German wine labels are, at first glance, difficult to process: mouthfuls of consonants and extremely long words. They are very informative, some of the most informative in the wine world – once you understand some of the basic terminology. For example, “Erzeugerabfüllung” (say that five times fast!) translates simply to “estate-bottled.”
Take a look at a typical label:
Ripeness refers to sweetness. Here’s a quick reference:
Kabinett: dry to off-dry.
Spätlese: off-dry to sweet.
Beerenauslese: sweet, beginning of dessert wines.
Trockenbeerenauslese: very sweet.
Eiswein: very sweet.
I hope this helps in your explorations into the world’s greatest wine grape – Riesling!
Brothers Jerry and Butch Milbrandt grew up on the family’s farm in eastern Washington. When the grape rush began the brothers diversified, and with the assistance of famed Washington viticulturist Jim McFerran, began cultivating some of the state’s most sought-after fruit. Milbrandt has sold to many of the high-priced producers and they finally decided to make their own wines, and so Milbrandt Vineyards was born. Their Traditions series offers exceptional value and serious sipping that you’re gonna love!
It’s striking: The iconic image of high rise Manhattan with a green square in the middle. …Except, the green in the middle is the rolling vineyards of Tuscany with old stone barns and winery buildings. Part of a Credit Suisse ad campaign touting that the bi-deal banks has clients everywhere, in this case the estate of the Frescobaldis.
You could also read it as a pitch for the ultimate localism: Plough under the park and its running trails for vineyards. Also points up a big flaw for some local locos: most insist that they want to live on local everything until they realize that means no Italian wine, no Greek olives, no Moroccan olives, etc. …Actually they could do quite well with Long Island cab franc and Finger Lakes riesling.
Still it’s a great picture — look closely and you can see SoHo sommeliers picking grapes.
Yep, and not with snooty pulled-duck sliders, but the real deal soft-bun White Castle burgers crawling with onions of my misspent youth. Only 12 cents back in the day. Fact: A White Castle branch in Lafayette, Indiana has tried selling wine. The label appropriately is Barefoot Cellars, which is a bit more polished than its name. Choices initially are chard, merlot, moscato and a sweet red. I’d go for a dry riesling or a Beaujolais. More sliders, please!
Richard Dawson of Family Feud in The Running Man (1987)
A poll for a German wine trade group says that wine drinkers across three continents consider alcohol strength a major priority in buying wine, Decanter reports.
And that’s not the usual “Americans made make overripe fruit bombs while the French make decorous 12.5% wines.”
This showed that a sizable group, especially women and younger drinkers, want wines with under 12% alcohol content. In the US, the UK and Germany, 22 percent want wines at 10.5% or less; in China 92 percent want wines even lower.
That sounds self-serving in that the Germans are the only nation regularly in that range. Problem: the best German wine makers are on a tear with dry wines that place at 12 percent or more.
Whatever the truth on the matter, interest in low alcohol will not affect serious wine production but it will spur the recreational wine category. Still, I say it would be useful to connoisseurs and teetotalers alike to make alcohol strength more clear on labels.
However the top factor for wine buying remains varietal grapes, and the Brits make the dullest choices: merlot and pinot grigio. The US and China favor cabernet and hard to pronounce wines; Germans want dornfelder and riesling.
While bruschetta won’t disappear (wish it would), look for more smart chefs to take your tastebuds move into the cuisines of colder climates. The flavors of Scandinavia, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia and even Korea are increasingly on offer in new restaurants from New York to London, if not yet Florida. One attraction is the warmth of comfort food, the other appeal is the flip side of seasonal cooking: What and how to cook in winter when nothing is in season.
For centuries northern cooks have pickled, dried, smoked, cured, jellied, jammed and preserved summer’s bounty of vegetables, pork and fish to eat during the long cold winter. Today’s smart chefs have been relearning all these processes in house especially when the haus is a gastropub. The allure of serving house-made gravlax, pickled beets, pork belly, red cabbage and spaetzle in minimalist decor is irresistible. I mean once you’ve had tapas, sushi and mezze, can the smorgasbord be far behind? Of course that’s not food made for merlot, but perfect for Alsatians and Mosels, riesling, gewurz, g.v., pinot blanc and lighter German reds. And beer, which we Americans now know how to brew.
New York State wines got high praise recently in an unusual place, the New York Times. Although the snootier corners of the market of New York wine buyers dismiss prefer France to California, let alone home-state wines. Wine writer Eric Asimov took readers on a tempting tour of the Finger Lakes and offered encouraging words. He frowned on the more common hybrid grapes but was high on the most noble varietals: Riesling is made for the cold and cabernet franc has already succeeded on Long Island. I wouldn’t write off the hybrids too soon but it’s good to see appreciation for the hard work in unfashionable vineyards around the country. The people work hard and the wine is, how you say, local.
We were privileged to sit down with the great Prum family last month. If you know and love Prum already, move straight to the pre-sale price list below now (and order by Nov.1 if you want them for the holidays). For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of tasting the new and exciting German wines, let me introduce you. We met Katharina and her parents and their briskly dry rieslings at a picnic high up the steep Sonnenuhr vineyard and then in the family’s winery in Wehlen on the other side of the Mosel down below. Not many wine lovers get into that sanctum or get that clear a view of three great vineyards. And prime sites were crucial in 2010, another in a decade of great vintages but a challenge in lower grade estates. Not for Prum, with some of the best vineyards in the Mosel. The 2010 Prums are universally bright, crisp and acidic with big aromas of stone fruits and apples, flowers, rocks, smoke and mountain streams. Sorry you weren’t there but you can taste the terroir distincly clean and dry in the glass. The main J.J. Prum Riesling Kabinett is a tour of its properties, a cuvée, you can smell the flint and slate of the hills and taste fresh peaches. Wehlener Sonnennuhr, our picnic ground, is sunnier and steep, making wines intense and fresh with perfect finesse. Heavenly Graacher Himmelreich has more apricot than peach, good acids and long finish, while the Badstube in Bernkastel produces the most tropical flavors. Grapes from all of them, whether of Kabinett Spatlese or Auslese ripeness, can come out with dry sophistication. If you want the best of traditional honeyed sweetness, look for the Prum Ausleses with the gold capsules from each of the great vineyards. All these wines will be put to sea soon, so if you want these wines at these prices, to light up your holidays, let me know by Nov.1. This is a grand opportunity for Prum collectors to get their favorites and for wine lovers to taste they’ve been missing. You’re gonna want that.
Who put this meal together? Sandra brought home the fish but the refrigerator threw in the ringer, asparagus, death to almost any wine (and most palates between 3 and 30). A challenge, indeed, yet something suggested Germany. They would have gone for river trout but the sole (if it was that) was delicate so I sauteed with butter, parsley and walnuts, which gave it a little body. Asparagus was very thin and its flavors were sharp but crisp, not so frightening as the fat white monsters.
Not as much as stumper as it appeared, our friends in the Rhinegau supplied a perfect dry riesling that held up quite well. The ’09 Charta from Schloss Johannishof (91 WA, under $20) was racy, lively with enough acid to perk up the fish and stand up to the asparagus, like a squeeze of lemon on them both. Yet its spice and big body may have made it the best part of the meal.
One of the great pleasures I’ve had in the last ten years is the beauty of German wines, as terroir-driven and perfectly made as great Burgundies and longer lived (and more affordable). Yet too many wine lovers miss out because they’re stumped by the Gothic labels. So I’ll make it easy. One word: Prum. Actually it’s the Joh. Jos. Prum winery so we just call it Prum, JJ for short. The rest is simpler than it looks in that medieval typeface. The grapes are always Riesling. All the vineyards are on steep, schist-rich slopes along the Mosel, the only region with 90+ vintages for the past 10 years, and the Prums are always in the 90s too. They make terrific wines, perfumed with apples, apricots and cloves, sometimes slightly honeyed, always racy with minerality, fresh as a walk in the hills and terrific with food. Your only big choice is ripeness, a drier Kabinett, a Spatlese or the fuller Ausleses. Any Prum. Mosel Riesling has remarkable longevity. Bet you’ll love them right now too.
My personal year of Riesling is coming to an end but I assure you the Riesling rising will continue. Indeed a new outfit called the International Riesling Foundation has organized to make sure it happens. Their dream: Riesling wines will be recognized and demanded internationally as one of the world’s most noble wines due to their diversity of styles, regional character, consistent quality, and compatibility with food.
It’s gotta happen for many reasons, not the least of which is the 2009 German vintage, so bright and vital it matches a world of food.
The stumbling block is the wrong headed thinking that all Rieslings are sweet. To change that perception the IRF promotes a Riesling profile for backlabels marking where the wine falls from dry to medium dry, medium sweet and sweet. Well, it’s a step.
Most promising reason for Riesling’s future success is that much of the New World is bored and unsuccessful with Chard and Sauv Blanc. Especially if the newest cold-climate vineyards that recognize they have to plenty something else. This is true in Canada, Australia, Washington, New York and here’s the surprise, Michigan.
2006 Konstantin Frank Semi Dry Riesling
Indeed it was Michigan winegrowers who collected the rest of the Riesling world together to start the IRF because Michigan has a big stake in the varietal. Riesling’s now the number one grape in the state’s cool lakeshore where 40 some vineyards make 100 Rieslings.
While Wolverine Rieslings are rarely seen in Florida, B-21 has a wide range of Rieslings and not all from Germany. My faves: Charles Smith’s tangerine-crazy Kung Fu Girl from Washington state ($11.99), Dr. Konstantin Frank’s pioneering semi dry from the Finger Lakes ($14.99) and the elegant floral Villa Maria from Marlborough NZ.
This time it was the 2009 Graff Kabinett from Piesport-Michelsberg, one of the few German wine place-names we remember – and therefore doubt. Don’t! Remember that this stretch of the Mosel is well known for good reason (as well as some bad surely).
Graff is decidely one of the good reasons and great values ($9.99), ripe fruit, bright acidity and a friendly texture. Mellifluous if you’ll allow me, it feels as good in the mouth as that sounds.
The strong suit was crisp apple flavors that added spark to a very simple roast chickenwith a light crust of sea salt, moist and schmaltzy, great comfort food which welcomed the edge. It sat well with a sweet potato and was equally at home with a brisk salad of arugula, frisee and chard with raspberries, blackberries, blue cheese and almonds.
I am ramping up at the end of of my personal year of riesling and have yet to find much food that doesn’t like it. We dug into a take-out pile of juicy pulled pork, black beans and oh-so-sweet plantains.
The wine was the modest 2009 Estate Riesling from Schloss Lieser ($14.99, the small, very focused operation of Thomas Haag, and the Mosel worked handsomely. Maybe you expected that because Germans and Cubans share a love of pork. But I punch my pork with vinegar and pepper and spark the black beans with Crystal. What the Riesling contributed was crispness and acid to cut the fat (yes there was some) and the softness of the plantains and a bright fruit to complement the beans.