Grapevine Archive for White Wine
Evidently, it is as dangerous to dismiss as it is to assume: over the past few years, a number of wine regions and styles written off by some of us have sprung back into wine lists and affections. Australian chardonnay – the subject of this month’s Staff Choice – is certainly one such example.
As my colleague Stephanie Searle writes below, we know that some members have been turned off trying Aussie chardonnay over the years, feeling that its initial success led to a decline in quality. Wines like Pemberley’s Margaret River Chardonnay, a new addition to our range, make a compelling case for a fresh look. Here Stephanie explains why.
One of the many joys of working in the Tastings & Events Team is the opportunity to try so many different wines: choosing just one was far from easy! I have settled on a real gem that has proved to be simply stunning on every occasion that I have opened a bottle.
From just south of Western Australia’s Margaret River, this rich ripe wine delivers wonderful texture and freshness. It pleases on so many levels as notes of citrus, green apple and ripe fruit blend perfectly with subtle hints of toast and butterscotch.
If you gave up drinking Australian chardonnay back in the day when it was mass-produced, over-oaked and of poor quality, I would urge you to give this a try. It couldn’t be more different. This is new-style Australian chardonnay at its very best.
Tastings & Events Team
£15.50 – Bottle
£186 – Case of 12
View Wine Details
Michael Brajkovich MW is one of the most talented, and modest, winemakers in the world today.
Recently I had the chance to sit down with him and talk about his Kumeu River chardonnays, and couldn’t resist asking how he felt about them trouncing a clutch of eye-wateringly expensive white Burgundies in a blind tasting last year. This is not the first time Michael’s Auckland chardonnays have performed such a feat, and the sort of result that, were I a winemaker, would probably see me running delirious laps around my barrel hall.
‘Whenever we’ve put our wines against some top white Burgundies, we’ve been very happy just to be on the same page,’ Michael replies. ‘We’re happy to be considered at the same kind of level because we’re considerably cheaper; and when the results come through and we’ve done very well… it’s really nice!’
‘But it’s not the main reason we do it,’ he hastens to add. ‘We’re here to say ‘hey – here’s something that’s not exactly the same, because it’s from a different terroir, a different country – but the quality level is comparable, the style is comparable, and we are better value.’’
Kumeu River’s new 2014 wines, have recently been released in our current New Zealand offer, provide a further testament to the outstanding quality and deserved following the Brajkovich family’s wines have achieved.
‘Everything went perfectly in 2014. There was no rot, harvesting was easy, the fruit was in perfect condition and as the juices went through fermentation, we thought to ourselves, ‘this is something pretty special.’ It was pretty much a perfect-weather vintage leading right up to the end of it. It’s a generous, richer, more giving vintage than 2013. And they’re actually really good early on.’
He’s not wrong. The 2014s are truly world-class chardonnays, imbued with approachable richness and delicate refreshing balance throughout the Kumeu River portfolio.
But not quite everything went perfectly, Michael chuckled. Their top plot, Mate’s Vineyard, which is the last to be picked, became the subject of a scramble to get the grapes in before a tropical cyclone threatened to destroy the crop before it could be harvested.
All whilst entertaining the visit of New Zealand’s Prime Minister – and their local MP – John Key, and the Croatian Prime Minister, who was visiting at the time!
Thankfully the grapes were harvested – and the Prime Ministers entertained – and the fruit reached the winery in perfect condition. ‘It was during the fermentation we realised how good it was. Ok, so it was picked a few days earlier than we’d have liked but it didn’t make any difference: the vineyard matters more than the few days. It’s one of our oldest vineyards. It’s quite low-yielding, even in terms of this bumper crop, and the wine is fabulous. It really is our grand cru.’
Enter stage left: The Society’s Head of Buying, Tim Sykes, and buyer for New Zealand, Sarah Knowles MW, who visited Kumeu a couple of months later.
You can read Tim’s account of the visit here; but having tasted the 2014s in barrel, Sarah instantly began negotiating an increase in The Society’s allocation.
Kumeu River are, of course, also the source of our Society’s Exhibition Chardonnay (£13.50). This exclusive single-vineyard wine has long been popular with members, but the 2014 vintage offers something particularly special. Having picked up the Best New Zealand Chardonnay Under £15 Trophy at both the Decanter and International Wine Challenge awards, the wine offers further delicious proof of 2014’s quality here. The below video from our archive shows Michael talking about this wine, and sums up both the wine and his outlook on winemaking very well.
Kumeu River’s 2014s are available now in our current New Zealand offer. Despite securing a good allocation of these wines, supply is still limited so please don’t delay in ordering these special wines to avoid disappointment!
I have a confession to make. I for one have never ordered a bottle of Orvieto Classico Amabile from the Barberani family.
It has been on The Society’s wine List for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t a wine that I could ever imagine drinking.
Not until recently, that is.
I was lucky enough to accompany Sebastian Payne MW, our buyer of Italian wine, to Orvieto earlier this year and prior to our visit to the Barberanis, we talked about who bought this off-dry version of an Italian classic.
Sebastian informed me that the wine enjoys a modest, loyal following among members. We assumed, perhaps wrongly, that it is a wine that members buy to offer to friends that just can’t take dryer styles of whites.
I was curious about the wine and how it is enjoyed in Italy, so put this question to brothers Niccolò and Bernardo and their father, Luigi (I didn’t admit that I had never tasted this wine before!).
They informed me that the amabile style is actually what people used to drink locally and that it has a long tradition in the area. The grapes – grechetto and trebbiano procanico – are left a little longer on the vine and fermentation is stopped before all the sugar has been converted to alcohol.
The resulting wine, produced from meticulously tended vineyards and pristine cellars, is whistle clean, delicately fruity, fresh and with moderate alcohol (12%).
We give it a 4 (out of 9) sweetness code, which I always imagine is definitively medium-sweet, but I was pleasantly surprised by the wine; round and gentle, but with a lovely interplay of acidity and sugar, I could really see its appeal.
But how do they serve it? I wanted to know.
The Barberanis seemed a bit bemused by my incessant questioning. ‘Well, we serve it as an aperitif,’ they said, ‘it works well with cheese or even shellfish… sometimes we have it at the end of a meal, perhaps with fruit or even mid-afternoon on its own!’
Sadly, our gastronomic traditions rarely match up to those of our Italian friends, so as I tasted the wine, I thought about how I might enjoy it back home in Blighty.
It wasn’t that I was looking for excuses, I was genuinely so pleasantly surprised and delighted to find that I really liked a style of wine that I had blindly written off (without tasting), that I wanted to try it out at home.
There’s just a little hint of spice to the gently fruity flavour that made me think that this Orvieto Amabile would work well with subtly spiced dishes – indeed, I have now bought some of the wine and tried it out with a mild Asian-style salmon curry dish and a traditional creamy fish pie.
I am pleased to say that my hunch paid off and that (in my view at least) – the matches worked well.
I should also learn to be less prejudiced about things I haven’t tried before!
The Barberanis’ Orvieto Classico Amabile 2015, was recently on offer in our Great Savings for Summer offer at the special price of £75 a dozen instead of £83, which we have extended (for this wine only) until Tuesday 12th July, 2016.
So, if you haven’t tried it yet, now might be a good time to give it a go and join that other group of members who are already in the know!
Oh, and do let us know how you serve it too!
Think of Burgundy and, for most, whites and reds share equal interest.
Think of the Rhône, however, and invariably it’s the region’s generous spicy reds that tend to spring to mind.
I’ve been singing the praises of white Rhône for many years, particularly when asked by Society members for a white wine to serve with food. It seems my interest is shared as in recent years there has been a growth in plantings of white varieties in the region.
Condrieu is well-known, and the white wines of Saint-Péray continue to garner deserved recognition. White Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape can take on a sherry-like nuttiness with age. The white wines of these four crus provide a rich palette of options for food.
However, perhaps the most exciting of my own recent finds have been younger white Rhônes, which offer more accessible appeal, freshness and fragrance, alongside that same generosity you get from their red cousins.
There really is no such thing as a typical white Rhône, due in no small part to the fact that so many grape varieties can be used. For me, this just adds to their charm: with such diversity available, there is a wine to suit nearly every occasion.
Furthermore, recent vintages have been very impressive, including the remarkable 2014s.
Some white Rhônes (and food matches) to try:
• Grignan-les-Adhémar Blanc Cuvée Gourmandise, Domaine de Montine 2015 (£7.50) offers a very respectable introduction. The perfumed viognier grape stands proud in the blend, providing a fruit-driven framework that would suit a multitude of salad options; my favourite would be a chargrilled chicken breast salad with a touch of Caesar salad sauce.
• Vacqueyras Blanc Les Clefs d’Or, Clos des Cazaux 2013 (£11.95) is a bone-dry white but with a touch of roundness and fruit from grenache blanc and roussanne. A tried and tested pan-fried prawn favourite!
• Lirac Blanc La Fermade, Domaine Maby 2014 (£8.95) shows off the charms of this underrated southern village. The base is grenache blanc, but the ingenious addition of some early-picked picpoul introduces a vivacious, almost Burgundian feel, which works beautifully with smoked salmon.
• Laudun Blanc, Domaine Pélaquié 2014 (£9.50) is a full-flavoured herb-infused gem with a delicate sweet nuttiness to the flavour. Great with roasted squash.
• Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc, Guigal 2014 (£9.95) is a fragrant generous gastronomic delight, the viognier grape lending its aromatic qualities to the blend and making it a good partner with mild curry.
• Viognier, Grignan-les-Adhémar, Domaine de Montine 2015 (£9.50) employs oak subtly, creating a creamy-textured background for the characteristic apricot notes of viognier. Try with fish pie.
So whether it’s salad, seafood, squash, curry or pie on the menu, the Rhône’s white wines offer a multitude of matches. I do hope you’ll give one a go.
The Cellar Showroom
When offered a ‘pinot’, I suspect most would expect either a glass of red pinot noir or white pinot grigio/gris to be poured.
But hold fire! I feel their oft-forgotten cousin, pinot blanc, offers an opportunity to try something deliciously different.
This white mutation of pinot noir was first identified in Burgundy in the 18th century. Its lowly status in the pinot family seemed to be compounded by several cases of mistaken identity: for many years some vines were thought to be chardonnay. The grape is still grown in this part of the world, permitted but rarely used in Burgundy and Champagne, but it is now planted in many areas.
It can be found in Germany and Austria under the name weißburgunder, and in Italy as pinot bianco. It also features in Hungary and a number of Balkan vineyards. We used to list a Canadian example, and homegrown English examples can also be found. The slightly off-dry Chapel Down Pinot Blanc (£12.50) is worth a try, and the grape also appears in the blend of Sussex’s Albourne Estate Selection (£12.95).
Lovely as these English examples are, my place to start would be Alsace, where this near-neglected grape is capable of remarkable complexity and elegance.
Alsace is rightly hailed for its consumer-friendly labelling, with grape varieties being displayed on the label long before others caught on, but the ever-unfortunate pinot blanc is the exception that proves the rule here. A ‘pinot blanc’ from Alsace can by law contain pinot gris, auxerrois or even white-vinified pinot noir!
Nevertheless, the whole can often be greater than the sum of its parts, and I feel that the three pinot blancs currently available from The Society reveal the appeal of this unsung grape.
Three Alsace pinot blancs to try
1. At just £6.50, Cave de Turckheim’s 2014 Pinot Blanc overdelivers: I’ve recommended this to members in The Cellar Showroom a great deal, particularly for weddings and buffets. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, whose soft subtle melon fruit and fresh tempered acidity combine in an easy-drinking wine which suits a variety of foods and palates.
2. For a fuller feel, Trimbach’s 2014 Pinot Blanc (£8.95) shows how well the grape can complement auxerrois in an Alsace blend: it has a slight smoky and spicy character with fresh acidity, and the result is very stylish. Surprisingly it can be acquired for under £10 and is also available in a handy-sized half bottle for £5.50.
3. Finally, but still under £10 a bottle, Domaine Ginglinger’s 2013 Pinot Blanc (£9.95) is wonderfully aromatic and delivers ripe roundness that lingers. This is a great option for food matching, working especially well with egg-based dishes and with spicy food.
The Cellar Showroom
These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the New Year selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?
Find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.I was once moved to pen a Food for Thought piece titled A Recipe for Disaster. It was a rant about cooking instructions that don’t make sense.
Try, for example, preheating a superfast fan-assisted oven before defrosting your meat or adding the stock which you suddenly find (in brackets) you should have made by roasting and simmering veal bones for four hours. Good luck with marshalling ingredients that don’t feature in the method, and vice versa. These are merely the tip of an undefrostable iceberg for titanic kitchen egos.
A very famous name has the prize for my favourite blooper of all time: an instruction to simmer some mushrooms for exactly twenty minutes – and then throw them away. The importance of reserving the cooking water for stock went – you’ve guessed it – down the drain.
I do see that successful chefs may take for granted boxes ticked by their large brigades but I strongly suggest that if they intend to break into publishing, they should consider adding to their smoke-boxes, dry-ice dispensers and foam aerosols the magnifying glass, nit-comb and big red pen any sense-checker needs. A chef de cuisine does not a Chief Sub make.
I know from experience just how easy it is to add or omit a zero or to insert a ghost k before a g. I try hard, but even when I get it right, a gremlin in my laptop occasionally likes to undermine my authority by mischievously replacing the degree (Centigrade) symbol with, of all things, a question mark. Fortunately, gimlet eyes and better technical skills than mine at HQ spare my blushes, and the odd escapee, swiftly picked up by members at least reassures me that you are actually reading my work!
Earlier this year I attended a Guardian workshop on food writing, wherein the excellent food journalist Felicity Cloake, who must get as frustrated as I do, stressed the importance of checking one’s recipes. In an ironic twist, I recently read the following, in the same paper’s Corrections and Clarifications section:
“A recipe for kedgeree among our 10 best all-day egg recipes… listed the wrong amounts for the haddock, rice, water, curry powder and salt…”
Finally, I think I understand the expression ‘as sure as eggs is eggs.’
Nothing, however, prepared me for the clutch of Bordelais tapas recipes we presented in our Christmas Sauternes spread and which I hope members enjoyed trying as much as I ended up having to, if only to make sense of them.
These recipes originated at a brilliantly conceived Bordeaux tapas-and-sweet-wine workshop, whence some inspirational ideas emerged from top traiteurs. Clearly, you had to be there, as I wasn’t. Unfortunately, the only written records, posted online, are variously missing weights, measures, oven temperatures and cooking times, number of servings and, in some cases, even the ingredients mentioned in the name of the dish. The world of private catering is competitive if not cut-throat. What a clever way of withholding trade secrets!
Having deconstructed and reassembled the least baffling of the recipes for The Society’s website, I have saved my favourite until now. Not because it was the one in least need of sub-editing (it was), but because we all need a bit of glamour in January. All I added were a suggestion for cooking the prawns and a serving idea.
What’s more it’s the perfect freezer and store-cupboard standby and, although it was designed to match a Sauterenes or Barsac, it works equally well with any number of the aromatic whites in this New Year Wine Without Fuss selection.
What more could you ask from a recipe? Proper instructions, that’s what. I have done my level best here, and if that web-gremlin is not on a well-earned winter break, I will simultaneously hang up my quill, my tastevin AND my cook’s knife.
Janet Wynne Evans
OLIVIER STRAEHLI’S PRAWNS WITH CARDAMOM, VANILLA AND COCONUT
Olivier Straehli has written a number of cookery books, including one dedicated to that Bordeaux über-bun the cannelé. He also presides over the kitchen at La Maison des 5 Sens in Bordeaux – not a restaurant but an espace culturelle dedicated to the pleasures of the senses. Here he combines sweetness, spice and richness to delicious effect, all eminently absorbable by a sweet wine and spice-friendly whites like gewurztraminer,and viognier and rich chardonnays.
M. Straehli’s instructions are merely to cook your prawns so I have taken the liberty of sharing my preferred method of roasting them with a little sesame oil. I do hope he approves, both of that and my presentation. If not, I had better practice my most elegant Gallic shrug.
Serves 8 as a tapa, 4 as a starter
Note: you’ll need four ramekins for starter portions, or, for tapas, eight 5cl shot glasses and a ready supply of cocktail sticks, which can snap very easily if you’re excited!
• 16 tiger prawns, defrosted if frozen
• 2 tablespoons of sunflower or similarly neutral oil
• a scant teaspoon of toasted sesame oil
• a handful of baby onions or very slim shallots, finely sliced
• 200ml coconut milk
• 150ml full fat crème fraîche
• a vanilla pod, split
• 5 whole cardamom pods, lightly crushed
• a green or red medium-strength chilli (jalapeño is about right), deseeded and very finely chopped
• 1 lime
• 16 photogenic coriander leaves, washed and dried, to decorate
Firstly, deal with the prawns.> Remove heads and all shells, including the tail. With the point of a knife, make a cut along the back and remove all traces of the black digestive tract. I always feel better for having done that. Give them a good rinse in two lots of well-salted water (an excellent tip from Ken Hom). Pat them with kitchen paper and leave them on a plate until completely dry.
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 7. Put the prawns in a small roasting dish. Add half the sunflower oil and all the sesame oil and season well with salt and pepper. With clean hands, make sure every prawn is well coated. Roast for just 6-8 minutes until the prawns are pink, opaque and firm to the touch. Set them aside to cool, and once they have done so, refrigerate them until you are ready to assemble the tapas.
In a frying pan, heat the rest of the sunflower oil and brown the onions or shallots. They should be golden and crisp. Lift them out and let them drain on kitchen paper.
Give the pan a wipe before adding the coconut milk, crème fraîche, vanilla and cardamom, along with half the diced chilli. Bring up to a simmer and let this mixture reduce gently to half its volume, tasting as you go. It may need a little seasoning, but remember that the prawns will be quite salty and toasty.
Once it tastes right – rich, creamy, subtly spice and hauntingly sweet – fish out the vanilla pod and count out the cardamoms. Stir in the rest of the diced chilli and finish with the juice of half a lime, adding a little more if you feel it’s needed.
Divide the mixture into 8 shot glasses or 4 ramekins. Sprinkle with the reserved onion ringlets, and put in the fridge to chill and thicken.
An hour before serving, remove your components from the fridge for the fun part. For the ramekins, arrange four prawns jauntily on top of the sauce, interleaved with the coriander leaves. For the shot-glass option, impale a coriander leaf, glossy side up, with a cocktail stick, add a prawn, then another coriander leaf and a second prawn. Your ‘kebab’ should stand up nicely in the glass without touching the sauce. Repeat the operation seven times.
Equip your guests with little teaspoons so that every morsel of the sauce can be scraped up and savoured. Oh, and do grant permission to lick fingers and glasses at table.
The downside of having a small cellar in another country is that it is generally only topped up once a year with Wine Society wines, and similarly audited, with the odd bottle passing its recommended drinking window.
This Christmas’ pleasant surprise was Bernard Chéreau‘s Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Le Clos du Château L’Oiselinière 2003.
When I joined The Society as a buyer in 2004, 2003 was the vintage I was confronted with. At the time I struggled to get to grips with it, especially in the Loire, where the ‘norm’ is something quite different.
There have been warm, ripe vintages since (notably 2005 and 2009) and I have come to think of 2003 as atypical, rather than the Hyde to the regular Dr Jekyll.
The biggest fear at the time was that the wines would have insufficient acidity to maintain freshness even over the short to medium term. Unusually, permission was granted to add acid but, with little or no experience of doing so, few growers did.
The best wines found their balance and I have enjoyed numerous examples over the last few years.
The Le Clos was still remarkably good AND fresh, and complemented a buttery and flavoursome chicken admirably.
Jo Locke MW
The 2009 vintage of Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Le Clos du Château L’Oiselinière is currently available for £10.95 per bottle.
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.
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• 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.
The arrival of summer heralds the chance to do many pleasurable things, one being the opportunity to sip a chilled glass of wine in the garden as the swallows and swifts swoop.
It used to be a relatively easy choice for my white: something sauvignon blanc based, whether the mineral freshness of the Loire, the tropical fruit of New Zealand or the perfumed examples from Bordeaux.However, recently I have found that more wines now jockey for position of summer sipper and none more so than those of Spain and Portugal.
Albariño led this charge and now is firm favourite; not just for a bowl of whitebait but a worthy tipple in the warmer weather with its citrus backbone allowing the delicate fruit to brought to the fore, such as Pazo de Villarei 2014 (£8.50).
My interest in Iberia only intensified on a recent trip to northern Spain. I was able to see first-hand how a modern approach, assisted by investment in technology, concentrating on cooler areas and allowing the Atlantic freshness to prevail had helped expose the latent charm of indigenous grapes and has brought the wines of Iberia to the attention of those like myself, seeking lively thirst-quenching wines with well-defined fruit and an aromatic touch.
The current Summer Whites from Spain and Portugal offer mirrors my newfound interest in these wines and showcases many favourites.
Spain’s Gaba do Xil Godello Valdeorras 2014 (£8.75) offers up a clean cut of unoaked freshness tempered by a roundness on the palate typical of the godello grape. Add to this the invigorating peachiness of Finca Lallana (£7.50), a certified 100% organic verdejo which I was fortunate to witness being blended.
With a surname like Braganza you might expect leanings to Portuguese whites. Vinho verdes, as the name alludes to (‘green wine’), used to deliver freshness but sometimes in an unripe fashion. However, times have changed: try Anselmo Mendes’ ‘Muros Antigos’ Loureiro (£7.95) or Soalheiro’s Alvarino (£14.50), which still provide a bright background but with a floral fragrance that raises the wine – both are great for grilled mackerel.
For an easy drinker try Quinta da Espiga, Lisboa 2014 (£6.50) which uses a smidgen of sauvignon blanc and a host of indigenous grapes to create a zesty, lower-alcohol wine that makes a great lunchtime drink. Another favourite is Alvaro Castro Dão Branco 2014 (£7.95), which introduces a contemporary take on the Dão style.
Lastly, Spain’s Ermita del Conde Albillo, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León 2013 (£10.95) and Portugal’s popular Adega de Pegões Colheita Seleccionada, Setúbal 2014 (£6.75) reveal how Iberia can deliver wines with a difference (the former offering beguiling fruit underpinned by subtle spice from oak, the latter a smooth full-flavoured white), both offering culinary companionship aplenty.
Hopefully the above illustrates Iberia’s credentials for good summer whites.
All we need now is a good summer…!
The Cellar Showroom