Country living: The good life in Ramsdorf, Westphalia

May 31, 2009

The land


The Münsterland, Westphalia is not exactly a wine region. People in this rather flat but beautiful rural part of Germany, just an hours drive from the Industrial heartland of the Ruhr (the drive can be as short as 30 minutes only), prefer to drink beer and “Korn”, a spirit also called “Schnaps” distilled from wheat and other grains.

The farm houses are made of red bricks, have large wooden doors, usually green, high gables and are just magnificent. They stand alone within the land belonging to them, accompanied by large stables and barns, all erected in the same style, a wonderful sight. I went there to visit my friends Uli and Elfriede in a small hamlet called Ramsdorf.


My friends Uli and Elfriede’s house, formerly a cottage of the estate (from the back)


The backside with the outdoor furniture

The Food

As the people so the food, one could say. Rural people everywhere developed healthy, nutritional type of foods; no-nonsense stuff, usually based on the raw materials the land has to offer. So the Münsterlaender cuisine has a lot of sausages, ham and various kinds of meats, served with potatoes, and green vegetables.


The table in the patio


Beautiful beef


Fresh asparagus in a special asparagus cooker


The finished product: asparagus


The finished product: the steaks


Our meal of asparagus, potatoes, ham and a steak with melted butter

The wines

We did of course also drink wine with this delicious meal. We started while the asparagus was still cooking with a ‘2008 Knipser Sauvignon Blanc dry’ by Weingut Knipser, Pfalz, a wonderful wine, fresh, fruity with structure and depth.

The brothers Volker and Werner Knipser (and since 2005 Stephan, Werner’s son) are the owners of this vineyard and winery in Laumersheim, Pfalz. The family operates the estate since 1876. Today about 40 ha are under vines. The brothers were the first in this part of the Pfalz to use small barriques barrels to mature their wines. They also increased the area under red varieties and replanted with high quality rootlings. In 2009 the were awarded “Vintner of 2009” by Gault Millau for their innovative ways and their high quality wines. My first Knipser wine, I drank many years ago when living in Beijing. My friend Norbert Finkel, a journalist from the Pfalz, introduced me to the Knipser wines long before they became fashionable.


‘2008 Knipser Sauvignon Blan dry’ in the bottle


..and in the glass

After the white, we longed for some red and went out into the shed where Uli stores his wines. Here we unearthed an old wooden box with red wines from Bordeaux, France.


Treasure trove


The chosen one

We selected a ‘1994 Château de Sales’, a Bordeaux blend from Pomerol, France. Uli de-cantered the wine, the drop was excellent but needed to be drunk. So we had “discovered” it at the right time. The blend was full flavoured, with structure and harmonious tannins and very enjoyable with our food. The wine sells on the internet in the UK for £ 30-35 and in continental Europe for about the same amount but in €.


The top of the capsule


The cork


Uli de-cantering the Bordeaux

We finished the evening with an Italian wine, a ‘2006 Vietti Nebbiolo Parabacco’ from Langhe, Piedmont in Italy. That was quite a change from the Bordeaux. The wine was rich and complex. It showed well balanced tannins which were chewy at the finish, just great for a red. What a pleasurable wine to end a very pleasurable day with my friends in the Münsterland.


The Nebbiolo bottle from Vietti

The people

I quickly introduce my friends, the three Hillejan families. Georg and Barbara are the farmers, aunt Doris, the mother of Georg and Ulrich, and Ulrich and Elfriede, my old friends from University days. I used to work on the farm as an intern during my students days when Uli’s father Alfons was running the estate. I loved to work for uncle Alfons. He was a great man. But I did not only work but also play there. We celebrated quite a few events (a few weddings among others) on that farm, had wild parties and a great time playing farmers.


Georg, aunt Doris, Ulrich, Barbara and Elfriede on the veranda of the old farm house


Three men on a mission, Ulrich, me and Georg

Wisdom of the East

May 29, 2009


No time for blogging, isn’t it a shame. In the mornings I tend to my terrace garden. The are quite a few nice flowering plants there though the rainy season is not very kind to some of the more fragile blossoms.

German “Brotzeit”

May 27, 2009


“Brotzeit” freely translated into English means “Time for a bread”; it is a German custom of a meal between meals, a snack one could say, which was very widespread in German lands when most of the population was doing hard physical labour.

During my recent visit to Germany I had the opportunity to indulge into this old German custom. Today, even small bottles of wine are “custom made” to this effect. Ever since my grandfather introduced me to Franconian “Bocksbeutel-wine”, I am a lover of Silvaner from the Main and the Fraconian wine region.

Germany: Asparagus season

May 26, 2009


A spring delicacy in Germany

It is the asparagus season in Germany and I had the opportunity to indulge myself into quite a few “asparagus orgies”. Fresh white asparagus is so delicious. I like it with just some melted butter, a few potatoes, and maybe some fresh German ham.


Tender asparagus tops


Delicious potatoes

What wine do you drink with asparagus? Well, I had a simple Riesling from the Rheingau. But almost all white wines pair well with white asparagus. Germany is a Mecca for white wines. The recent edition of the “Weinwelt” (wine world) magazine identified four best buy whites to consume with asparagus. All were of different grape varieties (Vinho Verde, Silvaner, Sauvignon Blanc and Grüner Veltliner but no Riesling), and all can be purchased for under € 7.-, what a bargain. They were:

‘2008 Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde’ by Sogrape Vinhos, Portugal;

‘2008 Grüner Silvaner, dry’ by Weingut Manz, Rheinhessen;

‘2008 Tour de Pocé Sauvignon Blanc Réserve’ by Pierre Chainier, Touraine, France;

‘2008 Grüner Veltliner Hundschupfen, dry’ by Weingut Hagn, Mailberg, Austria.

I have not tried any of them as yet but reading the review brought tears to my eyes, my nose was hallucinating, and my taste buds seemed to feel the crispness of the wines.


My “simple” Rheingau Riesling

Spring in Schoden, Saar

May 25, 2009

Spring was in full force when I visited Germany recently. The sky was blue and everything was fresh, a young green covered the land. As always I accompanied my friend Heinz on the hunt in Schoden, Saar. We took a tour around the 500 ha of hunting ground rented from the local land owners association (“Gehoeferschaft).

I took photos of the vines at “Herrenberg” one of the best terroirs at the steep hillside overlooking the Saar valley.


The canes are bent down and arranged in a circle


The Herrenberg vineyards are very steep


The view downwards


New shoots


The flowers are almost ready

And guess what I found in my mothers cellar? A rare bottle of ‘2001 Two Hills Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc’.
The colour of the wine was still a splendid light straw, and it was drinkable. Of course it had lost its zest, almost no finish but it was still OK with my meal, I must say. A clean white wine.


The “good” Lehmann and not the Lehmann brothers

May 23, 2009

While we were working on Thursday, May 21st. in Bangkok, our German colleagues were celebrating Ascension Day, also known as “Fathers Day” in my native Germany. “Father’s Day” is usually celebrated in the following way: young fathers, some older ones among them, and many other men, usually the ones who have not fathered any child they are aware of but eager to celebrate whatever comes their way, gather in the morning around a handcart loaded with all kinds of drinks and food. Then they set out and walk into the surrounding countryside to drink with their mates and have a jolly good, all-male time. Sometime they have a specific destination or they walk around a circuit. I will refrain from describing the usual end of these walks.

In short, the occasion warrants a special treat.

On this Father’s Day in Bangkok, I had the great pleasure of enjoying some hearty Italian meals, delicious pastas and insalata caprese and other delicacies. The rather colder nights in Bangkok, due to the beginning of the rainy season somehow incited in me the desire for some good reds; Australian was the natural choice.

Swirling College Wine

Peter Lehmann and his Shiraz wines seemed to be just the right stuff. Since wine prices are dear in Thailand we have to be careful with our choices.

Peter Lehmann is one of the few Australian vintners who became a legend in his own lifetime. Today, Peter Lehmann Wines in the Barossa Valley, South Australia is part of the Hess Family Estates with wineries in the Napa Valley, South Africa and Argentina.

Peter Lehmann Wines was established in 1979 as a response to the serious grape overproduction at the time (sounds terribly familiar in 2009 too). Most of the grapes come from about 185 contract growers. Only about 3% of the total wine output is derived from the self-owned vineyard (73 ha which is not small for a boutique vintner like me).

The Shiraz wines are the flagships of Peter Lehmann which assured me that nothing could go wrong.

We bought the following wines:

1. A ‘2006 Peter Lehmann Weighbridge Shiraz’
Peter Lehmann 2006 web

2. A ‘2005 Peter Lehmann Barossa Shiraz’
Peter Lehmann 2005 web

Both were “reasonably” priced for Thai conditions. The price for the bottle of Weighbridge Shiraz was about 700 Thai Bath (US$ 20 or € 14.6) and for the Barossa Shiraz about 1,000 Thai Bath (US$ 29 or € 20.8). Retail prices in Europe range from € 8-12 resp. € 15-17 or £ 6.50 and £ 7.50 in the UK. Interesting these price differentials. That’s the price of protectionism. Long live free trade.

Both wines went well with the Italian food. They had a beautiful dark red colour, were spicy and full of black fruit, plum in the case of the Weighbridge Shiraz. The 2005 Barossa Shiraz was “heavier” with lots of chalky tannins, a wine to be chewed so to say. We started with the 2006er bottle and went on to the older, in my view better, wine, which was absolutely the right choice.

I have not visited the Peter Lehmann winery in South Australia myself. The website is beautiful, informative and very enticing. I conclude: one should visit the place.

It takes about one to one and a half hours to drive to the winery from Adelaide Airport.

Peter Lehmann Wines LTD
off Para Road
Tanunda SA 5352
South Australia

On the road again

May 21, 2009


It was a gorgeous day when I drove from my home town Trier at the Mosel to the airport in Frankfurt. I passed through the hilly country called the “Hunsrueck”, a large plateau with deep forests and not-to-infertile plains where grains, maize and rape seed are grown. After a couple of kilometres clouds appeared and it started to rain.


The yellow of the rape seed fields contrasted beautifully with the surrounding green of the grains, the grass and the trees. From the moving car I took a couple of shots to capture the contrast. Reality is almost always more beautiful than those quick digital camera shots.


I had about two hours for contemplating about life, death and the universe. I love these rare occasions of introspection. I love the short life between the worlds, leaving Germany for the tropics of Thailand. Having left a world behind but not reached the desired destination, leaves me in a kind of vacuum, an emptiness full with feelings.


The last leg of my journey led me through parts of the Nahe and the Rheingau wine regions. At this time of the year the vines appear tender and soft, near the flowering stage maybe, but the green of the leaves is still a light green.

The rainy season would wait for me on the other side of the world. Only the long hours in the narrow plane would be between “me in Germany” and “me in Thailand”, the past and the future, the wines of Germany and the wines of Australia and Thailand of course.

Wine heaven – my visit to Berlin

May 16, 2009


During my brief visit to Berlin, I tasted quite a few fine wines. I do not want to bore you with long stories. The following three wines are, according to my taste buds, highly commendable.

‘2007 Sauvignon Blanc Baron de Philippe de Rothschild, Languedoc-Roussillion, France

I do not know much about French wines, but this SB is just perfect. I loved it with the fresh asparagus dish. It had all the varietal character of an SB and a crispness which blew me away. Very dry with wonderful passion and kiwi fruit aromas with a formidable minerality.

‘2006 Merlot Weingut Leopold Aumann, Tribuswinkel-Thermenregion, Austria

Austrian wines are the vogue in Germany (highest increase in exports to Germany this year). This Merlot by Leopold Aumann was an excellent example of the high art of wine making by our Austrian neighbours. I could not get enough of it, soft and full blown fruitiness.

‘2007 Künstler Kirchenstück Dry Riesling’, Rheingau, Germany

“Kirchenstück” is one of the oldest (1271 !!!!) and best “terroirs” of the Rheingau. This young and very dry Riesling is a wine with great finesse, filigree and a wonderful lingering finish. I am sure it will ripen well in the bottle and in your cellar. If you can get hold of some bottles: buy, buy, buy.

Soon more about fine wines. Germany is just a Mecca for wine lovers (so are France and Austria).

Lunch at Lutter and Wegner in Berlin

May 15, 2009


Some time ago when in Berlin I had lunch at Lutter and Wegner in Weinhaus Huth, near Potsdamer Platz. I love the atmosphere of this cosy little restaurant. Lutter and Wegner has two more restaurants I know of in Berlin, at “Fischerhuette”, at the very picturesque “Schlachtensee” (a lake within the city boundaries) and “Gendarmenmarkt” in the centre of town (but there is another one in Charlottenburg).


I had ‘gnocchi with mushrooms’ which you can see in the picture above and drank a glass of the house wine, a Riesling from the Rheingau wine region. Needless to say the gnocchi were delicious and the wine was too.


I sat next to the wall where all kinds of German wines were on display. This is why I show you the pictures below. All the good names of German vintners and wine producers were among them, Diel, Dr. Loosen, Joh. Jos. Pruem to name only a few and many others as you can see.



Some time later, I learned from a city tour guide, that “Weinhaus Huth” (wine shop) used to be the place where Konrad Adenauer, the first German chancellor after World War II used to buy his wine.

In March 1877 the wine merchant Christian Huth bought the plot of land and built a villa there which housed also his wine business. The present building dates back to 1911/12 and replaced the villa. It consists of s steel-concrete structure so that the weight of the wine bottles could be stored. This structure protected it from the destruction of two major wars.

The building was the last old structure at the Potsdamer Platz and therefore it was called “the last house at Potsdamer Platz”. That was during the time of the cold war and before the wall came down. After 1989 and the reunification of Germany the Potsdamer Platz was again situated at the centre of the city and a building boom started. In 1990 Daimler-Benz AG bought the building. After renovation it was transformed so that again a restaurant could move in again, which is Lutter and Wegner. If you visit Berlin, I highly recommend that you visit “Weinhaus Huth” or any other of the Lutter and Wegner restaurants.

Lutter and Wegner im Weinhaus Huth
Alte Potsdamer Strasse 5
10785 Berlin
Tel.: +49-30-25294350

Riesling from the Rheingau, Germany: Baltasar Ress “Von Unserem”

May 6, 2009


Beautiful sole

Another delicious lunch. We had sole, asparagus and potatoes . The wine I had selected to go with the meal, I had found by accident in Tops supermarket in Thonglor, Bangkok. Frankly speaking I had never heard about Balthasar Ress and his wines.

From the website I learned later that the winery is managed by the 5th generation of the Ress family and that it had been founded in 1870. Unbelievable for us Australians. The estate is listed in the 2009 issues of the “800 Best Wineries in Germany” but rated as going donw in quality somewhat. Well, I cannot confirm this.


As you know, I just love Riesling wines. For someone from the Mosel it is just heavan on a stick, paradise so to say. The dry Riesling which I selected, a bottle ‘2006 “Von Unserem” Balthasar Ress’ (11.5% Vol. Alc.) from the Rheingau, Germany was not cheap.

Thailand’s wine prices are high due to the tax imposed on imported wines. I paid about 1,000 Bath, which is a little more than 20 EURO whereas the same vintage can be bought in Germany for about 5.10 or so Euro. “Von Unserem” roughly translates into English stands for “of our own drop” indicating that the vintner and his family have made this wine to their preferred drink, solely for them, so to say.


The quality of this dry Riesling is very good; the price in Germany very reasonable. Having access to it here in Bangkok is a treat, a wonderful thing and we enjoyed this bottle tremendously with our seafood meal.

The colour is light straw, the wine is zesty and fresh with beautiful citrus and tropical fruit aromas. It has structure and substance and a nice finish, lingering on for quite some time. Citrus bomb of the noble kind, I would say.

The next day we went back and bought all the bottles left of this wine on the shelf in Tops supermarket. Putting them into my wine fridge was a great satisfaction. More Sunday lunches with a good German Riesling wine are ahead of us. The good life, Epicurus would be proud of me. Life is just so beautiful.

If you visit the Rheingau, please check also out the villeages of Eltville and Hattenheim. It’s so beautiful there along the Rhein river. Indonesian colleagues I once took their thanked me from the bottom of their hearts and tears in their eyes. The term “paradise” comes to mind as the appropriate label.

Balthasar Ress
OT Hattenheim,
Rheinallee 7
65347 Eltville am Rhein
Tel.: +49-6734-91950