Sunday, 25 January 2009

Jagged elbows

Here in Baden, wine cooperatives (Winzergenossenschaften or Winzerkeller) seem to play a much more prominent role than in other regions. For example, the big daddy of all these cooperatives, the Badische Winzerkeller, is not only Baden's biggest winemaker but also one of the largest wineries in Europe.

Down here near the Swiss border we have the Haltinger Winzergenossenschaft. Although tiny compared to its cousin from Breisach, this cooperative very much dominates the local terrain in and around Weil.

Such organisations are very much the "workhorse" of winemaking down here in Baden. That is not to belittle them, I'm just stating a fact. While private wine estates rightly represent the creme de la creme of vinous endeavour in Baden, cooperatives, too, can attain excellence, and are doing so with increasing frequency. With that in mind, my attention was drawn the other day to this particular bottle of SB (aka Pinot Noir) by the aforementioned concern from Haltingen. It had been a while since I'd last tasted one of their reds, so I thought I'd give this one a try. The cooperative recently revamped its labels, thus bringing its brand kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Goodness, you should have since their previous labels. Firmly rooted in the 1980s. The epitome of naffness. Unfortunately, I hadn't been all that enamoured by their wines, either. Maybe their whites were their strong points, but their reds - for my palate at least - tended to be shrill, acidic and "green". However, I was hopeful this time that a bit of the sleekness in the new label design had maybe rubbed off on the wines.

Haltinger Stiege Spätburgunder QbA trocken 2007, Haltinger Winzergenossenschaft
Cost EUR 5.79. Open the bottle, the cork is surprisingly made out of cork, as opposed to plastic. A nice ruby colour, too. So far so good, I think. I swirl the liquid around the glass, and what do I get? Hm, nothing much at all, to be honest. Try again. I doubt the wine was matured in barrels, but maybe in large wooden vats, because I can eventually detect something along those lines. Then some cherry and redcurrant on the nose, but the overall effect is muted. On the palate, undeniably acidic - and gaunt with jagged elbows. And the finish...? Short, to say the least. This is a cleanly made wine, but overall, I'm disappointed. For little more than five euros, I'm not looking for anything special, but even in this price bracket I do expect red wines to be more forgiving than this one.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Like a "GG" but minus the price

Although Germany's high-end dry grand cru Rieslings are still a total snip compared to the best Burgundy whites have to offer, I'm now increasingly of the opinion that they offer less value for money than wines classified further down a notch. For me, one of a number of problems with the Grosses Gewächs (or "GG") concept is that participating wine estates have to sell their GGs at a minimum price. The last I heard, the minimum for a bottle of GG had to be EUR 15, though judging by price rises over the last couple of years, this figure may well have risen. This is all well and good if you produce something warranting the price, but all too often wine estates have used the system as a chance to cash in by charging inflated prices for what would otherwise be "Spätlese trockens" but for the abbreviation "GG" on the label. Admittedly, things have improved in recent years, though quality is still patchy.

However, one of the happier upshots of the GG movement in certain regions such as the Pfalz or Rheinhessen is that wineries have introduced quality levels for their various wines which partially mimick the Burgundy classification. Whereas you might have premier cru as the next level down for your Burgundies, you have klassifizierte Lagen or similar as the next designation down in these regions. This basically means wine from designated vineyards, as would be the case with premier cru (e.g. Deidesheimer Kieselberg), but without any "P.C." designation, or equivalent (although Weingut Bürklin-Wolf are a notable exception to this). The next level down would be Ortswein, i.e. wine only named after the village in question - whereby the similarity here to Burgundy is that, while you might have a Cru Village, the equivalent in, say, the Mittelhaardt in the Pfalz would be "Wachenheimer Riesling", for example. Then the "lowest" level - with the exception of wine from litre bottles for everyday consumption (or cooking) - would be Gutswein, i.e. the equivalent to, say, Bourgogne Rouge. These latter wines would normally be the "estate wines" in English-speaking parlance, e.g. "Bürklin Estate Riesling".

Maybe the result of this French-inspired classification system is that the "underclass" below GG is where the real steals are to be found. For the level next down from GG, for example, a lot of wine estates actually use fruit from their grand cru vineyards. In practice, the grapes might have been picked during the initial "dry" run through the grand cru parcel, or they may come from younger vines. Often, the resultant wines can be almost as stupendously good as the GGs, but half the price or less. They tend to be regarded as the terroir wines of the wine estate's portfolio, and are therefore a category replete with suffix designations such as Muschelkalk, Terrassen, Bundsandstein, Rotliegendes, vom Porphyr, von der Fels. Blauschiefer or Keuper - to name but a few examples.

The wine featured here, however, a 2007 Riesling Spätlese trocken by Weingut Pfeffingen from the "Ungsteiner Herrenberg" grand cru site in the Pfalz - cost EUR 10.50 - has no need for such frills.

Weingut Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenberg Riesling Spätlese trocken 2007
Lovely nose. Intense yellow apple and apricot (to be honest, this was the description in the wine price list I received from the winery, though I would fully concur with it). I think I detected some pineapple, too. Minerally on the palate, but with that unmistakable Pfalz Riesling "earthiness". Great wine at an affordable price.