Not So Grumpy

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.

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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.