Monthly Archives: April 2013

Aged Wines are like Old Friends

I know, I have been quite silent lately. This is likely to continue for a couple more weeks. I will try to post when I can, and more importantly have something to say, but we’re not really drinking wine right now and my cousin is coming to visit so we will also be traveling a bit. Maybe that is why I am going a bit deeper today…

The exchanges with my cousin over the last weeks reminded me of something. We were talking about what wines he should bring for us. He had a couple of suggestions and we still had some bottles stored at my mother’s. It reminded me of those bottles, and it also made my excitement about the wines he is bringing rise. It reminded me of a discussion I had with my friend Tracy a while back, and that I had jotted down some ideas about it in one of my guest posts on the German expatriate website Go-Ra-Ra.

1987 Karl Erbes Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese

1987 Karl Erbes Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese

Wines have a unique and particular quality that I just find fascinating and it is quite singular to them: They are perfect bridges into the past.

You might say that smells, too, can carry this magic because they have the ability to transport us back to fond memories and special moments. For me, one immediate example would be the aroma that arises from baking bell peppers – it will always remind me of my beloved grandma making her awesome Stuffed Peppers.

That brings us to food, which seems to do that, too. When I visit Germany nowadays, the first thing I long for is bread and ‘Wurst’, insufficiently translated as lunch meats or cold cuts. It is what makes me feel at home. And don’t get me started on the taste of actual, real bread…

And finally, music appears to be similar: Every time I hear a particular song by The Killers, one that I obsessively listened to two years ago when working on a paper, I start re-arguing the case in my head all over again. And we all know these songs that make our hearts swell because of the connotations our brain has from when we listened to them for the first time, or many times in a row.

But there is a caveat: These three triggers for our senses cannot function as true bridges, because – in my book at least – they do not take the process of ageing or evolving into account. They lock in memory from the past, the way it was.

Two beauties, meant for each other

Two beauties, meant for each other

A bottle of wine from a particular year offers more than food, music or smells can offer: It offers me a taste of something that was produced at a certain time, and that did not stay the same. A substance that, just like me, has aged since it was first created. We both evolved and we both are not what we were at the time the wine was made.

But still, it brings back memories: The name of the winery will remind me of past experiences with it; the name of the vineyard might remind me of a hike in this particular hill. Or I might even have enjoyed this particular wine in the past, and just like me it has evolved since then and is not the same.

Two beauties

Two beauties

A bottle of wine gives me a chance to think of the grand scheme of things. What happened during this specific year? How did the German national team do? Or, on a more personal level, I might consider my life: Where was I at this point in time … physically … emotionally … spiritually? What has happened since? A lot of history, all captured in one sip, if you will. I love this about wine.

And there we are: This wine that transports me back in my head, it meets me in the here and now at the same time. It is a messenger from the past, that is not just a memory in my head, it is actually here. Ready to meet me and engage with me…

In that sense, a bottle of wine is like an old friend, that evolves with us, that grows with us, but still connects us to our past. So just like old friends, they are true bridges into our past.


Best buddies.

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Sunday Read: The Joy and Mystery of Drinking the Classics

Over the last couple of weeks, my fellow bloggers Jeff, The Drunken Cyclist, and Anatoli, Talk-A-Vino, posted two very interesting pieces: Jeff talked about how much one should or would want to spend on a bottle of wine, the classic question of how much is an expensive bottle actually worth for you and does a wine get five times better when it costs five times as much as another wine. It contains a lot of interesting thoughts and the discussion has been great! Read the article here.

Then, Anatoli posted a piece about ageing wines and when a wine is ready to drink. A lot depends on the personal taste, in my view, but I still have not fully come up with an answer to what my stance is. As you know I like aged Riesling a lot…find his article here.

For this Sunday Read, I know I already pointed you to two reads, I know!, but I feel like I found something that contributes to both these discussions. It is a long article by Bill Zacharkiw, the Montreal Gazette wine writer. He tells us about a meal he was privileged to pick the wines for from a stellar cellar (and, spoiler alert, he would love to drink $200 to $800 bottles more often). Going from there, he explores why different bottles of the same wine can taste completely different. His point being that in ageing wine, we never can predict for sure what we will get. He finishes this very read-worthy article with this paragraph:

“Aging wine is a crapshoot, as you can never be sure what you will have when you finally open the bottle. But this, for me, is the beauty of wine. Wine is a living organism. In its primary stage, it is often very easy to understand. As it ages, a wine will gain complexity and depth. And along the way probably a blemish or two.

Not that different from people, I guess.”

Beautiful, eh? Happy Sunday!

Bill Zacharkiw on Wine: The Joy and Mystery of Drinking the Classics

2008 Feudi di San Marzano Primitivo di Manduria Sessantanni

2008 Feudi di San Marzano Sessantanni Primitivo di Manduria

2008 Feudi di San Marzano Sessantanni Primitivo di Manduria

It was time for a big red sometime two weeks ago. And the Sessantanni was what I had in mind. Let me give you a bit of background on how I found this particular wine. It was during the last weeks of my time in Germany in 2011. I tried to cram meeting friends and doing cool stuff into my limited time. One of the things I did was visit with one of my cousin’s and several friends in Wiesbaden, just across the river from Mainz. My cousin told me we had to go and visit the wine shop he goes to. And as you can imagine, I had no objections. So we went ahead and visited “Le Bonheur” on a Friday evening. Two of my good friends from Trier times tagged along. To shorten things, we had a blast. The owner, Andreas, is a fabulous guy, generous in offering us to try whatever we wanted, knowledgeable, friendly and chatty. The perfect wine shop owner. We tried, and talked and talked and talked. I remember my cousin had to pretty much pull me out of the store because we had a dinner reservation…Andreas’ wine store is sitting over a former champagne cellar, so he also showed us the downstairs where he is now producing his own champagne. It was epic there. If you ever get to Wiesbaden, and in fact a number of Americans do because there is a large military base and it is only 25 minutes from Frankfurt, it is well worth a visit. Andreas speaks great English, too. When we went back to the store last summer, Nina found the Italian Merlot we had during the last wine tasting I wrote about.

Our tasting at Le Bonheur...I wasn't joking about the generosity of its owner!

Our tasting at Le Bonheur…I wasn’t joking about the generosity of its owner!

But back to this wine. One of Andreas’ most endearing traits is that he never wants to let you go. So right before we were to leave his place, he said there was just one more wine to try: The Feudi di San Marzano Sessantanni, a primitivo. The label and bottle were gorgeous, and when I picked up the bottle, I could not believe how heavy it was. It is by far the heaviest single bottle I ever held. We tried this dark, brooding wine and I instantly fell in love. It was just right on a late November evening. Fabulous. So, I waxed on and on until my cousin decided to buy a bottle as a gift for Nina and me…and it actually made it across the pond. And then it was sitting in our wine rack, waiting to impress Nina.

Let me give you some more background on the wine: It is named “Sessantanni”, or 60 years, because the vines that the grapes were grown on are over 60 years old. The vines grow in Apulia, on the peninsula Salerno, in Southern Italy. The winery, Feudi di San Marzano (great website, well worth checking it out), is a new creation. It was established in 2003 by a cooperation of the Cooperative San Marzano and Farnese Vini from the Abruzzo region. Farnese is said to provide the know-how and the cooperative provides its vineyards. According to the German wine retailer Belvini, the winery has garnered a lot of attention and won numerous prizes. The Sessantanni is its flagship red.

The 2008 vintage has 14.5% ABV. Its denomination “Primitivo di Manduria”, which according to the wine label is a protected designation of origin (DOP), according to Wikipedia it is a denomination of controlled origin (DOC) – apparently a DOC or DOCG is also always a DOP – ensures that it is made with 100% Primitivo grapes. The vines are grown around San Marzano and Sava in red soil rich in iron oxide. Grapes are hand-harvested in September and the wine ages in American and French wood barrels.

This Primitivo di Manduria poured in the dark, brooding ruby red that I remembered. Its nose was full of sweet tobacco, candied cranberries, plum and Alpine flowers. Really pretty, really charming. On the palate, the wine felt medium- to full-bodied. The first things I wrote down were deep, full, rich, ripe. It had a refreshing, mouthwatering acidity to it that was not disturbing but rather welcome. When I dove deeper into figuring out what was going on, I got some vanilla, some almond bitter, cedar and spice box. The tannins were exceptionally well integrated. The wine showed some heat, but that was not surprising given the high alcohol level. There was also a jammy sweetness to the wine. Its long finish made me taste milk chocolate.

I loved this wine, just like I loved it when I first tried it. Nina, as I had hoped, was all over it, too. As the evening progressed, the wine became more and more a fruit bomb, which was a bit unexpected but nonetheless very enjoyable. The more I try Southern Italian wines, the more I enjoy them. I am for example very fond of Salice Salentino, which is also from Apulia. Their deep and brooding nature appeal to me.

If you get a chance, I highly recommend this wine. It retails for somewhere above 20 euros in Germany ($27), Wine Searcher lists an average price of $35 pre-tax and shipping in the US. Southern Italy is still very much unrecognized and underrepresented in our common wine conscience. It means we can get exceptional value for the price. While I recognize this wine is outside of my usual price line, I still believe it is a great bargain.

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