When I first saw the picture on the label of Oliver Zeter’s Grauburgunder (Novel Wines, £16.99), it reminded me of the old saying about being ‘like a bear with a sore head’. For those not familiar with the expression, it’s usually used to describe someone who’s in a bad mood and taking his or her feelings out on others around them. This bear certainly looks grumpy – not a creature to mess with; I can only assume that the glass in its paws doesn’t contain some of Oliver Zeter’s delicious wine.
The initial aromas of juicy grapefruit and other citrus fruits mellow after a few minutes in the glass and are complemented by lovely flavours of peach and ripe melon combining to make a rich mouthful with great complexity and exceptional length. The grapes were part-fermented in old barrels but there’s no oakiness here, just pure fruit with, perhaps, a little savoury edge. If I had to compare it, it would be to a very good Chablis, probably Premier or Grand Cru quality.
But this isn’t Chardonnay (as Chablis would have to be); Grauburgunder is the German name for Pinot Grigio – a grape that, so often, yields thin, acidic, anonymous whites yet, when treated well, as here or in Alsace, where it’s known as Pinot Gris, can produce the most delicious wines full of flavour and character.
Oliver Zeter is based in the Pfalz, one of Germany’s warmer regions whose vineyards are, in fact, an extension of those of Alsace to the south. Here, grapes ripen well – this wine is 13% alcohol – and develop a food-friendly richness; chicken or turkey in a creamy sauce or a good brie or camembert would be perfect partners.
I’ve said before that Germany’s wines are unfairly ignored in the UK and here’s yet another example to reinforce my view.
I wasn’t going to blog about wines to drink over the holiday season this year. Looking around, I thought that there’s enough advice elsewhere and you’ve probably got your own ideas anyway. But then I opened a bottle over the weekend that would be just perfect as the accompaniment to a turkey dinner – or many other poultry, white meat or robust fish dishes for that matter – and so, not for the first time, I changed my mind.
Loimer’s Manhart (Majestic, £14.99) is a blend of 3 grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc – that are almost always seen on their own but that, on this evidence, work really well together. The first sensation on the nose is one of toasty oak confirming that both fermentation and brief ageing was in oak barrels. But, once you taste, there is no real sensation of oak at all, just a lovely, rich, creamy, almost oily white, full of crisp apple, peach, apricot and tropical fruit flavours with a hint of warm spice (I thought nutmeg, my wife thought cumin) and an exceptionally long, dry tangy finish. We paired it with some monkfish wrapped in Parma ham and quickly roasted in the oven. Absolutely delicious and just the kind of full-flavoured dish that is a lovely match for the wine.
It would have been easy to ignore the bottle on Majestic’s shelves – its very plain, sparse label certainly doesn’t shout ‘buy me’ – but, happily, I had enjoyed Loimer’s wines previously (their Riesling and Gruner Veltliner are both worth buying if you can find them) and thought it worth chancing this one from vineyards in the Niederösterreich region of Austria, overlooking a tributary of the River Danube. I’m very pleased I did.
Austria’s wines experienced some difficult times in the 1980s but, as a result, have been completely transformed and are now on a high. If you’ve not explored them recently, wines such as this would be a great place to start.
How do you choose which wine to buy? Well, something you’ve enjoyed before is always a good start. Not surprisingly, we have quite a few that fall into that category; wines that I’ll always pick up when I see them. But I also like experimenting; always drinking the same wines and never trying anything new doesn’t appeal at all. So, I’m often attracted by an unusual grape or a different wine region. Sometimes I’ll research it before I buy, sometimes not. And the results can be mixed, as you might expect!
But, perhaps, my favourite way to choose a bottle is to find one that brings back happy memories. A few years ago, we were lucky enough to visit New Zealand and, of course, we arranged some wine tours while we were there. A couple of days exploring the Central Otago region on the South Island with Lance from Queenstown Wine Trail still stand out in my mind and especially a visit to the Mount Difficulty estate, the stunning view from their terrace pictured above.
We’ve loved their ‘Roaring Meg’ Pinot Noir ever since so, when I saw the same label’s Pinot Gris in Majestic (£13.99), it was an easy decision.
Pinot Gris (aka Pinot Grigio) can be very variable, as I’ve noted before in these blogs, ranging from thin, neutral and acidic through to rich, aromatic and flavoursome. The Roaring Meg was certainly one of the latter; just a little off-dry – in no way sweet, but just retaining a pleasing touch of residual sugar balancing the variety’s naturally high acidity – with plenty of richness to fill the mouth (13.5% alcohol), attractive pear and peach flavours and a lovely long savoury finish.
The label recommends drinking it as an aperitif or with Asian dishes. I’d widen that out considerably; this wine is deliciously food-friendly and would pair nicely with just about any dish in a subtle creamy or herby sauce.
And for us, the wonderful memories come free as an added extra!