Tuesday, September 15, 2009

An ethereal evening with JJ Prum wines, presented by Katarina Prum

While much of the wine business involves the daily grind common to many jobs, what is uncommon is having winemakers fly half-way around the world to spend time with you to help you do your job more effectively, and showing their living works of art in a bottle, and imbuing you with a sense of awe and wonder, inviting you into their delicious and magical culture, and letting you steep in it as long as you like.

As I have undoubtedly mentioned numerous times before, this is truly the part of my job I most enjoy: spending time with the winemaker and taking her to see my best customers.

I was fortunate enough to have that opportunity last week on Wednesday September 9, when the very charming, intelligent, articulate and beautiful Dr. Katarina Prum was in Los Angeles to spend the day with me visiting our accounts.

Katarina Prum is the oldest daughter of Manfred Prum, a trained attorney who has decided to forgo the law office and choose instead the way of the family business, and for that, we all benefit.
After spending a day driving every which way visiting everyone from corporate buyers in industrial areas to 2 Star Michelin restaurants in Beverly Hills, we arrived at the luxurious London Hotel in West Hollywood in time for Katarina to guest-star at the wine dinner at the Gordon Ramsay Restaurant.
Wine Director and Sommelier Aaron Elliott, a self-professed wine lover who has spent time in Germany doing a harvest at one of our other estates, Gunderloch in the Rheinhessen, organized the evening's event in conjunction with Rudi Wiest, who had consulted Katarina by phone and e-mail about the menu, the wines, and the pairings, so the evening was finely orchestrated and not a last minute throw-together ordeal, but quite a seriously put-together affair.
But to take the pressure off, when we arrive, Aaron put champagne glasses in our hands, filled them to the brim with 2002 Raumland Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) Brut, which was deliciously crisp and rich and yeasty at the same time, a fantastic Champagne-method sparkler from the Pfalz region that had me refreshed in an instant. The day's traffic began melting away from consciousness.
But that was not all - Aaron whisked us like special guests to the rooftop pool, a hotel-guest-only area that I had never before visited - a secluded spot perched high above the city with a stunning view, the evening sun beginning to fade, the coolness of the shade perfect with the glass of bubbly. We were being treated like rock stars, and it was a feeling we felt we could get used to.

Katarina Prum with Gordon Ramsay's Wine Director/Sommelier Aaron Elliott.

After a deliciously long break, we had to get to work. Aaron summoned us to the bar where the evening's diners were already mingling with glasses of 2004 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett. The 2004 vintage in Germany was a classic one, one I really love, good acidity but not agressive, and J.J. Prum wines are known for their ability to age beautifully for decades - this 2004 was 5 years old and tasting young, but not too young to enjoy. It was served with tray passed hor d'oeuvres: House cured salmon with confit of kumquats, crispy truffle risotto balls, and sweet corn madeleines with creme fraiche and caviar. The wine was a perfect apperatif, something to stimulate the appetite with its zingy acidity and fresh almost crunchy-pear like fruit, and went very well with the delicate finger foods being served as people began surrounding themselves around Katarina and trying to get to know her better.
Finally, we did get to be seated. The tables and chairs at the Gordon Ramsay are quite interesting modern, with booth-like tables that are round, with a couple of chairs on one side - very comfortable, cozy, and conducive to socializing. It worked out really nicely because we were a really chatty bunch, buzzing about these wines, an opportunity to taste 6 of them in one dinner, paired with such expertly prepared dishes.
Speaking of the opportunity to taste such renowned wines, I almost neglected to mention that Katarina hand-carried 6 bottles of 1994 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese to this event! It was of course the featured wine, straight from her family's cellar, to our table that night, to have with the main course, further along in the evening. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The dinner was very well paced, with wines being poured and topped off at regular frequencies, and Katarina getting up from her table of fans to discuss with the group the differences between each wine, each vineyard, some of the vintages we were enjoying.

Our second wine with our first sit-down course was the 2003 J.J. Prum Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Spatlese, paired with the Hamachi Sashimi with Paddlefish Caviar. A little background about this wine: 2003 is constantly derided by customers everywhere, especially by German wine enthusiasts, it seems, because German wine enthusiasts are often people who love acidity, and especially love acidity in Riesling (one of the most high acid grape varieties). Well, 2003 was a warm year in Europe (an understatement, I'm told), and acidity goes down with hot weather. So the entire 2003 vintage is generally rejected by German wine buyers for its lack of typicity - it gets described as flabby, fat and lazy and just not what German wine lovers are looking for.
Well, since I hear it enough times, I start to believe it. Even after Rudi tells me often that they said the same thing about the 1959 vintage, and now those wines are still fresh and among the best in German wines, a vintage that was hot by German standards, but the wines still have enough bones to age more than 50 years, and Rudi has told me time and time again that the 2003 German wines will also age 50 years.
Well, I don't know if I will be selling German wine in 50 years, but I'll tell you what: that 2003 Bernkasteler Badstube was DELICIOUS. Katarina had a good descriptor for the vintage and wine: exotic. Doesn't that just sound so much nicer than flabby and un-age-worthy? Exotic. And that's what it was. Floral on the nose, perfumed like tropical fruits recalling mangos and guava, definitely not a classic Riesling, but does ever vintage have to be right on the money classic? No! 2003 is what it is and and this wine from JJ Prum showed that they made what the vintage gave them, and what it gave them was this exotic, tropical Spatlese that I thought personally was high on the yummy scale.
And almost surprisingly, it went so well with the hamachi. This was a pairing that Rudi and Katarina came up with, and I should not be so shocked that it was outstanding. I wanted to giant plate of just this for dinner, and a bottle of the 2003 Badstube; that would have been just fine.

But we had to move on: next course was Roasted Scallops with Sherry Vinegar Carmet, Roasted Wild Rice, and Cauliflower Puree, and it was paired not with one but two wines, 2 Ausleses from the same vineyard, but different vintage: 2002 J.J. Prum Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese and 2004 J.J. Prum Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese.

Needless to say, the scallops were cooked to perfection. The wines, now that was an interesting study in vintages. First off, the Ausleses demonstrated that they were not dessert wines. Neither wine was something you would want to have with dessert - they were dry (practically) and full of acidity. The 2002 demonstrated more acidity than the 2004 which was rounder. The 2002 actually, to me, came off like a Kabinett! I believe this was due to the vintage (classic, read: cold) and also the aging reduces the impression of sweetness. The 2004 was more what I would expect from an Auslese, the rich round mouthfeel and all that good stuff. Great wines with shellfish.
A fun geeky exercise that I did was I went back to taste the 2003 which I still had some of, and of course, when I did it that way, went from the 2002 and 2004 to the 2003, the 2003 demonstrated all that flabbiness that everyone complains about - it tasted sweet and devoid of acidity. It showed me and some other geeks I was sitting and talking with that the order of the pairing was professionally done - having the 2003 up front allowed it to shine.

Next up, we got the Slow Braised Pork Belly and Crispy Pork Loin with Pont Neuf Potato, Celeriac Creme, and Apple and Black Truffle Gastric.

This delectable dish was paired with the hand-carried 1994 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese that I mentioned earlier. Guess what - the 15 year old wine was as fresh as a teenager with a long life ahead of it. Fabulous, and again, so NOT a dessert wine. Showed how well German Riesling goes naturally with pork.
Finally, dessert: Frozen Mandarin Capsule with Vanilla Cream, Cashew Crumble, and Melon Sorbet.
This cold dessert trio, all its parts house-made here, was paired with the 2003 J.J. Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel. Wow! Another 2003 with bang for its buck. Surprisingly, some people thought this was the pairing of the evening. The citrisy flavors of the frozen mandarin capsule mingled well with the slightly honeyed flavors of the Goldkapsel, and Katarina shared that their Goldkapsel has some botrytis while the regular Ausleses typically do not. Hence the clean, bright flavors in the Auslese, and the more dessert honey/saffron of the Goldkapsel.

As a final treat, we had the chef of Gordon Ramsay West Hollywood come out and say a few words with his English accent, as he shared his anecdotes of training under the perfectionist chef Gordon Ramsay himself back in London and also in New York City. The chef, whose name I do not recall at this time, has spent 8 years of his career working in the Gordon Ramsay empire. His creations are indeed focused and precise, and the flavors enticing.

And then back to the reality of life in the wine business - we had to leave this party as we were due in Oceanside, where Katarina's hotel awaited; her next day would be spent working the San Diego territory, so we had to leave as quickly as Cinderella left her ball (only earlier), but not before Katarina autographed some menus, and took pictures with her fans.

And here we are: me on the left, Katarina in the middle, & Jenna (also of Rudi Wiest Selections) on the right.
Thank you Katarina, for transporting us through your wines to your family's beautiful Mosel estate.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Why I LOVE blogs

I love blogs. I really do. It's Saturday of Labor Day weekend, and I got myself up at 4:45 am this morning so I could hit the bike path to run 20 miles in preparation of the Long Beach Marathon in 5 weeks. Ate those 20 miles for breakfast, guzzled a Corona Lite at the finish (a kind fellow running group runner had brought them and kept them on ice for us, gotta love that), and came home to nice plate of perfectly cooked eggs, a few white cheddar Cheez-its, some cold water, a glass of 2006 Heger Pinot Gris from the fridge, and several hours of interrupted computer time - to read my favorite blogs!

I just love blogs. I'm very happy blogs have exploded on the internet, the people being able to self-publish has brought out the writer in many of us. Blog writing doesn't have to be deep, or perfect, or meaningful, or have a goal. All it has to be is fun to read. And what results is not only hours of some of the best entertainment for an introvert like me, but information, real, first-hand information that I trust and appreciate.

My favorite blogs to read are about food and wine. To be honest, I actually read more blogs about food than I do about wine, since I work in the wine biz, and when I'm reading blogs, I'm not usually trying to think about work, I'm trying not to think about work, so foodie blogs really excite. But it is not just that I am obsessed by food that makes me happy to read these blogs - I enjoy reading about people's experiences with food, and restaurants, their own cooking, and all that jazz. It is like anyone who is passionate about the art of food can be an Anthony Bourdain of his or her own making, self-publish a blog, take great photos of food porn, and allow his or her creation to be enjoyed by all.

You gotta love that.

I do hear from time to time that some folks don't like blogs. I think those are the older generation, who do not trust. I trust. I trust in the written word of the people, who tell me about odd food of all sorts and great restaurants and take the most wonderful pictures. And I trust about people's experiences with wine - real life experiences - and I follow their stories about far-away places.

I should blog more often myself; I have a lot to say. But when I do get the rare chance to sit down at the computer to relax as opposed to work, I have to say, I do get sucked in by reading other people's blogs, so much so that I neglect my own.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

One Year Anniversary

Well, I was off work last week on vacation up in Canada, and didn't get to blog. Did, however, take some pictures of some food and some wine that we enjoyed, and I'll get those up as soon as I have a chance to breathe!

Been feeling kinda hectic, came back from vacation and hit the ground running yesterday, Monday, last day of the month, last day of August, realizing that it was pretty much a year ago that I hit the streets to work in outside sales for Rudi Wiest Selections.

It has been an interesting year. The miracle is that I survived. One heck of a recession the entire time, and questionable whether it is over yet. Selling exclusively German wine, nothing but, no, we don't even have Austrian wine, just German, yes, mostly Riesling, but also some other goodies in there like all the Pinots - Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir, some Scheurebe, some Silvaner, some Roses and other things... but all German. 26 estates in all, and today, Sept 1, 2009, on my one-year anniversary, we are down to 25 estates - the newest news being that we are discontinuing Robert Weil.

Looking back on the year, I see this work as an outside sales person in a sober light. There are definitely great things about the job, which I love: making my own schedule, working independently, and getting paid by how much I do and how well I do it. Also, I love going to restaurants and stores, and seeing what is new in the neighborhoods; I don't think I would have this fun part of the job if I was in an office or a store or even if I worked in a restaurant. I definitely am not cooped up when working in outside sales, except for the odd time, cooped up in a car.

The other thing I really enjoy is working closely with winemakers. That is a real joy.

Finally, the wines. I really do love them. Today I tasted along with my customers two wines I opened yesterday, and were showing great today: 2003 Karthauserhof Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg Riesling Spatlese and 2005 Bert Simon Serrig Wurzberg Riesling Spatlese. I liked both wines, but I really personally preferred the 2003 Karthauserhof, that delicate yet intriguing aroma and palate, a wine that is not so much sweet as it is complex...... a wine that I imagine drinking with a delicious, buttery Trout Meuniere......... that would be so excellent.

If only the 2003 German wines didn't get such a bad rap... they are really showing nicely in my humble opinion. Perhaps in the past few years they were too fleshy or ripe, but now 6 years after the vintage, they are really tasting fine. I often hear complaints that they are not high enough in acid, but really, who needs that much acid? My personal feeling is that they are just not getting any respect, because it is cool to hate the 03s!!!

I think I'm going to try to blind taste folks!

Happy Anniversary!