Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Riesling from the flats

Traditionally, the eastern slopes of the Haardt range are the undisputed cradle of quality wine-growing in the Pfalz. In contrast, much of the vineyard area further east on the Rhine valley rightly or wrongly used to be tainted by the bad old days of Liebfraumilch. Thankfully, this is virtually no longer the case, now that the latest generation of young local vintners have begun to eke out the best possible wines from the specific micro-climates and myriad soil formations at their doorstep. Hence, what was previously regarded as cabbage-patch land is now lauded for its sandstone, gravel or loess underfoot.

While at Hofgut Gönnheim, my attention was drawn to their small wine list comprising affordable estate-bottled Rieslings, Chardonnays and Pinot Blancs. Frau Jaus, who runs the guest house, told me her favourite in their collection was the Weissburgunder Spätlese trocken. I bought a bottle of that and one of the following Riesling:

Hofgut Gönnheim, Gönnheimer Sonnenberg, Riesling Spätlese trocken 2008, Pfalz
For a rare map showing the exact location of the vineyard, click here. However, I have no idea what soil formations are underfoot in Gönnheimer Sonnenberg. Lovely golden hue, but quite reticent in all respects on the first evening. Thankfully, it had opened up by the second day. Well-structured aromas of citrus and a distinctive honey (or rhubarb?) note. A crunchy citrusy acidity on the palate that counterbalances the stone fruit and minerals. Bone dry in taste, if not on paper. The wine has a pleasant freshness and honesty that deserves respect. With no pretensions to complexity but no lack of character, this is a snip at EUR 5.90.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Brief notes on Sauvignon Blanc

The other week, Jenny and I were at a wine tasting in Basel featuring a Sauvignon Blanc from the Astrolabe Winery in the Marlborough region of New Zealand - a wine offering that typical gooseberry fix. We bought a couple of bottles and opened them with friends (and raclette) not long after. I enjoyed this particular Kiwi Sauvignon for its aromas and uncomplicated freshness.

Which brings me to the hinterland of Rheinhessen... Siefersheim in the Rheinhessische Schweiz is not one of the most renowned sources of Sauvignon Blanc, but its climate would, ostensibly, seem ideal for cool-climate gooseberry juice. Wagner-Stempel are one of the leading lights of Rheinhessen.

Weingut Wagner-Stempel, Sauvignon Blanc trocken 2008, Rheinhessen
Straw colour, although the nose is far more intriguing: minerals abound and lend an unexpectedly creamy exoticism to aromas of freshly mown grass and apple. The palate combines flinty minerals and gooseberry, swallowing up the 13% alcohol quite easily and culminating in a balanced, elegant finish. An intelligent interpretation of an old classic, but far removed from blatant gooseberryism.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt

Yet another trip up north to the Pfalz - this time to take in the world's biggest winefest at the weekend. Strictly speaking, the trip wasn't my idea, but I happily took care of the logical side of the visit.

We stayed at Hofgut Gönnheim, in the lovely village of Gönnheim situated east of Wachenheim. Set in the centre of the village, the hotel has a beautiful courtyard with an adjoining winery and restaurant. And great hospitality, too.

We sampled virtually everything the Pfalz has to offer at this time of the year: Federweisser, Saumagen with chestnuts, Leberknödel, "Worscht", Weinkraut and a few Rieslingschorlen while sitting down at some of the Wurstmarkt's thirty-six Schubkarchstände.

Lots of fun, and yet very civilised. The "in-laws" from England also loved it, I think.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Choo-choo train

Another Saturday outing last weekend, as we went on an impromtu trip through the Black Forest in an old train dating back to the 1950s, pulled over the course of the day by a variety of locomotives, the oldest of which is shown here.

I'm no trainspotter, but it was a real treat.

Organised by Nostalgie Rhein Express, the route took us from Basel along the Hochrhein to Waldshut, and then on the old Wutach Valley Railway bahn or Sauschwänzlebahn (Pigtail Line). This was followed by brief stops in Immendingen and Donaueschingen, before we reached Titisee with an hour to kill. The village of Titisee is well known as a holiday destination for, shall we say, the more mature generations. Although my hair's already starting to turn grey, so I probably fitted in. Nevertheless, we forced our way through the geriatric throng and down to the lakeside, where we hired an electric motor boat and ventured out into the watery expanse for half an hour (see photo).

After a delay leaving Titisee, we double-backed on ourselves by returning to Donaueschingen, before heading northwest on the Schwarzwaldbahn all the way to Offenburg. Unfortunately, we were two hours late by that stage, due to one or two waits to let scheduled trains pass as well as a longer stop at dusk in one of the deepest parts of the Black Forest caused by a slight technical problem with the locomotive's brakes. It meant that we didn't get back down to Basel from Offenburg until midnight, making it the longest either have us have spent on a train in one day (we left Basel that morning at 9.30).

Thursday, 9 September 2010


Five years ago, I first learnt of the existence of Weingut Winter from an article written by Stuart Pigott. To my knowledge, the only version of the article freely available on the world-wide web is here (after clicking on the link, you need to scroll down a bit). After reading Mr Pigott's piece, the name of Winter's vineyard site, Leckerberg, became engrained in my memory, if only for the fact that the modern German adjective lecker means "tasty" or "yummy".

After all this time, I've finally been able to get my hands on a Winter wine, albeit a Scheurebe. In order to obtain a Leckerberg Riesling, you normally need to be a bit quicker off the mark than I usually am.

Weingut Winter, Dittelsheimer Scheurebe 2008, Rheinhessen
Exotic or what? The holy trinity of grapefruit, lychee and blackcurrant bursts into life. At first, grapefruit takes a bow, offering a luxuriant palate held together by a moderate dose of acidity. Other exotic notes develop without going over the top. Quite filling, but rather elegant too. Over the next 72 hours, blackcurrant notes gradually take the upper hand, offering a sensation vaguely reminiscent of Vimto.

Hm, I've just re-read the above. At this juncture, you would be forgiven for wondering how anything "rather elegant" can evoke memories of a long-standing British soft drink made of grapes, raspberries and blackcurrants.

This wine really does hit the spot, though. Without putting too fine a point on it, I feel that the secret is a little touch of residual sugar. There isn't really a lot of it, but there's just enough to lift the wine from one-dimensional to kaleidoscopic without descending into kitsch. As such, this Scheurebe rises above the everyday.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Swiss rolled

Last night, my better half and I were at the Joggeli, as St. Jakob-Park is nicknamed, to watch the Switzerland-England Euro 2012 Group G qualifier. Final score: 3-1 to England and a surprisingly pleasing and entertaining match all round.

For anyone who wishes to further their trivial knowledge, a definition of "Swiss roll" can be found here. For everyone else: please excuse the tabloid pun.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Calling card

Hans-Oliver Spanier once wrote on his website website that he was "der einzige Spanier, der etwas von Riesling versteht", or: "the only Spaniard who knows a thing or two about Riesling" (ho ho). This pun has since been discarded in favour of "Liquid Earth". This is all fine and dandy, but how do his wines taste? "My basic wines are my calling card," he continues. Well, here is one of his basic bottlings for starters:

Weingut Battenfeld-Spanier, Weissburgunder trocken 2008, Rheinhessen
An attractive, bright colour, this one. Nose of lightly baked bread. Oh, hold on - it smells of scones and butter! Mmm. Herr Spanier himself might not care for such descriptors (read the second half of this interesting blog post), but please indulge me here. Over time, the nose take on pleasant hints of yellowish apple. For me, the palate is savoury instead of fruity, bone dry but balanced, fresh yet substantial. The finish is tinged with a slightly stony bitterness, but this adds instead of detracts. Overall, a good introduction to the world of Battenfeld-Spanier, I would say.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Busy bee

Photographed today on a stroll through the vineyards above Weil (D).

Dry Scheurebe

As cross-breed grape varietals go, Scheurebe (roughly pronounced shoy-rey-ber) is probably my favourite. The first ever Scheurebe I drank was back in 1997: an Auslese from Reichsrat von Buhl (the vineyard was "Ruppertsberger Reiterpfad") and a pyschedelic explosion of blackcurrant, grapefruit and lychee if there ever was one. At its best, Scheu also has a refreshing level of acidity.

Without exception, all the Scheurebe I'd had until now contained residual sugar to differing degrees. For one thing, they certainly weren't trocken. And yet dry Scheu is all the rage these days among Germany's trocken-conscious clientele. So, what better intoduction to Scheu trocken than a wine from a reputable vineyard in Rheinhessen, Germany's Scheu hotbed (along with the Pfalz).

Weingut Kühling-Gillot, Qvinterra Scheurebe trocken 2008, Rheinhessen
The name "Qvinterra" refers to the fact that the fruit for this wine came from five different villages along Rheinhessen's famed left bank of the Rhine: Oppenheim, Nierstein, Nackenheim, Bodenheim and Laubenheim.

Initially, this Scheu was hard to warm to: from its grey/straw-yellow appearance to its rather "stemmy", weedy aromatics and smoky palate. A totally different animal from the slightly sweeter Scheus to which I've become accustomed.

Leaving the bottle in the fridge for a day helped to change this first impression to a certain extent. Twenty-four hours later, the wine still showed a certain greenness on the nose but had also developed more flowery characteristics. According to the rather rudimentary notes I made, the palate was "juicy, clean, crisp though not overly complex", with more smoky aromas and little in the way of fruit. The finish was short and, strangely, with very little cleansing acidity.

Although this isn't the last dry Scheurebe I'll be tasting, this, frankly, was not my cup of tea. I can't help thinking that, with a bit more residual sugar, the aromatics in this Scheu would have come more to life and made for a more interesting wine.

(**Double-barrel name alert**) Now, I'll save you the spiel about Carolin Spanier-Gillot, who runs Weingut Kühling-Gillot, being married to Hans-Oliver Spanier, who runs Weingut Battenfeld-Spanier. Suffice to say that I will be covering one of Hans-Oliver's wines in my next post.