The new VDP classification might seem complicated and is certainly disputed but in some cases, it just works. Whilst it has only been in place since the middle of the last decade, one winery has been doing it for the best part of three: Dr. Bürklin-Wolf in the Pfalz. Their top two tiers of wines aren’t named GG but G.C. (Grand Cru – the international equivalent of Grosse Lage) and P.C (Premier Cru) instead of Erste Lage. Like other VDP wineries, they also create Village (Ortsweine) and Estate (Gutsweine) wines.
The producer is one of the biggest names in the Pfalz when it comes to Riesling alone: with vines in some of the region’s most prestigious and highly-valued vineyards, Dr. Bürklin-Wolf is not just a major player in the Pfalz but in the entire German wine world. This Grand Cru wine is sourced purely from Riesling vines in the Pechstein vineyard in the commune of Forst. The South-East-facing vineyard is characterised by the black topsoil derived from volcanic rock.
Pale, bright gold.
Fresh lime, green apple, peach, banana and smoky wood.
On the attack, thick lime juice and lemon peel but also waxed green apples and then a body of exotic, sweet fruit: banana, kiwi, pineapple and then a nice, rounded, mellow finish of pepper, wood and a hint of smoke.
Bürklin-Wolf’s are some of the strongest Rieslings from the Pfalz and, whilst the power was to detect on the attack and in the body, the finish was long and almost delicate rounding off the wine making it very easy to drink. The aging was evident and yet not half as developed as I would have expected. The body with all its sweet fruit makes the wine feel less dry and uniquely oily: less fluid somehow but it’s a lovely touch and makes the otherwise determining acidity take a background role. One of the most underrated vintages, in this wine, Dr. Bürklin-Wolf managed to create a fantastic wine.
This will keep for another ten years at least if you still have a few bottles lying around.
US: Buy Dr. Bürklin-Wolf wines here.
UK: A small selection of Dr. Bürklin-Wolf wines are available here.
Château d’Armailhac is a fifth Cru winery in the Médoc commune of Pauillac. Owned by a more prominent estate in the town, Château Mouton-Rothschild, the producer is the sister project of Château Clerc-Milon: also under the Baronne Philippine de Rothschild brand.
Made of the traditional varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon (54%), Merlot (29%), Cabernet Franc (15%) and Petit Verdot (2%), this wine was produced in a year of changing weather conditions. Whilst the 2008 Médoc wines aren’t, by any means, 100-pointers, I tend to find the vintage rather underrated which leads to relatively good prices: most of them are approaching drinkability now and it can be hard to find better-value, ready-to-drink, Pauillac, Moulis, Listrac, St. Estèphe, St. Julien and Margaux wines than those from 2008. Sure, those from 2006 and 2004 are cheaper but they’re nowhere near as good.
Deep pomegranate red with a thin, pink hue. The wine also appeared rather opaque as if cloudy, it wasn’t though.
Cassis, blackcurrant and blackberries were the first notes on the scene. As were the notes I’ve come to expect of Pauillac; red plums and then the unique mixture of minerals and spices. Tobacco, Espresso, Cedar, Pine and Leather were in there as well as black pepper, evergreen vegetation and much, much more.
The fruit was rather reserved at first: when it came through, it was rarely bright. The composed nature of the berries and the somewhat-missing plum notes promised in the nose left rather a great deal to be desired. The tannins though were nice and rounded and brought lovely toasted oak and fresh tobacco as well as some alpine wood and black pepper.
Whereas those mineral notes were-spot on, the fruit was rather too background for me. I’m not one for perfume-like red fruit extinguishing every known note of mineral but a little more fruit would have balanced the wine more. Nevertheless, this was a fantastic claret with a composed mineral and Cabernet-dominated structure. It served perfectly as a food wine and I wasn’t too disappointed that a few glasses remained in the decanter after dinner.
If you have a few bottles of this, it might well be ready for drinking but it will keep a few years more (2016 I’d say). Serve it with braised, roasted or grilled lamb or a seasonal game dish based on boar or venison.
(£35-50/ 40-55€ / $45-60)
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy
Brunello di Montalcino comes from a small town/commune in Eastern Tuscany called…well, Montalcino. The vines must grow in the foothills surrounding the town and must be made of Sangiovese – a rare mutation of the varietal that only occurs here. The warm sun and steep slopes create remarkably elegant wines – something Sangiovese might typically not be associated with.
Deep pomegranate red with a clear, peachy hue.
A very thick and dense berry compote was the first thing I picked up: lots of blackberry and redcurrant but also cranberry and plummy stone fruit. There was also a remarkable neat set of other aromas to pick out: finest tobacco, leather, long notes of polished wood and a generous helping of licorice.
Like most good Brunello, the taste was discreet: whereas the berries did come through, they weren’t nearly as extreme as they were in the nose: the whole wine felt very concise and there wasn’t a single note out of place. The feel was very smooth and the fruit on the pinnacle of ripeness. The tannins were firmly in place and their abrupt appearance was evidence for this wine not having been quite ready to drink yet – nevertheless a superb drop of red with an even brighter future.
Something to lay down and leave for another five to ten years in the cellar but already offering some beautiful promise. Some of the best young Brunello I’ve ever tried.
Wegeler is, of course, no stranger to those who enjoy both the Rheingau and Mosel Riesling scenes and this bottle, from their Rheingau domain, is also one of Germany’s best known.
Created using prime fruit from the winery's First Growth vineyards, it is created similarly to the best Claret from the Bordelaise in France where the best fruit counts rather than only selecting grapes from what is considered as the best vineyard. However this Spätlese is far from the ‘Gutswein’ it would be officially classified as by the VDP – it’s much more than that: truly one of the best Rieslings I’ve ever tried.
You can read more on Rheingau Riesling by clicking here. Alternatively, if you wish to find out more of this, one of Germany's most important wineries, visit their homepage by clicking here.
Strangely enough, it was bought from an Italian chain restaurant for the hefty price of 18,50€.
For such an old (relatively speaking) white, the colour was surprisingly bright – no sign of aging (no light coppering of the body and brown hue) – the colour was a decent gold with a faint hint of green.
With the hefty slate tone of top-end Rheingau Riesling being one of the first things noticed, minerals made up the strongest part of the nose – there were notes of wood and pepper too but also a vegetative feel despite a wide variety of fruit in there: yellow pear, lemon, stone fruits and also a splash of grapefruit.
Again, the minerals were easy to pick out and prominent: slate again followed by a peppery note and a body and finish full of fruit – particularly apple and pear but also lemon, grapefruit and lychee. The initial finish was fairly bitter with a decent amount of tannin bite – this died and let into a long, sweet finish in which the lemon made a reappearance together with a hint of wood reflecting the wine’s age. Acidity was strong but digestible and balanced at all times.
A fantastic and very complicated wine which I believe I drank at its prime – a few more years and I could have opened a bottle of Sherry, a year earlier and I’d have tasted only spice. The creamy finish mixed with acidity is typical of Rheingau Riesling Spätlese but seldom have I seen it pulled off so well.
Marchese di Frescobaldi - Chianti Rùfina DOCG
It’s been a while since I last reviewed Chianti so I thought I’d go for something not from Classico but from Rùfina – if you wish to find out more about the region, you can check out my guide to it here.
So, I selected the only Chianti Rùfina from the racks of where I work and having only one or two wines to compare it with (tasting notes saved in my skull somewhere), I am rather a novice in this DOCG.
Marchese di Frescobaldi is one of the biggest names in Tuscany and, at least in this price category, it literally wipes the floor with wines from biggest rivals – quality of wine is factor number one and when you start comparing price against quality, you’ll find seldom an Italian vintner who’ll be able to do anything similar.
Nipozzano retails in Germany for 12-15€ but you’ll find it in the UK as well.
Purple-red with a clear peach-like hue.
With a big burst of red fruit to start with, immediately noticeable are strong notes of cassis and sour red cherries but there is a lot of red fruit to be dealing with. There appears to be some kind of a dried fruit character possibly plums and the mineral note after a few sniffs is rather complicated – dark chocolate, a splash of freshly-roasted espresso and some rather festive spices come through too.
The first fruit that hit me was wonderful blackcurrant. This eventually made way for the cassis and raspberry of the red-berry nose and the refreshing level of acidity eventually approached bringing with it the spice promised in the nose. A very faint sense of oak was to detect and it was coupled with the rather mild but finish-shaping tannins which left the wine going on and on and on. The finish wasn’t quick but it was sharpened and defined.
A very well made Chianti, certainly heavily reliant on the spice hidden in the nose and finish in stark contrast to the wines of the other DOCs and DOCGs within the Chianti itself. Both rounded but sharp and refreshing, a perfect red for an evening on the balcony or with some simple fresh food (Tapas, light BBQ). The wine was well made and represents good value, particularly in a region where a decent red can set you back up to 100€.
Sekt b. A - Sachsen, Germany
This Winzersekt (vintner’s sparkling wine) is from Germany’s northernmost wine-producing region. Made very untypically using the Pinot Blanc grape it incorporates a unique Saxony-edge to the wine – in my opinion, the best wines to derive from Eastern Germany are the Pinot Blancs. Rather than follow the other German vintners in creating Sekt almost exclusively from Riesling or copying other northern production regions with a traditional Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay cuvee, the winemakers went into this wine with the aim of creating something special and uniquely Saxon. As one of only two VDP vintners in Saxony, Schloß Proschwitz is one of the biggest names in East-German wine.
Yellow, with a rather expressive colour untypical of Sekt and Pinot Blanc. Excellent and well-defined Carbon Dioxide structure with very small bubbles.
A great deal of lemon on the nose, strong minerals and spices also loaded the wine. Some more exotic, sweeter fruits were to detect but lemon was definitely in the driving seat.
A thick attack with lemon and some peach followed by a smooth middle with discreet floral and sweet-fruit notes, the wine was well-composed right up until towards to finish. This was sharp, quick and pleasant.
A great, simple bubbly with a uniquely-defined Pinot Blanc characteristic. Fairly strong in taste, it isn’t as smooth as those using the more typical sparkling grapes although this gave a thick sense of character to the wine which is ultimately more importantly when exploring the more exotic production regions of Europe.
Another wine from Rheinhessen's organic producer Gysler. This one has 13% ABV and comes from 2008. The 'S' selection is the premium range of wines from this produce and this one cost me a little under 15€ bought from 'die Korkenzieher' in Essen's Bredeneyerstraße.
With a straw yellow colour far more intense than I'm used to with Riesling, the wine also had a lime green hue.
The nose reminded me of sharp tropical fruits such as pineapple and lime and there were some interesting floral notes in there too. Strange as it may seem, I also picked up some Italian herbs as well with a spray or two of perfume thrown in for good measure.
A very warm feeling came through when sipping the wine, it was thick, off-dry and almost woody with a tannin structure very untypical of Riesling. A mineral background held the fruit together and there were luscious notes of lemon, mango and papaya but also peach and lime in a really intense fruit cocktail. There was even a copper-like taste to the wine which probably has gathered over the three or four years this has been in the bottle.
I don't drink off-dry wine out of choice (unless with the correct food) but this wine actually made good drinking on its own. It was dry enough to appease my tastebuds but off-dry enough to cover up those tannin notes (of older wine) with thick fruit compote - an excellent combination. I'm slowly getting used to older Riesling but I do prefer the fresh stuff with its lime and residual carbon dioxide although this wine is starting to persuade me to change my ways.
Gysler is a fantastic winery, I've tried nearly their whole range now and haven't found a badly-priced wine yet. 9.0/10 points
Western Cape, South Africa - 9.99€ - Syrah Varietal
Näkel are one of Germany’s best-known producers of red wine and their signature Pinot Noirs of the Ahr Valley are widely regarded as being some of the best reds to come out of the country altogether. With many German vintners experimenting with the production of wine in the new world, this Shiraz originates from South Africa’s Western Cape - a popular destination for such ventures.
New world Shiraz is something that has to be done well in my opinion. These vast wineries of Australia and South Africa rarely create wines with defining characteristics and, often, the only thing you can say after taking a sip is: “Oh yeah, tastes like…..well…..red wine”.
Some makers have ditched this style of winemaking altogether and with the incredible demise in sales of Australian wine abroad, hopefully the mainstream Australian and winemakers will focus a little more attention on character and quality rather than amount and little dangling kangaroo magnets hanging from the bottles. The South Africans have already started with this: ditching elephants for decent Pinotage and chopping away those under-performing bunches rather than squeezing another bottle out of them.
Deep purple-red with a bright pink hue.
Strangely this wine smelt a bit more like Cabernet Sauvignon than Shiraz. Cassis and sour red cherries were certainly prominent and a delicious undertone of vanilla, oak and tobacco were also fairly easy to pick out.
The first thing that hits the tongue are the intensely sweet berries. They remind one instantly of Tuscan Sangiovese and have a rich chocolate-sweet feel to them. The oak comes through in a unique way – through an excellently crafted tannin structure that is reminiscent of Médoc Grand Cru – superb winemaking from very ripe fruit, a rare treat from the affordable new-world wineries. This, combined with the intensely ripe berries worked well although, for me, the finish was a little too long and the sweet red fruit camped out on the tongue a little longer than the oaky vanilla – my only criticism of the wine but probably personal taste.
A great wine if you’re looking for premium new-world enjoyment. The tannin structure is superb and gives the wine a real sense of class and so, in fact, do the red berries that shape the whole feeling. As above mentioned, the finish is slightly too long and sweet but I’m sure that this is a personal moan rather than a fundamental flaw with the wine.
Markgräflerland, Baden, DE - Pinot Noir - 7.99€ REWE Supermarket
Especially created to celebrate the Ruhrgebiet’s title as European capital of culture 2010, several German vintners got together to create a series of wines. Reichsrat von Buhl’s (Pfalz) job was to create the wine: a mouth-wateringly fresh Pinot Blanc, the sparkling wine was made by Schloß Affaltrach (Württemberg) and the red was to be made by one of Germany’s warmest vineyards: Blankenhorn (Baden).
I suspect that the wine was simple relabelled and that it wasn’t especially grown and made for the Ruhr Project, I have visited Blankenhorn in Baden’s Markgräflerland on several an occasion and am pretty sure it is their Dry Pinot Noir that is being used here.
Nonetheless, a splash of German red is always welcome and as the world’s third largest producer of Pinot Noir, it is fast becoming their second signature varietal behind the superb Rieslings originating from just upriver.
The wine has a bright cherry reds colour with a clear-grey hue at the rim of the glass. It is slightly lighter in colour than the Pinot Noirs of Burgundy and the new world.
With thick earth on the nose, a puff of smoke and then bright red berries: this wine wasn’t going to come from anywhere but Germany. There was a slightly acidic note that suggested gooseberry and grapefruit and this combined with mineral, red fruit and black pepper certainly made an interesting impression.
Thick cassis, raspberry and even strawberry came through in the taste with a feel of toasty minerals, lemon and strong black pepper. Smoke was also apparent and there were pleasant tannins towards to finish that closed the whole experience appropriately.
A great example of German red. It’d be unrealistic to give this wine a great mark because, even though Blankenhorn and Baden produce some of Germany’s best red: they still have a way to go. This earthy sense in the wine isn’t unpleasant but it does bring with it a sense of the grapes not having been quite finished before they were picked, crushed, fermented and bottled. However, this is a good Pinot Noir and I’m looking forward to enjoying its big brother in a few days: a Pinot Noir, aged in Barrique using only the vineyards best vines. 7.9/10 points.
Puisseguin Saint-Émilion AOC – Merlot Cuvee - 12,99€ Casa del Vino, Essen-Bredeney (DE)
There are some wines that appear too good to be true and when I saw a tiny appellation St. Émilion wine for sale at a newly-discovered designer wine handler around the corner, I had to have it. For less than 13€ and with one of the biggest names in Bordeaux printed on the label: Rothschild, I thought it was a wine I had to try.
And it was okay, unfortunately it was also nothing to write home about: a good Merlot but it lacked too much in character for me to want to buy it again. I’ve had other, better claret from Baron Edmond de Rothschild for less money.
As one of the satellites of the world-famous St. Émilion vineyards, Puisseguin is a tiny appellation of Bordeaux where only reds are made. This one was made of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc – a classic right-bank cuvee.
The wine was ruby red in colour with a clear-light pink hue.
The Merlot worked its magic and the nose was full of juicy red and black berries. Especially noticeable were the strong senses of both cassis and even raspberry – something I rarely pick up in Bordeaux. The wine had a deep mineral sense that only came through after a while in the glass and had, on the whole, a fairly new-world feel to it.
The red fruits did appear but they were almost immediately replaced by strong, mineral-loaded tannins that made me think either the wine was too young to be drinking or it wasn’t quite correctly balanced. A slight sense of tobacco and tar came through although the red berries did reappear shortly before the finish.
Altogether the wine was a good Merlot and a fitting example of exactly how Bordeaux knows how to work with Merlot better than most other areas of France and Europe. The wine was, however not particularly well balanced – I was expected tannin for a 2008 wine but not so much that the fruit was almost extinguished after a split-second: the wine was especially decanted for more than half an hour before tasting. If you’re not looking at spending a fortune, go for the more northerly appellations of the right bank for decent merlot-based wines. 7.6/10 points
-Sud de France
-Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder)
-Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder)
-Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling)
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
-Medium / off-dry
-Brut Zero/ Brut Nature
-Medium / off-dry