Saturday, December 30, 2006

Happy new year!

Unfortunately, I had a nasty cold this week and so I was not in the best condition to enjoy wine. However, I happily ate lots of oysters — only my favorites: Miyagis and Belons — on the half-shell, no sauce, accompanied with a bone dry Trimbach Riesling from Alsace.

The Maison Trimbach has been one of the major Alsace producers since 1626. This Riesling is one of the entry wines produced by the estate. It is easy to find in the US, reasonably priced, and with its dry and mineral backbone and its natural acidity, it complements particularly well the tangy and briny flavors of fresh oysters. I found the wine at Trader Joe's and they may still have some. If you like bone dry minerality, don't hesitate, grab a couple of bottles, it's good stuff.

Happy new year!

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Menu for Hope III: 3 days left!

Hunger and malnutrition are still the number one risks to health worldwide. 852 million is the total number of undernourished people worldwide: 815 in developing countries, 28 million in countries in transition and nine million in industrialised countries. Today, one in nearly seven people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life, making hunger and malnutrition the number one risk to health worldwide — greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

The Menu for Hope campaign will be running for three more days so if you're thinking about participating and help UN World Food Programme , there is still a little bit of time but do it soon!

So far, we have more than doubled last year's record of $17,000, and have raised over $35,000! Thanks to all of you!

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

WBW #28: A sparkling wine but not a Champagne

Brenda from Culinary Fool is hosting December's Wine Blogging Wednesday and asked us to be in a festive mood. Therefore, this month's theme is a sparkling wine, although not from the Champagne region.

She also asked us to categorize our wine into one of three categories:

• Party Sparkler: a bargain sparkler that you would not be embarrassed to serve at a party.
• Special Sparkler: a more expensive bottle that you think is worth the price.
• Dud: you tried it but sorry, you wouldn't buy it again.

Today, my choice is the 2002 J Vintage Brut from J Vineyards & Winery a winery located in the Russian River Valley and owned by Judy Jordan, daughter of Tom Jordan of the Jordan Winery. The stylish bottle is one of the reasons why I like the J Vintage Brut. The second reason is that it is pretty good.

J Vintage Brut was the first product that the winery produced when it was founded in 1986. Today, J Vintage Brut is still the winery's main product and accounts for half of J's total production but the winery also produces several still wines from Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay grapes.

This wine is a classic Champagne blend of 49% Chardonnay, 49% Pinot Noir and 2% Pinot Meunier. It is vinified using the Methode Champenoise that induces a second fermentation in the bottle. The wine had a light straw color and a delicate citrus nose. The palate had fine bubbles, a fresh acidity and a creamy mouthfeel that led to a vivid grapefruit finish, definitively, a Special Sparkler.

We enjoyed this fine bubbly with various holiday appetizers including a two-fish terrine, shrimp in endive boats, an avocado, pink grapefruit, and shrimp salad, and a sweet potato gratin. What a treat!

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Menu for Hope III: give and win fabulous prizes!

Every year, Food and Wine Bloggers from all over the world get together for a fundraising campaign called Menu for Hope. Last year, a record $17,000 was raised to help UNICEF. This year, Menu For Hope is going to benefit the UN World Food Programme, an organization that provides hunger relief for needy people worldwide.

We need you to participate and it's really easy: donate $10 and receive a raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. The more you give, the better your chance to win. Check the detailed donation instructions below.

There is an amazing list of food and wine related prizes: a meal at a renowned restaurant, a chance to have coffee with Thomas Keller, chef at The French Laundry, a dinner with Eric Azimov, the New York Times wine critic, and many more.

Now, if you are interested by everything that is related to wine, geography, history, winemaking, the whys and the hows, I have a special treat for you: my gift (use code WB16) is a copy of my two wine bibles: The Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition and the The World Atlas of Wine. Both are edited or co-edited by one of my favorite wine writers Jancis Robinson. I use these two books constantly. The atlas is indispensable if you want to understand why and how vine grow in the great wine regions of the world. And I love the 180 or so detailed maps that are included in the book. The Oxford Companion has more than 3,000 entries on anything that is related to wine. The information is so broad and detailed at the same time that I have never been disappointed; I have always found what that I was looking for.

Check the Menu for Hope III page on Chez Pim to see all the food and wine prizes. Here are the main categories:

Have a meal of your life
Delicious experiences
Feasts for the eyes: books and more
Tasty treats
Cooks' tools
and last but not least, the wine related prizes all listed by our friend Alder at Vinography: Drink yourself silly

How to donate:

1. Go to the donation page at (

2. Make a donation, each $10 will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize or prizes you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. This is very important. Do tell us how many tickets you want to allocate per prize, and please use the prize code -for example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for UW01 and 3 for UW02.

3. If your company matches your charity donation, please remember to check the box and fill in the information so we can claim the corporate match.

4. Please also check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

5. Check back on Chez Pim on January 15 when we announce the result of the raffle. (The drawing will be done electronically. Our friend the code wizard Derrick at Obsession with Food is responsible for the wicked application that will do the job.)

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Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Hungary

After studying the wines of Germany and Austria, Derrick took us to Hungary for our fifth session of the Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class.

Hungary may not be a well-known wine producing country, but with various soil types and climate conditions, it produces a wide variety of wines from an equally wide number of grapes. Although the country has no coastline, it is home to Lake Balaton, Central Europe's biggest freshwater lake, and is divided in half by Europe's second-longest river, the Danube. Hungary's climate is continental with long warm summers and extremely cold winters. Twenty two official Hungarian wine regions has been defined, with the most prestigious one being Tokaj-Hegyalja.

Vineyards have flourished in Hungary since at least Roman Times. Many Italian and French grape varieties had been brought in and cultivated until the Turkish occupation between the 16th and 17th centuries. The Kadarka grape, now Hungary's most widely cultivated variety, has been brought by the Serbs at the time when they were persecuted by the Turks. It is around the 16th century that the Tokaj region became internationally famous for its late harvested Tokaji Aszú, also known as the king of wines and the wine of kings. Sadly, wine production had been greatly neglected during the Communist years. However, the last ten years have seen a rapid awakening and modernization of the wine industry and fortunately for us wine lovers, Hungary is now trying to rediscover its own style of wine.

Vineyards near the Lake Balaton (from

The wines we tasted:

• 2004 Craftsman Sauvignon Blanc Neszmély: the wine is made by Hilltop Neszmély, one of the largest producers and exporters of Hungarian wines. The wine comes from the Aszár-Neszmély wine region, located northwest of Budapest, between the Danube and the Transdanubian mountain range. My notes: golden color, herbal nose with strong gooseberry aromas. On the palate, vivid acidity, dry, grassy with a dusty finish. An unusual Sauvignon Blanc.

• 2005 Woodsman's White Cserszegi Füszeres Neszmély: this is another wine from Hilltop Neszmély. The grape variety Cserszegi Füszeres means spicy grape from the town of Cserszeg and is a crossing of Gewürztraminer and the local white grape Irsai Olivér. My notes: light straw color, aromatic nose with floral aromas. On the palate, grapey with white blossom notes, fragrant.

• 2005 Craftsman Cserszegi Füszeres Neszmély:also from the Hilltop Neszmély winery and from the Cserszegi Füszeres grape. My notes: golden color, fresh muscat-like nose, crisp with a good backbone and mineral notes on the palate, slightly more complex than the Woodsman's.

• 2005 Szõke Mátyás Valogatas Selection Chardonnay: the Mátraalja wine district is located at the foot of the Mátra Mountains in Northern Hungary. It is one of the country's largest historic wine regions. Records as old as 1042 show that local peasants already cultivated vines in the area. The Szõke Mátyás estate is the most important family owned winery of the Mátraalja region and exports half its production to Europe. My notes: light straw color, floral nose with citrus and green apple aromas, fresh acidity on the palate. Interesting Chablis-style Chardonnay.

• 2003 Oremus Tokaji Dry Furmint Mandolás: The Tokaj Oremus winery was created in 1993 by the Alvarez family, the owners of Vega Sicilia in Spain. The wine is 100% Furmint sourced from the estate Mandolás vineyard and vinified dry. My notes: dark golden color, spicy nose with pear aromas, peppery and mineral on the palate with a smoky finish. It is an opportunity to discover what Furmint tastes like just by itself.

• 2002 Vitavin Egri Bikavér: Egri Bikavér means Bull's blood from the Eger region in Magyar and it is one of Hungary's best known wines. It has an interesting story that dates back to the 16th century. At the time, the Eger fortress was under attack by the Turkish troops. To give themselves courage and strength, the defenders drank the local wine in large amount, spilling it all over their body. When the attackers saw the defenders covered with red wine, they thought that the men had been drinking the blood of bulls and they fled in terror.

Eger is a medieval city in Northern Hungary famous for its historic buildings, its Minaret (northernmost minaret of Europe), and its wine cellars located in the nearby Valley of Beautiful Women. Egri Bikavér is usually a blend of several varietals including Kadarka, Kekfrankos (Blaufränkisch), Médoc Noir (Merlot), and Cabernet Sauvignon. My notes: red/brown color, musky nose, rustic flavors on the palate, slightly oxidized. Not recommended.

• 2003 Craftsman Falconer's Cuvee Neszmély: from the Hilltop Neszmély winery, it is an unusual blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Kekfrankos. My notes: brownish red color, Cabernet nose with notes of sweet blackberry. On the palate, tannic, oaky, with some good acidity, leaving some green flavors on the finish. Rustic but much better than the Egri Bikavér.

• 2004 St. Donatus Estate Balatonboglari Merlot Semi-Sweet: this wine comes from the Southern shore of Lake Balaton, which is noticeably colder than the Northern shore where the deep waters have a temperate effect on the climate. My notes: medium red color, strawberry/raspberry on the nose, slightly sweet on the palate with a peppery finish. Not a bad wine but not easy to pair food with.

• 2000 Royal Tokaji Red Label Aszú 5 Puttonyos: Tokaj-Hegyalja, Hungary's most famous wine region, is located 125 miles east of Budapest. The finest estates are on south/southeast-facing slopes overlooking the town of Tokaj. They enjoy a special microclimate characterized by hot summers and long, sunny autumns with morning fogs facilitating the development of Noble Rot or Aszú.

To produce Tokaji Aszú, Hungarians use unique vinification methods. The Aszú grapes (or botrytized grapes) are harvested by hand, one grape at a time, then crushed and combined with a dry wine. The proportion of Aszú grapes added to the base wine is measured in puttonyos. One puttony represents a 28-liter container that is poured into the traditional 136-liter cask of base wine. The number of puttonyos can vary from 3 to 6. My notes: the wine is a blend of Furmint, Hárslevelu (meaning linden leaf), and Muscat. Dark golden color, apricot nectar on the nose with additional notes of tropical fruits. On the palate, luscious mouthfeel, vivid acidity with caramelized pineapple flavors on the finish. What a treat!

Coming next: the wines of Croatia, Slovenia, and Romania.

Related stories:
•  Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Rheingau, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, and Mittelrhein
•  Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz
•  Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Kremstal, Kamptal, and Wachau (Austria)

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

My (current) favorite Pinot Noir winemakers by James Strohecker

I recently read the Wine Spectator's review of California Pinot Noir makers. And, though the article and featured winemakers were both interesting, I don't believe they've identified some of the smaller, niche or consistent Pinot Noir purveyors in our area. Frankly, the Spectator knows Cabernet Sauvignon -- but they don't know jack about Pinot Noir!

So I thought I'd share with you my own little private, opinion-laden email Blog about my current favorite Pinot Noir makers and their wines. Check these wines and wineries out -- I promise you'll be happier for the effort.

1. Ancien Vineyard
--> Ken Bernards is a hot, up-and-coming winemaker. He's made consistent, excellent Pinot Noir for the past seven years for Ancien, and prior to that, he was the winemaker at Truchard. Ken flies all over the world -- called in as a consultant for wineries who're desperate to find the magic that he brings to controlled, focused winemaking. And there's no doubt that they're turning to one of the (current and) future winemaking stars for help. If you can find the Mink Vineyards Ancien, you'll thank me for it.

2. Joseph Swan Winery
--> Rod Berglund is as steady as they come. He focuses on creating and producing terroir-defined wines, including their fine Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. This is a hard winery to find -- and the wines are even harder to locate (generally they are in stock at Draeger's and Beltramo's). Well worth the effort. Excellent.

3. Alloro Vineyard
--> Actually, I went to High School in Oregon with the winemaker, David Newmarnik, of all things, who's a great guy with a passion to create excellent Pinot Noir. After he graduated from the University of Portland, he bought land in Sherwood, Oregon and started growing grapes. For years, he's been growing and selling grapes to the Ponzi Winery, a notable leader in the Oregon Pinot Noir industry. And for the last four years, he's made his own Estate and Vineyard select wines. Similar to Ken Bernards of Ancien (who, by the way, grew up in McMinnville, Oregon), Dave focuses on hand-crafting his wine.

4. Adrian Fog Winery
Jane Farrell & Stewart Dorman believe in creating small, hand-crafted, cool-climate (they check on fog patterns in the vineyards), small vineyard fruit-based Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley and Russian River Valley. The result is tremendous -- small lot, vineyard-reflective Pinot Noir that ages and drinks incredibly well. This, unfortunately, makes for higher end Pinot Noir, not everyday drinking wine . . . well, unless you've won the Lottery. But it's excellent for a good meal or if you want to win a Pinot Noir tasting event.

5. Babcock Winery and Melville Winery
OK, these two wineries are actually right next to each other. You drive down the same driveway and have to decide, "Hmmm . . . what do I want to try first -- the deep, dark, complex Babcock Pinot Noir made by Bryan Babcock, or the layered, granite and elements-wild Pinot Noir made by Melville's Greg Brewer?" The current Melville Estate Pinot Noir is one of the best-kept secrets around -- and it's just sitting on Draeger's shelves, for the taking, at under $30.

6. David Bruce
The man, the myth, the legend. What got me really angry about the recent Spectator's article on Pinot Noir, was that they ignored David Bruce. He practically invented high-end, precise Pinot Noir wine creation and development in California, after he finished Med School in Oregon, and realized he had two choices -- start his practice, and his winery, in Oregon or in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Since then, he's never looked back -- and if you've tracked his Pinot Noir productions over the years, you've noticed the intricacies of every vineyard-select wine, every Estate wine and every blend he creates from Bien Nacido, Carneros, Russian River and the Santa Cruz hillsides. Quite frankly, the latter are far more complex and lasting than most of the Pinot Noirs from other California regions. I've tended towards David's Bien Nacido and Windsor Gardens Pinot Noir over the past years -- and have always been pleased. If you haven't tried his wine lately, it's worth circling back to check it out again, for the first time, as they say. He truly is, the man, the myth and the legend.


James Strohecker

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

From Old World To New World

Last month, our wine club met around the theme "From Old World To New World". I selected for this event four different varietals and for each varietal, two wines: one from the old world and one from the new world. Except for the popular Pinot Noir, I chose the other three grapes, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and Malbec, because these were some of my favorite most underrated grape varieties.

Riesling is an ancient grape that had been cultivated since the 1400s in Germany. Well-suited to cold wine-growing regions, it also produces great wines in nearby Alsace and Austria. In North America, Riesling grows successfully in the Finger Lakes region of New York, Washington State, Oregon, California's coolest areas, and in Canada's Niagara Peninsula and British Columbia.

We tasted the following wines from Riesling:

• 2004 Charles Baur Riesling Grand Cru Eichberg: founded in the early 18th century, the Domaine Charles Baur is a well established estate of 14 hectares in the town of Eguisheim on the Alsace wine road. The Eichberg vineyard is a classified Grand Cru. Its subsoil is rich in sandstone, silica, limestone and clay. From the Grand Cru Eichberg, the domaine cultivates 2.20 hectares of Muscat, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewürztraminer. The Riesling had a light golden color and a fresh nose of stone fruit. On the palate, it was slightly sweet with mineral notes, a mouthfilling acidity, and a lengthy finish.

• 2004 Chehalem Reserve Dry Riesling Willamette Valley: according to the Chehalem winery, Riesling is the Pinot noir of white wines, the white wine the most reflective of climate and site. Their dry Riesling is produced in very limited quantities from selected estate lots in Oregon's Willamette Valley. The wine had a golden color with a light green hue, aromas of green apple, pear, honey, mixed unfortunately with some funky chemical notes. The palate had a good body but left some rustic flavors in the aftertaste.

Chenin Blanc is a native grape of the Loire Valley where it produces crisp table wines, light sparkling wines and unctuous dessert wines. Known as Steen, Chenin Blanc is also the most widely-grown grape in South Africa. It was first introduced to the Cape region in 1655 by Jan van Riebeeck, the Dutch founder of Cape Town. After being a base for cheap brandy and semi-sweet wines, Steen was finally identified in the 1960s as Chenin Blanc. Today, quality oriented South African winemakers are focusing on using old vines, keeping balanced yields and picking riper fruits.

We tasted the following wines from Chenin Blanc:

• 2002 Vouvray Sec Domaine de la Fontainerie Cuvée C: the Domaine de la Fontainerie in Vouvray has been around since 1712. The estate has five hectares in production and one more to be planted. The winery's cellars are carved under chalky slopes in the Vallée Coquette (Pretty Valley) near the town of Vouvray. The Cuvée C is a wine vinified dry and made only in great years. The wine was dry, mineral, and crisp with a touch of honey. On the palate, it had a great well-balanced structure and a lengthy finish. Overall, the wine was very distinctive and classy.

• 2005 Waterford Pecan Stream Chenin Blanc: Winemaker Kevin Arnold of Waterford Estate sources the grapes for his Pecan Stream wines from local growers. The wine had a bright golden color and cooked apple aromas on the nose. On the palate, it was slightly sweet and fruity. Although not as elegant as the Vouvray, it was a well crafted wine and a great value.

Pinot Noir has been cultivated in Burgundy since the Roman Era. Today, it is widely planted in many different countries around the world. In the new world, it is enjoying a recent increase in popularity, thanks to the movie Sideways. Although New Zealand is a relative new comer to the production of Pinot Noir, the grape is now considered, after Sauvignon Blanc, to be New Zealand's red wine major success.

We tasted the following wines from Pinot Noir:

• 1999 Gevrey-Chambertin Champs Chenys Domaine Joseph Roty: Joseph Roty, considered one of Burgundy's finest winemakers, owns 12 hectares in the villages of Gevrey-Chambertin and Marsannay. Champs Chenys is one of the village appellation of Gevrey-Chambertin, which is itself the largest appellation in Burgundy's Côte de Nuits. The wine had a medium ruby color and a nose of sour cherry fruit. On the palate, it was smoky, earthy, with lots of acidity and a bit hollow on the mid-palate.

• 2004 Craggy Range Pinot Noir Te Muna Road Vineyard Martinborough: the Craggy Range Winery is located in Hawke's Bay on the east coast of the North island, and has been named for the nearby Craggy Range Mountains. For its Pinot Noir production, Craggy Range cultivates the Te Muna Road vineyard in Martinborough, at the south end of the North Island. The vineyard has currently 130 acres planted in Sauvignon Blanc, 15 in Chardonnay, 5 in Riesling and 80 in Pinot Noir. The wine had a medium ruby color, a fragrant and fruit driven nose. One the palate, it had a savory mouthfeel, earthy flavors, some good acidity, leaving a finish of pepper and licorice. This was a very popular wine among the tasters.

Malbec is one of the traditional Bordeaux varietals. Although plantings in the Medoc have decreased by over two-thirds since the mid-twentieth century, Malbec is still the dominant red varietal in the Cahors area in the South-West wine region of France where the Cahors Appellation requires a minimum of 70% Malbec. Malbec is widely planted in Argentina, showing its best characteristics in the Mendoza wine region. It has quickly become the country's premier grape with 25,000 hectares planted. In comparison, Chile has about 6,000 hectares planted and France 5,300 hectares.

We tasted the following wines from Malbec:

• 2004 Cahors Château du Cèdre Cuvée Le Prestige: Founded in 1956 by Charles Verhaeghe, Château du Cèdre is one of Cahors's leading wineries. It is now owned and run by brothers Pascal and Jean-Marc Verhaeghe, who have been a driving force behind the improved quality of the wines of Cahors. The 25 hectares estate has vineyards planted on the best two types of soils of the appellation: clay-limestone with stones and reddish sand with pebbles on the top, clay and flint on the subsoil. The cuvée Le Prestige is a blend of Malbec and Tannat and aged in new oak barrels. The wine had a dark, purple-black color, an attractive nose of black and red berries. On the palate, it had a seductive mouthfeel with a fresh acidity and well-balanced tannins, leaving a lengthy finish. This was a really delicious wine.

• 2004 BenMarco Malbec: The Dominio del Plata Winery is a family-owned and run project of Susana Balbo, the winery's enologist and Pedro Marchevsky the winery's viticulturist. BenMarco is Pedro's surname which means son of Marco in Hebrew. The BenMarco label is an homage to his father, Marcos, who taught him how to plant, tend, and love the vineyards. The wine had a jammy nose of black fruit. On the palate, it was dense and meaty leaving a slightly too oaky finish.

The theme of our next event will be Champagne so stay tuned!

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Kremstal, Kamptal, and Wachau (Austria)

The third session of my Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class with Derrick Schneider was dedicated to the wines of Austria. Although Austria is a wine producing country that may not be as well known as Germany, it makes world class dry white wines, mostly from Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. Grüner Veltliner is Austria's most widely planted grape variety — ten times more widely planted than Riesling — and thanks to its food friendliness and versatility, it is increasingly gaining the attention that it deserves.

Most of the high quality dry Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings come from Kremstal, Kamptal, and Wachau, three appellations located in Lower Austria — or Niederösterreich —, northwest of Vienna.

Terraced vineyards in the Wachau

Kremstal is named for the town of Krems, one of the oldest wine town in Austria. East of the Wachau and its steep terraced vineyards, Kremstal is where the Danube valley suddenly opens up into an open plain with gently rolling hills. The main wine producing towns are Göttweig, Furth, Gedersdorf, Rohrendorf, and Senftenberg.

The wines we tasted:

• 2005 Berger Grüner Veltliner: Weingut Berger is an estate of 18 hectares in the town of Gedersdorf, 7km east of Krems. Half of the production is dedicated to Grüner Veltliner but the winery also produces wines from Riesling, Welschriesling, and the red Zweigelt grape variety. My notes: this is their entry wine, bottled in a one liter sized bottle. Straw color with a greenish tinge, nicely aromatic on the nose, dry, medium-bodied on the palate with notes of mineral. A good value wine.

• 2005 Salomon Undhof Grüner Veltliner Hochterrassen: located in Stein on the western border of Krems, Salomon Undhof is one of the most progressive and quality driven wineries in Austria. The family owns 20 hectares of vineyards, half planted with Grüner Veltliner, half with Riesling. My notes: straw color with a green tinge, subdued nose, more fruity than floral, mineral on the palate.

• 2002 Malat Dreigärten Grüner Veltliner Reserve: Weingut Malat is a 30 hectares estate located in the town of Palt. This wine comes from the best grapes from three different vineyards (drei gärten or three gardens). My notes: deep golden color, pear, peach, honey on the nose, almost a Riesling nose. On the palate, rich, smoky, crisp, with notes of grapefruit on the finish. Very distinctive.

• 2003 Buchegger Pfarrweingarten Grüner Veltliner: Weingut Buchegger is a rising estate of 8 hectares in the town of Gedersdorf. My notes: deep golden color, perfume and talcum powder on the nose, grassy on the palate with a vivid acidity.

• 2004 Nigl Privat Grüner Veltliner: Weingut Nigl is an estate of 25 hectares in the Krems valley. My notes: light yellow color, intense, aromatic nose of fresh white peach, on the palate, rich and mineral with a long citrus finish. With the Malat, this was my favorite wine from the Kremstal.

• 2004 Türk Grüner Veltliner Vom Urgestein: Weingut Türk has 14 hectares in the town of Stratzing. This wine is a blend of two vineyards, the Ried Wachtberg and Alte Haide, with vines averaging 50 years of age. My notes: pale yellow color, citrusy nose, crisp palate, medium finish.

The Kamptal takes its name from the river Kamp, a 153km long river that flows into the Danube near Grafenwörth, east of Krems. Vineyards are spread around Langenlois, Austria's largest wine town. Soils are mostly loess, a fine-grained, densely compacted glacial dust, and loam, while higher vineyards are distinguished by weathered rock subsoils, which is ideal for Grüner Veltliner.

The wines we tasted:

• 2004 Thomas Leithner Loess Grüner Veltliner: Weingut Thomas Leithner is an estate of 10 hectares in Langenlois with a well established reputation in Austria. It makes spicy Grüner Veltliners that are grown on loess rich vineyards. My notes: straw color with green tints, perfumed nose, fat mouthfeel with a vivid acidity on the palate, medium finish.

• 2002 Thomas Leithner Privat Grüner Veltliner: The Privat is a selection of the best grapes from the estate's best parcels. My notes: deep golden color, expressive and aromatic nose, rich aromas of tropical fruits, lengthy finish. Delicious!

• 2005 Schloss Gobelsburg GobelsBurger Grüner Veltliner: founded in 1171, Weingut Schloss Gobelsburg is the region's oldest winery. Owned by a Cistercian monastery, it was also run by the monks themselves until 1995. Qui bon vin boit Dieu voit (who drinks good wine sees god) is the winery's motto. My notes: golden color, citrusy nose, a lot of acidity on the palate. By itself, it seems slightly unbalanced and may need some additional cellaring time but right now, it should be very good with shellfish.

• 2003 Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner Renner: this wine is made from grapes growing on the hills, on soils dominated by gneiss. My notes: deep golden color, notes of mushroom and petrol on the nose, soft on the palate with mineral and smoked apple aromas, burnt sugar on the finish. Should be a great accompaniment to Peking Roast Duck.

• 2004 Bründlmayer Grüner Veltliner Ried Lamm: with 60 hectares of vineyards scattered around the town of Langenlois, Weingut Bründlmayer is one of the most important Austrian estate. The Ried Lamm vineyard is a particularly warm spot on loess soils that is located between two large hilly vineyards, the Heiligenstein and Gaisberg. My notes: golden color, citrusy nose, well balanced on the palate, great mouthfeel, classy finish. One of my favorite wines from Kamptal with the Thomas Leithner Privat.

The Wachau is a 30km/18 miles stretch of the Danube Valley between the towns of Melk and Krems, where the river is lined with steeply terraced vineyards. This region is one of Europe's most beautiful river landscapes and have been declared a World Heritage site. It is also considered Austria's finest wine region. The Wachau has a regional association called Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus that closely monitors the quality of the wines and has created three levels of classification: Steinfeder (less than 10.9% alcohol, light and racy), Federspiel (less than 11.9% alcohol, elegant and with body), and Smaragd (above 12% alcohol, highly ripe and powerful).

The wine we tasted:

• 2004 Sighardt Donabaum S. Dona Weißburgunder Bruck: the Sighardt Donabaum estate is located in the village of Spitz, one of the region's main wine community. Just above the village there is a round low hill covered with terraced vineyards, which is called Tausendeimerberg, the 1000-Bucket's Mountain. It is said that in good years this hill could yield 1000 barrels of wine. My notes: a Pinot Blanc with a golden color, sweet white blossom aromas on the nose, and butterscotch flavors on the palate.

Unfortunately, I could not attend the fourth session dedicated to the other regions of Austria, so coming next: the wines of Hungary

Related stories:
•  Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Rheingau, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, and Mittelrhein
•  Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz

The second session of my Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class with Derrick Schneider was dedicated to the wines of Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz.

The Haardter Bürgergarten vineyard in Pfalz

The Nahe wine region is located east of the Mosel, along the Nahe river, which is one of the western tributaries to the Rhine. The name Nahe is derived from the Latin word Nava, itself derived from an old Celtic word meaning wild river. Although the Nahe is one of the smallest wine regions in Germany, it has a rich and varied range of soil types, including volcanic rocks, weathered stone, and red, clayish slate and can therefore produce a large variety of wine styles.

The wines we tasted:

• 2003 Emrich-Schönleber Monzinger Riesling halbtrocken: Weingut Emrich-Schönleber is an estate of 13 hectares with more than three-quarters devoted to Riesling. The vineyard is made of slopes facing south to south-west that receive an optimum of midday sun. More specifically, the Monzinger hill has steep slopes that have unique microclimatic conditions: the warm air from the valley rises over the slopes and protects the vines from the chilly downdrafts at night. The wine had a bright golden color and an aromatic nose of white peach. On the palate, it was semi-sweet with a sharp acidity. A pleasant but not overly complex wine.

• 2005 Schäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Riesling Kabinett: although the Schäfer-Fröhlich family has been producing wines since the 1800's, Weingut Schäfer-Fröhlich is now considered a rising star among the Nahe wineries. The estate has 10 hectares planted with Riesling, and Pinot varietals. The wine had a pale yellow color and an appealing floral nose. The palate had a lively acidity with aromas of stone fruits. Delicious!

We tasted the Schäfer-Fröhlich side by side with a California Chardonnay, the 2005 Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estates Grown Chardonnay, which I found heavy and oaky in comparison.

• 2001 Hermann Dönnhoff Riesling: Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff is one of the leading estates of the region. This estate of over 12 hectares has been in the Dönnhoff family since 1750 and comprises some of the top sites of the Nahe Valley. The wine had a deep golden color and a vivid nose with petrol notes. On the palate, it was rich, unctuous and seemed less acidic than the first two Rieslings. Maybe my favorite Nahe wine.

• 2004 Schlossgut Diel Scheurebe Spätlese: Weingut Schlossgut Diel, a pre-eminent estate in the Nahe, has been owned by the Diel family since 1802. It is located at the lower end of the Nahe river close to the estuary of the Rhine, and has some of the best vineyards of the region. The wine was a Scheurebe, which is a crossing of Silvander and Riesling. It had a deep golden color and a pungent nose of green apple. The palate attack was dense with strong aromas of spicy apple pie that evolved into a sweet and cloying finish, actually, too sweet and cloying for my personal taste.

The Rheinhessen is Germany's largest wine region. It lies in a valley of gentle rolling hills, bordered on the west by the Nahe River and on the north and east by the Rhine. Overall, this is a fertile region with vast farmlands that may lack character except where the Rhine has carved steep slopes, which is where the best vineyards lie.

The wines we tasted:

• 2004 Gunderloch Jean-Baptiste Riesling Kabinett: Carl Gunderloch, a banker from Mainz, founded the Gunderloch estate in 1890 and is the great, great grandfather of Agnes Hasselbach, the current owner. The Jean-Baptiste label is an allusion to a character called Jean Baptiste Gunderloch in the German dramatist Carl Zuckmayer's play The Jolly Vineyard. The wine had a dark golden color, notes of petrol on the nose, apple-pear flavors on the palate and a rather short finish.

We tasted this wine side by side with the 2004 Poet's Leap Riesling Columbia Valley, a Washington State wine crafted by Armin Diel of Weingut Schlossgut Diel. It had a light yellow color with notes of petrol and chemical aromas on the nose and a palate that I found less clean and less focused than the Jean-Baptiste.

• 2004 Keller Westhofener Kirchspiel Riesling Kabinett: the Keller family owns 16 hectares of vines in prime spots. One of them is the Kirchspie, east-southeast facing slopes, windless and quite warm, with marl and limestone. The wine had a light yellow color and a volatile nose of burnt sugar. On the palate, it was slightly fizzy with notes of caramel, had a good acidity and a lingering finish of spicy apple cider.

• 2004 Gunderloch Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling Spätlese: Weingut Gunderloch is famous for its Riesling from the premium red slate based Nackenheim Rothenberg vineyard. The wine had a deep golden color and a rich mineral nose. On the palate, it was full-bodied, sweet, with ripe fruit aromas. Definitively the most complex wine out of this Rheinhessen selection.

The Pfalz is Germany's warmest wine region. It lies between the densely forested Haardt Mountains (an extension of the French Vosges) and the Rhine plain. Like Alsace in France, it is sunny and dry thanks to the Haardt mountains protecting the region from the cold and rainy weather coming from the west. The word Pfalz is a derivation of the Latin word palatium which means palace. Crops like almonds, peaches, apricots, cherries, sweet chestnuts, walnuts, figs, and tobacco flourish in this almost Mediterranean climate. It is Germany's most productive wine region and currently the most exciting. Ambitious growers are increasingly experimenting with a wide range of white and red grapes.

The wines we tasted:

• 2005 Ed. Weegmüller Haardter Mandelring Riesling Kabinett Trocken: Weingut Ed. Weegmüller has over 15 hectares in the renowned wine village of Haardt near the town of Neustadt. The wine had a light yellow color and a citrus nose. On the palate, it was slightly fizzy, rather dry, spicy, with a vibrant acidity.

• 2004 Müller-Catoir Haardter Bürgergarten Muskateller Kabinett Trocken: Weingut Müller-Catoir has 20 hectares located in Haardt. Considered to be the classiest estate in the Pfalz, it produces some of the country's finest Rieslings. The estate mostly grows Riesling, with some Weißburgunder, Grauburgunder, Spätburgunder, and very small quantities of Rieslaner, Scheurebe and Muskateller (Muscat). This Muskateller had a pale straw color and an aromatic grapey nose. On the palate, it was fresh and slightly fizzy with some herby aromas on the finish.

• 2002 Lingenfelder GanYmed Spätburgunder Trocken: the Lingenfelder family has been making wine in the Pfalz for 13 generations. They own 15 hectares of prime vineyards, planted mostly with Riesling, Scheurebe and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). Their Spätburgunder is planted on limestone soil in the Burgweg site that slopes down just behind the winery. Ganymed is a special Pinot Noir cuvee named after the Greek sommelier to the gods and it is made only during exceptional vintages. It is aged in new oak barriques in order to develop complexity and structure. The wine had a brown/brick color and an attractive nose of black cherries. On the palate, it was smoky and gamey with notes of licorice on the finish. An elegant and classy Pinot Noir.

• 2003 Messmer Burrweiler Schlossgarten Riesling Kabinett halbtrocken: Weingut Messmer is an estate located in Burrweiler, in southern Pfalz. This wine comes from Schlossgarten, one of the estate's best sites with a soil of loam and lime deposits. It had a light straw color and a mineral nose. On the palate, it was nicely fruity with a great amount of acidity.

At the end of the class, there was a surprise bottle that we tried to identify, although unsuccessfully (does that mean that we need to retake the class and retaste all these great wines?):

• 2004 Kerpen Bernkasteler Bratenhöfchen Riesling Spätlese: the Bernkasteler Bratenhöfchen vineyard is one of the premium sites owned by the Kerpen family. It is located on the Middle Mosel River. Unfortunately, I was too busy trying to identify the wine and I forgot to take notes. The only thing I remember is that the wine was delicious.

Coming next: the wines from Austria

Related story: Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class: Rheingau, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, and Mittelrhein

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