Not Normal Times

Book and Wine

At this time of year, I’m normally busy attending tastings, running wine classes or events or preparing for them or, perhaps, planning a trip away – spring and early summer are lovely times to visit winemaking areas. But these are not normal times – we’re now almost 4 weeks into the coronavirus restrictions so, instead, I’d like to share some tips that might help wine lovers fill those spare at-home hours and try to make the best of these unprecedented and anxious times.

I’d been meaning to re-read Don and Petie Kladstrup’s ‘Wine and War’ for some time. It’s a fascinating insight into how the French wine industry coped under Nazi occupation during the Second World War. Set against the tragic background, the book tells the stories of real winemaking families as they tried to survive – and protect their finest wines from theft or destruction.

I’ve also been following a series of mini wine talks on You Tube, recommended to me by Diana, a fellow wine educator and Secretary of the (currently suspended) Bristol Tasting Circle. ‘The Wine Show at Home’ is a spin-off from The Wine Show which is due to start a new series on TV soon. The ‘at home’ version features wine writer Joe Fattorini – always interesting to listen to with his wine-related anecdotes and informed recommendations. Definitely worth catching up with.

Although my wife, Hilary, and I have had to find new routines, there’s one aspect of our life that won’t change: our tradition of opening a bottle to share over dinner at weekends. Dr Bϋrklin-Wolf’s dry Riesling from Wackenheim in Germany’s Pfalz region (Wine Society, £10.95) is an absolute bargain. Delightfully crisp and fresh and with that typical tang – often strangely described as ‘petrol’ – of a Riesling with a few years in bottle (this one was 2015 vintage). A perfect partner for some oven-baked salmon steaks with a creamy spinach and avocado dressing.

So, that’s some of the things I’ve been doing; if you have any interesting or unusual suggestions for wine lovers to do during the present restrictions, do, please, share them in the comments box below.

Take care and stay safe.

Choose Just One Region

When you next meet up with a group of wine loving friends, why not pose them a little problem: “If you had to spend a whole year drinking nothing but the wines of just one area of the world, where would you choose?”

I’ve been asked this on a number of occasions and have usually suggested France’s Loire region – excellent whites, both dry and sweet, attractive fruity reds, the odd decent rosé and some very drinkable fizz – although I was once told that I was cheating; the Loire was too big to be considered a single area!  Among my friends Bordeaux and Burgundy are popular choices and, no doubt, California would get a lot of votes if there was more choice from there here in the UK.

But a bottle I opened recently made me think of somewhere else: South Australia’s state capital, Adelaide, is surrounded by vineyards: McLaren Vale to the south, Adelaide Hills to the east and the famous Barossa Valley to the north-east with the Eden Valley beyond.  And, even though these areas are so close to one another, there is a tremendous variety of wines coming out of them – more than enough choice to keep me interested for a year.

Chunky Barossa Valley Shiraz, fruity Cabernets from the McLaren Vale, lovely, elegant Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from the Adelaide Hills and the wine that prompted this blog, Riesling from the Eden Valley. 

Rolf Binder RieslingAt altitudes up to 400 metres (1200 feet), Eden is one of the cooler parts of the region and suits the Riesling variety perfectly.  Rolf Binder’s ‘Highness’ (Waitrose, £10.99) is an excellent example with all the typical floral rose scents and zesty lime and grapefruit flavours that so typify the Riesling grape here and, with just 12.5% alcohol, it’s beautifully refreshing, either with food (mildly spiced Asian dishes work well) or just on its own as an aperitif.

So, how about you?  Why not ask your friends and see if they’d choose the Adelaide region or somewhere else?  Do let me know and why.

 

The Steepest Vineyards

DSCN1357We’ve just returned from a few days in Germany visiting the famous wine regions of the Rheingau and the Mosel. Of course, I’d seen lots of pictures of the area and read plenty about it, but this was my first visit and I was truly amazed by what I saw. Wherever I looked, there were vines clinging to impossibly steep hillsides – some up to 65% elevation. How can people possibly work those sites? And why do they choose to plant there?

The answer to the first of those questions may be obvious: with great difficulty! There are posts at the top of some of the vineyards that workers can tie ropes onto and let themselves down to prune the vines or harvest and, in some of the more high-tech places, you find miniature monorail systems that run up and down the slopes to carry the grapes to somewhere slightly more accessible.

But why plant on these slopes? The area is at the northern-most boundary of where wine grapes will ripen properly so growers have to take every opportunity to help the vines. Using south-facing slopes gives better exposure to the sun and protection from cold north winds. The slopes mean that rain drains quickly so that the vines’ roots are in warmer, dry earth and frosts roll away down the hillside; also much of the ground itself is comprised of decomposed slate which acts like a storage heater and holds the heat.

Even with all these advantages, growers still need to choose a variety that will survive the bitterly cold winters. And, for most, the one that works best is Riesling. It’s a grape that many in the UK avoid but, for me, apart from the very cheapest examples, it’s a variety that can produce some remarkable wines. I’ll tell you more about them in my next blog.

We travelled with Railtrail Tours Ltd. For more information about this and other tours they run, go to http://www.railtrail.co.uk.