So here I am, the day after a long, long day yesterday, Saturday, which started out with a 8 mile tapering run (Long Beach Marathon is in 7 days), followed by a drive out to Camarillo to drop my sister L at the outlet malls while I did a tasting at my account Bellavino Wine Bar in Thousand Oaks (a very nice wine bar by the way - if you are out that way, give owners Richard and Diane a visit), followed by a drive back onto the L.A. side to drop off sister in the Melrose area, and take myself to downtown L.A. to the Kings season opening game at the Staples Center..... traffic was a bit hellish due to the confluence of factors including a Dodgers Game, a concert at the Nokia Center, an adult conference at the convention center, and tens of thousands of other people wanting to go the same direction for some reason or another!
But I digress. What I have been wanting to blog about for some time is about a unique experience I had when Johan and I were in Vancouver, B.C. a couple of weeks ago for my sister K's wedding. First off, we had a fabulous week of great people, family and friends, and of course, a superb and beautiful wedding. Second, we enjoyed awesome sunny weather for 10 days straight which is more than one can ask for in Vancouver! Third, we got to go to one of the restaurants that is all the rage in Vancouver, called Vij's http://www.vijs.ca/, which was one of the restaurants Anthony Bourdain's Vancouver episode focused on, an episode I haven't had the pleasure of watching, but have heard friends talk about (and speak well of). Anyway, friend Derek took us to Vij's, a restaurant that doesn't take reservations, and has massive long lines, so we went early, at about 5:30 pm, and were the first ones to be on the waiting list.
The protocol is to wait in the bar, and have some drinks, and indulge in some of the free munchies that the staff, and owner Vikram Vij himself, generously pass around. I found myself becoming a little full on the delicious munchies, among them casava fries, and other fried tidbits whose names escape me. The bar is towards the back of the restaurant, and is a little bit dark, but the atmosphere is serene and upscale, and gives one the anticipation of an exciting culinary evening ahead.
Forty five minutes or so passed, and a table came open. A wine list which I had perused during the waiting period was now under discussion. The list was an interesting one, and I was impressed that there were 4 German wines on the list, most of which were Riesling Kabinetts from various producers that I knew. As well, there were Gruner Veltliners from Austria, various wines from British Columbia, California, France and other wine regions around the world. Derek and Johan both encouraged the idea of a German Riesling if I had one in mind, though I did state that I didn't need to drink one if they were bored with me always ordering German Riesling when we were out (yes, this did happen a few times). But they both assured me that if there was one I liked and felt would go with the cuisine, that I should go ahead and order it.
There was one I liked, and that was the 2006 Schloss Lieser Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett. Up in Canada, of course this wine is not imported by my employer Rudi Wiest, but by some agent and through the B.C. Liquor Board through a system with which I am not familiar. There was no back label to indicate how this wine arrived here, but I was happy it was there and I was indeed familiar with the wine.
2006 German Rieslings are among my favorite, and though this is not a lauded vintage by the wine media and those who feel they are in the know about German wine vintages, I really do love them. 2006 came sandwiched between 2 "better" vintage - 2005 a nice perfect warm vintage all over Europe with nice clean dry weather throughout harvest making for near perfect wines, and 2007, a vintage with a long, cool growing season due to an early bud break and a nice consistent weather pattern throughout all the way to a pleasant harvest. 2006 on the other hand had a hellish harvest in many areas, with warm but wet weather throughout the harvest season, if I recall correctly, with many estates suffering with rotted fruit that they had to sort out and throw out, ending up with much lower yields than they had anticipated. Wines made had more botrytis than usual, and more concentration. Some reviewers did not like the vintage at all. I did like it, because among other things, I know that the best estates have the best vineyards sites, and the best vineyards are the best largely because they are less susceptible of the negative aspects of vintage variation. In other words, they have better real estate that tends to make better wines year in and year out.
Additionally, the best estates have reputations to uphold, and they would never jeopardize that by making substandard wine. So in 2006 they tended to make half as much wine as in normal vintages, by throwing out so much less-than-perfect grapes, and using only the best and healthiest grapes for their wines.
The Brauneberger Juffer vineyard where this wine is from is more usually associated with the Fritz Haag estate, where Schloss Lieser Estate owner and winemaker Thomas Haag's brother Oliver Haag is now the owner and winemaker. Thomas and Oliver's father, the famous Wilheim Haag, who was the winemaker at Fritz Haag for about 50 years before handing it to his son Oliver had given part of his Brauneberger Juffer vineyard holdings to Thomas for the Schloss Lieser Estate. Another geek-worthy factoid about the Brauneberger Juffer is that this is a steep hillside vineyard that is unique because there is not a big forest on top of the hill, but it is pretty bare, so in wetter years, there is not big mass of water holding in the roots of the trees of the forest above the vineyard seeping water downwards toward the vines. In fewer words, this means the Brauneberger Juffer vineyard tends to be drier in wetter vintages such as 2006 (ie. more protected).
So the wine came, and we sipped it before we had our food and it was absolutely perfect. Delicious, rich, and refreshing at the same time, the Kabinett has more richness than a Kabinett in a cooler year (say 2008, 2004, or 2002), more botrytis than a Kabinett in years 2005 or 2007, and more acidity than a hotter vintage (say 2003). It was yummy in a bottle, and it showed the magnificence of this top vineyard site, and this esteemed winemaker.
When the food came, dishes after dishes of saag paneer (spinach with white cheese), curried goat (so tender), lamb popsicles (rack of lamb chops), curried cauliflower, cricket bread (which I declined to try), and various other wonderful things..... the wine sang an even sweeter, purer song.
Unfortunately, it was not a magnum! It did, at some point, get low. So another bottle was in order. We should have gotten another German Riesling, but I wanted to be adventurous, so went for a Gruner Veltliner from Schloss Gobelsburg, an estate I have also visited, in Austria, so I thought it would be a fun wine at this meal.
Well, unfortunately, you cannot taste this wine with this food. It is like drinking water, but with 12 or 13% alcohol. I kept trying to taste the wine, but I couldn't get any read on the wine until I stopped eating, and then I could appreciate the subtle flavors in the wine, which were good, but totally wasted on this fairly spicy cuisine.
So it is with great dispair that I still must listen to folks tell me "Oh my God that wine is sweet!" and opt to drink only dry wines, never veering from their dry-wine post. I am a lover of dry wines of all types, but I cannot drink them with certain cuisines. I cannot drink Gruner Veltliner with Indian food, and though I did not try it, I do not think I can drink dry white French wine, dry white Italian wine, dry white any wine with this food, and I doubt I would enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, or even Zinfandel with it. I don't know, call me biased... and maybe I am because I already liked the Schloss Lieser Kabinett on its own so maybe it is me..... but I just feel there is definitely a wine-food pairing thing here, and people who cannot drink a German Riesling Kabinett with some foods are perhaps missing that magic.
But not I! I'm happy I got to experience Vij's, and share that it is some of the best Indian food I have experienced, and that they have an awesome wine list that "gets it" too. So check it out next time you are in Vancouver, B.C.
(Photo above is Thomas Haag at his estate Schloss Lieser in September 2007)