Grapevine Archive for Germany

There’d be some real, actual blood as well, but what I’m trying to say is that I really like riesling.

Characterful, versatile and downright delicious, it’s the grape that everyone says they don’t like before they actually try it, and this gorgeous example – recommended to me by fellow copywriter compadre Martin Brown – has converted plenty of naysayers recently.

Louis Guntrum Dry Riesling 2016

Bursting with mouthwatering lime, pear and gooseberry flavours, it manages to achieve bracing freshness, while not subjecting the roof of your mouth to that mouthpuckering post-peardrop tenderness that other particularly acidic wines can. A lean, mean mineral seam conjures the breeziness of the Rhein which, incidentally runs through the heart of the Guntrum’s beautiful vineyards.

Back in February, we were lucky enough to be joined for a guest tasting by owner Konstantin Guntrum, whose infectious enthusiasm and obvious passion was as vibrant and life-affirming as the wines themselves.

More interesting than sauvignon blanc, less divisive than chardonnay, this is the perfect bottle to enjoy with friends as summer draws to a close.

Rosie Allen
Content Creator & Editor

£8.95 bottle
£53.50 case of six
View wine details

Find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here

Categories : Germany, Other Europe
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Tue 25 Oct 2016

Remembering Annegret Reh-Gartner

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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.

Annegret Reh-Gartner

Annegret Reh-Gartner

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.

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt

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
Society Buyer

Categories : Germany, Other Europe
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Janet Wynne Evans gets into hock without breaking the bank…

Janet Wynne Evans

Janet Wynne Evans

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.

ham hock recipe

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.

Categories : Germany, Other Europe
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Thu 17 Mar 2016

Looking East at the Prowein Fair

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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.

Beautiful vineyards on the Greek island of Samos

Beautiful vineyards on the Greek island of Samos

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
Society Buyer

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Wed 02 Sep 2015

Rekindling My Love For German Wine: Part 2

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The second of Yvonne Blandford’s dispatches from Germany, where she accompanied Sebastian Payne MW on his buying trip to select wines for our current Germany 2014 offer.
You can read part one here.

JJ Prüm

Katharina outside the JJ Prüm winery.

Katharina outside the JJ Prüm winery.

Our first visit on Tuesday was to this celebrated winery on the banks of the Mosel near Bernkastel. We met with Katharina, daughter of the owner, Dr Manfred Prüm.

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.

Dr Thanisch
The vineyard of Berncasteler DoctorWe 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.

Schloss Lieser
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
Vines descending down to the MoselThe 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.

Willi Haag
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).

Overall impressions
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.

Yvonne Blandford
Marketing Campaigns Manager

Categories : Germany, Other Europe
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Tue 01 Sep 2015

Rekindling My Love For German Wine

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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…

The Mosel valley

The Mosel valley

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.

Day One
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

Annegret, Wolfgang & Sebastian tasting the wines

Annegret, Wolfgang & Sebastian tasting the wines

The first stop on our whistle-stop tour was Schloss Marienlay to taste wines from Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt. Here we were joined by Bernd Weber, who has assisted Sebastian for several years by seeking out opportunities in Germany. After being warmly greeted by Annegret Reh-Gartner and her husband, Gerhard – Sebastian, Annegret and Wolfgang Mertes, their chief winemaker, worked their way through a line of wines.

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’.

Soil
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.

The red, blue and grey slates at von Kesselstatt

The red, blue and grey slates at von Kesselstatt

Schloss Marienlay is located near Morscheid on the banks of the Ruwer. Annegret kindly explained the importance of the slate soil in these regions and how they vary in colour from red, blue and grey ‘Devon’ slate. The slate ensures that the soil does not become ‘claggy’, as the rain drains off of it. At the same time the vines do not grow too rigorously and the warmth from the sun is reflected back into the soil. I was interested to see they have a little display in their tasting room that features examples of the three slates with descriptions of the different vineyards and how the slate affects the taste of the wines.

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.

Grape pickers face the back-breaking task of hand harvesting the grapes whilst gingerly negotiating the slopes.

Grape pickers face the back-breaking task of hand harvesting the grapes whilst gingerly negotiating the slope.

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.

Dr Carl Von Schubert of Maximin Grünhaus with Abtsberg vineyard in background.

Dr Carl Von Schubert of Maximin Grünhaus with Abtsberg vineyard in background

The Abtsberg wines are grown in the plots nearest to the estate property and have an individual mineral flavour – the Kabinett (£14.95) and Spätlese (£17.50) are both featured in the Germany 2014 offer.

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!

Karthäuserhof, Trier-Eitelsbach
Karthaeuserhof 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.

Karthaeuserhof's tasting room dates back to 1895.

Karthaeuserhof’s tasting room dates back to 1895

Climate
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.

Yvonne Blandford
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.

Categories : Germany, Other Europe
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Thu 09 Jan 2014

Mosel Bridge Update

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Mosel High Bridge constructionWe 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.

More information can be found on jancisrobinson.com and Decanter.

Categories : Germany, Other Europe
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Wed 16 Oct 2013

Rhine & Danube: Shifting the Centre

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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.

Our Rhine Danube map. Click to enlarge.

Our Rhine and Danube map. Click to enlarge.

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.

Rhine Valley

Rhine Valley

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.

The steep Bacharacher Hahn vineyard

The steep Bacharacher Hahn vineyard

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.

The Danube winding through Austria

The Danube winding through Austria

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.

Vineyards in Tokaj, Hungary

Vineyards in Tokaj, Hungary

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.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

View the current Rhine and Danube offer

Fri 21 Jun 2013

Wir sind ein Stevenager

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The original menu served to John F. Kennedy in June 1963

The original menu for JFK in June 1963

It was 50 years ago this weekend that President John F. Kennedy made his famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate. The menu (pictured), while bound with decorative cord, bore no culinary frills – smoked salmon, grilled chicken, strawberries, cheese platter. Wines on the menu that day included Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt’s Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese.

To celebrate the anniversary, after his own Brandenburg Gate speech on 19th June, President Obama was presented with a bottle of the same wine, but from the 2011 vintage.

As Annegret Reh-Gartner from von Kesselstatt says: “Proof that our wines are still memorable after 50 years!”

Our buyer for Germany Sebastian Payne MW blogged here about The Society’s Saar Riesling, made for us by von Kesselstatt, and The Society currently stocks a further six wines from this excellent estate.

Prost!

Ewan Murray
PR Manager

Categories : Germany, Miscellaneous
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Wed 19 Jun 2013

RACY RIESLING

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The Society's Saar Riesling

The Society’s Saar Riesling: ‘Low in alcohol (11%) but high in flavour, strong in acidity but soft and generous as a sweet ripe peach’

Wine journalists, like Masters of Wine, do not always agree about which wines to recommend, but a distinguished list, including Matthew Jukes, Jane MacQuitty, Jancis Robinson, Anthony Rose and The Wine Gang have recently praised The Society’s Saar Riesling. Most recently David Williams made it his Best Buy for Summer in The Observer Food Monthly.

“This racy German riesling from vineyards around the Saar tributary of the Mosel was made for wasting (but not wasted) afternoons in the garden. Low in alcohol (11%) but high in flavour, strong in acidity but soft and generous as a sweet ripe peach.”

We select and blend it each year with Annegret Reh and her winemaker Wolfgang Mertes from the von Kesselstatt estate – which has an almost unrivalled clutch of top-quality vineyards in the region to make our job more interesting.

The von Kesselstatt estate has a history of more than 660 years, and was bought by Gunther Reh in 1978. Annagret has since taken the important decision to concentrate on her very best sites, 36 hectares in all, reducing yields and only using indigenous yeasts, ensuring vineyards keep their personality.

Our Saar Riesling varies with the vintage, sometimes including grapes from Scharzhofberg, sometimes Wiltinger Gottesfuss and Braunfels, sometimes Oberemmeler Agritiusberg and the excellent but less well-known Niedermenniger Herrenberg.

The wine is just off-dry, sweetness (4), and in fact drier than in earlier vintages as grapes have been beautifully ripe in recent years, but the refreshing balance of a little sweetness and natural acidity makes it delicious both with food or on its own.  With only 11% alcohol it leaves the head clear and spirit refreshed.

Well worth £8.95, in fact.

Stop press

This wine also won its category in this year’s Wine Champions blind tastings. All the winners are revealed here. There will also be an offer of 2012 German Rieslings in July. The 2012 harvest was excellent and rewarding though quantities are down. The wines have lovely freshness, balance and length of flavour. Watch this space!

 

Categories : Miscellaneous
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