Tag Archive 'germany'




I enjoy wine from all over the globe, but many German wines that I receive* are too sweet for my palate.  I’m always excited to get a Silvaner because the best ones are dry (the opposite of sweet) and pair perfectly with Springtime seafood and salads.  I served this 2009 Graf v (von) Schönborn with fresh white shrimp, cilantro, garden limes, chopped red onions and a little salt and pepper over broccoli/carrot slaw. The wine is light in body, low-alcohol (12%) with stone fruit and a bit of lime. Absolutely lovely and easy drinking.

When I visited Germany, I advocated to wineries that reaching more American wine lovers requires making their labels more user-friendly.  This producer gets it.  Here’s what the wine label would look like if the usual German “rules” were followed.

2009 Graf von Schonborn
Schloss Schonborn Hallburger Schlossberg 
Kabinett Trocken
Franken, Germany
Seriously. Great for geeks but too much information at once for wine enthusiasts who are learning about new grapes and wines.  This wine has all the necessary details on the back of the label. (By the way, the green marks are my notes indicating I’m going to review the wine.)
* This wine was provided as a sample.


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Insider Tips for Finding & Enjoying Great Pinot Noir

  • Pinot Noir is best when it is grown in a very specific place proven to have ideal conditions. If it says “California” on the label, pass it by, even if it is $12 and seems like a bargain. It’s not, it will disappoint you. Here are two Pinot Noirs under $20 that you can easily find.
  • Because the grape is so sensitive to growing conditions, it’s a lot of fun to explore the different AVA’s that are known as good Pinot Noir growing areas.  There are many famous Pinot places that we’ve all heard about; currently, my favorite AVA’s are  Sonoma Coast,  Santa Ynez Valley and Sta Rita Hills.
  • You’ll find a lot of wineries source their grapes from only a few regions while their wineries are in another place altogether. To taste lots of Pinots all in one place, I recommend Pinot Noir-specific events. San Francisco’s Pinot Summit is very civilized and fun; only 350 people, approximately 44 top wines (selected from over 400 entries).  I interviewed Sideways author, Rex Pickett at the 10th annual tasting and it was a blast. In addition to enjoying world-class Pinots, I like this event because the rooms are large and comfortable and the event is very creatively designed.  You can also spend the night at a fab downtown San Francisco hotel and keep the party going.
  • Explore Pinot Noir from other countries. When I was in Germany on a Pinot Trio tour (Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc), the vintners’ apologized for pouring wine younger than 15 years old.  Here in the states, aging Pinot Noir is quite rare.  I’m also a student of Chilean Pinot Noir which I find vastly more interesting than their prominent grape, Carmenere.

Alana’s Picks from the 10th Annual Pinot Noir Summit

Lazy Creek Vineyards - Winemaker Christy Griffith Ackerman blew away the competition at the 10th Annual Pinot Noir Summit and won me over with her superbly crafted 2009 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.  I eagerly look forward to trying the rest of her wines.

Coghlin Vineyard - The 2009 Rio Vista Pinot Noir (single vineyard from Sta. Rita Hills) scores super high in pure fruit delightfulness. As it should be, it is balanced with a pretty nose and equally lovely color and length. This small Los Olivos-based winery is 100% organic.

Petite Abeille A surprising discovery, winemaker Deb Mayo made only 235 cases of this silky, balanced, unfiltered Pinot Noir. Petite Abeille is a Russian River beauty with an elegance often missing in the AVA.

Kenneth Volk Vineyard
 -  K. Volk’s fame did not did not influence me (he started the successful Wild Horse brand before selling it to Constellation); the wines were tasted blind, and his luscious fruit-forward Pinot Noir was a stand out. Peeking at his web site, I’m even more intrigued to visit and taste all of his wines.

10th Annual Pinot Noir Summit, Girl with a Glass & Sideways author, Rex Picket.

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When I was in Germany, we were treated to nightly food and wine pairing dinners. They ranged from elegant to homespun…all delightful.  At 8:30pm after an 11 hour flight, I began my immersion into genuine German food & wine.

Here’s the menu (and interpretations) just like I experienced it. Don’t glaze over all the German words like I once did, here’s an opportunity to learn so you can enjoy the truly fabulous wine of Germany.


  • 2009er Durbacher Plauerlrain Klingelberger (Riesling) Kabinett trocken

*Definition: the year is treated like a verb in German wine, therefore it is a ’2009′er. Durbacher is the name of the wine region/village. Plauerlrain is the name of the winery and Klingelberger is the local name for Riesling. A Kabinett is a lighter style of German white wine. Trocken means dry in style.

1st Course

  • Chervil cream soup with pike balls
  • 2009er Durbacher KochbergGrauer Burgunder dry
  • 2009er Durbacher Steinberg Weiber Burgunder late vintage dry

*Chervil is an herb with a slight licorice flavor, also called gourmet’s parsley. It’s great in light dishes like soup. Pike balls are made of white fish. Now you already know that Durbacher is the region and Kochberg is the winery.  Grauer Burgunder is the German equivalent of Pinot Gris (France) or Pinot Grigio (Italy).  Although it says “dry”, they could have written Trocken. The second wine, Weiber Burgunder is the same as France’s Pinot Blanc. Late vintage dry means it was harvested late and made in the dry style (fermented so the sugar level is low). The German term is Spätlese.

2nd Course

  • Pork Medallions roasted with sage & Parma ham, vegetable from the market & thin noodles
  • 2008er Durbacher International Pinot Noir QbA dry
  • 2006er Durbacher Stienberg Red Wine Dry – matured in Barrique barrels (Cabernet Sauvignon x Merlot x Lemberger x Pinot Noir)

*The typical German meal that I experienced consisted of meat and noodles. The first wine served with this course represents the region/village wine.  QbA designates a “fine wine from a certain place.”  The second wine is a blend of grapes made in French oak barrels. Lemberger is a German grape that is hated by certain connoisseurs and appreciated by others…see my post about the Grand Tasting.

Dessert Course

  • Strawberry buttermilk terrine with mango-passion fruit sorbet & fresh berries
  • 2008er  Durbacher Kochberg Spatburgunder Weissherbst Auslese
  • 2008er Durbacher Plauelrain Scheurebe Beerenauslese

*The first wine is a rosé (Weissherbst or Weiberherbst) of Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder).  Auslese means selected harvest. The last wine was very unique to Germany: Scheurebe is a grape and Beerenauslese is a style (very sweet, late harvest), the link goes to a wonderful pyramid from Wines of Germany (my hosts) that shows sweetness levels of German wines.

Thanks to my writer buddies who interpreted everything for me as we drank and ate. Quote of the evening regarding the last wine, that wine is tooth throttling sweet!

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Tasting Notes

Erste Lage Tasting, Germany 2010

To enjoy wine, the story begins and ends with each individual’s palate. So why do we endlessly analyze, score, judge and discuss the merits of individual wines and varietals?  For me, wine challenges my intelligence, involves all of my senses and creates a never-ending conversation.

My initial relationship with wine was simple–I liked it or not. But then, the wonder of wine crept up on me: I found myself on a ladder of discovery.  I moved from liking it to wanting to try more so I went wine tasting in search of wine to love. Then I learned about the million details that impact how grapes become wine. I met winemakers and liked their stories, so I added intangible meaning to the mix. I soon was faced with a hobby that has so many intricacies that it takes a life time to master.

Amid discovering and learning,  I still know what I like and what I don’t. I go through 3 phases with a wine:

  • how does it smell & taste upon first sip?
  • how does it taste after it sits in the glass or decanter?
  • how does it taste with food?

When I’m doing what I call a quick and dirty evaluation of wine, I score on a scale of 0-5.  I get an initial impression by smelling and leaving the wine on my palate for a minute or so then spitting.  A 3 means it has potential and I’m curious about the wine maker or terroir.  4 means the wine fairs the best in the group, and it either needs a bit more time or better tasting (pairing) conditions.  A 5 means I’ll buy it on the spot if possible.

If you think wine is complicated, it is. But it’s not complicated to know what you like. Just keep tasting~ sometimes you have to taste a lot of wines, before finding the ones you love.

Just for fun, here’s some tasting notes from a tasting of 329 wines in Germany. (The + – and / symbols mean good, bad or neutral on the nose.)

These are notes for German Pinot Blanc.

nose +, straight from the barrel, wine is not ready yet, it’s not bottle shock. 0

nose+, neutral, boring 2

nose/best but doesn’t rock my world; more like what I wld expect 4

These are notes for Pinot Noir.

boring, waterly, 1

nose + cherries; balanced, light Pinot like Oregon;  3

long lasting finish, full bodied; I’m home . 4

too light; after taste too acidic. 2; The One changed this wine A LOT – made it much more interesting; toned down the after taste & let the fruit out; black cherries were not present before. 4  (I was testing Andrea Robinson’s The One glass)

These are notes on some German wines you’ve probably never heard of… FRÜHBURGUNDER AHR GROSSES GEWÄCHS 2008

strong fresh tobacco smell; hard cherry candy; could be intg with food or really bad. Complex though which turns me on.

nose is cherry/sonoma coast PN; perfectly acceptable–getting closer to Cal PN. 3


smells like Chinese food but calmed down quite nicely.big Christmas spice ; cloves–quite an interesting wine. Brand new varietal to me. The One rounded it out made everything much more subtle; harder to pick out the flavors but more true to what the consumer will taste if you serve this wine now. 4 for curiosity.

a light pee smell; then complex; wine lacks character (now that’s what tired tasters write!) much gentler then the first one–but pretty cool. 4

Ludens cough drop smell; nasty candy.

needs to sit/age; sort of like a syrah. 3

nice everyday wine–better than Zinfandel; not complex but layered. 3

tight but the biggest wine I’ve tasted in Germany. Full bodied–I give it points just for being there for me. 3 (Note: Germans like to make really acidic wines so they will age, after tastings hundreds of highly acidic wines, I was craving bold smooth fruit.)

Photo from my new friend who was on the Wines of Germany Media Tour with me, Mariusz Kapczynski, www.vinsifera.pl

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Traveling with 14 other wine writers from all over the world was a hoot.  They came from Sweden, Denmark, Canada, Korea, the Netherlands, Finland, Poland and the UK.  The oldest was 70 and the youngest in his 20′s.  It was an easy-going group, everyone got along well.

Here’s some out-of-context quotes that I found amusing:

He’s completely mad, he must have lots of cots with babies. (British writer talking about someone  and referencing a doll in a cradle that one of our hotel’s showcased on a stair landing.)

Question: What’s your favorite wine? Answer: The next one.

If they were not like that, they wouldn’t fill out their dresses, so they must hire those big German girls.

The new face of German food. (My new friend commenting on the tiny portion I took of liver balls.)

It’s an elegant wine, like a lady, complicated too.

You’re probably German, not Dutch.  In fact, you look Bavarian. (New friend explaining my heritage.)

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I attended San Francisco tastings for two years sponsored by Wines of Germany  / German Wine Institute and private importer Terry Theiss before being invited to Germany.

I accepted the invitation, not for a free trip to Germany but because I wanted the “real” scoop.  At industry events, I prefer in-depth interviews/ conversations with winemakers to tasting 100+ wines; however, the whirlwind environment doesn’t support the drawing of a solid picture.

Stateside, I had been told two things that I wanted to check out for myself: 1) German wine making was environmentally friendly and 2) there is a movement for modernizing German wine labels. Like a journalist on the hunt, I looked for signs indicated truisms, partially true or false.

I am a proponent of all grape growers being responsible stewards of the environment and I prefer my wine to be made in a style that treats the wine gently with little or no additives or industrial processing.

In Germany, I visited a dozen wineries in three regions and attended a tasting of approx. 350 German wines. (329 at the formal tasting, and the rest at the party the night before.) I received literature from the German Wine Institute as well as the wineries. Bottom line, the picture was not unlike the US. Some wine makers are very dedicated to natural wine making, including adhering to the principles of organic farming, while others don’t discuss it. For me, I found it disturbing that large amounts of sulfur are added to many Rieslings. This goes against my preference to let grapes express themselves with minimal interference. *

On the label issue, I would like to see exported German wines with interesting and understandable labels so that more Americans would pick up a bottle and try it. German wine labels are written in German, i.e., Pinot Blanc is Wiessburgunder. Additionally, the labels sport highly complex legal and traditional descriptions, making it impossible for an untutored consumer to figure out who made the wine and where it was made.  No English translation (even of the grape) and too many references re: villages, regions, dry, off dry, and sweet add up to…lower sales of German wines in America.

There was good news/bad news on the export front.  Apparently some distributors are advising wine makers not to translate their labels for the US market and they are not importing their best wines. For example, I tasted two relatively nice Pinot Noirs from a winery that exports, yet he only sends the cheaper, non-reserve to the US at the advice of his distributor.  I met several wine makers in the same boat.

The good news is that I believe there is an exciting movement among modern German wine makers who are more than willing to make their wines more accessible, by translating, simplifying, being environmentally responsible and making natural wine.

There are so many wine enthusiasts and wine drinkers in the US who would love to try foreign wines (e.g., Australia, South America, South Africa).  It’s true we are not getting the best of what those countries make (yet), but I can only imagine that the next export step will be higher-end wines.

In conclusion, a BIG thank you (Danke!) to the German Wine Institute for inviting me and being wonderful hosts.

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My Birthday Wish

Birthday Cake

Some birthdays involve big trips, lovely parties, friends or family, but this year, I’m resting.  My spirit says, give yourself the gift of quiet time. I made no plans except to care for myself.  As I happily played in my garden, I opened a beer and turned on the radio.  A Reggae tune came on, transporting me back to college…good times, good friends and a decidedly slow pace on weekends. (Was it a sign?)

When I give someone a birthday card I always wish them a fabulous year ahead.  Last year was packed with parties/events, wine tasting, work, and unfortunately some personal crises.  Frankly, if the next 12 months are a little calmer, I’d love it.

So this year, all I have planned is a trip to Germany (as a guest of Wines of Germany) & Paris (my gift to myself), a reasonable work-pace and of course, the best gift in the world will be an improvement in my Hubby’s spinal injury.  Keeping my fingers crossed and a positive thought, and making a big wish when I blow out  my candles.

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