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 ~