A Little Taste of Germany
Posted: 1st September 2021
I haven’t been this immobile since 1985, when I had just returned from six-and-a-half years in Paris. In this poor, dull, summer month of August (where the sun has been absent, scorching vines and flesh in the Mediterranean Basin) I have attended a pleasant family lunch in the Thames Valley and been on two short excursions to Ely and Norwich. Although I have been to Cambridge many, many times, I have never gone the full ten miles to Ely, a pretty little city in the shadow of a massive cathedral. At last we had a good reason to do this.
Norwich is another kettle of fish. There is a cathedral in its close like Ely, certainly, but also thirty-five mediaeval churches lying within the city’s largely extant walls and lots and lots of ancient buildings in between. Our initial reaction to Norwich was anger, however. We were denied access to the cathedral nave because that plaster cast of a diplodocus that used to be in the Natural History Museum in South Ken had been fetched up for the amusement of little Norvicians. I had stupidly put the helter-skelter and miniature golf courses out of my mind, together with all the other extraordinarily desperate schemes the Church of England has dreamed up to make people spend money in its cathedrals. When I was told that the only way I would be able to see the nave was to join the gaggle of ‘Dippy’ worshippers. I bit my lip, but my thoughts were less than Christian.
I recovered. Norwich is mostly a lovely city. The purpose of our going had nothing to do with wine or food, but we did find first rate pork pies in the great market square, and bacon rolls; and we stopped for a pint at the sixteenth century Mischief pub and even had a Chinese meal at a friendly place in an otherwise bleak corner in the north of the city, but significantly, still within the walls.
The great event as far as wine was concerned was the arrival of twenty-four 50cl bottles from the VDP in Mainz: my chance to taste the latest GGs or Grosse Gewächse (grand crus) from Germany. It should be borne in mind that the big tasting in Wiesbaden provides tasters with the chance to review around 450 wines over two days, and that twenty-four wines is nothing more than a snapshot; but these are hard times, and many of us would find it difficult to get to Wiesbaden, so the mountain was obliged to go to Mohammed.
So, what were the highlights? The following are all Riesling wines, mostly from the 2019 harvest, but with a few 2018s. All received my top rating of three stars.
Van Volxem, 2019 Scharzhofberger Pergentsknopp GG (Saar): very pale, with a lovely lime, lemon peel and almond aroma and an elegant evocation of delicate white peaches and apricots on the tongue. This wine was beautifully fresh with the finest, teasing acidity and the juiciest finish concealing considerable power.
Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken, Rausch GG (Saar): what a great name is ‘Rausch’ (extasy). This one evokes peaches and pears and the wine has something of the Bellini about it. The same fruit cocktail returns on the palate. Again there is an impression of delicacy about it, but effete it is not: there are all sorts of developments and the fruit fairly throbs. It is another wine that should have a long innings.
2019 Domdechant Werner, Kirchenstück GG (Hochheim, Rheingau): a slight vegetal note on the nose with a hint of sweetness; rich on the palate, I suspect this one was nudging the upper limit of 9 grams per litre residual sugar; but the counterpoise is the acidity, which leaves it bursting with life and promise.
2019 August Kesseler, Seligmacher GG (Rheingau): wonderfully crisp nose that had my nostrils flaring at the suggestion of frost; then peaches, pears and pine resin – the Rheingau as it should be, with fabulous length.
2018 Gut Hermannsberg, Hermannsberg GG (Nahe): pale again, slightly meaty, pretty limes and white peaches, and far less mineral and demanding than many wines from this estate; what really impressed me was the length and structure here and the waves of juicy acidity. I can imagine this wine giving huge pleasure for many years to come.
2018 von Winning, Ungeheuer GG (Pfalz): the von Winning estate is a love-or-loath place – you either like the smell and taste of oak on Riesling, or you hate it; most of the time I would sympathise with the detractors, but this Ungeheuer (‘Monster’) I actually liked. It had an earthiness about it, as well as oak, and it was indeed a big monster, with great length.
2019 Bürklin-Wolf, Gaisböhl GG (Pfalz): again some earthiness here along with fresh cut sorrel and rosewater; the wine has good bite and considerable length and the cleanest finish imaginable.
2019 Horst Sauer, Am Lumpen 1655 GG (Franken): the famous Guru of Maryland, Robert Parker uses ‘Kirsch’ as a descriptor in his tasting notes – a reference I think to dry cherry schnapps of the sort you find chiefly in South Germany or Austria. This Horst Sauer wine made me think of cherries, but more in a distilled idiom, coupled perhaps with rosewater. Again the finish here is playful and long.
The other wines I have had this month were certainly not as exciting as these, but then again they did not cost anything like as much. I was amused by the arrival of a white and a pink Harlot and rightly predicted controversy. They are two English sparkling wines made using the ‘charmat’ tank method (like prosecco) rather than in imitation of champagne. The grapes are champagne grapes, but with added Bacchus, a cultivar which gives the white in particular a little elderflower aroma, which I thought was nice. The pink is easier on the Bacchus and has less elderflower character, but is none the worse for it. The bottles are suitably lurid. People were volubly offended when the wines were launched and I suspect that might have been the point?
I had some rosés from Tesco including the champagne-method sparkler from Hush Heath, which I liked a little less than the excellent white version. Two wines impressed me more than the very decent Provencal rosés, and they were the 2020 L’Amistanza from Planeta in Sicily and the 2019 Primitivo from Terre di Chieti in the Abruzzo. L’Amistanza was a combination of Fiano and Grecanico, taking the lean, mineral fruit of the one, and the weight of the other to excellent effect; the Primitivo was a ‘fruit bomb’, like a dense reduction of fresh ripe cherries.
I also had some nice ciders and beers. Pulpt Flare cider was my sort of thing: not one of those cloudy, serious ones but with good fizz and nice fresh apple fruit, but then I have unsophisticated tastes when it comes to cider. The Salt Huckaback from the World Heritage site at Saltaire is a ‘Neipa’ or New England IPA and is supposed to have pronounced exotic fruit flavour, in this case it would seem to be mangoes. I suppose there is nothing unusual about finding mangoes in the West Riding of Yorkshire these days. It is certainly much less surprising and far more agreeable than finding a dinosaur in the nave of Norwich Cathedral.