Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A day in Düsseldorf

My visit to Prowein in Düsseldorf was an enjoyable one.

It was an early start on the Sunday after the clocks had gone forward: my train from Basel left at quarter past six, and I arrived in Düsseldorf at just after half past ten. I didn't get back to Basel until 1 a.m. on Monday morning.

Although I had an open mind as to what to expect at Prowein, nothing prepared me for the sheer size of the event. Divided over halls 3 to 7 at Düsseldorf Trade Fair, Prowein is huge. Amid all these cavernous halls, I thought it best to stick with what I know best and concentrate on Germany. Even within this focal point, I had really only scratched the surface by the end of the day in terms of stands visited. The VDP's own area of stands, for example, would have been worth a day's visit alone.

That said, a lot of the wineries I managed to talk to were ones whose stands I'd been interested in visiting all along - starting and ending with the Pfalz, with a sprinkling of Baden, Rheinhessen and the Nahe inbetween. Other regions such as the Ahr, Mosel, Württemberg or Franken will have to wait another day. Next time, I should maybe stay in Düsseldorf overnight and take in a couple of days in succession. That way, I might also be able to wriggle my way through to some stands that were so popular they resembled flies buzzing around a light bulb in summer.

Still, it proved to be a good basis to be going on with. Some encouraging contacts were made. It's a question of following it up now.

Saturday, 26 March 2011


Brief notes on a robust Pinot Blanc enjoyed over the last couple of days.

Weingut Reinhold & Cornelia Schneider, Weißer Burgunder Spätlese trocken *** 2009, Baden
Luckily, I have another bottle of this and will be saving it for a substantial meal some time in the distant future. Exceptional though it is, this is not a wine suited to casual sipping with salad or on its own in front of the television.

Reticient nose that never really came to life over the two evenings the bottle was open. Instead of fruit, a prickly sensation and some minerality eventually emerged. There was, however, an underlying potency, as confirmed on the palate: athletic, taut and sinewy like a 400-metre runner. Few specific flavours to speak of, but complex and flavoursome in terms of its kinetics. (Did I really just write that?) Not really my better half's cup of tea, but I liked the searing finish which went on and on. Very much a masculine wine for grown-ups, happily without any of the caramelised notes I noticed in the "lesser" Spätlese.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Off the wall

The following wine sold out a good while ago. It is extremely popular owing to the various accolades it has won over recent vintages. In hindsight, I maybe should have bought more than one bottle when we visited Bassermann-Jordan last summer. That is one of the drawbacks of travelling to wine country on Deutsche Bahn with minimal baggage.

Weingut Bassermann-Jordan, "Auf der Mauer" Riesling trocken 2009, Pfalz
The vinothèque at this famous Deidesheim property is very modern, plush and inviting. Nestled in the old part of the village, it is situated next to the Ketschauerhof, an even plusher-looking complex comprising a hotel, restaurant and function rooms. I noticed at the time that they host weddings - though this was never going to be a serious proposition: ours is going to take place in England, in the bride's home village in bucolic, rural Suffolk.

"Auf der Mauer" means simply "On the wall", referring to the location of the plots from which its fruit was sourced, all on relative plateaus overlooking the edge of the village, each at the top of high perimeter walls made of sandstone - hence the name. As you can see from the picture, it's even been registered as a trademark (®). All of these vineyards are cultivated using biodynamic methods and the wine is fermented spontaneously via the grapes' natural yeasts.

This Riesling is quite unlike anything I've tasted since Leiner's Calvus Mons. Then, like now, it was as if someone had stripped the Riesling of its acidity. I do like a bit of zing in my Rieslings, but will often settle for something with more stomach-soothing properties whenever push comes to shove and my better half has a say in the matter. This, on the other hand, feels oddly devoid of any "zing". Nevertheless, I had better start from the beginning.

Almost golden yellow in appearance; the nose shows dried grass and herbal notes plus a hint of mineral. Above all, I get strangely jammy aromas. Specifically, they remind me of the "Weissweingelee" (white wine jam) we spread on our bread rolls for breakfast at a hotel in the Pfalz last summer. This sensation continues emphatically on the palate: wild jammy notes flanked by intense apricot and peach. The mouthfeel is unusually luscious and chewy. And then comes the finish... Well, there isn't one. There is little or no acidity to speak of.

This wine is more off the wall than on it (I think I probably mean that in a good way).

Eventually, over a couple of days, it levels out somewhat. Strangely, it tastes more like a conventional Riesling as wild succulence gives way to something slimmer and more streamlined.

It's very hard to categorise this wine, let alone judge it at this early stage in its development. With only one bottle, I could have either drunk it now or waited a few years and maybe missed it in its vibrant youth. That's always a dilemma.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Gault Millau - a (brief attempt at a) critique

The 2011 "Gault Millau Wine Guide" has been a frequent companion on my desk in recent months. Still probably the best-known ratings guide to Germany's wineries and wines, it was the subject of much discussion and controversy a couple of years ago when a small but prominent group of wine estates decided to boycott the guide for reasons which, on the surface, seemed quite banal but culminated in the resignation of chief editor and co-publisher Armin Diel. At the time, the whole furore was the talking point among German wine bloggers. Although things seem to have calmed down since then, I have no desire to disturb that hornets' nest.

Instead, my critique, if you can call it that, concerns the ratings and judgements made in the guide itself.

By and large, I think the method which Gault Millau applies of rating not only a winery's latest vintage but the winery's standing as a whole on the basis of its track record over numerous years makes sense. I've read opinions criticising the fact that winery "xyz" with a three-star rating achieved better overall scores in a given vintage than an established four-star winery, citing this as a weakness in the rating system. Frankly, I believe this argument misses the point. The Knipser brothers, for example, who were elevated to five-star status this year, may or may not top the ratings at every quality level for each of their wines, but - to borrow a phase from the world of pop and art - it's their body of work over many vintages which arguably justifies their promotion to the quintuple-starred ranks of "world class".

Leaving that aside, what irritates me slightly about this year's edition is that, in a number of cases, personal preferences seem to have had an inordinate impact on the overall ratings conferred. Of course, subjectivity is the name of game when it comes to scoring wines, but in the Pfalz specifically, dry Riesling seems to be regarded as sub-standard if its residual sugar level exceeds a relatively misely level. That's my impression at least.

On various occasions, I notice comments to the effect that the personality and specificity of certain wines are diluted by the fact that the winemaker has not fermented the juice down to bone-dryness. However, I often suspect that vintners purposely leave anything from 5 to 9 g/l of residual sugar to prevent their still-dry-tasting Rieslings from becoming imbalanced.

Take Phillip Kuhn, for example - winner of this year's "Up-and-coming winemaker of the year" award ("Aufsteiger des Jahres") for the whole of Germany. I had to smirk last year when Kuhn's grand cru Rieslings attained scores of 89, 89 and 91 respectively and were criticised in the same breath for having too much residual sugar. These scores have now risen to 90, 92 and 92 this year, so it may be logical to assume that the sugar levels have been "reined in". Personally, I'm unable to judge whether Kuhn's 2009 Rieslings are actually superior to his 2008 versions, but whether they are more enjoyable to drink is another matter.

Comments about a wine's perceived sweetness run like a thread through the ratings (e.g. see the reviews for Ackermann from Ilbesheim, Scheu from Schweigen, Wolf and Pflüger from Bad Dürkheim respectively, Meyer from Heuchelheim-Klingen, Schreieck from Maikammer or Stern from Hochstadt). Don't get me wrong: the scorers' opinions are clear and consistent in relation to residual sugar, and that has to be acknowledged. However, their views seem to me to be a little dogmatic at times. To the extent that, far from deterring me from said wineries, they actually encourage me to learn more about them.

And then there is the case of Sven Leiner from Ilbesheim.

I've covered a few of Leiner's wines in the past (click here, here and here) and been fairly impressed. However, I've also been left cold by a wine of his on one occasion, meaning that the proverbial jury is still out as far as I'm concerned. Nevertheless, I'm baffled by the assessment of his wines in this year's Gault Millau. Based on a total of seven wines (of which all four of the whites belonged to the winery's more basic level in his quality range), the scorers have come to the conclusion that Leiner has "lost his way". Now, I haven't tried any of his 2009 vintage, but I would think that a basic dry Riesling costing EUR 6.40 and rating at 85 points is pretty good by anyone's standards. Leiner's three red wines don't score too badly either (84, 86 and 87 respectively), although these latter are more ambitiously priced. The worst two ratings are 81 and 82, for his two basic Weiss- and Grauburgunders, though this, too, is far from catastrophic. None of Leiner's top white wines are covered, however, so I am assuming that the criticism of Leiner's style refers more to his red wines. But that he should then be relegated from two stars to one star based on such an incomplete picture is somewhat harsh if you ask me. And I don't seem to be the only one who holds this view.

I don't belong to Herr Leiner's marketing department, I hasten to add, but I'd be more than a tad miffed if I were the winemaker.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Prowein 2011

One of Europe's premier wine fairs, Prowein has long been the exclusive reserve of wine professionals. Held in Düsseldorf each year, it is the event to attend if you count among one the great and good of German wine. For us mere mortals, on the other hand (i.e. bloggers who don't necessarily work in the wine trade per se), gaining accreditation to this wine fair used to be nigh on impossible. Yet things have changed.

Perhaps reflecting the growing importance of web-logs within the wine scene, Prowein has now opened up to bloggers. Well, since last year to be precise. I only learned of this a couple of weeks ago and was frankily dubious as to whether the author of a blog such as this would be considered for accreditation. All the more of a surprise then when an e-mail arrives in my inbox this morning containing the personal user name and password required to purchase a ticket.

Now I have my ticket and travel itinerary sorted, and will be hitting the fair on Sunday 27 March. This is very exciting.

My aim on this, my maiden visit, will be simply to get a feel of the event and general atmosphere, do some people-spotting, and taste some good wine. If some business leads come about as a result, that of course would be a bonus, but I'm just looking forward to attending the fair as a wine lover first and foremost.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Continued adventures in Weißburgunder

I've been tripping a lot on Weißburgunder recently and this, the "lesser" of four different 2009 Weißburgunders ordered directly from Schneider Estate in Endingen, was no exception.

According to the Schneider family, the 2009 vintage was a great year for Pinot Blanc at their small winery situated on the northern tip of the Kaiserstuhl region. So much so that they were also able to bottle this specimen, a notch below their "***"-designated premium range but already drinking superbly.

Weingut Reinhold & Cornelia Schneider, Weißer Burgunder Spätlese trocken 2009, Baden
What a beautiful label.

The nose opens up fairly quickly, toeing the line between dried apricot and Toffifee caramel cups. Fresh peach melba, exotic melon and minerals follow. Later, some herbal notes emerge. Medium-bodied and quite viscous on the palate, showing fresh apricots, spice and caramelised notes. The mouthfeel is quite electrifying and multi-layered. A substantial wine, but flavoursome in a light, lithe style - and with a tingling, lingering, satisfying finish.

For EUR 10, this is - dare I say it - a absolute steal. Did that all sound a bit gushing? Maybe, although my one minor quibble would be with regard to the caramelised notes, which, if I were honest, this wine could happily do without. But this is just my personal impression.

Serve this wine to any of my family and friends in the UK, and they would be blown away - of that I'm sure.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Huber's Muskateller

Due to the demands of the day job, short notes must suffice at the moment. The Muskateller varietal can be a very "obvious" in its aromatics, in the same way as, say, a Gewürztraminer. I love them, though.

Weingut Bernhard Huber, Malterdinger Bienenberg Muskateller Kabinett trocken
Light straw-yellow. A lovely note of grapes, muscat and elderflower. Quite a persistent and intense bouquet. If anything, the palate is even more splendid, showing those same muscaty signature notes, as well as cassis, whitecurrants, elderflower and more grapes. Dry from a sensory perspective, but embued with a fruity sweetness and soapy, chalky extract that provide length and persistence. At EUR 11.20, this is almost a cheap as you can get when it comes to the wines of Bernie Huber. It's worth it, though.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Saturday walk

Jenny and I both needed some fresh air and sun yesterday. The photo, taken literally where the border between Germany and Switzerland turns 90 degrees, shows the vineyards on the eastern side of Tüllinger Hill with the town of Lörrach in the background.