The Great Escape - A Family Vacation In The Black Forest (Aug. 2014)

Just an FYI: I didn't expect to taste and drink so many wines on a family vacation, but it's so easy to find tasty, interesting, relatively inexpensive wines in Europe, I could probably have lived off the super market selections alone for the entire two weeks.
August 4: Egg, Austria

There was this weird wine shop right next to the zimmer where we were staying, with a small selection of wines, actually smaller than the collection at the supermarket next door. They were formally closed when I stepped in, but the owner was sampling some new arrivals with friends and they let me join. I liked the white and rose but was underwhelmed by the reds.

Kress, Muller-Thurgau, 2013

I think this is my first Muller-Thurgau. Fruity and lightly tinted with minerals, like a simple Sauvignon Blanc. Charming and fun. I didn't write down any details from the label, and Google only comes up with a Seegut Kress in Baden, which I doubt is the wine we tasted as all the wines in the store were Austrian.

Ploder Rosenberg, Sudoststeiermark, Rosa Rot, 2013

Strawberry and dry, a hint of sweetness. Oddly, it's only 10.5 ABV, but it doesn't feel too light, limpid or sweet.  I like it, but I wouldn't go out of my way to buy it.

Weingut Wallner, Sudburgenland, Eisenberg DAC, Blaufrankisch, 2011

Starts out nicely with black fruit and black pepper before what, to me, is heavy handed oak ruins the good start. Incredibly, Terry Theise is the US importer, so either he doesn't understand reds as well as he does whites, or this needs years and years to overcome the oak. I don't know quite what to make of it.

Markus Iro, Burgenland, Special Blend, 2013

A Pinot Noir, Merlot, St. Laurent blend. Oaky again, and I object to blending Pinot with anything in the first place.

The following wines accompanied our dinners at the zimmer:

Weingut Pockl Monchhof, Burgenland, Solo Rosso, 2010

This is pure Zweigelt and it's also oaky, but here there's enough earthy/spicy fruit, enough black pepper, and enough time that has passed to counteract the oak. Yet the tannins remain dry and bitter. So it's a pleasing effort although, not that much more. Kinda like a dependable Crozes-Hermitage; and for the same price Brundlemayer's Zweigelt (see below) is much more fun. 15 Euros. (Aug. 5, 2014)

Weingut Josef Jamek, Wachau, Jochinger Berg, Gruner Veltliner, Federspiel, 2009

I'm not sure how highly Jamek ranks in the Austrian scheme of things (Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book gives him one star whereas most of the producers in Eldad Levy's catalog, for example, have at least three and Giaconda's Pichler has four) and I'm not sure where the vineyard and bottling fit into the Jamek hierarchy - but this is a very good wine caught right beyond the initial throes of youth. It's a deceptively simple style of Gruner, but very harmonious on both nose and palate: green apples, a hint of flint and melon, white pepper, and beneath that the typical greenness of the grape. In short, a classic rendition. 10 Euros. (Aug. 6, 2014)

Wili Brundlmayer, Langenlois, Zweigelt, 2012

This is the tastiest red wine I had on the Austria leg of the tour, just fresh berry fruit with a substantial backdrop of minerals. Simple, but crafted with great care and honesty. Austria has such lovely red grapes, but some producers are still in the stage where they'll throw the entire Black Forest into their juice. 10 Euros (Aug. 7, 2014)

Aug. 8: Ammerschwihr, Alsace

Alsace never came as readily to me as Bougogne, Bordeaux and the Loire, so I wasn't as excited as you might expect to sleep right next to, and to jog inside, the famed Grand Crus. But with an unknown (to me) winery at every street corner, many of which are never seen outside of France, I would have had a great time exploring the place if I didn't have a family to chauffeur.

Driving into Riquewihr, I spotted a name that rang a bell and my family conceded me a short winery visit where I picked up a few bottles, one of which was consumed at our crappy one star motel in abysmal glasses.

Dopff au Moulin, Vourbourg Grand Cru, Gewürztraminer, 2009

An elegant Gewürztraminer with all the varietal accruments: lychee, rose petals, white pepper, ginger. There's enough residual sugar to overcome the spice attack in mid palate. Surprisingly zesty, for a Gewurtztraminer. (Aug. 8, 2014)

We also tasted the Schoenberg Grand Cru Riesling and Pinot Gris 2011 at the winery. Both were intense, the Riesling still austere but the Pinot Gris already open for business. The regular Riesling bottle, on the other hand, was solid, a little thin, not something I'd expend luggage space on. The winery's style appears to be elegant and understated. As well, we tasted the Bartholdi, a non vintage Cremant, which is very fruity while devoid of any nutty/minerally complexity. Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book calls Dopff Au Moulin pioneers of Cremant, but I found nothing compelling about the Bartholdi or the other cuvée we tried. This was my first Cremant, so I don't know - is this representative of the style?

Aug. 10: Oberkirch, Baden, Germany.

We didn't have time to buy any local wines when we arrived in Baden, so on our wedding anniversary, we opened another of the Alsace purchases: Dopff au Moulin,  Schoenberg Grand Cru, 2011. For me, a better wine, or at least a more enjoyable wine, than the Gewurtz, perhaps because I prefer Pinot Gris to Gewürztraminer. I consider it the quintessential Alsatian grape. Gewürztraminer is a slut and Riesling not only has to compete with its German kin, but with Austria, which can produce more balanced versions of the same spicy, dry style. But what do I know anyway? I just found out there's dozens, if not hundreds, of producers in Alsace that I and my friends have never heard of, so there's good odds I could find a few Rieslings to my tastes. But even if I underestimate the other two varieties, I do know that no other grape but Pinot Gris manages to blend luscious, oily fruit with decent-plus acidity. In many ways it is the white version of red Bourgogne, when it works, providing hedonistic and cerebral pleasures, the same image of a sage priest strolling through an Eastern bazaar. And any grape that manages to make me re-examine my notions of what it's capable of each time I open a bottle deserves an entry in my wine biography.

Anyway, back to the Schoenberg PG. It's in a likable, feminine, fruity/floral style, and at first only that. I prefer minerals in my wines, and my man in Alsace, Albert Mann, has delivered that with high intensity in his Pinot Gris Grand Crus the past, but I can appreciate and enjoy this. It shows honey and quince and little by little displays the minerals I look for. It certainly has the complexity and depth I expect from a Grand Cru. In short, a very satisfactory discovery that has whet my appetite.

The PG and Gewurtz, together with the 2010 Schoenberg, cost 48 Euros at a special discount at the winery store.

Aug. 12: Weingut Andreas Laible, Durbach, Baden.

I did my homework. Orentau is one of  the outstanding wine regions in Baden and Durbach is the important wine town. And Laible, a VDP producer, is one of the big names in Durbach, working a single vineyard, Plauerlain, which is exceedingly steep. Except for the Scheurebe Spatlese, these are backward wines right now, in need of time, yet already showing elegant intensity. They are honest without extravagant flash. The whites, anyway.

(Prices quoted are at the winery door)

Riesling, Plauerlain, Grosses Gewaches, 2012

Mineral laden and quite good. Very detailed. In need of time. 19 Euros.

Riesling, Plauerlain, Achat, 2013

More of the same, slightly more tropical, also in need of time. 17 Euros.

Scheurebe, trocken, 2013

Exotic with a lot minerals. Great fun to drink, but in need of food.

The Spatlese was friendlier and even better, floral with sexy sweetness. Both 11 Euros.

Spatburgender trocken, 2012

Very earthy but not for anyone looking for a Bourgogne lookalike as it is of a curt, Teutonic character. Which I might enjoy exploring at home but decided against carrying on the plane. 14 Euros.

Spatburgender, Plauerlain, Grosses Gewaches, 2011

This will need much more time. Oaky, but impressive in a points winning style. After later tasting the Trautwein, I think the Laible reds were trying too hard to impress and I was trying too hard to like them. 27 Euros.

Aug. 14: Stuhlingen, Germany

Still in the Black Forest, another fabulous zimmer in a different town. I decided to open a bottle of the Laible Scheurebe, and it's even better than at the winery, so let me give you the wine's full demarcation:

Andreas Laible, Baden, Durbacher Plauerlain, Scheurebe Spatlese, Erste Lages, 2013

A technical aside: Erste Lages is equivalent to Premier Cru in Burgundy. Most of the better wines are listed on the winery's site as Erste Lages, except for a trio of Grosses Gewaches. A GG must be dry according to current VDP regulations. So I'm not sure if the label here reflects that this a Spatlese and not a dry wine, as opposed to originating from a lesser parcel in Plauerlain, but this is fabulous stuff, floral and sexy, with detailed aromas and flavors that are full of life and joy and reverberate with red grapefruit and minerals. This is very complete and speaks of the essence of the grape, which is, at its best, all about the perfect marriage of fruit, sugar and riveting acidity. Even if I wasn't already a Scheurebe fanatic, this would make a lifelong convert out of me.

The next day, at the Gasthaus Schwanen restaurant at Stuhlingen, accompanying a dinner comprised of, for me, mainly wild boar.

Weingut Ralf Trautwein, Baden Kaiserstuhl, Spatburgender Kabinett Trocken, 2011

I like this rendition of Pinot a lot, with its earthy red cherries and cranberries and a hint of coriander. If Burgundy is Charlie Parker, joyfully expounding on his brand new approach to improvisation, then this is John Coltrane succumbing to the mathematical implications of applying his dark psyche to the same structures. Actually, Burgundy encompasses both aspects, so just imagine someone applying a Lutheran character to a lightly oaked Marsannay. I think it's good for me that this is 'only' a Kabinett - anything higher would be too ripe for me, as this was very balanced for me at 13% ABV.

25 Euros at the restaurant, which is about the price it would be sold for in Israel were it imported, so it's at the same price niche as a good generic Bourgogne.

And on the 16th, a couple of glasses on our last evening before returning to Israel.

Weingut Hug Pfaffenweiler, Oberthein, Muller Thurgau, 2013

A well made quaffer with no outstanding nuances.

5.50 Euros per glass at the Gasthaus Schwanen restaurant.

Weingut Ralf Trautwein, Baden Kaiserstuhl, Sauvignon Blanc, Qualitatswein trocken, 2013

Lightly exotic fruit (kiwi, grapefruit) with an excellent backbone of minerals. At first I thought that, as excellent as it is, it doesn't have that much to give it an edge in the global SB market, but its mineral fingerprint grew to create quite a blazing impression. No one in Israel (and arguably anywhere) is going to bother to carry a German Sauvignon, which is a shame - albeit an understandable one - because this SB shows the same clarity as a good Riesling. This Trautwein dude is good!

6.59 Euros per glass at the restaurant.


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