Sunday, 25 March 2007


Cricket was postponed yesterday (Saturday) due to the inclement weather, which was a pity as I'd been looking forward to the exercise. The weekend was uneventful - punctuated by international football on telly and a walk to Lörrach today (see photo). And the clocks went forward. Nothing else of note to report.

Palm trees and daffodils

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

First day of spring

Wake up this morning, however, and there's a slight sprinkling of snow. Just like the morning before. There was a heavy dump of snow late this afternoon, but none of it stuck. More of the same forecast tomorrow. Incidentally, I'm supposed to be playing a game of Twenty 20 cricket in Basle on Saturday, which will be followed by a barbecue. Should be fun!

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Trip to Dortmund

I went to Dortmund this weekend to take in Borussia Dortmund play Nürnberg at the Westfalenstation. The match finished 0-0 and wasn't the best of spectacles, unfortunately, but at least it was another football ground to tick off the list. This Saturday's attendance of 80,100 makes it the best-attended match I've ever been to. Although not quite as impressive as a whole as, say, San Siro or Old Trafford in my opinion, the Westfalenstadion boasts the unique Südtribüne - the world's largest standing-only end holding approx. 25,000 - which is a sight to behold.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007


Ever since working on a vineyard in the Pfalz in the summer of 1997, I've had a weakness for German wine, particularly Riesling. I don't want to get too much up myself here, but, for me, the Riesling grape produces some of the best (white) wines in the world, the lion's share of which originates from Germany. Fact. Forget the sordid pleasures of Napa Chardonnay or the kinky gooseberry of Hawkes Bay Sauvignon, Riesling is the wine we should all aspire to.

For decades German wine exports were fighting a losing battle for the hearts and palates of discerning international wine lovers. Drowning under a deluge of mass-produced Blue Nun and Liebfraumilch, Germany's elite winemakers were unable to shrug off the unfair stereotype of German wine being the sweet concoction your Nan got tipsy on every year at Christmas. Something had to change, and something did change.

Firstly, some background information. The cause of German wine's ignominious fall from grace can be traced back to the German Wine Laws of 1971. Under pressure from the country's powerful Liebfraumilch-producing concerns, the politicians of the time who drafted this legislation stipulated that grape fructose levels should become the basis for judging the quality of all wines, regardless of where they were grown. What is more, recognised grand cru-standard vineyards were enlarged to include "lesser" terrain - the wines from which could legally be sold under the same name as the wine from the original grand cru site. Or, to cite a famous example, the village name of a reputed Mosel wine grown from a 70-degree, south-facing slope could henceforth also be used on the label of a Liebfraumilch grown on a former potato field on the opposite side of the river. Consequently, a grand cru wine such as Piesporter Goldtröpfchen from the Mosel would be tainted for decades by the fact that a sugary liquid of roughly the same name was (and probably still is) sold in plastic cartons down your local supermarket. Frankly, "Pissporter" would have been more apt.

Despite the celebrated vintages of 1971 (ironic, eh), 1975 and 1976, the Seventies were to mark the beginning of the Dark Ages as far as German wine was concerned. It was not until the 1990s that the worm began to turn. Spurred on by a tentative attempt in the early Eighties among Rheingau wine estates to introduce some sort of quality standard for conscientious growers, a generation of winemakers in the Nineties began to push the envelope a bit further. Under the aegis of the VDP (Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates), producers such as Rebholz, von Buhl (where I spent my summer sabbatical) and Bürklin-Wolf from the Pfalz, or others elsewhere such as Haag, Loosen, Donnhof, Keller or Heger were not only producing world-class wines but were also gaining worldwide international acclaim at the same time.

Weingut Müller-Catoir of Neustadt an der Weinstraße were, however, the real linchpins of this 1990s movement, despite the fact that they were unaffiliated to the VDP at the time. The estate winemaker, Hans-Günter Schwarz, is a legend of the German wine scene. Despite not owning any prime Pfalz vineyard real estate in the communes of Deidesheim, Ruppertsberg, Forst or Wachenheim, Schwarz was able to conjure wines that were arguably the best in Germany and the world. Once the éminence grise of the wine world, Robert Parker, started sniffing out Schwarz's wines (and giving them 90+ ratings), the bandwagon well and truly started. At the same time, the advent of New World Rieslings from the already popular Australian wine market also added some extra sex appeal. However, despite being the home to the world 's best Rieslings, Germany offers some of the best value for money on Planet Wine (© Stuart Pigott). Compare the price of a Montrachet to a Kirchenstück and you'll see what I mean.

With the introduction (by the VDP) of a semi-official grand cru (or Grosses Gewächs) quality system from the 2003 vintage onwards, German wine - and Riesling especially - is now enjoying more exposure on the export markets. Personally, I have objections to the Grosses Gewächs system as I feel that the provision stipulating that only dry wines are allowed to have this designation completely misses the point about what makes German wine so appealing. Jancis Robinson, one of the UK's leading wine writers expresses it better than me:

"One thing worries me. Not all but very many of my favourite wines, the ones that seemed best balanced, had a perceptible level of residual sugar in them. They were off dry rather than sweet, and often no sweeter than many a New World Chardonnay, but I am by no means sure that such wines would qualify according to the recently tightened Grosses Gewächs rules which decree that from the 2006 vintage the wines may have no more than 9 gm/litre residual sugar. In 2005 each region could choose its own limits for sweetness which were as high as 18 g/l in Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, 13 in Rheingau and 12 in Nahe. German wine without rules is of course unthinkable but these ones seem awfully inflexible to me."

Terry Theise, the US wine critic whose German wine catalogue is one of my featured blog links, expresses his disdain for this inflexible approach more outrageously and eloquently than anyone I know (please do click on the relevant link on the right as it will widen your perspectives from both an oenological and ontological perspective). I'll leave you will this following Theise quote:
Subject: why riesling?
A) Because if you grow it where it’s at home, Riesling comes out of the ground already perfect. Don’t need for face-lift, depilating, tummy-tucks or pancake-makeup.
B) Because Riesling exists to make food taste better. Compare with adolescent narccisistic grape varieties that only want to draw attention to their adorable SELF.
C) Because Riesling knows soil more intimately than any other grape, and because Riesling is more articulate than any other grape in conveying soil right into your palpitating palate. Go on, SOIL YOUR PALATE with Riesling.
D) Because Riesling attracts the kinds of vintners who do NOT need to prove to you what throbbing hot-shots they are by how neatly they can diddle technology. With Riesling, nature RULES. In the cellar, less is more.
E) Because Riesling is genuine, organically linked to the ground, whole in itself, resistant to fancy-pants machines, because it survives frost, because it ripens late in the Fall when everything is taut and crisp and golden, because Riesling wines are the afterglow of the contented world.
F) Because YOU will be a deeper, happier person when you drink these wines. There’s no ego and no affect between them and you. They simply display their uncanny complexities in a manner so infectious you can’t HELP responding with your OWN complexity; suddenly your mindheart-soul expands and the world seems like a far more intricate and fascinating place than it was just moments before.
G) Because, take it from me, a lifetime of Riesling drinking will make you a nicer person, a better-informed citizen, a finer lead guitarist, a better hitter with an 0-2 count, a MUCH better lover; you’ll balance your checkbook, avoid Jury duty, change the oil on your car every 3000 miles, never dawdle in the left lane, root for the home team and make bread from scratch.

Monday, 5 March 2007

The Germans

Not another image, I hear you cry, but I want to share this gem with you, if only for the fact it shows the Matterhorn painted in the black, red and "gold" of the German flag (see below). Which tickled me for no particular reason, but I'm someone who's easily amused.

The gist of the German article it accompanies - scanned from the front page of yesterday's local free newspaper Der Sonntag - is that record numbers of Germans are making the exodus into the land of Roger Federer and the cuckoo clock. From the Germans' point of view, Switzerland is an attractive place to work for economic reasons. It also offers an attractive job opportunities and a high quality of life. Theoretically, it's also easier for Germans to integrate into the Swiss workplace as there is no language barrier.

However, as shown by a recent survey conducted by Swiss tabloid rag Blick under the title "How many (more) Germans can Switzerland take?", many Swiss are resentful of their northerly neighbours. Their objections are that Germans are unfriendly, uptight and have only come to Switzerland because of the money (as if...). Plus, they're obliged to speak normal comprehensible German to them - the thing that narks the Swiss the most, I reckon. Moreover, according to the survey 36% of the Swiss population believe that the Germans are taking all their jobs. The Swiss economy, however, is benefiting from the influx of Germans, believes Rainer Füeg of Basle's Chamber of Commerce, given that they tend to be highly qualified, add more tax funds to the state's coffers and inject extra impetus into the economy thanks to their consumer spending.

As an aside, I must say I was surprised at how many Germans were in my train carriage on the way from Zurich on Friday evening. I mean, I could actually understand every conversation! Maybe some of them lived in Basle, maybe some of them were returning to Germany. Come to think of it, I'm half-kraut, so I suppose that makes me one of them, lest one forgets.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Eclipse of the moon

More photos from Buurefasnacht in Weil


Schalke lost 0-2 to Hamburg last night, and Stuttgart lost 3-1 at Leverkusen today, so that meant that Bremen and Bayern were able to make up some lost ground. Werder won at home 3-0 vs. Bochum and Bayern won at Hertha Berlin 3-2 in front of a 74,000 sell-out. Salihamidzic scored the first goal for Bayern with Lukas Podolski chipping in with the second. Ex-FC Basel striker Christian Gimenez made it 1-2 but Roy Makaay made it 1-3. Dick van Burik scored Hertha's consolation.

Final score

Liverpool 0 - 1 Manchester United (O'Shea 90)

Friday, 2 March 2007

Steel wool

I mean, I've got hair like steel wool. And it's going grey. Now I feel I need a change and tomorrow I'm going to the barber's - the one and only Herr Ludin on Berliner Platz. Unless I have a last-minute change of heart in the sober light of the morning, I think I'm going to ask the barber for a "summer cut". How short will probably depend on how I'm feeling. But in any case, what with global warming - and the fact that it's irreversible and we're all doomed - spring will soon become the new summer anyway.

Friday in Zurich

I worked with my colleagues in the Zurich office today. On the whole, the visit went alright. I had an inauspicious start to the day, however, because the 7.27 bus never arrived. Admittedly, I sometimes cut it fine with the bus, but this time there were three or four others who had no idea what was happening. Realising that the bus would probably never arrive, I quickly returned to my flat, rang Zurich to say I'd be late and then waited for the 7.57 bus to arrive ten minutes later than scheduled (as per usual). By the time I reached Basel SBB station, I'd missed three connections and the next train didn't leave until 9.07. I finally arrived at Rötelstrasse 84 in the Wipkingen quarter of Zurich after a journey time of three hours.

Work itself went fairly well, and we all had lunch at a nearby Indian called "Curry Dreams". I wonder if I'll be dreaming tonight about the lamb curry I had?

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Tired & rainy

As I got off the tram in the centre of Basle this morning, scores of bleary-eyed Fasnacht participants were heading home following three days of carnival that officially ended at 4 this morning. I was also weary, as I'd gone to bed way too late last night. I'd been watching the live cams from Basle on my computer and realised that 10 p.m. onwards on the final evening is one of the event's special moments: the time when everyone ventures out for one last hurrah until the street fall silent at 4 a.m.

It was a rainy day, too, which suited my mood.