German Food delights

October 23, 2007

I would like to share with you some of my culinary experiences in Germany. Below you find a select few of the dishes which I had the great fortune to enjoy recently. Some of the wines I had with the food are less memorable than others, therefore don’t worry about it. I have prepared some photos.

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Fish wrapped in bacon/ham

This is a very special combination. When I tasted such dishes for the first time I was quite puzzled. Germans living near the sea know them quite well but since I am a native of the deep South-West, I was rather a novice when it comes to German fish eating habits.

I would like to share an anecdote with you. I once accompanied a group of Muslim politicians to the most northerly state of Germany (Schleswig-Holstein). In Kiel, the state capital, we had ordered a filet of plaice (a local flat fish) “Finkenwerder Art”, me not knowing that this white fish is sprinkled with bacon/ham crumbs when served. The order was utterly inappropriate for pious Muslim adhering to halal food prescriptions. That’s when I learned that Germans do eat fish dishes with pork.

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Pasta with scrimps (at Rolandseck Restaurant near Bonn)

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Alsacian “Flammkuchen” the German way (Weingut Sülz in Oberdollendorf)

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Beetroot soup (Feuerbach Inn in Berlin)

In Berlin I tasted beetroot soup with goats cheese and orange slices in an inn called “Feuerbach”. Unfortunately, I started to eat before realising that I should have taken a picture of the delishes meal before digging my spoon into it. I apologize for that but the soup was so delicious that only immortals could have gotten it right. I promise to visit “Feuerbach” again and replace the picture with a “proper” one.

So far so good you might say but what did he drink with all these dishes? Well, mostly white wines from Germany but not entirely. I drank an Ahr Riesling of the winehouse Meyer-Näkel with the fish in bacon, had an 2005 Heimersheimer Pinot Noir with the seafood pasta, and since at vintage time Germans love to drink “Federweisser”, freshly fermented grape juice (see photo below), I tried some of this rather young and sweatish drink with the Alsacian Flammkuchen.

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A bottle of “Federweisser”, not a drink common in Australia.

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Wine production in the capital city of Berlin

October 18, 2007

I spent the second month of my stay in Germany in Berlin, the capital city of the Federal Republic. Berlin is not located in the centre of the country but rather to the east, only about 70 kilometers from the border with Poland. It’s far away from my own homeland, the Mosel banks. I always joke, my hometown Trier is closer to Paris than to Berlin. In history the Treverer and the Mosel where they settled belonged to both countries or to put it the other way: we were ruled by both.

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Wine shop in Berlin where wine consumption is ‘en vogue’ (in Lichterfelde)

But can you imagine that grapes are also grown on the soils of the national capital? A curiosity, one might think; indeed so it is. Recently I learned from local newspaper articles that today vines are grown in five city districts (for instance Wilmersdorf, Prenzlauer Berg, Wedding, Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain). Because the region is not certified as a wine producing area, the wines produced from the local grapes are not allowed to be sold commercially.

This is not neceassarily an impediment to wine being ,though in small, in fact very small, quantities. The district councils use the bottled local wines as gifts for public anniversaries and award ceremonies. In some cases citizens can obtain these wines against a small fee. Usually the grapes are transported to a proper winery in a wine region where the wines are made. Many of the grapes are turned into sparkling wines. Apart from Riesling red varieties are also grown. Depending on the weather and disease conditions, between 200 and 400 bottles are produced in each of the districts. For us ‘normal’ wine consumers a tasting might be out of the question but it is good for the promotion of the divine drink.

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Advertisement for wine and invitation for wine appreciation classes


2007 Canberra International Riesling Challenge

October 16, 2007

I would love to be in Canberra right now. The 2007 Canberra International Riesling Challenge is going to start tomorrow at the Hyatt Hotel. Now, that my tastebuds have been extensively exposed to German and especially Mosel Rieslings during the last two months travelling in Germany it would be extremely interesting to compare the different wines and styles on offer from the Old and the New World.

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German Riesling grapes, fall 2007

The event is the biggest Riesling competition in the southern hemisphere. This year a record number of wines were registered, 482 wines in comparison to 458 last year and 328 in 2005. The bulk of the wines comes from Australia (293), 73 are from Germany, 58 from New Zealand and 45 from the USA but only three from France.

For more information please visit the website especially created for the event (www.rieslingchallenge.com).

As we know Riesling is all the vogue. Dr. Ernst Loosen from Bernkastel/Mosel (www.drloosen.com), one of the prime producers of Mosel Riesling was very modest and polite when he suggested earlier this year during the “Riesling Rendezvous” at Chateau Ste Michelle estate in Washington State (24-26 June) that “it is up to the New World to help raise the reputation of Riesling and create a Riesling renaissance”. In fact the wine consumers have done it all alone and the world is witnessing a boom in Riesling demand.

Talking Riesling is very important. Australia is a leading Riesling producer. Ever since the Pewsey Vale Riesling from the Eden Valley won a gold medal in London in 1854 Australia has been on the international Riesling map. Many wine regions in the Old World,with the exception of the Mosel of course, where elector Clemens Wenzeslaus had instructed its administrators in 1768 to grow only “white riesling”, did not grow much Riesling in those days.

I hope the event can also contribute to a better understanding of the confusing labelling of German Rieslings. Here more needs to be done to educate international consumers.

Rieslings from our own wine region, the Upper Goulburn Wine Region, have done well in Australian wine shows in recent years. At the 2005 Small Vignerons Awards a 2004 Barwite Riesling won the trophy for best Riesling and in 2006 this trophy was won by the 2005 Delatite Riesling. At the recent Alexandra Food and Wine Expo (please see my earlier blog entry) I had the opportunity to taste the 2005 Barwite Riesling, which showed beautiful floral characters and was a citrus bomb in my mouth. Of course I am curious how the UGWA member wineries will do at the event.


Excursion along the Rhine: Weingut Sülz in Oberdollendorf

October 12, 2007

Carpe diem, ‘enjoy the day’ was the motto my wife suggested I should adhere to, while away from home for the two-month long stay in Germany. I try to follow this advice and make the best out of the separation from my family. Recently I visited a place of my youth, so to speak, from my student times at Bonn University. We used to visit a wine garden-paradise called “Weingut Sülz” (Sülz Estate) in Oberdollendorf near the Seven Peak Mountains (in German, Siebengebirge) on the south side of the Rhine river near Königswinter.

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The Dragon Rock Mountains seen from the Rhine river

The cultivation of grapes and the production of wine have a long tradition here, dating back to the 10th century. In the 14th century ‘Gut Sülz’ (the Sülz Estate) belonged to the nearby monastry of Heisterbach. A country inn was established in 1656. The estate changed hands a few times. Today Weingut Sülz is neither a vineyard nor a winery, but a lovely country inn with a large open-space garden for its many visitors.

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Sülzenberg vineyards

The location is splendid, featuring a beautiful view of the surrounding vineyards. The inn is to be found at the foot of the Sülzenberg, a vineyard location in the form of a theatre at the edge of the Seven Peak Mountains, south of Bonn. The vineyards might be the most northerly ones along the Rhine. Since land consolidation in 1973 and 1979 all vineyards in the theatre have been cultivated by the Blöser family (more about them in a separate later blog entry).

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The Sülz Country Inn

Since 1999 Andreas Lelke has been running the Weinhaus Weingut Sülz (www.weinhaus-gutsuelz.de). His list consists of more than 500 wines and has received multiple awards. His white wine list is dominated by Riesling wines. In 2000 the Riesling Society awarded Andreas Lelke its Riesling award. The German Wine Institute ranked his wine list as “very good” and the Wine Guide Gault Milau awarded its “best wine list” in 2007 to the country inn. It goes without saying that delicious food is served with the wines at Weingut Sülz.

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“What did I drink?” you might ask. Well, during my first visit I sat outside on the terrace and felt like drinking what the hill behind the inn (the Sülzenberg) had to offer. I had a choice between a Sülzenberg Riesling and a Sülzenberg Blue Portugese (Blauer Portugieser in German). I choose the latter. ‘Blue Portugese’ is an old vine variety grown mainly along the Danube river and in South-Eastern Europe. The variety has many different names in the various places it is grown. However, it has nothing to do with Portugal. I cannot recollect ever having drunk the variety before, so the tasting was a ‘maiden affair’. The picture below shows me with a glass of this dark red, but light and fruity wine in my hand. I took the picture myself, which might explain the strange posture.

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The next big thing: German Pinot Noir

October 10, 2007

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Pinot Noir grape

It seems that I’ve been drinking the right stuff: “Blauer Spätburgunder” as the Germans call it, Pinot Noir is all the vogue in “the German lands”. Traditionally, Germany has always been considered a white wine producer. The recent rediscovery of Riesling and the boom in worldwide Riesling demand supports this view.

Now it seems domestic attention has shifted to the colour red. In particular the Pinot Noir wines show a tremendous rise in quality and consumer demand. Wine experts in Germany praise the progress made and estimate that an increase in demand for German Pinot Noir is going to follow the Riesling boom.

But red varieties are no strangers to Germany, as I have pointed out in one of my recent blog entries (“Old friends, wine from the Mosel and other culinary delights”, 16. September 2007). Where would German red wines be if politicians had not meddled in the vintners’ affairs in the 18th century, as elector Clemens Wenzeslaus of Saxonia did along the Mosel?

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Vintage time for Pinot Noir 2007

My recent explorations of German wines made from the Pinot Noir grape can only confirm the wine writers’ opinions, though they mainly point to the wine regions of Ahr, Baden, Rheingau and Rheinhessen and seem to forget the next big thing, Pinot Noir from the Mosel.

I argue that the quality of Mosel Pinot Noir wines is as good as wines from the other regions and you will get a good drop at much less expense. The Ahr, pioneering Pinot Noir grapes for many decades, has always been considered a high-price red wine region. However, you do not have to spend €12 to 20 per bottle.

My favourite Mosel Pinot Noir wine producer, the winery of Alfons Sebastiani in Mehring offers a beautiful Pinot Noir for €5,40 the 0.75 litres bottle.

Another great Pinot Noir producer on the Mosel is Weingut Markus Molitor in Wehlen. I tasted his 2004 Molitor Spätburgunder at the Weinhaus in Trier (opposite the Karl Marx Haus in Brückenstrasse 7); it is very drinkable.

Less affordable are the Molitor 2004 Pinot Noir wines from the locations Graacher Himmelreich and Brauneberger Klostergarten (€35 to 49 /075 l bottle). These prices are an indicator for the general trend; Mosel Pinot Noir wines seem to be becoming the new cult wines. Wine producers and consumers will benefit from it.

As for the average wine drinker like myself, I do not worry about high prices as long as there are plenty of new wines to find, explore, and taste. My recommendation is to try some German Pinot Noir wines.


Dining with River View

October 9, 2007

It was a Friday evening and I wanted to do something special. Therefore I went to have dinner at the “Station Rolandseck”, a converted train station now housing an art museum and gallery and of course a restaurant. Behind the historic building is a new gallery, the Hans Arp Museum (www.arpmuseum.org), which was recently completed and opened by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, on 28th of September.

Hans or Jean Arp was a French-German painter, sculptor and poet (16.09.1886-07.06.1966). He was a co-founder of Dadaism, but was also involved in the surrealist school of art and with a group called ‘abstraction creation’. Arp led a very interesting life and his works are breathtaking. If you are interested please visit the various webpages with reviews of his works. It’s a worthwhile undertaking.

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The Hans Arp Museum (right) and Rolandseck Station (left) seen from the ferry

I sat outside on the large balcony of the restaurant with a splendid river view enjoying the autumn sunset. I ordered a delicious mushroom pasta and drank another delicious wine from the Ahr, a 2005 Heimersheim Pinot Noir from the Nelles winery (www.weinhaus-nelles.de). Drinking good wine and smoking a wonderful cigar I sat contemplating the river, the surroundings and its history. If the river could talk we would hear the most magnificent stories, sad as well cheerful ones of ancient times , peopled with quite exotic figures.

I imagined that I sat in this place about 2000 years ago as a Roman centurio looking at the riverbank opposite of Rolandseck where the barbarian Germans would wait and plan to cross the river and besiege our fortifications. I would have certainly drunk something “winy” maybe sweetened with honey or mead.

Travelling forward in time to 200 years ago, I would now have come back as a French soldier, maybe an officer, in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. I would have found that the wine quality had improved considerably. As a good French nationalist I might have had problems praising the German wine. I would look to the opposite side of the Rhine river, disgusted at the prospects of meeting fierce resistance from German troups who would try to prevent the French and their allies from crossing and moving East.

I also had to confront the prospects of crossing the river later that evening. Now it is the year 2007 and instead of being on horseback I can cross by ferry. This time it is in peaceful circumstances; I just want to reach my lodgings in Bad Honnef to get ready for another day of learning.

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The view from the terrace over Rhine and Seven Rock mountains


The Ahr Wine Region

October 7, 2007

Along the river Ahr, north of the Mosel, wine has been cultivated since Roman times. Documentary evidence dates from the 8th century. With its 550 ha under vines it is one of the smaller German wine regions (with 40 single locations). The most known wine locations are the settlements of Altenahr, Dernau, Heimersheim, Marienthal, Mayschoss, Walporzheim, Sinzig and Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler. The dominant soils are of deep vulcanic origin or blue slates. The climate is mild but in order to ripen the grapes the vineyard locations consist mostly of steep to very steep slopes, difficult to work and to manage (and costly as well).

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The village of Dernau (or in latin Dagernova) and its vineyards

The Ahr is known as “the red wine paradise” and in contrast to other German wine regions red varieties dominate the production structure. About 85% of the area is planted with Pinot Noir, Blue Portugese and some Dornfelder. Among the whites we find Riesling but also some Müller-Thurgau and Kerner. This was not always so. It was only after the 30 years war that the growing pattern changed to red wines. The Catholic church and its many monastries were the pioneers in vine cultivation and wine production and, I may add, consumption. Today, the Ahr is one of the most popular destinations for wine tourism. Thousands of people from the big cities of the Rhineland north of the Ahr (Düsseldorf, Köln, Bonn, etc.) visit each year, especially during vintage in September and October. I had the great fortune to be one of them.

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Pinot Noir grapes shortly before vintage

During the the last couple of weeks I had the opportunity to visit the Ahr wine region twice. My first visit was to attend the seventieth birthday celebration of my old friend Hans-Joachim Krekeler. Together with a dozen others, he invited me to a dinner at the famous winery, Meyer-Näkel in Dernau. The wines of this producer are renowned for their high quality. The restaurant is very good too. I had a fish dish, which was excellent, and tried some Riesling as well as their Pinot Noir wines. The fact that I could sit on a wooden bench which, given its design and making, must have come from Indonesia, added to the feeling of being right at home.

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The restaurant cum cellar door of the winery Meyer-Näkel in Dernau

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Steep slopes with new plantings

My second visit occured about one week later. Together with friends I walked from the village of Dernau to Resch. Needless to say we ventured into quite a few wineries, and what the Germans call “Strausswirtschaften”, a kind of outdoor cellar door, open during summer until vintage time. We also visited the wine co-operative in Dernau. We tasted some Pinot Grigio (in Germany also knows as Ruländer), and lots of red wines, Blue Portugese and most delicious Pinot Noir.

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The Ahr “vineyard walking team”