…drop me in the water. (Deutscher wein part 2)

IMG_3371Looks like we’re gonna need more spit buckets.

Welcome back to the river. The Rhine that is, where today we’ll be heading down the Middle Rhine and into the northern tip of the Lower Rhine.

Confused? Me too! That’s all right– we’ll just hop on another KD boat, get out our map, order a glass of cold riesling, and be on our merry way.

We’re heading to the Rheingau wine region today, and we’ll be traveling through one of the most scenic stretches of the Rhine, filled with historic castles, wine villages, and rows upon rows of vineyards. There’s also plenty of fairy tales, myths, and legends based along this route, ranging from the epic adventures of Siegfried as told in The Nibelungelied, to the legend of The Lorely, the siren who perched herself on the now famous rock with the same name, bringing many a sailor to their demise with her seductive calls.

My favorite story, however, is the “tail” of the Mäuseturm or Mouse Tower. In the city of Mainz lived the archbishop Hatto, a wealthy and greedy man. He turned his back on the starving country-folk, and when there’s no food for the people, the resident mice also go hungry. Like all of us when we don’t eat for a while, the mice get a little… cranky. They confront Hatto, ask him “what’s up, fatty? Give us some grub!” and chase him to various locations before they all end up in the nearby tower on the river. And there the starving rodents, after finally cornering Hatto, alleviate some of their hunger by feeding on fatty himself.

…I love this country!

*    *    *

Back to the wine. Whereas the wines of the Moselle tend to have a more bracing acidity, creating lean and mean rieslings, the wines of the Rheingau might be better described as richly intense in the mid-palate, fuller-bodied (like Hatto), and incredibly well-balanced. These are truly some of Germany’s finest wines. Period.


IMG_3593_3Riesling grapes along the Rhine, near Bingen.

It’s a fairly small sized region in terms of total acreage, but more riesling is grown here than anywhere else in Germany. Not surprisingly, this noble varietal thrives here, benefiting from its position between the Tanus forest, which protects it from the cold, harsh winds of the North, and the Rhine, which has its own list of advantages, described in Deutscher wein part 1.

While many, if not most of the vineyard sites along the Moselle lie on incredibly steep slopes, the vineyards along this part of the Rhine are on less dramatic, gently sloping hills. Moreover, most of the vineyards here are on south-facing slopes, maximizing sun and warmth and thus allowing sugars within the grapes to achieve higher levels earlier. These vineyards also enjoy optimal conditions for botrytis (edelfäule in German) to affect some of the grapes come fall, as mist from the river often settles into the vineyards and initiates the magic of noble rot. It’s no surprise, then, that some of the world’s best Trockenbeerenauslese are from the Rheingau.

IMG_3494Vineyards near Oberwesel

*    *    *

As we make our way down the river, you’ll notice how regular announcements are made over the PA, detailing the landmarks, villages, and vineyard sites. These announcements are made first in German, and then in English. You’ll also notice how most everyone on the boat bursts into laughter when the English version is played. We’ll just play along and laugh with everyone else. Ha ha! Silly English words. Everybody knows that German is the most beautiful language in the world, not to mention a great workout for the back of your throat.IMG_3581

I was advised to skip the tourist hot-spot of Rüdesheim, and spend the day at Bacharach instead, since the latter is much less overrun with tourists. I considered this almost the whole trip downriver and came to the conclusion that yours truly, while unique and special as an individual snowflake, was above all else, a tourist. And so it was off to the crowds and hoopla of the famous wine town of Rüdesheim.

The moment I disembarked the boat and set off along the main street by the river, I was happy with my decision; you get used to making mistakes on the road, sometimes major ones, so moments like this are glorious victories. Here was an incredibly beautiful and fun town, centered around the region’s wine and cuisine, and mine for the day.

My first stop? A museum! I realize that for many people, there’s no better way to ruin a trip than by the dreaded museum visit. What a fantastic way to waste hours of your precious time in a foreign country! But put me in a building full of old, dried-up stuff from the past and I’m happy as a clam. And this was the famous Rheingau wine museum, situated inside the Brömserberg, the oldest castle along the Rhine wine gorge, a must see for any true wine-geek. IMG_3634

Most of the displays were in German only, but sometimes you just want to meander around and let your imagination run wild. I wondered how many great wines these ancient tools had helped create, and how many hands over the years had worked them. It was a fantastic museum for wine lovers, full of ancient wine presses, vineyard tools, and artifacts from the area’s pre-history. You get to climb up, around, and all about the remaining castle towers to see everything, including the town’s surrounding vineyards. And you can taste wine at the end of your tour.

It was getting late in the day so I headed off to see the Drosselgass, an incredibly famous and well-publicized street where people pack into and shuffle through, gawking at all the wine shops, restaurants, and other attractions. The lane also gets more narrow as you climb the hill, making for some real close and personal contact with your fellow tourists.

And now that I’ve been there, done that, I have to say, “what’s the big deal”? Lively as it was, there are about a billion other historic, pretty walk-ways in Europe that looked pretty similar to this one. I struggled through this human poop-chute, looking hard to see if I was missing something outside of the beer-maids in full traditional German attire, and was relieved to get through there alive.

*    *    *

IMG_3605

A glimpse into the Rhine’s past.

After winding up on top of a small hill near the heart of the town, I wandered around the town’s quieter areas, taking in the many historic estates, wineries, and hotels on this beautifully sunny afternoon. Suddenly and without warning, my stomach betrayed me and demanded re-filling. Now.

I wound up, ironically, back down the Drosselgass at Breuer’s Rüdesheim Schloss, a wine hotel/restaurant run by local wine producer Weingut Georg Breuer. Jackpot…

A swarmy, creepy trick of mine is to sit down at a restaurant, take out my journal and camera, and put on my best face of indignation. I sit back in my chair, cross my legs, and have a critical look around. And like clockwork, the staff pays very close attention to me. Mind you, I’m not trying to deceive anyone into thinking I’m the wine and food critic for the NY Times, but a little presentation goes a long way. My server, a typical-looking German woman, strong and pleasant, came to my table and looked like she had either seen a thousand of me already that day, or just wasn’t buying my little charade.

But she was great. I mean, there was no grand fawning over my table (which I secretly desired), but it had to have been the best service I’ve had in Europe thus far. I explained to her that I was hoping to have a taste of some of this particular region’s cuisine- as well as a great example of a few of their wines. And man, did she deliver.

IMG_3677

Dinner began with a slate platter (how appropriate is that?) of appetizers, including a salmon terrrine w/ roe and lox, and a cold pork salad which were both out of this world. This was accompanied by their 2007 trocken riesling, an intensely aromatic wine with great acidity on the finish. That acidity is so important with food pairing, as it works to “refresh” your palate after a bite of food, and intensifies the flavors in your dish.

Along with the riesling was a spätburgunder rosé. I should briefly mention here that this grape does very well here in the Rheingau, and is second in planting to riesling. What struck me most about this wine was its color. It was an amazing shade of pink, somewhere in-between copper and cooked salmon, and I almost felt guilty drinking it. Almost.

IMG_3680It’s really a shame how very little is said or written about a wine’s color, hue, tint, etc. They can be so beautiful to just look at, and if the adage about “eating with your eyes” is true, why not drinking too? In any event, I was grateful to have a rosé in front of me as, sadly, I haven’t had too many this spring/summer. Like most pinot noir rosés, the nose was full of sweet berries, but nice and dry on the finish.

And for the main course? Here fishy-fishy-fish… A whole trout! The restaurant staff watched in what was probably disgusted amusement as this strange American took notes, snapped pictures, made a general pig of himself, and ordered another glass of their riesling to go with my entree.

IMG_3684

Many thanks for all the great service and delicious food and wine to the good folks at Rüdesheimer Schloss, and to Melanie in particular. I promise I’ll leave room for dessert next time.

*    *    *

I left Rüdesheim with a feeling that I got a real taste– literally– of the town and the region as a whole. And it was delicious. What an amazing area of the country, of Europe, of the world. I pray I’ll get back here sometime in this life and make a pig of myself again. When I first arrived in Germany, I had explained to my contact in Cologne that I was “a wine guy”. He responded with a funny look and a question as to why I was in Germany. In a country where beer far outweighs the importance of wine, at least within its own borders, I am absolutely amazed how incredible this wine region is. These wines deserve far more attention than they often get. Then again, maybe that’s not such a bad thing– there will be more for you and I.

With good cheer always,

Jared

Advertisements

~ by Jared on July 30, 2009.

4 Responses to “…drop me in the water. (Deutscher wein part 2)”

  1. How come you never sold me any German wine? Is it because you know I like the 14-16 % ones -) which by the way is how you trained my palate. The cold pork appetizers and reisling sounds wonderful, along with the trout. Marone…it’s a wonder you haven’t put on 30 pounds on this adventure.

    • Oh, now you’re gonna blame me for your addiction to Abbot’s Table?

      A good German Riesling, dry and cold, on a summer day with some pork… fuhgetaboutit. Stay away from the stuff from Cali or Washington. That’s “poser juice”. Like the guys on the red sox use!!

      I’m havin’ a 30 pound mole removed from my stomach today… 🙂

  2. Great – very amazing theme. I will blog about it too!

  3. […] enter Mr. Wu statement into Google translate – and we find out that he loves German wine and we get a pretty good idea of the French reply. But what makes this incident noteworthy ? – […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: