Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Ambrosia revisited

It was in early 2010 that I first wrote about this wine. Time for a brief update.

Weingut Aloisiushof, Riesling "Ambrosia" trocken 2008, Pfalz, Germany
Golden/straw-coloured with greenish reflexes. Spicy red fruit, stone fruit and a creaminess jump out of the glass. To capture as much aroma as possible, it's probably best not chilling this wine that much, if at all. Creamy again on the palate but pinpoint dry - meaning that it sports broad shoulders but does not lack focus. Luscious peach in abundance. Full-bodied, spicy Pfalz Riesling.

I liked this wine back then and I love it now. The "bright future" I somewhat boldly predicted is actually starting to come true. There is a generosity about this wine that makes me smile.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012


My first-hand tasting experience of the Ahr region is minimal, yet years of reading wine forums and blogs have taught me via second-hand means that, of all the Ahr's top reds, Jean Stodden's Pinot Noirs are perhaps the least approachable in their youth. In the best Burgundy tradition, his are wines built for the duration. It was with this in mind that I approached the following wine with more than a hint of trepidation.

Weingut Jean Stodden, Spätburgunder JS trocken 2007, Ahr, Germany
Pretty conventional ruby in appearance - nothing to fear so far. Raspberry and cherry on the nose, followed by a smell that reminds me of peas. The whiff is quite distinct. I wonder whether other Spätburgunders grown on slate have this feature? Quite perfumed in a feminine way with liquorice and chocolate emerging on the second day. Aromatic yet firm on the palate. Although the tannins are slightly drying and there is some warmth from the alcohol, this wine is otherwise quite cool, elegant and silky in texture. A nice vein of sour cherry acidity underlines this impression. The finish is long.

In short, this is impressive. The state of the tannins leads me to suspect that a few more years' cellaring would do no harm, but there is nothing to fear now.

Monday, 22 October 2012


Consumed in the afterglow of the previous Riesling, this wine fell short somewhat in comparative terms yet is worthwhile in its own right.

Weingut Battenfeld-Spanier, Riesling Mölsheim trocken 2010, Rheinhessen, Germany
According to the property's internal quality pyramid, this wine should be on a par with a Burgundy cru village, but - in the absence of any Battenfeld-Spanier premiers crus - is in practice one step below a grand cru.

The colour is a pretty conventional straw-yellow. Dry herbs on the nose - reminding me specifically of herbes de provence. Lemon curd (of all things) also emerges, as does a whiff of elderflower. The body is medium but quite lithe, with a grainy/corn-like note. A fair amount of character here, but a touch closed. Though this is a 2010, I would still prefer a squeeze more of acidity. Tasted over three nights, this Riesling shows best on the first evening, holds form more or less on the second evening and falls off considerably on the third and final evening - due in no small part to the aforementioned lack of zing, I would say.

However, this is really only a slight quibble in the scheme of things. Maybe it was little unfair to drink this Mölsheim so soon after the weightier preceding wine.

Sunday, 21 October 2012


By anyone's standards, Weingut Odintal is a unique property in the Pfalz. Occupying a sizeable clearing of land up in the Pfälzer Wald (Palatinate Forest), its vineyards are among the region's highest. The vineyard "chateau" is a country villa that changed hands a few centuries ago after its builder Johann Ludwig Wolf lost a game of cards (they did things differently in those days).

Berlin-born Thomas Hensel bought Odinstal in the late 1990s, originally with the intention of renovating the house as a place for him, his wife and three children to live. After renovation was complete, his attention moved to the adjoining vineyards. Identifying their cool climate characteristics 350 metres above sea level and unique soil formations in close proximity to the mouth of a formerly active volcano (the "Pechsteinkopf"), Hensel promptly hired the services of winemaker Andreas Schumann. Winegrowing methods at Odinstal are biodynamic, all grapes are picked by hand and musts ferment spontaneously via indigenous yeasts.

I had been quite intrigued by Odinstal for some years, but only recently took the plunge - by purchasing this, a lone bottle of one of the property's top Rieslings from a local merchant in Basel.

Weingut Odinstal, Riesling Bundsandstein trocken 2010, Pfalz, Germany
Quite brilliant light yellow. Initially, a nasty whiff of oxidation rises up out of the glass. Trust me to have bought a dud bottle, I chunter to myself. Leaving it overnight in the fridge is the only option. Thankfully, my fears prove unfounded. One day later, the funk has dissipated. What emerge are salty, iodine notes reminiscent of fizzy German mineral water, coupled with something very hard to describe. My best stab at it would be nail varnish remover - laughable, I know, but more pleasant than it reads. And dirt of the soil - or, put simply: good old-fashioned muck. Fruit-wise, the most distinctive note is of ripe pear.

Zingy, pure and highly strung on the palate. I imagine that the grapes used for this wine must have been intensely aromatic. And for me, the main flavour is of grapes. Everything is in high definition, so to speak. The acidity is unbelievable. Unbelievably tasty, I mean - and fully integrated. This wine offers a tremendous amount of substance in the mouth and is also still quite taut - obviously, given how recent the vintage is. The finish is long.

To be honest, I thought the wine's cool climate origins might result in something slimline and maybe even slightly weedy. My preconceptions couldn't have been more misguided. The extra elevation up in the forest has allowed the grapes to ripen "on slow burner". In an already cool vintage such as 2010, this has evidently resulted in something special.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Weilberg 2005

I recently opened the penultimate bottle of this, the oldest wine in our cellar.

Weingut Pfeffingen, Riesling, Weilberg Grosses Gewächs 2005, Pfalz
Herbs and stone fruit on an otherwise reticent nose. Very much stone-fruit-dominated on the palate, Minerally and stern. A touch more austere than last tasted over a year ago. Then it felt quite opulent and generous. Still, I'm sure the final bottle should keep for many years. Which is fortunate, as I suspect this wine may be going through a slightly closed phase right now.

[Footnote: The 2005 vintage was the final vintage featuring Weingut Pfeffingen's old label. Maybe it's just me, but I still prefer this older version to the simplified yet stylishly presented gold-leaf-on-black unicorn emblem that has appeared ever since. I think the revamped label goes too far over to the designer label end of the spectrum and actually feels more anonymous. Anyway, that's my tuppence worth.]

Sunday, 7 October 2012


It's not often I get to taste a wine this old, let alone one from the supermarket. "Hieber's Frische Center", the German supermarket in question is very popular here on the Basel border triangle. For those reading this in the UK, maybe Booths supermarkets in the northwest of England (mostly Lancashire and Cumbria) are comparable in terms of their specific local presence and customer base.

Some good friends of ours regularly frequent Hieber's for their weekly shop. They absolutely love it. My wife and I, on the other hand, tend to avoid Hieber's wherever possible. While offering virtually everything one's heart might desire, the stores are such a maze to get through that we invariably end up losing time and patience, to put it mildly. Spending nearly an hour in a supermarket isn't what either of us would call fun, regardless of how fresh and varied the produce on offer is. For the time being, we are happy to continue cycling over the border to "Kaufring", our regular, smaller supermarket in the centre of Weil am Rhein. A weekly shop there can usually be negotiated within the space of 15 to 20 minutes. Kaufring used to be just across the road while I still lived in Germany. The only difference now is that it's situated over the border 10 minutes away by bike. Some proud Swiss might feel slightly miffed that we don't regularly shop for our groceries in their country, but - to be perfectly frank (excuse the pun) - things are simply cheaper across the border. And the level of customer service edges it too.

However, Hieber's does have an unrivalled selection of local German wine. Once every blue moon, I check up on it. Sometimes, there are some real gems to be found.

Hofgut Sonnenschein, Fischinger Weingarten Regent "Barrique" trocken 2001, Baden, Germany
Fischingen is a lovely little village situated around 10 km north of Basel and one of my favourite destinations for a Sunday afternoon bike ride. Many fellow expats will know of Fischingen on account of its ubiquitous farmer's market-cum-restaurant Fünfschilling that does a roaring trade on the southern edge of the village. Visit the place from Monday to Saturday, and you will see plenty of vehicles with Swiss registrations in its car park (and some French too). If you prefer a little more peace and quiet, Sunday is the time to go when the Fünfschilling is closed.

If you visit on a Sunday, you'll also have greater incentive to explore the rest of village. Hofgut Sonnenschein is situated right in the middle of Fischingen by the church. Run by Markus Bürgin, the property grows wine according to biodynamic methods with a weird and wonderful selection of fungus-resistant grape varietals at its disposal - ranging from from Solaris, Souvignier Gris and Prior to Johanniter, Monarch and Regent.

The latter grape, Regent, is probably the best-known fungus-resistant grape varietal, or "Piwi" as the Germans helpfully call it (short for pilzwiderstandsfähige Rebsorte). As a red grape varietal, its wines tend to have furry tannins and straightforward berry fruit aromas, coupled with an opaque appearance. Not unlike its much-maligned peer Dornfelder, Regent can sometimes be surprisingly good, but - and this is the big but - only if treated with the requisite care and attention. The grape was only released for cultivation in Germany in 1996, so the prospect of tasting an 11-year specimen was intriguing.

In terms of this wine's colour, please refer to the photo above. As you can probably make out in the shadow, there is maybe a slight suggestion of yellowish-brown on the rim. The leathery, eucalyptus notes on the nose remind me more of Aussie Shiraz, yet the impression I have is still a fairly youthful one. On the palate, the mellowest Regent tannins I've ever tasted wash over my tastebuds. Lovely dark fruit with some slightly more matured, complex animally hints. Full-bodied, concentrated yet athletic and clean as a whistle. The finish isn't necessarily the longest but is strangely satisfying nonetheless. I'm in no doubt that this wine is now in its prime, yet could age quite gracefully for a further decade or so. The 13% alcohol is also refreshingly moderate and barely noticeable.

Knowledge regarding the ageability of red cross-breeds such as Regent and Dornfelder is still relatively meagre, but if this wine is anything to go by, the future is encouraging. The barrel has managed to tame the tannins and add considerable complexity, and 11 years barely seem that long.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


Introducing my first-ever Knipser Grosses Gewächs, red or white... I bought two bottles of this over a year ago from a local merchant in Basel, but decided to leave well alone until now.

Weingut Knipser, Spätburgunder Burgweg GG 2007, Pfalz, Germany
Burgweg is the name of the vineyard as a whole, but Knipers' plot is situated in the best part called "Im Grossen Garten" - a sheltered, relatively steep, limestone-rich south-facing slope on the western edge of Grosskarlbach overlooking an old mill. The property itself compares the limestone in Burgweg to the chalky soil found on Burgundy's Côte d'Or. Winery photographs incidentally show an attractive line of cypresses running up the vineyard's spine.

Dense ruby in appearance with black cherry and sappy redcurrant and raspberry. Whenever the soils are chalky, I invariably catch a whiff of menthol in there too. This wine is no exception. There's also a hint of oak ageing, but nothing intrusive.
Pure dark cherry on the palate. Again, the barrel notes are well integrated. Full-bodied in the mouth but a refreshing vein of acidity lends refreshment and refinement. The 14% alcohol is barely noticeable. Minerally characteristics are evident in a certain grip this wine has on the tongue. The tannins are mellow - a year's "speed-cellaring" in our basement may already have helped in this respect - but there is so much density in there that I would say this wine has an exceedingly long life ahead.
Ultra-long on the the finish. Impressive stuff.

Ideally, I would like to hold on to the second bottle for a few more years. Nevertheless, I think this wine is showing well at present and is probably hitting its first stage of maturity.