No More, Please
Braving oh-so-tough days of great German wine and tireless portions of food is starting to take its toll on our intrepid writer as he journeys through the Rhineland, wading through never-ending seas of Spargel.
May 9: Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
In the village of Bernkastel, Weingut Dr Pauly-Bergweiler sets up a glorious breakfast buffet for us. The owner’s son Stefan Bergweiler greets us with a glass of the 1969 Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Auslese (“select late harvest”) in hand, a solid 95-point wine. The wines here are very aromatic, ripe and fruit-forward. I would describe them as Californian in style. The 2005 Grosses Gewachs (“great growth”) and the 2006 Riesling Sp‰tlese (“late harvest”), from the same vineyard as the 1969, are truly impressive with their floral, peach, tropical-fruit and lime qualities.
After a lunch consisting of steak and more Spargel (white asparagus — if you don’t already, you’ll soon sense a recurring theme here), we take the scenic route to Weingut St Urbans-Hof. Hermann Weis, the father of current owner Nikolaus Weis, is the man who introduced the famous Riesling Weiss 22B clone to Ontario back in the 1970s — and we thank him for it. He also founded Vineland Estates. The Canadian connection does not stop there. Nik’s sister Anne is married to Tom Pennachetti, the owner of Cave Springs Winery, one of Canada’s top producers of Riesling.
St Urbans-Hof owns the Piesporter Goldtrˆpfchen (“little drops of Piesport gold”) and the Ockfener Bockstein (“stone trestles of Ockfen”) vineyards. Goldtrˆpfchen tends to be more fruit-driven and richer while Bockstein is more minerally. All the 2006s were poured for us and, once again, there was not a bad wine in the bunch. Look for the Goldtrˆpfchen Riesling Kabinett (90 points), the Spatlese (91) and the Auslese (92). All can be aged for a decade at least. The same can be said for the Bockstein Riesling Kabinett (89), the Sp‰tlese (90) and the Auslese (90).
Tonight’s dinner is back at the hotel with Michael Probst, the sales manager for the Moselland wine-growing cooperative. I dub tonight’s dinner “the Flip Side,” because, contrary to everything else we have tried so far, Moselland (famous for its coloured cat-shaped bottles) is in the business of making everyday-drinking wine. Michael makes no qualms about the fact that his company is catering to the masses and that his wine won’t make “old bones.” Dinner includes a white-asparagus mousse. I am starting to become tired of Spargel.
May 10: From the Mosel to the Pfalz
Our last visit in the Mosel is at Weingut Markus Molitor. We taste our way through a dozen wines that rate between 86 and 89 points before heading off to the Pfalz region.
After two hours on the road, we arrive at Weingut Lingenfelder — the winery’s propagandist tagline is “the Age of Post-Chardonnism.” The owner Rainer Lingenfelder is a strong advocate for non-mainstream grape varieties: he is especially fond of Scheurebe (“shoy-ray-buh”), thought to be a cross of Riesling and Silvaner, a bit of a hard-to-pronounce calling card for the Pfalz. His 2003 Freinsheimer Goldberg Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese (the highest classification in the sweetness of wines, the grapes being left on the vine ’til nearly dry) is an amber-coloured sugar bomb with an excess of caramel, honey and tea leaves.
We also try the unique Satyr, a brut sparkling Riesling. It is made via the traditional method and it has spent nine years on the lees. Deep yellow in colour with a full froth, it sings with caramel, green apple, petrol and fresh-bread aromas. The other wine I really enjoy is the 2003 Groskarlbacher Osterberg Riesling Sp‰tlese for its petrol, honey, lime and crisp green-apple taste. A light lunch of Spargel wrapped in ham topped with Hollandaise sauce, prepared by Rainer’s wife, is served. Joy!
After lunch, we set off for the vineyards. Rainer informs us that one of his vineyards can hit up to 50˚C in the summer … and Germany is supposed to have a cool climate! He also shows us swaths of land that the winery is in the midst of replanting. This is the Flurbereinigung at work — a nationally and locally funded restructuring program to improve access to and workability of land historically devoted to viticulture. Many German growers own several small parcels of land that are scattered all over the place, some even two or three miles away from where the rest of their holdings lie. This is a particular problem in the area to the west of the Rhine, which had been ruled by the French. Napoleonic laws of inheritance, written in the nineteenth century, dictated that when a farmer died, the land was to be shared between all his children, further dividing it into smaller pieces. In some instances of Flurbereinigung, parcels of land have been reallocated between owners to reduce production costs. Rainer believes in the Flurbereinigung. Other producers are not so convinced — not all grapes work in the same soil. Also, if inclement weather were to strike, because the grapes are consolidated in the one larger vineyard, they stand to all be affected. Before, the spread of the vineyards provided a greater sense of security.
An hour later, we’re back at the hotel, relaxing, beers in hand. We then proceed to Weingut Dr B¸rklin-Wolf for a quick tour and then move on to its Gasthaus zur Kanne for dinner. The 1997 Gaisbˆhl R Series Riesling with its mature aromas of petrol, peach and honey pairs wonderfully with the foie-gras-and-fig-compote appetizer. The 2002 Gaisbˆhl Riesling Auslese works equally well with the rhubarb soup with vanilla ice cream. A quick walk to the hotel to work off the meal, another beer, and we’re ready for a night of pleasant dreams.
May 11: the Pfalz
I wake up and turn on CNN International. The lead story concerns the current drought in Germany and how the barley crop is already down 20 per cent as a result. CNN reports that the lack of any forthcoming and substantial rain will spell disaster not just for the entire crop but for the beer industry as well. For a country that worships the amber nectar, this is sheer Gˆtterd‰mmerung.
We are now on our last day of touring and most of us are exhausted. The first stop today is at Weingut Koehler-Ruprecht. Here, we meet force of nature Bernd Philippi. Bernd is a true bon vivant who regales us with fantastical stories of small groups of wine lovers (four or less), involving many bottles of older Bordeaux (forty or more) and massive amounts of food — essentially the type of scenario that would make an Ancient Roman blush.
He also tells us that, in the 1970s and 1980s, while he was living in Northern Michigan and Ontario, he helped to develop many a vineyard and winery, most notably Pelee Island. At the time, he also became acquainted with a number of the patriarchs of the Ontario wine industry: Donald Ziraldo, Karl Kaiser (both Inniskillin co-founders) and Paul Bosc Sr (Ch‚teau des Charmes). His wines aren’t half bad either.
The early afternoon includes a tasting and lunch at Weingut Darting, a winery that makes almost equal amounts of red and white wine. Reds of note included the dry 2005 St Laurent, which is crammed full of raspberry and cherry jam, smoke and cocoa flavour, as well as the dry Wachenheimer Mandelgarten Sp‰tburgunder with its profile of plum, cherry, vanilla and earth. High-ranking whites included the 2006 Ungsteiner Herrenberg Riesling Sp‰tlese for its peach, citrus and mineral flavours and very good length, the 2005 D¸rkheimer Spielberg Scheurebe Sp‰tlese for its intense spice, floral and peach qualities, and the 2005 Pfalz Huxel with its spicy peach and grapefruit. Lunch includes chili chicken, white-asparagus soup and more white-asparagus soup … Was f¸r eine ‹berraschung! (What a surprise!)
Thoroughly stuffed, we drive to Weingut Fitz-Ritter, a winery that specializes in Sekt (sparkling) wines. After a quick tasting of easy-drinking quaffers, we head back to the hotel for some rest. Rest, of course, means beer on the patio.
Our final stop is the Michelin one-star Deidesheimer Hof for a dinner hosted by Weingut Reichsrat von Buhl. I revel in my appetizer of Saumagen — which translates as “sow’s stomach,” a popular dish of the Pfalz and one that is often described as the haggis of Germany. Unlike haggis, though, the stomach is only used as a casing during the cooking of the contents: pork, carrot, onions, celery and various seasonings. It pairs wonderfully with the peachy, floral-scented 2002 Pechstein-Forst Riesling Grosses Gew‰chs. For dessert, we are served the mature 1989 Forster Ungeheuer Riesling Beerenauslese (“selected berries,” one step below the Trockenbeerenauslese classification) and the peach-, orange-marmalade-, orange-blossom- and smoke-laden 2001 Forster Stift Rieslaner Beerenauslese.
A leisurely walk to the hotel, one last beer with the gang and I trek up to my room to start packing. In the middle of filling my suitcase, one thought only crosses my mind: will they be serving Spargel on the flight back home?