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A German Blush - The Spatburgunder grape and its wines

Grape Varieties

Every now and then it's fun to try something unusual. I try to bear in mind Arnold Bax's maxim that 'you should try everything in life at least once, with the possible exeption of incest and Morris dancing', but when it comes to wines it's good every now and then to step outside the grape varieties and commercial standards that are becoming depressingly similar. By now anyone who's remotely interested in wine will have tried a Cabernet, a Merlot, a Sauvignon and a Chardonnay and many of these varieties, even when they come from different parts of the world, will often taste disconcertingly alike.

Every now and then it's fun to try something unusual. I try to bear in mind Arnold Bax's maxim that 'you should try everything in life at least once, with the possible exeption of incest and Morris dancing', but when it comes to wines it's good every now and then to step outside the grape varieties and commercial standards that are becoming depressingly similar. By now anyone who's remotely interested in wine will have tried a Cabernet, a Merlot, a Sauvignon and a Chardonnay and many of these varieties, even when they come from different parts of the world, will often taste disconcertingly alike.

There's a noble tradititon in rooting for the underdog, in finding something whose value is more in its rarity than in its characteristics. It's a corollary of the respect I feel for people who dedicate themselves to doing something that no one else does, or that no one else thinks is worth doing. It's the single-mindedness and passion that those who plough the lonely furrow bring to enterprises which instils them with something extra that titillates people like me. People who climb almost vertical cliffs to pick grapes for the best vintage ports, pasionate people in Burgundy who keep a single line of vines to make a couple of hundred litres of wines, Sicilians who carry water on their backs to keep their vines from drying up and Germans who grow red grapes.

Just because something can be done doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea to do it, and red grapes and northern climates don't really go very well together, but in the Rheingau they do it. When you consider that this small area of Germany centred on the town of Wiesbaden produces some of the finest white wine in the world and nearly every square metre of land is planted with vine, it takes a wilful individual to swim against that particular current. Yet in Assmannshausen they make wine from the red Spatburgunder, known elsewhere as the Pinot Noir. The Rhine runs though deep gorges here and the landscape is impressive, but there's little area that supports vines and what there is too steep to work mechanically.

Just around the bend in the river is Rudesheim, which has a gentler micro-climate than many. Traditionally it has always produced grapes with a high sugar content, and this gentleness of climate means you can grow the red Spatburgunder here. If you think of red Burgundy you'll find the spatburgunder wines light and even insignificant, but accept them on their own terms and they can be pleasing.

Suggested wine

Spatburgunder Auslese Carl Erhard 1998

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