Tuesday, December 30, 2008

early dinns on a monday afternoon...

~ and so I haled Millman out of his urban burrow just about teatime, and we took off on the E is for Ethnic Eats train to the gustatory otherwhere of Jackson Heights...

—our destination was a Thai establishment on Roosevelt Boulevard called Zabb, which Bob had  suggested—himself having been there once with Josh Raynolds, my once-upon-a-time successor in the Schildknecht Department of the Washington DC wine world...

~ this being the borough of Queens, we came armed with the following:
1. a bottle of Pierre Peters Brut which came out of Geri Tashjean's bathtub on West 26th street.
2. a bottle of Bründlmayer Grüner Veltliner Alte Reben 2001 that I’d had dwelling in my basement for a number of years—
3. a bottle of Josef Högl Ried Schön GV Federspiel 06—I never go noplace without at least one screwcap anymore...
4. oldfashioned INAO glasses, which I still love.

~ and Zabb Queens proved downright zizzling...

1. we started with Tom Kha Kai—which was as beautifully balanced as I’ve ever had this soup, both very succulent and a bit on the spicy side, with the flavours flowing seamlessly into one another.

2. then followed a noodle dish with bits of pork and crab, finished with nuts and lime, harmless and pleasant. By this time we were enjoying the champagne more than somewhat.

3. third in the batting order came grilled squids with green chillies served over iceberg lettuce. It’s very gratifying to note how well the fresh crunch of iceberg fits into the Thai concept of flavour and texture. And, Yummm! This dish was as hot as ever I might’ve liked it to be, and afforded me the opportunity to illustrate to Bob that the only sure cure for a nearly terminal party inside your mouth is salt. Ask for the salt-shaker, throw a pinch of it in your trap, and be amazed at how steadily the discomfort recedes.

4. next on the list was duck Panang. With very crisp haricot-vert-ish greenbeans atop, just the right tinge of basil, and not too much heat. The duck skin retained its identity rather crisply amid the bath of sauce, with just a slight bit of fat underneath. Said sauce was wonderfully rich, possessed a presence on the palate which had nothing to do with weight, and everything with balance.

This dish was the point where we turned the corner from Champagne into the Kamptal, and were rudely awakened by the realisation that although some grüne veltliners go well with some spicy dishes, the younger ones are much better suited, providing refreshment-value as well as complementary flavours. Which dictated a detour in the direction of the Wachau... As insurance against the ever-present threat of a corker I had brought a younger screwcapped GV—a Federspiel 06 from Josef Högl in Spitz, a really vivid and frisky potation which I had sold loads of to Cookshop where it got poured by the glass until they just ran out of it—which showed significantly better than the older and grander Bründlmayer in this culinary context.

5. then came the crispy fish in the house sauce, which was more sweet and sour than it was anything else, with some fresh veg on top, nicely balanced and beautifully textured.

~ and very interesting to note the progression orchestrated from tingling to total fire receding to the calmer sweet panang to the sweeter and sour fish... my training in Ethnomusicology would lead me to describe it as a melodic arch-form...

6. an innocuous pumpkin custard concoction rounded it all out... or rather, preceded presentation of the modest bill, its approval and payment.

Dessert was indeed sort of an afterthought, but alltogether it gets me after thinking that the wonderful thing about Thai cookery is that it manages to be very aggressive and very delicate at the same time—like a mid-seventies reviewer once described The Who: chamber-music in the middle of a commando-raid...

the Bründlmayer GV Old Vines showed rather elegant and stately after it got rescued from the fiery chapters of the Thai spicebook which made it seem old and tired, and taken home to a more suburban setting. Lovely middle gold—and it's always interesting the way old grüne veltliners don’t show secondaries anything like the rieslings do. This is a wine that even young is not dominated by the trademark “Pfefferl” snap, so that the reminiscences of mature white burgundy weren't too far off base. Hazelnut and fig on parity with pear, and a bit of alcohol... The minerality shone on through to the better end, and the bottle held up well on the second day.

~ but the highlight of the show was the Pierre Peters NV Mesnil Grand Cru, disgorgement date 01 2007—rich and succulent, approaching a generosity of texture that usually either means pinot noir or residual sugar, but this wine was innocent of one and not guilty of the other: brioche and blossom, hay and honey... so much fruit that you had to chomp down to get the chalk... and both of us were please to note that it was capable of assimilating a rather extravagant number of Scoville units relatively unscathed.

Champagne has been a prominent food-wine on my table dating at the very least back to 1990, but it still presents me with new possibilities on a regular basis.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

~ an interesting remark made by the old fantastical duke of the dark corners...

was just reading Stan Gébler Davies’s 1975 biography of James Joyce...

he quotes psychologist Carl Jung’s following observation about Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the conclusion of Ulysses:

“The 40 pages of non-stop run in the end is a string of veritable psychological peaches. I suppose the devil’s grandmother knows so much about the real psychology of a woman. I didn’t.”

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

~ Riesling Roundup ~

... so I headed off yesterday afternoon into town to an event bearing the enticing name “Riesling Fellowship”... which came off rather nicely up in the lovely and expensive ballroom of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. There was a little bit of navigation necessary to find one’s way through the pleasing array of complementary and contrasting flavours, but this posed no great inconvenience...

?¿? do you know the old song, “I went to the animal fair, the birds and the beasts were there...”

such was in fact the case, and not only did I find riesling’s two best American friends Sanderson and Schildkecht in attendance, but there were a number of top German growers on display: Johannes Selbach, Armin Diel, Fritz Hasselbach and Nik Weis. Between the two of them, Diel and Hasselbach have lost about thirtyfive kilos, and both are looking very good indeed. The idiomatic German word for losing weight means “de-bacon-ing”...

Almost all of the retail crowd were where they belonged in a touchy December—in their stores and not at this event—and many restaurant buyers were also not to be seen. My colleagues Evan Spingarn, Steve Miller, Victor Schwartz and Frank Johnson attended, tasted, and likely found inspiration in much the same manner as did I.

as usual, I lost myself among the various German bottlings, and just barely rescued myself from that reverie in time to taste through a very rewarding retrospective of Zöbinger rieslings being poured by the single courageous Austrian grower in the presentation, Johannes Hirsch, who showed multiple vintages of Gaisberg and Heiligenstein reaching back to 1999.

I enjoyed the usual collegial disagreement with Bob Millman, who didn’t like the Schloss Johannisberg 06er QbA as much as I did, and liked the Loosen collection less than I did—we regularly encounter such interesting points for discussion.

my favourite wines were, in no hierarchical order:

Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Kabinett 01
Schloss Johannisberg QbA 06
Schlossgut Diel “Dorsheim Pittermänchen” Spätlese 07
Ökonomierat Rebholz “Im Sonnenschein” Grosses Gewächs 07
St. Urbans-Hof “Leiwener Laurentiuslay” Spätlese Erste Lage 07
Gunderloch “Nackenheim Rothenberg” Trocken 07

perhaps my one top pick was the Rebholz, which showed a glorious combination of sap and sizzle—and then the Nackenheimer. I asked Hasselbach about his resistance to calling this wine “Grosses Gewächs” and Fritz replied that next year it would in fact be so; that his next generation at the estate had been agitating in that direction.

and the $60.17 question: Where does one dine after this sort of tasting? This was easily answered by Mr. Millman and me, first with apéritifs of Latte and straight Black at a local coffee-establishment which needs no advertising help, followed by a trip to Carnegie Deli—where Bob and I just barely made it through a single serving of that mountain of corned beef- and pastrami-on-rye known as “The Woody Allen”, with sides of potato pancakes and coleslaw, a Dr Brown’s for Bob and more black coffee for me. Carnegie’s pickles were a little on the aggressive and salty side this evening, but, davon abgesehen ist alles in Ordnung gewesen...

I was very pleased to learn that Millman had just seen and enjoyed my favourite movie, Ingmar Bergmann’s “Smiles of a Summer Night”, a rather Mozartean romantic comedy from 1955—

— hell, I’m a romantic comedy from 1955: maybe that’s why I like the damn thing so much ~

Sunday, November 30, 2008

~ Aventinus ~

so one often hears the question raised, about wine-matches involving chocolate...

Banyuls is often cited as the most effective, and some people swear by zinfandel. But my experience has shown that The magic elixir, so far as putting chocolate in more places on the palate is concerned, doesn’t come from any arcane address in the wine-world, but rather from a town on the Danube—and not Krems or Weißenkirchen or Spitz or Loiben—but rather a medium-sized Bavarian municipality called Kelheim, some hundred kliks north of Munich...

and it’s a top-fermented wheat beer called Aventinus—a Doppelbock Hefe Weizen—named neither for the son of Hercules and Rhea nor for the saint, but rather for a local philologist. Made by the famous Munich Weißbier brewery G. Schneider & Co, Aventinus has more alcohol than some Mosel wines at 8.2%, but doesn’t finish at all hot. Really rich, lovely malt flavours—bottle-fermented with the yeast still in play—there’s a bit of art and science to getting the yeast into your glass from the bottom of the bottle—this beverage is truly exceptional. And alongside chocolate, I have yet to find anything else which comes close.

below is what is I am sure a copyrighted image, borrowed under the principle of ‘fair use’ from their website, following the link to ‘secret recipe’ which, translated, means “!@#$%* Top Secret!”

Monday, November 10, 2008

~ and another lazy afternoon at Trestle on Tenth...

...this time with my associate Stephan Schindler from California, visionary winegrower Roland Velich from Burgenland, and my colleague & friend Bob Millman...

We went to lunch, and we drank white wine. Real doggone good white wine. The greater part of this white wine had been sitting in my basement for quite a while, patiently waiting for the right gullets to get itself poured down, and couldn’t have found a better set.

Two of these bottles I had hand-carried from Germany, some ten years ago. They both came from Weingut Koehler-Ruprecht in the Pfalz, and dated from the era before Terry Theise started bringing in the big dry wines with any regularity. Back then I used to feed Bernd Philippi’s then-greatest in Germany collection of California Cabs, and would receive in exchange these magnificent and distinctive dry rieslings grown in the Kallstadter Saumagen, a kettle-shaped limestone site (and sight, as well—that really wasn’t too bad a typo) north of Bad Dürkheim.

Weingut Koehler-Ruprecht:
1996 Kallstadter Saumagen Auslese Trocken
1990 Kallstadter Saumagen Auslese Trocken Reserve

The question is recently often asked, how well do dry German rieslings age? Although this experience yielded no definitive answer, it was clear to the four of us Profis that the 96er, although not quite showing as much sheer horsepower as the 90er Goldkapsel Reserve, more than made up for its comparitive lack of weight by showing an enormous agility and vitality. At eleven years of age, it is hard to imagine a more perfectly eloquent wine than this. At somewhere around 13.5° alcohol it imparted no sense of heat; the minerality melded melifluously with a fruit collection that referenced (with more relish than reverence) several lively orchards...

And was the 90er on a downturn, or did the younger wine merely dance circles around it? It showed acid in adequate measure, clean and still voluptuous fruit, some lovely and encouraging old-riesling tones, and a commanding texture on the palate. Hard to say that it was losing anything, but I remember having been awstruck by bottles of this wine, say, ten years ago.

I found an excellent food match for these wines, Ralf’s salmon with fennel—which I also enjoyed on a subsequent visit alongside a Nigl Zweigelt rosé out in the garden...

...and then came a welcome surprise after I asked for the wine-list. One of the biggest challenges I face when dining here with an Austrian winegrower—and Roland Velich is currently in the process of turning Burgenland on its ear, creating a new and finely-tuned idiom of Blaufränkisch—is what kind of American white wine can I feed ‘em? Plenty of American reds, all shapes and sizes, which will prove fascinating and/or challenging to an old-world palate, but white wine from my native land proves itself a problem. (Guzzling Littorai 05 Mays Ranch Chardonnay at Michael’s with Paul Achs was an uncommon occurence...)

...and the answer to this challenge on that date?

1997 Kalin Cellars Livermore Valley Semillon

I hadn’t drunk a Kalin wine for quite a while. Bob pointed out that this was in fact their current release, and so I yielded to my sense of adventure and ordered a bottle. Talk about scrumptious! Oranges and lemons and ginger-snaps with a bit of caramel and cream. Grew in the glass even more than the German rieslings had. Firm acidity and even a bit of mineral underneath. Extraordinarily good stuff. Apparently comes from ancient vines on the Wente estate. To be sought out, relished and prized ~

¡!¡! ~ DAZZLE ~ !¡!¡

vagrant cloud caught in a fluttering stream ~

Saturday, November 8, 2008

extraordinary music, extraordinarily American ~

just an arbitrary selection:

Blues in the Night
Let’s Fall in Love
Stormy Weather
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
This Time the Dream’s on Me
That Old Black Magic
Ac-cent-chu-ate the Positive
Come Rain or Come Shine
Ding Dong the Witch is Dead
Paper Moon
One for my Baby and One More for the Road
Written in the Stars
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues

all those great songs, you can’t quite think who wrote ’em?
Harold Arlen wrote ’em.

on some occasions his own co-lyricist with Truman Capote, he collaborated extensively with Ira Gershwin, Yip Harburg, Ted Koehler and Johnny Mercer...

and out of all the cantor’s sons who found their way to Tin Pan Alley, Arlen had the ear most keenly tuned to what was happening ’way uptown...

many of his songs find quite an exquisite expression on Ella Fitzgerald’s
Harold Arlen Songbook, a current Verve rerelease. Here, in contrast with the elegant and understated stylings of Buddy Bregman on the Cole Porter and Rodgers & Hart collections, the Billy May orchestra is really, really hot...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Mahler V at Carnegie Hall...

...on Monday I night got taken to Carnegie Hall by honorary-ex-wife Susan, to hear James Conlon conduct the Juilliard Orchestra in a program of extravagantly proportioned symphonic works.
Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony followed intermission, and I was very impressed by the passionate rendering of the first two movements,
Trauermarsch and II Stürmisch Bewegt. Very exciting stuff. And then movement III Scherzo fell flat on its Allerwertesten, which I thought was the conductor’s fault more than it was the orchestra’s... it just didn’t swing, and a Ländler’s got to ought to swing... Movement IV Adagietto was pristinely beautiful, and it was perhaps just an illusion from sitting in the orchestra section of Carnegie that made the harps sound a little too loud... Personal triumph for me was that I didn’t think of Dirk Bogarde dying on the beach until after I was out of the concert... Movement V Rondo got run a bit ragged by a band that was slightly beat, although it remained stirring and proud.
All in all I found Conlon at the bat to feel a bit foursquare, but I will take any opportunity to hear this music. It remains complex and challenging to players and interpreters at one hundred years of age, reveals its depths in no hurry over the decades I’ve had it in my life, and reminds one that the listener has responsibilities as well.

a couple exceptional wines at Forge...

...so had dinner down in Tribeca with the lovely and companionable Cynthia Sexton on Wednesday night, enjoying the flavours of Marc Forgione, along with two bottles that weighed in somewhere between outstanding and
The first of these was my bright idea. Knowing that Cynthia willingly dines fizz-first I had already ordered a bottle of Pierre Moncuit Cuvée Delos, Grand Cru Mesnil by the time she got decanted out of her taxicab—this was a bottle that didn’t get hurried out of Champagne and shoved on to a boat, so in addition to the expected exuberance and depth, the lemon and grapefruit explosion, there were wonderful mineral tones, and an expansive body underneath with a bit of dough and satisfying yellow fruits. Deluscious by itself, it fared well alongside a slightly citric grilled octopus with various mushrooms and contrasting greens.
Our second bottle was chosen by sommelier Matthew Conway, who sympathised with a certain amount of indecision over what colour wine to drink with the combination of veal medallions and sweetbreads that we’d both ordered. We chose this special for all the wrong reasons, mainly that the chap who was sitting at the adjacent table when we arrived—who pitched his Blackberry to the floor via my lap as he was extricating himself from his seat— remarked in passing how much he hadn’t liked the veal medallions with sweetbreads—but I couldn’t help but notice that he was also slightly polluted (although in no way personally unpleasant) so perhaps not in the best shape to judge fine flavours... We consulted the server, asked her opinion, were given a most articulate defense of said menu item, and decided both to order this dish in solidarity with her and the house—whereby we indulged in a bit of contrariness with no victim, and were fed excellent veal as a result. So what to drink? Agonised over the ’90 Olga Raffault Chinon Picasses, but let Matthew choose, and were rewarded with his pick of a 2006 Mas Daumas Gassac blanc, which showed itself to be a totally splendid olofactorama... It got sloshed into a decanter and sat off ice on the table for the better part of an hour as the aromatix just continued to develop. Grown from various vines of viognier, chardonnay, chenin blanc and gros manseng, each whiff of the stuff out of big burgundy glasses ventured farther and farther off the beaten track—continuing the pineapple theme of the champagne, but reaching fuurther beyond into the realms of mango and candied peach... the wine’s presence on the palate was substantial without being heavy, showed a very nice and finely tuned texture.

Monday, October 27, 2008

the national pass-time...

in spite of the fact that it might get me accused of wanting to be on the side that’s winning, I shall go on record preferring the Phillies, for the sole reason that they are the only ball-club I know of that was named for a cigar. Also I very much like the fact that their pitcher hit a home-run last night...

Monday, September 22, 2008

a couple noteworthy visits in the Rheingau

I took advantage of the fact that I’m not currently selling anything German to tag along with David Schildknecht for a couple days, and revisit some notable addresses along the Rhein. And I don’t really care to act as bearer of tough tidings—it is far too easy for any would-be Cassandra to end up coming off as Chicken Little—but the entire parade did get severely rained-on while I was there—making 2008 in this part of the world somewhat of a wait-and-see how-much-it-dries-out proposition.

Two estates in particular stood out for the quality of the 2007 rieslings: Weingut Johannishof and Weingut August Kesseler.

It was particularly rewarding to sit with Johannes Eser and his father Hans-Hermann over a plate of Pfifferlingen at their Hoffest and exchange news and opinions with Christian Witte from Schloß Johannisberg about the latest developments—some concerning the use of native oak in the cellars—in this storied Anbaugebiet. I had forgotten—or perhaps hadn't ever learned—that Papa Eser had done an étage at Muré in Alsace, long before it was customary for German winemakers to cross that particular border. And I think it was David who said that Muré has recently gotten official permission to plant a few rows of syrah... plus ça change, plus ça change...

The 1992 Johannisberger Klaus Spätlese that we drank at the dinner table was particularly fine, and has matured gracefully. And there were some rather lovely offerings from 07, which got tasted in detail—the first vintage in quite a while that each Prädikat has found its way onto the label here at the Johannishof. Wines that I particularly liked were 1. Geisenheimer Kläuserweg Spätlese Trocken: finely textured with lovely minerality... 2. Johannisberger Hölle Erstes Gewächs: very round and luxuriant with satisfying depth, pineapples and pears with a nutty spiciness nicely integrated, profits from having as much residual sugar as the law will allow... 3. Kabinett "V": elegant and expressive, peaches and pears, nicely integrated mineral strands, citrus finish aromatix... 4. Johannisberger Klaus Spätlese: minerally magical, stone fruit, with finely tuned acids... 5. Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Spätlese: holy show! what a mouthfull... the 2007 Eiswein was picked on 22 December from Johannisberger Goldatzel, and wasn't as agressive to taste as one might imagine... BA and TBA came out of Berg Rottland...

I’ve been visiting with the Eser family since my first trip to the Rheinland in 1988, but I had only been once previously to visit August Kesseler in Assmannshausen, and that was to taste the 2002 vintage five years ago. My notes from that trip reveal that we tasted the rieslings before the spätburgunder, and I am pleased to report that on this occasion the reds were presented first. Kesseler spent a great deal of time with us, and took us on a tour of the vines above Lorch and Lorchhausen, sites I'd not yet seen... Also noteworthy was Herr Kesseler’s stated opinion that ’02 was the last classic vintage for spätburgunder in his neighbourhood.

Highlights of the tasting were the 06 Spätburgunder Cuvée Max, which likely profited from the fact that we were shown no Höllenberg or Berg Schloßberg spätburgunders. This wine presented a lovely mouthful of blueberries, spiced with a bit of charcutérie, nice body and lovely balance. Kesseler got Erstes Gewächs out of both Berg Roseneck and Berg Schloßberg in 07—and I am always fascinated to try vineyards side-by-side: 1. Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck Erstes Gewächs: nose stony and resinous, rich and meaty on the palate, rather elegant with a good shot of residual sugar, very nicely textured... 2. Rüdesheimer Berg Schloßberg Erstes Gewächs: very round aromatic impression of honeysuckle and honey, creamy rich, peachy-pearsy on the palate, spicy finish aromatix... 3. Rüdesheimer Bischofsberg Spätlese Goldkapsel: great density without much perceptible weight to it. how does he do that? very eloquent expression of peach and vanilla. rich and nicely textured; good acid. 4. Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck Auslese Goldkapsel: magically transparent texture—perfumed and elegant... 5. Rüdesheimer Berg Schloßberg Auslese Goldkapsel: quite a mouthful, grander but still elegant. beautifully floral with a stone-fruit substance... 6. Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck Beerenauslese Goldkapsel: not lacking for density or chew, but once again elegant, dark flavours coupled with lychee and mango, wonderful length with citrusy finish aromatix... and then there were three Trockenbeerenauslese Goldkapsel: Lorcher Schloßberg, Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck and Berg Schloßberg...

So, especially good news for the sweet tooth!

Friday, August 29, 2008


the glass, it sat like this in my bedroom through the night, and I remember along with this image, her—(...ellipsis...)—on whose account I neglected the remaining contents in favour of the wine of her lipses, both setses...

Friday, August 22, 2008

windshield shot, near lake placid

la cuisine québécoise

recently took a drive up to old Québec—in course of which I got rained-on four days straight in QC, VT and NY—and my camping gear never made it out of the trunk of Ms. 6...

enjoyed a very nice meal in a restaurant called Le Patriarche, specialising in game dishes—great attentive bilingual staff—trilingual, actually, because they understood my private and occasionally inventive version of français...

URL below:


Sunday, August 10, 2008

a little ditty about Scheurebe...


not nearly so shy
as the name would imply
its avid aromas
revive cats from comas


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Aaron’s Pigpicking ~ and a great bottle of wine...

So on Sunday I went to Brooklyn— NJT from Cranford, A-train from NYP on out to Hoyt/Scherm, then a couple blocks on foot found me in Aaron Sing Fox’s back garden, under a cleverly strung tarp that promised to protect us—mostly—from the threatening thunderings of a summer storm which had dogged my heels all the way from NJ...

This fine fellow here above was the star of the show, so far as the marquée was concerned—but that which did verily take my cake was a little liquid magic in a Bocksbeutel from Franken, once part of the kingdom of Bavaria, more recently one of the 13 Anbaugebiete of wine-producing Germany.

2004 Randersackerer Sonnenstuhl Silvaner Spätlese Trocken, Schmitt's Kinder

Do not be frightened away by the varietal name Silvaner, when you see it on of these bottles. Although Riesling rules the roost in most of the rest of the Reich—sorry, the Republik—here in Franconia the Silvaner most often produces the memorable wine. Sonnenstuhl—the sun’s chair, just like it sounds—is one of several prime fossil-limestone sites on the Main river that Schmitt farms... I like this estate because they make an exceptionally elegant Riesling, which is not the usual for this part of Germany. More recently I’ve come to appreciate as well their Scheurebe and Silvaner—not to mention some very fine efforts with Weißburgunder in the past couple years.

memorable ripeness, tropical fruit aromas uncommon to the variety—unctuous luxury on the palate: flavourful flairs of pears extending outreaches of peaches—supportive but not remarkable acids, an uncommon length with minerality that sort of backs-up the gullet within the next minute after you’ve swallowed the stuff...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lunch with Peter Ross @ Trestle on Tenth

...drank two bottles of wine yesterday alongside a typically fine lunch chez Kuettel, and ‘twas friend and colleague Peter who brought the nicer of the two ~

1999 Hochheimer Kirchenstück Auslese, Domdechant Werner
I brought this one, despite the fact that I still haven’t received a satisfactory explanation from the Germans about how Hochheim comes to be part of the Rheingau...
Fill was top-level and cork was sound, but from the colour of the wine I would've said that it was 1989, or more likely 1983. Fabulously rich and rather sweet, but also a bit one-dimensional. Ah well... we drank it alongside a mix of charcutérie and aged cheeses, and a plate of Ralf's excellent steak tartare, where the richness and the sweetness were welcome. That’s something I learned from a sommelier in the city of Orleans some twenty years ago: drink white wine with steak tartare; pinot gris or riesling. You’re not matching the beef in the dish, but rather trying to cope with a somewhat unholy concatenation of condiments.

The next bottle was simply brilliant.

2006 Condrieu ‘La Bonnette’, Réne Rostaing
This wine really didn't have all that much to do with my very tastily done chicken paillard or Peter’s salmon w/ fennel which accompanied it. The dishes provided decently neutral backgrounds for this bottle from the Northern Rhône which proceeded to put on quite a show.
The first impression of this wine which sprang to mind, it wasn’t at all daunted by having to follow the significant residual sugar of the Rheingauer... colour was mellow medium gold, the aromatix were certainly honeysucklish enough, honied and tinged with a bit of spice—but the texture of this wine was extraordinary, the way it coated the palate from one end to the next with flavours of peach, confectionary and blood orange—this is one of the finest viogniers I've ever had the pleasure to drink. The presence and persistence of this Condrieu on the palate were truly memorable. Finish was nicely balanced, good grip and acids, didn’t think too much about minerality, but I imagine that's not what viognier’s about. This was just plain paradise.

I remember my first impression of Condrieu—it seemed to me that in the late eighties the city of Lyon was producing about as much soot and ash as Cleveland and Pittsburgh put together, and I was amazed that viticulture could co-exist there with such a formidable presence of industrial pollutants...

Monday, July 14, 2008


an exceptional bottle of riesling, shared with Cynthia Sexton at the Tribeca Grill...

1994 Saarburger Rausch Kabinett, Zilliken

this one has resolved all of its baby fat, and has become sleek and well-concentrated, and has grown rather eloquent with age. The word ‘Rausch’ means intoxication, by the way, and it even made a guest appearance in American English during psychedelic days, modified as ‘rush,’ the onset of marijuana-induced euphoria...

almost no typical old-riesling aromas, wonderfully fresh fruit, abundant acid levelling off the residual sugar, beautifully floral aromatix, orange blossom and lemon peel, transparently light on the palate with stone fruit flavours, lovely minerality. The sliced seared tuna salad placed no great demands on this one. By no means an old wine, and rather inexpensive by NYC winelist standards, mid forties, I seem to remember...

Wines from this estate can age rather well. On a visit with Hanno Zilliken in the mid-nineties, I declined the invitation to taste something with seventeen syllables in the title, and instead asked for an older Spätlese. He returned from the cellar with a bottle of the 1959 Saarburger Rausch Spätlese, which showed no sign of being thirty-five... How old is that in human years?

Zilliken Act II was played several days later to a select audience, when friend and colleague Aaron Sing Fox took me for lunch to Tocqueville, a favourite on 15th at 5th.

2001 Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett, Zilliken

A different sort of wine, at a different stage of evolution: plenty of fat left on this baby, pretty cinammon spice at the edges of this greenapple contraption. Although I imagine that there’s a good deal of residual sugar here, the acids are adequate to bring it in to balance—what took a while to come out was the sense of minerality that one expects... a very satisfying bottle.

nb: One must lament the assimilation of Saar and Ruwer into Theme-Park Mosel-Land... (although, even better is to listen to Egon Müller IV or Marcel Tyrell lament it...)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Succulent Simplicity

—at the Gasthof zum Goldenen Anker, in the town of Hainburg an der Donau...

on the Austrian roadmap, the letters adD do not have anything to do with attention deficit, or any other sort of disorderly conduct, but rather constitute an abbreviation for “an der Donau”—‘on the Danube.’

and so is Hainburg in fact on the Danube, and not too far from Bratislava, which the German-speakers call Preßburg. The wine-region is called Carnuntum, and in addition to grapes boasts a lovely collection of old Roman stonework, fallen into disrepair.

main course at dinner was a Gulasch paprikas made from veal, organically sourced from an affiliated farm down in Kärnten—that got washed down with some very yummy Blaufränkisch, a 06er from the local wine estate Riedmüller.

That was nice, but the real highlight was the Spargelsalat which preceded it. This was thinly-lengthwise-sliced white asparagus reinforced with a couple green tips, a bit of Feldsalat, a couple cherry-tomatoes and basil leaves. It was very lightly and conservatively dressed, balsamico with pumpkinseed oil—but underneath the surface lurked a couple morrels—reconstituted or fresh, didn't ask...

this dish was simply heavenly with a piece of good bread and a simple but delicious white wine:
2007 Welschriesling from Weingut A.u H. Edelmann in Göttlesbrunn... crystal clear, pretty and tart, with good body and nice fruit.

nb the one attempt I've made at selling Welschriesling in NYC was a resounding flop, which probably had more to do with the exchange rate and pricing than it did with the quality of the wine. So I guess I just drink it in Austria...

and this is not the first time I’ve enjoyed the combination of asparagus and morrels in Austria; ten years ago such a pairing proved the highlight of an expensive but otherwise disappointing dinner at the 3 Husaren in Vienna...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

well fed, good bottle...

...and had an excellent dinner one night in Vienna, at an old favourite. Ever since I have been regularly visiting this imperial and royal city, I have stayed in the same little fleatrap situated some hundred steps off Lerchenfelder Straße, where the Seventh District meets the Eighth. And over the years I have evolved a set of favourite restaurants, all within a five-minute walk. One of these is called Kristian’s Monastiri, and it’s well worth a look for anybody spending time in Vienna.

I dined that evening on a single bottle of wine, which was a Winzersekt: Gelber Muskateller, from Tschermonegg, in Südsteiermark, and it was a lovely bottle.
pretty deep yellow with emerald overtones, spicy and aromatic... grapefruit and pear, bits of lemonpeel; very pleasantly juicy and bracingly dry, with flattering citrussy finish aromatix—39€
... this wine comes from the village of Glanz, and is it then a coincidence that glänzend is the german word for “brilliant”?
the dinner I chose to go with was 1. Cream of olive soup (beautifully balanced between the sweet and the piquant, with a bit of diced tomato garnish—don't try this at home!) 2. an Asparagus-tip barley risotto 3. Octopus roasted with bits of marinated radish, arucola and a bread/tomato salad. This made three-for-three, and was especially a really good hunk of pulpo.

dessert was a Montecristo #3. quite nice...

Monday, June 9, 2008

learning to love the Wein/4

Wein/4 is the way that the Cleverers in Austrian publshing write “Weinviertel”. Wein is wine, and Viertel is a quarter, so it's only poetic that a quarter of the wine in Austria comes from this neck of the woods. (Slow down, boy, the neck of the woods is actually the Wald/4, which is adjacent to the Wein/4...)

Being on more than one occasion impressed with the Hofer Litre Grüner Veltliner, I asked Mr Theise if in fact he had found all the good GV in the Wein/4 that was waiting there to be found, and Terry replied, of course not...

So after spending a couple half hours on the Wein/4 when I was at Prowein in Düsseldorf back in March, I went to spend a couple half days in the Wein/4 itself when I was in Austria last week. Where I rode the Skoda up to Retz and over past Falkenstein to Poysdorf, and enjoyed lovely scenery all the way ‘round.

Stopped for lunch in Retz, and was fed a truly delicious cream of garlic soup at the Schloss Gasthof, accompanied by a GV that nearly took the tarpaper off the roof of my mouth. It was like one of those GVs that you used to get in the cheap taverns in Grinzing back in the 20th century... It wasn’t until after I returned to the US that I remember what Hofmannsthal had written in his libretto to Richard Strauss’s great opera Der Rosenkavalier: “sharf und herb wie ein Retzer Wein”. This one was most certainly tangy and tart, just like Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau advertises... The very lovely and flavourful Rehbraten which followed along with its attendant Preiselbeeren and Knödel—which reminded me of favourite meals in Bavaria—deserved a really good glass of Zweigelt, which it got.

Spent the night at the Black Horse Hotel in Poysdorf, where I had a lovely walk around the place, and happened around dinnertime into a Heuriger called the Veltlinerhof. And found there really lovely GV, both the WeinviertelDAC version, and an old-vine cuvée with a little more residual sugar. Typical pub-grub in this tavern, but there followed a delicious glass of Blauburger. Which is not Blauburgunder, but yet another of those unique Austrian varieties which Doktor Zweigelt midwifed into the world, just a bare year after he crafted that variety for which we praise his name...

Inhaber/Winzer Wolfgang Rieder turned out to be a truly delightful individual, and spent nearly two hours with me the next morning, showing me around the neighbourhood, all the way up to the Czech border—the way of the vineyards and the lay of the land.

next day in Vienna at the fair, I ran into many American acquaintances, including Erin Grace and Seth Allen... mentioned to S that I had just been to the Wein/4, and he wished to know why I was determined to punish myself... Erin was prodding him to at least taste the wines from this region being shown at the fair, him reluctant. says I: “Well, think of it like Communist China. If Nixon could go to Peking in 1972, you can go to the Wein/4. It’s like RMN acknowledging that a quarter of the people in the world existed. Your visit alone would confirm the reality that a quarter of the vineyard-land in Austria actually produces wine. ” Mr Allen’s studied comment involved a caricature of that embarrassed president, which I shall leave to the reader's imagination.

a quick look at VieVinum

glad to be back in Vienna once more, yet another beautifully run wine-fair, couple things to report:
1. Lower Austria whites quite lovely in 07. Perhaps more manageable for some folks than the previous year...
2. Burgenland reds from 06 could be quite impressive.
3. The people who typically make great wine made great wine. Not everybody.
4. What impressed me most:
a) I’m not always the first to reach for Austrian riesling. I seem to like the grüner veltliner better more consistently. But, there was a collection of three 07er rieslings from Weingut Rainer Wess that was exceptional, the first being Kremstal and the others Wachau:
2007 Rainer Wess Riesling Pfaffenberg
2007 Rainer Wess Riesling Loibenberg
2007 Rainer Wess Riesling Achleiten

This is the fifth vintage from Rainer, and the Achleiten is new for 07—very articulate, and resplendently mineral.
b) 1999 Nußberg Gemischter Satz from Fritz Wieninger.
this from the finest vineyard in Vienna, bottled by the
primus unter pares of Viennese Winzer... FW’s patch of Nußberg is planted to some eight or nine varieties—which are all harvested together. This way the early-ripeners provided the oomph and the latelovelies bring the pizazz. This bottle was bright and vivacious, with just a hint of Firne. I remarked to Fritz that 1999 had in fact been for him a fine vintage. Danube had, in fact, just got done guzzling the last few cases of his ’99er Blauburgunder, apparently not caring that Pierre Rovani had blessed it with some 73 points upon release... Fritz’s 2006 Gemischter Satz Rosengartl was nothing short of spectacular.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008



off tonight to Vienna for VieVinum—
shall also have a couple days to look around in the Weinviertel, Carnuntum, Wachau and Burgenland...

one of my playmates thought I was already there, and rang me up at 4.17 EDT this morning, just to say hello...

currently favourite restaurants in manhattan:

Fleur de Sel
Trestle on Tenth
Pearl Oyster Bar
Gramercy Tavern
La Grenouille
11 Madison
The Oyster Bar

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Der Zauberberg ~ Kapitel VI: "Veränderungen"

the Truth about how Wine was invented...

Plain and simple, wine invented itself. Sugar plus yeast (carry the C-O2) equals alcohol. All one needs for grapes to become wine, in the simplest sense, is for the skins of the grapes to break, their liquid to be caught in a container, and for the wild yeasts which grow on the grapes to go to work on the fructose (fruit-sugar) in the grapes and cause it to ferment.

It has become to me, however, a matter of increasing concern to determine when and where this magickal process first occurred. Using a combination of algebra (the only bra in the house since my girlfriend left me), numismatics (always ready to coin a phrase), ornithology (a great record) and necromancy (the english word for Zauberei), I was able to determine that wine was invented somewhere around harvest-time in the year 000000000003.

Ever eager to back up my vivid hypothesising with some field research (and to get away from what has been a really nasty winter in Manhattan), I once more heeded the haunting call of the strayhorn and took the A Train up to that abandoned old warehouse at 4898 1/2 Broadway. I unlocked the triple gate, opened the door, hit the light switch, powered-up the generator and set the Wayback Machine™ for early November of the Year Five. With a bang and a crash and the flare of a flash, I was instantly transported back to a time when there were no taxes, and no Republicans, and you could still find a place to park in Manhattan.

Mid-Autumn seemed to be the best time for me to interview ¡Ung the cave-man, the fellow who actually invented wine. He had just finished his late-season shopping, and was about to settle into his winter-routine of playing deer-antler solitaire beside the smoky fire in a cold cave.... So I found him grateful for a bit of company and therewith in an expansive frame of mind. We wrapped the buffalo-skins tightly around us, filled the deerhorn peace-pipe with something that was not yet then a controlled substance, and sat down by the fire for a long, lovely, late-evening chat—in course of which I heard the following story about the invention of wine.

¡Ung had always been fond of grapes. He had first discovered them in late summer of the Year One. They were not so difficult to catch as the other things upon which ¡Ung customarily dined in order to survive, and he was not obliged to go to the bother and aggravation of killing them and skinning them before he could eat them. Little did he know that a favourite foodstuff could actually aspire to a higher state of evolution...

He showed me the old earthen jar in which wine had first arrived to bless the world. It was that piece of pottery in which he had always kept his table grapes—the bunches I could see in there were nothing other than zinfandel. And he'd just refilled the jar on the morning before The Accident.

Unfortunately, ¡Ung had realised some time in the winter of Year Two that them there grapes didn't grow on the vine all through the winter, so it really helped to have a smoked musk-ox, a salted loin of mastodon and some wild-boar prosciutto tucked away in the pantry for those short days when winter winds howled wild, when the frost-giant Thrym and his snow-demon backup-band blew into town from Saskatchewan.

So. The Accident. ¡Ung had just gone out a-hunting. Good day for it, crisp and clear... He had just put paid to a huge and handsome Ferocious Wild Pig, and was feeling mighty pleased with his skill and hunterly prowess. He then had the added good fortune to saunter ‘round the bend and see some remote ancestress of Scarlet Johannison swimming nekkid in the local waterhole. Doing the back-stroke, as a matter of fact. This vision caught his attention no little, and by the time she climbed out of the water, he was in fact staring rather more than less, and his eyes were just full of beach-flesh. So much so, in fact, that he failed to hear the approach of the recently widowed Mrs Ferocious Wild Pig until it was way too late do do much of anything about it except turn ‘round and invent the very first cuss-word.

If you ever read the Sunday funnypaper back in the nineteen-sixties or so, back when the only Google was the one named Barney, he shared a comic strip with a chap named Snuffy Smith... And sometimes in the course of these bucolic events, the local wild boar ‘Ol Snort goes on a rampage and tears up the entire county in the course of two panels.... Even this evocation does no justice to the calamity that befell our dear friend ¡Ung at this moment. Mrs F~W~P grunted, snorted, squealed, charged and hooked a gnarly tusk into his tender parts and gave a mighty toss of her porcine head. Which sent poor ¡Ung sailing off in to the distance. He had no sooner landed with a flop on the ground when she reappeared long enough to kick him a good one on the ‘ol coconut and trample him half to death, before going off in search of a third husband. (He first hubby, Mister Crashing Boar, had also fallen prey once upon a time to the clever caveman's deft and deadly spearmanship. My friend the Witch Doctor tells me that revenge is a form of nostalgia...)

When the dust settled, our boy ¡Ung was slightly amazed to find himself still among the living. Whereupon he counted his fingers, his toes, and all other important parts, relieved to find that everything was still attached. It wasn't until he began to struggle to his feet, that he realised he was about to leave his guts on the ground, and that there was a very angry eight-inch divot torn out of his belly. And long about then he began to notice that it was starting to smart more than somewhat. There was nothing poor ¡Ung could do but collect his insides and replace them as well as he might. He crawled onto his back under the shelter of a bush into a ditch, and commenced to do some serious excrutiating.

Well, if ol’ ¡Ung hadn't had his waterskin slung over his shoulder before the catastrophe, he were a goner. As it was, he was extraordinarily fortunate not to expire from the wounds of this injury, or from further woes inflicted by other fourlegged beasties. There was nothing else he could do but to lie there, and wait patiently to either live or croak... And it took about a third of the new moon before the rent in his tum-tum had healed sufficiently for him be able to crawl the three thousand yards back to Cave-Sweet-Cave.

When he rearrived
chez lui he was one half-dead cave-man. But he couldn’t help but notice a wonderful aroma, which sprang to his nostrils the moment he pulled aside the buffalo-hide door. He very quickly traced these heavenly emanations back to their source, which was none other than his old earthen grape-jar. He lost no time in devouring what remained of the grapes, after which he went for the litre of liquid left collected in the bottom of the jar. Which tasted mighty mighty fine indeed, after ten days of nothing nothing nothing but stale water out of an otter-skin. Mighty fine.

Was it just his imagination? Did life not seem so grim to him as it had done but a few short moments before? His hastily-carved supper of air-cured woolly bison certainly tasted better when washed down with the grape-smoosh-blood. And for some strange reason, his recently mistreated anatomy was not causing him the same degree of distress as it had done earlier that day. Nothing, in fact, was quite so bad as it had immediately previously seemed to be.

¡Ung scratched his head, decided not to worry about it, curled up by the fire, snored like a steamshovel, dreamt about springtime: slept good and late...

In the morning he shook the cobwebs out of his head, put a pot of coffee on the fire, and began to write up the very first Futures Offering.

James Wright 2004 (AD)

Congratulations, Aldo!

was reading Die Presse online this morning, being on my way to Vienna, and I saw that Aldo Sohm (late of Wallse, currently in office at Le Bernardin) just won the World Championship at the Sommelier Competition in Rome. Excellent news! A lovely individual, with a great passion for what he does...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Victory Lap Dance

the Wrecking Crew tackles Germany…

So it was a lot of work, but we proved ourselves equal to the task. My friends Aaron and Marie and I crammed ourselves and two of our better customers—one resto, one retail—into a new MB station wagon, and set off to see the sights of Germany. Is five a lucky number? Or just a handful? And does three-times-five have any special meaning, as in: five people, five regions, five days? Or is it just too much for two hands to hold? The silver station wagon got parked on our first night under a tree in front of Weingut Hans Lang in Hattenheim, where a family of birds turned out to be diligently digesting… ‘twas a comic sight to see the next morning…

There were two thoughts I had in mind whilst organising this trip. Since I was travelling with four people who had not yet been on a wine-tasting tour of Germany, there were a couple points I wanted to make:
1. Although Riesling is by far the finest and most noble grape grown in Germany, there is much else growing on vines which produces fine and idiomatic wine, most notably Spätburgunder, Weißburgunder and Silvaner.
2. Although Rheingau and Mosel are the most storied and famous of the wine-growing regions, they represent by no means the entire picture.
3. Incidental to this, the regional cuisine can be quite satisfying.
4. NB there’s not much of a regional cuisine in the Mosel… It’s always been “wine for wine’s sake” territory

An added impetus to make the trip at this point was provided by the rather marvelous wines of the 2007 vintage in Germany. There were not so many seventeen-syllable extravaganzas bottled as were produced in 03 and 05, but the good growers made lovely elegant Spätlesen and Auslesen, big expressive dry wines—and even some yummy Kabinett, which has recently been a sore and frayed spot in the fabric of German wine-culture.

Regional cuisines showed rather as promised, including some pretty delicious asparagus—although when we first landed, the Spargel season had been delayed by weather, and it looked like my promise and big buildup would turn out to be nothing but a tease. But as we proceeded further south, there was plenty of white asparagus to be had, and my companions soon began to appreciate what I’d been talking about.

First stop on our whirlwind tour took place right after we landed, some forty-five minutes down the highway at Weingut Fürst zu Löwenstein, in the little Rheingau town of Hallgarten. The proprietor’s real name is Carl Friedrich Erbprinz zu Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg, so in the spirit of “simplify” which has become in recent years a theme of the changing German wine-culture, he is colloquially known as Leo. Leo’s got a new winemaker, Frau Friederike Voigtländer, a Winzerin from the Nahe, who started working with the current vintage. Although the recently departed Robert Haller gives her a hard act to follow, she couldn’t have made a better debut. There are lovely 07s not too far down the line for us, including a really delicious Kabinett. We got a good look at the vineyards which gave Löwenstein its turboboosted entrée to the upper echelons of German wine, when in the late nineties they took back the production of vineyards which they had leased to Schloss Vollrads for the previous twenty years. Included is a very special site called the Hendelberg, which is planted in Urgestein—that conglomeration of quartzite and granulite more frequently associated with Wachau than Rheingau. Situated uphill in a cooler spot, it’s recently become warm enough to produce some remarkable raw material. We were greeted in the tasting room by a delicious spread of cold-cuts (mostly the product of winegrowers defending their vines against the rampaging Wildschwein) and the local Spundkäs. Fresh bread that is the daily staff of life in Europe, but still a luxury in America, completed the picture. Oh, yes, and wine for lunch! Of particular interest is the dry Estate riesling, the Riesling Erstes Gewächs “Hallgartner Schönhell” and a very fine Rheingau version of pinot noir, the Hallgartner Schönhell Spätburgunder Spätlese Trocken. Here we felt quite content to combine tasting duties with a welcome meal after a long flight.

Hans Lang produces delicious Rieslings and Spätburgunders out of the best sites in Hattenheim… This town, the second on our tour, lay just a couple kilometers down the hill from Hallgarten, though the wines are marked by significant changes in the soil, most notably the emergence of gravel and slate as one gets down closer to the Rhine. Lang’s 06 Charta Riesling is very fine, and shows bright fruit and crisp acids. (The other important Charta Riesling in the local market comes from the Johanneshof, which is distributed by our colleagues at Lauber Imports. I tasted it the other day at their portfolio show, and it describes the perfect expression of the difference between Johannesberg and Hattenheim—it’s leaner and more elegant, a little drier—while the Lang shows more ostensible flavour and power in an equally polished package.) The 07 Lang Liter Riesling is as reliable as any, and better than most. Hans took us downstairs and led us through tank samples of the latest vintage, pouring us tastings of lots that were tantilisingly delicious in some way, while incomplete in others, even as he explained that we would get to try the harmonised, blended versions on the morrow. Which we did in due course, and it proved very instructive. Of special interest are the single vineyard Riesling “Vom Bunten Schiefer”, which means ‘from coloured slate’, and the Erstes Gewächs “Hattenheim Wisselbrunnen”. There are a couple different Spätburgunders which come from this estate, which shortly got sampled in the course of action, when Hans and Gabi took us to dinner at their vinotheque, which is about five minutes away from the winery by foot.

And after getting once more well fed we headed for the Kronenschlößchen, the local luxury hotel and gourmet-getaway, where we drank some immortally great Rheingau Rieslings—1971 Schloss Vollrads Spätlese, 1990 Robert Weil Kiedricher Gräfenberg Auslese—and made an ill-advised attempt to drink a 1993 Méo-Camuzet Vosne-Romanée Les Chaumes after the Weil Auslese… by this time I was ready for a bottle of beer and a talk with the mattress. If you want to see a really sick wine-list, tap this addy into your browser:
and special thanks go to a very generous Hans Lang, who paid the rather extravagant bar-tab.

Next day found us on the road to the Mosel…

But first Gabi Lang took us on a little detour to Kloster Eberbach, the mediaeval monastery in the Rheingau, which had been so important to the birth and growth of wine in this part of Germany. Our tourguide was a Wisconsin native whose fluent English was curiously accented by virtue of it having become her second language over the course of at least a couple decades… She showed us the path trod by Sean Connery during the filming of “The Name of the Rose”… and enumerated various and many reasons why it couldn’t have been very much fun to be a monk in the Middle Ages. We admired the old wooden presses, and made hamfisted guesses at deciphering the Latin inscriptions which adorned them.

Then we crammed back into the car and started off across the Hunsrück to visit Andreas Schmitges in Erden. Nice day for a drive, didn’t get stuck behind trucks on the Landstraße—what more could a band of travellers want? Food! That’s what… Frau Schmitges had luncheon ready for us when we walked in the door: quite a hearty and toothsome Schnitzelauflauf, with a greenleafy salad alongside. (Side-salad-comment—one of the dangers of travelling to taste wines in situ is that you’re often travelling during the hours where most of the people in the region are having lunch. IF they wait lunch for you, it’s a sure and secure sign of affection.) Well fed, we trooped over into the tasting room, where Andreas led us through his excellent 2007 vintage, which spanned the range all the way from the dry Grauschiefer up to an outstanding Auslese. Here in the middle-Mosel, Schmitges’s motto is “pure finesse, rather than sheer power”… the wines bear this out; none of them are heavyhanded or alcohol-laden—neither are they sharp acidic taskmasters, which is sometimes a danger in the Mosel Valley, in those instances when a wine is finished drier rather than sweeter. Schmitges has found a way to imbue his wines with a little extra texture, more than one might normally expect from this part of the world. At the same time he remains resistant to the trend which he describes as “Rubens meets the Governator”… So, there’s a bit of weight, coupled with agility and grace. But still more of a ballerina than a linebacker. Andreas makes the two estate Rieslings, one being the drier Grauschiefer (the name means ‘grey slate’), and both of which have proven beautifully consistent within the context of vintage variation, ever since I had him in the programme. To close the visit he guided us on a short excursion up into the heights of the Erdner Prälat, where we could see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles… But, truth to tell, the micro-landscape of the soil variants in this precipitously steep riverside vineyard were as interesting as the river itself, or the distant undulating hills of the Hunsrück.

Then on to the Hofgut Falkenstein. Since my normal navigator wasn’t with me this year, I didn’t get lost driving there like I did last year—out in a back alley of the Saar river valley, where actually once the lovely river Miss Mosel flowed, back in those days when the man in the moon was a little boy... I first stumbled upon this bastion of antique handiwork when I was touring with Schildknecht in the early years of the current century, and I was very happy to bring in selected lots during my time at VOS. I am still looking for a good reason why some German rivers have masculine names, and some feminine: der Rhein, der Neckar—but, die Mosel, die Nagold, die Isaar—all rather confusing, that…

The thing that comes most to mind was how absolutely unique and inspiring the wines of Erich Weber’s Hofgut Falkenstein taste. Weber has been in business getting on for thirty years, during which time he has developed a small but fine wine estate, to which he has been adding vineyard parcels steadily over the past couple decades, and is now farming some 10+ hectares. He is fortunate to have two contrasting terroir-profiles to choose from: the red slate of Niedermennig, and the blue slate of Krettnach. Many of his vineyards have never experienced the ravage of phylloxera, and his ungrafted Riesling vines aged forty to eighty years yield harvests in the 20s-30s hectolitres per hectare range. The wines are fermented in age-old barrels, with natural yeasts, usually over the course of a couple to several months, during which time the wines gain a marvelous degree of texture, which allows them to balance the typically high Saar acid level without resorting to a lot of residual sugar. The winemaker himself is a bit of an anomaly, a thoroughly modern fellow who just got on an airplane for the very first time to come to our last portfolio show in April. The vineyard practices at this estate could hardly be more organic, but Erich doesn’t care about certification. He makes wine in a way appropriate to these fine old vineyards in this sheltered valley. Many of you have heard me say “Weber makes wine like it’s 1899”. And he doesn’t really make it, he grows it… (his colleagues say “Weber, you’ve got so much clover in your vineyard, you produce more hay than wine!”)

It would do well, at this point, to consider the wines that have just arrived from Hofgut Falkenstein. In stark contrast to many good and even fine estates, Erich Weber made a masterpiece out of a vintage that was often more of a disasterpiece, a vintage that Weber described as “great and crazy—winter till June— rain, rot and fog, and it took three times the effort.” So he waited for a dry and warm November, till things dried out, and then he picked.

2006 Niedermenniger Herrenberg Spätlese—this from a red-slate site, lovely aromas of peach and peach pit, gripping mineral profile, beautifully textured, a perfect balance of acid (9g) with residual sugar (10g) and alcohol (12%), showing a classic presence and uncommon persistence on the palate. Even with the ten grams of residual sugar, the overall impression is that of a dry finish.

2006 Krettnacher Altenberg Spätlese—the blue-slate special, this from a site with a little more dirt—clay and loam—on top of the rocks, and comes from the best part of the Altenberg, which is South-South exposure. This wine is finer and more delicate, although the numerical statistics are the same as for the Herrenberg Spätlese above. Beautiful apple and yellow fruit aromas, rolls gloriously across the palate, and finishes in a glorious burst of mineral and finish aromatics.

2006 Krettnacher Euchariusberg Auslese—this comes from a patch of 80 year-old ungrafted Riesling vines. A true masterpiece, a fact and fancy faceful of apples and golden fruits: peach and quince and pear... A finish as long as the name. The tale of the tape is, acid (9.5) residual sugar (40 grams) and alcohol (11,5%)… This wine shows a masterfully eloquent presence on the palate, perfectly integrated minerality and beautifully interpolated ripe acidity. The texture is quite notable, and wraps the wine around tastebuds you won’t have used for a while, my friends…

And after all this, Frau Weber fed us dinner, and we made our way back to Zeltingen, where we checked in to our hotel—which didn’t have our reservation, but, thankfully, did have rooms! I then led people to an ATM, here called “Geldautomat,” to refill empty wallets, then dropped the party-animules off in neighbouring Bernkastel at the disco before returning to having a quiet glass of beer in the bar accompanied by Marie, who sipped her German pinot noir with appropriate appreciation, before she retired and left me to a second quiet glass of beer.

Next morning we were up early and got off on a flying start for Franconia, where we visited Prince Leo at his other winery in the Main-riverside market town of Kreuzwertheim. This estate has been for hundreds of years in the family, unlike the Rheingau estate which dates from the late nineteenth century. Leo trooped us down the street to the local lunchery, Gasthaus zum Stern, where we very shortly started digging in to serious Spargel—and more Wildschwein, out of the local forest. And one must not neglect to mention the fresh water fishes found nearby, like the Forelle (trout), and, very importantly, Herr Zander Vitreus Vitreus: noneother than the fabulously delectable walleye of Wisconsin… (Note: German fish do not swim in fresh water. There it’s called sweet water.) Löwenstein’s other family business is forestry and lumber, so they actually send the produce of their own woods to François Frères, where they are coopered into barrels which return to the two wine estates.

And in Kreuzwertheim we met Leo’s new winemaker, Frederike, herself a woman of few words, none of them English. She let her wines do the talking, and they spoke very eloquently indeed. We got a bit more mileage and info out of Löwenstein’s Scottish regisseur Robert MacGregor, especially about the Homberger Kallmuth, that geologically massive edifice of sandstone and limestone, a two-story split-level study in contrasting rockpiles which is one of the three most historically storied vineyards of Franconia, whence comes remarkable Silvaner and Riesling (Würzburger Stein is the second, and we’ll meet the third on the next page...) One big surprise from our tasting with Mr. MacGregor was Löwenstein’s 05 Lengfurter Oberrot Spätburgunder. This is midrange pinot-noir at its finest.

Then we said goodbye to Leo-san after a lingering foto-op, and piled back in the car for a short drive through construction-traffic on the Autobahn to Randersacker, where we were warmly received at Weingut Schmitt’s Kinder. (Along the way, I explained to my passengers that the German word for traffic-jam, “Verkehrsverstockung”, is just plain too long, so the Germans say instead “Stau”, which is the word for ‘flood’.) (However much explaining I may have done, all of my companions proved themselves time and again very patient with it…)

And we shortly found ourselves at the foot of the vineyard named Randersackerer Sonnenstuhl, the sun’s chair, that favoured site farmed by my favourite estate among those I sold at VOS, Weingut Schmitt’s Kinder.This is Franconia, so it’s not really Riesling country—here the greatest wines are more typically produced from Silvaner—although the thing that initially attracted me to Schmitt’s Kinder was the beauty and expressiveness of their Randersackerer Marsberg Riesling… After I had a brief dialog with the new piano, we sat down to taste. The current offerings are not only impressively proportioned, but also elegant, in a region that is better known for things other than elegance. Schmitt’s have recently added Weißburgunder to their Sortiment, a move that seems to show early fruits of success… Our tasting ended with a magnificent 2002 Randersackerer Sonnenstuhl Scheurebe Beerenauslese—or so we thought, until its brother Trockenbeerenauslese followed hard on its heels… I think I can still taste it.

By that time, young Martin Schmitt had joined us, and he piled us into the winery van for a trip up into the Randersackerer Pfülben, the third of those historic sites of Franconia, limestony in character. Up the hill, being careful not to run over joggers, climbing out and getting our feet in the dirt, then going down the hill, likewise—we made then a quick look in to the cellar before going off to our hotel and dinner.

Both of which were to be found in the majestic old city of Würzburg. This municipality has been on the map for some thirteen hundred years, and just barely remained standing by the time I got the party animals packed into the car and out of town the next morning.

Dinner took place in Weinhaus zum Stachel. This is one of my favourite restaurants in Germany, and is devoted to the local cuisine, using the local ingredients, but rather finely presented, sensitively prepared and deftly done. We started with a delicious bottle of Weingut Cassell Silvaner Kabinett Trocken, followed then by the majestic Pfülben Riesling GG from Schmitt’s… I explained to Herr Schmitt over dinner, that “with dining in Germany, I started with Michelin stars, and then I worked my way downward until I found what I really liked, which is this.” In addition to the cuisine at Stachel, there are some rather rococco and suggestive paintings decorating the ceiling in the dining room, which soon found Aaron with his sketchbook out, and a pen in his paw… After dinner I was pleased to find a pub called the Irish Pixie, which had real Guiness on tap, rather welcome after the Canadian substitute we get here in the US…

And then in the morning, my patient passengers endured a rather long drive to Baden, where we went to visit our friends at the co-op Winzergenossenschaft Königsschaffhausen. I had tasted their 07 vintage shortly before at Prowein in Düsseldorf, and was determined that we not miss them on our trip—even though it meant a good bit of Autobahn in close quarters. And it was a lovely day on the Kaiserstuhl, where the Herren Zimmerman and Henninger took us on a walk up in to the two best vineyards, the Hasenberg and the Steingrüble. Amazing, how several hundred small growers can be marshalled into an effective farming unit, all producing top quality fruit, weather co-operating— Our walk up into the vines was followed by an extensive tasting from the Edelstahl (inox, or super-stainless, although the German name ‘noble steel’ is very evocative) tanks in the cellar of this wonderfully modern facility—which was followed by an exhaustive (not exhausting, exhaustive—repeat after me…) tasting from bottle of the year’s best wines—and this included some wines for which the appreciation might be second-nature to the natives, but which don’t quite appeal so easily to the American perspective. (This being said, I think all who were visiting now appreciate what we importers go through on a yearly basis, trying to select the couple of wines that might be right for our market, out of a couple dozen which the winemakers love all like their own children, and promote like the most rabid Little-League parents…) 07er Flaneur and 07er Grauerburgunder are quite tasty...

And we dined on a lovely dinner in the Gasthaus zum Ochsen, the table laden yet again with local provender, not quite so delicately prepared as the evening before: more Spargel for those who wanted Spargel—which was still nearly all of us—excellent Wildschwein, and for me a rather delicious and gamy hunk of hare with spätzle—American supermarket rabbit might well taste like chicken, but a Badenser Feldhase, the local hare, does not. And we had a waitress who could’ve taken on Jack Nicholson in “Five Easy Pieces” and left him smoldering in a heap on his chair… afterwards we held a quick discussion about there being no nightlife in Königschaffhausen—there really isn’t—and a quick consult about whether to head to Freiburg or Colmar, and headed off to the former, where my dead-reckoning navigation system dropped us off right between the university and the more secular nightlife. No great adventures there, just a rather aggravating parking garage which found my patience at low ebb, happy to take advantage of the late hour and an unused in-ramp, along with the well-armoured underside of the Mercedes-Benz to make a bit of a getaway… but we were all tucked in to bed by four, and ready to head off next day at the crack of noon.

A word or two about GPS—I don’t like the damn thing. Refused to use it. Always found where we wanted to go. Even when the road was gone. I do look at the map, and I will ask directions, dammit.

And next day we even stopped to play along the way—we took Marie to France for lunch—even if it’s not a very French part of France, we did get to see the Tricolour wave in front of the Mairie as we dined on Tartine d’Auvergnat on the sidewalk at the only sidewalk-café in the town of Bischwiller—and really, it wasn’t really only about our française Marie. According to Cornelia Kessler, the way you get from Baden up to the Pfalz is in fact best through Alsace, rather than getting caught foreveer in truck-traffic on the A5… (and this is where Aaron took the photo of me that graces the frontspiece...)

Cornelia and brother-in law Gunter Kessler at the Münzberg were kind enough to receive us on the day before the Mainzer Weinbörse, the most important wine-fair in the wine country. This estate is one of the finest in that part of the Pfalz known as the Südliche Weinstraße—the Southern Wine-Trail. Here the lovely Kessler daughter and her Geisenheim-colleague boyfriend took us on a detailed tour of the cellar and presshouse, answered all questions, then sat us down outside at a nice big table with lovely cheeses and a stellar collection of Weißburgunder (pinot blanc) from the 07 vintage, along with a couple lovely Rieslings and some very impressive Spätburgunder. And we got to watch the Rottweiler puppy chase the cat…

Last dinner best dinner, I thought, at the Sonnenhof in Siebeldingen. Matthias Goldberg is the chef at this weekend retreat, and he’s been just short of a Michelin star for the past couple years. This little town is home to the very famous wine-estate of Ökonomierat Rebholz, which is locally distributed by our colleagues at David Bowler Wine… Dinner started with a bottle of sparkling wine, Rebholz π-no Sekt (ouch! “Pi-no”!…) at the pickanick table outside in the sculpture garden outside the hotel, accompanied by the furious percussive sounds of Marie slaughtering every mosquito in the southern Pfalz as they lit upon the glass… I found the sekt a bit on the woody side, but my opinion constituted a minority in this case. Dinner in the Sonnenhof was quite satisfying and enjoyable—Goldberg has even found a way to make the hearty Saumagen of the Pfalz (a stuffed pig-stomach) into a light appetizer, to say nothing of what he does with a pork tenderloin... For the first dinner wine, we stayed with the local product Rebholz, and drank a 06er Riesling Vom Bunten Sandstein Kabinett Trocken that was not quite so generous as we might’ve liked. (Ah well, the 05er was brilliant, and I’m sure the 07er will be as well… This while we studied the menu…) Then with the first course came one of my favourite whites of the trip, a bottle of Münzberg 2004 Weißburgunder Schlangenpfiff. This Grosses Gewächs, whose name means ‘the snake’s hiss,’ comes from the best part of Kessler’s vines in the Godramsteiner Münzberg, and showed itself to be truly memorable. If you can imagine the dimension and texture of great white burgundy, only without any oak at all, than you might begin to get the picture. Here in the Pfalz, Weißburgunder has very little at all to do with its namesake, the pinot blanc of Alsace… Second course brought with it red wine from one of the neighbours, Herbert Meßmer in Burrweiler, a 2004 Burrweiler Schloßgarten Spätburgunder Selekt. Meßmer has been a mainstay of the Terry Theise collection for a couple decades now, and his red wines have recently started finding their way to America. The wine list was actually a wine-book, and at the very back of it close to the index I found a 1996 Ridge Geyserville (my favourite American wine) for 28€, which showed very eloquently in this international setting, and even wandered back and forth between conveying impressions of the Veneto and those of Bordeaux—for the short while that it lasted.

And then after dinner I ordered a glass of beer, the boys ordered more wine—another four bottles, I think, which the long-suffering (and well-tipped) waiter put on ice for them—and I said goodnight around half-past one…

Half-past six I was knocking on doors and ringing cellphones: “Off your ass and on your feet!” This was the one appearance made by Sergeant James during the expedition (who just then just momentarily took the place of “good ol’ James”) since, during the entirety of the trip, everyone behaved in a faultlessly professional fashion, whenever they were one the job, in cellar or tasting room. And as I loaded everybody into the car for the 75minute sprint up the A5 back to Frankfurt and the airport, I marvelled that nobody was groaning with the symptoms of hang-over. Then it dawned on me the reason why: they were all still drunk—