Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Week of Extreme Indulgences Leads to Week of Salads Part II

Okay, now going back to where I was a few weeks ago.... I was visiting family in Vancouver, and we took what was supposed to be a 3-hour drive down to beautiful Seattle. Unfortunately, the ride took closer to 6 hours as we were fighting with a 2-hour wait at the border crossing, and some freeway road work of all things - on the I-5!

But after all that, we arrived in Seattle and made our way to the downtown area for a light lunch and a beer at Pyramid Alehouse.

Didn't know it till we got there, but this is the same Pyramid that makes Pyramid Hefeweissen, which I have seen before.

After a quick lunch, we went walking around the Pike Place Market, because you have to go there when you go to Seattle, it is a must-go place to go! Even though it was terribly windy and cold on the day we went, we still went. The market provides some shelter, and there, while I didn't get to see any fish guys throwing fish, I did get to see some of the most massive lobster tails and scallops I had ever laid eyes on. We're talking lobster tails that weighed what looked like 4 pounds a piece (without the head and torso!) and scallops the size of chicken breasts. Massive.


After a quick walk and a coffee, it was off to an early dinner at Canlis, a restaurant that is a bit of an institution in Seattle, about 60 years old and one of the restaurants that established Pacific Northwest cuisine. It was my Seattle friend E's suggestion to go to this restaurant after she enjoyed it some time back and thought I would also enjoy it because it is such a wine-friendly restaurant, with a huge cellar and a text-book sized wine list to cater to the geekiest of wine geeks.

We arrived to the restaurant and were seated with the most courteous of service. Our friend was to join us, and shortly after we were seated, she arrived. We got a great table by the window, with a beautiful view of trees and Lake Union spreading before us. It was a great sight indeed, and though the sun wasn't shining of this particular day, we could imagine how this great northwestern view would be like in the glistening sun. It was cloudy, but still magnificent.

We ordered a great bottle of wine for dinner, something somewhat local - we were looking for a Pinot Noir, but Washington State does not make Pinot Noirs - at least there were none on the massive wine list, and I have never heard of one - so we did the next best thing - an Oregon Pinot Noir. I recommended a 2007 Bethel Heights Estate Pinot Noir and it turned out to be quite delicious. I remember Bethel Heights making a great Pinot from back in the day when Tim was the domestic wine buyer at The Wine Country, and he was a big fan of their wine, though I haven't seen the wine anywhere in the Los Angeles area as of late. So I was happy they had this, and happy that it was a good wine.

As for the food, I found the fare at Canlis to be traditional. It was probably innovative back in the day, but today, the food was very traditional Euro-American fare, with familiar high-end items on the menu. For my appetizer, I chose the foie gras, which was a cold dish, that family coin-shaped rich goose liver served with some white and green asparagus spears. For my main dish, I had the seared duck breast, which was - seared duck breast. I gave half of my duck breast to Johan, who had ordered a fish dish off the tasting menu, and was given exactly the teeny tiny tasting portion of the dish - a noticeable faux pas on the part of the server. Our friend D had the lobster, which looked lovely, and E had the salmon dish, which also looked like a very good choice.

We enjoyed a variety of desserts, of which I recall that mine was a tropical mango and passion fruit creme brulee that was very nice; E had the donuts - actual fresh miniature donuts fried to order; D had a souffle; and Johan had an interesting concoction of which I cannot completely recall.

In all, the service got a B+ from me, the food a B+, the company, an A+, the wine, an A, and the night as a whole, an A.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Not such good wine news

Alcohol-induced flushing is a risk factor for esophageal cancer from alcohol consumption

Press release from PLoS Medicine

There is growing evidence, say researchers in this week's PLoS Medicine, that people who experience facial flushing after drinking alcohol are at much higher risk of esophageal cancer from alcohol consumption than those who do not.

About a third of East Asians (Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans) show a characteristic physiological response to drinking alcohol that includes facial flushing, nausea, and an increased heart rate. This so-called "alcohol flushing response" is predominantly due to an inherited deficiency in an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2). Although clinicians and the East Asian public generally know about the alcohol flushing response, few are aware of the accumulating evidence that ALDH2-deficient individuals are at much higher risk of esophageal cancer (specifically squamous cell carcinoma) from alcohol consumption than individuals with fully active ALDH2.

Dr Philip Brooks and colleagues from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, Maryland, USA, along with Dr. Akira Yokoyama from the Kurihama Alcohol Center in Japan, say that this lack of awareness is "unfortunate as esophageal cancer is one of the deadliest cancers worldwide, with five-year survival rates of 15.6% in the United States, 12.3% in Europe, and 31.6% in Japan."

"Our goal in writing this article," say the researchers, "is to inform doctors firstly that their ALDH2- deficient patients have an increased risk for esophageal cancer if they drink moderate amounts of alcohol, and secondly that the alcohol flushing response is a biomarker for ALDH2 deficiency."

Clinicians, they say, can determine ALDH2 deficiency simply by asking about previous episodes of alcohol-induced flushing.

"As a result," say Dr Brooks and colleagues, "ALDH2-deficient patients can then be counseled to reduce alcohol consumption, and high-risk patients can be assessed for endoscopic cancer screening."

In view of the approximately 540 million ALDH2-deficient individuals in the world, many of whom now live in Western societies, even a small percent reduction in esophageal cancers due to a reduction in alcohol drinking would translate into a substantial number of lives saved.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Wolfgang Puck's CUT the very next day, after Spago

As if it were not enough, I had plans the very next day after the Spago dinner to go to Wolfgang Puck's CUT Restaurant in Beverly Hills. I was enjoying a couple of days of sheer indulgence.

It was not my restaurant pick per se, as I don't tend to pick steakhouses for dinner, but our friend Derek was in town, and he had chosen this restaurant, and invited another friend, so there we were headed. If it had been my choice, I think I would have chosen one of the high end sushi places, such as Urasawa or Sushi Zo to indulge in, given my rich dinner the night before, and my series of rich meals that I had enjoyed both in Canada and in Germany as of late.

When 8:30 pm rolled around, we were ready. The service at the front desk of Cut was courteous and expedient. The roar of voices coming from the starkly modern room gave an exciting aura of anticipation. This restaurant that has been around on the scene for what feels like an awfully long time was still holding on to that exciting, exhilarating new restaurant feel about it, which I found impressive. It felt like going to a movie opening, or a party, or a gallery opening.
When we were shown to our table, I had a chance to say hi to the sommelier.
Shortly after being seated, we ordered the 1994 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese, a blatant show of German Riesling appreciation. That's what is in our glass in the picture above, which we had with our appetizers. Needless to say, it was an awesome aged Mosel Riesling!
The waiter was a charming, funny gent who deftly explained to us all the steak options that we had. They specialized in Kobe beef, which was flown in from Japan, a very fatty breed. They also had good old American beef which for them was the Angus. And they had a hybrid, which was American Wagyu, a cross between the American Angus and the Japanese Kobe beef, which gave the rich fatty marbling found in Japanese Wagyu along with the beef rich flavor of American Angus.
He also recommended the New York tasting plate, which gave a 4 oz serving of Angus, a 4 oz serving of American Wagyu, and a 2 oz serving of Kobe.
So armed with that knowledge, we ordered our appetizers.
For me, though it did not seem wise to order fatty pork to preceed fatty beef, I went for the Asian spiced and cured pork belly. I dunno, I think I wanted to taste it with the German Riesling.
Beautifully presented, the pork belly was delicious, but rather rich. It would have been smarter to order a salad, a soup, or a seafood appetizer of some kind. But I do believe the appetizers were not really light in any way.
Johan ordered one of his favorite dishes - steak tartare - minced raw beef served with a quail egg and various fine condiments. I had a taste of it - it was sublime.
Derek's friend ordered what appeared to be a Caprese salad, but in looking at the picture, it looks like burrata cheese, proscuitto, and greens, which I'm not sure is a real Caprese salad. Looks great though.

Now, onto the steaks.
The guys all ordered the NY steak sampler, which I mentioned above. This is a 3-way sampler of New Yorks featuring Angus, American Wagyu, and Kobe. This is a like a wine tasting flight of all Pinot Noirs, but a California Pinot, an Oregon Pinot, and a Burgundy. It seemed very cerebral. It was also $135.
On the side are some mushrooms, which was ordered as a side dish, for sharing.
I was the only one who did something different. I ordered an American Wagyu rib-eye steak, as rib-eye has been my favorite steak cut for some time. I ended up with a 16 oz rib-eye at a fraction of the price of the NY sampler - $66.

I actually loved my steak. It was so lovely in its char on the outside, fantastically crispy, though a bit rich in fat on the outside as though melted butter were smothering it. Though hey at the time, I didn't complain! Inside, the meat was tender and juicy and full of rich fat and rich beefy flavor. I think I chose right when it came to the American Wagyu - it was the best of both worlds, beef fusion at its zenith.

I did have a taste of Johan's Kobe, and it was melt-in-your-mouth good, but at the same time, I think it caters to an Asian concept of beef, which is a much milder concept of beef, ie. not so beefy in its flavor nor its texture - it is almost like ingesting sausage at some level with its rich, rich, RICH fat marbling. I have had this thought about Kobe before - it is over-the-top fat in its marbled structure, and is almost too fatty, if that is possible. I almost feel that beef shouldn't be that marbled, that it is almost like pork when it is like that. And when you couple in the cost of Kobe, it makes me feel like I'd rather have good ol' fashioned American beef, and if could be aged a few days or weeks, all the better.

We washed the great meat down with a 2001 Barbaresco from a producer I could not remember the name of. The wine had grippy tannins and a delicate body, and was a good pairing with the rich meat we were consuming.

I couldn't finish my steak, though I made a good effort. I got through half of it (hey, that's 8 oz!), and the guys did a noble effort and finished their 10 oz of New Yorks. After that, we shared a couple of desserts that I'm sure were excellent, but I don't recall much of, as I didn't have much of a palate left.

For some good ol'fashioned fun, Wolfgang Puck happened to be making the rounds in the room, and as I saw him the day before, I made a point of telling him so, and he said I sure knew where to eat! He did some posing with the guys, and unfortunately, I didn't point the camera well enough here to catch everyone in the picture, but here you have it.......

A great time was had by all. This is a very fun and exciting restaurant to go to. It is somewhat loud and rambunctious and full of partying and group energy - I would not really go for a romantic dinner for two.... it is more of a group event, a chance to go out and hit the town and be in the moment with one of the best marketing geniuses in Los Angeles culinary history. The food is above par but is steakhouse food, so if steaks don't excite you, then don't go. If they are one of your favorite foods, then indeed make this one of your top spots to visit. The service is attentive at the same time casual, which makes it relaxing and non-demanding, which I like. All in all, the experience is positive, the food is rich, and the vibe is still very happening.

Friday, March 20, 2009

My work day did NOT suck yesterday! Dry Wine Tour 2009 a success

Yes, it was one of those days yesterdays, days that reminded me so importantly of why I am in the wine business, and not, say, in the hospital business, or the nutrition business. Yesterday was one of those Perfect Wine Industry Days.

Funny, those days also seem to involve great wine and great winemakers. Great wine and great winemakers just have that tendency to melt away all the frustrations that come with the business of selling wine. Just ask anyone in the wine business.

Great wine and great winemakers make up the art side of the industry, the passion side, the human side. They are why people like me move cases of wine from point a to point b like in that Dire Straits song say "We got to move these microwave ovens..... custom kitchen deliveri-i-i-ies! We got to move these refriger-a-tors! We got to move these color TVs!"

Yes, spending a day like yesterday is like getting money for nothing and chicks for free!

Okay, let me tell you what happened:

Yesterday was the day of the Dry Wine Tour 2009. It was billed as a Pinot Noir Seminar featuring 6 German winemakers that specialize in Pinot varieties - they were coming out to New York City to do a Pinot Trio event, which featured not just Rudi Wiest growers, but others from Germany that specialized in Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. So 6 winemakers, Fritz Becker, Conrad Salwey, Meike Nakel, Sebastian Furst, Jaochim Heger, and Hansjorg Rebholz came across the pond to spend a week doing a tour across the country - Washington DC on Monday, Chicago on Tuesday, NYC on Wednesday (the Pinot Trio event), Los Angeles on Thursday, and San Francisco on Friday.

The Dry Wine seminar was fully packed, with about 30 people in attendance to taste 45 wines, 30 of which were presented by the growers who had flown here, and 15 more wines by other growers who did not come. The wines were impressive. Some older vintages, such as a vertical of Gunderloch 3 Star's 1996, 2000 and 2007 vintages. Stunning. Some lovely 2002s also, and Pinot Noir from 1997.

The event took a full 3 hours, and tasters were good enough to spend the time to thoughtfully consider some of the most painstakingly made wines on the planet! Wines that are more about grace, elegance, and balance.
But after that was when the fun really started!
Together with Joachim Heger, Conrad Salwey, and Hansjorg Rebholz, we did a mini-tour of Beverly Hills. The day was less than perfect in terms of weather - it was hazy, not sunny - but the temperature was right and we did get to see some sights. These weathered travelers enjoyed driving by the Beverly Hills Police Station, scene where the movie Beverly Hills Cop was shot years ago..... while we didn't drive on Rodeo Drive per se, we drove near the area and saw the shops and the residential areas. We visited the wine director at Crustacean Restaurant in Beverly Hills, where everyone got a chance to do a fun presentation with the wines, and have a tour of several wine rooms.
After that, we drove up the hills to the Hotel Bel-Air where we met with the wine director there, a young French sommelier with a passion for German wines. Again, a beautiful tour of the facility and gardens, where Hansjorg Rebholz in particular displayed his intellectual and sensual affection for the various aromas emminating from blooming spring flowers both in the dining room and in the garden. Hansjorg has been to me normally a quieter winemaker, but I really got to know him better on this trip, as he shared more of his thoughts, and I appreciated his intellectual and focused approach to all things - aromas of plants, subtle tastes in food (which I will share later), tunes in music, and observation of cars. Oh yes, we saw lots of cars in Beverly Hills, many good German one in particular, and the whole group seemed very into cars!
I had scheduled an early dinner for us at Spago, and that ended up being a very good decision. The travelers were weary. I have learned that when working with a winemaker, especially one who has traveled a great distance, less is more. Wearing them out bringing them to 10 or more accounts, some of them lesser accounts, accomplishes nothing other than to wear them out. Better to focus on some good accounts, not waste anyone's time, reduce stress for myself, and have a good time.
So at 6:15 pm we were seated in the courtyard patio at Spago, and it was starting to look like everyone was relaxing. The winemakers enjoyed themselves people watching, listening to music piping out into the courtyard that was a mix of classic rock, tunes that Hansjorg mentioned would never be played in a Michelin 2 star restaurant in Germany. He seemed to like the relaxed and casual vibe of the restaurant. Everyone seemed to.
Joachim Heger, one of the two Baden producers I had with me (the other is Salwey - they are both in the subregion known as the Kaiserstuhl, which is a volcano, and the region is full of volcanic soil) - he was a very happy jovial person on this trip - very social, and really enjoying the traveling aspect of this work journey - he suggested we do the tasting menu at Spago, and invited me to join them. Perhaps all of them had decided on the tasting menu - I'm not sure! But we ended up doing the tasting menu, with wine pairings suggested by the wine director, who we were also there to see. When they asked for regional wines to be paired, "but with not too much alcohol please," implored Conrad, the Spago somm cleverly replied, "But I thought you said you wanted regional wines!" LOL wine geeks would understand this means California wines are through the roof in their alcohol content, no possibility of having a moderate alcohol wine here.....
We went through a number of lovely courses, including sweetbreads, risotto with black truffles, skate in a lemon sauce, rack of lamb with a berry sauce. An interesting observation again by Hansjorg was that the food is sweet - the sauces are sweet - and he felt that maybe his wines would not go with many of these sweet dishes. Also observed by everyone at the table were that the wines were sweet - aha!!!!! to all those non-believers who do not agree with me when I tell them that California Pinot Noirs are sweet sweet sweet!
Of course I am not the first to say that wines made in the U.S. are sweet but there are so many denyers that occasionally I have to say it again!
I am a seller of German wines (and a lover of them) so I am the last person that would say sweetness in a wine is not good, but I think the denial of sweetness in a wine is what bugs me! Of course, there are other qualities one should appreciate in a wine - if all it has is overwhelming sweetness, there is something lacking!
The wines we went through included a rose Champagne from Ruinart (not a local wine, but something they added for fun). The German winemakers said that Ruinart is dominating the Champagne scene in Germany with their promotions and sponsorship of large events such as sommelier competitions. It didn't sound like a good thing to me! I have not been very much exposed to Ruinart before - and given what I was hearing about the producer, it sounds like it is a big house, and I have more been bred by The Wine Country to go for the small house Champagnes...... at any rate, the Ruinart Rose we were tasting was not fantastic to be honest. It was very dark red, soft, lacking in acidity and structure. Others at the table said this was a sweeter version than what they have in Germany and questioned whether it was made for the American market. One also mentioned that Rose was the worst thing that has happened to Champagne (!!) because it is made by the addition of red wine, but the saignee method of lightly pressing red grapes, but simply adding red wine to sparkling white...
Quite the fun discussion there!
After that, in terms of wine, we moved on to a Californian produced Viognier called Cold Heaven. I didn't catch the vintage, but it was a pleasant, not over-the-top viognier which I actually liked. After that was a Chardonnay, the name of which I did not catch - it was oaky and toasty and vanilla and toffee - the winemakers said this was from a heavy barrel toast - I didn't much go for it and with my food chose to go back to the cleaner Viognier.
We moved on to reds. We received an Oregon Pinot Noir which I am familiar with - Belle Pente from the Willamette Valley (again I didn't catch the vintage). Joachim said this reminded him of a German wine in its nose and palate. At first, the nose was full of sulfur reduction, but it did blow off and improved in the glass. The palate was light and fruit driven, not oaky, so that did make the wine easy to drink, definitely. Most at the table liked it, but found it simple, lacking in tannin structure. Conrad said it was good in its fruit and acidity, but lacked tannin backbone. Hansjorg found it lacking in everything but fruit, that it was all fruit, a bit sweet (he should taste a California Pinot!!), but lacking in acidity, tannin, and balance. I agreed with all of them, that it was a easy enough to drink wine, but probably not one that would make me want to choose it over a German Pinot Noir or Burgundy.
The second red was to go with our rack of lamb dish - a Cabernet France from the Napa Valley, the name of which escapes me. Black-red in the glass, staining, and smelling of an Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, those were my first impressions. Literally, sticking my nose into the glass, I would have guessed Aussie Cab, it was that full of eucalyptus and mint and all that Aussie-ness. On the palate, it was dense, oaky, and overpoweringly alcoholic. I didn't take more than 2 sips of the wine and decided I don't need to drink all of that, and I went back to the Belle Pente Pinot Noir to go with my delicate lamb dish. That, I did finish.
Finally, dessert came, and it was a layered flourless chocolate torte (dobostorte from the Hungarian), and with it, they served something from Europe - this time, Moscato d'Asti, and it was refreshingly delicious, even with chocolate. Perfect. As Joachim noted, with Moscato, there is also natural acidity. This grape is called Gelber Muskateller in the Germanic world. Everyone seemed to like its lively freshness and its balance of fruit, sugar, and acidity, even in its simplicity. No wonder Randy of The Wine Country always wins customers over with Moscato d'Asti!
The evening was coming to a close. Everyone was happy. The three generous winemakers did not let me pay. They treated me to their company as well as to an evening of great food and interesting wine. I also got to listen in as they analyzed wines much like a chef would analyze a dish to see how it was prepared. They did this wint the wines which was so much fun to listen to.
I flagged down the wine director to leave him with about 10 bottles of these winemaker's wines so he could taste them later. He was happy to take them. I hope he gets a chance to enjoy these and brings some of these wines in!
Finally, we left the restaurant, had the valet take a picture of us outside the restaurant, and it was back to the hotel for all the winemakers. A perfect finish to a very long and successful day.
Here's to winemakers who make genuine real wine of the earth, and show their passion in everything they do. Thank you!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pretty pictures of Vancouver

We had some days of blue skies and crisp, nippy weather, which was nice, because the place looked fabulous - the mountains in Vancouver are amazing. Not so visible when grey and rainy, but when you get the occasional sun, the outdoors are stunning.

A bit cold, but what can you do...

Here are some pics taken in the neighborhood of Deep Cove over on the North Shore.

Week of Extreme Indulgences Leads to Week of Salads Part I

Wow! Just came back from a week of extreme indulgence - Johan and I were up visiting family in Vancouver.... we ended up visiting relatives and friends as well, and eating up a storm!

Highlights included:

La Quercia

This is a restaurant that is new to Vancouver as well as new to us - an Italian place in Kitsilano. A small restaurant, so small we drove right by it. Our friend Derek suggested it, and the three of us trekked to this establishment on a humble Tuesday, but the place was packed as though it were Friday. We started off with a bottle of Prosecco, which was lovely, delicious and perfect in all its bubbliness..... while not a Champagne, it was a tasty and dry and fun starter that got the party started.

The menu intrigued us - rabbit terrine, Portugese cod cakes, eggplant gelee with seared scallops, beef cheeks, onion tart, Cornish game hen with spatzle.... the menu seemed to suggest northern Italian fare, so far north it might touch the Germanic areas. Finally, we settled on the BIG tasting menu which featured chef selections in 8 to 10 courses....... for a humble sum. Maybe it was the Prosecco talking, but we all decided to go for that one - the "Alla Familia" - especially when the server assured us that we could choose a few favorites off the menu to be included in the tasting menu. That sealed the deal for us because it seemed like we were all wary of tasting menus that might be too boring. And we three were not a bunch of boring eaters!

The dishes came, one by one, sometimes 2 by 2 or three by three. There was the rabbit terrine, which we specially requested, followed by the eggplant gelee with seared scallop, then followed by the cod cakes. After that, three pasta dishes came at once - all housemade pastas - 2 filled ones, and one rotini - all were great! And I seldom say that about pastas in restaurants.

After that there was a fish dish served with some tender cooked vegetables....

We then ordered a red wine, a 2005 Travaglini Nebbiolo, which was very nice:

This wine went exceedingly well with the meat course, which was a braised beef cheeks....... delicious!

After that, they summed up with a selection of three desserts...... they were good but at this point, I was very full and could no longer process information......

In all, a fantastic meal with great wine - I had too much actually - I am a lightweight - but it was a fabulous time, we closed down the place as we forgot it was Tuesday. The food was lovely, the service was excellent and unobtrusive, the company was grand, and all was great in the world..... isn't dining out awesome?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Positive Moments in Recent Germany Trip

In my recent trip to Germany, in February, I had a completely different experience from the first time I went there. First off, it was February, compared to September; the countryside was barren, the color of brown dominating, compared to the lush green leafiness of the early fall. Second, I was on a Rudi Wiest company trip, as opposed to a customer trip - I can't put my finger on the difference, really - it was not that I was not pampered or something on this trip; it was just a different feel.

Third, it was also my second time there, not the first, so very little was new, per se... I already knew the Mosel was gorgeous and enchanting, I knew that castles dotted the landscape, I knew that beautiful old buildings along the Mosel houses wineries with ancient cellars that houses wines older that I that aged better that I...

So much of the magic and mystery was not present on this trip, which should not take me as by surprise, as this has happened with other places I have been - the first time I laid eyes on Hawaii, the island of Oahu, I could not really believe there was such a place as stunningly beautiful as that on earth..... by the third time to Hawaii, the turquoise ocean and the lush island were old hat.

Same with Paris - of course, the first time was magical, the second and third and fourth time there I found the city overcrowded with tourists, boring, overhyped, and no longer a fascinating place.

Funny thing is, back when I was younger and had not been to these places before, I used to hate it when people would say these thing about the places I longed to visit - I felt like they were being snobby.... funny that 20 years later I would say the very same things.

But I digress. Germany this time around was a different experience. Things didn't have that magical grasp on me that they did the first time around, when I actually fell in love with the place and wanted to work there - right there in Germany. This time, the countryside was asleep, beer gardens by the river closed for the winter, wineries taking a little breather while their wines slept. The cold weather threatened often to snow, so people stayed inside as much as possible.

So, not every moment I spent in Germany this time around was infused with magic. But there were still moments I enjoyed very much, and infused me with a love for the place. These are some of them:

1. Staying at Steinheuer in Heppingen, Ahr

Steinheuer is a luxury inn and restaurant in the Ahr Valley, in the town of Heppingen. Funny that I should list staying in a hotel as one of my high points, but it was. This was such a lovely treat. First off, the establishment is a 2 star Michelin restaurant. Now, my restaurant experience was just okay, again because it was my second time there - I had been there on my first Germany trip. But we had not stayed in the hotel.

The hotel has everything I would want in a hotel - modern amenities and comfortable furniture, all done in such a way that I actually thought "I could live here!" The attention to detail made me wish that I had such attention to detail in my own home. Everything was perfect, down to the walk-in shower in a room almost separate from the bathroom, a glass vanity, soft lighting, fresh flowers, a desk, magazines, fresh fruit and cutlery. The room wasn't huge, but every bit of space was well utilized to provide comfort. I could have stayed in this hotel all through the trip! And best of all, it was upstairs from the 2 star dining room, so after dinner I could just stagger upstairs, which is a little thing I love about these places in Europe!

Rudi Wiest had already warned us it would be a great place to stay, and my expectations were exceeded!

Oh, and aside from the dinner we had at Steinheuer (which was excellent, but a bit rich for me for that evening), we had a sumptuous breakfast the next day, where they cook your eggs to order and have such a spread....... like I said, if only I could have spent 10 days staying at this hotel! When my husband and I go to Germany on a trip, we will definitely stay and eat at Steinheuer!

Info: Gabrielle and Hans Stefan Steinheuer (proprietors - she is the front of the house manager, and he is the chef)

Phone: (0 26 41) 9 48 60

Note: the photo above is a photo I took of the Steinheuer sign in front of the hotel and restaurant when I was there in September of 2007. Note the lush green hill in the background. I didn't have a photo from this winter...... it was not green in the background.

2. Vineyard walk in Bodenheim

In the town of Bodenheim at the end of our trip, we didn't stay at a nice hotel. It was "just okay." Which is perfectly fine, really, after all, I am very appreciative that on these trips we all get our own room and don't have to share, because I really love my personal time! Anyway, Bodenheim is a town near Nackenheim, and for some reason on this trip, we were not able to stay in Nackenheim a few steps away from the Gunderloch winery, but instead we stayed in the next town over. Bodenheim is also a wine town, but nowhere that I had heard of, so I am assuming it doesn't have any international renown.

At any rate, this was towards the end of our trip, and I had been doing a lot of sitting and eating. My body had been aching for a walk, and though I had taken a small couple of walks in the Mosel, they were not nearly enough. So one morning, I got up relatively early, and decided to take off into town.

Town was not that attractive, not super quaint, though it was old. That's why I was so happy to find that I had reached the edge of town rather quickly, and, after looking this way and that, to make sure it was okay for me to walk into the vineyard, I started trekking up. And up and up! The ground was a bit frozen but was defrosting in the rising sun. Bits of snow were still left over from the previous night's light dusting. The vines were bare, quiet, knobby. A few people were working on them still, pruning them more it seemed.

I kept walking and walking, up the hillside, feeling the blood returning to my dormant legs. The sun kept rising, and the image of that sunrise over the mist, bathing the brown vineyard and the town below, with its church steeple the highest point among the buildings - it made Bodenheim so much more attractive to me than initially. No longer was this just another poor wine village with no particular fame that serves substandard bar food that gives German food a bad name. It was now a pretty jumble of rooftops nestled in the hills like something out of a movie.

I don't know if it was the endorphins from a bit of physical activity, or what, but that put me in a good mood for a while.

3. Walking through Mainz in the cold evening

It seems like all my really positive memories came near the end of my trip! Perhaps I was starting to feel happy that I would be home soon.

Mainz is where I believe all Rudi Wiest trips end - after all the work is done, the work of visiting all 26 plus estates in 9 or so days, there is one day left to relax and go shopping in the old town of Mainz. I don't know that much of Mainz other than the man Gutenberg was born here, and he was responsible for inventing the printing press. If you wish to know more, please Google!

My experience with Mainz is a positive one, probably also because I get to walk. On this trip, it happened to be a miserable rainy, almost snowy evening when we went to Mainz, so the others in my group retired to a bar, while I decided to take to the streets, in spite of the rain and cold. I ended up taking some cool pictures of the buildings in the night. I didn't really buy anything but I enjoyed being out there. It made me feel adventurous.

Also nice about this town and this shopping area is the furry of activity - there are people walking through this shopping area on their way home from work and and school. So it is a town that is old but very much alive, and I always like that about places, such as London, where things seem so old but all the old buildings are used for something. Same with places in Belgium such as Brussels and Gent.

Love that! I didn't capture a lot of people on film here because it was kind of miserable out, but here are a couple of pics.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Wine tasting and singles

On the weekend, I worked an event at a wine bar called Bottlerock in Culver City, where a group of singles which formed on a site called convened to do a wine tasting and a sort of relaxed singles meeting thing.

There were three flights of wine being poured, and I was the last flight. The first flight was being poured by a couple who owned a small distribution company that distributes primarily Santa Barbara boutique wines. The second flight was poured by a winery owner whose family makes wine up in the Gold rush country, which I think I recall is the Sierra foothills area, outside of Sacramento. My flight was just 2 white wines, meant to refresh the palate, the 2007 Hans Wirsching Estate Silvaner and the 2007 Monchhof Urzig Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett. Both wines showed well and were well received by the mingling singles.

The thing that struck me about the event was how much singles mixed well with wine tasting. It is such a natural combination, it seems. You have wine in your glass that you can focus on and use a bit of intellect about, but not too much, and have enough left to focus on the conversation before you. The wine relaxes without knocking people out too much.... food is ordered to accompany the beverage, and all is well in the world of the single person.

It is not that I don't think married people or coupled people do well in wine tastings, it is just that I think singles and wine tasting can be a niche thing that can be quite successful for establishments that want to beef up their events. And for singles, I think going to a wine tasting to meet people is such a fun way to do that compared to something totally awful like speed dating or drinking coffee.

Anyway, I had a good time pouring wine for 3 hours, and even managed to sell some!