Monday, December 21, 2009

STERN magazine article about wine glasses...

—just did the following translation of stern magazine's article about the great wineglass taste-off for the folks at Zalto...

Clink! Georg Riedel can convince his customers. Bowing ever so slightly, he looks his guest straight in the eye, smiles revealing a couple of teeth, and touches his glass to the other. Cheers—Clink!

Change of scene: your own kitchen.
Crick! Dry and harsh. This is the sound one fears. Another glass for the dustbin, the bowl twisted off the stem whilst drying. Usually one’s own fault, for not paying attention. Or do we blame the glass? Too fine, too fragile? And in the end is it worth it, the purchase and the price? Is it not just our imagination, that the flavour is better?

Georg Riedel creates wine glasses, perhaps the best of all. His work has been so successful that one either knows—or else at least has heard—that wine tastes better out of expensive glasses than it does out of the normal sort—say, the ones from IKEA. Riedel understands the customer’s anxiety over breakage, as he does their fear of being taken in by an expensive illusion. But he can answer those questions handily—he’s well-rehearsed.

To begin with, he eagerly demonstrates the resiliency of his glasses—he pours Burgundy into balloons—you could say they’re evocative of Brigitte Nielsen, long legged and voluminous. Scarcely have you picked up your stem to toast, he’s brought his glass against yours. Clink? That’s an understatement for these Burgundy-bells. GONNNNGG! is more like it… and not just GONNNNGG, but then the sound reverberates! And the glasses? They remain intact.

Okay, point made. Good first impression.
Now for the aromas and the flavour:
Riedel pours Champagne into a slender Champagne flute and pours the rest of the bottle—Brigitte is still there—into the emptied Burgundy-balloons.
Compare them, please—Hmmm… smells like two different wines, tastes like different wines. Just a sec, says the guest, there must be a bit of Burgundy left in that glass from the previous flight...

Patience, says Mr Riedel. He pours the contents of the champagne glass into the burgundy-balloon. Swirls the wine about. Pours half of it back into the champagne glass. Let’s compare them again. Still smells, still tastes like two distinct wines. And that’s not the worst of it: The Champagne tastes better out of the Burgundy glass. The guest asks, And that’s going to spell the end for the Champagne flute? Riedel answers, Yes.

We found this rather impressive, so stern set to work, to carefully and systematically investigate the wineglass question. We invited the ten most important glass-works to a blind tasting, and asked them to send what they considered to be their best glasses for three wines—Riesling, Burgundy and Bordeaux. Hundreds of cartons had to be received and stored, 600 delicate glasses must be individually unpacked and unwrapped, then rinsed by hand, dried by hand and placed at the ready—and then after the tasting once again washed, dried, wrapped, packed and sent back to the glassworks. An endless amount of work, that was.

Work, that is, in service of you, the reader. Who can now feel sure of the answer to the following question: If the finer glasses are adequately sturdy, and can influence the flavour of a wine to such a degree, then is it worth the expense to buy them? And which ones to buy? Are all glasses created equal? Is hand-blown better than factory-made? And more importantly, can the untrained palate of the consumer distinguish the difference? This is a lot of money—a glass can cost as much as 55€.

All the major glassworks participated. They provided the jury of professionals and flew their directors in at their own expense, from Stockholm (Orrefors), Vienna (Lobmeyer and Zalto), and Munich (Riedel and Zwiesel). These glassworks specialists were complemented by ten experienced sommeliers to form the professional jury. Additionally, to represent the reader, stern invited 20 participants from magazine’s series Wine School—these individuals made up the consumer panel. The juries tasted separately from one another overseen by an eminent judge, a wine enthusiast who took a day’s holiday to participate.

In order to eliminate any influence of the glass’s physical form, making certain that only nose and mouth informed their opinion, the forty jurors wore blindfolds. And gloves, which made it difficult for the glassworks’ directors to recognise their own handiwork by the feel of its stem. In each flight the panellists had ten glasses in front of them, filled with the same wine. For white wine, it was a Riesling, 2005
Geheimrat J Spätlese Trocken from the estate of Geheimrat J. Wegeler. For the category of lighter aromatic red wines, the tasters were given a 2007 Spätburgunder Blauschiefer from the estate Mayer-Näkel in the Ahr valley. And for the group of full-bodied red wines, a 1997 Château de Pez, Crus Bourgeois from St.-Estephe was poured.

The jury considered which glass presented the wine best and most faithfully to its type—in the nose, on the tongue and on the palate. Additionally, they evaluated the glasses according to which felt the most agreeable in the hand, which was the best-balanced, and which provided the most effective contact with the taster’s lip. So that the tasters could find the stems without mishap, the glasses were served on a slotted cardboard surface, each one securely placed.

For each style of wine, each juror awarded twelve points in the category Aroma and Taste: five points for the winning glass, three for second place, and two to the third. For balance, manageability and mouth-feel, two points were given.

First conclusion:
The wines tasted markedly different out of different glasses. The choice of glass significantly determines how the wine presents itself. For the consumer panel as well, these differences were clearly perceptible. It’s confirmed: if you drink a fine wine out of a clunky glass—or out of a plastic cup—you waste much of the pleasure. But beware of assuming the opposite: Plonk that costs 2 Euros per bottle will not taste better out of a hand-blown glass; rather to the contrary, any weakness and flaw of a mass-produced wine comes to the fore.

Second conclusion:
There’s no such thing as the all-purpose glass. Certainly there are glasses that do well with several different styles of wine, which do offer a sort of lowest common denominator: glasses that combine a medium sized bowl with a tall tulip-shape and a relatively small opening.

And how about the ideal glass?
● no patterns and no colour
● large volume, to facilitate swirling
● light weight
● fine balance
● long stem
● thin walls
● no lip

Third conclusion:
Wine tastes better out of hand-blown glasses than it does out of machine made glasses. The professional jury inclined to make an exception for machine-made Bordeaux glasses, which they preferred to hand-blown examples. According to their evaluation, these felt better in the hand, more comfortable on the lip and imparted a more elegant tone to the wine. And even though the consumer panel gave first place in every category to a hand-blown glass, they gave good marks to the machine-made examples in the subsequent places. This jury preferred the heavier and sturdier glasses—particularly light and elegant stems were scored more reticently.

When one tallies up the points from professionals and consumers, Zalto, Zwiesel and Orrefors take the top spots. In one instance Stölzle worked its way into third place. Except for the glass from Stölzle (5,50€) these glasses are hand-made, delicate and relatively expensive (at 30€ or more). And if one considers the relationship of price to achievement, Stölzle comes out ahead. With noteworthy scores in every category, priced under seven Euros, they are the most affordable, followed by Leonardo and Riedel. Here hand-blown glasses—except for the comparitively inexpensive entry from Zalto—bring up the rear.

And not every grape variety needs its own glass, but every type of wine does—Burgundy, Bordeaux, white wine. The investment in glasses is worth it, more so as the price-difference even among hand-blown glasses is considerable. After the tasting, the chiefs of the glassworks returned home in a very reflective mood. And they’re seeing the results here in this issue for the first time, just like the reader.

But immediately after the tasting, one thing had become clear to market leader Georg Riedel:
The competition is most certainly hot on our heels!

Monday, November 30, 2009

~ Foiled Again ~

...and another lovely evening at Seasonal Restaurant in W58 St...

I shall just say here at the outset that Seasonal is a delightful restaurant, one of my favourites—but also a good customer of mine, and even though this weblog is several stages removed from any official journalistic responsibility, I shall infer that such accountability does in fact exist, and state the fact at the outset that I do sell them a number of items: liquid, containing alcohol, coming from Burgenland and Niederösterreich...

chefs Wolfgang Ban and Eduard Frauneder—from Donnerskirchen in Burgenland and Vienna, respectively, have created a little oasis of civility and sophisticated flavour around the corner from Carnegie Hall—importing to NYC what strikes me when I'm over there as best about contemporary Austrian cuisine: it can become rather adventurous at times, without every losing sight of its national heritage—

and you would never know from the intro, but this is actually heading toward a couple tasting notes...

I showed up for dinner with three Austrian wine professionals, and two bottles clad in tin-foil.

...and after fifteen minutes of the wines loosening themselves up in the glasses, the Austrian wine pros were actually ready to believe me when I told them that the first of the two heady reds came from California, and the second from Bordeaux. What a scoundrel ~!

— it was a pair of ten-year-olds from south of Vienna in Burgenland that I had hauled out of my cellar and concealed in Stanniol...

1999 Paul Achs ‘Ungerberg’
1999 Kollwentz ‘Steinzeiler’

These are both examples of the potentially excellent indigenous variety Blaufränkisch—the Achs, from Neusiedlersee, having been blended with Syrah & Merlot, and the Kollwentz—other side of the lake, Neusiedlersee-Hügelland—with Zweigelt and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The two bottles were both in perfect shape, and had done diligent duty during their days and nights of aging in my basement.

Achs showed aromatic notes of dried fruit, cocoa, raspberries and blackberries—had soaked up any oak, and made quite a satisfyingly rounded impression, beautifully layered with ripe tannins and full body. Excellent with a hunk of beef.

Kollwentz, in comparison, seemed a bit younger, a bit of black cherry and less blackberryish—and truly bordelaise in style. It hadn’t lost all of its edges, showed a magnificently complex bouquet, great depth of aromatics, a little more demanding on the palate, but very fine, and likely to live a little longer—

—although given the proclivities of the Austrians to drink their wines young, one might have a hard time finding any supplies of either wine in Austria now.

I laughed neither long nor loud, and so the colleagues were all good sports about being victimised by my little joke—or as one says in Austrian,“led behind the light...”

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Leoš Janáček——Z mertvého domu ~

How is it I’ve been going to the opera since 1972—and eagerly attending Jenufa, Katja Kabanova, Füchslein and Makropolous at every opportunity since ’76—and only day before yesterday stumble into the House of the Dead?

and is there another composer who sounds quite like Janáček? Is he like a hard night in a halfway house on the road to ruin from Moussourgsky to Bartok, perhaps? His music lacks neither root nor branch, but remains unique and satisfying. Even that old warhorse Sinfonietta sounds forever fresh, and his Glagolitic Mass is a sinful feast for the ears—although I couldn’t bring myself to hear it done with electric organ at beloved Carnegie Hall when it was recently performed there…

Introverted barbarity and extraverted barbarity—they find their way to unholy union in Janáček’s operatic setting of Dostoyevsky’s novel From the House of the Dead. This is quite a remarkable work, convincingly demonstrating among other things that the Romantic idiom had not been totally exhausted by Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, and still had some wind left in the late 1920s. The introverted Dostoyevsky and the extraverted composer leave nearly no variety of anguish in the garderobe as they command the stage for some ninety minutes with a work where very little action takes place—apart from a couple very appealing pantomimes, beautifully rendered in this production.

Like most any opera that wasn’t written by DaPonte and Mozart, dramatic motion is a problem in LJ’s works. Whatever the faults of Patrice Chéreau’s centennial production of Wagner’s Ring cycle—and they were legion, although that production was much more effective as a television show than it was as live theatre in the cramped and moody Haus up on the hill in Bayreuth; only the magical hand of Maestro Boulez saved him from utter embarrassment at the time—he does an excellent job with this opera. His vision of prison life is very animated and expressive, didn’t leave out the buggery or the tenderness. Took a dramatic opportunity to drop a ton of rubbish onto the stage to punctuate the first act, then put the players to work picking it all up to begin the second. I’ve noticed this trend for the past ten years in European opera houses, directors putting some sort of motion on stage in order for it to seem like something is actually happening in an opera—notably street-theater jongleurs and acrobats in Die Tote Stadt at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, and a Daniel Barenboim reading of Die Meistersinger with rollerblades at Staatsoper Unter den Linden.

Wonderful job by Essa-Pekka Salonen, managing myriad conflicting bursts of momentum, allowing the ecstatic orgiastic orchestral couplings to erupt in wave upon wave without ever badgering the singers. William White tragic and stentorian as Gorianchikov, while Peter Mattei held attention quite well as Shishkov—all in all an excellent vocal crew, the one female voice a bit of a shock...

Almost frenetic and kaleidoscopic juxtaposition of instrumental figuration, wholetone and bitonal moments contrasted against ineluctible modality, sonorities falling out of a yawning gap between twittering flutes and a sustained note on the contrabassoon... Agitated broken rhythms, patterns and reiteration—lots of noise out of the kitchen—chains and hammers; layered instruments combined in choirs commenting one upon the other... and then there was the choral writing, haunting and menacing. Instrumental melodies grounded in oblique unanticipated intervals, and LJ’s characterismic vocal melodies closer to the Moravian speech. The connexion between language and melody was a special theme for Janáček, and I felt scandalised back in March when the Staatsoper in Vienna felt obliged to sing Jenufa in Max Brod’s contemporaneous German translation, instead of the original Czech.

The Metropolitan Opera orchestra has to be one of the very best. Here, there, anywhere—in the pit or on stage. In the past year I’ve heard them play under Levine, Ozawa, Barenboim and now Salonen— although I would rather hear Levine conducting Boston in a concert hall, it’s truly remarkable how they can play so convincingly well being led in so many different directions. In fact I believe Pierre Boulez gets his paws on them later this season at Carnegie Hall, and that is sure to be a treat.

I am beginning to have a better opinion in general of the Met than the one I have held for the last decade or so. And I shall try to see this again before it closes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Facing the Facts on Furmint

A trip on the track of the old grape variety Furmint can really wear out the wikipedias these days—where once upon a time various libraries would be consulted, dusty tomes wiped sneezily off, and faxes fired away in the directions of Klosterneuburg and Geisenheim and Montpellier and Davis, beseeching council and elucidation, one now just employs search engines in any familiar language to be rewarded with a dazzling array of conflicting information, along with attractive images that are (we hope) in the Public Domain.

This much we suspect: it could derive the name from its wheaten color—the French word froment offers an alternative to blé. Or perhaps the name comes from the Italian city Formia, or might have been blessed by the Venetian princess Formentini in the 17th century. Or perhaps the great poet Goethe is correct, and Furmint originated in Croatia.
Two known facts are:
1. Acidity
2. Alcohol
—facts that become factors facing the intrepid vintner who wishes to tame this tiger into something fit for other than long-living and multifaceted desserts.

Mr F is not too choosy so far as the dirt in which he stands, and bears abundant fruit, although not with any regular pattern. He rises early, but shines only late—for example, in Hungary most frequently picked at the end of October—a well-bred resistance to gray rot makes this possible, though he is occasionally irritated by oïdium...
Furmint has provided the backbone of the great Tokaji Aszu of Hungary since time immemorial, blended with the Hárslevelű and a number of other only slightly more pronouncable possibilities.

Since 1987, Furmint’s cultivation for dry wine has been permitted in Rust, but the name doesn’t currently appear on Wein Burgenland’s page of white varieties.

As a dry wine, we find that Furmint offers distinct varieties of expression: two recent visits to the newly anointed Michelin One-StarSeäsonal in W. 58th St. spelled the end for bottles of Heidi Schröck’s very tasty and tightly focused 07er Furmint—once where it served as an attractive companion to several successive courses, and the second visit when it prepared the palates of Winemongers James and Stephan for delights to follow, along with those of friendly competitor Carlo Huber and ÖWM-boss Willi Klinger.

But it still remains somewhat of a specialty: in addition to the aforementioned Heidi and fellow Ruster Michael Wenzel, a recent quick read through the Falstaff Weinguide turned up only two more rating-worthy Furmints out of 48 growers in Neusiedlersee Hügelland.

Wenzel, in particular, seems to explore the aromatic possibilities of the variety to the utmost, while keeping alcohol in check and balancing acid with texture rather handily.

And then there are the sweet expressions of Furmint—one in particular needs little introduction, or does it? The Ausbruch of the Free City of Rust: it's not about varietal character, but rather the blessing of the botrytis mold which affects the grapes with nearly yearly regularity. There are many inventive cuvées made, but one of the most traditional combines Furmint with the Gelber Muskateller.

And herewith, a catalog of Furmint's many aliases—not every one merits its own picture on the post-office wall, but some will be known to you ~:~

Allgemeiner, Alte Sestrebe, Arany Furmint, Beregi Furmint, Bieli Moslavac, Biharboros, Bihari Boros, Bihari Boros, Budai Goher, Cimigera, Csapfner, Csillagviraga Furmint, Damzemy, Demjen, Domjen, Edelweißer Tokayer, Edler weißer Furmint, Féher Furmint, Formint, Formont, Fourminte, Furmint bianco, Furmint de Minis, Furmint Féher, Furmint Szagos, Furmint Valtozo, Gelber Moster, Gemeiner, Görgeny, Görin, Goher Féher, Gorin, Grasa de Kotnar, Holyagos Furmint, Jardanszki Furmint, Keknyelü, Keresztesevelu Furmint, Kiraly Furmint, Krhkopetec, Ligetes Furmint, Luttenberger, Madarkas Furmint, Mainak, Maljak, Malmsey, Malnik, Malvasia verde, Malvoisie verte, malzak, Mehlweiss, Moscavac bijeli, Moslavac, Moslavac bijeli, Moslavac zuti, Moslavina, Mosler, Mosler gelb, Mosler gelber, Moslertraube, Moslovac, Moslovez, Nemes Furmint, Poam Grasa, Poma Grasa, Poshipon, Pošip, Pošipbijeli, Pošipveliki, Pošip Vrgonski, Posipel, Posipon, Pospisel, Rongyos Furmint, Salver, Sari Furmint, Sauvignon Vert, Schimiger, Schmiger, Seestock, Seeweinrebe, Shipo, Shipon, Shiponski, Sipelj, Šipon , Som, Som shipo, Somszölö, Szala, Szalai, Szalai janos, Szalay Göreny, Szegszolo, Szegzölö, Szigethy Szöllö, Szigeti, Toca, Toca Tokai, Tokai Krupnyi, Tokaiskii, Tokaisky, Tokaijer, Tokay, Tokayer, Ungarische, Weisslabler, Weisslauber, Zapfete, Zapfner and Zilavka

Saturday, October 31, 2009

the end of an era ... ~

an overdue tasting note from July ~

and my very last bottle of 90s-era Koehler-Ruprecht Rieslings from the fabled vineyard Kallstadter Saumagen in the Pfalz—

~ this one the 1996 Spätlese Halbtrocken,

Cynthia Sexton over to my suburban burrow for dinner one Saturday evening, and a dish of scallops sautéed in butter and freshly ground coriander, garnished with carrot and spring-onion shreds marinated all day in saké vinegar...

The riesling perfectly mature, though would’ve had plenty of life ahead—

very little in the way of noticeable petrol—the creamy texture that always comes with Bernd Philippi’s rieslings which ferment on their own yeasts till the cows come home in ancient barrels, some very innocent green apple and quince remaining, ginger and ginger-snap—and perhaps the wine’s only concession to its age was that it offered an impression just a little bit drier than halbtrocken might indicate. 11,5% alcohol, beautifully balanced and still slightly citric— heavenly with the scallops.

Kallstadter Saumagen, named after a local delicacy, is a bowl-shaped heat-trap in limestone north of Bad-Durkheim. And all said, this has been my favourite German estate for nearly as long as I can remember.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Doris Lessing does too have a sense of humour... ~

so I just re-read her space fiction masterwork, Canopus in Argos Archives—
felt as before, that of the five novels, Shikasta is the most brilliant and Marriages the most magical,

but I found something fun in the Sentimental Agents, that I had not noticed before—and that was this:

in the large scheme of things over the series of novels, two long-lived galactic empires interact, Canopus and Sirius.

many diverse planets in each empire, but as we all know,

Sirius is the dog-star.

the Sirian planet that invades the unhappy and out-of-luck Volyen Empire is called Motz.

this was the name of Thomas Mann’s dog.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

~ a—muse—ing ~

there are bad operas
and good van halen songs

Monday, September 28, 2009

Jury Duty ~ Hang ‘em High~!

so all flurry and fluster, getting back in the salad—I mean the saddle—

just returned from a week in Austria, where Helmut Knall of the Viennese publication Wine Times and Walter Tucek from the Österreichische Gastronomie Zeitung had invited me to sit on the jury blind-tasting the current release of red wines—

apart from too little time in Vienna (the tasting took place down on the Neusidlersee, at a resort hotel in Weiden am See)
this was very instructive and otherwise useful. Our jury was nine members from seven countries—in addition to three Austrians and me from the USA, we had an MW from England, an oenologue from Bordeaux, a journalist from Brussels, a Bavarian sommelier, and the buyer for the Swedish state monopoly. Good group, worked well together.

tasted nearly 300 wines in 4 days, all red mostly 07. The Zweigelts were mostly delicious and easy, the Blaufs took a bit of work, but showed great potential. St Laurent suffered from oak more often than not, as did the very modern Pinot Noirs. Cuvées were very successful, and there were a couple good cab/merlot concoctions. Out of 10 Syrahs, 10 were awful. Go fig.

scoring fairly severe all the way 'round. 20 points system, all blind. One (very expensive) wine that I sell barely got away with 16.5 from me, as I found out. That was funny. I gave out one 18 in four days, and plenty of 17 and 17.5—although I am not a scorer at heart. At least it was a departure from the foolish american 100 point system.

and how do you get through seventy heavy red wines in a day? well, a long lunch-break helps, and beer is very important as a restorative to the palate.

overall impression, they have made extraordinary progress there in the last seven years.

dined very well a couple times—I went out to Krems my first day for lunch with Fritz Miesbauer, and a long ramble through the vineyards at Stift Goettweig.
very good dinner with the Neumayer brothers at Restaurant Vincent in Vienna—the bigger 08s from this Trainsental estate have settled very nicely, their Weißburgunder vom Stein suffered horrible quantity losses from hail, but is clean as a whistle—a magnificent wine.

one problem Austria seems to be solving very well in the kitchen—unlike Germany who has not—is how do you allow your cuisine to develop with fashion, yet remain true to its origins.
and the local cuisine bourgeoise is something that I love very much. Lunch with Mister Miesbauer at Gasthaus Schickh in the town of Klein Wien included venison lungs with chanterelles and fresh greens—and a luncheon at Vargas in Gols provided me with my first taste of eel-liver (lots of garlic, smeared on bread)

great dinner with Roland Velich, his wife Dagmar, and Hannes Schuster at Gut Purbach on the west side of the lake. Here the cuisine was every bit as modern as one might wish, while in no way as international as one has come to fear.

although Austrian beer is almost invariably disappointing, my second-favourite fleatrap in Vienna is right down the street from the Siebenstern Brauerei, a brew-pub proving a welcome exception to this tiresome rule.

It was Kurbissaison, so pumpkin soup was everywhere and mostly delicious—especially at Gasthaus zur Witwe Bolte in the VIIth District in Vienna.

In Burgenland they'd already begun the harvest—I xchanged textmessages with Kracher but he was kneedeep in Zweigelt and couldn't tear away for an evening—and the jury paid a couple unnanounced calls on growers that were—in my opinion—better left alone. Gernot Heinrich gave us 45 minutes, which I thought was extraordinarily generous, Claus Preisinger showed us around for a quarter of an hour, and John Nittnaus told us not to bother to get out of the car... (Good for him~!)

nothing much doing in Vienna for music—Guys and Dolls at the Volksoper, but not on the right night. good Croatian restaurant, Konoba in the Lerchenfelderstraße, drinking Grasevina and Plavac my last evening...

other than a little anxiety over a tight connection at Heathrow (very careful about the connex that Expedia sells you in Europe—Heathrow and DeGaulle can prove quite miresome and tiresome) it was an easy trip and a pack of good lessons.

can rarely get enough of Vienna and environs these days...

Friday, September 25, 2009

an important visit in Vienna

this is the Holocaust Memorial, in the Judenplatz.

in memory of some 65,000 Austrian Jews murdered by the National Socialist regime.

a very moving piece of architecture, depicts a library turned inside-out, with the spines of the volumes facing inward—no titles, just a compelling evocation: “the people of the book”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Songs of Innocence and Experience

Actually, my title for this photograph is ‘Unschuld,’
which is the German word for innocence.
I shot it at least a dozen years ago in one of Rainer Lingenfelder's vineyards in the Pfalz.

Weingut Lingenfelder has resurfaced in the market, and is now working with Martin Scott. Rainer has been around a couple times in the past few months, and I've had the good fortune to spend a couple hours with him—and the even better fortune to be given a couple bottles that he'd carried from the estate in Grosskarlbach. Which is smaller than Kleinkarlbach, which I have always found amusing.

once upon a time I played a favourite trick on the lusty crew of degenerates I ran with in Los Angeles. We drank a couple magnums of 1979 Veuve Clicquot rosé, and then a mag of 66 La Tache (thank you Phil Ramey)—but in between, I served a bottle of 88 Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet Ruchottes Rouge. Well, you know and I know that Ramonet didn't make one—what I'd refilled the Ruchottes bottle with was a similar vintage of Rainer's very expressive Spätburgunder. And actually had these not-inexperienced wine-snoots thinking that they were drinking a rare 1er Cru red Chassagne.

but that was then, this is now:
two bottles from Lingenfelder:

2007 Pinot Gris Großkarlbacher Osterberg Spätlese (06-08)
I was on a plane to Paris that eve, so the bottle went home with Ellisa—surfaced out of her fridge some months later, accompanying her lobster salad with sweet corn, lemon and thyme.
Herr Grauburgunder wore the French alias on his sleeve, a very German wine—there could've been no way to confuse this with an Alsace PG—certainly, 12.5 alcohol, but a really nice and complementary bit of residual sugar, I would guess just over the halbtrocken hurdle.

but most importantly, the Osterberg showed a beautiful almost weightless/chiffon-esque rather startlingly light texture. grace and delicacy. which did not prevent it from digging in to the lobster—and the residual sugar provided a very nice lift into the finish aromatics—oddly enough, Ellisa liked it better with the salad, on account of the r-s—whereas most frequently r-s strikes most tasters as better on its own... pretty hazelnut and butterscotch tones, no preponderant minerality, but a wonderful mouthcoating texture—I liked it both ways, but thenagain, I'm easy.

the other bottle was actually a 375ml,

2003 Großkarlbacher Burgweg Auslese (20-04)
in keeping with the vintage, nicely ripe, but without significant (any, actually) botrytis.
had we been paying attention, we would have shared this bottle among two people, but it ultimately got split four ways one night at my place,
and given a hell of an assignment to cope with, foodwise:
portabellos stuffed with reduced and pureed mission figs, prosciutto and gorgonzola+black pepper
and the wine spoke fresh pear paired with poached pear—an aromatic evocation of innocence itself:
pairs of pears, not to mention the challenging cheesepairing implied out of the blue.
lovely texture, not heavy, not overly sweet—around 12% alcohol, perhaps 11.5—pretty mineral underlay, the wine showing the staying power of youth, no whiff of the petrol pump as yet—a very discreetly persistent acidity rounding it all out, glistening bright. long life ahead of it.

...only thing wrong was the bottle was too small. not enough wine in it ~

Friday, August 28, 2009

~ gained in the translation?

I just reread Erich Maria Remarque’s great novel ‘Im Westen nichts Neues’

the vigilant observer will catch the anachronistic and east-for-west image, but, you get the idea...

couple of thoughts—I can never read it without being moved—

but I consider how many individuals hate this book because they were made to read it in school.

another thought is, though the title translates as ‘in the west, nothing new’—
I find the English paraphrase ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ to be much more evocative.
the very best example of ‘gained in the translation’ has to be Marc Blitzstein’s rewriting of Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Die Moritat von Mackie Messer’ into the American hit ‘Mack the Knife’...

among classics of WW1 literature, Remarque’s novel is first fiddle of the quartet that includes Ernest Hemmingway’s ‘A Farewell to Arms,’ e.e. cummings’s ‘The Enormous Room,’ and John Dos Passos’s ‘Three Soldiers.’

the imagery and content guaranteed this work its pride of place among the very first books that the Nazis burned when they took power in 1933.

and along with this reading comes the occasional cynical thought—what do you do, if your first novel is one of the monuments of Western literature, and then you’ve got to live forty years longer...? certainly EMR produced a couple other fine novels, and many decent ones during the composition of which it must have become clear to him that he was neither Thomas Mann nor Herman Hesse, but this début was rather an impossible act to follow ~

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

off the top of my little pointed head ~

in an email exchange with a good friend:

the most difficult task that desire must perform is betimes to submit itself to the discipline of patience.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

~ You've had Pig ~ !

So here is an excellent example of my occasional failure to pay attention.

I took this photo of myself some sixteen months ago, in the Hauptbahnhof in Düsseldorf. I was waiting to board the Super Chief to Berlin, and was taken with my reflection in the windowglass of a train which came in on the track before mine was due.

...caught up in this auto-erotic reverie, I neglected to notice that my train for Berlin had snuck in to the station on the track behind me, until I heard the last call announcement over the loudspeaker. Whereupon I lept aboard.

and as I collected myself pulling out of the station, I had stuffed the Motorola Razor used to take the pic in my pocket, had my twosuiter and my shopping bag—

but my shoulderbag was nowhere to be seen.

I had left it on the platform. Swore. German or English? don't remember. Yes I do. "Fuck!"

Took stock quickly, acted immediately—

got off the Super Chief at Düsseldorf International Airport, five minutes down the track.

changed platforms, got on the Regionalbahn headed back into Düsseldorf.

didn't even bother to revisit my previous platform, just swept down stairs in a flurry—

marched up to Lost and Found

asked for a black Tumi shoulder bag.

gratefully received same from the attendant on duty, who said

"Sie haben Schwein gehabt!!" (you've had pig!)

which means, yabastid you been lucky this time...

cost me 2€ for a windowseat reservation on the subsequent train...

good Viertel of Künstler Riesling, as the clouds and the landscape rollled by.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

quick transplant from Facebook...

German Spätburgunder is fascinating, in that, at its best, it is simultaneously unburgundian while remaining solidly Olde Worlde.

try Künstler, Münzberg, Lingenfelder, Meyer-Näkel, Fürst Löwenstein, Bernhard Huber, August Kessler—these should get you started...

—here, shown riding NJ Transit, is Rainer Lingenfelder, looking even more like Thomas Mann than he did this time last year... ~

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

...what in a name is ~

this entirely superb 1955 recording has been pretty well stuck in my CD player most of the summer—

Dexter Gordon is most dextrously accompanied by Kenny Drew on piano, Leroy Vinnegar playing double-bass, with Larry Marable on drums.

Vinnegar figured among the prominent bassists on the west-coast scene in his day, developed his own distinct style of slapping the doghouse—

but the kicker is, this Bethlehem Archives CD release was remastered by a chap named Rick Essig.

Essig is the German word for vinegar.

ach du lieber ~

Friday, July 17, 2009

¡!¡ lost and found in the translation ~

... this handsome image wa
s newly captured by my friend and foreign correspondent Aaron Sing Fox, who covers Brooklyn, Italia, and The Mysterious East, during his recent visit to Tibet

no further explanation necessary ~

...but it starts me musing about other instances in my own experience where the language shows itself off in fine form:

once upon a time in a retail wine shop, I was stacking boxes of Cava, that Spanish sparkling stuff which provides good and inexpensive bubbles to the Thirsty.

on the box was printed in Spanish something like ‘Vidrio Con Cuidado’
in English, directly translated as ‘Glass, With Care’
in French, ‘Manutentioner Avec Soin ’ which means “handle with care—”
but then, in German, ‘Bitte Nicht Werfen’ = “please don't throw...” (!)

but das allerbeste example of an observation gaining in the translation had to be printed in the introduction of a Zen-on edition from Japan of Georg Phillip Telemann’s sonatas for the recorder, or Blockflöte, which I encountered in a music-shop in Boston back in the 1970s...

and I quote:

“...a recorder is like unto a flute, except that it has no tampons.”

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

boys' night out ~

so Lauber Imports wine guru Steve Miller found himself a temporary bachelor recently, wife and little one off for a couple weeks, and we found time to meet for dinner.

this happened at Cyril Renaud’s new eatery Bar Breton on Broadway.

Cyril’s Fleur de Sel was a favourite of mine for as many years as I’ve been around town, and I was quite sad to see it go... so I was eager to try the new place.

—less elegant, less detailed, less intricacy of preparation—same excellent standard.

emphasis on Galettes, ours was a deelish concoction of smoked salmon with leek and a horseradish sour-cream that was almost Bavarian. After which my pork belly was excellent, nicely rounded with wildish mushrooms and their broth—but which demanded that I abandon the mustard that I’d demanded to go with my frites which I’d requested instead of purée. Steve said that his roasted half-chicken could not have been done better, and the succesful execution of a simple concept was quite rewarding. A lemon and sugar crèpe shared for dessert was beautifully balanced and showed all the right moves.

the wine was astonishingly delicious, and cost less than $30 on the wine list.

2007 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet.

just perfect, that’s all. Body, fruit, acid—a nice bit of mineral. Succulent and savoury.

a few nice things like that on Cyril’s list, along with some quirky negoce burgs...

Monday, June 29, 2009

*** Prussian Humour—Three-Star Style ***

No less an authority on military matters than
Generaloberst Heinz Guderian informs us—
in his operator’s manual to Dr Ferdinand Porsche’s
new heavy tank ‘Tiger,’

~ that the reason the Thirty Years War lasted for thirty years...

was that it took a soldier
27 distinct steps to load the
goddamned arquebus before he could shoot anybody...

~ as duties and ditties have permitted, I found an idle moment to translate and list the procedures involved:

1. hold the gun at an angle in front of you, barrel pointing up
2. with the butt in front of your left foot
3. take the cartridge out of the ammunition pouch
4. cartridge into the barrel
5. take out the ramrod
6. hold ramrod ready in front of you
7. ram cartridge home, 1-2-3
8. remove bullet-clip from ammunition pouch
9. hold clip in your mouth
10. bite one bullet off of the clip
11. bullet down the barrel
12. ramrod ready
13. tamp the bullet home, 1-2-3
14. take the feather from your hat
15. cradle the gun in front of you
16. wipe out the touchhole with the feather
17. put the feather back in your hat
18. take out your powderhorn
19. pour powder into the pan
20. replace the powderhorn
21. make a ferocious face
22. cock the serpentine
23. lay barrel upon gun-rest
24. aim well
25. ignite match in the doghead
26. Lord help!
27. FIRE!!!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

a few favourites from the Terry Theise tasting...

~ last week at the Tribeca Grill in Manhattan...

1. Although I work for a competing importer, Terry and I have been friends for twenty years now. Perhaps not the closest, but that's because we're two different types of frustrated guitarist. He's done more than any other single person to help the cause of first Germany and after that Austria in America—and then for an encore puts grower champagne on the map. Any questions?

2. Michael Skurnik has always been very generous about allowing me to visit his presentations. I stringently avoid doing any business—ie. chasing resto and retail buyers who've been ducking me—and just taste the wines, collect information, greet growers who are friends of mine and sometimes show a colleague around the room.

3. thanks to Jonathan Schwartz for the engraved invite.

4. I concentrated on Germany, having had a heaping helping of Austria at Prowein in Düsseldorf back in March

~ so, the wines that I liked particularly well:

Burrweiler Schlossgarten Muskateller Spätlese Trocken, Minges 08
a tensile brilliance to go with the piquant aromaticity.

Silvaner Halbtrocken Litre bottle, Gysler 08
since I sell litres, I like to taste litres. this one had terrific body, and even more pizzazz than their Scheurebe

Mandelring Scheurebe Spätlese, Müller Catoir 08
luxuriant without being too chewy, great balance and focus. I liked it better until I saw the price.

Nearly everything from Kruger Rumpf. especially the Grosses Gewächs Scharlachberg—as the name indicates, from a red-soil site. his litre Riesling was deelish.

Helmut Dönnhoff tells me once that he considers Spätlese to be the intrinsic express of German riesling. and he proves it repeatedly year after year. I usually like the Kupfergrube the best, but this year loved the Norheimer Kirschheck, and think that Oberhäuser Brücke is the one for the long haul.

Niersteiner Paterberg Spätlese, Strub 08
Not a glamour-site, but this wine is holyshitt delicious.

Kaseler Nies'chen Kabinett, Karlsmühle 08
blazingly brilliant, one of the best in show.

Everything from Spreitzer, from the litre trocken to the Spätlese 303, special mention for the Rosengarten Erstes Gewächs 08 and the Jesuitengarten Spätlese.

Selbach-Oster: I thought that the Spätlese Anrecht was particularly fine, though all the wines had a very pleasing density and persistent focus. Rotlay was also rather well detailed, no surprise, but certainly had no lack of flesh on the finely wrought frame. Is there any doubt that Johannes Selbach is one of the best and most consistent growers in Germany?

I very much liked the Roter Veltliner from Ecker—one Austrian I did visit and carefully taste.

Bert Salomon was more of a social call, his estate is a favourite, and there’s no finer gentleman to be found in my experience—but his GV Von Stein Reserve was quite a mouthfull of spiceful fruit and stone—fine, strong and rich all the way down the gullet.

short conversation with Bruce Sanderson later that evening in the kitchen of Die Blaue Gans—Kurt Gutenbrunner's party for the Austrian Trade Comission ran from the stove on one end and spilled onto the sidewalk on the other— confirming my suspicions that 08 in Germany is
Exactly What the Doktor Ordered.
or as Goldtröpchen—er, Goldilocks—said, "just right"