The Palate Revives
Posted: 3rd October 2018
After the dog days of this summer working life has gradually returned. I’ve actually been pleasantly busy, though not so much on the food and drink front. For many weeks it seemed to me that I had done nothing more than add the odd dab of paint to a canvas. I began to understand how unjust it was to accuse those who live in torrid latitudes of laziness. For much of July and August here in London it was too hot to work.
As I don’t get to go to Wiesbaden now to taste the dry Grosses Gewächs (GGs) anymore, Justerini & Brooks’ German wine tasting at the beginning of September is a useful way of seeing where we are, and one which has the further advantage of letting me sample the full range and not just the dry wines.
“Justerini & Brooks has been just about the top importer of German wines for some time, and they are still adding wonderful new growers to their portfolio. Germans themselves rarely drink semi-sweet wines, but the great estates still make them, I suspect for an ageing category of connoisseurs who know how glorious they can be. That means proper Kabinetts, Spätlesen, Auslesen, and the higher band of Auslese: numbered casks (Fuder), gold caps and long gold caps, before you reach the super sweet levels of Beerenauslesen and Trockenbeerenauslesen.”
Unless otherwise mentioned, all the wines in my round up of the very best from J & B are Rieslings from the 2017 vintage.
- Fritz Haag (Mosel): Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Grosses Gewächs (£25.60), Brauneberger Kabinett (£14.10), Brauneberger Juffer Spätlese (£16.60), Juffer Sonnenuhr Auslese Fuder 10 (£27.60), Juffer Sonnenuhr Auslese Gold Cap (£50.60), for the Beerenauslese from the same site the prices are on application! Otherwise the sums demanded are notably modest for wines of this quality with almost unlimited ageing potential.
- Schloss Lieser (Mosel): the wines to look out for from the Haag cousins are the Rieslings from the Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenberg Spätlese (£19.60), the Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Spätlese (£19.60) and the fabulous gold cap from the Niederberger Helden (£39.60). Again there is no greed in evidence here.
- Willi Schaefer (Mosel): Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese (£28.60), Graacher Domprobst Spätlese Fuder 5 (£32.60).
- JJ Prüm (Mosel): Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese (£28.60), Auslese from the same site (£33.60), Graacher Himmelreich Auslese Gold Cap (£63.60), Wehlener Himmelreich Auslese Gold Cap 2003 (£81.60).
- Maximin Grünhaus (Ruwer): the Abtsberg Spätlese (£22.60) and the Abtsberg Auslese (£41.60).
- Zilliken (Saar): Saarburger Rausch Spätlese (£28.60), Auslese (£45.60) and Gold Cap (£97.60).
- Emrich-Schönleber (Nahe): Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen Spätlese (£25.60) and the Monzinger Halenberg Auslese (£46.60).
- Dönnhof (Nahe): Oberhäuser Leistenberg Kabinett (£17.60), Oberhäuser Brücke Spätlese (£33.60), Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Spätlese (£40.60), Hermannshöhle Auslese Gold Cap (£63.60).
- Wilhelm Weil (Rheingau): Kiedricher Gräfenberg Grosses Gewächs (£41.60) and the Spätlese from the same site (£41.60).
- Josef Spreitzer (Rheingau): Hattenheimer Wisselbrunnen Grosses Gewächs (two earlier vintages of this wonderful wine were served at the launch of my book On Germany in July) (£28.60), Oestricher Lenchen Spätlese (£25.60).
- August Kesseler (Rheingau): Rüdesheimer Trocken (£18.60), Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Grosses Gewächs (£41.60), Berg Roseneck Grosses Gewächs (£41.60).
- Benedikt Baltes (the new red wine sensation from Franken): Buntsandstein Pinot Noir 2015 (a bargain at £16.60), Bürgstädter Berg Pinot Noir 2016 (£38.60). Schlossberg, Klingenberg Grosses Gewächs Pinot Noir 2016 (£66.60).
- Fürst (Franken): Klingenberger Pinot Noir 2016 (£35.60), Centgrafenberg Pinot Noir 2016 (£75.60), Hunsrück Pinot Noir 2016 (£149.60).
- Bernhard Huber (Baden): Bienenberg Grosses Gewächs Pinot Noir 2016 (price to be announced). Schlossberg Grosses Gewächs Pinot Noir 2016 (price to be announced), Wildenstein Grosses Gewächs Pinot Noir 2016 (price to be announced).
- Kühling Gillot and Battenfeld Spanier (Rheinhessen – the owners are a married couple, each with an estate of their own): KG Pettenthal Grosses Gewächs (£43.60), BS Frauenberg Grosses Gewächs (£43.60).
- Rebholz (Pfalz): Riesling vom Rotliegenden (£21.60), Ganz Horn Grosses Gewächs (£43.60), Kastanienbusch Grosses Gewächs (£48.60).
Prices are necessarily high for these hand-made wines, but it should be borne in mind that these are some of the greatest wines made anywhere in the world. There is a compensation in the fact there is often an estate Riesling which is good value for money. Schloss Lieser, for example, has one at £9.30 inc. VAT, Kesseler’s (Daily August) is at £11.60.
Of the two German supermarkets trading in the UK, I am familiar only with Lidl. Aldi has been absent from this part of central north London until now, although I am told they are about to take over the old Waitrose site in Camden High Street. This year I therefore made an effort to go to the Aldi tasting to see what their wines were like. Our domestic budgets are small and we have been devotees of Lidl for some time, chiefly because they produce real quality at low prices.
I was particularly interested in anything that in our inflated times could come in under the £7 mark (what would have been £5 in those halcyon days that ended two years ago). The following more or less fitted the bill: Gavi di Gavi (£6.99), Limestone German Riesling (£6.49), Monte Cão Alentejo (£5.99), Venturer Costières de Nîmes (£5.99), Californian Lodi Zinfandel (£6.29), and ‘This… Loves’ Sangiovese from Sicily (which was the best buy of all at £4.99).
Aldi’s chief strength is in its range of spirits. Nothing in the world would induce me to swallow a gin called ‘Cromwell’ (and it is pink!), but Harrison’s (rose water £15.99), Gingerbread Gin Liqueur (good on a cake £9.99), Mason’s (or freemasons’? £24.99 – classic), Eden Mill (spice £19.99 for 50 cls), Boyle’s (sounds a bit chemical like the law – names are not their strongpoint – £19.99 and more fruit based) are all recommended. From 14 November there is also a 2004 cognac at £39.99 and a 32-year old ‘brandy’ at £29.99. Neither is to be sniffed at, if you get my drift.
One of the reasons why Waitrose abandoned their site in the Camden High Street must have been their decision to open a flagship supermarket with a cookery school on the canal behind King’s Cross Station. This year I went along to a product launch to see what they were up to. The thrust was towards vegetarians and vegans; although there was a bit of meat about in the new range of prepared dishes from our old friend Bloomers. A vegetable diet should not be a punishment and I kept an open mind as I examined and sampled beetroot burgers, jackfruit parcels, beetroot risottos, spinach and cheese parcels (boreks)… Bechamels had been replaced by cauliflower creamed with soya; bread was made with rice flour. It all looked good and pandered to an affluent and above all sensitive North London public. I asked about gluten allergies. It appears that sufferers feel bloated by wheaten bread. I may be rare but my metabolism is affected by a great many chiefly root vegetables and pulses that I avoid if I possibly can. The only thing that causes me no problems is meat!
I passed over to the chocolates. Here the concern was about nuts, but they were otherwise normal. I enjoyed a passion fruit bellini and tasted an IPA flavoured with passion fruit. I was not so keen, as I want a beer that has a character of its own and not one derived from alien elements (bring on the Reinheitsgebot) I turned and went to see what Bloomers had been up to. Dried ceps featured in a piece of skirt rubbed with coffee (quite chewy this), better was the pork cooked with black pudding and calvados. The lucky Waitrose buyers had been packed off to find new spices and returned with an array of exotic flavours from India and Asia. Turmeric figured large but did little for me. There was an interesting black garlic too, but the condiment I liked most was ‘zhoug’ which was a bit like the parsley sauce you get with a bollito misto in northern Italy, but with an added dash of chilli.
In September we enjoy an Indian meal at the Domaine des Anges in the Vaucluse, where for the last twenty-three or so years I have been going at around the time of the autumnal equinox. It is always delicious and we all tuck in with great gusto even if its oriental character is in marked contrast to the Mediterranean world around us with its olives and olive oils, its fresh fruit and vegetables, lamb and pork all enhanced with fresh herbs and garlic. It strikes me sometimes that our growing desire to eat only heavily-spiced food is beginning to rob us of our ability to appreciate the subtlety of many formerly highly-prized European gastronomic styles, where the best seasoning was the subtlest. I am guilty too, as I apply spices to reinvigorate the more banal foods we eat at home. After such strong flavours it is hard to readjust our palates. Personally I still enjoy the flavour of the local produce (although Provencal beef can be tough) not least because it best sets off the excellent wines made on the hillsides around us.
This year the trip to the Domaine was slightly later and I returned to England on the very last day of the month. I have to say the weather was perfection: up to 30 C during the day but nights that were so cool that there were no problems sleeping. Incidentally, this was the ideal weather for the as yet unfinished harvest: cool nights bring subtle flavours and aromas. One night a three-quarter moon hung low in the sky above Mont Ventoux and all the stars shone like a picture from an astronomer’s text book. I have never known the place look quite so beautiful.