Posts Tagged ‘Riesling’
The Great Rheingau Riesling Review was primarily about launching the excellent 2011 dry wines. These are the ‘Erstes Gewächs’, the premier or grand cru wines from the top estates in the Rheingau, in the modern dry style. But if you want to catch the attention of journalists and writers you need give them something of a treat – and what a treat it was!
2011 is a great vintage even if it was difficult to handle because it was so early. Dr Franz Michel of Domdechant Werner explained that this was the only time he remembers when the grapes were picked in September. His perspective is from 65 vintages. The grapes achieved full, early maturation, and were picked to stop the acidity dropping. The botrytis was rampant and spread through effected areas to 100% – so watch out for the sweet wines too in due course. The dry 2011s show great fruit concentration – tight knit palates that will unfold with green apple through to candied pineapple notes, classic high acidity. They will drink well at this top level from, say, five years time until … well how long have you got? One producer stated that the wines are still wine-like back into the 1840s and then it gets a bit hit and miss! Riesling has no peers among white grape varieties for ageing.
The treat – four older wines
Hattenheim Wisselbrunnen Riesling, Weingut Hans Lang 2002 – a baby at 10 years old, mineral notes to the fore as we leave the intense fruit-freshness of the 2011s behind, but then the fruit notes are still pronounced on the mid-palate, rich and very long. The colour has just a hint of gold about it in comparison with the young wines.
Weissbaudomäne Schloss Johanisberg, Grünlack Riesling Spätlese 1971 – much more evident gold in the glass; slightly mushroomy on the nose, with that textbook minerality and fresh acidity but lacked fruit by these standards. This wine split opinion – some wondered if it was in the best condition, while another expert pointing out that Schloss Johanisberg’s wine making was not that great in this period.
Hochheimer Domdechaney Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese, Domdechant Wernershes Weingut, 1962 – striking amber colour, this remarkable quinquagenarian (try that in Scrabble!) leads with a luscious toffee and honey nose reminiscent of great Oloroso, ie oxidatively aged wines. The sweetness is perfectly matched by rapier like acidity which has kept it fresh through its half century. This was our presenter’s wine and his estate can be very proud of it.
Steinberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese, Hessischeweingüter Kloster Erbach 1959 – again stunning colour, remarkable richness on the nose and palate, candied fruit, toffee, very long, sweeter than the 1962.
In the main tasting I also enjoyed the wines of Baron Knyphausen and the two fine Pinot Noirs of Georg Muller, Spätburgunder Trocken Edition PW 2009 is the simpler wine and Hattenheim Hassel Spätburgunder Erstes Gewächs 2009, a marked step up: fragrant and structured wines. Today’s top quality German wines have a real wow factor.
Unfortunately I could not attend the Bring a bottle club this month due, on this occasion, to a work commitment. But every cloud has a silver lining: here is a guest blog from Rob:
For the second notable birthday of the month, attention was focussed on a region known by reputation by all of us and especially by our birthday boy. Through the BBC’s association with Caviste we have a fondness for Australian wines, but more so perhaps for the Barossa. Nonetheless we all felt confident of spotting a cooler climate Margaret River chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon: so how would we fair with all of Western Australia to go at?
Two themes emerged. Firstly, in an interesting twist on the excellent Two Ronnies’ “Mastermind” sketch, an ability to identify the next wine and how wines age differently in Western Australia (and classically the whole of the New World) than the old.
First up, four whites of excellent calibre and unanimity of order of preference from the group.
We started with a lively fresh, limey, just-the-right-amount-of-petrol, well, riesling surely? “Chardonnay” declared one member of the group. The 2009 Plantagenet, Great Southern, Riesling was a good example of cooler climate new world riesling.
The second wine was as predicted by our Ronnie Barker, a chardonnay. The Umamu Estate, Margaret River, Chardonnay, was everything we had hoped it would be: creamy, rich, lovely buttery oak well integrated with tropical fruits and, suggested one of us, Greek yoghurt. Everything a well aged Margaret River Chardonnay should be. However, does a 2006 count as “well aged”? The old world would need 10+ years to be as rich; this was lovely at half that age.
The third wine was just as easy to spot: waxy, good palate-weight, lovely balance, tell-tale lanolin. Mid aged semillon surely? “I know what this is!”, one member confidently declared, “McHenry Hohnen’s 3 Amigos”. The Moss Wood Vineyard, Margaret River, Semillon, 2010 was neither a Rhone blend nor mid aged.
The final white was indeed the McHenry Hohnen, Margaret River, 3 Amigos, marsanne, chardonnay and rousanne blend. Creamy, rich, lovely buttery oak, well integrated (I refer to the previous description!): chardonnay surely, but with even more of that richness of which the old world would be proud. 2000 maybe? No, too old; learning how the whites age, a tad younger, 2004? No, 2008!
The four reds offered a different perspective: do Western Australian reds have a closed phase at the same age as the whites are beautifully showing tertiary characteristics?
The first red was unanimously declared as wonderful. “One of the best wines I have had in quite some time”, thought one. Dense, but feminine: burnt pepper and floral notes of a Coti Rotie; silky but rich; pale cherries and roses. The richness and the density of colour showed the Wignalls, Albany, Pinot Noir, to be some distance from an old world cousin, but unlike the whites, from 2007, it was still an energetic teenager.
Bramble jam! Rich, succulent, sweet, brooding, blackberry, damsons, blackcurrant, tell-tale mint and green leaf. Classic Margaret River cabernet sauvignon. One member spotted the blended merlot in the Cape Mentelle, Margaret River, Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot. We were even not too far away from 2004.
If the 2004 was showing its fruit wonderfully well, the Cullen, Mangan, Margaret River, 2006, a blend of merlot, petit verdot and malbec, was still relatively closed. The nose was not giving much away, although the palate opened up nicely showing violets again (is this a Western Australia theme?) and pepper against a dark, brooding background of dense red fruit. Lovely, but still young.
The final red was even more impenetrable, but then a 2007, Plantagenet, Great Southern, Cabernet Sauvignon would be expected to be more closed than a pinot noir of the same age. Lovely tannins and suggestions of fruit hinted at more to come with time.
A final sweet concluded the evening and returned to the white aging theme. A lovely rich amber colour, suggesting the wine making processes involved, underlined by the rich orange marmalade balanced by lighter apricot. Mid aged, botrytis semillon? Botrytis semillon sure, but the 2009, Vinelane, Noble Botrytis Semillon followed the theme that at three years it showed a depth which a good Sauternes would envy at six years.
Outside of the New World with its focus on the characteristic qualities of single grape varieties, Alsace has got to be the easiest wine to taste blind. Aromatic Gewurz, steely Riesling, more neutral but classy Pinot Gris and the odd glass of Pinot Noir (which has the decency to be red), this is going to be a doddle isn’t it? Let’s see how we got on at the late February Bring a Bottle Club.
February’s meeting of Andover Wine Friends was a spectacular lunch at The Harrow Inn, Little Bedwyn. They put on a great show for 17 of us, while running the front half of the restaurant as usual. I was seriously off duty – too much good food, company and excellent wines – so there are no detailed notes this month. However, here are a selection of photos of some of the seven or so courses plus cheese, almost entirely from these islands. And a brief note on some outstanding wines.
The approach in this restaurant is easy to describe – genuinely warm hospitality, outstanding sourcing of ingredients, perfect timing in the kitchen, innovative combinations and a profound love of wine. What a great combination! The event started well with Ruinart Blanc de Blanc Champagne, being poured above left.
And the wines? Some were bought at the Harrow and some came from people’s own collections. To pick out some unfairly:
- the Ruinart is wonderfully balanced and very refined
- Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé Silex, Loire – great, concentrated mineral Sauvignon Blanc … because there is a tradition of drinking this great wine at the Harrow
- a stunningly good, moderately priced Semillon from Australia which the Harrow stocks: Mount Horrocks Semillon, Clare Valley, Australia
- a wonderful white Grenache (not a phrase you can often employ!) from Catalan Spain – Ctonia, Masia Serra
- three Rieslings to compare – Eden Valley, Australia; classic Mosel; Schlumberger Grand Cru from Alsace
- decent Condrieu from Christophe Pichon and Cornas from Domaine de Rochepertuis
- sadly another ‘drink at the Harrow’ tradition here did not come to pass as the 1985 Hermitage from Jaboulet was over the hill – I suppose in this case it just rolled gracefully down the hill
- Spinnifex’s Indigene and Shiraz-Mataro from the Barossa, big fruit numbers but beautifully structured and complex, especially the latter
- there were quite a few others which probably deserved a mention …
- and finally, a brilliantly concentrated and only moderately sweet Banyuls: Coume del Mas Quintessence Banyulus Rouge
- some people found a little space to try two different Grappas
With many thanks to the whole crew at the Harrow – you deserve your success.
January’s Fine Wine Supper featured the wines of top Alsace producer, Josmeyer. It is always worthwhile to taste the wines of the most well-known domaines, to see if they continue to live up to their reputations. Here they emphatically did. All six wines were very good, some – in fact the cheapest as well as some of the Grand Cru – were excellent. But the real star of the evening for me was the Pinot Gris.
Now that is a sentence you do not often read. The reputation of Pinot Gris/Grigio has suffered badly due to the glut of cheap examples which are neutral at best and sometimes just seriously bland – inexpensive wines, inexplicably popular in bars and the supermarket. Their secret is that they don’t taste of anything … which is a profoundly depressing thought. And even on this evening of quality wines, the Riesling and the Gewurztraminer were more assertive, more flamboyant, more showy. But for quality, balance and a subtle complexity, the Pinot Gris outshone their flashier neighbours.
The evening was based on half a dozen wines put together by the Wine Society to showcase Josmeyer. Rather neatly, there were two examples each of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. Each pair showed a good contrast – in quality level, age or between single vineyards.
After a pleasant glass of sparkling wine, Crémant d’Alsace from Dopff, we began with the Riesling. If there was a prize for the best wine of the night for quality against price, it would easily be won by The Society’s Exhibition Riesling 2009, made for the Wine Society by Josmeyer at a creditable £11.50. Beautiful green apple and honey notes, floral, moderate acidity (perhaps lower than expected due to the warm year), effortless balance, superb. There was, however, a marked step up in quality and complexity to the Riesling Les Pierrets 2004, and so there should be at more than double the price. The youthful, bright apple notes have transmuted into something profound, a full palate of fruit (apple, quince) and mineral complexity. The standard ‘petrol, but in a good way’ note won’t quite do: mineral, mildly mushroom and herbal. Magnificent and long lasting.
Then on to the Pinot Gris. It was a risk tasting these between the two aromatic varieties but it paid off. Pinot Gris Fromenteau 2008 is not a cru, being made from a number of high quality sites, but a quality white pinot which sports the old Alsace name for the grape variety. It is seriously difficult to describe – obviously more neutral on the nose but then a wonderful richness on the palate, some stone fruit, obvious ripeness off-set by perfectly balanced sharpness. Pinot Gris Grand Cru Brand 2008 was the revelation of the evening. The Grand Cru system in Alsace is controversial with some growers not accepting those vineyards that were selected. But what ever you call it, this showed it credentials – richer and riper fruit (melon and ripe red apples), lovely spiciness, rich and concentrated (Oz Clark calls it ‘the richness of brazil nut flesh’), outstanding length and overall quality. Subtle and powerful simultaneously. Forget every cheap glass of PG you have drunk and taste this instead.
The final pair of wines were suitably luxurious – two grand cru wines made from Gewurztraminer, with a decade or so of bottle age. Brand (being the vineyard name) 2001 had a superbly fragrant bouquet with the classic rose water and lychee/exotic fruit combination, great viscosity and mouth feel, and very good length. Its partner, Hengst 2002 for me had brighter fruit, the same rich concentration but offset with better acidity. The group had a long debate about this pair of wines, some struggling with the exotic fragrance (‘air freshener’), while others debated the merits of the two vintages and vineyards. Great wines are wines that promote conversation and opinion.
That the best producers in Alsace make great wines is hardly a revelation. But as consumers, we can benefit here in that wines of similar quality in, say, the more fashionable Burgundy, would command astronomic prices. There is great quality and value to be had here. And the wines, even the simpler ones, age well. Our final bottle, a bonus, from Josmeyer was its Auxerrois (a local grape variety with the same parentage as Chardonnay) 2001 which had nice creamy ageing notes, if modest fruit. All in all, these wines showed the very distinctive character of the three grape varieties, their food friendliness and their capacity to improve with age. And the star of the show in all these ways was – for me – the Pinot Gris.
The relative merits of buying everyday wines from the supermarket or from an independent wine merchant in the UK are worth rehearsing. As I see it, they are:
|Huge buying power||Little or no knowledgeable service at point of sale|
|Can offer good good value||but obsessed by 2-for-1 offers, many of which only offer average value for money: cheap wine at a low price. This has distorted more positive notions of value for money in the whole UK market – but that’s a subject in its own right.|
|Continuity of lines – if you like it you can go back for more||For the the shelf-space, increasingly narrow offer|
|Quality and value-for-money to be found in their premium own brand ranges, eg Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference||Most of the wines are sound but dull|
|Good to excellent selection of wines reflecting buyer’s knowledge and interests||Can be seen as (or indeed can be) intimidating. Despite all the improvements over the years, wine merchants are still seen as places where your ignorance may be exposed!|
|Can buy wines in small quantities from small growers and niche markets||The presence of expensive wines can give the impression that they don’t have everyday ones at reasonable prices|
|Knowledgeable service||Doesn’t stock everything else you need for the week’s shopping!|
|Must be consumer oriented in order to survive/succeed|
|Can get to know individual customers and their preferences|
Andover Wine Friends’ summer party put this comparison to the test with a blind tasting of pairs of similar wines from Asda’s ‘Extra Special’ range and Andover’s very own Grape Expectations. Billed as Philippa v. Tim (ie Philippa Carr MW, Asda’s chief wine buyer, v. Tim Pearce of Grape Expectations) the tasting showed interesting issues about price and that most people can spot the difference between supermarket and independent’s wines. Of the six pairs a majority called it right on four out of six times, with one dead heat (for a very good reason!) The underlying assumption was voiced by one member: ‘I assumed that the better wine was from the independent and voted accordingly’.
Cava: Codorníu Teresa non-vintage, £9, v. Mas Miralda 2009 Asda Extra Special £10 – people voted correctly for the more aged, yeasty style of the Codorníu over the refined fruit palate of the latter.
Viognier: Aristocrate 2009, £6.50 v. J C Mas 2010 Asda Extra Special £7 – people overwhelmingly preferred the subtle palate of the former, though they like both wines, and the independent’s wines was cheaper too!
Riesling: Foxes Island, 2008, Marlborough, New Zealand, £12.50 v. Clare Valley 2008, Asda Extra Special £8.70. People got this right by a two to one majority – but they also noted the substantial extra cost of the independent’s wine.
Rosé: Trasquanello Rosato Toscano 2010 £10 v. Portuguese Rose Wine, Bebidas Portugal, non vintage, £3.28. A bit of a curve ball! Asda doesn’t appear to have a rosé in their Extra Special range so I chose the latter of these two as it had won a silver medal in a big competition, while the unusual Sangiovese rosé is trading on its name, ie its relation to Chianti. A large majority guessed right – the inexpensive rosé had a slight fizz and came in a traditional squat bottle. But the quality difference was not that great – and one was three times the price of the other!
Barbera d’Asti: ‘Ceppi Storici’ (‘historic stems [of vines']’), Araldica 2007, Piemonte, £7.45 v. Asda Extra Special, 2009, £5. The second curve ball of the evening. Both these wines are made by the very good Araldica cooperative and admirably there was a tie in the vote for independent v. supermarket. The vintage difference was not that marked. So they both showed attractive brambly fruit, some mild smoky oak notes, decent acidity, good colour, easily drinkable because of the low tannins, but one was £2 less than the other.
Pinot Noir: Chilensis Reserva 2009, Maule, Chile £6.95 v. Marlborough, New Zealand, Asda Extra Special 2008, £10.18. A big majority got this right, guessing that the second wine was from the supermarket. But everyone was amazed at the price difference and the excellent quality of the £7 Chilean Pinot from Chilensis. Wine in an independent wine merchant can be a great bargain!
This was a very instructive tasting … and lots of fun. It shows, I think, that the quality/price ratio is a not one way street between supermarkets and independents, especially if you keep away from the big, overly promoted, supermarket wines and look out for the ones they have put some personal investment into. Conversely, independent wine shops are not necessarily expensive – though in fairness Grape Expectations really specializes in quality at a reasonable price. And it was a great evening, as the pictures show – including the very fine new wood floor in the extension which we were also celebrating.
The May meeting of the blind tasting group was a great evening out … if more chaotic than usual. It wasn’t obvious why. We had the same format: everyone brings a good/interesting bottle, we taste them blind, we get the wrong answer (mainly), we have a fine meal courtesy of the Red Lion, Overton, everyone has a great time and vows to do better next time. Even the photographer, despite spitting all evening, seems to have had an off night and my notes are scrappier than usual. The only excuse I can think of was that, as it happened, we started with a series of near impossible whites, lost motivation and so concentration flagged. But that did not affect the enjoyment one bit … the wines were interesting (on this occasion not all good), the company excellent. Here is a flavour of the evening, summed up perhaps by the first photo.
|Printable suggestions for the nose of this wine included: cabbage, cheese, Waldorf salad, mushroom. By contrast the palate was creamy, medium dry and pleasant. And what was it? Nobody got close to a 15 year old English white: Harborne, High Halden, 1996, a blend of Muller Thurgau and Ortega. ‘Null points’ for deduction.|
|Alsace Grand Cru Zotzenberg, Reifel, 2005 had very neutral nose, a rather crunchy palate and then a rather chemical finish. It doesn’t sound very appetising does it for a Grand Cru wine? The colour looks quite good in the picture, but I fear that is mainly down to the rather gloomy light. The quest for a really good wine made from the Sylvaner grape goes on.|
|This should perhaps have been better, indeed the person who brought it said other bottles were better. Quite attractive sharp apple fruit and some creamy/yeastiness perhaps brought about by stirring the sediment, but then really high and rather untamed acidity. Perhaps it was just to soon to drink Chablis, PC Les Fourneaux, Patrick Piuze, 2008|
|One of the Way/Tomlinson wines kept up the noble tradition of this tasting group of the curve ball: in this case, a white wine made from a little-known red Italian grape. But a very attractive, full bodied white, smooth, with good fruit and acidity: Come d’incanto (‘like a spell’), Cantine Carpentiere, Puglia, Italy, 2008, made entirely from Nero di Troia probably could age successfully.|
|Hurray, finally an easy spot: old Riesling, more fuel aromas than your average petrol station. But was it Old World or New, young or old? This wine split the group – some liked the extreme petrol notes and the lime cordial fruit, very dry on the palate, others didn’t. The Contours, Riesling 1999, Eden Valley, Australia|
|Everyone thought this was Pinot Noir, but then the fun began. Initial thoughts about the New World were overwhelmed by a Côte-de-Beaune, Burgundy, consensus … wrongly. Pretty opulent raspberry and strawberry fruit, taut palate, good finish, a very enjoyable wine. In fact it was Cloudy Bay’s Pinot Noir 2004, so New Zealand and definitely New World. Always stick with your first instinct …|
|Another controversial wine, with started with some wet cardboard and/or farmyardy notes, prompting questions about its soundness. But then a lot of fruit on the palate and quite a lot of tannins. Most thought it was Claret but then opted for the wrong side of the river – this was Right bank, and so predominantly Merlot: Ch. du Tailhas, Pomerol, Bordeaux, 2001|
|Lots of praise for this wine, with its rich palate, and complex pencil shaving, coconut and pepper nose, and well managed finish. But what was it? It seemed rather too rich to be straight Northern Rhône, unless it was very grand and anyway the acidity was lower. But at least we were roughly right: Sotanum, 2004 Les Vins de Vienne, Cuilleron, Gaillard, Villard, Vins de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes – Syrah from the Rhône but the ‘wrong side’ of the river. A pretty grand wine.|
|Claret lovers, do you recognise this label? The wine was superb, perhaps the wine of the evening: cloves and leather to start with, then dense but lively developed fruit, excellent poise, structured and delicious. Ch. Chasse Spleen, Moulis en Médoc, 1986 … a twenty five year old wine in vibrant mid life. If you are going to drink Bordeaux, drink the best you can.|
|Bright red and black fruit, smoke and chocolate notes, we have to be in the New World, with lots of new wood. A much appreciated wine, this turned out to be a pretty complex bend, called appositely, The Blend, Errazuriz, Aconcagua Valley, Chile, 2007: this year’s mix is, as the label says, 45% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Franc, 20% Carmenere, 5% Roussane. The sum is greater than the parts – a very informative label indeed!|
|Again much admiration for this wine and lots of debate. As it was a Way/ Tomlinson offering it was deemed to be Italian, but views varied on whether it was from the South because of the alcohol level and body, or from the North for the fine savoury notes and cherry fruit. Full marks for perception. This was in fact Nero di Troia again (see Come d’incanto above) but in its normal red guise. A very fine example in an over-weight bottle: Vigna Pedale, Castel Monte DOC Riserva, Torrevento, Puglia, 2007. We then reminded the group that we had just had two weeks in Puglia … so it had to be.|
Supposed the final wine, we agreed this was a New World Bordeaux blend of some sort, and most likely Australia. In fact the gorgeous rich fruit notes and lively acidity was Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 1, [vintage], a fine blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot, Malbec and a little Petit Verdot. And sorry, no bottle shot, so we will have just do with the drinkers.
|A bonus bottle, generously offered, just in case there was not enough to taste/ drink … an old Caviste friend, the excellent Rusden Driftsand, a blend of Grenache and Syrah. I can’t help noticing I didn’t take a single note so concentration not high, for obviously pleasurable reasons. Here is to the next meeting.|
If you are of a certain age you will have a very clear memory of German wines – inexpensive, sweet brands (Blue Nun, Black Tower). And then suddenly these wines became deeply unfashionable – our tastes moved South to the sunshine of Spain, Italy and the New World. Liebfraumilch became the least cool drink on the planet and with it was lost a whole tranche of highly individual wines which are genuinely different and which can be of the highest quality. And because they are not widely appreciated these wines can be very good value. So, at one level, selfishly, we don’t want too much of a revival!
Andrea Bulcock has a lifelong love of these wines and has worked in wineries in Germany. Her presentation for Andover Wine Friends concentrated on a handful of top producers – Wolf, Loosen, Leitz, Donnholf – but gave a Cook’s tour both of key areas and styles. She brought out the diversity of the contemporary German wine scene. The traditional styles of various weights and sweetness of Riesling have been joined by the new style dry Riesling and by Pinot Noir reds and even Rosé. And that’s before you get to local grape varieties such as Lemberger or Dornfelder,
Of the ten wines shown, the range of styles was best exemplified by:
Villa Wolf Pinot Noir Rosé 2009 Rheinpfalz – J L Wolf is the second estate of Loosen but in the Rheinpfalz, not the Mosel, and so warmer and allowing a different range of wines to be produced. Although still pretty far North in terms of growing vines (similar to Alsace), it is protected by the Haardt mountains and like many vine growing areas benefits from the warmer micro climate produced by the river Rhine. This wine, with its pretty salmon pink colour is a very creditable rosé from Pinot Noir: quite a modest nose but a lovely, surprisingly assertive palate. The trick is that it is off-dry, the small amount of residual sugar adding a lot of impact to the flavour. At less than £8 it’s very good value.
Villa Noir Gewürztraminer 2009 Rheinpfalz – same winery, same area, completely different grape variety. Nice and very typical nose of lychees and rose water, this Gewurz is distinctive from the versions you find in nearby Alsace by virtue of being leaner and less alcoholic, only 11.5°. I like the big Alsace style but this is different and perhaps more food-friendly. And of course it shows that not all whites in Germany are Riesling or medium sweet. Again, good value at under £8.
Johannes Leitz, Rudesheimer Bischofsberg Dry Riesling Spätlese Trocken, Rheingau, 2009. Ok, it’s a long name in the old German manner: Rudesheim is the village name of the wine region, Rheingau, while Bischofsberg is the vineyard name, like a Premier Cru if we were in Burgundy. And Spätlese just means late picked for richness, trocken = dry. From a top site in one of the most picturesque parts of the Rhine, this is the new face of Riesling in Germany – dry in style, in response to the numerous good dry Rieslings being made now in the New World and the trend towards uniformly dry wines. At the moment the nose is subtle rather than powerful or exotic, but this probably needs time in the bottle, while the palate is good, fruit balanced with characteristic acidity. At around the £15 mark it’s going to have a lot of competition.
Loosen Estate Riesling 2008 Mosel
Loosen Urzinger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett 2009 Mosel
Donnholf Riesling Leistenberg Kabinett 2009 Nahe
Although it is slightly heretical, in a way you can take your pick from these three, all of which represent versions of the classic German style, two from the Mosel and one from the Nahe: pale in colour, refreshingly low in alcohol (8°), off dry to medium sweet but with excellent acidity, long lasting and will develop in the bottle for years or even decades. (Kabinett is the first rung of the German quality wine ladder, Prädikat, the lightest and sometimes driest in style.) These wines have been consistently praised by wine lovers and professionals and ignored by consumers. The first is the ideal summer drink (£8); the second two more substantial and serious, the Urzinger comes out of the glass at you, the Leistenberg is more mineral in style. Leitz Riesling Magdalenenkreuz Spatlese Rheingau 2009 is another top quality single vineyard variation on this theme, if from the Rheingau. These really need to be tasted side by side to appreciate properly the subtle differences of depth of flavour, mineral v. fruit, length. What this post does really not do justice to is the range of terroir – the spectacular Mosel valley, the majestic Rhine and the flatter territories of the Pfalz – which largely determine the variations.
Leitz Riesling Klosterlay Auslese Rheingau 2006
Loosen Riesling Beerenauslese Mosel 2006
If the ‘crisp and off-dry’ is quintessentially German, so is wine made in a medium to sweet style with correspondingly high acidity, from late picked Riesling. Auslese just means ‘picked out’, ie wine made from bunches of late picked grapes, some or all some of which have been affected by botrytis. Similarly, Beerenauslese is the next category up the quality ladder, ie picked out individual grapes often affected by botrytis. These are fantastic wines, even the Auslese showing honey, orange, apricot and herbaceous notes. The Beerenauslese has a whacking 150g/litre of residual sugar and comes in quarter bottles, which is perfect for this style.
Villa Wolf Pinot Noir 2008 Rheinpfalz. It was a surprise to me but Germany is the third biggest grower of Pinot Noir in the world. This grape, which is what creates red Burgundy, has a devoted band of followers, including me, who trace it down to every corner of the earth in search of its elusive qualities – an earthy, farmyardy nose, sweet raspberry fruit, eventually a savoury perfume. This was quite fragrant, in quite a light style, some savoury notes, good and, if you have got the bug for Pinot, excellent value at £8.75.
Many thanks to Andrea for an excellent tasting which broaden our horizons and to Tim of Grape Expectations where you can buy the wines – and currently a special offer of a magnum of Villa Wolf’s Pinot Gris for under a tenner! We will now look at German wines in a new way.
Writing in the middle of the World Cup in South Africa it is just as well this is about the country’s wine and not about football. Along with most of the other African teams, the home team could not get out of the group stage of the competition. Meanwhile England played poorly and departed in the most spectacular fashion. By contrast, South African wine has much of which it can be proud.
The history of wine production in South Africa is long and varied. Initially famous 300 years ago for the sweet white Constantia, the trade came to be dominated by the production of huge quantities of cheap wine destined for the distillation plant. But in recent decades a crucial section of the business has been concentrated on quality. And as this Andover Wine Friends tasting showed, that quality is available in everyday wines as well as in more expensive bottles. These wines were sourced from a Wine Society offer.
Bon Cap Viognier 2009 (£11.50): nice pale gold colour, rather neutral on the nose, not obviously fruity but full of flavour including a slightly salty note on the palate, decent silky texture.
Villiera Chenin Blanc 2009 (£6.75): an inexpensive example of South African’s star white grape variety. An excellent complex nose, floral and fruity the apples and especially pears register. An excellent wine at this price level.
Sequillo White 2008 (60% Chenin Blanc, 20% Grenache Blanc, 10% Viognier, 10% Roussane; £15.50) This classy white blends Chenin with some white Rhône varieties to produce a mid gold in colour, a fine expressive nose (honey, nuts, a bit of oak), lovely silky texture combined with real structure, fine and long. Outstanding.
In the Rosé department, we tasted Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdre 2009 (£8). This was many people’s favourite wine – a lovely pale salmon pink, nice perfumed nose, substantial and rounded in the mouth, slightly strawberry fruit, moderate to low acidity.
The reds were somewhat atypical as they were heavily weighted to top quality. While they were all more than drinkable, the last three would have a lot of development in them.
Douglas Green Shiraz Viognier 2008 (£5) – fully ripe rich fruit (cherries and plums), good balancing refreshment, easy drinking but with real depth of flavour and interest. You can’t really ask more for the price, assuming of course that you like the style.
Impressive levels of concentration here!
Kanonkop Pinotage 2007 (£17): a big price jump here in a top example of South African’s own grape variety, Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Deep purply red in colour, complex berry nose, brilliant sweet fruit on the nose and depth of flavour in the mouth, great acidity for keeping and development in the bottle, some good bitter notes. Excellent.
Boekenhoutskloof Chocolate Block 2008 (mainly Syrah with Grenache, Cabernet, Cinsault and Viognier; £18) Brilliant strawberry/raspberry/oak nose, the fruit-oak balance just right on the palate as well, full on and substantial in style, rich texture, excellent.
Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2005 (69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) Super rich Cabernet nose, very ripe and full of blackcurrant and red fruit, mint, very substantial but balanced.
Congratulations to South Africa. The football team might need a bit more work, though perhaps not as much as England’s, but the wine already has star quality.
Planning a week’s tasting in a region is a mixture of thorough preparation, chance meetings and recommendations, and sheer persistence. And there is the question of whether to visit wineries which you already know and whose wines are available in the UK as opposed to those you can only taste in situ. Our final day in the Langhe region of Piemonte had a large gap in the final afternoon but after a few phone calls, we arranged a visit to G.D.Vajra (pronounced VAI-ra), a very well established name, located above the village of Barolo since 1972. All the planning had paid dividends as this was also the only time in the week that we had to drive from our morning tastings in Barbaresco, well to the east of our base in Alba, to a visit at the opposite end of the region, via a very good if hurried lunch and a near disaster at a self service petrol station.
Vajra’s substantial winery has a workmanlike feel about it, with the exception of the charming stained glass windows which throw a slightly surreal glow over proceedings. But this is clearly a place of work, of focus on the goal of a quality across a largish range of wines. For whites they have a Chardonnay from the Luigi Baudana company which they are now directing and a surprise package in Pétracine, the Riesling which they have been making since 1986. They also have quite a serious Dolcetto from the two vineyards, Coste and Fossati, which can be aged for up to 10 years, a denser more structured wine with nice cherry and almond notes.
The use of barriques is interesting here. Usually expensive new wood is dedicated to the most important wines but here the new wood is matched up with the forceful Barbera grape and it is only when the wood has mellowed that it is used on the prized Nebbiolo. This means that you get the mild oxidising effect of small barrels for Nebbiolo but without the vanilla and toast aromas of new barriques. Very clever.
Barbera comes in two shapes, normale 2007 and riserva. The former comes from the younger vineyards and a part of it is matured in new oak for six to eight months. It has a gorgeous, fruity nose which covers the new wood – it needs to express itself, like an adolescent, says our host Sabrina. The Barbera riserva (or superiore) 2007 comes from 50 year old vines from the famous Bricco delle viole vineyard, the source also of one of the cru Barolo. However, the law being what it is, you can only put the vineyard name on the back label of Barbera, whereas of course it is allowed to be on the main label of the Barolo! This wine is aged in large traditional barrels and tonneaux for 18 months. It has a super concentrated nose of dark fruit and some oak ageing, wonderfully ripe, sweet fruit on the palate and is extremely long. An outstanding wine which makes the case for great Barbera.
After Barbera comes Nebbiolo of course, though in this case we could have gone next to that other native, Freisa, of which more anon. With the addition of Luigi Baudana wines, Vajra now has four Nebbiolo wines, the simpler Langhe Nebbiolo 2008 (quite a complex perfumed nose, no wood, quite tannic) and three Barolo. Grapes from three vineyards, La volta, Fossati and Coste di Vergne go into Barolo Albe 2005. These are relatively young vines, 20-25 year olds, though the wine making is very traditional – maceration of the skins in the young wine for 30 days followed by three years in traditional large botti. The label reflects the youthfulness of the vines rather than the traditional winemaking and seems a very loud statement next to the traditional main label. You can see the density of the ‘legs’ in this glass – 14.5? of alcohol and lots of extract. This is a good Barolo – structured, perfumed, with spicy notes, beautiful.
The final two Barolo are from the respective houses of Vajra and Baudana. Barolo Bricco delle viole 2005, that vineyard again, is the flagship wine getting the full 40 days of maceration and 40 months in large traditional barrels. It is rich and delicate simultaneously, already beautifully knit together, with layers of fruit, spice, balsam and further spice on the nose. By contrast the Baudana offering, Barolo Serralunga d’Alba 2005 has a much more obvious use of oak ageing (balsam, cloves), quite velvety in the mouth but still tough and tannic, typical of the Serralunga area.
Having tasted the heights of Barolo we are definitely on the descent from the tasting mountain, but there are various points of interest as we return. First off is Kyè 2006 (a play on words on chi è, who’s this?), made from the local grape, Freisa. Vajra are one of ten producers of this wine, though there is still, not the more conventional light, sparkling red wine. Sabrina says its a wine for the autumn, perfumed and tannic (it must be something in Piemontese soil that produces this combination), good acidity, could last 10 years. Then there is a version of Pinot Noir, called PN Q497, 2006, though our bottle had been open a while and perhaps wasn’t a fair test (slightly odd caramelly notes). Of course there is also Moscato d’Asti, all 5.5? of it, but delicious none the less. And finally – thirteenth in line – our first taste of Barolo Chinato, a digestivo, which is Barolo infused with herbs and beefed up with added alcohol. This had lovely bitter notes, a complex cocktail of herbs and counterbalancing sweetness.
This comprehensive tasting was a fitting climax to our week. As we drove back to Alba we enjoyed for a final time the great views across the ridges of the Langhe, this time around La Morra bathed in spring sunshine.
Many thanks to Sabrina and all at Vajra. The wines are available in the UK via Liberty Wines, eg Caviste.