on the road
A map, a camera and a wine glass. These are the essential tools of the civilised traveller. The map will get you there, the camera will capture it - and the wine glass is used to enjoy the exciting wines you discover. Water, food, first aid kit, I hear someone say, are surely more important than a wine glass! Well, I thought so too. After all where there is wine there must also be a wine glass, you would think.
Sadly, you are wrong. Let me tell you a little story - a true story - that happened this summer. It involves yours truly, a map and no wine glass. And the Samos Wine Museum.
You and I have unfinished business. Don't be afraid, gentle reader, the unfinished business is not with you and I won't come after you with my katana - just to put those of you familiar with movie references at ease. My unfinished business was with Washington D.C., the capital of the richest, most powerful nation on earth. At the Wine Rambler, we don't do feuds small scale, nor do we forget. It had happened to me in 2009 in D.C., and three years later I armed myself properly, booked a flight and returned to settle the score.
In the course of this mission I fought mighty lions, returned to the scene of my disgrace and (well prepared and armed) I did battle, restored our reputation and came home with molten Riesling gold, snatched from the dragon's lair.
Even sensible people shy away from dentists. I have never quite understood this, after all the pain will only get worse if you don't go, but it is a fact of life I have learned to accept. So I am aware that my next sentence risks damaging the reputation of a respected German winemaker, but the truth has to come out: Georg Rumpf wanted nothing more than to become a dentist. I wasn't aware of this when I visited the Kruger-Rumpf winery last October, but it provided an important piece of the puzzle for understanding the role of family in winemaking as part of my investigation into death, dreams and destiny.
Luckily, neither death nor dentists will feature in the following story, but lots of good Riesling, great food and a little something on the philosophy of winemaking. It won't hurt a bit. Promise!
There is not much I have in common with Cato the Elder. I am not a politician, I never gave a banquet in honour of Jupiter, my Latin is mediocre and I never supported a ban on women riding in carriages. I don't even drink much Italian wine. And yet at moments I have sympathy for the old grump, and that is when I end statements on German wine with: ceterum censeo you have to try Silvaner! In the UK, where knowledge on German wine beyond sweet Riesling is rather limited, this sometimes makes me feel like a lonely preacher, repeating the same mantra like a bumbling (rambling?) fool. Now imagine my joy when I finally met a man who showed me what real Silvaner obsession is.
Or Sylvaner obsession, as wine grower and maker Michael Teschke prefers to spell it. Michael's dedication to Sylvaner has turned him into a figurehead for the grape variety, so much so that some call him the "Sylvaner God". Interestingly, others refer to Micheal as "Arse Teschke" - and if you want to know how that actually relates to Sylvaner quality you will just have to read on.
Wine, you would think, is the common theme for a wine trip. At least that's what I thought when a few weeks ago I set out on a press trip to the German wine region west of Mainz. Yet while there was wine, and plenty of it, I soon realised that there was another theme to this trip. It was about family, about death, destiny and the dreams of winemakers - and there was a bit about rock 'n' roll and obsession too.
German winemaking is very much about family. Not only have many wineries been in the same family for generations, they also tend to be small enough so that a family can run them without a lot of staff. Whatever happens in the family has real impact on the whole business. A serious argument, the only child turning their back on winemaking or a father dying unexpectedly - such events can be make or brake for an estate. This means that German winemaking is also a story about family. A story about love and death, a story about children following tradition or breaking with it, a story about getting old and growing up. In the end, winemaking is a story about life.
Wine travel writing has to feature passionate winemakers, gorgeous vineyards and fabulous wine. I will get to these in future posts on my recent visit to the German wine country around Mainz, but today is about looking at wine writing from the other side. It is about wine writers and communicators, about introducing the press trip and - most importantly to me personally - it is about a man holding up a piece of cardboard. Or rather: his absence.
Ever since I stepped off my first airplane as a child, this man held the key for my ascendancy to a higher level of human existence. Looking at this man, waiting with his piece of cardboard at arrivals, the young Torsten concluded that there are two types of travellers: those who just pass through, and those who, as a person or through their mission, have been deemed worthy enough to by picked up by that man. I travel a lot for work, but the highest appreciation I have been shown so far is being walked from Coventry train station to the university. Walked. And there was no sign with my name on it. Now imagine my joy when the invitation from the German Wine Institute to participate in an "international press trip for bloggers" contained the magic words: "arrivals", "driver" and "sign". On 6th October I would finally meet that man at Frankfurt Airport, and his name would be Mr Würzburger.
One Saturday in early may, the regular 08.50 to Ochsenbach left Sachsenheim Station after having waited for the regional train from Stuttgart. The contents of that bus as it wound its way through what in a larger town one would call the outskirts, on to Hohenhaslach, past Spielberg and through increasingly picturesque beech forests, half-timbered villages and sun-streaked fields of flowers: 17 chatty, hiking-gear-attired senior citizens off to a walking tour, one insufferably precocious 13 year old boy giving a lecture on the importance of sunscreen to nobody in particular, and one Wine Rambler from Munich.
I had begun the ride somewhat under the weather due to an impossibly early start, but as we got under way, a feeling of deep provincial calm was beginning to settle over me. I was going for a strolling visit of a recultivated historical vineyard all by myself, and then the tasting room of the winery that made this happen. Shuffling into a more comfortable position in my Swabian-made bus seat, I was loving this already. Little did I expect to also learn the lesson that not all in wine making is sunlight and prosperity.
See me walking down Fifth Avenue, a walking cane here at my side. I take it everywhere I walk, I'm an Englishman in New York. - Well, almost. Even though I like to think that four years in London give me some English credentials, I have never owned a walking cane. Nor a bowler hat for that matter. The part about Fifth Avenue is true though, as a couple of weeks ago the Wine Rambler went on the road again for another New York adventure. It included a visit to a biodynamic winery on Long Island, and there also had to be a follow-up from last year's random tour of NYC wine merchants.
I wish I could take you with me, all the way to New York City. So come with me, gentle reader, for another voyage of exploration. Ooh, and when you wake up in the mornin' with your head on fire and your eyes too bloody to see, go on and cry in your coffee but don't come bitchin' to me! (And if you can identify all music references in this text without the help of the internet please do visit me in London for a hangover-free Riesling.)
'How much alcohol do you think this one has?' With a cheeky smile David hides the label from us, just having poured an intensely coloured red wine. We swirl. We sniff. We taste. Towards 14%, we guess. David turns the bottle around and triumphantly declares '15.4%. But it does not feel that heavy, because of the acidity.' He reconsiders. 'You will still feel it the next morning though.'
While I take a second sip of the lovely Cabernet, I look back over a line of open bottles. Just a few minutes earlier David Page had mentioned that he had once been told: 'You can't make red wine on Long Island.' I swirl another wine around the glass, smell the blackberry and earthy aromas of 87% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec, and I do not even need to look up to see David smile, and to know he has reason to. For the wines he makes together with his wife Barbara Shinn are proof that you can - make red wine on Long Island.
And that is not the only thing we discovered during our visit to Shinn Estate Vineyards, a visit that turned into a study on local winemaking in a global world. And a bit with a dog...
The Mosel, heartland of the German Riesling, valley of steep slopes, home of castles and ruins - what better place to spend a holiday and taste some wine? Molly Hovorka, food-wine-travel blogger of Baking in Stilettos recently embarked on such a Mosel adventure, and she was kind enough to share her travel story with the Wine Rambler's readers - who may know her from a previous guest ramble, on the subject of Hungary's unique white wines. A highly recommended read, as is the following ramble on her Mosel adventure. Enjoy, and learn.
Mosel travels, a guest ramble by Molly Hovorka
It’s hard to believe that I’ve become such a lover of German wines. Years and years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a tasting of 40+ German wines from the West Coast’s top importer. To say I didn’t like them would be an understatement: I believe I described them as tasting like flat grape soda, and weak soda at that, and left having purchased two bottles of Spanish wine from the bargain bin.
I could kick myself today. No doubt we were tasting amazing wines that day; I believe the cheapest on the table was around $40/bottle and the prices went up sharply from there. Happily, my taste has changed and now nothing delights me more than the acidity, bright fruit, comparatively low alcohol content, and, most especially, the minerality of Mosel Riesling.
It has been a while since the Wine Rambler has hit the road, but a few weeks ago work called me to Rotterdam. I used the chance to attach a short holiday to explore the city. My voyage of exploration took me to the gigantic harbour, into museums and, mostly, along an impressive display of modern architecture. It also took me to what on the internet looked like a very interesting wine shop: De Gouden Ton. Just a short walk away from the city centre in a more quiet street lies a vinous gem that should excite all fans of exquisite wine.
After having walked around under the merciless sun for a few hours, I really appreciated the somewhat shady and very relaxed atmosphere at De Gouden Ton. The light conditions made capturing the shop well a real challenge for my camera, but trust me when I tell you that it is the kind of design and atmosphere that can make you instantly welcome.
After the failed attempt to explore wine merchants in Washington, a Wine Rambler desperate to bring some wine stories home from the USA trip moved north to the Big Apple.
I know what I'm needin', and I don't wanna waste more time.
I'm in a New York state of mind.
This posting does in no way claim to be representative of the wine shopping experience in New York. It is just a fairly random sample of wine shops I happened to walk into while exploring New York. And a few comments by a German wine snob about what German wine delight is on offer to the locals.
Well, you went uptown ridin' in your limousine / With your fine Park Avenue clothes / You had the Dom Perignon in your hand / And the spoon up your nose
This is not actually a posting about American wine, or any wine for that matter. It is more about how assault rifles and the Sabbath conspired against me bringing you a story from wine heaven.
It was all well thought out. Go to Maryland for a few days of work and use the chance to do some sightseeing in Washington. And to visit a few wine shops there and bring back some interesting stories. So this Sunday morning I left my hotel armed with a few maps, recommendations for places to visit and a list of potentially interesting wine merchants in DC. And an invitation to have dinner in Virginia to try some of the swag.
Unexpected pleasures are the most enjoyable. We had confidently expected to spend the best part of this first day of the pentecostal holidays stuck in traffic jams. But no, for once we actually managed the early start we always try for and reached the half-stage of our usual drive to the black forest, lake Constance, in good time and in beautiful early-summer sunshine, and what's best: with extra time.
I had had Aufricht, the rising star winery of the region, and arguably the lake's best, in the back of my mind for some time, and clearly, it was now or never: Over bumpy vineyard roads and after some false turns, we reached their gates, and were lucky. They were open for tasting, even for unannounced and slightly car-dishevelled customers.