Until recently, German wine had an image problem.
Not for those in the know of course; savvy drinkers have been stashing their cellars full of fragrant riesling and pinot noir for decades, while many of us had been too busy having new world love affairs to notice.
And that’s the problem; to the average supermarket-buying booze-hound, the region continues to conjure images of weissbeer, pilsner and, less deliciously, Blue Nun. Fruity, full-on New Zealand sauvignons and Italian pinot grigios have been filling our baskets while Germany’s gems have been left languishing on the shelves.
One man who knows this all-too-well is Konstantin Guntrum, owner of legendary winemaking dynasty, Louis Guntrum. His family have been growing grapes on the left bank of the Rhein since 1648, before marauding French catholic occupying forces compelled them to flee to the Left side of the Rhein in 1792. It took nearly a century for the Guntrum family to get back to their homeland, buying up vineyards and wineries in Nierstein and Oppenheim where they remain to this day. Today, and 11 winemaking generations on, the dynasty continues to thrive, making award-winning riesling, pinot noirs and sweet wines. The next challenge? Switching today’s discerning young wine-lovers onto the aromatic delights of Germany’s sweeter wines.
Konstantin dropped by The Society to give us a quick lesson in history, food matching and to share his phenomenal German wines.
1. German sweet wine is great for tough-to-match food Cheese and German sweet wines go together like Bogart and Bacall, the nectar-like qualities of Auslese or Kabinett perfectly offsetting sharp, savoury cheeses. Fiery foods also make a great match. As Konstantin says ‘eat something hot and try to wash it down with a fruity red and…well, have fun with that! It’s like putting fuel on the flames’. Sweet wines however counteract spiciness, in turn knocking any over-sweet edges from the wine. Puddings also apply here, so try a ‘riesling Kabinett’ which is made without additional sugar to perfectly balance the sweetness.
2. Grauburgunder is known as pinot grigio in Italy and pinot gris in France. The 2015 vintage of grauburgunder is especially delicious, a combination of baking summer days which add a tropical fragrance and cool nights which lend refreshing acidity to the fruit. This acidity also acts as a natural preserving agent, so the wine will get even better with age.
3. Weissburgunder is better known as pinot blanc and German examples display lively floral flavours. This slightly sweet style fell out of favour in the latter-half of the 1980s following its 1970s heyday but is gaining in popularity again. Modern examples show perfectly balanced sweetness and freshness, so give it a try if you’re looking for a delicious conversation-starter.
4. Chilled German reds such as dornfelder make great summer barbecue wines. With cherry, cranberry and herbal notes, dornfelder is light and fresh but has enough body to take on boldly savoury flavours of bangers, burgers and other British summertime staples.
Annegret Reh-Gartner, who died this October aged 61, will be sorely missed by all who knew her. Her sense of responsibility, hard work ethic and determination may have been inherited from her father, but I shall chiefly remember her warmth, sense of humour and disarming honesty.
Tasting the new vintage in her company at the von Kesselstatt winery in Morscheid was always a joy. The wines were nearly always exciting and beautifully made, but she was the first to admit with humility if one was not a complete success.
Gunther Reh, her father, had bought the historic von Kesselstatt estate and vineyards (with the help of profits from his Sekt business) when it was an almost unmanageable 100 and more hectares with vines and cellars scattered throughout the Mosel and its tributaries. It was Annegret, who had the vision to concentrate her efforts on 36 hectares of its top Mosel-Saar-Ruwer sites, determined only to make top-quality wines.
These include Josephshöfer in Graach, a good chunk of the heart of the great Piesporter Goldtröpfchen amphitheatre, Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenühr, Scharzhofberger, Ockfener Bockstein and Wiltinger Braunfels in the Saar, and Kaseler Nies’chen in the Ruwer. Each has its own distinct personality and stamp of real quality which made those tastings such a pleasure.
We were able to draw on these Saar vineyards and also the excellent underrated Niedermenniger Herrenberg for The Society’s Saar Riesling.
Though she and her Michelin-starred chef husband Gerhard had no children of their own, Annegret, as the eldest of Gunther Reh’s children was the one all the others often turned to. Her care and concern for her family, the people who worked for her and her customers was deeply felt and evident.
Her last vintage, 2015, is looking wonderful and will be a living testament to her work that we shall continue to enjoy for many years, because rieslings of this calibre age so well. But when I drink them I shall specially remember Annegret herself, her infectious laugh and warm heart.
Sebastian Payne MW
Conrad Braganza invites us to do lunch with his favourite warm-weather white wines from our Cellar Showroom.
There is something decadent and delightful about drinking wine with lunch on a summer’s day. But to negate the necessity for an afternoon nap when chores still demand my attention, I tend to choose a lighter style of white wine with a modest alcohol level.
Here are some of my favourite lunchtime liveners from around the world. Do feel free to suggest your own in the comments!
• Austrian grüner veltliner can offer fruit and spice in a food-friendly package.
The Society’s Grüner Veltliner (£7.50) has been welcomed with open arms by our members and sailed through the 2016 Wine Champions tastings. Pepp Wienviertel Grüner Veltliner 2015 (£7.25) hits the spot well too.
• Australian semillon can work wonders on its own or with food.
The exclusive 88 Growers (£7.25) clocks in at just 11% alcohol and brings a zesty note to the grape’s classic greengage flavours.
• England offers a wealth of lower-alcohol choices thanks to our cooler climate.
For a floral, lychee-infused tipple that’d be perfect with chilli chicken skewers, try Three Choirs Stone Brook 2014 (£7.95). For something a little drier, Chapel Down Bacchus 2014 (11.50) is well worth the extra outlay, offering a flinty, mineral and crisp style with some sauvignon-esque flavours that would stand up very well to a goat’s cheese tart.
• Germany’s lower alcohol levels are well known, and the wines are as versatile as they are delicious.
The off-dry Ruppertsberger Hoheburg Riesling Kabinett 2015 (£6.50) is a great sipper but is also suitable for spicier food. Alternatively there is von Kesselstatt’s charming and appealing Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Spätlese 2013 (£16), which comes from a great producer and a world-class vineyard.
• Greece is a source of delicate, clean and crisp wines that go brilliantly with (dare I say it) Greek salad.
A great-value current favourite is the dry and gentle Ionos (£6.50).
• Vinho Verde is a wine made for lunch!
Fashionable again, and for good reason, these wines are fresh and dry but also aromatic and spot-hitting (and perfect with a bowl of prawns, as I found out on a recent trip to Portugal!). In the 2015 vintage, The Society’s Vinho Verde (£5.95) has never looked better, whilst Muros Antigos (£7.95) from Anselmo Mendes proves why he’s one of the region’s top growers at a friendly price.
The Cellar Showroom
Janet Wynne Evans gets into hock without breaking the bank…
What could be better than a classy bottle and a meal that cost next to nothing – apart perhaps from the sterling advice that it doesn’t really work the other way round?
Should you be tempted by our current crop of German wines, here’s a recipe to bring some joy to plate, palate and domestic balance of payments.
It involves that most Germanic of ingredients, ham, a riesling soulmate if ever there was one. The racy acidity of the grape offsets saturated fat while the roundness underlying even in the trockens soothes salinity. And the nobility of the fruit counters the pigsty so elegantly.
But let it also be said that a supple German pinot noir with a thick slice of baked ham is an Ode to Joy in itself.
A ham hock weighing a generous kilo will set you back little more than a couple of your hard-earned sovereigns. Slowly baked in the oven on a rhythm-section of onions, herbs and spices, it will feed four people adequately, or two very generously, with scrumptious leftovers. The cooking juices and not-quite-spent veggies make a superb sauce or can be blended into soup fit for a king, with shreds of the ham and a few pulses thrown in. The meat itself makes hearty terrines and well as peerless sandwiches.
When meat is this cheap, some other kind of investment is needed. Here, it’s time and, by extension, the cost of a longish tour of duty, albeit at low wattage, for your trusty oven. Even so, this meal is belting good value. It’s a much better destination than a food waste bin for unprepossessing bits of vegetable: the unglamorous outer leaves of fennel bulbs, slightly elderly celery sticks, the too-green bits of leek you’re always advised to discard. Any superannuated wine, cider or ale you happen to have around can be pressed into service too.
You can boil ham hocks for lipsmacking flavour and pleasing, pull-apart texture, though not photogenic beauty, which this baked version has in abundance. During the cooking, the flavoursome fat renders into the meat, rather than being lost in cooking water. A final blast of hot air gives them a beautiful burnished glow, and – praise be! – crackling!
Don’t try to make the recipe below on impulse. Snap up your hocks, vacuum-packed for extra shelf-life, or store them in the freezer. ready for a call to action. The impending arrival of a Wine Society van, for instance.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor
BAKED AND ROASTED HAM HOCK WITH BEANS AND ONION SAUCE
One hock will serve 4 – but why not cook two for safety and leftovers?
• 1 or 2 unsmoked ham hocks, skin on about 1.2kg each
• 3-4 onions, or a combination of onions, fennel and leeks, roughly wedged or chunked, enough to cover the base of the dish
• A small bunch of sage leaves, washed and dried
• 2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
• 2-3 star anise
• 1 teaspoon of whole white peppercorns
• 100ml dry or medium cider or white wine
• 2 x 400g cans or jars white, butter or cannellini beans or flageolets, drained
• Salt and freshly ground pepper, white or black
• A small bunch of fresh parsley, leaves only, not too finely chopped (put the stalks under the ham before it goes into the oven).
• A pinch of mustard powder (optional)
Ideally, soak your ham in cold water the night before to remove excess salt. If you are seized by impulsiveness, a quick cheat is to cover your joint with cold water in a large pan and bring slowly to the boil. Once the water begins to bubble gently, pour it away and rinse the joint thoroughly in fresh water. In both cases, dry it thoroughly with kitchen paper.
Now score the rind all over with fine lines, close together. This is a simple task provided you have a Stanley knife, the point of which does the job admirably without cutting too deeply into the fat.
Preheat the oven to 150C/Gas 2 and choose a deepish roasting tin or ovenproof dish that comes with a lid.
Line the bottom of the tin with the vegetables, herbs and spices.
Stand the ham on top, and pour over the wine or cider. Grind in a generous amount of black pepper. Cover and bake for between three and four hours, or until really tender, basting from time to time with the juices. Add a little more liquid if necessary.
Remove from the oven and increase the temperature to 220C/Gas 7.
Transfer the ham onto a platter and carefully pour the juices and vegetables into a clean pan. Fish out the bay leaves and star anise. If you have a stick blender, use this to puree the vegetables into a thickish sauce. If not, cool them slightly and use a blender or food processor. A mouli, or vegetable sieve will also work and if none of these is to hand, simply chop the vegetables for a pleasantly chunky effect. Season and add a judicious pinch of your favourite mustard if you like.
Put the ham back in the tin, scored side up. Rub a little salt into the skin and return to the oven for about 25 minutes or a little longer if the crackling is elusive.
Add the drained beans to the onion sauce and heat through gently on the hob. Sprinkle abundantly with the parsley and keep warm.
Transfer the ham to a board and carve into thick slices or let it fall into shreds.
Serve in rustic fashion with the beans and provide contrast with a short, sharp, crunchy salad, dressed with mustard vinaigrette.
Prowein, the three-day wine fair, held in Düsseldorf annually in March, has become an invaluable meeting place of wine producers and buyers from all over the world.
This year Marcel Orford-Williams takes back the Society’s German wine buying, but I could not resist spending a morning with him and producers I had introduced in the last five years and looking at the wonderfully promising 2015 vintage wines with several growers we have both known over many years.
Where else can one meet in one well-organised place so many producers from every German wine-producing region, catch up with their news and taste so many of their wines to make a selection?
I was there principally, however, to talk to growers from further east: Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Moldova, Romania and beyond.
While there is no substitute for visiting producers on their home patch (my first visit to Georgia last year was an education) this fair is a fantastic way to narrow the field and find growers whose wines will appeal to Wine Society members, while saving money on travel expenses.
The Turks have been hard hit by a massive drop in tourism, following bombs in Istanbul and hostility with Russia but, in spite of unhelpful politics and a predominantly teetotal population, people are making inspiring wines of character and high quality. Vinkara’s Öküzgözü (£7.75) is just one example. My wife and I visited New York and Washington shortly after 9/11 in a half-empty plane to a warm welcome from American friends. This is surely an excellent time to visit Turkey.
Our Greek suppliers, a dynamic motivated group, mostly youthful, who export most of what they make are similarly inspiring making great, original wines.
We began last year to import from Moldova. Château Vartely makes some lovely wines, wants and needs to sell to us, so offers good prices.
What is not to like?
Let us give these movers and shakers, who rise above difficult times, our support.
Sebastian Payne MW
Katharina’s verdict on the 2014 vintage was similar to that of the other producers we met – it was a tricky vintage. It seems that the results are very dependent upon when one harvested, as there was considerable rain in September. Katharina was excited about what she termed as the return to a ‘classic Mosel vintage’, whereby the wines need to be given time to develop and they reflect a ripeness of acidity. For this reason, Katharina generally releases her wines late – we currently have two lovely older vintages – the 2004 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese and 2010 Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Auslese – available to buy (both £24).
From here we travelled along and across the Mosel to Kues on the opposite bank to Bernkastel.
We were greeted by Monika Sartoris, as the owner, Sofia Thanisch, was away on a business trip. Their villa is located in a stunning position overlooking the Mosel and famous ‘Doctor’ vineyard.
Here I discovered an idiosyncracy of the German language. So far, I have always seen ‘Bernkastel’ written with a ‘k’ in the middle and ‘Doktor’ likewise. However, their Berncasteler Doctor wines are written with a ‘c’, which harps back to the previous century when they were written in the English way. As the wine was registered as a trademark at that time, they continue to differentiate it from their other wines to this day.
Next we moved onto Lieser to meet Thomas Haag at his estate. Thomas has recently been awarded ‘Winemaker of the Year for 2015’ by the publication Gault & Millau. Thomas’ property is less traditional than most of the other producers , with the modern tasting room more akin to a bistro/restaurant than the historic halls, and castles we had visited previously. In particular, his wine labels were a breath of fresh air, as they were uncluttered and distinct, although some contain the Schloss Lieser coat of arms.
His wines were very fresh but with an almost salty, mineral flavour, which is a characteristic of Thomas’ style of terroir. Two of his wines – Riesling Kabinett Dry 2014 (£12.50) and Niederberg Helden Riesling Spätlese (£16) – feature in the Germany 2014 offer.
German wine labels
The origins of German wine names date back to the middle ages and are often linked to important aspects of life at that time, such as religion (Papst – ‘Pope’), nature (Vogelsang – ‘bird song’) or professions (Apotheke – ‘Pharmacy’). Indeed, even today a large percentage of the vineyards in this region are still owned by the church.
As so many producers have heritages dating back many hundreds of years, they naturally want to depict this history within their wine labels. So they often incorporate a Gothic font and coats of arms, as well as quite traditional names (which are long due to German language). The label can evoke a military feel, can be quite confusing for the would-be buyer to understand and are not necessarily clear as to how dry/sweet the wine will be. Often there is a sweetness code/grading on the back label, however.
I was pleased to see a new label by the son of Carl von Schubert and those from Thomas Haag which are much cleaner and clearer than typical German labels.
Neck labels came about in the late 1900s, I was told, by Christian Vogt at Karthäuserhof. At this time it was common practice to chill wines in the rivers/streams/lakes of estates during hunting/shooting parties. (Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhoberg used to be one of the longest names and had the smallest labels.) After a few hours of chilling, the bottle labels often came off due to being immersed in the water and the identity of the wines was no longer known. So, neck labels were born, as the water level enabled them to stay intact, so the guests still knew which wine was which.
To find out more about wines from this region, the importance of riesling and classification of German wines by sugar levels, visit our How to Buy Germany Guide.
The last appointment on our tour was at the home of Willi Haag, where we received another warm greeting by his family, who have been based in the village of Brauneberg since 1500.
Willi told us about the Flurbereinigung which is taking place gradually across all vineyards in this region. It aims to consolidate the plots owned by individual winemakers and to make them more accessible and hopefully safer than before. Previously the Haag estate had 50 plots spread across the Mosel region, but now that has been reduced to eight, which is easier to manage.
We finished our tasting trip with a sip of a superb Auslese and Beerenauslese from the 2010 and 2011 vintages. It was like tasting pure nectar – an exquisite, aromatic encounter with wines that will keep for many years to come! A Kabinett wine from Willi Haag features in the Germany offer – Brauneberger Juffer (£10.95).
The lasting impressions I will take away from my first trip with a buyer are as follows:
• Sebastian Payne MW’s ability to know how a wine will open up and taste in a few months’ time and his meticulous attention to detail when comparing the different tastings of a wine
• The importance of climate and the harvest start date on the livelihood of producers
• The friendly welcome we received from all producers, irrespective of the size or status of their estates
• The steepness of the vineyards and the dangers of hand harvesting the grapes
• The high quality of German wine which is flavoursome, diverse and covers a spectrum of sweetness levels, as well as being low in alcohol – and how it offers such extremely good value for money
• Sebastian’s passion for his role and for only selecting wines that he is confident that members will buy and that they will enjoy.
Marketing Campaigns Manager
Campaign manager and wine student Yvonne Blandford accompanies buyer Sebastian Payne MW around the vineyards of the Mosel and, amongst the steep vineyards, steely rieslings and gothic scripts, rediscovers her love of German wine…I have worked for The Society for just over two years in the Marketing department. Many moons ago I lived and worked in Germany where I first fell for the wine, although these were the bad old days when all German wine meant to most of the UK market was sugary Liebfraumilch and Black Tower.
So it was a great privilege to be given the chance to join Sebastian Payne MW earlier this year on his buying trip to Germany and having recently passed the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 exam, it offered me the chance to rekindle my love for German wine and hone my skills by watching a master at work.
As we set off from Frankfurt-Hahn airport in the direction of the Mosel valley, Sebastian explained about the region and producers we would be visiting over the next two days.
The purpose of our visit was to make the final selection of wines to feature in the 2014 Germany offer. Sebastian had already tasted many of the wines at the ProWein exhibition in Düsseldorf earlier this year and he wanted to assess how they had developed in the interim.
Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt
This was my first experience of witnessing the close relationship Sebastian has established over the years with the producers and the high level of respect they have for him. I observed how Sebastian tasted each wine, meticulously writing notes on each and then referring back in his book to the notes he made on that wine at ProWein to see how they had ‘opened up’.
The von Kesselstatt winery has extensive plots in the three main areas of this important wine-growing region of Germany. Vineyards occupy much of the slopes adjoining the Mosel, Ruwer (pronounced ‘roover’) and Saar rivers and von Kesselstatt own approximately 36 hectares in total.
Their Josephshöfer wines emanate from the grey slate Graach vineyard, whereas the Scharzhofberger vines are planted in red Devon slate – von Kesselstatt’s Niedermenniger Herrenberg Kabinett (£9.50), Josephshöfer Kabinett (£12.95) and Scharzhofberger Kabinett (£16.50) feature in the Germany offer.After a buffet lunch, which was much needed after our crack-of-dawn start, we were on our way. As we travelled through the valley to our next appointment, I was staggered to see how steep the vineyards are.
Value for money
The vineyards in this region are predominantly built on the hillsides rising up from the three rivers. Gradients of 80° are not uncommon which makes machine harvesting of the grapes virtually impossible. The producers all employ large numbers of pickers in the autumn, who have the back-breaking task of hand harvesting the grapes whilst gingerly negotiating the slopes.
I did see a few metal ‘chair lifts’ at the bottom of slopes that Sebastian advised were used to ascend and support pickers on the steepest gradients, but the majority of harvesting appears to be done by sure-footed workers from eastern Europe.
Taking this hand-harvesting method into account, which must be fraught with danger, it seems to me that German wines are actually very good value for money when compared with other wines grown in flat vineyards around Europe.
Maximin Grünhaus, Mertesdorf
We were met by Dr Carl von Schubert, whose family bought the estate in the 19th century and has lived here ever since. The estate lies at the foot of a long steep south-facing slope on the left bank of the Ruwer river, about 2km from where it joins the Mosel. It is divided into three separate, but adjoining vineyards: Abtsberg, Herrenberg and Bruderberg.
Carl kindly gave us a tour of his cellars where barrels are manufactured from the oak trees on his land and which store their riesling, pinot blanc and pinot noir wines. The lower levels of the cellars are so old that black mould covers the walls, roof and barrels – formed from the high humidity of 80-95% which is fed by the volatile acidity, alcohol, etc. that originates from the yeast. The mould is an excellent regulator of the humidity in the air and takes decades to form in this way. I didn’t find this particularly pleasant to touch, but it is something that makes them the envy of many producers, (or so I’m told!).
Herr von Schubert was an interesting man who recounted humorous anecdotes of family weddings on his estate (he has a number of children of marrying age!) and his attempts to prevent wild boar from destroying the vines – 68 were shot last year alone in this region! These shooting parties have enabled Carl to diversify into selling produce like wild boar paté, so it is a win-win situation for him!
Our last appointment of the day was to Karthäuserhof where we were greeted by Christian Vogt, chief winemaker. Like Maximin Grünhaus, all their vines are grown in the vineyards surrounding their estate, which is quite unusual for the region, rather than owning a mixture of plots dotted around various vineyards.
We were taken to the historic tasting room of this picturesque villa, which was surrounded by beautiful wisteria in full bloom in the warm May sunshine.
As Sebastian methodically tasted the wines and compared them to his earlier tasting at ProWein, Christian explained the history of the tasting room to me. It dates back to 1895 when the great grandfather of the current owner had to convince the father of his future bride that he was worthy of her hand in marriage. He had everything produced for the room including three marble wall displays by Villeroy & Boch of local scenes including Trier and Cochem.
Over dinner that evening in the ancient Roman city of Trier, Sebastian, Bernd and I talked about how hard these producers have to work to maintain their businesses. Many travel frequently to all corners of the world in an attempt to get restaurants, hotels and wine merchants to list their wines. What had become very apparent to me in the few hours I had spent in the wine region, was the importance of climate on the producers’ livelihoods and that within the space of a few hours/days their whole year’s work can be ruined if it rains too much or if there’s a hail storm. The crucial decision as to when to start harvesting is an extremely hard one to make and again can have catastrophic or tremendous results. I now begin to understand the high numbers of suicides that take place within the wine growing industry.
Marketing Campaign Manager
• Yvonne’s dispatch on Day Two will feature JJ Prüm, Dr Thanisch, Schloss Lieser and Willi Haag, as well as some useful information on Germany’s oft-tricky wine labels. Look out for it on Society Grapevine tomorrow…
• The fruits of this trip can be found in our Germany 2014 offering.
Janet Wynne Evans wishes she’d had this, instead of porridge, to start the day during this year’s Wine Champions blind-tasting campaign.
While even I would stop short of claiming that a recipe could be life-changing, the discovery of a particularly useful one does make me wonder how I ever got along without it.
Step forward sformata, a kind of soufflé of the most unthreatening and indolent kind. Despite my love of all things Italian, from beautiful cars to bel canto, I hadn’t come across this one until I spotted it earlier this year in the Saturday Guardian (yes, I know, Evans the Champagne socialist is well and truly out of the closet).
Its author, Thomasina Miers, I associate mainly with innovative Mexican recipes, but she’s a lady of many facets and I thank her for the idea below. I give it verbatim, hopefully not only with her blessing but also with her indulgence: as you’ll readily see, it’s a fine template for umpteen variations.
The ingredients are very likely to be found in most fridges: nothing complicated, just eggs, Parmesan cheese, a tub of cream and some green vegetables. I used some leftover braised leeks, and couldn’t resist crumbling in a corner of Stilton that needed rehoming, to very pleasing effect.Then evolved my favourite brunch version, replacing the Romanesco broccoli below with a couple of vines of baby plum tomatoes, halved and roasted (to get as much water out of them as possible) and a large bag of spinach, wilted with a scrap of butter, lemon juice and white pepper, and brutally squeezed with your bare hands, again to extract the water that will inhibit a good set. I line and top the dish with Parmesan, but inside I use heartier English cheese like Gloucester or Poacher. I‘m sure that by this point it has long since officially ceased to be a sformata, but there it is.
Like many straightforward recipes, this one does create a fair bit of washing up, but the half-hour cooking time is just long enough for you to stack your dishy, or significant other plongeur with the dirties and clear the decks before it’s time to tuck in.
I’d serve my breakfast of Champions with a Champion glass of something elegant, focused and white . This year’s winners offer up some terrific options, including riesling, which is always comfortable with anything eggy. The terrifically multi-tasking and well-priced Zarcillo Bío-Bío Riesling 2014 (£6.50) would be a my choice for every day or, for a special brunch, a cracker from Annegret von Kesselstatt which won all our tasters’ hearts but was too limited in stock to include in the offer: Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett 2013 (£12.95 – but be quick!).
Thomasina Miers’ Romanesco Broccoli and Pecorino Sformata
(Guardian Weekend, 14th March 2015 )
• A knob of butter
• 120g pecorino or Parmesan (or a mix of both), plus extra for sprinkling
• 1 small romanesco (about 600g); or normal broccoli or cauliflower, core removed and broken into florets
• 4 eggs, separated
• 300ml double cream
• ¼ nutmeg, finely grated
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 200 degrees C (390F, gas mark 6) and rub the butter around a one-litre baking dish*. Scatter over a tablespoon of the grated cheese and shake around the dish to coat.
Bring a pan of salter water to the boil and blanch the romanesco for four to five minutes, until just tender, and then drain and leave to steam dry for five minutes. Once dry, finely chop and transfer to a bowl.
Beat the egg yolks and cream in another bowl until slightly thickened, then stir in the remaining cheese, nutmeg and chopped romanesco, and season well.
In a third bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Stir two tablespoons of the egg whites into the romanesco mix and, once incorporated, carefully fold in the rest, taking care not to over-mix and knock out most of the air.
Tip into the baking dish so the mix comes right up to the rim, dust with a little extra cheese and bake for 30-35 minutes (but check after 25 or so minutes in case you don’t want it to take on too much colour) – when cooked, the sformata should have a slight wobble in the centre and a golden top.
I like to eat this with a crisp green salad dressed in a sharp vinaigrette.
Sformata is surprisingly good warmed through the next day and will turn your colleagues green with envy about your packed lunch: any spare romanesco can be baked as cauliflower cheese.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor
For a full list of wines that triumphed in our blind tastings to find the best of our best for drinking now, visit our Wine Champions 2015 offer.
* Cook’s note: I usually make this in two half-litre gratin dishes (one for now, one for later). Go for shallow rather than deep . Mine have a base measurement of 7 x 5 inches (18 x 13 cm) and are about 1½ inches (4cm) deep. Reduce the cooking time to 25 minutes and check after 20 – these little beauties brown fast.
We have written on this blog in the past about the controversial plans to build a 500ft-high bridge and four-lane motorway between Zeltingen-Rachtig and Ürzig, passing through some of the most prestigious vineyards in Germany’s beautiful Mosel.
The proposals were met with fierce resistance from growers and wine lovers alike, yet seemingly to no avail. However, a recent leak of an official geological document to Der Spiegel has resulted in a flurry of speculation in the media about whether the €130 million project will indeed go ahead due to doubts regarding safety.
An apparent lack of sufficiently rigorous testing on the Ürzig slope has resulted in fresh concerns about the stability of the terrain, and revealing that the bridge’s pillars will need to be built into a known landslide area.
Harald Ehses, the director of the state office for geology, has given his own full and frank view on the revelations, telling the press that ‘more than a decade ago we pointed out that this slope is unsuitable’ and advocating a far more detailed study of the site. Whether this will occur to a degree that satisfies Ehses remains doubtful, yet campaigners against the project believe that these revelations and subsequent press interest offer fresh hope that the bridge will not be built after all.
Marcel Orford-Williams reveals the thinking behind The Society’s current offer, From Golden Rhine to Blue Danube, and why now is the time to be exploring these remarkable wines.
Maps have always been a passion for me. When friends would queue up for the latest album, I would be in Long Acre, immersed in charts.One of my interests was studying different map projections or simply looking at maps from different angles. After all why persist in seeing a map with north on top? Why not south, or east? Why see the world with our small islands conveniently placed in the middle and, in Mercator’s projection, unduly large?
And so I looked at the layout of Europe’s vineyards which, typically, are centred on the three most important regions: Iberia, Italy and, in between, France. Without the Roman Empire, viticulture might have remained close to the Mediterranean shore. Instead, Hellenistic culture in its vinous form was carried on the backs of Roman legionaries wherever they went, often following great river valleys such as the Ebro, Rhône or Garonne and as far east as the Rhine and Danube which remained a border of sorts until the Barbarian surge.Borders are contradictory, being both barrier and passage. They have changed and evolved over the centuries after wars and dynastic ties. Transylvania, Romanian today, used to be Hungarian. Hungary used to be Turkish. The Ottomans lay siege to Vienna twice, which was once the centre of Germany, while Alsace, French today, was once part of the Holy Roman Empire.
This is where Europe comes together, and in so many ways. Not least in music, whereby a river cruise might start with Hildegard of Bingen and end on the Danube with Enescu, by way of Beethoven and Bartók. And, of course there’s the wines – a veritable cross-pollination of tastes and styles.
I think it was the late and much missed Barry Sutton, one time general manager of The Wine Society, who amused himself with the idea of a buying trip along the Rhine with grateful growers coming to our barge with samples to taste and maybe the odd refreshing beer. Now, thanks to a recently built canal, our trip can extend all the way from the North Sea to the Black Sea.
The Rhine-Danube basin has become home to a vast number of grape varieties. In modern times, they have been bought in from France or Italy, everything from cabernet sauvignon to sangiovese. Before, though, varieties were often created from happy marriages with wild vines.
Riesling, for instance, almost certainly arose out of crossings between the obscure gouais blanc from France, traminer from Italy and wild vines that would have grown along the banks of the Rhine. Another offspring of the gouais blanc is likely to be Hungary’s furmint.
In the west, maritime influences moderate the climate so that Bordeaux or the Minho are relatively cool and damp. In Central Europe, the climate is distinctly continental with cold winters and hot summers. The Romans loved to plant on hillsides and it’s no coincidence that so many of the best vineyards in Germany, Alsace and Austria are planted on steep valley sides. Long growing seasons and hot summers create certain styles and there is a common feature that links Alsace to Austria and Romania. So many of the wines are fragrant, sometimes heady with exotic scents and many are full-flavoured and generous.One of the loveliest vineyards is the Bacharacher Hahn, steep and south facing and overlooking the ancient town and the Rhine. Close by is the narrowest point of the river north of the Swiss border. At one point a 120m cliff plunges into the water. There are rocks to snare ships and also, so it was believed, the deadly water sprite Lorelei, to lure watermen to a certain death. Mendelssohn was here and began writing an opera for Jenny Lind, and, just down the river, Hildegard of Bingen lived and meditated. Maybe she had a say in the creation of the riesling grape? Her many interests included botany, after all.
She spent some time in the village of Ruppertsberg where she founded the monastery. Tucked into the Haardt are fabulous vineyards, in Ruppertsberg itself and next door in Forst and Wachenheim, that today are the source of some of the world’s finest dry white wines, made of course from the riesling grape. Riesling may have come from here or it may have come from Alsace or even the Wachau in Austria on the Danube.
All three make stunning dry riesling, each in a slightly different style. So good they were that at one time that these dry rieslings commanded higher prices than any chardonnay from Burgundy. The Rheingau then suddenly stunned the world with sweet wine made from grapes affected by noble rot. But these rare delicacies were known about for much longer. Well before the Bishop of Fulda enjoyed the first Spätlese, or late-harvest wine, Hapsburg princes were savouring the immortal delights of Tokaji.
Opposite Bingen, but slightly downstream, as the Rhein faces north again towards the narrows and the mischievous Lorelei, pinot noir, known in Germany as spätburgunder, occupies some of the best slopes. Burgundy’s finest grape (which actually predates riesling) is a red variety of choice and lovers of pinot can expect to pay high prices and the wines are sometimes good enough to stand comparison with Burgundy. Further upstream , the Rhine marks a border between Germany and France. Curiously, pinot noir used to be a major variety in Alsace and its popularity is on the rise, as it is on the German side in Baden. Pinot Noir has good Central European credentials and lovely examples can even be found right at the end of our barge journey in Romania.Austria has become one of the smartest wine countries of Europe, frequently picking up international prizes. It wasn’t always so but in some ways the scandal that nearly destroyed its reputation became its saviour as serious growers were left with no choice but to work for quality. Steep Danubian vineyards produce great dry whites from riesling and the local grüner veltliner while the warm, misty shores of the Neuseidlersee produce great reds and, of course, fabulous sweet wines. Noble rot here is almost guaranteed. And so to the east and real promised land that is slowly rediscovering itself after years under state controls. Hungary stands out as it has a sophisticated wine culture and strongly identified grape varieties and styles, dominated of course by Tokaji. This is so obviously a great wine that as soon as state controls were relaxed, foreign investment came pouring in. Rehabilitation of Romania as a wine-producing country has been slower but is nonetheless exciting with new estates, more western in outlook and far more quality minded.
The future for this part of Europe is surely bright. For so long this has been a battlefield confronting the great European Empires. Irredentist squabbles apart, the vast Rhine and Danube basin is surely destined for peace and its wondrous patchwork of vineyards will be allowed to prosper.