By The Glass
Estate tastings, rising rieslings and spicy wings
Last month, I toured the wine regions of Germany. Throughout the 11-day road trip, our drivers, Christopher, Thomas and Rudi, sliced down the autobahn averaging 150 kilometers per hour while high on acid. Not the drug, rather, the crisp bright acids that give riesling grapes their intensity, purity, balance and longevity. Tucked in the comfort of the Mercedes caravan, we had no worries -- our drivers were safe, dutifully spitting and sober.
Our group of 10 often entertained ourselves raving about whom we'd met, what we'd seen and tasted. Rock stars have groupies and so do winemakers. We battled and lobbied for "wine of the day," "best winery" and "best wine of the tour." Travel companions Stephen (the New York artist/wine lover) and Anjoleena (Atlantic City's polka-dot riesling queen) began coining catchy phrases for each stop.
"Hanging with Hanno" was one of my favorites, for our visit with Hanno Zilliken of Weingut Zilliken. I recall several years ago someone joking to Hanno that he visits the islands so often, they're considering calling it "Hannolulu."
The tour also included dinner with the esteemed Dr. Manfred Prum of the magnificent J.J. Prum Estate. He educated us on the finer points of riesling with a twinkle in his eye as he had us blind-taste wines from his cellar.
I found a discussion on the finest food to pair with riesling by Robert Eymael of Weingut Monchoff rather fun. According to Robert, spicy chicken wings are the best. Fellow tourist Matt (the South Carolina spicy wing king) concurred.
Norman (the Mississippi chocoholic and Domaine de la Romanee Conti fiend) warned us about the killer handshake of legendary winemaker Wilhelm "The Bone-crusher" Haag of Weingut Fritz Haag.
Perhaps one of the most memorable stops was the wedding reception of Kathryn Hasselbach, eldest daughter of Fritz and Agnes Hasselbach of Weingut Gunderloch. We called it "Nacking in Nackenheim," a night off to kick back, relax and savor a glass of Trockenbeerenauslese, one of their estate specialties. Fritz is the only winemaker who has ever achieved a perfect 100-point rating for this wine (from three different vintages) from Wine Spectator magazine.
When you see how dramatic the vineyards of Germany are, you begin to appreciate the effort it takes to craft these wines. In some instances the mountainside properties we visited in the Mosel, Nahe and Ahr regions had a grade anywhere from 45 to 70 degrees. I'm sure mountain goats and axis deer feel right at home.
The 29 estate portfolios we tasted through were all great ... fantastic ... memorable ... an oral ovation of the 2006 vintage, which is just arriving on the market. And although rumors of a potentially troubled harvest for the 2007 vintage may circulate, I learned that the finest producers are smart enough to let the weather settle and the vineyards do their thing.
I was reminded by fellow traveler Nancy (a former nutritionist-turned-riesling groupie) of a great quotation by Dr. Tom Drieseberg of Weingut Wegler: "The best bottle of wine is not in your cellar, but in your memory." And the 1959 bottle that Dr. Tom opened for us was one of the finest of memories -- amazingly youthful. When they re-release it in 2009, I'll be in line for its 50th birthday.
Kevin Toyama is at sommelier at the Halekulani and an advanced certificate holder from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org