The Flu & White Asparagus
When presented with the opportunity to join a Canadian contingent of journalists on an annual week-long tour of Germany, I jump at the chance. Unfortunately, five minutes before takeoff “Flu Boy” sits down beside me, and my heart sinks. A wine journalist’s worst fear is to lose the acuity of his senses due to illness. And a stuffy nose, deadened taste buds and drippy eyes await me. So I pop a few pills, close my eyes and pray to the wine gods floating around the aircraft for deliverance.
May 6: the Nahe
Bacchus is on my side, and I land in Frankfurt no worse for wear. There, I hook up with the rest of our group and we board the van for the one-hour drive to the Rheingau. Arriving at the Hotel Schwan, we unpack and meet downstairs for brunch. Ron Fiorelli, our leader from the German Wine Bureau, orders for us: white Spargel (asparagus) and potatoes. Served with Hollandaise sauce, it hits the spot. Ron informs us that the Rheingau and the Pfalz are the prime growing areas for Spargel and that we all should expect to eat tonnes of the stuff over the next week — that isn’t going to be a problem.
After breakfast, a few of us decide to catch up on sleep, while others tour the town. We all meet that evening for our first visit to the rising star of wine regions, the Nahe, only fifteen minutes away.
Weingut Kruger-Rumpf is owned by Stefan Rumpf, who produces exciting Rieslings with lots of verve. My favourites are the 2006 M¸nsterer Rheinberg Riesling Kabinett (green apple, white flowers and peach and a perfect balance between sweetness and acid) and the 2006 M¸nsterer Pittersberg Riesling Auslese (with its honey, tropical fruit and deep palate).
Veronique Rivest, who is Canada’s entry in the Meilleur Sommelier du Monde 2007 competition, asks about Germany’s new wine classification, the Erstes Gew‰chs (German for “first growth,” and the equivalent of France’s Premier Cru) in Rheingau only and the Grobes Gewachs (“great growth”) everywhere else. Stefan tells us that it is a work in progress and that there are more exceptions — many more exceptions — than rules. What we do learn is that all the wines that earn the designation must be from grapes traditional of the region, harvested at a minimum Sp‰tlese (late harvest) level of ripeness, made dry in style and originating from the best vineyards.
May 7: the Rheingau
After a typical buffet-style German breakfast (lots of pork), we head to Schloss Johannisberg, an estate founded by monks at the end of the eleventh century. There’s lots of history here. In 1720, Riesling was planted, making Johannisberg the first vineyard in the world devoted entirely to this varietal. Later that century, the first ever German Spatlese (“late harvest”) and Auslese (“select late harvest”) were (accidentally) discovered and refined. Today, the winery is owned by the Oetkers, the same family that specializes in those great-tasting frozen pizzas and lava cakes.
You have to taste the 2005 Riesling Rotlack Kabinett Feinherb with its floral, lime, mineral and honey profile. The 2005 Riesling Gr¸nlack Spatlese has much of the same aromas as the Rotlack but with a fuller body. The Riesling Rosalack Auslese is a dessert wine with botrytis overtones and loads of honey, peach and apricots. We are also told that feinherb is now replacing halbtrocken or “half-dry” on German labels. It’s starting to feel like you need a book to decipher German wine labels.
We are greeted for lunch by Heinrich Breuer and his beautiful daughter Theresa. Heinrich explains that his winery, Weingut Georg Breuer, specializes in dry wines and that he prefers to simplify his labels, since the German appellation system is just too convoluted. Before tasting, he shows us his vineyards. The drive up the steep slopes is like a roller-coaster adventure over the Rhine — at fifty miles per hour, with a portion of the truck always leaning over the edge. It is at this point that most of us realize we have vertigo and/or have found new divinities to worship.
Once back on terra firma at the winery, we taste Breuer’s single-vineyards: the 2005 Berg Roseneck and the 2005 Berg Rottland. Both are dry, with the Roseneck showing honey, spice, arugula, while the Rottland has a little more depth, with flint, mineral, apple, peach and honey. For dessert, he serves up his Berg Rottland Auslese Goldkapsel, sweet with peach, petrol, honey and raisins.
After a quick rest back at the hotel, we go to the Gr¸ner Bruner restaurant for a dinner hosted by Tom Dreisberg of Weingut Geheimrat J. Wegeler. Spargel is served salad-style — what a surprise! Also served are some great Rieslings from the most famous vineyards of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and the Rheingau: they all rate above 90 points. The 2005 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett and the 2004 R¸desheimer Berg Rottland Riesling Sp‰tlese both merit 90 points, while the 2005 Bernkasteler Doctor Riesling Sp‰tlese and the 2005 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese easily rate 92 points. The star, though, is the 2005 Geisenheimer Rothenberg Beerenauslese, a hyper-viscous wine with a whopping 350 g/l of sugar and a profile of white chocolate, honey, spice, apricots and caramel.
May 8: From the Rheingau to Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
Our day starts at the Balthasar Ress estate, where we are told that we will have the chance to taste older vintages. The owner’s son, Christian Ress, greets us with a warm smile. An absolute gentleman, Christian speaks English, French and German and is eloquently passionate about the wine he produces. We taste all of his Hattenheim Nubbrunnen Riesling Erstes Gew‰chs from 2002 to 2005. All wines rate between 88 and 90 points, with my favourite being the 2003. After that, a vertical tasting of the Schloss Reinhartshausen Riesling Sp‰tlese is poured, starting with the 1990 and ending with the 2003. Our final flight consists of a vertical tasting of the Hattenheim Nubbrunnen Riesling Auslese — a most impressive flight. I fall in love with the 2003, the 2001, the 1989 and the 1976, a wine Christian treats us to after lunch.
After boarding the bus, we settle in for the two-hour trek to the Mosel. Once there, we check into the beautiful Hotel Richterhof. It is so romantic-looking that one of our group members comments, “This is the type of hotel I would have an affair in … if I ever decided to have an affair.” After freshening up and a quick beer in the bar, we head over to Weingut Selbach-Oster. A jetlagged Johannes Selbach welcomes us, explaining that he has just returned from a whirlwind tour of the United States. Seated in a living-room-style setting, we are presented with fifteen wines to taste. In my comments, I write, “Buy as much as you can!” Especially noteworthy are the 2005s, a super-ripe vintage, and the 2006s, a vintage which has the highest levels of botrytis the Mosel has ever seen.
I collapse in my hotel room with Spargel fairies dancing around in my head. My own whirlwind tour is just beginning and I am anxious about where it will lead — me and my flu-free taste buds.