike ride Jenny and I went on this Sunday last. After taking the train from Basel to Müllheim (Baden), we rode 20 km or so through wine country to Staufen. The weather was warm but pleasant, and we had a lovely day. Needless to say, we also made one or two "pit stops" along the way for much needed vinous refreshment. The village in the picture is Laufen - home to the renowned Weingut Schlumberger, whose place we also passed by.

Incidentally, I'd like to make special mention here of Weingut Dr. Schneider in Zunzingen, whose Gutsschänke (winery bar) we stopped at for the first of our aforementioned pit stops. Dr. Schneider is home to a wine label museum(!).

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Scaling the heights

Last weekend, Jenny and I were in Zermatt for a gig by Newton Faulkner, a musician from the UK whom both of us saw a couple of years ago at a small venue in Zurich, albeit before either of us had even met each other. Apparently, Jenny was in the front row that evening, as she was (is) a big Newton Faulkner fan. I, on the other hand, was only persuaded to attend the gig after a friend of mine said that the concert would be starting at 7 o'clock prompt and that the venue would then be showing the Champions League Final between United and Chelsea. As most football fans would know, United ended up lifting the trophy, which was my huge source of enjoyment that evening. The gig beforehand was quite good as well. Jenny and I didn't cross paths that evening, but we did a few months later.

Anyway, as I was saying, we were in Zermatt last weekend. However, our friend Newton wasn't. A little matter regarding a volcano in Iceland put paid to that one. Nevertheless, the guest bands that played in Newton's absence gave a sterling performance - so the trip south wasn't for nothing in the end (plus, the scenary wasn't bad either).

When we returned to Basel, I cracked open a bottle of Chardonnay:

Weingut Wehrheim, Chardonnay S trocken "Keuper", 2008, Pfalz
Keuper is the type of rock - or "Late Triassic" according to that source of authoritative information, Wikipedia. I didn't make notes for this one, and it's almost a week since we drank the bottle. However, we were both very impressed. We don't normally drink that much Chard, given that there are so many delicious alternatives in these climes. German Chard has never disappointed, though - and this was no exception. In fact, "Keuper" was up there with some of the best. The overriding impression was one of melons and minerals. And elegance and excitement all the way through.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Vineyard watch

While browsing wine websites - as is my wont - I stumbled yesterday upon this webcam run by the renowned Mosbacher Estate in the Pfalz. Relying on my geographic intuition, I reckon the cam is attached to the large building featured in the centre of this satellite image. The view is of the following Forst vineyards: Freundstück in the foreground, Ungeheuer in the middle distance and Musenhang at the very top of the slope.

(This brings back memories, because the parts of Freundstück and Ungeheuer which you see in the picture are more or less the exact areas of land I worked on when I did a month-long work experience at Reichsrat von Buhl in the summer of 1997 - a subject of one of my future posts.)

Friday, 16 April 2010

Riesling from the Südpfalz

Although the Südliche Weinstraße district of the Pfalz is one of the most dynamic wine-growing areas in Germany, my vinous experiences of this region have, to date, been somewhat limited. Due to my work experience way back in the 90s in Deidesheim, I've always seemed to concentrate more on what was going on in the Mittelhaardt district. This is almost criminal, what with all the hotshots of the German wine scene who hail from the beautiful Südpfalz: Rebholz, Becker, Wehrheim, Bernhart, Siener, Meßmer et al. Hopefully, I can rectify this situation.

Weingut Siener, Riesling vom Rotliegenden 2008, Pfalz
Ok, I admit: I chose this on the back of the fantastic points score this received in the annual "Bible" of German wine, the Gault Millau Weinguide. I wouldn't normally do this, but when the wine in question costs as little EUR 8 from an online retailer, it would be silly of me to look a gift horse in the mouth. Even if it disappoints, it wouldn't leave too much of a hole in my wallet - I thought.

What impressed me about this wine was its consistency of aroma and flavour from start to finish. By this, I mean: from Wednesday evening when it was opened, to Thursday evening after almost 24 hours in the fridge. The wine's appearance is a lovely yellow-straw hue. On the nose, herbal aromas giving way to apricot undertones. The palate is understated, medium-bodied and elegant. As dry as a pork scratching, but with notes of stone fruit and lime, and - with some air - maybe even blackcurrant. Throughout the mid-palate and finish, the impression is one of fine consistency and persistency. While maybe not as complex as, say, your average Großes Gewächs, this wine has pedigree in abundance. The question of whether it deserves its 90-point score from Gault Millau is neither here nor there.

[Edit: The "Rotliegendem" in the wine's title refers to the type of soil.]

Wednesday, 14 April 2010


No, this is not the title of some improbable Swiss answer to Pouilly Fumé. Instead, it's the name given to a new phenomenon in Basel since the local smoking ban came into force here in bars and restaurants on 1 April.

As any outsider who has lived in downtown Switzerland for any length of time will testify, the Swiss smoke like chimneys. Apparently around 70% of the population don't smoke, although I sometimes feel that the people who compiled smoking statistics for Switzerland got their figures the wrong way round. While the most of the rest of Europe introduced smoking ban in pubs and restaurants some years ago, Switzerland is still dragging its feet in this respect. Take the recent attempts, for example, by a sizeable minority of pubs in Basel to exploit a loophole in the new ban by introducing "smoking clubs" or Fumoirs. The idea is that the patrons who frequent these establishments become fully signed-up members of these Fümoars (as some clever clogs decided to call them) and consequently can continue to puff away on their ciggies regardless of the ban.

The theoretical problem with this approach is that occasional "walk-in" custom at these establishments will be a thing of the past, owing to the fact that all patrons must already be members. However, it remains to be seen how exploitation of this loophole in the new law is going to be policed. Are the Rozzers going to turn up at every pub to demand the personal details of every Tom, Dick and Harry?

With the smoking ban due to take effect nationwide from 1 May, it remains to be seen whether Basel's Fümoar furore will be a short-lived affair. Word is that the legal loopholes at local level will hold no weight once the whole of Switzerland is finally singing from the same song sheet.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

An old friend

Further to a recent post of mine about the ageability of dry Riesling, I thought it was time again to try an old favourite from the Fuhrmann-Eymael family in the Pfalz.

The Pfeffingen estate is well-known for their Scheurebe - a vastly underrated white varietal whose typical flavour profile is often dominated by blackcurrant and grapefruit aromas. Pfeffingen's sweet Scheurebes are arguably among the best in the world, their Spätleses also making for fine accompaniments to Asian or Pac-Rim cuisine.

However, dry Riesling also plays a prominent role in the Pfeffingen portfolio, the terroirs of the Herrenberg and Weilberg "grand cru" vineyards of Ungstein providing the raw material for the estate's "GG" wines.

Weingut Pfeffingen, Riesling, Weilberg Grosses Gewächs 2005, Pfalz
Light gold-yellow in appearance, the nose shows an initial douse of petrol that borders on paint, followed by spice, peach and animally hints with a savoury, almost red forest fruit character. On the palate, the impression is an extremely complex one, showing abundant spice and a pleasant softness in texture. Although legally trocken (in 51 states..), the amount of residual fructose in this one was near the statutory "ceiling" after vinification. Thanks to a few years' ageing, any sensory sweetness that might have originally been present in this wine has elegantly withdrawn to the background behind the ripeness of the acidity and extract, leaving a pretty dry and long finish. A fine wine in all senses of the word.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Moroccan wine

Lack of activity on here recently as I've been away on holiday.

Anyway, before I get on to other matters, I want to mention the Moroccan wine we drank on Easter Monday. On a visit to see my 22-month old goddaughter in Bellach near Solothurn, we were treated to this unusual red over dinner by my Swiss cousin Iris who had recently visited Morocco on holiday.

CB Initiales 2005, Thalvin au Domaine des Ouled Thaleb, Benslimane, Morocco
Us five adults (Jenny, me, my aunt, uncle and cousin Iris) had drunk a nice bottle of Italian wine earlier on during the meal. Relieved of pouring duties and still in the middle of eating, I was initially unaware that this next bottle was from Morocco. I first thought it was probably from Spain, judging by its style. With plenty of inky berry fruit and a touch of dried fruit, this had good deal of complexity to hold one's interest. A suggestion of vanilla and slight confectionery note also maybe hinted at somewhere in the New World such as California. Hence, I was more than a bit surprised when I finally saw the label. Totally off my wine radar and quite a discovery. This was a very attractive wine which went down a treat.