Friday, February 23, 2007

German Wines - The Honeymoon Is Still In Progress

German wines are my new girlfriend.

Germany is a wine country I've wanted to get into for quite a few years now, but German wines were never extensively imported to Israel for reasons both obvious (it's not the most popular country in Israel though when you think about it, neither is France) and not so obvious (an appellation system that is hard to grasp; site names that are difficult to grok and pronounce; and local import laws that mean the good, low alcohol stuff can't legally be sold as wine). A few years ago I picked up a couple of bottles of Bassermann-Jordan 1990 Ausleses that knocked me out but that was more or less it.

This all changed this summer when a local importer called Giaconda opened its doors. Run by Anat Sela and Raphaella Ronen, Giaconda specializes for now mostly in German wines (plus one winery from New Zealand, due to the that Anat and Raphaella studied wine-making in Kiwi land). I should mention I am somewhat friendly with Anat and Raphaella so just to show how I try to remain un-biased, I will say that some of their wines are expensive and sometimes the comparisons to prices in the US and UK are not very flattering. Forget what you might have read about Germany being the last bastion of consumer friendliness!

But back to wine. Giaconda has an impressive freshman catalog with representatives from all the major German wine areas. And it's not just limited to Riesling, either. They import Schuerebe, Rislander, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir. They hold monthly tastings (also not moderately priced!) and the cause d'etre for this post is a Rheingau tasting I attended yesterday.

Rheingau is the most historic, classic German wine region, popularly labelled the birthplace of Riesling. Sheesh, I sound like a tourist brochure, don't I? But ignoring the hype and some debate on the Rheingau's current rank among its peers, the Rheingau wines we tasted were hard, marrow-crushing proof of how sensitive vineyard and winery work allows terroir and grape to clearly speak out and how the winemaking tradition works with - and not against - diversity.

Every wine that evening told a different variation of a common story: quartz-like minerality buffetted by elegant, flowery fruit. I know, rationally, that I'm still courting and sucking up to Riesling and knowing this I take a step back and sense faults in specific wines (not to mention noticing the prices) but the big picture still takes my breath away. I drunk the wines while Anat lectured on specifics of technique but I can't connect the winemaking that brought forth the wine with the experience of the wine itself. Each wine was a living thing that existed outside the process that created it, for that moment anyway.

(As a sidenote, I definitely did not feel that way during the Nahe tasting last month but I did enjoy the Pfaltz tasting before that tremendously albeit in a more earthy way than the Rheingau tasting.)

People get into wine for different reasons and they stay there for different reasons and they get different things out of it. But can't it be summed up in those moments when the results of man working with and sometimes against nature just blow you away?

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