It might sound like a cliché, recommending Rosé wine with your summer and it probably is but, let’s be honest, Rosé can be so good. It combines the best of both words: the freshness and crispness of white wine and the fuller, redder notes of, well, red wine.
The problem is with rosé though, is that it is sometimes so badly made: sickly sweet, messy and sticky. For that reason, many so-called wine experts ignore the stuff. Well that’s their problem: there are hundreds and thousands of well-made rosé wines all over the world and, if done properly, some of them can even compete with white and red wine. Of course, the world’s most famous and arguably best pink wines come from Provence in Southern France. These wines represent the pinnacle of rosé winemaking. The only problem is that they’re rather expensive and some of them, and I’m sorry for saying this, kind of take the interestingness out of rosé – for me, rosé needs to be fun and fruity and….kind of unserious: it needs to be easy-drinking, pour-it-down-your-throat kind of stuff rather than the stuffier world of white and red wine.
So here I have compiled ten German rosés, all of which offer fun, fruit and yet a high-quality feel. All of them are very different from one another and you’ll notice a number of styles: from clean cut, bone dry, to bonkers, out-of-this-world wine with residual sugar, the craziest pink colour you’ll see in wine and a whole lot of fun.
Because, let's be honest, that's what drinking pink wine is all about.
Finding these Wines where you live
As ever, I'm more than happy to assist you in finding these wines where you live. All of them are widely available in Germany and can be found with a quick internet search. The vast majority are available in Austria and Switzerland and a handful in other European countries. If you'd like me to help you in tracking down a bottle you can purchase near you, let me know and I'll gladly assist you.
Markus Schneider is a thorn in the side of those classic German producers with their double-barrelled names, gothic-scripted labels complete with coats of arms and a product name of more than 100 characters.
With his radical redesigning of the German wine scene ditching kitsch for the contemporary and dumping unnecessary conservatism for simplicity, he has achieved massive success over the years. Within Germany, he has provided both the wine-affluent with an alternative and those unfamiliar to wine with a name they can trust for both individuality and consistent high quality.
With names like ‘Black Print’ and ‘Ursprung’ (Origin), his cuvees are uniquely labelled: rarely does a varietal appear on the label and rarely do the (to outsiders) complicated vineyard names either. Of course, the winery is legally obliged to share certain information and it does this on the back label rather than on the front.
Catering for changing tastes in the German wine-drinking world, Schneider jumped on the bandwagon early: producing fuller red cuvees at the time when a number of wine drinkers (and even non-wine drinkers) were switching to Spanish Tempranillo and Australian Shiraz. Black Print caused a stir because it was just so different to what everyone else was doing: no German vintner in their right mind would have produced a cuvee with so many varietals, some of which were rather unknown and yet this is exactly what Markus Schneider did.
In certain wine circles, Schneider’s wines are still observed with suspicious eyes: the old elite of German viticulture together with the majority of the VDP wineries aren’t much impressed with Schneider’s unique approach to winemaking: they are firm believers that the future of Germany’s wine industry lies in its past: dusty, complicatedly-named Riesling, Silvaner, Müller-Thurgau or Pinot Noir creations with what looks like the kind of label you might find on a pencil sharpener bought at a country museum. Of course, traditionalism sells wine like nothing else: the wineries who stick to the age-old and yet proven techniques will always have their fan-bases: these companies still produce Germany’s best wine and, without a doubt, are able to express the fantastic German winemaking skills and varying terroir better than someone producing wines as a pioneer or partially to appease changing wine-drinking habits.
And yet, whilst so many are keen to tear into Schneider’s approach, deeming it purely a success of marketing and pretty paperwork, they cannot deny the effect Schneider has had on German viticulture. Alongside a whole host of copycats, many traditional wineries - even some with legendary VDP status - have experimented with varietals that, thirty years ago might as well have been a crime: we’ve seen Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and even Syrah growing on some of Germany’s most prestigious and celebrated estates: whilst many of these vines may indeed have been planted before Markus Schneider’s taking of the reigns in Ellerstadt, without this new approach which he and a handful of others pioneered, it’s unlikely that anything would ever have happened with them. Chardonnay is permitted as a Großes Gewächs in Baden and, I’m sure that Sauvignon Blanc is likely to make an appearance in the list of permitted varietals at one point or another. Some of Germany's most expensive and sought-after wines produced at the moment aren't from single vineyards or at least this isn't mentioned on the label at all (see Keller G-Max or Wegeler's Geheimrat J).
It’s not just the approach to winemaking but the marketing which has been influenced: thanks to Schneider, some olde-worlde estates have swapped black and white for a whole host of colours on their labels, we've seen websites as flamboyant as some Silicon-Valley efforts and social-media drives by even the stuffiest of traditionalist wineries. Unthinkable a few years ago.
So whilst the efforts of Markus Schneider and co. aren’t likely to destabilise the entire world of German wine which almost certainly wasn’t his intent anyway, they are a valuable addition to the exciting portfolio of wines attributed to Germany. Yes, Mosel, Saar, Nahe and Rheingau Riesling is what the majority of consumers want when they set out with the word ‘Germany’ on their lips but if a winery is able to consistently offer up good quality, bold reds from the same country: that is in no way a bad thing.
Of course, not everyone is going to agree but the fact remains: if the wine is good and people demand it, that producer is doing a good job no matter how much the old-world wants to complain about it. There are parallels between this and the rise and rise of the Supertuscans: the protests of the boards of Chianti, Montalcino and Montepulciano tried to ridicule the Sassicaias, Solaias and Ornellaias of this world and whilst I don’t think that Schneider’s ‘modern’ wines are ever likely to steal the prestige and appeal away from VDP Riesling, they deserve to obtain a considerable market share and, at least to the drinkers of wine rather than those who talk about it, are an attractive choice and indeed a sensible one.
Alongside the varietals that German winemakers are known for, grow a handful of exotic French imports. Whilst their success has been varied, Sauvignon Blanc, Auxerrois, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grow all over the South of the country.
Syrah is however still in its infancy and, believe it or not, wines from this traditional Rhône Valley grape grown in the mild summers and cold winters of Germany is starting to look like a success story.
Of course, only a handful of winemakers have experimented with the varietal which is commonly associated with only the warmest production regions. Naturally Germany’s warmest region Baden is at the forefront of Syrah production and yet the Pfalz, Rheinhessen and a few other parts have wines to offer as well.
Grown on about 50 hectares, Syrah barely represents the German wine scene at all and yet many critics suggest that it is the most exciting import since the introduction of the Pinot grapes many decades ago. Introduced in the late 1990s to German viticulture, Syrah thrives in the warm summers of the Markgräflerland and Kaiserstuhl, some of Baden’s southernmost regions. With more sun hours here than anywhere else in Germany, the region is already linked to some of the nation’s best Pinot Noirs.
Perhaps though it was the Pfalz that really brought German Syrah to light: the pioneer Markus Schneider with his very un-German attitude to winemaking was the producer whose Syrah first hit the shelves of normal wine stores and larger supermarkets.
Only a handful of vintners even produce the stuff. I’ve compiled a list of some of the wines that I think are worth mentioning although, due to their fairly rare appearance in retail, I haven’t tried all that many myself. I have noticed a tendency to imitate the wines of Rhône rather than the big and commonly overpowering and rather dull wines from Australia and South Africa – I guess that the climatic conditions dictate this somewhat but the varietal works particularly well with the Baden and Württemberg terroirs.
Getting hold of these wines
Whereas getting hold of German wine is rather difficult outside of Germany, getting hold of German Syrah is even more difficult. Due to the extremely small amounts made, a lot of wineries don’t even release the wines for general sale in Germany. The ones listed above though are all available for sale though. If you live outside of Germany, I’m more than happy to assist you in getting hold of a bottle or two, just get in touch and I’ll see what I can do.
I’ve said before that the key to England becoming a world-player in the sparkling wine branch is that it has to adopt and develop its own style: something the Gusborne Estate rather aptly calls Méthode Anglaise. A lot of the stuff I’ve tried though doesn’t taste very Anglaise at all: the only way I could describe it would be Copycat Français. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with copying a popular style of wine and pulling it off brilliantly well, but surely the entire point in a new production region is a new style. Whilst I can’t fault the lush wines of certain English wineries, I find many wines so similar to that sparkling French stuff that it might as well be called Champagne.
I mistakenly understood the varietals used as being the key problem, whilst the wines from the Pinot grapes are nearly always better, I enjoyed seeing English wineries using Seyval Blanc and Bacchus, even a few of those other exotic, Germanic grapes.
But I was wrong, it is possible to create unique and high-quality wines from the same grapes grown elsewhere: terroir factors are ultimately the most deciding factor and the skill and ideas of the winemaker can turn traditional varietals and foreign methods into something completely new. Look at Sassicaia and Ornellaia in Bolgheri: effectively producing Bordeaux although it tastes nothing like the stuff. Look at the vintners of the Ahr Valley and Baden in Germany effectively producing Burgundy but, at the same time, doing the complete opposite. Of course it’s possible, it always has been.
On the English wine scene though, it’s been rare: many wines could have been labelled as coming from Reims or Épernay and not even the most sensitive tongue would’ve argued. There are however a few English wines that, despite having come from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, really do radiate both a firm feel of quality, enough classical notes to be deemed worthwhile and, thankfully, a big old chunk of Union Jack personality.
Take a wine I tried on Sunday as an example: Hush Heath’s Balfour Cuvée Skye Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay). Whereas it was classically elegant, timelessly presented and excellently made, it had a unique feel to it: a feel I’ve not had in sparkling wine for a while. Alongside yeasty and refined fruity notes, an underlying lime acidity and general freshness really protruded from the glass - making a unique wine.
This feel of individuality is the most defining factor of a wine: it’s the whole point in having an origin. Even on a smaller scale: you can tell Bollinger and Veuve Clicquot apart because of their individual characteristics: things the winemakers put in so that you know you’re not drinking another wine. It’s the difference in going to see the band or a cover band: musically, you’re getting a truer, more-rehearsed and more-similar sound from the cover band (the Champagne copycats) whereas the real band might miss a note occasionally or change the song slightly for the live album (the pioneers) – who is it you’d really like to see?
Hush Heath aren’t the only ones doing it and whilst their beautiful Balfour Rosé probably is my favourite English sparkler, I’m also impartial to a drop of Camel Valley's 'Cornwall' Brut, Chapel Down's Brut Reserve and I find that even Nyetimber’s Rosé has an English beating heart behind all that Frenchness.
So that’s where I stand, I want authenticity and uniqueness: I still demand quality and traditional values but, for me, a wine has to show where it comes from: terroir and AOC are, for me at least, much more important than opting for a generally popular style or using the ‘right’ varietals. I don’t think that I’m alone here and I’m more than certain that most of the wineries in the Southern half of the UK are striving for much the same thing.
Those who aren’t might, one day, create better ‘Champagne’ than the wineries who don’t have to use quotation marks when writing that same nine-letter C-word but they’re not going to change the world’s addiction to French fizz by copying it – Champagne is the brand that everyone wants. They’ll generally always opt for Champagne over another similarly-priced bubbly because, nine times out of ten, most people won’t know or care which tastes better and, even if they do, it's a French wine they'll opt for. Pioneers create new ways and new directions: they don't enter an already overcrowded market with a product that already exists.
What do you think?
Let’s face it, a little part of every one of us would like to get our noses deep into a glass of Lafite, Latour or Mouton. Unfortunately, the vast majority of us would receive a rather prompt phone call from our bank managers if we were to even think about purchasing a bottle. Even the worst vintages fetch well over £250 a bottle and if you want a wine which is both of drinkable age and from a decent vintage, you can part with the best of a grand for the privilege.
My first advice to anyone who wants to try affordable wine from Pauillac is to look at the vastly more-reasonable neighbouring AOCs: Saint-Estèphe or Saint-Julien…the appeal with Pauillac though is the word itself, not necessarily the taste of the wine.
There are however Pauillac clarets out there though that, whilst far from being reasonable, might just be within your budget.
Firstly don’t expect massive value for money: Pauillac, Margaux, Saint-Émilion and Pomerol are, by far and away, the most expensive Bordeaux appellations (being the most famous) and wines that receive a Parker score of over 90 Points are quick to reach the £100 mark (if not more) – a comparable wine in terms of quality and score from Italy or another Bordeaux AOC might cost less than half of that rather hefty sum.
Here they are then: five wines that you might be able to afford that offer typical Pauillac character at untypical Pauillac prices, two of them are even related to the most famous family name in the town: Rothschild.
Château Lynch-Bages (Pre 2005 (excl. 2000))
Châteaux Lynch-Bages continues to ridicule the 1855 Médoc and Graves classification act. This fifth-Cru Pauillac estate has been offering stiff competition to the biggest names of Bordeaux for the best part of two decades now and Jean Michel-Cazes' winemaking skills are the key to the turnaround of the company’s fortunes.
Whereas the 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010 wines are priced to compete with the upper echelon, wines from average vintages are affordable. Particularly 2001, 2002 and 2003 are especially affordable and offer fantastic drinking.
My notes (2003 Vintage)
Château Clerc-Milon (2008, 2007, 2003, 2002, 2001)
As one of the only Bordelaise wineries still using the lush varietal Carménère, Château Clerc-Milon is the sister estate of d’Armailhac. Baroness Phillipine de Rothschild, owner of the mighty Mouton-Rothschild estate is the driving force behind this delicious claret.
2007 and 2008 offer the best value-for-money but earlier wines (2002, 2003) are serving up some fantastic drinking at the moment.
My notes (2007 Vintage)
Château d’Armailhac (2008, 2007, 2002, 2001, 1999)
Another Baroness de Rothschild estate, Château d’Armailhac has some pretty impressive neighbours : Pontet-Canet and Mouton-Rothschild to name but two. Slightly spicier than the racy Clerc-Milon, the wine is a favourite amongst restaurateurs: elite wines at affordable prices (with lots of words people have heard of).
2008 and 2007 are for me the best tips to pass on although I found the earlier wines very enjoyable: particularly 1999.
Château Pedesclaux (2008, 2007, 2003, 2002, 2001)
A rather small player in terms of big names, Château Pedesclaux might sound to the inexperienced like an also-existing option when buying Pauillac wine. The winery's discreet heritage is key to its ability to produce excellent and affordable wine though.
Although the 2009 and 2010 vintages weren’t particularly what you might call cheap, Pedesclaux is one of the few Châteaux of Bordeaux which offers consistent value-for-money. 2002 and 2003 were decent wines and priced between 20 and £30 a bottle, they offer some of the best Pauillac per pound there is. 2007 and 2008 were also fantastic wines but the 2005 is probably the best value-for-money 2005 out there – if you can find some!
My notes (2002 Vintage)
Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste (2008, 2007, 2003, 2002, 2001)
Probably the most high-profile winery on this list and, for many, Pauillac’s secret beating heart, Grand-Puy Lacoste offers some fantastically priced claret during otherwise mediocre vintages – whereas the majority of other producers are unable to turn an average vintage into a decent wine, the know-how at Puy-Lacoste ensures a fabulous drop every year.
2003 and 2007 are the best options here, 2002 and 2001 offer wonderful drinking though and, at less than £50 a bottle, you might not be able to say cheap but, once you’ve tried it, you won't be disappointed.
Also look out for the big winery’s second wine : Lynch Bages’ Echo is a treat, as is Latour’s Pauillac de Latour. I’d like to recommend Lafite’s Carruades but a) I’ve never tried it and b) I’d recommend packing a couple of notes on top and going for the first wine. As a general rule, avoid the vintages 2004 and 2006 – I find most wines very flat and 2004 in particular rarely offers that essential Pauillac style – still if you’re looking for a bargain: you’ll be able to pick up of a bottle of Mouton, Lafite or Latour from 2004 for about the same price as one of the above-listed winery’s 2005 vintages – that’s how Bordeaux pricing works, just don’t expect to be impressed. Only a handful of vintners achieved high-quality wine in 2004 and 2006 and most of that is gone now: Pichon-Loungueville 2004 is one of the best value-for-money clarets from 2004 but priced at roundabout £80 a bottle, it’s far from being a bargain.
If I could give you one piece of advice for 2014 it would be this: do not fear the screw-cap.
It’s an overused cliché in my line of work: the one involving the waiter who screws open a bottle of wine instead of pulling its cork out but, on the whole, it's rather effective. It is understandable though: the extravagant tugging of resilient Portuguese bark out of a brittle, glass bottle is a spectacle at the best of times. The turning of a piece of steel with its almost inaudible crunch is indeed far less rewarding and it’s true of wine that a large part of it is show. A pretty label with big long (preferably French) words and a man in a bow-tie and apron is just the start of it: the whole marketing behind the stuff, the ‘elite’ ambient every bottle that costs more than a fiver carries with it is all show really. The same can be said for every luxury grocery though: lobster isn't particularly attractive without the bright red claws, Oysters only work with their shells and mineral water out of a plastic bottle doesn't really work in gastronomy.
But what if I told you that the cork was not only show but, in some cases, actually not a very good thing to use in the closure of a wine bottle? You’d disagree and say something along the lines of ‘Cork has been used for many a century before screw-tops even existed, everyone knows the best wines are stopped with real cork’. Let’s put it this way: a few centuries ago cleaning your teeth was a rare and (almost) unthinkable exercise and yet we don’t get all sentimental about plaque and eroding molars so why should we with decaying wine?
Admittedly, there are some fantastic advantages of cork, especially with red wine – it’s hard to think of a better solution to closing a wine bottle, apart from the screw-top that is.
You see, whilst the cork isn't necessarily always a bad thing, it does bring with it a number of issues, one of which is the precise reason cork is used in the first place: oxidation. I don’t need to go into the physics of cork to explain that it is full of lots of little pores all of which allow a tiny amount of oxygen into the wine (on purpose). Oxidation of wine leads to it developing character over the years, parting with sharp acids and bitter tannin but it is, just like the cells of your body are doing to you, slowly killing the wine as well. If a bottle happens to have received a poor piece of cork (or bad cork is used in the first place to satisfy the waiter cork-pulling image), it will oxidise too quickly, leading to a flat wine within only a few days: by the time the liquid reaches your tongue, it’s likely to taste very foul indeed. You see these old wine bottles from the 1800s which fetch thousands of pounds per bottle, this is only because they're rare - the price doesn't reflect the quality and, whilst some might be drinkable, most probably aren't.
Cork is also pretty prone to reaction and adjusting the flavour of a wine without involving oxygen: how many old whites taste woody, why do some Champagnes taste a little too vegetative? Yep, that’s the cork messing about with the flavour and reacting with the acid in the wine. On top of that, corks age and, should they come into contact with moisture, they rot and mould. Cork is also only really any good if it is contact with the wine itself: i.e. the bottle is laying down. If the cork is touching air only on both ends, it’ll eventually dry out leading to its and, eventually, the wine’s decay – if it then comes into contact with the wine, it might even break up – this can happen even to the best-quality cork.
Some suggest that the plastic cork is the next best thing but the point in pulling something out of the bottle with a tool for old-time’s and tradition’s sake seems to me a little pointless. Furthermore, those odd pieces of plastic don’t really scream sophistication – I think they look silly and, as experience would prove, they really are only ever found stuck in the necks of the bottles you have to bend down for in your local supermarket (the cheap stuff).
Another solution particularly popular in parts of Germany is the glass stopper which, whilst actually very effective at sealing a bottle, is unfortunately both brittle and fairly expensive in comparison to other means. Crown caps are used (particularly in the production of sparkling wine) and these are effective, again though, a feature usually associated with beer is hardly going to woo restaurant diners (although a tool is required at least).
No, the screw-top is the future and there’s no reason it shouldn't be. Those seemingly impersonal pieces of formed steel are really very good at keeping wine freshly locked-up – they’re not optimised for aging but, well, let the winery do that for you and decide how much aging is required before they bottle it – hardly any of us have proper wine cellars anyway and most of us buy our wines from brightly-lit, generously-heated supermarket where they stand for a certain period of time before we lovingly place them into our trolleys - this is likely to mean that, even in a proper cellar, quite a lot of irreversible damage has already been done.
Even some of the top wineries have been messing around with screw-tops. A Few years ago a myth spread across the wine community that Chateau Haut-Brion (a very highly-regarded Bordeaux producer) was experimenting with screw-tops. Although I doubt traditional French and Italian wineries will ever turn to Screw-caps (they rely on tradition to sell wine), its growing popularity can be seen the world over. Despite it being partly due to the new-world’s limited access to cork, the wineries there are increasingly using screw-tops because it’s the best way to seal wine and I’m not talking Echo Falls or Blossom Hill, I’m talking about prestige wineries from Stellenbosch, Barossa, Maipo, Mendoza and Marlborough - if the top guys are doing it, there's a reason for it.
The screw-top is by no means perfect but it is far more efficient at keeping wine fresh than anything else, you can see if it’s been tampered with and for those impromptu excursions in the park, at the beach, on holiday, you won’t have to remember your bow-tie wearing (preferably French)man or bottle opener.
Tradition tells you it should be cork, science combined with consumer habit point however at the screw-cap.
That time of the year is coming again when thousands of Aussies, Italians, New Zealanders, Brits and Northern Germans will be descending upon the beautiful city of Munich’s Theresienwiese for a few days of beer and dancing on tables.
However, the key to understanding the breweries and beers of Munich isn’t swaying on benches arm-in-arm with Dave from Melbourne and Gino from Milan – of course that is part of the journey but Munich’s beer scene is much more than just Oktoberfest.
To start with Oktoberfestbier is sweet and strong – served in litre jugs for obscene amounts of money, it serves one simple purpose – to get you drunk pretty quickly and, whilst the breweries proudly stand behind these beers, they’re a long way away from being the highlights of the Munich beer scene.
Let’s start with a simple introduction to the six main breweries of Munich – all of them located on the outskirts of the city with many outlets in which you can purchase their beer in the city centre.
If you drink in swanky London/New-York/Sydney bars, you’ll have heard of Paulaner – the brewery that makes the world’s second most-famous Weissbier (after Erdinger – located close to Munich). Löwenbräu is also a fairly famous brewery although the chances you have heard of it aren’t particularly high. The other four are fairly small players: Spaten, Hofbräu, Hacker-Pschorr and Augustiner.
Here are eight beer tips if you’re visiting Munich this (or next) month. A lot of the beers are available in the UK and USA and nearly all of them are to be found all over Germany, Austria and Switzerland in case you can’t manage it this year.
Talking about beer in Germany often leads to a subject that 99% of people understand incorrectly: the Reinheitsgebot. The Reinheitsgebot is a fantastic thing for the consumer: it means that, if a bottle/can/barrel carries this word, the beer is guaranteed to be made of hops, malted barley, water, yeast and nothing else. This is a great thing, a promise to the drinker that there are no E-colours, no chemicals, no additives and no strange ingredients have been used to go into their pint.
Unfortunately, this is where most people stop understanding.
Whilst the Reinheitsgebot is a great way of determining what’s not in your beer, it’s a terrible indicator of quality – the one direction in which the breweries who print it on their labels try to push it: the Reinheitsgebot has nothing to do with the quality of the ingredients that make the beer, it just dictates that certain things aren't allowed to be used.
Now, I’m not going to go down the route of saying that limiting yourself to certain ingredients is idiotic in the first place (which it is by the way) because I live in a country where cold, fizzy beer is the only style accepted. Firstly, the varietal of hops (a very diverse group of ingredients) isn't dictated by the Reinheitsgebot – nor is the quality, amount or origin. The same is true of water, yeast and malted barley. On the side, it’s worth noting that hops aren't necessarily limited to fresh ones: the word Hopfenextrakt is commonplace on many a label – Hop extract. This isn't a bad thing but real beer is made with real hops, not concentrated chemicals, the very thing the whole thing attepts to avoid in the first place: nevertheless hop extracts are allowed in the Reinheitsgebot.
The Reinheitsgebot falls on its face as well simply through the way it has changed over the years. Of course, adaptations in pasteurisation are partly to blame however the use of cane sugar and yeast is also permitted to make sure that old-fashioned brewerys' Weizenbiere (wheat beers) can still carry the label of ‘Gebraut nach dem deutschen Rienheitsgebot von 1516’ – a clear tool of marketing rather than one guaranteeing quality. Something that is so etched into national domestic beer-drinking society that foreign beers are commonly referred to as 'Chemiebiere' (chemical beers) which is neither true nor is the Reinheitsgebot particularly a specialty of German brewers alone.
But no, the consumer and uninformed beer drinker will tell you that the Reinheitsgebot is a definition of quality: not true. Reinheit literally means cleanliness or the like, not quality. The breweries of (awfully dull) beer will continue to print this rubbish on their labels as if it really means something – it does: the brewer has limited his knowledge of brewing beer, he’s chosen to limit his list of ingredients, he’s decided not to experiment with other ingredients, he’s gone down the road of printing misleading phrases onto his bottles in the interest of selling lots of mundane and average sparkling beer.
It’s the equivalent of a chef choosing only to cook with poultry, water, potatoes and peas (nothing else)– there are some wonderful combinations but the variations are minimal and never represent quality, only a list of the ingredients of the boiled food on the plate.
There’s no reason not to drink Reinheitsgebot beer – a lot of it is lovely, really well-made stuff, it's no determination of bad quality - it's not a determination of quality at all. The word Reinheitsgebot still isn’t a reason to drink it though – it has nothing to do with quality – it’s a misunderstood marketing technique that large breweries make use of to sell you boring beer. So now you know.
When I first started reading up and occasionally blogging about English fizz, it was a cult product, something unknown to the masses – a gimmick even: all of a sudden there was such thing as British wine and it wasn’t all that bad. Over the years, thanks to newspapers, TV and the introduction into many big-name retailers' assortments, English fizz is as popular as it never before was and even the Olympics, the Queen’s Jubilee and the Royal Wedding ensured national awareness of what is fast becoming a national treasure itself.
There have been bumps along the way though: last year’s harvest was pitiful and I remember seeing twitter full of complaints from most of the UK’s vineyards – the biggest name in English sparkling wine Nyetimber apparently wrote off its entire crop for 2012 at a cost of £10m. Tiny production amounts mean that importing English fizz just isn’t possible and, let’s be honest, if the vintners were able, how much of it would actually sell on the continent – think Champagne, Prosecco, Cava and don’t forget Britain’s image to Europeans – a cold rainy island in the North Sea – as wrong as that might be, it’s written into stereotype, it’s going to take a lot more than the marketing budgets of a few small South English vineyards to change that.
Whilst the still wine scene might be in its infancy, the fizzy stuff is the nuts: it’s unique, it’s classy and it’s well-made. It’s also not too badly priced with the most expensive bottles being in that £30 Champagne entry-level bracket. Most English fizz is Vintage too at that price, unlike the stuff from Northern France.
What I’m saying is that the bubbly stuff is wonderful and, if I was in the position to do so, I’d regularly substitute a bottle of Champagne for an English sparkling wine and, whilst the situation might have been so at the beginning, it’s got nothing to do with me being a quirky nationalist: I genuinely believe (and know) that the wines from Sussex, Kent, Cornwall and Co. are very good: they might not be Dom Pérignon or Krug but they don’t need to be, most of us can’t afford that kind of wine anyway!
So here are my favourite English sparklers – I’ve tried quite a few and these are the ones I rate the highest based on taste, price and availability. I’ve listed the retailers underneath, for German and other non-British readers, please scroll right to the bottom for information on obtaining these wines.
Getting hold of these wines outside of the UK
I've spoken to the lovely guys at English Sparkling Wine and they've assured me that they can deliver outside of the UK (obviously with a few extra costs for shipping). Contact them directly for more infomation on pricing for where you live. If you need any more assistance regarding the obtaining of these wines, please get in touch and I'll do my best.
Blanc de Noirs isn’t a wine direction limited to Germany. In fact the world’s most famous wine region itself is probably the source of this practise, making white wine using red grapes – Champagne.
It is done by handling red grapes very similar to white ones, pressing them almost as soon as they are picked so that the clear/white grape must has as little contact with the red or blue grape skin as possible. A small amount of pigment usually does emerge but this tends to dye wines yellow rather than red.
Thanks to there being many hundreds of white grape varietals out there, some people might see this practise as a bit pointless however Blanc de Noirs wines have a very unique taste – usually fuller and more fruit driven than white grapes with a splash more body, they are also a lot more refreshing and acidic than the red wines these grapes would usually make.
I’ve prepared a list of some of the Blanc de Noirs I’ve had over the last few years. If you have trouble tracking them down, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.
What do you think? Have you ever tried a German Blanc de Noir? Think I've missed anything or gotten anything wrong, do let me know!