My img_0699-mediumwife’s parents visited us here in Basel recently. We took them to the picturesque village of Éguisheim in Alsace one day. It’s a short and easy ride away from Colmar railway station – well, ‘easy’ if you have a car , which we don’t. Buses do run from Colmar station, but timetables are sparse to put it mildly. We scheduled our journey to arrive in Colmar just before the only bus between early morning and early evening left for Éguisheim at 12.25 p.m. However, we still almost missed our connection because the bus that we thought went to Éguisheim was now going in a completely different (and unannounced) direction; the bus driver said we should take a different bus that was leaving at the same time but from a departure bay about 100 metres away.

This shambles was half-expected, to be honest. Buses in Alsace seem geared solely to school children and any random rush-hour commuters mad enough to want to take such mode of transportation. I had already prebooked a taxi back to Colmar for us at half five in the evening, as there were no bus connections back.

The village was worth the effort though. The last time I had been there was back in summer 1998 – riding through by bike during a day off from working at a vineyard in nearby Pfaffenheim. After a generous, hearty lunch at the Auberge des Trois Châteaux, we did what tourists do and looked around. I then popped into the vinothèque of Domaine Pierre-Henri Ginglinger to taste and buy three bottles of crémant and three of this, their 2013 Eichberg grand cru Riesling.

Pierre-Henri Ginglinger, Riesling Eichberg GC 2013, Alsace
Jean Ginglinger & Fils was the name of the winery I worked for in 1998. These Ginglingers are no relation, but they also apply organic principles like their namesakes.

Clear, light yellow. Very clean on the nose, with distinct citrus notes and a touch of flint and earth. A hint of lacquer. A little reticent all the same.

Lemon and lime with whiimg_1304te peach on the tongue. Sure, it’s a dry wine by my non-German standards at least, but there is a generosity there that belies its modest 12.5 per cent alcohol. Barely medium in body, and still very young, clean, refreshing and pure – but with the suggestion of an inner, minerally core that augurs well for the future. Very drinkable now, but I think this wine will begin to blossom in five years or so.

Price? Under 16 euros. For a grand cru! (Although the next vintage, 2014, now costs 17 euros.) Whether we’re talking here of the same quality level as, say, a Grosses Gewächs in Germany is a moot point, but the wine itself has a lot of integrity.


Very easy drinking

The clue is in the title.img_0689-small

Peter Lauer, ‘Alt Scheidt’ Riesling feinherb 2015, Saar
Very pale straw in appearance; slate, red apple and – as the temperature rises – slightly savoury, nutty hints and a suggestion of peach. Light and pure in the mouth. Red apple again, with deliciously succulent yet dry finish making the contents of the bottle almost evaporate before my eyes.

Friedrich Becker, ‘Vom Kleinen Fritz’ Wildwein rot 2013, Pfalz
Very dark ruby in colour with peppery hints on the nose. I don’t know what the exact constituents of this blend are, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Syrah played a small part. On the one hand, smelling quite smooth (dark cherry, plum), and on the other fairly fresh and stemmy. Is this wine a mix of well-known globetrotters such as Syrah and more down-to-earth local varietals (St. Laurent, for example)? Anyway, quite an ample, firm medium body on the palate, but smooth with the aforementioned dark fruit and barely noticeable tannins. Some minty greenness keeps things interesting. In short: a substantial but easy-to-understand wine.img_0693-small

‘Vom kleinen Fritz’ refers to Friedrich Becker Jr. As he explains in a poignant documentary that was aired last year on German television, this wine was intended for the Japanese market. They love their ‘Wildschwein’ (wild boar) over there, hence the name ‘Wildwein’. To anyone who understands German, I can warmly recommend the documentary. The wine is good too, albeit quite a bit less complicated than the father-son relationship between the two Fritzes in the film.

Kesselring, Riesling trocken 2015, Pfalz
Going purely on memory now, as I made zero notes. Lovely red apple and white peach on the nose. Great balance on the palate, with ripe acidity and just the right combination of succulence and steel. What I love most is this (organic) wine’s surprisingly silky texture as it washes over my tongue. Significantly, my acidity-sensitive wife failed to wince, which is always a good sign when it comes to Riesling – that might sound like I’m damning it with faint praise, but nothing could be further from the truth. At around EUR 6.50, this is a candidate to become our official house wine forthwith.

As you can see, all three labels stand out in their own way.img_0879-small



IMG_0688 (Small)

As far as I know, there is at least one other, somewhat more famous, ‘Frauenberg’: the Rheinhessen cru which, in no small measure, owes its renown to the exploits of Klaus-Peter Keller and Hans Oliver Spanier.

This particular Frauenberg, on the other hand, overlooks Mauchen, a sleepy village in the borough of Müllheim in Südbaden.

Lämmlin-Schindler, Frauenberg Spätburgunder GG 2011, Baden
Quite dark and dense for a Pinot, with a surprising purplish tinge around the edges. An initial whiff of raspberry and blackberry on the nose, followed by a suggestion of apple. Earthy, rusty, blood-like hints, along with a sprinkling of wild herbs. Stuffing and structure on the palate, though quite softly-softly in terms of its flavours (merely a little raspberry and some green stemminess).

After leaving the wine half-full in the fridge, I return to it five days later. Certainly quite a lot more open now, with black cherry as well as dried herbs and a spicy, slightly animally note on the nose. In the mouth, it’s less about the flavours and more about the tannins – which are supple and minerally. This is a beefy wine, albeit one with a good acidic backbone and considerable potential lurking underneath. There is nothing limpid about it at all. Definitely Pinot, but in a different idiom to the elegance, transparency and leanness of many its cousins nowadays. Grand cru where the emphasis is on stature and masculinity. I’d give it at least another five years.


Two countries, two wines, one grape.

With one or two similarities …

Louis Bovard, ‘Terre à Boire’ Épesses 2014, AOC Lavaux, Vaud
On receiving the Gault Millau award for Germany’s ‘wine collection of the year’ in late-2014, local grower Hanspeter Ziereisen from Efringen-Kirchen name-dropped Switzerland’s Louis Bovard as being a producer he admires. This was in my mind while drinking this.

IMG_0654Golden straw in appearance. Reticent at first but opening up gradually, this is a quiet, unassuming representative of the Chasselas varietal (referred to as Gutedel in Germany). Notes of iron and Golden Delicious on the nose, with slight hints of caramel. Very clean and linear on the palate, with a concentrated, almost peach-like characteristic along with Golden Delicious again. Balanced with a touch of chalkiness lending just enough freshness. The abv is 12.5 per cent. Light to medium body, medium length on the finish. In practice, this is an entry-level wine – but one offering good refreshment. I seriously need to try Bovard’s Médinette from Dézaley one day.

Röschard, Gutedel trocken 2015, Baden
A few of this Weil-based producer’s wines impressed me at this year’s Müllheimer Weinmarkt, including this one. Straw-coloured with slight hints of chalk, hazelnut and pear. Very pure and ‘straight down the line’ – like it’s Swiss cousin. And elegant too. Dry as a bone in the mouth, but juicy and mouth-watering. Light to medium in body, with apple and pear striking the main chords. A refreshing medium finish. Sometimes, simple pleasures like these are the best. Empty in no time. The abv is 12 per IMG_0655cent.


Millésimes Alsace

IMG_0572Hauptsache Wein is a German-language Facebook group I joined a while back. I like to browse through the various posts and threads from time to time but prefer not to get involved in the discussions, which can sometimes get quite heated. One lively exchange a couple of months ago concerned a recently published selection of sound bites from Alsace and German winemakers on what they thought of the Rieslings produced by their respective counterparts across the Rhine. Personally, I thought some of the views from the Alsace camp were a little uninformed, to put it euphemistically. Of course, this cooked up a mini-firestorm. A debate then ensued on the merits of Alsace wine, during the course of which Stephan Reinhardt from The Wine Advocate – who had posted the link in the first place – mentioned that the third edition of ‘Millésimes Alsace’ would be taking place in June.

Held every other year in Colmar, Millésimes Alsace is a professional fair that showcases the best of Alsace to the wine trade. As Colmar is only a 40-minute train ride from Basel, I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to re-acquaint myself with the region – I worked at a vineyard in Pfaffenheim, just south Colmar, in the summer of 1998, but my exposure to the region since then had been minimal.

For a good background synopsis on Millésimes Alsace, read Sue Style’s interesting account on her website. I chose to visit the centrepiece of Millésimes Alsace, which was the trade tasting on Monday 13 June.  The day also included a ‘masterclass’, which had three scheduled time slots to cater for French, German and English speakers respectively. The other Millésimes Alsace events – which I had to miss – including a guided tour of an Alsace grand cru theIMG_0574 - Copy (2) following day.

Over the course of the Monday, I decided not to make too many notes while wandering from stand to stand. I just wanted the whole experience to wash over me. Not only was the entire who’s who of Alsace wine in attendance, but wine journalists such as Jancis Robinson and Jamie Goode from the UK, not to mention Stephan Reinhardt, had also made the journey to Colmar. Each producer showed a selection of around half a dozen wines. Around 50 per cent of all the wines were Riesling. Very few showed ‘2015’ on the label; virtually all of were older or much older.

Impressions? In general, they were very positive. Many of the wines had character and complexity in abundanceIMG_0577, firstly demonstrating the worth of holding back vintages for a few years, and secondly, showcasing the varied characteristics of the region’s top vineyard sites (or terroirs, if you prefer). As much as I failed to get round half as many of the producers as I wanted, I was able to immerse myself fully in the respective wine collections I did manage to taste. One notable highlight for me was Domaine Gresser, from whom I tasted a wonderfully vivid, bone-dry 1985 Grand Cru Moenchberg Riesling as well as a selection of other Rieslings (Duttenberg, Wiebelsberg, Kastelberg) that were vibrant mirror images of the different soils in which they were grown.

Other names worth mentioning include:
Muré – Beautiful Rieslings and Pinot Noir.
Louis Sipp – An amiable man (Étienne Sipp) producing eloquent Rieslings from a whole variety of soils, including a deeply mineral 2010 GC Kirchberg.
Marc Tempé – Individualistic and exciting. Biodynamic.
Léon Beyer – Old-school Alsace: Rieslings that are bone dry and austere in their youth and need many years to reach their full potential.
Barmès-Bucher – I loved their superb, minerally Brut Nature and dry Pinot Gris (Lieu-Dit Pfleck 2013).
Pierre Frick – Neighbour of Jean Ginglinger & Fils whom I worked for in 1998, Monsieur Frick puts minimal or – in a few cases – no sulphur at all in his wines. His collection was totally different to anything else on offer, often reminding me of cloudy, oxidative apple mead. It’s an acquired taste, but his Sylvaner Bergweingarten 2013 and Riesling Crémant 2014 are worth looking out for.
Ostertag – A couple of delicious dry Pinots Gris , along with a phalanx of superb Rieslings of which the most approachable and easiest to understand was the big, bold 2014 Heissenberg.
Trimbach – I couldn’t forgo a sip of the legendary Clos Ste Hune (2008 and still a baby), but the 2009 Cuvée Frédéric Emile was also extremely impressive.Zind-Humbrecht – I was pushed for time as it was nearly time to catch my shuttle bus  back to the railway station, but a 2008 Clos Windsbuhl stole it for me.

The Masterclass in English IMG_0584– ‘Alsace Riesling – A Friend of Fine Dining’ – was already fully booked up, so I attended the German equivalent instead, presented by sommelier Christina Hilker, in which five different Rieslings were paired with five respective amuses-bouches. A very enlightening side-event, and a privilege to experience. In particular, the 2009 Cuvée Frédéric Emile from Trimbach and the beef tartar with ginger was a match made in heaven. And served in a magnum (or maybe even larger), the Schlossberg 2008 from Domaine Weinbach was simply a treat.

As I travelled back to Basel that evening – luckily having missed the train strike – I concluded that Alsace produces some incredibly fine, world-class white wines. Such a pity that I had neglected them for so long. Although some of the German winemakers interviewed in the link I included at the beginning of this post seem, on the other hand, to genuinely admire the work of their Alsatian counterparts, Alsace wine has suffered from an image problem in Germany over the last decade or so on account of wines judged to be overly sweet and baroque – ironic, given that this is the same image problem that Germany has had to deal with in the past. In any case, Alsace wines – well, the Rieslings at least – seem to me to be drier than their recent reputation would have us believe. IMG_0582

Finally, on a personal note, it was a very pleasant surprise to receive accreditation for this event at all. I am not a wine journalist; I only write a blog – which is why I all the more grateful to the organisers, the Conseil Interprofessionel des Vins d’Alsace (CIVA), for letting me attend.


Pfeffingen’s best dry Scheurebe

This was my final bottle. For a while I had been hesitant about opening it for this very reason – the eternal dilemma of an amateur wine lover. This time I threw caution the wind.


The exotic Ecuadorian bird hanging in my office, plus a bottle of Scheurebe.

Pfeffingen, Scheurebe SP trocken 2009, Pfalz
I’m glad I did open it – the impression it made will provide me with plenty of mental sustenance and consolation now that drinking the 2009 vintage of this wine is an experience I most likely will never be able to repeat.

Golden in appearance. Initially grapey, minty and slightly lemony on the nose. There is only a very slight hint of wood to begin with, and even that melts away completely after a while. If truth be told, I’m searching in vain for the descriptor that does justice to what I can smell, but coriander and/or fennel and/or root veg also spring to mind. Close my eyes and I find myself adding Riesling-esque peaches to the equation.

Despite this, I wouldn’t necessarily brand the wine as excessively aromatic or loud. It retains a certain ‘breed’ throughout, as it were. My impressions on the palate bear this out: above all very grapey, with a mix of fine fresh herbs such as mint and coriander again, as well as a squeeze of lime. According to the producer, the white wines of the Loire were a source of inspiration for the wine. One third of the juice fermented in American oak. However, the woody notes are fully integrated now. That is to say, you know they are there but you barely notice them, if at all. Instead, they add a backbone or an added layer of savoury, tactile complexity, while complementing what to me screams of chalky minerals. Essentially, the wine is also quite powerful and ripe – but not overripe – in the mouth, yet imbued with great freshness. It leads into a very long finish that reminds me on the one hand of a top German Sauvignon Blanc (think von Winning) and, on the other, of an equally good Weissburgunder from Baden on account of its sheer grapiness. All this may sound a little high-octane, but this Scheurebe is that good.



Halenberg R 2009

012Last tasted about a year ago, I couldn’t resist opening another bottle recently. I tried the first bottle in early 2013. Here is a relatively short synopsis of the third bottle (I now have three bottles to go).

Emrich-Schönleber, Monzinger Halenberg, Riesling – R – 2009, Nahe
Bright golden yellow. Quite open and expressive. Succulent, exotic and creamy on the nose, with notes of orange and drippingly overripe, yellow-fleshed peach. A thin film of creaminess and succulence continues onto the palate, coating the inside of my mouth. Medium- to full-bodied. Highly complex and saline. There is just enough ripe acidity to lend refreshment and urgency. Persistent on the finish. Utterly delicious – and up there with the best – in its off-dry idiom.