I’d like to begin my first Bristol Wine Blog of 2017 by wishing you a Very Happy New Year – a new year in which I hope you will continue to enjoy your wine and (hopefully) continue to read about it in this blog!
I’m often explaining to people about the process of tasting wine – how you use your eyes, your nose and your mouth and take time to really get to know all that the wine has to offer. But, sometimes, there’s even more involved: you open a wine and your imagination begins to work overtime as the smells and the tastes trigger something in your brain.
That happened to both my wife and I recently. The very first sniff of a glass of Roaring Meg Pinot Noir (Majestic, £17.99) transported us back to the view below, taken from the terrace of Mount Difficulty, the New Zealand estate where this wine comes from.
It’s almost 3 years ago now since our time in New Zealand. For part of our stay, we based ourselves in Queenstown on the South Island to explore the Central Otago wine region. Our wonderful guide, Lance from Queenstown Wine Trail took us around some of the best estates including a very special food and wine matching lunch at the Wild Earth winery that remains a highlight of the visit for us. Happily, one that we can mentally re-visit regularly as Waitrose often stock the estate’s crisp, vibrant Riesling (£14.99).
But, back to the Roaring Meg, one of the last stops on our trip. Named, according to the bottle, after a local stream – although we heard another story, perhaps less suitable for a wine label! The wine itself is everything good Pinot Noir should be: intense and focussed with lovely savoury red and black berry flavours – a perfect foil for light red meats, poultry in sauces or cheeses.
If only New Zealand was a little closer, we’d visit regularly but, as it is, we have to make do with our imagination and open a bottle or two to bring back liquid memories.
As I said in my last Bristol Wine Blog, we’ve just returned from a few days in Germany visiting the famous wine regions of the Rheingau and the Mosel. Of course, we sampled some of the local product which, in general, was made from Riesling. Not surprising given that almost 80% of the Rheingau and well over half of the Mosel vineyards are planted with that single variety.
Riesling has long had a poor reputation in the UK but that comes, in the main, from the bargain-basement German bottles which customers associate with Riesling but are usually some inferior variety such as Muller-Thurgau. So, set any preconceived views on one side; there are some real treasures to be discovered.
Riesling is a grape with naturally high acidity, a trait accentuated by being grown in relatively cool climates. To appreciate it at its best, the key is to find a wine where the acidity is balanced with just enough sweetness – I’m not talking about a dessert wine but one that just off-dry. The word to look for on the label is ‘Spätlese’. Made from grapes picked a little later than the usual harvest and therefore with a higher sugar content, these typically are allowed to reach between 8% and 10% alcohol before the fermentation is stopped. This leaves a few grams per litre of sugar to give that balance I mentioned earlier. Sadly, many of the wines we tasted are not available in the UK but Majestic have a good example: Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium’s Mosel Trittenheim Apotheke Spätlese (£9.99).
But, we didn’t just taste Riesling. We stayed in the village of Assmannshausen on the Rhine which is one of the few there specialising in red wines. They even hold a ‘Red Festival’ each year to celebrate, ending with a display of fireworks all in red. The grape they grow is known there as Spätburgunder, to the rest of us, it’s Pinot Noir. Not cheap and even more difficult to find in the UK than good Riesling, but if you see a bottle from there, it’s well worth trying.
We’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.