Monthly Archives: March 2014

Guest Contribution: The LimoncellOff

Howdy, loyal readers! First, the bad news: (1) Sadly, this edition of The Winegetter won’t be brought to you by Herr Windgätter. Alas, he is too disdainful of his fans (not to mention lazy) to write himself, and so has asked me to fill in. (2) This contribution has nothing to do with wine; it’s about limoncello: “the real man’s hard liquour” as no-one in history has ever called it. Now to the good news: I, Nils Stear, am also German, and so shan’t be violating Oliver’s strict (and politically controversial) Germanophilic contributor policy (Hooray!).

Limoncello, backlit

A few months ago I decided to make my own limoncello. The process was fairly crude. But the end-product wasn’t too bad—decent, even. Then the idea hit me: wouldn’t it be fun to have a competition to see who could make the best limoncello? All I needed now were some competitors. But who? My dogs were disqualified on account of their lack of opposable thumbs (how would they peel the lemons?), not to mention their appalling taste—I mean, seriously, who pairs salmon-flavoured kibble with tapwater? That’s just embarrassing.

Dogs

How about my baby, Katharina? Her three-month-old intellect would surely guarantee my victory since (not to brag) I can already read at a four-month-old level. However, while I am merely boyishly good-looking, she is insanely adorable, an advantage sure to sway the votes of any judges in her favour. And Katharina is really more of a vermouth drinker anyway.

Katharina

What I needed, then, were competitors that combined an infant’s mental acumen with a dog’s ability to lick its own perineum. When Chip and Tri presented themselves, I knew I’d found what I’d been seeking.

Chip & Vittorio copy

And so, at a dinner party hosted by friends Anne and Tri, I presented my idea. Robin, another friend in attendance, hit upon the name: the “LimoncellOff”. It was on. Chip, Tri, and I would have five weeks to make the best limoncello we could; our significant others Robin, Anne, and Fown would judge them. The prize? Pride. And 5kg of heroin (what can I say, Chip’s a fan). But mostly pride.

It was only afterwards that I realized how foolhardy my choice of competitors had been. Tri hails from Italy’s Amalfi coast, where limoncello originates. If that wasn’t enough to have me soiling my pants, his full name is ‘Trionfatore Campioni’, which basically means ‘Winner Champions’. I was royally buggered.

So, how would I make it? The first time around I had followed a recipe from The Food Network’s Giada Di Laurentiis, which called for vodka, lemons, sugar, and water. Knowing that your average American has the palette of a five-year old, I halved the sugar, which on tasting turned out to be wise. But the vodka imparted a dirty flavour, the low alcohol content made the final product slushy (limoncello is served sub-zero), and I’d peeled the lemons carelessly, including too much pith and making the drink bitter.

This time around, I adapted my recipe from a blog called Limoncello Quest run by a man as insanely driven to perfect his limoncello as I was to beat Chip and Tri. It called for:

  • 750ml ‘Everclear’ grain alcohol (75% ABV)
  • Zest of 8 lemons
  • 1.75 cups sugar
  • 2.5 cups water

I went to absurd lengths to make the best limoncello I could, zesting rather than peeling the lemons for zero pith, and quintuple-carbon-filtering the Everclear. After it had rested three weeks, I sextuple-coffee-filtered the maceration before adding a syrup made from distilled water and white sugar.

Limoncello_Jar

To my horror, when I combined the transparent yellow Everclear with the equally transparent syrup, the mixture went completely opaque. I had bollocksed it up! Or so I thought. Luckily, I hadn’t; the cloudiness results from what’s called the “louche effect”, whereby compounds previously dissolved in the alcohol essentially “undissolve” as the proportion of alcohol decreases. Relieved, I bottled the contents and rested them once more. Finally, two days before the LimoncellOff, I filtered the product one more time and added my secret ingredient: triple-filtered lemon juice—just a touch.

My spirits were buoyed on the big night when Tri and Chip presented their produce. Whereas my own had taken on a milky golden luminescence, theirs had the brown cloudy look of a moribund animal’s effluent.

Limoncello Bottles

Finding criteria to rate the drinks is tricky, a difficulty I’m all too aware of as a philosopher of aesthetics. Still, we had to choose some to give the tasting a little structure. You can see our metrics here:

Limoncelloff Scorsheet

It was crunch-time. After dinner, and before trying our own, we sampled a store-bought limoncello to orient ourselves: Caravella, a popular limoncello in the US, bottled in Milan. It’s a decent example of its kind—fresh, lemony, but with a thick liquorice sweetness—although, oddly, it contains food colouring. At $20 a bottle, I’d recommend it to anyone not fussed about making their own. Tri’s limoncello was next. He had made the courageous, some say reckless, decision to use grappa instead of a flavourless alcohol. The result was delicious, but it lacked the clean, lemony flavour of a limoncello; the grappa’s boozy fragrance was overpowering.

Chip & Robin Laughing

Next came Chip’s. He had innovated with lemon Juice, like myself, and brown sugar in place of white. The result was a tasty and citrusy drink that left a rich, yet subtle, spice in the mouth. Finally came mine. Quite similar to Chip’s but a touch less sweet, a touch less acidic, and with a less complex palette. I could taste victory. And limoncello. The final score gave Tri the bronze, Chip the silver, and myself the lemony gold.

Final Score modificado

So, if you’re looking for a creative and fun activity, try your own LimoncellOff. And remember: when life gives you lemons, use them to knock a wine vendor unconscious and then steal her wine.

Nils laughing

 

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Our Annual Wine Party

Cork collection

It has become a tradition in our house that every year for Nina’s birthday we throw a wine party. It used to be that it was a wine and cheese party, where we provided the cheeses and opened Nina’s huge treasure chest of mustards and fruit mustards, and everyone invited was asked to bring a bottle of wine they liked or always wanted to try or thought we just had to try. The tradition started back in Germany, where naturally almost everyone brought Rieslings…over the last couple of years we have also been able to open Rieslings from Nina’s birth year which has been fun and educational.

These days, the party has evolved to just a wine party. Nina still gives some guidance regarding what folks should contemplate bringing, and it is usually respected. One cool thing is that a number of friends that come are not really into wine, but are willing to explore and try things out. I always love that. The other cool thing is that it gives me an opportunity to see what others consider when they look at wines and try to bring something to a specifically wine party. Here are some of my impressions from this year’s party:

1) Pinot noir seems to be gaining ground like crazy. I’d guess that half the wines that were brought to the party were made from that grape. Pretty much all of them from the US or other New World locations, mainly because we tend to limit money spent to grad student salaries. I enjoyed seeing that not so into wine folks are embracing that grape more and more, yet some of the wines were clearly underwhelming…it’s just hard at that price range.

2) A Portuguese friend of ours brought a bottle of Alvarinho, a white,  called Deu La Deu from the Portuguese sub-region of Monção e Melgaço. Our friend introduced it by saying it was a vinho verde, and she knew we like vinho verde, but that it was a “next level” vinho verde. I was naturally intrigued, given how much I enjoy vinho verde. When I tried it, I was quite impressed: It has all the citrus and refreshment that I love about vinho verde, the sazziness, the fun. But it also has a more serious air about it: It carries more weight, is a bit creamier, a bit more mature, I guess I would say. At 12.5% ABV it is great to drink, and made for a wonderful surprise! More about the wine here.

A next level Vinho Verde

A next level Vinho Verde

3) Our newly found blogger friend Hannah (of Next Stop TBD) and her fiance Mark brought a bottle from a winery visit in California last year: A 2011 Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley. They wanted to retry the wine, because memories of it were a bit hazy, and so we were happy to oblige. You know how I usually see Cabernet Sauvignons with trepidation, but it was a really tasty wine: bold, juicy, chewy, with enough depth. Nina was shocked I liked it, which was probably the other reason I liked it even more. Nothing like surprising your spouse once they think they have you figured out.

4) The amazement that has been Vouvray whites is continuing: Our great tasting buddies and real life friends, coffee roaster Jay and his baking-wine nut wife Sarah brought another bottle: Noel Bourgier 2012 Vouvray, this one retailing for a mere $11! It was just what I described as a winter white in my post about Vouvray a while back: creamy and full, round and enticing. Uncomplicated and quaffable. Go find a Vouvray and let me know what you think!

A nice Vouvray at a bargain price

A nice Vouvray at a bargain price

5) As the highlight of the night, we opened yet another 1987 Vereinigte Hospitien Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese (we have had this wine before, last year we had a Karl Erbes Erdener Treppchen, and we have had Vereinigte Hospitien’s ’87 Erdener Treppchen before). We are now 27 years in, so I begin to worry a bit about how these Spätlesen are going to hold up, especially from a not ideal vintage. I have been telling Nina numerous times that we need to start stocking up on Auslesen and even BAs from that year, if there were even any produced. The cork was moldy on top, but came out seemlessly, and the wine presented itself in fantastic condition: I had gotten the decanter ready, to potentially breathe some life into it, but the tiny sip I tried made me push aside the decanter and go straight for glasses: The wine was firm and structured. There was very bright acidity which held the wine together and led to citrus aromas dominating the wine. The finish was holding up, and so all in all a very solid expression of what an aged Spätlese can taste like. I thought it was very tasty and definitely has a couple more years ahead of it, which I find astonishing….and reason enough to buy a couple more of this when we are in Germany next…

Stunningly fresh

Stunningly fresh

So, when are you throwing your next wine party and encourage friends to bring what they want you to try or share with you?

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Meeting the Vintners: Weingut Kistenmacher und Hengerer, Heilbronn (Württemberg), Germany

The wines of Württemberg winery Kistenmacher & Hengerer

The wines of Württemberg VDP winery Kistenmacher & Hengerer

While visiting Germany back in November, Delta’s weird flight scheduling and pricing made it so that flying into Stuttgart instead of Frankfurt made my flight $400 cheaper. Stuttgart is about 2 1/2 hours from my hometown, and a train ride is about $30, so this was a no-brainer. A good friend of mine lives in Heilbronn, about 45 minutes from Stuttgart, and I decided to visit him for a weekend as well. While making those plans, I figured it could also be worthwhile to expand my scope and palate and go try some wines at a winery in Württemberg, an area I had never visited. A quick Google search made it clear that Kistenmacher & Hengerer should be the place to visit in Heilbronn: They were admitted to the elite winemaker association VDP in January 2013, are part of the Slow Food movement, and have garnered great reviews for their wines. In other words: Another no-brainer. I contacted the winery and after some very friendly back and forth we agreed on meeting on a Sunday morning to have some quiet time with each other.

Let me give you some background on the German wine region of Württemberg first (you can find more info on this website): Württemberg is Germany’s fourth largest wine region (only topped by Rheinhessen, Palatinate, and Baden) with 11,359 hectares (approximately 28,000 acres) under vine according to the German Wine Institute’s 2012 statistics. It’s located in Southern Germany, roughly in the area along the river Neckar between Stuttgart and Heilbronn. Unlike many other wine regions in Germany, the focus in this region is not on white grapes but rather red grapes. Again citing the German Wine Institute’s 2012 numbers the most prevalent grapes are: Trollinger (red) with 20.4% of the total area under vine, Riesling with 18.5% of total area, Lemberger (red) with 14.6%, Schwarzriesling (red) with 13.8%, and Spätburgunder (aka Pinot noir) with 11.4%. You probably have not heard of some of these grapes, and that is the other great news about this area: It’s bursting with indigenous grapes which are rather unique for this area and make distinct and interesting wines. And can boost your Wine Century Club application if you need more grapes…

When the day of the visit came, it was pouring cats and dogs, but only after I had decided to walk the 30 minutes to the winery…and on a Sunday morning in Heilbronn, no cabs could me made out…the greater my joy when I arrived at Kistenmacher & Hengerer, where Sabine Hengerer greeted me with warmth and a smile, and some hearty breakfast foods. How better to start a wine tasting? Plus: There were some pretty excited dogs to be greeted! Still, I was quite nervous. I felt a bit out of my comfort zone, which in Germany is the Mosel and some of Rheinhessen regions. This was going to be different, wine-wise, people-wise. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of someone I had never met, and the list of wines and unknown grapes was long…

Yes, we were both excited...

Yes, we were both excited…

When Hans Hengerer first came down the stairs, he initially seemed the quiet type. There is a calm about him that struck me: He knows what he wants, and he knows how to achieve that. He is sincere about his wine philosophy and work, and not prone to long introductions to his wines. He likes to let them speak for themselves, and gave me plenty of time to assess them on my own, before we would talk about them. I really liked that. But let’s take a look at the winery:

Kistenmacher & Hengerer is the result of a “merger” between the Hengerer and Kistenmacher families that happened in the 1950s, and Hans Hengerer took over operations in the mid-1990s. Yet, the two families have a long history, with winemaking dating back to the 1400s and 1500s. But that does not really seem to matter all that much to winemaker Hans Hengerer. When I asked him about the long history, he was rather dismissive as if he saw it as potentially inhibiting. We talked about the differences to his parents’ generation when it comes to winemaking and it is clear that he has respect for what they did, but is finding his own ways. They took him to South Africa, and upon his return led him to explore the older and at times forgotten local grapes Muskateller and Samtrot, and Clevner, grapes many (including me) are, if even, only dimly aware of. All the while, he also produces Riesling and Spätburgunder (Germany’s Pinot noir). Hengerer strongly believes in intensive vineyard work and low yields: he produces between 70,000 and 80,000 bottles per year. Terroir matters to him, the soils he works on can be challenging, and he wants every wine to be the result of its climate and soil. Uniformity is as far from his idea of wines as you can imagine. Most of his wines are made in the dry style (90% of his Riesling is dry).

Sigh...

Sigh…

Hengerer is also a founding member of the group “Junges Schwaben” (aka “Young Swabia”), a group of five winemakers from the Württemberg growing region that began cooperating in 2002, and in which every one of the quintet makes one particular wine that is marketed particularly as a Junges Schwaben wine (in Hengerer’s case a Spätburgunder). Hans Hengerer’s sense of humor, a quiet, witty humor, shone through when he insisted with a wink that the group was called Young Swabia, and not Young Swabian”s” because none of the winemakers should qualify as “young” anymore (he was born in 1967). They wanted to highlight the awakening of the region, which is indeed moving rapidly from Trollinger-dominated vineyards to broader and more experimental wine making.

The tasting at the winery took around three hours, as I said, the Hengerers were generous with their time. I got to try 16 of their wines, beginning with the Rieslings from estate wine to late harvest, with a Gelber Muskateller and a cuvee of Riesling and Kerner thrown in, and then on to the reds, from lighter Trollinger to Samtrot to Clevner and his outstanding Spätburgunder. I will go into more detail about some of the wines in the next post, but let me say this: I loved the variety of grapes, and the variety of wines within single grapes. None of his wines were “easy”, they all had character. It really was like every wine was telling its own story. Hengerer insists that his wines take time, that they need to continue developing in the bottle and I can see what he means.

I wasn’t able to take many wines with me, but I decided to take some of the more unusual ones that I wanted Nina to try: the Muskateller, the Samtrot, a Lemberger and some cuvees. Most of them, and I am sure Hans Hengerer would like that, will still be waiting for a while until we open them…you can find more detailed reviews of the wines I tried in my notes here.

You can visit Kistenmacher & Hengerer Monday through Friday from 4pm until 6.30pm, Saturdays from 9am until 11am and from 1pm until 4pm or make an appointment via email or telephone. The winery is located at Eugen-Nägele-Str. 23-25, Heilbronn. Heilbronn is about a 45 minutes drive from Stuttgart.

With Hans Hengerer

With Hans Hengerer

    

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