You have got to love this wine. Rainer Lingenfelder (seen here in black to match his Vineyard Creatures SmartCar with the team at Oddbins Covent Garden store in London) is a great ambassador for German wine – low key, low prices but not low quality. And his new series of Vineyard Creatures wines and labels are a delight, an extension of his hugely successful Bird Label Riesling, all painted by someone (see details below) with Uccello in mind but a huge sense of humour. So we see the zesty 2002 Mosel Riesling (all the other wines are from the Pfalz) labelled with a fish against a sort of William Morris wallpaper background, an ultra-fruity 2003 Gewurztraminer with a hare, an almost unbelievably sweet Morio Muskat with a bee, a 2003 Riesling with a generic but finely drawn bird, a 2002 fruity red Dornfelder with a rabbit and this extremely toothsome Pinot Grigio (aka Grauburgunder) with an owl.
All the wines have screwcaps and are available in Oddbins stores in the UK for between £5.49 and £6.99. This well-priced Pinot Grigio is designed to be drunk with food, and surely has at least some malolactic ferment character. It's a full 13% alcohol and a honeyed nose bursting with fruit. There's much more fruit here than in most Italian versions at the same price (£5.99), plus great packaging. To find out more, visit www.lingenfelder.com, one of the friendlier wine sites which includes lots of useful information about importers elsewhere in the world.
Rainer Lingenfelder was recently in the UK in his SmartCar in full Vineyard Creatures livery and intends to visit every single Oddbins store by the end of February. I asked him for more details about the new range and this was his information-rich reply:
The PG has some "unintentional" malolactic fermentation, but as the acidity was not high anyway and the alcohol was, on the other hand, already way up (13.3 per cent) we felt a complete MLF was not really desirable in this case. The fruit comes from a grower in Kirchheim (3 km west of Grosskarlbach - Spätlese quality ) and from a grower in Bockenheim ( 8 km northwest of Grosskarlbach - Auslese quality ).
The range is an addition to our strictly estate grown/ bottled line and started with the "bird-label" riesling which I introduced a good four years ago because sympathetic English speaking wine lovers had trouble pronouncing (and asking for!) the true name: "Freinsheimer Musikantenbuckel Riesling Kabinett halbtrocken". I had the label redone by a Californian designer (Chuck House) and simply called it Lingenfelder Riesling but the wine drinking public only wanted "bird-label" - so I put the term "bird-label" on the capsule and the rest is history.
Inspired by the success of the "bird riesling" ( it is also very successful in the USA and in Canada) Oddbins had asked me for some time to offer other grape varieties under a similar label. Finally I got my act together (as a grower it is difficult to find the time to concentrate on marketing issues), was able to get the range going and ship it at the end of August to hit the stores by mid September. This is all very new.
One has to give credit to the Oddbins buyers and branch staff to have inspired this project and are now wholeheartedly embracing it. They fully understood my idea of "natural vineyard flavours" (with the exception of the Dornfelder none of the wines is chaptalised) and the diversity of flavours in the Pfalz and let me run with it.
For price point reasons and reasons of availability and scaleability, I use fruit from other, neighbouring growers as well as fruit from the Lingenfelder estate. All the creatures are bottled on the estate bottling line which we just modernised to incorporate a Stelvin type screwcap machine.
Current harvest situation at the Lingenfelder Estate:
We started picking on Monday 04 oct ( a small batch of Morio Muskat was picked earlier ) and are done with Sylvaner (Kabinett), Müller-Thurgau (Kabinett ) and Dornfelder ( 82 Oechsle, will be chaptalised ). This is exactly one month later than last year when we already started on 03 sep. Although we are later, the fruit looks very good and the ripening is progressing fast - Spätburgunder and Riesling in the sandy, lower-yield soils have surpassed the 90 Oechsle mark while maintaining a good acidity. After a very, very dry summer (2003 was very dry too !) , we finally had some rain the very last days of August and the first days of September which really saved us. The later start of the harvest is due to a delayed ripening during summer because of lack of water not because of cool weather.
I tasted the Lingenfelder Pinot Grigio alongside several other Pinot Gris/ Pinot Grigios including an organic 2003 from King Estate in Oregon, a new Pinot Grigio from South Africa, Stormhoek 2004 from innovative UK importers Orbital Wines, and Pinot Gris 2004 Leabrook Estate from Colin Best's promising Adelaide Hills estate. The Australian was the best of these, big and smoky and very interesting. IT too had a honeyed character on the nose but was really concentrated with the smell of some scented herb. Long with some coffee bean flavour and a sandy finish, the Leabrook wine should last at least 12 months as opposed to the Lingenfelder wine's anticipated lifespan of closer to six months, but it is not being shipped from Australia until the end of this month and when it reaches the UK most will go straight on to restaurant wine lists, I suspect. The official UK importer of Leabrook is Arthur Rackham Emporia of Guildford (see the directory). See also www.leabrookestate.com for more information about this interesting new estate and how to procure its wines.
Incidentally, for Pinot Gris/gio/Grauburgunder fans, there is to ba an international symposium on this increasingly popular grape variety in Kaiserstuhl, Baden, southern Germany 20-23 may 2005. More details from www.Internationales-Grauburgunder-Symposium.de