Not just Liebfraumilch

Like many of my vintage, my first experience of wine was in the 1970s when the German white, Liebfraumilch, was in every supermarket.  I knew nothing about wine at the time but this was simple and undemanding stuff and, of course, drinking wine, rather than beer, was cool!   Sadly, as a result, many of my generation formed the view that all German wine was similarly sweet and bland and I still meet those who avoid it even to this day.

They are making a big mistake!

Riesling is Germany’s most widely planted grape variety and many respected judges, Jancis Robinson MW among them, regard it – and not Chardonnay – as the world’s greatest white wine grape.  Depending on its ripeness when harvested, it can make crisp, zingy dry wines (look for the word ‘Trocken’ on the label), wonderful, delicate dessert wines, often with only 7 or 8% alcohol as well as the more common off-dry ‘Kabinett’ style.

Lovers of red wine shouldn’t ignore Germany, either.  Global warming has helped here but there are now many sites where Pinot Noir (known locally as ‘Spätburgunder’) thrives, yielding fragrant, medium-bodied wines that are often the equal of a village Burgundy at about half the price.

And, although Germany doesn’t grow the wide range of grape varieties found in, say, Italy or Portugal, there are still some interesting ones that adventurous drinkers could look out for.  Take Trollinger, for example. 

I opened a bottle from the respected producer Aldinger, based at Fellbach in the Wűrttemberg region, recently (Wine Society, £16).  Quite pale in colour with an attractive savoury nose leading to delicate flavours of dried plum, smoke and spice on the palate.  With similar weight to a Cru Beaujolais and restrained tannins, this benefitted from a half hour in the fridge before pairing well with one of our favourite duck breast recipes, cooked with honey and thyme.

So, for those who still think Germany is all about Liebfraumilch, do think again – you have some pleasant surprises awaiting you.

The Best of Geneva

We’ve just got back from a few days away visiting a very good friend – close enough for us to consider her an adopted daughter – in Geneva.  Our trip gave us an opportunity to enjoy meals with her at some of that city’s excellent restaurants and, for me, a bonus of a rare chance to taste some Swiss wines, which are almost impossible to find outside the country.

Although wine is made in all of Switzerland’s 26 cantons (administrative regions), I tried to focus on bottles from the area most local to where we were staying; wines made with grapes ripened on the wonderfully exposed south-facing slopes overlooking Lake Geneva.  Another consideration in choosing was that temperatures for our entire stay were well into the 30s (90°F and above) and so we were looking for refreshing chilled whites.  Chasselas is the most widely-planted local white variety but it rarely produces really characterful wines and something else caught my eye on one restaurant’s list. 

Domaine Dugerdil has its vineyards just to the west of Geneva at Dardagny and their organically-grown Pinot Blanc was delicious.  Dry and medium- to full-bodied with lovely savoury, spicy flavours, a rich, creamy palate and excellent length.  I was surprised to see 14.5% alcohol, but the wine was well-balanced with no burn on the finish and paired beautifully with the pan-fried Lake perch – the signature dish of every local restaurant.

At Neuchâtel, a few miles to the north, one of the local specialities is known as ‘Oeil de Perdrix’ (Partridge’s eye), a dry rosé made from Pinot Noir.  Of course, rosés, too, can be chilled and I chose an example from Châtenay Bouvier to accompany another excellent fishy meal.  Quite deeply coloured (many Oeil de Perdrix wines are barely pink at all), this was fresh, clean and smoky and, although bone dry, had lovely strawberry fruit, good intensity and a long finish.

I’ve just picked out 2 examples of the wines we enjoyed while we were in Geneva.  Clearly, the locals know a good thing when they taste it; sadly, they keep almost all of it for themselves!

A Grape not to be Ignored

Looking back, I’m amazed at how rarely I’ve blogged about the world’s most widely planted wine grape: Cabernet Sauvignon.  Yes, I’ve mentioned it in passing when talking about other wines, but as for focussing on this most popular of red varieties – nothing!  Time to put that right as, at its best, it really is a grape not to be ignored.

‘Home’ for Cabernet Sauvignon is France’s most prestigious wine region, Bordeaux, where it has been grown for more than 200 years but it wasn’t until the latter part of the 20th century that growers beyond that region started to realise the potential of the grape.  As a result, world-wide plantings more than doubled between 1990 and 2010 and the variety is now found in virtually every major wine producing country, even in England where, historically, the climate hasn’t been warm enough to ripen this sun-loving variety. 

The words ‘sun-loving’ mean thoughts turning to Australia, although it was actually quite a late starter there with the first Cabernet Sauvignon vines only imported in the 1960s and the first commercial bottling released in 1967.  But from that quiet beginning the variety has thrived, with especially good examples found in Coonawarra in South Australia and Margaret River in Western Australia (WA).

And it was a bottle from WA that we opened recently.  The Wine Society’s Exhibition Cabernet Sauvignon (£16.50) is made for the Society by one of WA’s oldest and most successful producers, Vasse Felix and is full of all those aromas and flavours Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers are familiar with and love: blackcurrant and cassis fruit, some herbiness and hints of black cherry and mint.  The 2019 vintage on the Wine Society’s current list is drinking well now and should continue at its peak for a couple of years yet but, as with most wines from this grape, it benefits from opening an hour or so in advance of drinking and teaming with red meat – grilled lamb would be perfect – or hard cheese.

Cabernet Sauvignon is certainly a grape not to be ignored – whether I blog about it or not!

A Taste of the Med

My wife and I have enjoyed quite a few Mediterranean holidays over the years although none since the Covid virus interrupted all travel (and much else).  But we still love cooking and eating Mediterranean-style food – especially when the weather is warm and sunny.  And the wine to go with our Mediterranean dishes? Well, how often do you find the food of a country or region matches the wines from the same area perfectly?

Of course, when considering Mediterranean wines, you have a vast range to choose from: parts of Spain, the whole of the south of France, much of Italy and Greece and so many others besides.

This time, looking at the dish we were cooking didn’t help to narrow the choice at all; seared tuna steaks with a soy and balsamic glaze would probably have worked with many fuller-bodied whites, a flavoursome dry rosé or even a light and fruity red.  In the end, we settled for Tenuta Flaminio’s rosato (rosé) from Brindisi in Italy’s south-eastern Puglia region. 

Made with the local Negroamaro grape variety (which can also contribute to some delicious reds from the same area), this crisp, fresh, dry rosé is full of lovely crushed strawberry flavours with some attractive smoky hints.  It teamed beautifully with the tuna although it was so good as an aperitif that there wasn’t too much left to enjoy with the food.  Best lightly chilled – not too cold; about a half hour in the fridge is all that it needs.  A real bargain at £8.95 from The Wine Society.

Rosés are widely produced throughout the Mediterranean and are often thought of as just wines for summer.  But, although they obviously do work well at this time of year, many of the drier examples – and this is important – are very food-friendly and are worth considering to match fish, chicken or just about any Mediterranean dish throughout the year.