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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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A night spanning three continents…

Last night, we had my good blogger friend John, The Wine Raconteur, and his wife over for dinner at our place. The dinner had been a long time in the making, and I am glad we finally got to it. It has become a Christmas tradition in Nina’s parents’ house for me to cook a boeuf bourguignon (beef burgundy) “between the years”, as we call the period after Christmas and before work starts again in early January. I had to tweak my established recipe (over at FX Cuisine’s stunning food blog) a bit, and figured John and his wife would not mind being the guinea pigs to give the new recipe a try.

I have always loved this dish, and pride myself in having mastered quite some skill in its preparation. It is time consuming, with the marinating and dealing with the meat, but it is also so rewarding! This photo is from FX Cuisine, and mine looks pretty much like this (and yes, I do serve it with mashed potatoes as well!):

Boeuf Bourguignon

As a French classic, a Burgundy Pinot Noir is normally a must to accompany this dish, but John had something else in mind. He had recently acquired a bunch of single vineyard reserve Pinot Noirs from California-based Tudor Wines and wanted to share this wine, which was very generous. He knows of my reservations as regards California Pinot Noirs (too fruit-driven, not enough earthy aromas), so he grinned and informed me that this had enough “dirt” in it. And oh boy, it did. We were drinking the 2007 Tudor Tondre Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands. It was such a pleasant surprise: The initial taste was this wonderful earthiness that a light Pinot Noir carries when done right, and it stretched through the mid-palate, only to be taken over a by surprising fruitiness of sweet cherry and berries. This fruit explosion was in no way a problem, it was so well integrated and part of the earthy tones. Just a great wine, wonderful with the meal as well.

After we were done with the Tudor bottle and our dinner, and conversation was flowing naturally back and forth, I was making eye contact with Nina. We had a bottle of Riesling in the fridge, but it didn’t feel right to crack that bottle just now. As John’s wife was describing how much she enjoys Cabernet Francs and has a penchant for big wines (just like Nina), Nina suggested we should open our last bottle of 2007 Tukulu Pinotage. John reported that he had only ever tasted his first Pinotage at a recent tasting and seemed not very keen on reliving that experience (who can blame him, a lot of the stuff sold here is not up to par), but we insisted. Nina and I have had a weak spot for good Pinotage ever since our time in Botswana, were amazing wines from this grape were available. Tukulu quickly became my favorite producer back then, and has remained so since. Tukulu was one of the first wineries in South Africa to be run by black entrepreneurs and deems itself a black empowerment project (granted, I do like the winery for that reason alone!). This particular bottle had been sitting for a while, and Cellartracker kept nagging me that its drinking window was closing…man, was Cellartracker wrong. The wine poured in a gorgeous purplish red, and swirled heavily through the glass. The nose was fresh and enticing, with typical rubber and dirt aromas mixed with red fruit. On the palate, the wine was wonderfully fresh. Great acidity, lots and lots of earthiness, mixed in that unique style that only good Pinotage can achieve with red fruit. Stunning, and by far not nearing the end of its drinking window.

A night spanning three continents: North America, Africa, and Europe

A night spanning three continents: North America, Africa, and Europe

Instead of dessert, as is common in our household, we opened a 2003 Vereinigte Hospitien Piesporter Schubertslay Riesling Spätlese. You all know my love for aged Rieslings by now, and this one did not disappoint. Petrol aromas in the nose, some mineral aromas and citrus. On the palate, the wine was a stunning mix of toffee and vanilla and underlying acidity and yellow fruit aromas. It still tasted very fresh, and was not on its way to (what I loosely describe as) the more sherry-like qualities of even older Rieslings. By this I am referring to a narrower scope of aromas, and a “thinner” mouthfeel (thanks to Frank for making me explain this a bit more!). I love this stage in a Riesling’s development: still supple and a good mouthful, but turning more towards the caramel side. In general, I find the 2003 Mosel Rieslings are great to drink at the moment, so if you have a bottle in your cellar, give it a try!

All in all we spanned three continents last night. Add in that we talked about our Asian trip as well, and we can make that four. I love how wine can do that, so easily. But as always, the best wines are worth nothing if not had in delightful company.

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The Vereinigte Hospitien tasting in June 2012

The line up

Finally, here are the tasting notes for our awesome tasting at Vereinigte Hospitien in June. As you might remember (if not, here is the initial report), we were sitting in Germany’s oldest wine cellar (the walls dating back to the 300s A.D.), soaking in the awesome atmosphere as our host Marc was picking up some bottles to try. And he did not let us down!

Here is the wine list:

1) 1987 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese

2) 1987 Erdener Prälat Riesling Spätlese

3) 1990 Kanzemer Altenberg Riesling Auslese

4) 2011 Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett

5) 2003 Piesporter Schubertslay Riesling Spätlese

6) 2011 Trierer Augenscheiner Riesling Spätlese

We began with a tasting of two 1987 wines from two of our favorite vineyards: Ürziger Würzgarten and Erdener Prälat. It is Nina’s birth year and Marc had learned that from the blog. We had tried the Erdener Treppchen Spätlese before, so now we were able to compliment this tasting experience that I described here.  Just think about that: we were able to try three similar quality wines from three connected vineyards of a 25 year old vintage. Maybe it is just me, but I get pretty excited about that!!

Both wines were spätlesen and they had remarkably similar profiles. The Ürziger Würzgarten had 10.4 grams of acidity per liter, with 41 grams of residual sugar; the Erdener Prälat was slightly higher in acidity at 10.5 grams and sweeter with 45 grams of residual sugar. At 84 degree Oechsle (a scale to measure the sugar in the harvested grape), it had the highest Oechsle for any of their spätlese in that year.

The Ürziger Würzgarten’s nose was flowery and fresh, one could say a typical nose for this vineyard. On the tongue, it had a sizeable amount of acidity, which gave it an incredibly fresh taste. The acidity persisted throughout the tasting. It was hard for me to discern what fruits I tasted.

The Erdener Prälat was remarkably well preserved. The nose was full of peach and once the wine reached our mouths, it broadened out, fully taking command of our taste buds with peach and apricot. The acidity only appeared more towards the end. It had a long finish.

It was interesting to see how different these two wines tasted. You could definitely tell the terroir in them, but the higher residual sugar in the Prälat probably helps explain why the acidity was less pronounced in it.

Two beauties

Another interesting thing we learned was that Vereinigte Hospitien did a chemical analysis of the Würzgarten and it produced a fascinating result. One thing that you hear over and over again when tasting older rieslings is that they tend to be more balanced, because the sweetness goes down and the acidity stays, so the wines become less fruit-pronounced. However, the chemical analysis showed that the amount of sugar in the wine had not gone down – at all. There was still the same amount of sugar in the wine! We just do not taste it anymore. Apparently, there is no real explanation for that. One guess is that the sugar transforms into longer-chained molecules that our taste buds cannot taste…crazy, right?

We then went for a 1990 Kanzemer Altenberg Auslese. Kanzem is at the river Saar, a small contribuary that meets the Mosel just south of Trier. Saar wines are usually more mineralic and have higher acidity levels than the Mosel, which makes for very interesting wines. Kanzemer Altenberg is one of the top vineyards along that river. The bottle had been recorked. The wine has 52 grams of residual sugar, harvested from fully ripe grapes.

Upon opening and pouring, we saw a dark orange wine, with a salty and sherry like nose. On the tongue it was weirdly metallic, some hints of passion fruit. It then fell flat fast. We decided the bottle was flawed (actually, Marc, who knew how it should taste decided…but it did taste odd). The second bottle we opened was very different: lighter in color, the nose full of gooseberry. On the tongue, it had a fabulous acidity, lively fruit notes and just gave us a great mouth-full of wine. The texture was wonderful. A great wine!

We then tried a 2011 Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett. The Scharzhofberg is the Saar’s most famous vineyard and its wines rank among my favorite. It has a hard to describe terroir note to it that I just find incredibly endearing and comforting. This one did not let us down. At 88 degree Oechsle, this Kabinett is actually a wine that could have been labelled as an Auslese, two spots higher. It has 9.8% ABV. The nose was fruity and flowery. On the tongue I tasted banana and apricot, with a looooong finish. Just a very decent, yummy wine.

Nina’s highlight, and I was pretty impressed, too, was the 2003 Piesporter Schubertslay Riesling Spätlese. Initially a single-owned vineyard by Vereinigte Hospitien, they are now leasing some out to other winemakers. The color was light and fresh. The nose full of strawberry and cream, with vanilla thrown in. On the tongue, the same tastes prevail. The sweetness is wonderfully balanced by a fresh acidity. Later on, we tasted caramel notes creeping in. Long finish, too. It was such a fun wine. We have had another bottle since, and that was just as good. A great wine at a great price ($15).

We finished the tasting with a 2011 Trierer Augenscheiner Riesling Spätlese, a vineyard completely owned by Vereinigte Hospitien. At 72 grams of residual sugar and 92 degree Oechsle, the first thing we noticed was sweet peach in the nose, complimented by perfumy and flowery notes. The taste was floral as well (I am bad with discerning different floral notes), the texture silky. The wine seemed incredibly concentrated, and definitely not yet ready for consumption. I bought a couple of bottles to see where this one is headed to…

As you can see, it was quite the outstanding tasting: old and new, Saar and Mosel. The full variety, even of just the sweeter rieslings, came out beautifully. I am looking forward to many more tastings there…

Bliss…

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