Munich, Bavaria and Wine
Posted: 1st July 2022
If all goes according to plan, this will be a German summer for me and much of it spent in Upper Bavaria, a region which I had never visited before this year. I had been to Kempten in the Allgäu and even gone up into the mountains to buy cheese on a day so misty that you might have convinced me that the land around was as flat as a pancake; but the Allgäu, with its largely Swabian Protestant population, is not typical of Catholic Upper Bavaria.
In June I saw the Bavarian Alps for the first time: the lake at Chiemsee, Füssen, Garmisch, where I tried to spot Richard Strauss’s villa high above the stadium (the Alpine Symphony has been buzzing in my head ever since), the Starnbergersee, Ettal and Oberammergau with its Passion Play and wood carvers. First, I spent a couple of nights in Munich, a city I have known reasonably well since I tried to get a job there between school and university. I ended up living in a maid’s room in a crummy hotel near the Asamkirche, until I ran out of money and slunk off home.
My chief discovery of this last time in Munich was the Augustiner Stammhaus, opposite St Michael’s church in the Neuhauser Strasse. I can’t think why I had never been there before. My delight had more to do with architecture than food, beer or wine. The restaurant, as opposed to the beer hall, has the most wonderful interior with panelled walls, a profusion of antlers, vaulted ceilings and the most wonderful grottos. The Hackerhaus round the corner is also atmospheric, but not to the same degree. Hacker has merged with Pschorr, another beery Bavarian name to conjure with. Richard Strauss’s mother was a Pschorr, something which made the young Richard a man of independent means (to be Pschorr).
Bavarian food is similar to Austrian: pork knuckles, boiled beef, Zwiebelrostbraten, chanterelles with dumplings. Maultaschen (ravioli) etc. Munich (particularly around the Viktualienmarkt) has a few quirks of its own: I wanted Weisswürste, but had forgotten that decent places won’t serve white sausages after midday. Quite a long time ago I came to Munich specially to interview the then mayor, Christian Ude, about why people were no longer eating typical Bavarian food. Weisswürste were on the endangered list, but Munich cafés didn’t make life any easier with their restrictions. If you want the sausages you have to eat them out of their skins with your fingers, have beer with them and sweet mustard; and all that at breakfast time.
So I had Obatzda instead. Obatzda is a mixture of Allgäuer camembert and butter with beer and paprika. It came in the form of two huge balls, or rather two ice-cream scoops with one giant pretzel. I couldn’t manage more than a quarter. The most typical Munich meal I ate there was at Nymphenburg, where I had a huge slab of Leberkäs or pork meatloaf with potato salad and sweet mustard and a bottle of Weizen. That set me up nicely for the flight back and the chaos that is Heathrow.
The day after I got back there was a Roussillon tasting in the plenary hall at Church House. I was occasionally distracted by the different voting doors for laity, vicars and bishops. The Roussillon is the hottest part of France, so you brace yourself for lots of alcohol. I used to go at least once a year when I served on the jury there. There was a marvellous lunch at Tresserre under Mount Canigou (which we called ‘Dog Food’) and a huge party in a mediaeval church on the ‘Feast of St Bacchus’. There never was a St Bacchus, but his non-existence was still a good excuse for a beano.
In all that heat you want a white or rosé wine to be refreshing. It is not easily done. Growers pick at the beginning of August and at night to keep acidity and aromas. From the Domaine Vial-Magnères there was a 2021 Le Petit Couscouril Blanc which was crisp and fresh, or the 2021 Stellaire from Arnaud de Villeneuve. Domaine Cazes used to dominate the region. They have a muscatty 2021 Canon du Maréchal and a more serious 2021 Clos de Paulilles. The best was the Soula Blanc made by my old friend Mark Walford, who has aspired to make a top white Burgundy by assembling Sauvignon Blanc, Rolle, Grenache Blanc, Macabeu and Grenache Gris!
Reds work better. From the Château Nadal Haut was the 2017 Terre de Quarante while Dom Brial’s excellent 2021 Etreinte was supposed to sell for £9. Vial-Magnères’ 2021 Petit Couscouril Rouge as all cherry, leather and tar, The big Arnaud de Villeneuve co-op had a 2019 Oppulum grown at 200 metres (two-thirds Syrah, the rest Grenache) and made in an amphora, which was good and spicy. From Cazes the 2021 ‘John Wine’ (should go down well in the US) was lovely and rich and made without sulphites, while the 2020 Clos de Paulilles Cap Béar (Grenache and Syrah) was a real treat. Mas Bécha makes a strapping 2020 Excellence Rouge. The 2015 Soula Rouge (Carignan, Syrah, Grenache) was also a serious wine and among the best in the region.
These days what I look forward to from the Roussillon are the fortified wines, for which the region is rightly famous. The lightest and most lyrical of these ‘VDN’s are the muscats. The 2021 from Dom Brial is supposed to cost £13! I wish I had a bottle in my fridge for my nightly aperitif. From Arnaud de Villeneuve was the 2021 Tradition with its linden flower aroma. Cazes’ was always special: the 2020 was no exception: fresh, grassy and lemony and it concealed 114 grams of sugar. Pouderoux was complex: tobacco flowers, peaches and apricots.
Vial-Magnères’ 2018 Rivage is a fortified Grenache Blanc with aromas of leather, lemon, apricots and peaches. Dom Brial has a long-standing reputation for this sort of wine. The 1969 Rivesaltes Grande Réserve Ambré has spent forty years in a big oak tun getting more and more complex as the years go by: coffee, rancio, raisins, dried apricots, honey, ginger and liquorice. It leaves little or no change from £100. Val-Magnères has cheaper alternatives: the ruby-port-like 2018 Rimage (£17): cherry, blackberry, raspberry, herbs and tobacco, or the 2009 André Magnères (£36): black olives, leather and sea salt, like some wonderful old amontillado sherry. Arnaud de Villeneuve is also a big producer. Their Rivesaltes Ambré tastes of gingerbread and liquorice. Better still is the 2002 Prestige solera which was like some rich, creamy caramel cake. Cazes make a fresh vintage-style 2020 Rimage and a 2013 Ambré which spends eight years in a 100-year old cask. Again it smells of pain d’épices. And lastly Pouderoux is recommended for its 2019 organic Maury and its figgy, leathery Maury Grande Réserve.
Australia continues its online tastings. The first was ‘traditional, sustainable and organic’ Margaret River Cabernets. Again there is evidence of a cult of austerity that has followed the lush, fruity styles of the past. My two favourites were the 2018 Voyager Estate and the 2016 Woodlands. Voyager was fresh and cooling, but had some rich, cassis fruit; Woodlands was more mature, there was a taste of fresh crushed cassis, but it was certainly notable for thunder. Some of the wines had a minty, eucalyptus taste. I was interested to hear that growers attribute this to actual leaves getting into the crush.
Hunter Valley Semillon is one of Australia’s original wines. We heard from Bruce Tyrrell whom I had never forgotten telling me the culinary dream of a true Australian was a piece of steak big enough to support sixteen fried eggs. He did not disappoint the other day either: once again he was the star of the show. His 2015 HVD single vineyard was still tip-top as well. These are refreshing, high-acid, low alcohol wines. Brokenwood was also impressive.
Lastly, from Tesco, the 2021 Leyda Garuma single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc: the wines from this Chilean, coastal estate tend to be quite mineral and this is no exception. There are good strong aromas of box hedge, nettles and gooseberries. It is intensely peppery, something I’d put down to the soil.