Tag Archives: germany

Feuerzangenbowle and how to make your own Zuckerhut

Feuerzangenbowle in Alaska 2014

Feuerzangenbowle in Alaska 2014

I’ve written about the German winter tradition Feuerzangenbowle (aka “fire tongue punch”) before. In my post last year, I explained (eerily familiar these days when you look at the East Coast):

“Yet another “polar vortex” sweeping the Midwest is giving me a chance to write a post that I thought would have to wait until next winter. I meant to write it before Christmas, but then life got in between. So I relish this chance that Mother Nature has provided me with. Why could I only write this post in utter cold? Because of tradition…but let me begin:

If you type “Feuerzangenbowle” into Google, you will find a gazillion of hits for this term. Other bloggers, like John The Food and Wine Hedonist and Julian of Vino in Love, have written about it before, so I want to keep the intro part rather short. Feuerzangenbowle, usually translated as “Fire Tongue Punch”, is a German winter tradition. Most English-speakers are familiar with “Glühwein” aka mulled wine, and Feuerzangenbowle is an extension of mulled wine.” To be more precise, it’s pimped version of mulled wine.

If current weather conditions make you want to throw a party and impress your guests with a show of fire and light as well as a tasty mulled wine, this is what you need: a burner, mulled wine, sugar loafs or hats (in German: Zuckerhut), some metal rack (to set the sugar onto), minimum 50 proof rum, a metal ladle, and a lighter. The final product will be sugar drenched in rum that is lit up sitting atop a pot of mulled wine. It makes for quite the spectacle.

First up, you need some form of hardened sugar. In Germany, we use a Zuckerhut, a cone shaped loaf of sugar that fits perfectly on the tongues that are used to hold it above the mulled wine. It’s hard or expensive to get them in Germany, and I have experimented a lot with how to replace it. We’re throwing at least one Feuerzangenbowle party in Alaska each year, and usually one in Ann Arbor as well (like this past weekend). Initially, I played with adding a bunch of water to sugar and then putting it into the oven at a rather low temperature. The problem with that is that it can caramelize the sugar and then it burns down much harder (as happened to me this year in Alaska, where the sugar was so hard that the flames turned into a greenish color – pretty, but not what you want).

When I told Nina my dilemma, she did a Google search and found the perfect solution: a Youtube video. Not that I couldn’t have thought of that. The three minute video shows how easy it is to make your own sugar cones. Mix a cup of sugar with a teaspoon of water. Mix well with a fork, the sugar will resemble damp sand. Then take a champagne or beer flute or martini glass, put in a third of the sugar, use a muddler to press the sugar firmly, criss-cross the top of the sugar with the fork to loosen it a bit and ensure the next round will stick to this round, add another third of sugar, repeat and repeat again. Then flip the glass on parchment paper, tap the glass, and let it sit over night. It worked perfectly! I was very happy with the consistency of this cone, just right.

For the mulled wine, combine a box of Franzia Zinfandel (or any other cheap wine of choice) with 8 sticks of cinnamon, three oranges and three lemons cut in wheels, and some vanilla aroma. Heat up, but don’t let it boil (it will ruin the flavor).

When everything is ready, put the wine pot on a burner, set up the rack on top of the pot, put a cone or two on the rack (I use two cones of a cup of sugar each per wine box of 5 liters). Dim the lights in the room. Pour rum over the cones to drench them. Pour rum in the ladle and light it up. Pour the burning rum over the cones. You might need to light up the cones separately to get them started. Once they are burning, add more rum as you see fit. The sugar will drip into the mulled wine, there will be small fires of rum and sugar sitting on top of the mulled wine, giving the orange and lemon wheels a nice burn. Once the sugar is burned down after a couple of minutes, remove the rack, and start serving the mulled wine.

The mix is potent, so watch out. But it’s also SO good. Here’s to getting through the winter in style!

Feuerzangenbowle (as captured by The Food and Wine Hedonist)

Feuerzangenbowle (as captured by The Food and Wine Hedonist)

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Repost: Savanna Dry – my not so secret cider love

We are currently in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, and just returned from Swakopmund on the Atlantic. Tomorrow we are headed as far south as possible before it gets dark on our way to Stellenbosch. Being back in Southern Africa, an area of the world that I love dearly, I am also drinking a bunch of Savanna Dry again, a cider made in South Africa. It’s one of my favorite ciders, and I wrote a paean to it in October 2012, and have decided to repost it here:

South African Savanna Dry Premium Cider

South African Savanna Dry Premium Cider

 

I like to think that I discovered Savanna Dry ciders during my time in Botswana, because it would be nice to connect this discovery with my other two discoveries there (the other two being Pinotage and Nina). But that is not true. I actually first got exposed to it in 2005, when my ex brought some from a three month stint during her legal training in Stellenbosch…but I digress.

After my return from Botswana, I began looking for sources for it in Germany, and I was lucky. There was a guy who selling it (Germans, you can find his website here)! I admit, it is not cheap, but there hardly is anything like it to get that Southern Africa feeling back into my daily life. So, while Nina and I were living in Germany, we would usually have a box in our house, rationing ourselves in order not to overspend. But for our wedding celebration, we actually bought a couple of boxes to serve while people arrived at the venue…in the spirit of our relationship’s roots.

Here in the US, I have not seen it in stores, and online sellers here seem to be happy to completely overcharge their customers on shipping, so I give that a pass (the insanely high shipping and handling prices here will have to wait for a rant in a seperate post). So, when a friend of mine came to visit us from London this spring and asked what he could bring, I told him Savanna Dry. And he did bring two bottles, big bottles even (500 ml instead of the usual 330 ml)! We had one in the summer, and it was time to have this one the other night…leave aside all the emotional connections with it for me personally, and the first thing you notice is the awesome branding. I LOVE the label and the fact that they bottle it in clear glass, so the cider gives the label its appropriate background.

Savanna Dry is, as the name indicates, a dry cider (the company’s slogan is: “It’s dry but you can drink it.”). The color reminds me of the soft, warm sunlight of an afternoon in southern Africa. Its bubbles are never offensive, and it has this strong and great taste of yellow apples with a bit of tartness, sometimes it even reminds me of biting a bit too deep into the apple and getting the coarser inner bits that surround the kernels, which in this case is not offensive. The company website says it is made from apples in Elgin region in Western Cape province of South Africa. At 5.5% to 6% ABV it is just right for warm summer nights, but also when it gets colder. I like to throw in a slice of lemon for just the right punch of acidity and, I swear, I feel like I am back in Bots … where life is so much more pleasantly slow.

If you get a chance to try it, please do so! You can check out their website here.

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Tasting with Friends: Unexpected Pinot Noirs

It had been way too long since we conducted one of our fairly regular wine tastings with friends. The rules are always the same: The host sets a topic (we did “European Reds“, “Strange Fruit“, “French and Argentinian Malbecs“, “Michigan vs. Mosel” and others in the past; you can find links to all of them here), and then guests bring a wine bottle each. The wines are usually accompanied by cheeses and meats, and as of late we try to taste them blindly.

Two of our friends had to move out of town for work, so we had been missing them dearly. When one of them came to town for a visit, we made sure to have a tasting. Since I was hosting, I had the honor of setting the rules. I called the tasting “Unexpected Pinot Noirs” and explained that I would like to try Pinot not from France or the U.S. usual suspects Oregon and California (but guests were free to ignore that rule). I am a huge fan of Pinot Noir and was looking for a chance to expand my palate.

We paired the wines with cheeses and meats from my local go to sausage maker Biercamp. These guys just know what they are doing: I got several bacons thinly sliced, including duck and lamb bacon, a wonderful garlic and herbs de Provence sausage with a nice kick, as well as smoke sticks from them. Delicious pairing options for sure.

Blind tasting has its own trappings, and I am always a bit weary of it because it is the most humbling experience you can imagine. You try to whittle down where the wine is from, and while doing that more often than not I convince myself that it is a particular style or region or vintage and then look for arguments to support that, thus closing off my mind. Nina tends to be way better than me at picking up nuances and determining characteristics about wine. She definitely owns me in blind tastings, and so it was with this one:

A Pinot from the Ruwer valley

A Pinot from the Ruwer valley

The first wine we tried was a German Pinot Noir (called Spätburgunder, literally “late Burgundy”), a 2010 Heinrich Mertes Waldracher Meisenberg Cuveé Lara. My friend Mansoo had sent me this bottle a while back (as well as the other bottle we entered into the race), and I was eager to try it. Heinrich Mertes winery is located in the Ruwer valley, a small tributary to the Mosel river. The wine showed a medium-light red color. The nose was perfumy with currants and some heat. It wasn’t exciting at all. The heat was actually quite disturbing. On the palate, though, this wine shone: raspberry, red currant and tobacco aromas, and an awesome kick of acidity. The puzzling and intriguing thing about this wine was that the fruit tasted very ripe, yet the acidity kept it wonderfully fresh. This was a strong beginning. The nose not so much, but the flavor profile was awesome. For me, the acidity gave it away: Because I knew there was a 2010 from Germany in the race, a year with quite high acidity in general, I took my chances and guessed right (so did Nina).

Quite the label, huh?

Quite the label, huh?

Next up, a 2007 Arno Kruft Veldenzer Grafschafter Sonnenberg from the Mosel (our second entry). The color was in stark contrast to the first wine: dark, purplish red. The nose showed wet dirt, some rotting branches and what others described as compost aromas. Not very pleasant. I think the compost descriptor came from hyper-ripe fruit aromas, but I couldn’t nail down which fruit. On the palate, the first noticeable thing was that it was way chewier than the first wine. It also was somewhat smoky, with cherries and cranberry aromas as well as a bit of vanilla. In my mind, this was totally a new world Pinot with a lot of the characteristics I have encountered in some California Pinot Noir: too potent, too strong, no restraint. But I want my Pinot Noir less potent, less strong and with more restraint. I did not like this wine. I guessed it was from somewhere pretty warm, and definitely new world. Boy was I wrong.

Michigan high end winery with South African winemaker

Michigan high end winery with South African winemaker

The third wine of the evening was a 2012 Brys Estate Old Mission Peninsula Pinot Noir from Michigan. Apparently, Michigan winemakers consider 2012 one of the best Pinot Noir vintages yet, so this should be exciting. The color on this one was gorgeous: a red currant red, darker than wine 1, much lighter than wine 2. The nose was flowery, with some strawberry, rather intense smoke, but seemed quite closed at this point. On the palate, the wine felt creamy and heavy, which gave it a wonderful mouthfeel. But it is a mouthfeel I don’t expect or particularly cherish in a Pinot Noir, which I want more light footed and delicate. Still a solid showing. Nina guessed Michigan correctly, I had no clue.

Another established Michigan winery

Another established Michigan winery

Up next, a 2011 Black Star Farms Arcturos  Pinot Noir, also from Michigan. Again, the color was spectacular, a bright and shiny red currant. The nose was full of roses, almonds and cedar wood, with hints of red berries. I thought the nose was gorgeous. The palate also started off nicely, with spice and pepper aromas, and a light footed feel to it. But then the palate turned out to be a bit harsh: There were bitter aromas kicking in that were rather striking. It also felt like the wine had a bit too much alcohol (which was not the case, we checked later and it clocked in at only 12% ABV, but felt more like 14), and that really turned me off. I couldn’t get over the harshness in the wine. My guess was, because of the perceived high alcohol, a warm climate wine, maybe Southern Italy.

A New Zealand surprise and an Oregon Pinot

A New Zealand surprise and an Oregon Pinot

Second to last came a 2011 Oya Pointe Pinot Noir from New Zealand’s Marlborough Valley. New Zealand has definitely gained some serious street cred for its Pinot production. The color was similar to the previous wine, and the nose was awesome: strawberry jam with rosemary and sage aromas. It was crazy, but good crazy! I loved it. The palate was very herbal as well, thyme, rosemary and sage aromas, with strong acidity with some iron aromas, great lightness to it and some red berries. This was very unique and therefore impressive wine. I hadn’t come across such an herbal Pinot before. This was an exciting wine. Because of the iron aroma that I had come across before in an Oregon Pinot Noir, I decided to guess Oregon…

The final wine was a 2012 Grochau Cellars Commuter Cuveé Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The color was more purplish, maybe black currant. The nose was chalky, intensely perfumy, with cocoa aromas. On the palate, the wine seemed rather bland: some cherries, some strawberries, plum, not very expressive though. Straight-out fruit forward style, but all a bit thin. I would not have recognized it as a Pinot Noir if I hadn’t know it had to be one, maybe more of a Grenache or so. I just didn’t find much that excited me about this wine. Not bad, but quite standard. My guess, because it was a bit heavy, was California.

So, recap: My guesses were mostly off. My ranking of the wines from best to least favorite, is 1 (2010 German), 5 (2011 New Zealand), 4 (2011 Michigan), 3 (2012 Michigan) and 2 (2007 Germany) and 6 (Oregon) – the last two share the spot, I couldn’t decide.

Combined with the others rankings (6 points for favorite down to 1 point for least favorite), this is the likability ranking:

First place: 2010 Heinrich Mertes Cuveé Lara – 23 points (ranked first by three people out of four)

Second place: 2011 Oya Pointe Pinot Noir (New Zealand) – 17 points (ranked second twice)

Third place: 2012 Brys Pinot Noir and 2011 Black Star Farms Arcturos Pinot Noir – 16 points each (with the Arcturos being ranked first once)

Fifth place: 2012 Grochau Cellars Commuter Cuveée Pinot Noir – 6 points

Sixth place: 2007 Arno Kruft Veldenzer Grafschafter Sonnenberg – 5 points (ranked last by three out of four)

The tasting was fun, and it was kind of interesting to have a German Pinot Noir ranked first and last. The Heinrich Mertes was just such a great expression of the grape, to me it was a rather easy winner. The New Zealand Pinot Noir was unique in a good way, expressing some aromas that were unfamiliar, yet seemed befitting to the grape.

The pretty clear winner

The pretty clear winner

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