Adieu Basel

It has been quiet on here for quite a while – the reason being that my wife and I have now moved back to the UK. After 17 years living and working in the Basel area, I am currently going through some sort of ‘expat re-entry shock’. However, we have landed in a half-decent place, so I have no reason to complain.

That’IMG_2133s enough personal stuff. Time to get this blog started again.

There is a small wine shop situated not far from our new abode that specialises in what it refers to ‘craft wine’. I had never seen the term before visiting their website, though I suppose the people who coined it logically had the craft beer trend in mind. In practice, what they sell are ‘organic, biodynamic and natural wines’. The store, located in a former railway station, really is tiny. Actually, it’s more like a stand than a store. Bottles with labels ranging from the quirky to the wacky dominate what little shelf space there is.

They sell a Riesling priced normally at around 9.50 euros in Germany. Thanks to UK duty and the abysmal exchange rate into pound sterling, the wine’s retail price here is a whopping £17. Even the price in Switzerland is cheaper in comparison. I’ll let you make your own conclusions about that.

Nevertheless, I still wanted to purchase at least one bottle. However, it had sold out by the time I visited the store a second time with exactly this intention in mind. Instead, I left with a bottle of this similarly priced substitute.

Domaine de la Sénéchalière (Marc Pesnot), La Bohème 2015, Vin de France, Bretagne sud (pays nantais)
This is something completely different. Made from the Melon de Bourgogne varietal that is commonly grown in the Muscadet appellation, to which Marc Pesnot’s property belongs geographically, if not legally.

Golden or almost pale amber in appearance. Initially almost like Christmas on the nose, with honeyed orange peel reminding me of Basler Läckerli, as well as hints of ginger and Seville marmelade. This is an evolving aroma … soon I get Sherry-like notes along with raspberry jam. Similar characteristics on a dry palate, but then a cidery element emerges. This is reminiscent of the meady flavours of Pierre Frick’s ‘natural wines’. Certainly an acquired taste, and certainly very vin nature. The texture is slightly chewy. The wine does not offer much to me in acidity, but yeasty secondary notes offset this to a certain extent, providing some complexity.

Fast-forward to the next day. “Do all ‘natural wines’ taste of apple mead?” I ask myself as I start sipping again. Yet, these cidery notes start to recede all of a sudden. Now we have pear and something more tropical on the nose. Melony on the palate, then a minerally sensation takes over. Acidity – almost non-existent yesterday – has come belatedly to the party. Admittedly, a meady suggestion continues to linger in the background, but I’m starting to get it now. The finish lingers for a good minute. Ultimately, this is a very interesting find. A no-brainer really, but this wine evidently needs a lot of air.IMG_2134

 

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Weiler Schlipf

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Back label

This was the red we had at Christmas.

Claus and Johannes Schneider, Weiler Schlipf Spätburgunder CS trocken 2013, Baden
Pale to medium ruby with transluscent edges. Stemmy and slightly minty aromas at first, with warm herbs and spice, followed by a crushed stone note and a hint of red fruit. Over time, the nose becomes finer and more perfumed, showing mainly red fruit (raspberry) underlaid with some slightly dark fruit.

Warmth and concentration on the palate, but with a chalky elegance and coolness of fruit expression acting as a counterpoint. Savoury comfort, complexity and concentration within a medium body. Again, the colour of the fruit is mostly red but some darker elements are also interwoven. Although supple and fine, the tannins remain assertive enough to lend extra background and density, while the acidity provides ample freshness. Overall, it is this contrast between savoury complexity and warmth on the one hand and elegance and freshness on the other which best sums up this wine. The long finish is beautifully balanced between these two characteristics. Some wines can be overly earnest; this one is just relaxed and assured of its own worth. The Schneider ‘style’, which to my mind is very linear, pure and unfettered, very much shines through here. By this, I suppose I mean that the wine, amid its complexity, does not try to be something it isn’t. It’s ‘at ease in its own skin’, as it were. Amen.

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Weiler Weissburgunder

img_1656While my parents were over here for a long weekend before Christmas, my father and I cycled over into Germany to get some wines for the festive period from Weingut Schneider in Weil. (Don’t worry, no smuggling was involved; the duty-free limit for Switzerland was recently raised to five litres per person, so we took back six bottles each.) For red, we chose their Spätburgunder “CS” 2013 – a lovely Pinot Noir by anyone’s standards. More about that one at a later date. For white, we opted for the entry-level Weissburgunder from 2013. As Susanne Hagin-Schneider said to us, this wine is now the finished article. By this, she meant that a couple of years in bottle had rounded the wine. Its counterpart from 2015 betrayed a bit of youthful clumsiness in comparison.

Claus and Johannes Schneider, Weiler Weisser Burgunder 2013 trocken, Baden
Notice the ‘Weiler’ in the name? This is the same sort of labelling that you see for Ortswein (the VDP equivalent of villages level in Burgundy). I wonder whether the Schneiders are on the radar of the local Baden VDP? Frankly, they should be.

Pale straw with almost greyish-greenish hints. Salty on the nose at first, then peach, brioche and maybe some starfruit come to the fore. This, in itself, is more expressive than when I last tasted this wine in summer 2015. Back then, the wine’s true character was probably concealed a little under notes of crushed stone (or was it crushed bone?). Yet, nothing is loud. Overall, the impression is of purity and elegance. On the palate, there is a a touch of pithy starfruit bitterness on the one hand; on the other, an ever-so-slight nuttiness along with salty notes that end in a mouth-watering, fresh finish. While the wine remains on the light side of medium-bodied, it possesses plenty of grip and length. Good stuff.

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These wines have brought me pleasure of late …

You wouldn’t think the tiny sub-region of Tuniberg in Baden was necessarily a hotbed of Riesling, but the limestone that permeates the soil there certainly doesn’t do any harm.

Kalkbödele, Riesling Kabinett trocken 2014, Baden
Crushed stone wimg_1620ith pithy citrus hints on the nose.
Fairly light on the palate. Pithy citrus again and slightly waxy, with a silky film on the tongue. Not a loud wine, rather murmuring and understated. Essentially quite light, ‘straight down the middle’ and refreshing. But not banal. A light, limpid Kabinett trocken from one of the warmest places in Germany. Who’d have thought it?

Now foimg_1618r a local hero.

Claus and Johannes Schneider, Weiler Spätburgunder trocken 2014, Baden
Healthy dense ruby in appearance with a suggestion of garnet on the edges. Stemmy and earthy on the nose, with fresh marzipan and distinct red fruit notes such as raspberry. Perfumed almost. Mint slowly emerges too – the smell I’ve detected in the past when the soils are very calcareous.
Sappy and juicy on the palate, showing a great deal of finesse for a Pinot Noir under 10 euros. The tannins also lend plenty of grip and seriousness to proceedings. On a personal level, this is a very poignant wine – I know the site it comes from like the back of my hand, having lived in Weil for nine years and explored the vineyards countless times. I’d probably take a bottle of it with me on a desert island.

Finally, my first ever Johner. No idea why their wines have escaped my inspection until now.img_1617

Karl H. Johner, Grauer Burgunder trocken 2015, Baden
This estate is based on the Kaiserstuhl. Its sister property is on the other side of the world in New Zealand. Karl-Heinz Johner’s son Patrick, whom I met briefly at a fair in Zurich some years ago, is also quite well known on the German social-media wine scene for his You Tube videos.

Standard light-yellow in appearance, were it not for a few reddish hints on the edges. Finest Williams pear and touch of cream on the nose. Dense and aromatic, bursting with savoury personality. Slighty nutty.

I laughed incredulously when I took my first sip. So concentrated and long. Ample but athletic – like a decathlete. Toffee and pear with a citrus aftertaste. Apricot is the most prominent element for me though. The acidity is refreshing and perfectly integrated. Some 10 per cent of this saw the inside of an oak barrel, and this lends the wine its savoury dimension. The finish is long. What lingers in my mind is the beautiful taste of sweet, ripe, picture-book grapes on a mellow, sun-drenched October day.

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Lügle 2009

img_1394These short notes are going purely on memory. After decanting the wine for about three hours, we drank it over dinner and then as an accompaniment to David Attenborough’s latest documentary, Planet Earth II.

Ziereisen, Weissburgunder ‘Lügle’ 2009, Baden
This was the final bottle of two that had been in our cellar since 2011. The first one, opened in early summer 2016, had been corked – much to my chagrin. Thank goodness this one was alright.

Quince and exotic citrus fruits on a fairly rich nose, backed up by a very faint, yet fine hint of wood and a suggestion of banana. Very multifaceted on the palate – a refreshing squeeze of citrus amid more exotic fruit notes such as pineapple. For me, the wood is very discreet but it has a very distinct old-school characteristic that conjures up images in my mind’s eye of the locally produced casks in Hanspeter Ziereisen’s cellar. Enjoyed in a large Burgundy glass, this wine has a medium to full body with complexity and a good backbone of freshness. I think it benefited additionally from the airing in the decanter, too.

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Corks

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To celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary yesterday, my wife and I spent a rainy afternoon making what was originally intended as a hot plate for use in the kitchen. In the UK, your fifth wedding anniversary is traditionally referred to as your ‘wooden anniversary’. (Apparently, the US has a completely different rota of commemorative materials.) A few years ago, a friend of ours supplied with us the wooden base for making the hot plate. All we needed to do was stick on the corks. Anyway, we’re very proud of the result – and have dimg_1391ecided to put it on the mantlepiece instead.

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Von Winning, Ungeheuer 2011

I visited the von Winning estate in Deidesheim late last year for a pre-Christmas event and was largely impressed was what I tasted. The 2014 Rieslings – from their inox-fermented ‘Dr. Deinhard’ collection, to the full range of barrel and cask-aged wines under the von Winning moniker – were excellent. I also enjoyed trying the much-acclaimed ‘Sauvignon Blanc I trocken’ – a very ‘deep’, accomplished wine without doubt. It was pleasing to note that oakiness wasn’t issue at all with the Rieslings. I knew from past reports that the first couple of vintages under Stephan Attmann’s stewardship – starting in the late 2000s – divided opinion, but the barrels and casks have evidently bedded down and shed their overt woodiness in the meantime.

Here iimg_1365s an example from 2011 – still from the early(ish) years.

von Winning, Riesling Ungeheuer GG trocken 2011, Pfalz
Bright, shimmering yellow. Lemon on the nose, with oak hints albeit only to the extent that they accentuate the citrus and lift it to an even higher plane. Many of the Ungeheuer Rieslings I have tasted over the years have shared these same distinct lemony aromas. A terroir note? I can also smell earthy, spicy notes – very Pfalz-like, you could say.

The oak influence on the palate is so discreet as to render it negligible from a sensory point of view. However, the structure that the oak lends is so impressive, expressing itself in a silky mouthfeel with a noticeable film that coats my tongue. Medium-bodied with lemon again, yet the acidity is so ripe and mature. A bready note also emerges, providing an extra layer of complexity. The finish is long. A superb wine by anyone’s standards.

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