Sat 29 Aug 2009
Well, My Readers, it’s time to wrap things up for the trip to Germany. This is the 12th post, and I’ve covered about every topic, issue and idea that came out of that too-brief sojourn. Today, I thought it would be fun to turn to some of the best meals, or at least dishes, that I ate in Rheinhessen, Rheingau and Pfalz and then finish with a list of the best wines I encountered during those four days. As you will see, not once were we presented with sauerbraten or sausages.
Tuesday, July 7. I didn’t take my camera to the introductory dinner on our first night, so I can’t provide a visual record of one of the best fish courses I have ever eaten. This was at the restaurant l’herbe de Provence, which occupies the whole first floor of the sleekly modern Zwo Hotel and Restaurant in Oppenheim. The dish was a filet of rotbarben (rouget barbet or red mullet) on braised apricots with fried chanterelle mushrooms. That was it. Utter simplicity and completely fabulous in its balance of sweet and savory and earthy sensations and of complimentary textures. Also simple yet almost heartbreakingly lovely was the pinot blanc that accompanied the dish, the Guntersblumer Weisburgunder 2007 from Geheimrat Schnell.
Wednesday, July 8. After a day visiting estates and tasting wines in Rheingau, we touched down in the village of Hattenheim, in front of the venerable Zum Krug Weinhaus und Hotel, where the chef Josef Laufer presides over the kitchen. His father, also Josef Laufer, is founder of the establishment, though the building dates back to the early 18th Century. Laufer prepared an inventive, intriguing meal for our group, not every element of which worked. For example, the second course, for which I will not transcribe the German name, consisted of a cup of foamed soup made from organic goat cheese adorned with basil pesto and a portion of air-dried country ham, each perched on a rectangular plate. The soup was good; the ham was good; they did not compose a relationship together.
On the other hand, Laufer provided what was probably the best meat course of the trip. This was a shoulder of free-range pig in elderflower syrup (Holunderblütenöl) — I’m not certain of the cooking method — on a bed of kohlrabi with “little mushrooms” (Pfifferlingen) and new potatoes, a dish that went far beyond the concept of common “meat and potatoes.” And while I did not get used to drinking riesling with meat courses — I think people got tired of me saying, “Man, I sure wish I had a Ridge Three Valleys Zinfandel with this!” — the fact is that the brilliant Jakob Jung Erbach Hoherrain Erste Gewächs (“First Growth”) Riesling 2002 eased my pain.
Thursday, July 9. Evening brought us to Weingut Gysler, a producer that has been operating in the Rheingau village of Alzey since 1450 and is now run by Alexander Gysler on biodynamic principles; the wines, which display gratifying delicacy and authority, are certified by Demeter and BIO. Instead of dining at a restaurant, dinner was catered at Gysler by celebrated young chef Peter Scharff, who left a Michelin one-star restaurant to start a group called Kulinarische Kompetenz. I found his resemblance to Emperor Franz-Josef — or was it Ludwig, Mad King of Bavaria? — striking. Scharff and his staff grow 200 to 250 herbs, many of which found their way into these courses. We didn’t have a printed menu, so my interpretation of some of these dishes may be sketchy.
I thought that the first course involved salmon “three ways,” but I could find only two, a salmon mousse, cunningly surrounded by paper-thin half-moons of radish, and deeply flavorful smoked salmon, accompanied by a tangle of crisp, fresh greens. It was a complicated dish, but delicious. Next came braised beef shoulder and smoked and braised beef cheeks on roasted tomatoes with root vegetables, of which I was not so fond, because it seemed neither to tax the chef’s ingenuity nor to rise too high about the “meat and potatoes” level,” which is not to save that I didn’t clean my plate.
Dessert, though, was this beautiful panna cotta with fresh berries and herbs. Each plate also held, on the rim, a little totem of dark chocolate. This was, I think, the hit of the evening, along with Gysler’s Weinheimer Hölle Huxelrebe Spätlese 2008 served with it. One of our party who had a car promptly bought a case.
Friday, July 10. The plains and gently rolling hills of Pfalz held our attention today. We had lunch at Netts Restaurant und Weinbar, in Gimmeldingen, along with a tasting of wines from Weingut A. Christmann. The restaurant, designed in a spare contemporary manner with white walls and plain wood accents — and with a stunning view from the dining room of a great shallow valley stretching for miles — wasn’t scheduled to open for another week, so this was a special occasion. You could tell that the establishment wasn’t finished by such details as the mirror in the men’s restroom held in place by a two-by-four; that’s usually a giveaway. Though the food was simple, it was impeccably prepared and presented, adding up to what was probably our most coherent meal from beginning to end. It didn’t hurt that the Christmann rieslings were superb, though I thought that two pinot noirs were too spicy and worked over by oak.
First, a simple piece of rabbit loin rhubarb sauce, with two wines, Christmann’s Ruppertsberger Linsenbusch Riesling 2008 and the Königsbacher Ölberg Riesling 2008, which is to say, an excellent wine followed by an amazing wine.
Then, a lovely terrine of peas and carrots with an arugula salad and hazetnut pesto, with the excellent Reiterpfad Grosses Gewächs (“Grand Cru”) Riesling 2004 followed by the exceptional Idig Grosses Gewächs Rieling 2003.
If the meal at Netts had a weak spot, it was that the next course seemed a tad obvious, a little less subtle that the others. This was roulades of trout stuffed with herbs served over onion marmalade with gnocchi on the side. These wines, too, the pinots I mentioned before, were the weakest in the roster.
Finally, a sort of rhubarb crumble served in a small tumbler with whipped cream and a strawberry on top. I took my dessert to a window sill to get some different light — a food tourist with a camera is a terrible thing — and the waiter, evidently thinking that my empty place meant that I hadn’t gotten any dessert, kindly brought another. And I ate that one too!
Friday, July 10. For our final dinner of the trip, we were driven to Deidesheim, where we convened at Zur Kanne, a restaurant and hotel that has been serving guests since 1160. We were tasting the wines of Dr. Bürklin-Wolf, a relatively youthful estate that has been producing mainly rieslings only since 1597. Perhaps by this time I was weary of orchestrated wine-tasting meals; as good as the courses were, my favorites were two simple soups, an amuse bouche of cold cucumber soup with creme fraiche, and the potato soup with wild-garlic pesto that came between the trout and the pork. Not that these soups weren’t fairly rich, of course.
Ah, yes, more trout and pork! Not a thing wrong with the trout — whole this time, and served with a sort of Mediterranean zucchini and tomato salad — or the silky smooth rack of young pork (Jungschwein) with a piece of corn on the cob, pierced by a fork, and roasted potatoes, and I bet travelers didn’t get food like this in the 12th century. Still, I wanted something light, something undemanding. At 110 hectares –almost 283 acres — Dr. Bürklin-Wolf is a huge estate by German standards, but several of the wines we tried, especially the Gaisböhl Grosses Gewächs Riesling trocken 2007 with the pork and the Gaisböhl Riesling Auslese 2002 with dessert — strawberries with Grand Marnier and ice cream — were outstanding.
Going back through my notes, I think we tasted about 85 wines on this brief trip to Rheingau, Rheinhessen and Pfalz. Many of these were noteworthy for intensity and purity and authenticity, but after much consideration and weighing their multitude of effects, I settled on these 15 as the best, 14 whites, mostly riesling, and one red, that is pinot noir (spätburgunder). Why do this? Why even make these differentiations and sort out a hierarchy of the “best?” Because that’s the kind of guy I am. I like lists and matters put in order, tied with a bow of finality. So there.
>Graf von Kanitz Riesling Trocken 2006, Rheingau.
>Weingut Jakob Jung Erbach Hoherrain Riesling 2002, Rheingau.
>Brüder Dr. Becker Ludwigshoher Scheurebe Spätlese 2008, Rheinhessen
>Peter Jakov Kuhn Doosberg Riesling 2007, Rheingau
>St. Antony Nierstein Pettenthan Riesling G.G. 2008, Rheinhessen.
>Kuling-Gillot Ölberg Riesling G.G. 2007, Rheinhessen
>Battenfeld Spanier “CO” Riesling 2008, Rheinhessen
>Geysler Weinheimer Hölle Huxelrebe Spätlese 2008, Pfalz
>Heimer Sauer Hinter dem Schloss Weisburgunder Spätlese trocken 2007, Pfalz.
>Heimer Sauer Gleisweiler Hölle Riesling Beerenauslese 2005, Pfalz
>A. Christmann Königsbacher Ölberg Riesling 2008, Pfalz
>A. Christmann Idig G.G. Riesling 2003, Pfalz
>Dr. Bürklin-Wolf Gaisböhl G.G. Riesling Trocken 2007, Pfalz
>Dr. Bürklin-Wolf Gaisböhl Riesling Auslese 2002, Pfalz
>Heimer Sauer Spätburgunder 2005, Pfalz.
Image of Peto Scharff by Ernst Büscher; all others by F.K.