Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

This is my final post for 2021. It presents the last of my 12 special cellar selections for the year, Quintarelli’s 1981 Amarone. What a spectacular series it turned out to be!

When I got this Amarone, somewhere back in the middle ‘80s, I remember thinking that I would have to put it away for a while. I’m pretty sure that I was thinking that the “while” in question would be about 5 years, or maybe, since this was a Quintarelli, 10. I’m sure I had nothing like 40 years in mind. That just happened, as year after year I considered tasting the wine and decided to give it a little time yet, until this particular Amarone got pushed back into the Do Not Disturb portion of my brain, and there it stayed for a few decades.

At last its moment came round, and I was worried alternatively that I had waited too long and that I was still rushing it.

That’s a legitimate worry when Amarone is concerned. These are notoriously long-lived wines, and in some vintages they can be very slow maturing. 1981 is, I suspect, one of those vintages. In the Veneto that year, the grapes matured very slowly on the vines, so in some spots the harvest was late, and required several passes through the vineyards to bring in the grapes as they came ready. Fermentation was also long and slow. So ‘81 showed itself early as a wine that would demand patience.

You wouldn’t be faulted for thinking 40 years was enough, but I couldn’t be absolutely certain. I’ve opened 20- and 25-year-old Amarones only to find they were years, perhaps decades, away from full maturity: drinkable, of course, because of their intense fruit, but still tasting and feeling like young wines, and lacking the mature, complex flavor I hoped for, as well as the balance, depth, and, above all, the velvet mouth-feel of fully mature Amarone.

To this point, the oldest Amarone I’d drunk was a 47-or 48-year-old Bertani that celebrated my 75th birthday, and I remember it vividly as one of the most profound wines I’ve ever tasted, with flavors and aromas so deep and concentrated they seemed endless. The empty bottle still smelled wonderful two days later: I could hardly bring myself to throw it out.

Quintarelli doesn’t have the history with Amarone that Bertani does, but Giuseppe Quintarelli in his lifetime became an acknowledged master of the wine: A colleague once quipped that Quintarelli was a black belt in Amarone. Some knowledgeable critics still regard him as the greatest winemaker in the history of Amarone, and I find it hard to argue with that. The “lesser” wines of his that I’ve tasted — Valpolicella and a handful of IGT wines – have always been impressive, big and rich and deep, with a thoroughly craftsmanlike character: superbly made wines.

That latter characteristic is crucial, I think, because Amarone, like Champagne, is an oddity in the universe of wine: It is a wine that owes more to technique than to terroir, more to art than to nature. You start with the late harvest and the number of passes through the vines the winemaker chooses to make. Compound that with the degree of noble rot the winemaker encourages/discourages/prohibits. Then add in the timing of drying and pressing the grapes, and the choice of vehicle in which fermentation occurs. Then whether he does or doesn’t permit malolactic fermentation, plus all the subsequent decisions about handling and aging the wine.

All these craftsmanly decisions affect the wine in more profound ways than its terroir does. All are the techniques of an artist whose chosen medium is the juice of grapes and the wood of barrels. Those appassionati who pursue Amarone are winemakers in the most profound sense, and the resulting wine reflects their skill and artistry more significantly than it does the character of the grapes that go into it. Champagne is the only other wine I know of which you can say that.

Well, the moment of truth arrived, the cork was pulled, the wine was poured, swirled, sniffed, and tasted. The immediate results: two simultaneous, totally unrehearsed “Wow!”s. No kidding: off the scale.

Here are my first five words about its aroma: honey; raisins; prunes; chocolate; chestnut. Here is my first tasting note: “all of the above in velvet!”  This was simply an amazing wine, of elegant power, depth, and duration. It rolled right over foie gras and barely noticed a rich, fruity, pan-roasted duck. I find it hard to imagine a dish that would challenge it – perhaps high-mountain game, like chamois?  This wine was wonderful, still fresh and rich, and simultaneously complex and deep. It is unlike any other Italian or French wine I know, and made a powerhouse conclusion to my 12 cellar selections for the year.

For those who may be curious, here the other 11, in the order tasted, each name linked to my post about it. There is a lot of fine drinking here. In all honesty, I’m not sure what I learned from the whole endeavor, except confirmation that I love mature wine, and that it is well worth the effort of putting some bottles away for your own and their old age.

Happy New Year to all my readers, and many of them to come!


2011 Sabbie di Sopra Il Bosco, Terre del Volturno IGT, Nanni Copé

2001 Costa Russi, Langhe DOC, Angelo Gaja

2001 Hermitage AOC, E. Guigal

2004 Monprivato Barolo DOCG, Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio

2009 Campi Raudii, Vino Rosso, Antonio Vallana 

1975 Gruaud Larose, Grand Cru Classé Saint-Julien, Cordier (then)

2007 Vintage Tunina, Venezia Giulia IGT, Silvio Jermann

2003 Montevetrano, Colli di Salerno IGT, Silvia Imparato

2001 Corton Grand Cru AOC, Bonneau de Martray

1989 Cuvée Frédéric Émile Vendanges Tardives Riesling, Alsace AOC, Trimbach 

1996 Barolo Riserva DOCG, Giacomo Borgogno & Figli

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This, the antepenultimate bottle of my 12 cellar selections for 2021, Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Émile 1989 Vendange Tardive, qualifies as a rarity for me: a late-harvest wine with more than 30 years of age.

You can think of vendange tardive as a rough French equivalent of German Auslese or even Beerenauslese wines. These are often exquisite nectars of lovely sweetness enlivened by good acidity – at their best among the world’s finest dessert wines. I’m not a great fan of dessert wines but I was hoping that Alsace’s reliably assertive acidity would balance out the wine’s residual sugar to create an intense and rarified dinner wine.

The Trimbach family has been making wine in Alsace for nearly five centuries, so they are obviously doing many things right. Chief among them is their Riesling expertise, shown most conspicuously in their single-vineyard Clos Sainte Hune, probably Alsace’s most esteemed wine. But all Trimbach’s Rieslings are excellent, and I am especially fond of its Cuvée Frédéric Émile, a fully dry wine that – at a very fair price for its quality – always balances intense minerality with fine Riesling fruit and typical Alsace acidity. Those are the qualities I was hoping to enjoy in my 30-year-old bottle of the Vendange Tardive.

Trimbach makes vendanges tardives only in exceptional years, using Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling or Muscat grapes, generally affected by noble rot, from its best vineyards. It characterizes the wines as intense and with exceptional finish: suited to foie gras, rich creamy dishes, blue cheeses, washed-rind cheeses, and velvety desserts. It calls its Cuvée Frédéric Émile Riesling, rare even among Trimbach’s vendanges tardives, “the treasure that Riesling lovers dream of having in their cellars.”

Well, with this 1989 bottle, this Riesling lover hit the jackpot.

Initially, I had been a bit worried about the condition of the wine. The bottle showed some ullage, the capsule was domed, and the foil showed some staining, as if it might have leaked. I feared I might have a dead wine on my hands. But the cork came out clean, and a quick sniff of the bottle was very reassuring: an intense and remarkably fresh whiff of classic Riesling.

In the glass, the wine showed the dark amber color that one expects of a long-aged white wine, and it still smelled and tasted fresh, despite its 32 years of age. I even tasted hints of that “diesel” flavor that Riesling appassionati speak of, which they consider a signal of highly desirable varietal typicity.

There were the merest hints of sweetness on the palate, all beautifully balanced by enlivening acidity and fine minerality; with a smooth, mouth-filling medium-to-full body: in all, a truly impressive and totally distinctive wine. It harmoniously accompanied a bloc of mi-cuit foie gras, which further emphasized its sapidity – a word I know sounds pretentious, but is the only adequate one for this remarkable wine.

Vendages tardives are not wines for every day, but they can make any day special indeed. I am very happy this bottle survived my far-less-than-perfect storage conditions so well.

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This is a post that will hardly be of interest to anyone but me. No pictures, just words. No tasting comments, just thoughts. Anyone not interested can leave now: No offense will be taken.

I’ve been wondering lately about whether it would be possible to put together a case of wines that would enable wannabe winos to learn the world of wine on their own, at their own pace. I myself got hooked on wine long ago by just such a mixed case that a retailer in Baltimore put together for me so I could explore wine.

Of course, the wine world was a lot smaller back then, and very different from what it is now. That case cost about $100, which then was a substantial fraction of my monthly wage, and it consisted, if memory serves, entirely of French wines – because way back then if you wanted to understand wine, wine spoke French. Germany, Spain, and Portugal came up in wine conversation only peripherally, Italy and Austria very rarely, and California was the smallest, remotest blip on the radar. For most American wine lovers, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Australia, and New Zealand did not exist as wine-producing countries, only as exotic vacation destinations.

I don’t have to tell you that much has changed since then, and genuinely for the better. The wine world is broader and far more diverse now, and field and cellar techniques have improved to such an extent that I can honestly say we’re living in a golden age of wine. We now get good, better-than-drinkable wine from almost every harvest, whereas “back then” one or two of every ten vintages were superior, three or four were OK, and five or six were not worth the drinking.

With all the changes that have occurred, I wondered what would happen today if a naif, as I then was, should walk into a good wine shop and ask a knowledgeable retailer to put together a case of wines to introduce him or her to the world of wine. Phew!  Talk about the labors of Hercules: It would be an impossible task. One bottle from each of the principal wine regions of the world would overflow the case. One bottle from each of the principal wine-producing nations would easily fill it – and what kind of introduction to wine would that be, with something like a single Napa Cabernet representing all the wine of the US, or one red Burgundy all of France?  No, the task couldn’t be approached that way: The whole question has to be rethought.

Perhaps it could be done by using benchmark wines, great ones that show the heights wine can reach. That, of course, is where cost comes into play. Wine prices, like medical costs and the cost of a college education, have increased at many times the rise in incomes, and many times the rate of inflation, especially in recent years. The present-day equivalent of my 1968 $100 would be approximately $725 now: $725 would merely be a down payment on a single bottle of young Château Margaux. Back then, Margaux and Lafite and such wines – the great Bordeaux first growths – were little more than twice the price of wines like Château Gloria and Château Brane Cantenac, which were included in my introductory case. If memory serves, I’m pretty sure those two then cost under $4 a bottle. So the option of structuring our hypothetical case around benchmark great wines can only be a pipe dream: The cost would be prohibitive for all but hedge fund multimillionaires.

So what about organizing by grape variety?  That is, for American wine lovers at least, a very popular approach to wine, so let’s consider it. If we start with white wines, Chardonnay demands inclusion – but its very popularity makes it a difficult choice. Which Chardonnay fairly represents the variety?  Burgundy?  Chablis?  Napa? Sonoma? Long Island? The Finger Lakes? Sicily? Friuli?  Oaked, or fermented in stainless steel?

That would be only Wine #1. Suppose we go on to #2: say Sauvignon blanc. From Sancerre or some other spot on the upper Loire? Or somewhere in California or New York? Or Friuli or Alto Adige? And where do we go for Wine #3?  Riesling, to be sure – but from the Rhine or Moselle, or from Alsace, or the Pacific Northwest, or Australia, or Austria, or Italy?

Only three grapes considered so far, and you see the dimensions of the problems. And the three varieties I’ve so far mentioned show the still built-in Francophilia of the wine world. We haven’t even considered any of the great white grape varieties of Spain and Portugal, Italy, and Greece. And beyond them, there is the plethora of “lesser varieties” from all these countries and from France, any one of which makes perfectly enjoyable wine. Once we say basta to white wines and move to reds, the problem becomes greater still: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot noir, Syrah, Cabernet franc, Mourvèdre – or, to break the Francophilia, Aglianico, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Touriga nacional, Tempranillo, Nerello mascalese, and maybe even Zinfandel.

It’s an endless task. For that reason, for the past 20 years I’ve resisted all suggestions that I update Mastering Wine. It’s impossible: That book’s format can never be used again, not for anything that pretends to be a thorough introduction to wine. No: There’s only one way that our hypothetical instructive case of wines could be assembled, and it’s by pure subjectivity. An individual could do it, drawing entirely on his or her own knowledge and preferences – making them clear, of course, every step of the way. That could produce a coherent collection, with both scope and focus and even some serious attention to cost control. I’m considering trying it, but it will be a time-consuming job, so stay tuned for developments – but not right away.

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I will be the first to admit that I don’t do justice to German wines. I know that many of them are great, and I love Riesling, but I just never drink many German examples of it. Part of the reason is laziness: If you think there are lots of complications to master in Italian or French wine, learning German wines is the real task: hic opus, hic labor est, as the Sybil warned Aeneas before he entered the underworld. But the greater reason is that most German wines don’t match too well with the foods I usually eat. Those want red wines and bigger whites – more force, less delicacy, and less sweetness.


juffer label


Having said all that, I have to admit also that I am occasionally surprised by how unexpectedly well German wines can partner with unusual dishes – at least with dishes not in my regular repertory. Case in point: a 1994 Gunther Steinmetz Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Auslese – all 15 syllables and every luscious drop of it – matched with a Madhur Jaffrey recipe for Sri Lankan Fish Curry, a complex dish of many flavors – fennel seeds, mustard seeds, curry leaves, turmeric, red onions, garlic, tomato, and coconut milk, not to mention a firm-fleshed blackfish filet at the heart of it all. Not my usual fare, and not my usual tipple, but they worked splendidly together.

Our friends Bruce and Joan had us over for dinner. Joan has become an appassionata of Indian cookery and she particularly likes Madhur Jaffrey’s way with spices, so the dinner featured a succession of simple, top-quality primary ingredients enhanced by lively chutneys and sauces. We held the venerable Mosel for the main course.

The wine opened sweet on the palate, its mature apricot and dried peach notes picking up and playing happily with the rich herbal flavors and the coconut sweetness of the sauce. Then, as the wine’s acidity asserted itself and it became progressively drier (the finish was completely dry), the emphasis shifted to Riesling and fish, in another and different harmony. The whole interplay of the wine and the food revealed a depth and complexity that was more than a little surprising. All in all, fascinating and delicious, and all the more impressive in a 24-year-old wine from a not-world-famous producer in a not-particularly-distinguished denomination on the Mosel, itself supposedly a source of lighter wines of a certain fragility.


Middle Mosel map


Like almost all Mosel vineyards, Brauneberger Juffer is picturesque and dramatic, and so precipitous that working it should be considered a heroic undertaking.  Brauneberg these days isn’t one of the Mosel’s magic names, though in the 19th century it was very highly esteemed. Now it is overshadowed by other sites on the middle Mosel, places such as Piesport, Bernkastel, Wehlen, and Graach. And Gunther Steinmetz is a small family winery, not a famous old ancestral property. Patriarch Gunther some years ago turned the works over to his son Stefan, who has assiduously been raising its profile. Still: The Juffer vineyard is hardly the Clos de Vougeot of Germany – all of which makes the quality and vivacity of this 22 year-old-Riesling especially striking.

Brauneberger vineyard


Clearly, I’m just going to have to make a greater effort to learn German wine – and maybe to vary my usual diet a bit.

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Older White Wines

I recently received a solicitation, from an enterprise I will not shame by naming, that included an online article presenting the brilliant aperçu that, yes indeed, white wines can age. After a lip-service concession that whites from Rioja, Burgundy, and the Jura (?!), plus German Riesling and Australian Semillon, are known to last for decades, it went on to list 15 “favorite” cellar-worthy whites from other regions.

This perspicacious enumeration omitted all of Spain and Italy, and recommended Bordeaux – all of it, including apparently the notably long-lived wines of the fabled Entre-Deux-Mers – as well as Alsace – I guess all of its varieties too. It also listed individual varieties from Greece, South Africa, Napa, Oregon, and Washington, all of these too in their entirety, with no qualifications about maker, style, region, or anything else.

I pity the poor souls trying to shop for white wines to cellar on the basis of those recommendations.

Really, it should not be news to anyone that all sorts of white wines from all sorts of places are capable of wonderful and rewarding bottle-aging.


White wine colors


Serious wine journalists of every palatal persuasion have been trumpeting that information for decades now, and while a newbie can be forgiven for not knowing it, anyone halfway serious about wine should already have experienced it.

The important point to be made is not that some white wines can age well, but which ones, and how you are to know them. Great as white Burgundy can be, not every bottle that emanates from that small stretch of France will survive beyond five years – and that is equally true of white Graves, of Fiano di Avellino, of Rioja whites, of Rhine and Moselle Rieslings, of Alsace Riesling and Pinot Gris.

Who made the wine, in what vintage? Is it from the best sites, or some outlying parcel just barely entitled to a prestigious appellation? Those facts matter: They constitute the difference between buying yourself a potential treasure and throwing your money away.

What I’ve just said implies that repute – of the zone, the maker, the vintage – should be the key determinant for a canny white wine shopper. By and large, that is true, but like so many such truths, it’s hardly absolute. As with any other category of wine, any one of those elements could outweigh the others. A vintage may be so fine in a particular zone – some recent vintages of Chablis, for instance – that you’re safe with almost any purchase. Or a producer may be well known for turning out great wines in off-years. Or some producers may be so exceptional that their wines, from an otherwise middling area, are always age-worthy.

ValentiniI can give you a fine example of the last: Trebbiano d’Abruzzo from the late, great Edoardo Valentini. A more unlikely great white wine is hard to imagine: Trebbiano is the blessing and the curse of Italian viticulture. Hardy and prolific, it grows everywhere and bears heavily, usually producing very ordinary wine that is used predominantly in blends. It has many different clones, though few of them are prized. Trebbiano di Soave is one, and another (I’m tempted to say the other) is Valentini’s distinctive Trebbiano d’Abruzzo.

It’s fair to say that the vast majority of Trebbiano-based wines made in Abruzzo (or anywhere else, for that matter) is meant to be consumed as young and fresh as possible, because such charm as these wines possess fades quickly. Valentini’s wine is utterly different – round, full-fleshed, deeply mineral and fruity, with enough tannin from skin contact and enough natural acidity to sustain it for the long haul. How long? Well, I’ve drunk 25-year-olds that were still fresh and lively, so much so that I kicked myself for pouring them prematurely.

98 TrebbianoI quite recently opened my last bottle of Valentini’s 1998 Trebbiano for a dinner with friends I knew would recognize its allure. None of us was disappointed, even though the wine was only 17 years mature. What was it like? I’ll quote Burton Anderson’s landmark book, Vino, about his experience of a younger specimen:

[T]he Trebbiano is in a class by itself, unquestionably the finest wine of that name I have tasted. The 1974 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, drunk in 1979, had everything a dry white wine should have plus the elegance, breed and strength of character that even some of the finest lack. I would not hesitate to compare it to the white wines of Puligny Montrachet.

The comparison with great white Burgundy is one that many tasters have repeated since. In fact, it is probably even truer now than it was in ’79: As Valentini’s hand got surer and his vines aged, that round, mouth-filling Burgundian quality only intensified. My ’98 displayed it beautifully, even the next day when I finished the little left in the bottle.

Edoardo Valentini was not a lovable man. He could be as hard and exacting with people as he was in his winemaking. Every year he sold off most of his harvest, keeping only the very finest grapes for his deliberately small production. In the years since he has passed on, his son has very successfully maintained the quality level he so arduously pursued, and the Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo remains a monument to what can be achieved by individual effort.

And that brings me back to the original point of this post. Of course white wines can age, sometimes magnificently. It all depends on the What and the Who and the Where and the When, and there are many well-informed journalists out there who have been trying to preach this gospel for some time now. Go read Ed McCarthy and Mary Mulligan, go read Kerin O’Keefe, Tom Hyland, Michael Apstein, Charles Scicolone – even some of my previous posts and articles. The information you need to shop intelligently and fruitfully is there for the gleaning.

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It was the best of trips, it was the worst of trips; it was sometimes a very good wine, it was never a bad one; it was sometimes a fine dinner, it was sometimes a disappointing one. Nobody wound up at the guillotine, though one of us – me! poor me – wound up the trip with some spectacular intestinal distress, of which you do not want the details. It’s enough to know that I have suffered for my art.


Diane and I decamped from rainy, chilly New York for Barcelona and Paris at the end of September. We landed in bright sunshine and warmth and enjoyed that for our whole stay in Barcelona, before returning to rain and chill in the soi-disant City of Light. I hadn’t been in Barcelona since the Franco years. It’s a very different place now – lively, buoyant, prosperous, experiencing a strong surge of Catalan nationalism, which was reflected in sometimes unpronounceable menu entries. The Catalan language, which is widely spoken and written, is closer to Provençal than it is to Spanish, and it uses “X” – pronounced halfway between “ch” and “sh” – in unexpected places.

In Barcelona, the all-but-compulsory aperitif is cava: Spanish – excuse me, Catalan – champagne-method sparkling wine. I don’t normally get very excited about cava: Too many of those I taste here are stripped down to acidity and bubbles, with the fruit and/or minerality dropped out somewhere mid-Atlantic. But we drank many cavas in Barcelona, and they were all charming – nothing outstanding, but all pleasant. Must be the effect of the local air and the local tapas, which were delightful. With them and with our dinners we also drank a lot of Priorat and Penedes wines. Again many were charming but few striking.

The two best wines of our stay in Barcelona we enjoyed on two separate nights in our favorite restaurant, Casa Leopoldo. The red was the Riserva Especial of La Rioja Alta’s Viña Ardanza 2001. This was only the third bottling of this Riserva Especial (the others are 1964 and 1973), and I thought it a bargain at €34. An elegant, limpid wine of great depth and complexity, it matched equally well with two widely different first courses and then with a spicy, tomato-ey tripe dish and an unctuous pig knuckle swathed with wild mushrooms. Any wine that can do that has guts as well as complexity.











We enjoyed this dinner so much we arranged to return there for our final meal in Barcelona. Elinor, head of the waitstaff, who had taken charge of us the first evening, promised us a caught-that-day John Dory – Gallo di San Pedro here. The fish was grilled magnificently and tasted fresh and rich, as were the dishes that preceded it: absolutely fresh anchovies, lightly marinated, and tiny, tiny squids sautéed with chanterelles and topped with a poached egg. The wine that matched these very different flavors was equally rich and fresh: a big, luscious white Rueda, 2010 Belondrade y Lurton Verdejo (€44, and well worth it). A 100% Verdejo, fermented and aged on the lees in 300-liter French oak, it tasted wonderfully of fruit and mineral, with the oak showing not as a flavor but as a rounding and fattening of the lean Verdejo character. A lovely meal and a lovely wine.












For more about what we ate in Barcelona, see this post on Diane’s blog.



Paris, alas, was another story. In part it might have been the weather, but we missed the brilliance, the magic, that so many past dinners in Paris had led us to expect.

We had decided to skip the starred restaurants: What we wanted was honest brasserie cooking – but we couldn’t find it. Maybe we chose badly, maybe we were just unlucky. Some very simple things remained marvelous – sitting at a café table and gnawing a sandwich au jambon made with that amazing Parisian baguette; one lunch of roasted marrow bones followed by a small steak frites (Diane) and a shepherd’s pie (me) at Le Petit St. Benôit, accompanied by the house’s own simple Côtes de Rhône.

But other places that we knew from earlier visits – Louis Vins, Vagenende – had moved more upscale and lost some of their scruffy charm (plus, in the case of Louis Vins, its wonderful list of Beaujolais crus, now replaced by a battery of middling Bordeaux). New places – for instance, Le Petit Celadon – that we tried turned out to be much more formal than we were hoping for: good food, very correctly served, but a more starched experience than we wanted. One new restaurant, in a total mix-up, turned out to be the very kind of thing we were trying to avoid, a Michelin two-star “restaurant gastronomique,” with all that that entails.

And I could scarcely find any older wines. That didn’t surprise me in Barcelona – but in Paris? The best bottle of the French half of our vacation was a 1996 Zind Humbrecht Riesling Clos Windsbuhl (€134) that we drank at the afore-mentioned restaurant gastronomique: Jean Francois Piège at Thoumieux. The wine was lovely, deep and resourceful – it had to be, to match with nine largely over-the-top appetizers; a main course of Brittany blue lobster, dressed with red bell pepper puree, foie gras, and eau de coco (yes, coconut water); and a selection of five cheeses cunningly presented on tall chunks of some exotic wood – not to mention four desserts.

This restaurant – the current mutation of what had been for decades a fine, family-owned brasserie – seems typical of the hot trend of restaurants in Paris and New York. The menu is essentially fixed: You get a few choices of main course, and everything else is chosen by the chef. This means that you confront a succession of elaborate small dishes which may or may not make any culinary sense. The New York Times has talked about this phenomenon recently, in its rather even-handed way. I’m not going to be even-handed: I don’t like it. I don’t want that many dishes, that many different flavors, that long at table. I want fewer dishes and more choices, so I can select a wine I enjoy to match with foods I want to eat. I can only hope this latest manifestation of star-chef egoism dies an early death, before, like Sydney Carton, I am driven to do a far, far better thing than I have ever done and give up going to restaurants entirely.

Except for places like this one in Barcelona:

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As well as being one of the most prestigious vineyards in Germany – one of three that have their own appellation – Schloss Vollrads may be the oldest identifiable vineyard on earth. At least, it’s the one with the longest verifiable history as a producing vineyard. The Greiffenclau family took possession of the property in 1097; the earliest surviving record of wine sales dates from 1211, over 800 years ago. Just for perspective: That’s four years before the Magna Carta.

The once-fortified tower for which the estate is named was built in 1330 on the foundations of a Roman fort dating from before the fourth century. The whole German system of wine appellations has its roots at Schloss Vollrads, which was the first to designate a wine suitable for aging as “Kabinett.” Only Pompeii can boast identifiable vineyards pre-dating Schloss Vollrads’s, and their producing history was dramatically interrupted for 1900 years.

Being a sort of history nut as well as a wine nut, I happily accepted the offer to taste some of Schloss Vollrads’s recent wines over a lunch at Shun Lee Palace, near Lincoln Center. The Schloss produces nothing but Riesling, in all its German gradations of dryness and sweetness, and I’ve always found that Riesling of almost any kind matches well with Chinese cuisine. So this was a Trifecta for me, and I looked forward to the lunch with what the pulp writers call “keen anticipation.” The wines didn’t disappoint.

Rowald Hepp

Rowald Hepp, the general manager and winemaker, represented Schloss Vollrads. Charming and knowledgeable, he has been running the estate since 1999.

For centuries, the Schloss had been the heritage of the Greiffenclau family, whose last scion was Count Erwein Matuschka Greiffenclau. He was an imposing man – 6’5’ tall, gracious, and a notoriously fast driver – who loved the vineyards and their wine, but apparently was not so skilled at handling finances. When the estate was forced into bankruptcy in 1997, Matuschka walked out into the vineyards and shot himself, a gesture that in these hard (headed) financial times seems both stirringly romantic and decidedly unhelpful.

The Schloss Vollrads vineyards consist of 81 hectares of south-facing slopes along the banks of the Rhine, west of Frankfurt, in the Rheingau. They usually enjoy a long growing season, with relatively mild winters and relatively hot summers, ideal for Riesling. Field work is rigorous and precise, to control yields and maximize ripeness: removing lower portions of clusters to control molds, green harvesting, multiple hand pickings, manual sorting of individual grapes and clusters after harvest – all are routine procedures at Vollrads. Since 2003, the estate has used no cork: bottles are sealed with glass, which, Hepp says, allows the wine to mature properly without any risk of cork taint.

The wines tasted at the luncheon were all from the 2011 vintage. As Hepp described it, this was not an easy one for German winemakers. A very cold early winter preceded an unusually mild January and February, spring-like conditions in March, and summer-like ones in April, all of which resulted in very early budding in April and blossoming in late May. Actual summer then was hot and rainy, causing a season-long struggle against rot, but also inducing quick ripening. Harvest started on September 14, the earliest ever for the Rheingau, and an Indian summer prolonged the harvest to mid-October, when the strongly shriveled grapes for auslese, beerenauslesle, and trockenbeerenauslese were gathered. Hepp was very happy with the quality of the harvest, describing the grapes as “richly aromatic and spicy, with perfectly balanced acidity.”

Here are my tasting notes on the day’s wines (with my usual caveat about all tasting notes: They were accurate for me at that one particular time and place – they may not be at all true for you, and even for me they are not engraved in stone).

Riesling QbA* dry: intriguing lemon and acacia blossom aroma; great fruit and acidity; lovely long citric finish. Hepp estimates 3 to 5 years aging potential. Quite good, especially for an estate’s base wine.

Riesling Kabinett medium-dry (sometimes designated “halb-trocken”): again, intense acacia blossom and lemon aromas precede an intensely floral and mineral palate with lively acidity. A trace of sweetness shows only in the slightly hazelnutty finish. Very fine.

Riesling QbA: lemon/lime nose; bright and sprightly, almost frizzante, on the palate. Slightly sweet lemon in finish. Lovely Riesling character throughout. Very good.

Riesling Kabinett: Small mushroom-and-earth scents mixed with flowers; floral and apricot in the mouth; great minerality in the finish. Again, excellent varietal character throughout. I would guess this wine would cellar quite well for up to ten years. Very fine.

Riesling Spätlese: Fermented at very low temperatures for up to 14 weeks in stainless steel. Hepp’s technical notes are, for my palate, very accurate: “Incredible fruit complexity. Stunning floral aromas of peach, raspberry, and honeysuckle, with hints of apple blossoms and traces of ginger.” I would add that the low alcohol and the striking acidity, which easily supports the residual sugar, keep the wine light and agile on the palate, right into and through its luscious finish. Should cellar well for more than a decade.

Riesling Auslese: Hepp calls this “an amazing wine”; I found it lush, rich and complex with a whole spectrum of sweet fruit flavors, all sustained by terrific acidity. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I loved sipping this wine as dessert. Very fine.

Over all, these 2011s all displayed that rich floral and mineral character that is the hallmark of the finest Rieslings. Their lower alcohol and varying degrees of sweetness defined them as classic German wines – wines perhaps not always easy to match with foods (but I kept thinking how much any of these wines would love a smoked trout!), but exquisite in themselves, and when you do find their right partner, absolutely incomparable.

* QbA is the basic classification of German table wines, technically a niche below Kabinett and all the rarefied levels of sweetness that ascend from there: Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese (BA), and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA).

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