Sunday Lunch with Riesling from the Saar River

January 29, 2007

What a wonderful weekend this was. It goes without saying that I had “to weber” some of our food; to be precise it was my task to barbecue Sunday’s lunch. As our house guest David is vegetarian it meant that I had a lot of “veggies” (as Australians commonly call vegetables) to prepare. But we had also fresh fish, a Pomfret as it is commonly known. There are two varieties, the white and the black pomfret. The Indonesians call the former “Bawal Putih”. White pomfret has an excellent flavour and is commonly used for a dish called Ikan Asam Manis (sweat & sour fish); needless to say that it is very delicious either steamed or grilled.

The White Pomfret

The White Pomfret (from Kaarin Wall “A Jakarta Market”, page 53)

First, I grilled the vegetables: potatoes (after they were boiled), onions, capsicum, green peppers, and zucchini. The fish was marinated with black olives and capers and wrapped in aluminum foil to keep it moist. I put it on for only about 20 minutes. The food was delicious and we had the right wine to go with it.

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My Weber with the vegetables

We drank one of my last two bottles of Van Volxem Saar Riesling 2003. This wine estate is located in Wiltingen (www.wiltingen.de), a village about 20 km south of Trier at the Saar River, a cool climate region belonging to the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer area. The lower Saar is a very small winegrowing region but has some of the best Grand-Cru locations for Riesling (for instance Schwarzhofberg) on which its reputation is based.

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The 2003 Van Volxem Riesling

Van Volxem is the oldest estate in the Saar. Formerly a monastery, the estate belonged to the Van Volxem family for four generations. In 1999 it was purchased by Roman Niewodniczanski of the beer brewing Bitburger family. Based on old tax records, many excellent and sometimes forgotten vineyard sites were newly acquired when the estate was expanded. Most of the more than 20 ha are planted with Riesling vines. The first vintage was bottled in 2000 and ever since elegant wines with excellent ratings were produced under a system that avoids the German “Praedikat system”. Unfortunately, the estate’s internet presentation is still under construction. Therefore, we have to wait a while longer until you can visit www.vanvolxem.de.

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A typical Saar vineyard

The soils of the Saar are based on blue-black slates and very stony. The vineyards are located at steep southerly slopes. The key for the Van Volxem Estate’s success are late harvests and low yields, environmental friendly practices (no pesticides) and low input cultivation techniques (no chemical fertilizers), relying in the cellar on natural yeasts fermentations and maturation in oak barrels. The 2003 dry Riesling blend has 12% alcohol. It was the first vintage producing dryer wines. 2003 was a ripper year as regards the weather and this might explain the higher than usual alcohol content of the 2003 vintage. Some of the wines are produced from more than 100 years old vines. The 2003 Riesling is medium bodied, had a buttery aroma and displayed some sweetness. It showed some mineral characteristics, had a fruity nose and a long finish. It is terrible that I have only one more bottle left of this excellent vintage (www.riesling.de). Wines do not age well in the tropics, even if you keep them properly refrigerated. There is always the odd power failure which destroys your well thought through cellaring program.

The drinking of Saar wine reminds me of my youth when my father and his friends used to go hunting in Schoden, a village further upriver. Often groups of hunters would descend on the Saar villages after successful campaigns and dine in one of the old rural inns (Gasthoefe). When at home with my mother in Trier, we often set out for long walks in the forests covering the hills above the Saar. From there one has a magnificent view of the lovely countryside.

From Schoden

Vineyards in a distance

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The Saar Valley, the village of Biebelhausen in front on the left side of the Saar, behind the terroir “Ayler Kupp”, and to the left further back the famous village of Ayl.

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