Thursday, May 31, 2012

Report from ... Germany - Day 2: Best of Riesling Tasting and Mainz - May 30, 2012

Germany Day 2 saw me in the Hambacher Schloss (Hambacher Castle) for the Best of Riesling competition and driving to the city of Mainz, where the tour of the Rheinhessen begins bright and early on Thursday morning ... but for now, let's take a look at what is going on at the competition and what's for dinner in Mainz.

Arrival at the Hambacher Schloss (Hambacher Castle) where the Best of Riesling competiton will be held.
But first things first, a quick stop at the gift shop ... sorry honey, nothing for you here.
This road does not lead to Rome, instead it leads up to the castle ... it's longer and steeper than it looks.
I guess this is here in case you are adverse to walking up or want to  know what you'll see when you get there

On the path up
View of a small town below - not sure which as right now I am realizing how out of shape I am.
First view of the castle - I stop to take this picture, or that's how I wanted it to look, I'm actually trying to catch my breath - it's a miracle the camera isn't shaking.

Forget about the path, these stairs were murder ... but what a view.  Now, I need a drink.
The judges were set up in panels of six - this was our captain Sascha waiting for us all to arrive.
The judges begin to assemble ... wait a beautiful room
I did notice that Schott Zwiesel is everywhere.
See what I mean - they are even providing the gifts for departing contestants (so to speak).

Here is my spot at the table - complete with the Canadian flag ... I'm the only Canadian in the room
Break time finds me outside the tasting room looking out over a variety of small villages ... including Hambach - the birthplace of "modern German democracy" where in 1832 30,000 people from all over Germany and surrounding areas revolted and marched up to the castle.
Another small village - from my vantage point you could see four or five spread out across the landscape
From this spot (on a clear day) you can see some 20,000 hectares of continuous vineyards.
One of the castle's courtyards ... and not 20 minutes later ...

The sky opened up and pelted the windows and the courtyard with rain
Lunch is served ... one floor up - no pics but lunch consisted of Pfalz-herbed Pork, scalloped potatoes, St. Pierre fish with spinach in a white wine sauce, goat cheese with parsley and white wine olive oil, and Panna Cotta with apricot sauce ...

With so many Riesling consumed through the morning I opted for a red wine - quite fruit driven and with a chill this would be a perfect patio sipper (*** 1/2)
Here the photographer is trying to herd cats ... not really, but it is something akin to that as he tries to organize us to get a group picture in one of the courtyards ... this man earned his money today.
Back for more - the final medal round.  I picked Wine F as my favourite of the 6 top wines in my category - and it turns out it wins ... I have no idea which wine it was, so don't ask.  Won't know till June 13 when the winning wines will be announced.
Now decending from the castle after a long day of Riesling tasting ... I believe that this is the hamlet of Hambach.
And this is not ... Next stop Mainz
and dinner at the hotel - here is the announcement leading us to the wine cellar where dinner will be served ...
We are staying at the Hyatt Regency Mainz and their wine cellar looks like ...
This ... The Hyatt Regency Mainz Wine Cellar
First  Course: Lobster foam soup, mango, avocado, prawns "Wan-Tan"
And for those curious (turn your head slightly to the left) and you'll see the inside of the "Wan-Tan" - man this was one tasty soup.
Turns out this is not just any dinner, but a winemakers dinner with this winemaker: Jens Bettenheimer of Bettenheimer Wines
And this winemaker: Christian Braunewell of Braunewell Wines ... each winemaker pairs up to 2 wines with each course.
Bettenheimer 2011 Appenheimer WeiBburgunder (Pinot Blanc) - is the wine best sipped on its own: a pear, lime and green apple skin nose leads to pear, limeade and stony-mineral notes on the tongue; it also has quite a zesty acidity keeping it quite fresh (****+)
The best pairing with the soup is this Braunewell 2011 Essenheimer Riesling Kalkstein - Eseenheimer is the name of the village where the winery and subsequently the vineyards are from.  This is a very mineral driven Riesling with nuances of peach pit on the nose and green apple on the palate. (****)
The Main was a mishmash of flavours and textures: Grilled fillet and ragout from the Milk Calf (I am tying exactly what the menu says here), Ingelheimer asparagus, dumplings, mushrooms ... this was hard to match with any one wine which is why we received 4 in front of us ...
Bettenheier 2009 Schlossberg Blauer Fruhburgunder (aka: Pinot noir pr├ęcoce or Pinot Madelaine) - Selection Rheinhessen (20 year old vines) ... this grape was once outlawed in  Germany and in the 70's had less than 30 hectares, now it is well above 200.  The nose is black cherry with a touch of cinnamon; flavours are lovely black cherry, woody in the mid-palate with hints of vanilla (****) - it is a drink now wine as we are told it loses acidity quickly over time.  It is very Pinot-esque, minus the acidity.
Braunewell 2010 Blume Riesling - Selection Rheinhessen (33 year old vines): Apple, peach and mineral on the nose; tastes of apple, and hints of mineral that bring every together nicely (****)
Braunewell 2010 Essenheimer Spatburgunder - Kalkmergel: sour cherry, sweet cranberry and raspberry aromas lead to a full fruited flavour, big acidity, mineral, cherry and a slight smokiness ... very light in colour in the glass (****+)
Two of the above wines have the designation of "Selection Rheinhessen" and that means:  low yielding, hand harvested, grapes from vines of at least 15 years of age.  Wines are ready in September the following year, are judged by a panel for quality and then get the above seal of approval on the throat of the bottle.
Dessert: Creme Brulee, fresh berries and fruit sherbert ... paired with ...
Bettenheimer 2011 Eselspfad Huselrebe Auslese (Huxelrebe is a cross between Chasselas and Courtiller Musque) - Jens only makes this grape into sweet wines, he calls them "virgin berries" which translates to seedless.  This is a beauty as a stand alone wine: touch of honey, apple and peach on the nose with nice acidity, peach and sweet lime on the palate - delicate and delicious (****+) but overwhelmed by the sweetness of the creme brulee.
So the pairing award with dessert goes to Braunewell 2010 Teufelspfad (single vineyard) Riesling Auslese: slightly petroled with honeyed peach, vanilla candy, minerality that shines through with a touch of botrytis on the nose and taste; good acid balance to cut the sweetness (****)
That's it ... time for bed as we have a long day tomorrow ... a minimum of 4 wineries, if memory serves correctly, plus whatever else we can cram in ...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Report from ... Germany - Day 1: Neustadt an der WeinstaBe - May 29, 2012

Plane was delayed two hours in Toronto ... for safety reasons, so I'm okay with that ... which kept my Aussie-cab-sharing companion waiting on the other end (at Frankfurt airport) almost 3 hours.  The drive in was a slow one due to an accident and construction work, so it felt like I never left Toronto ... but upon arrival , with little to no sleep I stumble through my first beautiful day in Germany as I await to take part in the Best of Riesling competition taking place tomorrow ... but let's not jump ahead and take a look at what happened on Day 1 ...

Arrival at Panorama Hotel in Neustadt an de WienstraBe

Took a walk down to the center of town and passed Heim Sekt Winery
Display case at the front of Heim overlooking the street
Looking for lunch along the cobble stone streets of Neustadt an der WeinstraBe
Still searching for the place we had been told to try ...
Scheffelhaus ... where I had my first glass of Riesling in Germany a Dr. Deinhard 2011

And schnitzel with potatoes and in-season white asparagus
After lunch we met up with Ulrike Lenhardt who took us on a brief tour of the Pfalz region and it all started with an impromtu visit to Bassermann-Jordan winery, "a must visit since we are passing it" I am told
We started with a tasting of Pierre Brut (a blend of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir)- lovely white fruit and floral notes (*** 1/2)
Next up the 2008 Jesuitengarten GG (Grosses Gewaechs - or first growth, of which their are 50 throughout Germany) - a lovely peachiness with great minerality and hint of petrol (*** 1/2+)
One of the 13 basement areas or "cellars" at Bassermann-Jordan - all connected like catacombs
Barrels are mainly for show as 95-98% of their production is white white and mainly Riesling

The historical cellar area is behind bars, it holds bottles from as far back as 1811
Look carefully and you'll see racks of bottles from 1904 and 1905
The "Education Room" has various soil samples and vine samples - you can even see roots hanging from the ceiling and on the floor between the soil slabs (not pictured: maps and barrels on opposite wall). 
2 of 6 ... behind these two gentlemen (Gunther Hauck (left)- managing director of Bassermann-Jordan & Ken Helm (right) Aussie owner/winemaker of Helm Wines) is one of three remaining massive oak presses, at one time their were six but the other three were burned for fuel after World War II.

Sparkling racks and barrel room - the sparkling is hand riddled and these barrels are actually in use.
We finished our tour back upstairs with a tasting of this 2011 Auslese - 20% botrytis affected: apple, charcoal, honeyed lavender on the nose with great acidity amongst the sweetness along with honeyed pineapple and peach pits (****+)
Arrival at Weingut Pfeffingen, where we tasted 10 wines: 5 Riesling and 5 Scheurebe; and meet with Jan Eymael - winemaker and owner.
The Kalkstein Riesling was wonderful - limestone soil has given it quite the appeal: apple and lemon peel on the nose, mineral-stoniness, dry citrus peel/pith and lemon notes - and an unperceived on the palate 14% alcohol (****+)

The 2 Ungstein wines are quite comparable, though from two seperate grapes, the Scheurebe has a melon rind quality and the mineral shines on the Riesling (both: *** 1/2+)
From red clay soil (pictured behind bottle) - only 2 sites in all of Germany has this kind of clay and very pretty Riesling (*** 1/2)
This 2004 Weilberg Riesling GG shows amazing structure and barely hints at its age - only the colour gives it away.  Complexity of aromas and flavours include spiced pear, apple core, talc and grapefruit rind and pith (****)
The two dessert wines shown were like night and day.  The Beernauslese Scheurebe 2011 (right) had canned peaches and pears with hints of floral, a nicely balanced wine (****)
The Trockenbeerauslese was a different story. Some 30 years old (1982) this wine was brown in colour and was "found" in the Pfeffingen cellars.  Caramel, coffee, raisinated, burnt toffee, and scorched earth - but the acidity was still quite lovely.  This was not a wine for the feint of heart.
Time for dinner ... now we find ourselves at the Vinicombe f Meininger publishing house (basically their basement - but a nice looking and elegant basement)
Here we sit for a brief talk on how tomorrow (The Best of Riesling competition) will be judged
The formal part of the evening over with we break out some bubbly - I am told that Germans drink a lot of sparkling wine the move on to ...
Dinner - a buffet of cold items

Breads and fish
And of course a plethora of wines - from both Germany and around the world
And did I mention the hot items too
A wonderful Ad Aram 2009 Pinot Noir from Germany
A Syrah Petit Sirah from Chile
Something Spanish
And a Tawny Port
On the walk back I passed Heim again for an even better picture than the first
And back to the Panorama - which I am leaving tonight.