Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Pinot Noir for Brunch at the Finborough Wine Cafe

When I lived in the Finborough Road hinterland in the early seventies, I never thought this rat run between Chelsea and Kangaroo Valley could ever be the right spot for a peaceful wine tasting:  It's taken me forty years to realise how deliciously wrong I've been, for early this month I fell upon the Finborough Wine Cafe, jutting like a proud ship's bow above the racing traffic. Amazingly peaceful inside, it has a lovely ambience and the sight of good grilled bread and hams set me up for a long session. We were here to appreciate the breadth of the Awin Barratt Siegel (ABS)'s Portfolio of Pinot Noirs, with special emphasis on Germany.The blurb quoted Raymond Blanc who lauded the young staff for really knowing their stuff..... "I have discovered so many new wines through them," trilled the jolly professional Frenchman and culinary maestro of BBC 2. Great Raymond wasn't wrong. This was a riveting tasting, a journey across the world with fine things on at least three continents.

ground hog engrossed
    The centrepiece for me was the Burgstadt Franconian estate of Paul Furst and his son Sebastian, the golden boy of Spaetburgunder who presented the wines in London, also in Badneuenahr -Ahrweillwer the week before. Sebastian studied in Beaune and the Cote d'Or is clearly his lodestar;  even if the flavours of Burgstadt are sensibly different from Burgundy, the Franconian emanating from sandstone and weathered loam soils, rather than the argylo-calcaire of the Cote. Sebastian's two finest wines, Grosses Gewaechs  Pinots Noir Centgrafenberg and Hunsruck in the sensuous 2009 vintage are fine grands crus by any standard - the Centgrafenberg of poised, layered fruit and spice, the Hunsruck -over red sandstone - stronger, of great depth and gravitas. The prices though are stiff, neither giving much change from £80 a bottle RRP. Named German Red Wine Collection in 2011, this accolade has magnified the fame of the estate, the downside of which is the pricing policy.
Sebastian Furst

Don't despair,  also shown was the Pinot Noir Tradition 2010 of Jean Stodden of  Rech in the Ahr, a respected leader in the valley but a new entrant to the ABS portfolio. Fully worth £21, of clear shimmering ruby, a class act of freshness, energy and burgeoning vinosity, this intellectual wine showed that you can make very fine Pinot over slate. And, finally,the bargain of the Tasting was the Chamonix 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve (£16.99) - redolent of delicate woodland red fruits touched by the mineral deposits from the great  peaks above Franschhoek in South Africa's Cape. Surely one of the most beautiful places on earth? Enjoy.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Spaetburgunder and sauerkraut soup - Ist German Symposium of International Pinot Noirs

Sauerkraut soup at Carpe Diem Cafe -recommended

Ludwig Van B & friend in Bonn's central Platz

Badneuenahr's Lutheran Church

The Ahr on a bright

Badneuenahr -Ahrweiler 24/26 Feburary

A couple of weeks ago, so vivid it could have been yesterday, I spent a delightful long weekend north west of Bonn (birthplace of Beethoven) in the Ahr valley for the first-ever German symposium of International Pinot Noir. Badneuenahr is a charming spa town, solidly bourgeois, of Lutheran rectitude, and so seems a natural home to some of Germany's most cerebral Pinots. Definitely wines for those who prefer pure, tense sensations to powerful fruit bombs. Yet these racy crus of the Ahr belong in the same cradle as fine Volnay and Chambolle with the haunting draw of great Pinot, wines you feel rather than analyse or classify, to borrow Victoria Moore's unbeatable analogy. Nonetheless, in this northern clime, Pinot grown over slate does have as strong appeal to the intellect as to the soul.

Arriving late on friday night, I slept in late at the Dorint Park Hotel, as the symposium did not start till a civilized 11am. As we gathered for coffee in the conference hall, I was glad to see two  familiar faces - my dear friend Charlotte Van Zummeren proprietor of the fine Dutch website and Anne Krebiehl, a daughter of Baden who enlivens London's wine journalism with her sharp mind, bubbling humour and fine turn of phrase.

The saturday all-day session  brought all-embracing tasting presentations from producers from every Pinot Noir region in Germany, as well as the US and New Zealand in all their diversity. My first impressions, later confirmed, were that of the northern territories, the Ahr Pinots definitely stole a march over their counteparts from the Mosel and more surprisingly the south-facing slopes of the Rheingau (pace the great August Kesseler whose Pinots weren't present). Yet in the warmer south of the Palatinate, Franconia and especially Baden, the ripe richness and intensity of  expression was beautifully balanced by finesse and elegance - so much better than the quaffable (no more) PNs of Alsace, westwards across the Rhine, where the enormous yields jeopardize any chance of making fine wine from the minx that is Pinot.

The quality of the speeches was inevitably variable. The palm should go to John Belsham, of Foxes Island Wine, Blenheim NZ for his admirably clear and compelling narrative of the different conditions that shape Pinot growing across New Zealand from Gladstone and Waipara through Marlborough onto Canterbury and Otago. Other speakers did not respect their alloted span.One German journalist went, uncontrolled, way over time to give an surfeit of numbing technical detail, which reminded me of his great nation's one little fault - Wagnerian long-windedness. As the acerbic English novelist Evelyn Waugh sat under the Stuka dive bombers in the Luftwaffe's assault on Crete in 1941, he remarked,  "too loud and too long!" In fairness to grand German musical culture, Waugh for all his genius had a tin ear and could not possibly appreciate the glories of Mozart, Brahms, Richard Strauss and Mahler.

We digress. Saturday's highlight was a gala dinner, where most people dressed  nicely but not too formally. Unlike many of these wine dinners (I remember grisly food once at the Clos Vougeot) the cuisine of master chef Hans Stefan Steinheuser was exquisite, the outstanding dish roe deer cooked in spaetburgunder, with rouennaise sauce that had more than a passing acquaintance with duck's liver. The next morning we had plenty of time to taste at numerous tables. My standouts from the Ahr were Meyer-Nakel in Dernau and Weingut Nelles in Heimersheim; from Franconia the lovely subtle Pinots Of Rudolf Furst; and thanks to the marking of my card by Gert Crum, the Champagne & Burgundy authority, Franz Keller in Kaiserstuhl and Knipser in Johannishof ( Palatinate). Rosy-cheeked, I then ambled across the river for a sustaining and deliciious sauerkraut soup at the Carpe Diem cafe in town. The best comfort after a red wine tasting.

More details in the next post.

the girls at Meyer -Nackel
Sebastian Furst