Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Monkey business

The image of a monkey adorns the labels on Boris Kranz's wines. This is a nod to the fact that the path which runs along the side of the Kleine Kalmit is called the Affenschaukel. This word can mean "monkey swing", but it is also slang for a variety of things about which I have no particular desire to go into detail.

Anyway, I digress.

Boris Kranz, along with Ilbesheim colleague Sven Leiner and Peter Siener from Weingut Siener in Birkweiler, belong to the VDP Pfalz's selected group of vintners who are aspiring to become fully fledged VDP members. Judging by the following wine, Kranz's credentials are excellent in that regard.

Weingut Kranz, Kalmit Riesling Spätlese trocken, 2008, Pfalz
With a nice clear straw-yellow appearance, this wine opened up dramatically in the glass within the space of 20 minutes or so. Multi-layered citrus aromas developing into orange and more exotic fruit. Opening on the front of palate with orange zest, then building up to a gorgeous mid-palate of minerals and succulent yellow stone fruit and mango. The acidics are tingly (as is the 2008 vintage's wont) but ripe. Not totally bone dry, but that's no fault in my book. The finish is long. This wine has poise. I would say this is safely grand cru/Grosses Gewächs standard, despite it "only" costing me EUR 12.90. Although it isn't Kranz's top Riesling, which is around two to three euros more expensive.

Sunday, 29 August 2010


The type of light wine I love coming back to again and again. Gutedel doesn't really do the whole Parker lark. The highest scores it gets tend to be around the mid-80s. This, as people acquanted with this lovely varietal know well, is neither here nor there.

Weingut Dörflinger, Müllheimer Reggenhag, Gutedel 2009, Baden
Hermann Dörflinger likes to ferment his wines virtually all the way through, taking no prisoners. This specimen has 1.6 g/l of residual sugar (as shown on the label) yet a gratifyingly low alcohol level of 11.5%.

Limpid in appearance, this has a subtle, structured nose hinting at bread and citrus. Fresh and spritzy on the palate, with an almondy complexity and another squeeze of citrus. Light yet packed with character. Gutedel as it should be.

Saturday, 28 August 2010


The following wine, also from Weingut Leiner, comes in one of those heavy burgundy-shaped bottles which yell out, "I'm important, taste me!" The punt at the bottom is the deepest I've come across: long enough to plunge the whole length of my thumb in and to hold the bottle between that and my forefinger. Not that I'd attempt to pour the wine like that... I'm usually "all thumbs", which means that such a manoeuvre would invariably end in tears (and half the wine would end up on the floor).

Weingut Leiner, Chardonnay "Hagedorn" 2007, Pfalz
Hagedorn is a slightly sloping south-facing vineyard approximately equidistant from the forest to the west and from Kleine Kalmit to the east. The soil is predominantly clay and therefore quite heavy.

Straw yellow with greenish tones. The initial aromas are laden with butterscotch and, again, this wild, grassy note of a summer meadow or pasture. On the second day of tasting, there is less of the butterscotch and more a suggestion of something tinned (asparagus?) or rubbery. At a pinch, you could still describe it as buttery. There is also red melon in the style of a Grauburgunder. Intriguing, if somewhat odd.
The palate is minty, cool, minerally and viscous, with sweet fruit (red melon) and just enough acidity to prevent the wine from tasting fat. This Chardonnay is highly individualistic, of that there is no doubt. It's also quite a mouthful. Definitely a food wine to be consumed in moderation. Maybe lacking in a bit more dimension to send it to the next level, as it were, but there's plenty to admire here nonetheless.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


After a brief and inconclusive encounter with Sven Leiner's wines last month, I decided it was only right to give them another shot.

Weingut Leiner is a biodynamic winery. As you can see on their website video (SWR report), one of their viticultural practices is that of filling cow horns with cow manure and burying them into the soil. According to Wikipedia, this is supposed to channel "new life forces from the cosmos". Whatever your view of biodynamics and its more "fringe" practices, this holistic approach to the soil and nature is compelling. The winery's labels reflect this vocation, with each bottle depicting a different insect that inhabits the local soils and vines, supposedly helping to aerate the earth and maintain a balanced eco-system that, in turn, helps to strengthen the vines' own immune system.

The Leiner wine I tasted last month - the Calvus Mons 2008 - is Sven Leiner's top Riesling. It had a certain wildness about it, but - as you may have read in that particular blog entry - my overall impression wasn't the best. Instead of trying a different Calvus Mons, I decided to go for Leiner's "second wine" instead. As I also wanted to include some wines by Weingut Kranz in the same order, I made my purchase via a third party instead of contacting the winery directly. The Calvus Mons they had on offer was from the notoriously flabby 2003 vintage, so I steered clear of that and went for the Setzer 2007.

Weingut Leiner, Riesling Setzer 2007, Pfalz
Some wines can sometimes be such a pleasant surprise that all you can do is let out a goofy chuckle. This was one such wine.

A gold-yellow hue offering a pot pourri of wild grass and hay on the nose. Coy yet playfully alluring (or verspielt, as they say in German), with ripe stone fruit and lime. The palate of peaches and spicy minerals is just as good. This is Riesling as I like it - offering juicy textures and considerable enjoyment. The acidity and chalky "tannins" are well integrated. If I were marking this wine and advocating a certain amount of pedantry, I would maybe penalise it for its relatively short finish. That, however, would be missing the point. Best Riesling in a long while for sheer pleasure.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Schliengen to Ebringen

After various deluges in recent weeks, yesterday's weather was something to savour: 30C and barely a cloud in the sky. Perfect then for a leisurely bike ride through the heart of wine country in Markgräflerland, with yours truly acting as tour guide for four lovely ladies from Basel - including my better half, I hasten to add. Some jobs are absolute purgatory. The final destination was Ebringen, the venue of yet another wine fest (Ebringer Weintage). Despite alighting the train in Schliengen at 11.15 a.m., we only made it to our destination until after 7 p.m. following various refreshment breaks along the way. Staufen (see photo) was one of those stopping points. The wine fest itself was a relatively brief but enjoyable affair. Due to general fatigue, we decided to catch the train back to Basel fairly early. Jenny and I were at home by 11 - just in time for Match of the Day. The end of a perfect day.

Friday, 20 August 2010


A Grüner Veltliner from Austria's Carnuntum appellation.

Weingut Markowitsch, Grüner Veltliner - Alte Reben 2009, Carnuntum
The name Markowitsch has a certain ring to it - almost suggestive of a Tolstoy or Dostoevky novel. However, these particular Markowitsches (Gerhard and Christine) are Austrian winegrowers from the village of Göttlesbrunn, not too far from the Slovakian border. I'd "clocked" the Markowitsch wine label some time ago, which is why I decided to order a red wine of theirs to go with a meal at a family reunion we had in Schruns (of all places) last May. A "Redmont", I think it was: a blend of 55% Zweigelt, 15% Blaufränkisch, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and 10% Merlot.

Anyway, this GrüVe was harvested from 40 to 45-year old vines, hence the "Alte Reben" tag. Grown on sandy loam and loess, the resultant juice was fermented in stainless steel to weigh in at just over 14% alcohol.

Straw-yellow in appearance with greenish gold hue. Flinty, burnt aromas on the nose, with plenty of the trademark GrüVe black pepper and spice. Tremendous ripeness too but fresh, with maybe a touch of dried apricot. The concentration and extract continues on the palate, although the acidity is low. Despite the relatively high alcohol level, in no way is this a hot-house wine. There is a certain viscosity at first, and then dried fruit (apricot again), vegetative notes and spice take over. This is what buffers the alcohol and results in a fairly long finish. The total number of Grüner Veltliners I've ever drunk barely reaches into double figures, but this wine whets my appetite for more.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010


In geographical terms, this could hardly be further away from the previous wine. Given it's proximity to Basel, this is a local wine, so to speak.

Despite enjoying increased attention of late, Claus and Susanne Schneider's winery are still a well-kept secret, I would say. Firstly, their location at the southwestern extremity of German territory means that they simply tend to get overlooked. Secondly, there are so many other "Schneiders" knocking around the German wine scene already, some of whom overshadow Claus and Susanne Schneider's operation either in terms of their reputation or on account of their meteoric commercial success.

Weingut Schneider, Weiler Schlipf, Spätburgunder trocken *** "CS" 2007, Baden
Opened on Sunday at midday and left in the bottle with the cork on between servings until the last drop was poured on Monday evening. Decanting is too much of a risk, what with those pesky fruit flies starting to hatch. Still, it had received plenty of air by Monday evening.

A lovely ruby colour with a watery rim. Quite the delicate little rose. The dainty appearance belies a grippy nose that shows initial chalkiness and unfolds over time into earthy, animally, savoury notes of bacon fat and leather and hints of dark cherry/plummy schnapps. This continues on to the palate, with the various components - mineral, fruit, animally notes, alcohol - in balance. The acidity is slightly astringent at first but beds down well with more air, as do the tannins and the oaky hints. The impression of grip remains (the best German translation of this would probably be "Druck"), leading me to the conclusion that years of potential lie ahead for this wine to develop further complexity and precision. However, it's already drinking extremely well. What I like about it is its integrity. Nothing is loud or pretentious. A local wine in every sense.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Blackpool FC

After decades of obscurity, my local football club have returned to English football's top flight. Not many people are giving them much hope of staying up by the end of this season, but for now at least, they're sitting pretty behind Chelsea at the top the league. Stanley Matthews will be chuckling in his grave.

Although being my local team, I've never been a supporter as such. A number of dispiriting, tedious trips to what was a dilapidated Bloomfield Road back in the 80s and early 90s put paid too that. Manchester United and Bryan Robson - my childhood idol - had already gained my allegiance by then. Be that as it may, I think it's great that Blackpool are back in the spotlight and I'm already looking forward to attending their home fixture against United in December.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Fruit flies

So, I open a bottle of Meyer-Näkel Pinot Noir, take a sniff and then... a fruit fly lands in the glass. Yes, it's that time of the year again. Fruit flies ruin the taste of wine, as explained here.

Ok, take two - this time with a piece of paper protecting the inside of the glass from the little buggers whenever I'm not sipping the wine...

Weingut Meyer-Näkel, Spätburgunder QbA trocken 2009, Ahr
My first ever wine from the Ahr, Germany's most northerly wine region and yet one of its best areas for growing Pinot Noir. This cost EUR 13.50 and is one of the Meyer-Näkel winery's more "basic" offerings. One of its premium wines, costing over 40 euro, won the Decanter International Trophy for Pinot Noir a couple of years ago. The first slightly surprising thing to note is the vintage. Quite early to be drinking a supposedly half-decent Spätburgunder from 2009, one would think. However, this was a new addition on the shelves of one of our local supermarkets and was too tempting an opportunity to pass up.

Cherry coloured with tell-tale violet around the rim betraying the wine's youthfulness. On the nose, hints of cherry, youthful freshness and some pleasant herbal notes. The palate is light and pure. Everything feels understated, even the 13.5% alcohol. This is a style of wine that focuses more on elegance than power or extract. Cherry fruit, dry as a pork scratching yet balanced. Good stuff.

Saturday, 14 August 2010


As promised a while back, some brief memories of my short stint at Reichsrat von Buhl in the summer of 1997.

I had come into contact with a member of their administrative staff earlier that year while researching for a university dissertation during my "academic year abroad" as an English-language assistant at a school in Germersheim. This work, written in my scratchy German and entitled Pfälzer Wein ("Pfalz wine"), was a general synopsis of the wines, grapes and wineries of the Pfalz region. I still have a copy of it somewhere at home, although much of the content now seems quite simplistic with the benefit of hindsight.

After visiting the wine estate in person to interview said member of staff, I was granted a brief tour of the grounds and cellars, and also given a complementary ticket to the winery's annual vintage tasting in May. Inspired by this little excursion and by the wines I subsequently tasted, I contacted von Buhl again, inquiring as to the possibility of doing a work placement there at the end of my stint in Germersheim. To my surprise, they decided to take me on for a one-month Praktikum.

My time at Von Buhl was split into two halves. The first two weeks were spent working as the proverbial cellar rat, doing everything from riddling the winery's bottles of fizz to packing and labelling bottles. The second fortnight was spent outside "uff'm Feld", where I basically pruned, defoliated and tidied the vines all day long. Fellow Pratikantin Daniela and I would be picked up by one of the vineyard staff each morning at 7 outside the now defunct bakery opposite von Buhl's main gates and taken a couple of kilometres down the road to the winery's other base in Forst, from where we would then take the tractor up to our workplace in the famed vineyards of Freundstück, Pechstein and Ungeheuer. In the summer heat, working days would be physically demanding but would finish at 4. One particular day, however, I was asked to put in some serious overtime back at headquarters in Deidesheim. A party of around 30 Japanese tourists had descended on the winery, and I was required to pour a dozen different wines for all our guests as part of a tasting presentation. Afterwards, it was straight to bed and then up at 6.30 next morning for more hard labour in the vineyards.

My most abiding memory of von Buhl, however, was the cameradery among fellow workers, a lot of whom were from Portugal. Above is a photo of three of my colleagues taking their 9.30 a.m. break next to Buhl's vineyard holding in Ungeheuer. From left to right: Jorge the Portuguese, Daniela the German (who was training to become a sommelier), and one of the winery's more experienced workers (his name escapes me, unfortunately).

Fritz (I'll call him that for the benefit of doubt, although that may indeed be near the mark if memory serves me well) liked talking to vines in the manner of Prince Charles. He also swore at them like a trooper, what with their annoying ability to attach themselves to anything they could lay their tendrils on. His local Pfälzer dialect was unintelligible at times, but he would have us all in stitches with his humour and mannerisms. Daniela and I didn't really get on, to be honest, although I think this was more down to our differing backgrounds and outlook on life than to any real emnity. Jorge, meanwhile, who was the unofficial "head" of the Portuguese faction, was an amiable, wise soul. Fluent in English, he was on good terms with the then resident winemaker Frank John and a useful person to have around and chat with.

One of the key things which my time at von Buhl taught me was that working hands on at a winery involves a lot of hard yakka. Added to that the scientific and technical acumen as well as managerial and sales expertise demanded of most winemakers, then it is clear that running a vineyard is no stroll in the park. I have the utmost admiration for anyone who takes such a career path.

Monday, 2 August 2010

"Wingerter Woi- und Gässelfescht"

Owing to various summer activities, there's not much time at the moment for Jenny and I to sit down and enjoy a bottle of wine together and for me to then write corresponding notes. Not that I'm complaining, as we've both had a lovely time. Things should normalise somewhat from next week, though.

Just a quick entry today with a photograph from Saturday's latest trip to the Pfalz: to visit two good friends at their new house out in the country in the aptly named village of Weingarten. The annual village fest ("Woi- und Gässelfescht") happened to be taking place. In the photograph above, I present to you a familiar "double-act" at fests of such ilk. The garish orange shorts which you may also be able to make out in the picture are not mine.