First off, on Tuesday, my day off, I went to the restaurant Benley, where I met up with Rudi Wiest representative Allie Mitchell, to show owner and chef Fong the German wines that go so fantastically with his French-inspired Vietnamese cuisine. Now, this is a local Long Beach restaurant that I simply do not frequent enough. My coworkers at The Wine Country are huge fans and regulars that the staff know by name, but sadly, I have only been there for lunch once before. It could be that I am generally not a lover of Fusion cuisine, since I am Chinese by descent and North American by environment and a self-professed Europhile, so Fusion is what I do at home on a regular basis and it don't impress me much. I am much more into classic cuisine by one culture when I am dining out, since I find the mish-mash very similar to general creations I put on the table at home.
But I digress.
The point here is that we went to Benley and showed an impressive array of German wines, all at price points that warrant consideration as by-the-glass pours. For distributors of wine, when they deal with restaurants (as opposed to retail, where my work is), getting on a wine list is good, but being on the by-the-glass program is even better, because folks tend to order wine by the glass because it is so low-risk and potentially high-return. It is also low-risk and high-return for the restaurant, because they can move the product quickly. In sum, having a wine by the glass at a restaurant is win-win for lots of people. So Allie brought a bunch of these relatively inexpensive German wines to show to the Benley chef.
Among them, the wines with some residual sugar did the best, while bone dry wines, such as the 2006 Wirsching Estate Silvaner didn't exactly sing. Usually, the Silvaner is fantastic with fish dishes and even raw sashimi, but with the often fragranced and spiced dishes that were characteristic of Benley, residual sugar seemed more pleasing on the palate.
The wines that were most impressive were 2003 Milz Neumagener Nusswingert Riesling Kabinett, which showed a great mouthfeel, considerable acidity considering it was an 03, and a candy-toffee-like finish which may have been characteristic of the vintage; 2006 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Kabinett, which showed richness and complexity, indicative of both the large old oak barrel aging and the super-ripe vintage; 2002 Milz Trittenheimer Felsenkopf Riesling Spatlese, which was so tasty and not too sweet at all but plenty delicious on the palate.
Finally, the last wine is not really a value wine, but one of Allie's favorites which she tends to bring out to many accounts just because it is so good, and I have had it in the past but did not pass up the opportunity to taste it again - 1994 Wegeler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese, a gorgeous, rich, complex beauty that is 14 years old, and always blows people away as a white wine that is 14 years old, which is only an adolescent when it comes to German Riesling, but if you haven't tasted a bunch of 1971s and 1959s, then it always comes as a real nice shock. That effect did come upon chef Fong, and of course that was the desired effect, and he was pretty happy when Allie offered that he could keep all these great bottles to sample later with some of his food after he was done with the dinner rush. I hope he did take this 1994 Wegeler home to enjoy.
After the wine showing, Johan joined us and the three of us had a nice dinner where we shared, family style, three appetizers (a refreshing chicken slaw salad that was so aromatic, a tender fried cuttlefish which was like calamari but more delicate, and another dish that at this time I cannot recall) and three mains (the curry scented flattened chicken, the grilled salmon, and the short rib). Everything was superb and we enjoyed this with one of the bottles Fong didn't keep for later, the 2004 Von Hovel Kabinett Off-dry, which did go well with the food.
To sum up that evening, Fong is fantastically great person, very nice, very organized, and loves the restaurant business and being a chef with a passion, and it was a pleasure meeting with him.
Fast forward to yesterday (Thursday) and I had the opportunity to meet some people that were on my list of people to meet: Terry Theise and Helmut Donnhoff. In the process, I met some other people.
It was at this function here, where The Wine Country owner Randy Kemner and I went up to West Hollywood to attend a seminar on Terroir. Not really sure that that was the draw - I think the real draw for most people, not just me, was listening to Terry Theise speak and also meeting some of his producers from both Austria and Germany, and tasting some of those great wines in frankly a pretty nice atmosphere.
Interestingly, when we arrived at the venue, the hosts were in a bit of a tizzy because the hotel had not received all the wine they were supposed to for this event. ie. they were supposed to receive three cases of wine for the tasting, but only receive one case, and they didn't exactly let anyone know until the start of the event. A bit stressful for the hosts. Terry Theise was fabulously funny about the whole debacle, frequently using expletives to describe how **'d up the situation was. In fact, he intro'd the whole talk by saying that the original title to the seminar was "Why Terroir Matters" but the new title of the seminar was "What the Fuck?" Anyway, I found him genuinely funny and very nice, too. I did have a chance to talk with him personally for a bit before the start of the talk, and told him I enjoyed his catalog and his writing style.
So to apologize for the mix-up and the lack of all the wine they had planned on serving, Terry ordered Champagne from the list to take the edge off - Jean Milan Terre Noel Blanc de Blancs . This is a label I have seen before but never tasted, and it was GOOD! The nose was fantastically bright and fresh yeast and a zippy mineral quality. On the palate, it was fresh and zingy and as long as the highway to Vegas. Boy it was long! This is easily a wine to enjoy over the course of an evening!
Finally, through some logistical Plan B, some wine was delivered from a nearby wine store, which was from the producers present, but not exactly what they had planned on pouring, but at least it gave the audience something to taste while the producers spoke of their terroir.
So among those present were 2 Johanneses, Johannes Leitz, from the Rheingau in Germany, pictured standing in the first picture above, and Johannes Hirsch from the Kamptal in Austria, pictured above (our left, her right) sitting next to the standing Caroline Diel of Schlossgut Diel from the Nahe, Germany. The other gentleman next to Caroline is Terry Theise (our right, her left).
And above here is Helmut Donnhoff of the Donnhoff estate in Nahe, Germany. A very quiet man with a big reputation. This kind of reminded me of Bank from Lotus of Siam, a Thai restaurant of huge repute in Las Vegas, who has this huge reputation, but when I met him, he was so quiet! This was like Helmut Donnhoff. He spoke mostly German while Terry translated for us.
And last but not least, Christine Saahs of Nikolaihof-Wachau, where I have visited and met her son Nicolaus, the present owner, and his girlfriend. She spoke of the biodynamic way of making wine not as a way to make better wine per se, ie. she did not say that biodynamic wine is better than conventionally made wine, but that biodynamism is a way to understand nature better, and to have healthy soil and healthy plants first and foremost. And in that way, it points to the importance of terroir, in that taking care of the soil and its environs is of primary importance to the wine grower.
Some other notable quotes from the producers included:
From Johannes Leitz: "I don't see myself as a winemaker. I am a grapegrower and press-house worker." Basically, he is a minimalist when it comes to manipulation. It's about the land and pressing the grapes that come from the land.
From Johannes Hirsch: "We are in the third year of converting to biodynamism. We are now taking the make-up off. And we can see more clearly the problems. But that is good. No more hiding under the make-up."
From Helmut Donnhoff, as translated by Terry Theise: "I aim to make wines that are like a large symphony playing quietly." Which I believe alludes to not hitting people over the head with loud music, but soft music with so much complexity and tones.
From Terry Theise: Oh, where to start. "Grand Cru sites are the earth's erogenous zones." "My definition of terroir is a cause and effect explanation for the flavors in a wine. Not that the minerals in the soil go directly into the grapes, but that the soil components imprint the flavors into the wine. Respecting terroir is respecting the fact that something in the land imparts flavor to the wine, instead of treating the land as a production unit that you bend to your will to make the kind of wine you want to make from it. This is a different approach to nature where you work with nature instead of whopping nature into what you want it to be." "Low yield is not necessarily better. More intensity is not necessarily better - it can only be seen as better if the only factor you consider to be important is intensity - as though saying that all meat should be beef. We don't treat food this way, that we always want the most intense meat ever, and we don't treat music this way, as though all music should be heavy metal. Look at other qualities in the flavor."
Finally, the last thing I will mention about my wine week is that I have taken a position at Rudi Wiest Selections, selling wine in Los Angeles, starting in September. I am very excited about this opportunity. I will still work at The Wine Country on the weekend selling my beloved German, Austrian, and Southern Hemisphere wines, as well as the vast array of wines from around the world that are there at our fingertips. And I will get to see my friends on a weekly basis and still feel the kinship of the place that has taught me everything I know about wine.