Riesling-Traminer Cuvée from Saale-Unstrut, Germany

April 6, 2009

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“In all things there is something of the marvellous”, Aristotle, 384-322 B.C.

Four days ago my colleague and friend Christian brought us a bottle of Riesling Cuvée from Saale-Unstrut, the most northern wine region of Germany. It did not last long. The first occasion was excuse enough for us to open this rare bottle of German wine. The ‘2007 Riesling Traminer Saale-Unstrut’ from the Winzervereinigung Freyburg-Unstrut (a type of co-operative) was a most amazing wine, a treasure here in Bangkok.

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Saale-Unstrut is not only the most northern wine region of continental Europe but also one of the smallest in size (below 700 ha). It takes it’s name from two rivers: Saale and Unstrut. Grpae growing and wine production, though, go back a long way. The earliest prove dates from around 998 A.D. and covers the wines from Memleben Abbey.

The climate in the region is generally rough and very cold. Only in very warm years can good wines (Spaetlese, Auslese) be made. Yields are usually very low in comparison with other German wine regions. About 75% of the grapes grown are white varieties, among them Mueller-Thurgau, Silvaner, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Traminer and other white varieties. However, given global warming more and more wines from Saale-Unstrut are of outstanding quality and find eager consumers.

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We had this Riesling-Traminer Cuvée with Sunday lunch. I must admit that I never before heard of such a cuvée blending Riesling, my favourite white wine, with Traminer. Both are aromatic varieties but of a very different nature. The Cuvée displayed a honey aroma and tasted like peaches and apricots. The finish was acidic and sharp but not unpleasant. The wine has 12% alcohol, is very young but well balanced. Unfortunately, we had only this one bottle. It matched the food perfectly. So what was the food?

Well, it was a recipe from my favourite cooking book, the Philosopher’s Kitchen by Francine Segan which contains recipes from ancient Greece and Rome.

“Grouper with herbs and pecorino” (originally the fish in the recipe was ray fish, Francine uses skate, but any white fish will do) was the plate of the day.

The dish is accented with fresh fragrant marjoram, a herb that “Aristotle believed was an antidote to most poisons”. You take the following ingredients:

– 1 ½ cups of white wine
– 2 pounds skinned grouper, cut into 4 pieces
– Salt and freshly milled pepper
– 2 tablespoons minced assorted fresh herbs, such as parsley, mint, dill, and chives, lots of majoram
-1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
– 2 tablespoons grated pecorino cheese

How is it done?
Well, first bring white wine to a boil over high heat until reduced to half (5-6 minutes); season the fish with salt and pepper.
Then add marjoram and minced herbs, oil and mix with the hot wine, add fish and cook until firm, about 3 minutes. Serve topped with the cheese and a sprig of marjoram. The recipe can be found in the above book of Francine Segan page 97 (From Life of luxury, Archestratus).

We had it with potatoes and a salad (cucumber with orange and walnuts).

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The potatoes

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The fish with the herbs

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On the plate

Needless to say, the food was very yummy. The four of us gobbled it up in no time. Especially my children were amazed (usually they prefer meat) that fish can taste that good. It is only the second recipe I know of where fish and cheese are successfully matched together.

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After lunch it was espresso and Averna and some Belgian chocolates. I followed up with a cigar (a Casa de Torres, CT, Nicaragua, hand made).

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What a beautiful smoke!

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