Monthly Archives: March 2013

Sunday Read: German Pinot Noir: Insipid? No, Inspiring.

I want to return to a topic with this Sunday Read that many outside of Germany, and admittedly even within Germany, usually stare at me blankly or with an amused look on their faces: red wines from Germany. Even more “ridiculous” when you talk about the queen of red grapes, Pinot Noir. But let’s face it: Pinot Noir is at its best in not too hot climates, like Burgundy or Oregon or New Zealand…and Germany. Yes, Germany. I am currently waiting for a shipment of some Pinot Noirs that have been highly praised in Germany (from Guenther Steinmetz) and I am super excited about it. German red wine, and in particular Pinot Noir, has made bounds and leaps ahead and what winemakers have produced is exciting.

So thinks Stuart Pigott, an English transplant into Germany, who has been one of the big storytellers for Riesling and German wine in general, with books like “Wine Speaks German” and tastings, and reviews, and columns in major newspapers. For Wine-Searcher, he wrote a piece on German Pinot Noir.

Give it a try, if you can. Happy Sunday!

Wine-Searcher: German Pinot Noir: Insipid? No, Inspiring.

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2010 Osél Ruchè di Castagnole Monferato DOCG

2010 Osél Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato

2010 Osél Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato

One of the finds during our Wine Century Club quest (see here) was this wine: the 2010 Osél Ruchè di Castagnole Monferato, a red wine in the highest Italian qualification tier: the DOCG. It is also one of the newest DOCGs, only having been induced in 2010.

It was Nina’s birthday (as I seem to have informed about everyone multiple times by now…sorry about that), and she wanted something low-key, so I decided to make her the best burgers ever, and I mean ever. I had gotten great hamburger meat from our local butcher, I stopped using the colored cardboard they sell at the supermarkets pretty much immediately after I first arrived in the US, and I had gotten the buns Nina loves. I found ripe avocados (a true feat in Michigan!), so I was going to make my own guacamole. The right lettuce would top things off, add in our variety of mustards. We’re both no big fans of pickles, so those were out. Then I added bacon to the mix. A good burger needs bacon. And then, in a whim, I decided to buy big Portobello mushroom heads, trim them to medium thick slices and roast them in the bacon grease as the bottom layer on the bun, under the patties. The burgers were bbqed on our grill out in the snow. I also made homemade sweet potato fries with a mayo-kochujang dip.

Sorry, no photos of the burgers…

Why am I telling you this? Because, to pair with wine, this is a total nightmare: Greasiness from the meat and bacon, heartiness from the meat. Sweetness from the ketchup, heat from the chilis in the guacamole and the mustard. Sourness from the lime in the guacamole. And again sweetness in the buns. Bitterness from the lettuce and roasted onions (which I forgot to mention)…you see where I am headed? It’s a nightmare. There is a reason why people drink beer with burgers. But, it was our Wine Century Club quest anniversary, so there had to be wine. (And I dislike beer).

So I did my thinking, I did my research. I didn’t want a Zinfandel, I didn’t want a Cabernet Sauvignon. It would have been best to find a grape variety we had not had. I settled on a few wine types that I could imagine going with this dish: Barbera and Nero d’Avola were my first choices. But then I decided to just head over to a small, local grocery store right across the street, which has a pretty decent wine collection. I imagined this was the moment were it would be great to talk to their wine guy and get his recommendations.

I ventured over, and, in what seemed like a total first, the wine guy was nowhere to be found. Ugh, that sucked. I know people need not be at work all the time, but I needed him! Well, I just started checking what they had. I appreciate their small selection because it is less overwhelming. So I kept looking at this wine and at that, I think I read pretty much every label. There was no Barbera and no Nero d’Avola. I was growing a bit restless (which usually doesn’t happen to me in a wine shop) and then this one caught my eye: A Ruchè. I had no clue about it. And I don’t own a smartphone, so no way to check. The heck. It said it was good for meat and spice and Asian foods…so that kinda sealed the deal.

Once home, I looked it up: Ruchè is a grape grown in Italy’s Piedmont region. Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato is one of the smallest DOCGs in Italy, with only about 40 hectares (100 acres) under vine. It is said to have similarities to Nebbiolo and the wines are said to have slightly bitter aftertaste.

The wine is sold under the label Osél, which is produced by Siema Wines, an importer and distributor into the US. They have currently over 500 wines in their portfolio. According to the website, it was produced by grapes from one farmer in the region. Apparently, David McIntyre liked this wine in the past, saying it is cheaper than most Ruchès and an “extra-good value” (I paid around $15). It is wholly made from Ruchè grapes and has 13.5% ABV.

It poured in a lighter red with some hints of brick. The nose was floral and perfumy with cherry and jammy notes. Rather enticing. The flavor profile of this light to medium bodied wine was very intense, with again cherry and some earthy aromas. There was noticeable residual sugar, maybe a tad too sweet. It had a peppery and slightly bitter finish that was rather short.

I liked this wine a lot, especially in its pairing with the burgers. It worked. It stood up to the food, but did not overpower the burger, and it held its own against all those crazy assaults from left and right. I was quite amazed how well it worked.I am not sure this would work on its own, though. But if you can find a bottle, give it a try!

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The Wine Century Club – The Joy is in the Journey

Thank you very much for your kind remarks to last Sunday’s post. I was a bit surprised that not that many people seemed to know about the Wine Century Club, something that I have obsessed about for a good year now…but before that, I also had no clue. Let me tell you a bit more about it.

The Wine Century Club is an honors-system based club. The sole goal of the club is to encourage people to think outside of the box when buying or ordering wine. The “century” in the name refers to 100. You can only become a member, once you have tried 100 different grape varieties in wine. Membership is free and all it takes is mailing in a form (which you can find here), on which you ticked off the grapes you have had. It is optional to provide the names of the wines you had the grapes in.

The Club was started and is currently headed by Steve and Deborah DeLong, who also publish great accessories to wines on their own website (the tasting sheets I use are from that website). The Club states it has roughly 1,250 members and they come from all over the world. There are now local chapters which meet to experience new wines and new grape varieties. From its website, the Club does not look overly active, but trust me, last year’s version was quite out of date. So there are definitely things happening.

And now to my own experience with going through the hoops. March of last year, I decided to give Nina an application for her birthday and promise her to take this journey together. We initially ticked off a number of grapes that we had in Germany and that I knew I had in the past, but that only got us to 30 or 40 or so. It really is much more difficult to reach the 100 than you imagine. There are definitely ways of shortening that: Anatoli over at Talk-a-vino reported of a wine that had over 100 different varieties in it. According to the rules, this would get you over the top with just one sip!! (Yes, blends count!). If you remember, the wine that got me over also was a blend of almost ten different varieties that are virtually non-existent anywhere.

2007 Pirita

2007 Pirita

But there we were: We had had some crazier grapes like Kerner or Scheurebe or Silvaner or Johanniter or Ortega or Cabernet Cubin or Cabernet Mitos or Dornfelder (ah, the bliss of living in Germany!), but we still were quite a bit away from the magic number. And that is were the fun started. We realized after a few months that when we went wine shopping, we expanded our horizons by actively searching out wines that were made with grapes that we had not tried yet. It became something of a hunt, and a good hunt it was. We tried a lot of new wines, some good, some not so much. Initially, it only mattered to tick off that box. But then, gradually, we became aware of how much more exciting, more fun, and more educational it is to try these grapes that no one ever heard of. It made us more aware of why we like some grapes, and it helped us understand what does not work for each of us in other grapes. By trying more variety, we experienced a greater appreciation for the world of wine. There is so much more out there!!

I don’t want to over-hype this, but it was so much fun. And it was so good to have started this. We all know how we can get stuck in our own wine ways, be it Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon or Riesling. We are all creatures of habit, reaching for what we know when we cannot make up our mind. The Wine Century Club encouraged us to reach for the other bottle, for the new variety, for an adventure…and it was so worth the ride.

It has taken us about a year (Nina is still three grape varieties shy of the 100 mark, but we have three wines here that will get her over the top). There was no need to rush anything. We have decided to stay on the journey that has given us so much pleasure. We’ll keep our lists, and we’ll keep expanding it. Because once you’ve started looking around, it is hard to stop.

This was our journey. Why don’t you begin your own quest to join the club today? I am looking forward to you sharing your journey!!

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