Sometimes I wonder what people get out of fine wine. The cheaper stuff, fault free and full of pleasant flavour, will do for most of us, most of the time. Wonderful wines are like wonderful books. They are thought-provoking and evocative, sentimental and familiar.
I used to drink Bordeaux like that, still do come to think of it, imagining myself in a Pall Mall club, surrounded by characters from novels, a roast beef in front of me, red nosed, fat and the room so filled with smoke, you can barely taste a thing. And so what. All that nuance we prattle on about, lost amidst a sea of smells and noise and conviviality.
Tasting a good size batch of 2020 German Rieslings, my mind strayed to a novel I had just finished, The Enchanted April, written by Elizabeth Von Arnim, an English woman. Von Arnim married a Pomeranian (was Germany, now Poland) and there’s an Australian connection too, as she was born in Sydney. Set in Castello Brown, Portofino, Von Arnim describes a months break with four English women, hitherto unknown to each other. Away from busy London, their husbands, church and affairs, they experience an exhilaration of sensory delight.
This is not a holiday of events, boutiques, excess, assignations or aimless looking, but of spaces. Places to be, not to be seen, and immersed into. I’m telling you this as I feel we have lost some of our ability to feel when drinking. The obsession with matching the right food and the right glassware and ensuring the correct temperature, and all the bother of ‘winemanship’. Thinking past flavours, production details and the pervasive pressure of scores. How often have you felt that you should be enjoying a wine more than you are?
There was a stirring in my soul when I tasted these remarkable German wines from 2020. I wanted to be in my garden, talking with friends, seeing my children playing…. I wanted to think, and to feel and to love. To live as Zorba would, with the suffocating sun belting down “just to know you’re alive” or as my friend Jim would say, “to see the pleasure in everyday things”, with only a glass half full.
The 2020 Rieslings of Carl Loewen, Schafer Frohlich, Hofgut Falkenstein, Fritz Haag and Eva Fricke et al are remarkable. But not for their scores, or tasting notes, for they are more evocative than that. Tastes, smells, texture, sentiment and the fantasy of castles and gardens. Stones, leaves, compost, sculpture, contrasting light and colour, defined scents woven, vistas, corners, steps, firmness, pliable, malleable and us. It’s lovely to drink wines that go beyond the fruit, and remind us of beautiful places, and the burning of our fondest memories. If Bordeaux is a Pall Mall, this collection of German Rieslings is Castello Brown, Portofino.
There is no doubt that 2019 was a great vintage in Germany. Very deep cores of rich fruits, immensely structured and framed by beams of acidity. Consistent, from dry to sweet, producer to producer, region to region.
Light and shade
And for all that, I prefer the 2020s. It’s not to say they’re better, but they have something else. Chisel and stone, fire and earth, spice and flowers, textural and savoury, light and shade. They take you in different directions, one sip you’re tastings flowers, the next apple. Silk and crunch. They are not rich as the 2019’s are rich. Imagine a French formal garden. Grand, focused, obvious. Vintage 2019. Now imagine a dazzling rambling English garden, full of flowers and contrasting shapes and colours. Or a heaving Italian garden, spilling over with herbs and flowers and fruit. Both gardens framed by an exquisite castle of stone and smoke, and earth. This is vintage 2020.