Friday, January 9, 2009

Germany & Austria Part III

Germany & Austria Part III - January 8, 2009.   Will someone please put on the heat around here?  I am drinking cold Riesling all day long in -5º C weather.  Germany heats their rooms with radiators, yes, radiators.   Do you know how long it takes to heat a cold room with a radiator at this temp?  We could make a killing installing heat pumps and vents in this country.

After Frank Heyden, Derek lets me take an hour catnap as the diesel Peugeot gurgles off to Ockfen in the Saar region, and the Dr. Fischer estate.  We are greeted by the smiling and friendly, Karen Fischer, head of winemaking at her family’s home.  Sitting at the round tasting table in the living room/tasting room/office, we run through nine wines including tank samples of the 2008 vintage still working after harvest, and then a glorious 1973 Riesling Spatlese. More on that later.  The funny thing about Karen’s wines- even the sweetish ones taste dry, and that’s her style.  Lots of acidity in proportion to any residual sugar so the palate tastes nearly dry, or in many cases it is dry.   The wines are aged in giant 1,000 liter wood casks, used year after year. The wood does not impart flavor but keeps the wines round and lets them breathe through the barrel’s pores over time.  In the cellar we see these giant, dark brown/almost black casks sighing with the new 2008 vintage slowly coming to life.  The yeast are doing their thang and I notice the dripping water and icicles on the ceiling as we are underground.
Karen tours us through the “old” wines, laying in darkness like bones in a tomb. The bottles sit in cement cubicles with yellowed paper tags indicating the vintages: 1945, 1958, 1971, 1983... Some bins have just one bottle lying in wait. The corks are looking mealy, some bottles are leaking, ullage levels are low (air space in the neck of the bottle as wine evaporates) and the cobwebs and dust all make me feel like I am invading their privacy and peering into the opening of Egyptian tomb. Karen is gracious to pull one 1973 Spatlese and we go up to uncork it. The bottle is dead, so she makes a second trip to retrieve a replacement bottle and the nectar inside is a golden brown with tobacco and spritzy, lively acidity (after 35 years!), cinnamon, orange peel, and tastes fairly dry. What a treat.
Her backyard is the famous vineyard, Bockstein and she lets me take a photo of her with her “children” in the background and her warm smile up front. At dinner we discuss the new law allowing the use of just “Mosel” as a designation on a wine label. Previously, the wines always said: Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, encompassing all three areas. Today the Mosel guys use Mosel, the Saar guys use Mosel but add “Saar Riesling” to the label and the Ruwer? We’ll they are like me, left out in the cold of Germany. The Ruwer wines have to say Mosel and can’t use their name on the bottle. As a result the wines of the Ruwer are nearly extinct. Ah, wine laws. When someone figures them out, let me know.

Wednesday morning we’re off to the Mosel region to taste with a new to me winery, Karp-Schreiber. We meet the son and father at the winery tasting room. Like Frank Heyden, Alwin Karp's son has gone to oenology school and is apprenticing with wineries around the world to bring back ideas. He has done a stint at Flower’s winery in CA and just got back from Spain.
This winter he is about to leave for Australia while their German vines sleep in the winter cold.

The winery was established in 1664 and today they have just 4.5 hectares of vineyards including part of the "Grand Cru" Juffer-Sonnenuhr vineyard.   Outside their bay window I see the famous sundial in the Sonnenhur vineyard.  The giant sun dial sits on the side of the hill for time keeping on sunny days, which is not now.  The big joke in the town is when the newspapers announce that the dial has been changed from the winter to the summer correction, like our daylight savings. Apparently it makes the tourists ask lots of questions.

I am presented with a piece of slate (soon to adorn our overly crowded coffee table at the wine shop back home) from this famous vineyard area with a small hole in the center.  These fossils are from the works using hand tools to break the ground for planting many, many years ago (1700s) and the metal picks would puncture small pieces.   The black and blue slate is a defining soil characteristic of the Mosel. It heats during the day from the sun and reflects energy back to the vines at night, it adds a flinty quality to the vines, and with the vineyard’s southern facing exposure towards the Mosel river, the climate is moderated for optimal ripening. This slate is also the roofing tile found on roof tops throughout the entire Mosel region.

We plow through 16 wines this morning finishing. They are fantastic and completely different than the styles we have enjoyed so far on the trip. I am excited to bring a new winery back to NC this spring from the Mosel. We finish with the 2006 Juffer-Sonnenuhr vineyard Trockenbeerenauslese, or TBA for short. This wine is only made every few years and in small quantities. It is nearly always in a half bottle and wicked expensive. The selected grapes have suffered through Botrytis or Noble Rot, decreasing their moisture content and increasing their sugar ratios. The grape juice is so thick it takes much longer to ferment. This one is a carpet of honey, golden raisin, flan and a touch of caramelized pineapple. It’s a dessert on its own. The acidity is so high, that the wine actually finishes very clean and not syrupy, a work of art. 

Curiously, in the 2005 harvest they attempted to make a TBA wine. The grapes came in at 265º Oechsle (This is the measurement of the grape must sugar weight. As a
 comparison, his regular wines come in around 90º-100º and can be sweet. They let the grape must ferment for months as the yeast trudged through the sugar only to come up with 1% alcohol, a no go. Wanting to be helpful, I suggest the ancient technique of pouring in a Red Bull to jump start the yeast, but they had not heard of this used in Germany. I shrug. Hmm, guess the young Karp has more apprenticing to do.  
 - Salamanzar


Buttercup said...

Glad you remembered your hat!

Abel Pharmboy said...

I see the problem - the yeast are German but Red Bull is Austrian.

Love your travel log - make sure to bring us back some great wines!

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