img_20180814_165836Last Saturday, and a trip to England’s smallest city, Wells. What a lovely place. Even the misly, drizzly conditions failed to detract from its charm. The elegant architecture of the cathedral – inside and outside – was really worth a look.

I also popped into one of the city’s wine shops. The proprietor of Santé Wine Imports, David Schroetter, sells an interesting selection mainly of French wines. My wife and my visiting aunt followed me into the shop and were intrigued, for their part, by the small range of gins and liqueurs on offer. I just focused on the wines and eventually came away with the following bottle.

Guy Allion, Les Parcs Pinot Noir 2016, Touraine
Dark ruby with violet edges. Linear with a subtle fragrance of dark fruits (cherry). Crunchy tannins on the palate. The dark fruits are refreshing and more overt compared to the nose. Juicy and succulent.  A beefier, rough-and-ready, masculine style of Pinot with noticeable, youthful tannins. Although the wine does evolve into something a little more silky after a day or so. Medium body with a medium finish. Nothing that complex, but a good, honest wine for the price: over £13 from the shop, but costing just under 7 euros if bought directly at the winery.


Red slate

20180223_202516Given that I translated a whole chapter about Clemens Busch and his wines in this book (The new art of German Riesling), it’s a strange that I have only ever blogged once about a wine of his, and that was nearly four years ago.

I love Rieslings from red soil, be they from Nierstein, Birkweiler, Ungstein, Pünderich or elsewhere. They seem to ooze a generosity and depth to which my simple palate can easily relate.

Clemens Busch, Vom roten Schiefer, Riesling trocken 2012, VDP Ortswein, Mosel
Here is a quote from the English I wrote:

Grapes from younger vines in Rothenpfad are used for this wine. Spontaneously fermented and usually slightly off-dry. This wine has won quite a cult following among private customers and sommeliers. “It features on a good few wine lists in New York.” [Clemens Busch] People seem to adore its spicy, wild, unreformed personality.

Rothenpfad not only has red slate soils; it is also extremely steep. While tasting through Busch’s wines in ‘preparation’ for the book, this was the vineyard that stood out for me at dry, ‘grand cru’ level. This, the village wine, has no where near the same complexity as a Rothenpfad GG, but it has the same big-hearted personality as its big brother.

Beautiful golden yellow in appearance. Waxy scents rise up out of the glass, along with slate and notes of pineapple and a hint of raspberry. Welcoming and creamy. Waxy on the palate, with reddish fruit, succulant peach, slate and a suggestion of bitterness on a generous finish. Showing extra precision 48 hours after opening, with pineapple underlaying an ample acidic backbone. Only 12 abv, which is a good, modest counterpoint to the wine’s silky, moreish character.

These notes are brief, but the wine itself has plenty of legs in it yet.


Isabella the Forbidden

img_20180805_193738_5601The following wine comes from Pico, a volcanic island in the Portuguese Atlantic archipelago of the Azores. Isabella is the grape – a native American varietal that belongs to the Vitis labrusca family. Obrigados Vinhos, an NYC-based importer of this wine, refers to Isabella as a ‘hybrid of Vitis vinifera and Vitis lambrusca’. I’m puzzled as to where the vinifera bit comes in. Jancis Robinson, for her part, refers to Isabella as ‘one of the oldest native American varieties, probably descended from the seedling of a wild native, Vitis labrusca’. Technically speaking, it is illegal to sell wines from this and similar North American varietals in the EU. Apparently, grapes such as these were blamed for the spread of phylloxera in Europe in the late 19th century. However, the French outlawed North American grapes simply on aesthetic grounds, claiming that they tasted like raspberries and were therefore offensive to the palate. The European Commission eventually followed suit in 1979. Consequently, Isabella is only widespread in places outside Europe such as New York State, Brazil and India (where it is known as Bangalore Blue).

Winemaker António Maçanitas also rescued a small plot on Pico dating back to the turn of the last century when Isabella served as a stopgap – due, ironically, to its resistance to the same phylloxera that it inadvertently helped to spread. Like other grapes on Pico, Isabella grows within a spectacular UNESCO-protected network of dry-stone basalt walls that protect the vines from the winds and salty spray that blow in from ocean. Some spectacular pictures of this unique island landscape can be found here.

António Maçanitas (Azores Wine Company), Isabella a Proibidas, Pico, Açores 2013
The name ‘Isabella’ is crossed out on the label for good reason, while ‘Proibidas’ needs no translation. Sam, the retailer who sold me the bottle, told me that the import of this wine is subject to WTO tariffs, given that the EU effectively refuses to recognise the grape.

As far as I know, this is a completely unfiltered, unsulphured wine.

Dark ruby with violet edges. An immediate ocean whiff on the nose, along with the slightly perfumed scent of cranberries. Further notes emerge around 24 hours later, reminding me of mocha and Indian chai spices. Even a touch of blood.

Firm pithy acidity of the type that hits the front of the mouth instead of the more conventional freshness at the back. And I really mean this in terms of the pips and tannins themselves more than anything else. Definitely an unusual sensation, and probably not everyone’s cup of tea. Cranberries on the palate again, with very sour cherry. Noticeably pithy astringency – a stemmy, ‘seaweedy’ bitterness that I quite like. I guess that’s what they call ‘phenolics’. Medium-bodied with a medium finish.

American grapes such as Isabella are known to be ‘foxy’, in that they have ‘a sort of wild, musky, animal smell’ reminiscent of a ‘fur coat’ (Dr Vinny of the Wine Spectator). I can’t deny that Isabella lives up to this questionable billing to a certain extent. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have automatically thought ‘ah, wet dog …’ had I not knew about this before.

Notwithstanding the above, this is a totally distinct, honest wine that has broadened my horizons. You can’t say better than that.



20180316_181909 (Small)
Jesuitengarten – adjacent to Kirchenstück and Pechstein in the village of Forst, but no less famous.

JL Wolf, Riesling Jesuitengarten Spätlese trocken 2008, Pfalz
Golden with amber hints. Succulent yellow fruit with a hint of cream on the nose. Perhaps a little oily, but the aromas are very clean otherwise. Barely any sign of ageing at all. Juicy, candied Golden Delicious apples. Slight viscosity in the mouth on the entry, with apricots and more apples. Pretty much clean as a whistle for a wine approaching the end of its first decade. Much the same even after 48 hours. Delicious and very drinkable, though maybe lacking that je ne sais quoi (clout, complexity, you name it) of a really top dry Riesling midway through. Nonetheless, the finish is fairly long by anyone’s standards. I paid 13 euro for this only back in February, and which was an absolute bargain.



Vin nature

20180215_170726I’m currently in catch-up mode. Here is a random bottle I picked up a few months ago.

Clos du Moulin aux Moines, Pinot Noir XV Vin Nature, Bourgogne
The year is 2015, I assume – the only clue are the Roman numerals. Cloudy ruby in appearance, this initially smells of apple mead – a funk that happily dissipates after an hour or so. Spicy and earthy (wet mud) aromas on the first day. Next day, a little reticent but with a suggestion of cherry. Slender, delicate mouthfeel but with some earthiness/chalkiness translated onto the palate. On day three, more perfumed on the nose. Very pure and very dry. Light-footed but concentrated – if that isn’t a contradiction in terms. Minerally with cherry notes. Somehow ‘straightforward’ but in an extremely tasty way.


Pinot Noir from Trimbach

20180128_200948So far, this is one of the best wines I’ve had this year.

Trimbach, Pinot Noir Réserve 2015, Alsace
As with Bürklin-Wolf in the previous blog post, we’re talking here about an icon of dry Riesling. However, this Pinot Noir is an education in itself.

Vivid ruby/garnet with pinkish edges. Very pure and linear impression on the nose. Less the charmer and more a masculine, minerally character with not an ounce of fat. Maybe a whiff of red or black forest fruit, but nothing too overt. Was this aged solely in inox or in wood? I can’t detect anything pointing to wood.

Unfettered, sinewy and precise on the palate. Medium-bodied and bone dry. The tannins feel slightly crunchy in this mere baby of a wine, but they are well-integrated. Some red fruit emerges, but in a firm, no-nonsense, athletic style. Refreshing acidity washes over the back palate and into a long finish. This is a 180-degree departure from the mushroomy, sous bois smell of the undergrowth or the comforting savouriness of many other Pinots. What we have instead is the intense purity and linearity of a wine that puts its proverbial front foot forward.


Pinot Noir from Bürklin-Wolf

I currently have a backlog of notes to write up. Here is a short adaptation of some scribbled notes I made back in January.

Dr. Bürklin-Wolf, Pinot Noir 2012, Pfalz
Dark ruby with hint of brown on the edges already. Fresh in the nose, however, with the initial whiff of warm squash balls as well as minty notes. Then raspberry and hints of blackcurrant.. Great structure on the palate. Stemmy, minerally (yes, I know …), raspberry, elegant, good finish.

Surprisingly excellent from a winery known more for its world-class dry Rieslings.20171211_200055


Cuvée X and the tale of 2007

20171203_183748I have always had a soft spot for 2007. Weather-wise, I can still recall the spring heatwave in March and April. Everything blossomed really early in Basel. The sun shone intermittently thereafter. The summer rain fell at just the right times and in judicious quantities. Peak temperatures around the mid-20s were the norm. But the autumn was gorgeous. In short, the climatic conditions were conducive to properly functioning human activity – even if the city’s open-air swimming pools welcomed fewer visitors than normal.

What is good for man is also good for the vine. And 2007 was a very solid year for both white and red. Though maybe more so for red – the warm spring and autumn, added to a moderate yet still half-decent summer, resulted in plenty of crucial hang time.

As is normally the case, conditions further north in the Pfalz were very similar. Based on this knowledge, I treated myself to three bottles of 2007 ‘Cuvée X’ a few years later. This was probably Knipser’s flagship red at the time. Essentially a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, Cuvée X – along with its rare, super-premium sibling Cuvée XR – seems to me to have been one of the trailblazers for a whole slew of bold yet elegant red blends that were still relatively unheard of in Germany in the early 2000s. Other ‘game-changers’ that spring to mind include Markus Schneider’s ‘Steinsatz’ as well as Andreas and Steffen Rings’ ‘Das Kreuz’.

My first bottle, opened in around 2012, was still way too young. Now here is the second bottle, a full 10 years after the vintage.

Knipser, Cuvée X 2007, Pfalz
For the wine’s colour, see the photo below. Immediate elegance on the nose. Dark chocolate, mocha, concentrated dark forest fruits and savoury tobacco. This sounds quite dense and brooding, but the aromas are pure and understated. Green peppers also emerge a little later. Incredibly elegant on the palate too, its fresh acidity almost reminding me of a Pinot Noir but with a somewhat darker, denser characteristic. The tannins are supple and melt on the tongue, lending a silky, airy mouthfeel that belies the medium-to-full body underneath. Waves of complexity wash over, with tertiary notes of lead (pencil shavings), iron (blood) and cigar tobacco, as well as dark berries and mocha. This leads to a long, persistent finish. It feels effortless. The 2007 vintage has done an ample job on its own in providing the requisite polish and ripeness. Instead, as with so many of its Germanic ilk that it helped to inspire, the wine oozes structure and elegance.

Ten years on and Cuvée X is starting to come into its own.



Orange wine

No, it is possible to make wine from oranges – but in this case I mean something different. Orange wine is the ‘fourth wine’ after red, white and rosé. It is the result of treating white-wine grapes like red-wine grapes by fermenting them on their skins. This skin contact gives red wines its colour, tannins, mouthfeel, etc. If we apply the same approach to white grapes, the subsequent wine will often have a distinctly orange or amber colour.

In my wine-drinking life, I’ve probably only tasted a small handful of ‘orange wines’. All of them were Pinot Gris – a grape with a naturally dark red brickish/greyish colour that lends itself to some judicious skin extraction. A good example is Friedrich Becker’s Grauburgunder Kalkmergel, which acquires its vibrant salmon/amber colour from 42 hours of maceration before pressing. However, the skin-on-skin theory also applies to white grapes of a more conventional appearance – like Sylvaner.IMG_20171106_205104_179

Terms of Venery, Sylvaner 2013, Prekmurjie, Slovenia (bottles produced: 900)
Wines of Momentary Destination is the venture behind this wine. In their own words, WMD are a ‘pop-up winemaking collective, making one wine, in one place for one year only’. The result is the ‘Birds&Bats Wine range’, which currently comprises four different wines, most of which are already sold out.

Little did I know, but Slovenia is apparently one of the global epicentres of orange wine production. Uroš Valcl, the winemaker at Murof winery in north-east Slovenia, produced this particular ‘orange’ Sylvaner. Valcl probably would have become a professional basketball player had he not inherited his family’s wine estate.

As you can see from the photo, the wine is either a luscious golden or pale amber colour, depending on your perspective. Highly interesting on the nose. An initial sherry-like whiff, then expressive souk spices and nuts. I also get the impression of innate freshness (acidity) as well as red berry fruit. The sherry-like notes are less redolent of oxidation per se and more of a dried fruit character. Almost quite Christmasy. By day two, notes have emerged that remind me of quince jam and blood orange. Maybe also a hint of squash-ball rubber. Yes, really.

Rich on entry, with a slightly chewy, textural mouthfeel. It’s hard to place the wine in context, given that my practical experience of orange wines is so limited. Nevertheless, this is undeniably quite a powerhouse. The 14 per cent abv is certainly discernable but expresses itself more in terms of potency than any overt heat. Although this is more or less a dry wine, the alcohol also imparts a certain sweetness. On the first day, the wine shows a slightly dried yellow-fruit characteristic combined with a touch of bitterness. The acidic backbone is of medium strength but provides just enough counter-balancing freshness. Tannins are indeed present – not of the furry type, more in terms of a slight bitter twist on the tongue. On the next day, the wine feels less chewy. It also seems drier to me. The dried fruit is less obvious. A hint of chalkiness takes its place. By day three, the wine has become streamlined and easier to drink. I am even inclined to utter the word ‘elegant’. Throughout all three days, the finish is long.

Overall, this is a delicious wine by anyone’s standards. Certainly, it is a Sylvaner unlike all others I have drunk – and it has whetted my appetite for more. It is the type of bottle that would go equally well with salmon fillet on the one hand and a nice juicy steak on the other. This, I am sure, owes much to the skin contact afforded the grapes, which does indeed bring out an additional tactile dimension akin to red wine. Great stuff.20171109_105115



Pfirmann from the sleepy village of Wollmesheim in the Südpfalz are a winery I’ve been following for a number of years. I tried, and liked, some of their wines on a trip to Prowein in Düsseldorf a number of years back. I still have no idea how I got accreditation for that event – all I said was that I was a translator who blogged about wine in his free time.

Pfir20170710_210831mann, Mütterle, Riesling trocken 2014, Pfalz
Distinct lime on the nose. Like a lime cordial. Then quite a blistering aroma that reminds me of crushed bone or sea shells. Maybe some floral nuances and starfruit too. Noticeably on the slimlined, elegant side for a wine with 13.5 per cent alcohol. But still flavoursome. There is ample inner density and complexity. The lime notes on the nose translate like-for-like onto the palate. Iodine-like mineral water notes and a touch of quince. Keen acidity and very dry. By no means austere. Serious, yes. But not austere. The longer I keep taking sips, the more grip and succulence come to the fore.  Exceedingly moreish and mouthwatering – the contents of the bottle seem to evaporate magically over the course of the evening.

The label looks so cool, it hurts.