Can Riesling carry a meal?
Is the Pope German?
On a recent tour of Germanyâ€™s top wine regions, I found myself in Bacharach, in the
heart of Mittelrhein, where nearly every promontory overlooking the
storied Rhine River boasts a castle, and those that donâ€™t have castles
have vineyards, strikingly beautiful vineyards on impossible slopes of
up to 70 degrees, their vinerows ascending the mountains rather than
crossing them in order to capture sunlight evenly on both sides.
lies right along the river, as several small towns do. It has a train
station, a few churches, stores offering wines and cuckoo clocks, and of
course a castle up the hillside overlooking town. Most importantly for
wine lovers, Bacharach has Weingut J. Ratzenberger â€“ and the Rhein Hotel, home of StĂźbers Restaurant and chef Andreas StĂźber.
Ratzenbergerâ€™s winery on the edge of town is built into the hill that
grows his vines, the cellars dug 40 meters deep into the hill to keep
the wines naturally cool. He took us to the top of these slopes to show
us the slate terroir that gives his Rieslings the delicate minerality
characteristic of the Mittelrhein. As he explained how the south-facing
slopes capture the northern sunlight, church bells rung out from the
town below us, their song cascading from the hillsides to the east and
west, celebrating nothing in particular (it wasnâ€™t even the hour)
except perhaps life itself. And maybe Riesling.
perhaps these were dinner bells. At StĂźber Restaurant, I ordered the
house specialty, RieslingbrĂ¤ten â€“ a pot roast essentially, marinated
for three days in Riesling, mustard, and some other stuff I never quite
got clear despite several entreaties to the chef. (He gave me a postcard
with a cartoon that roughly describes how the dish is made â€“ itâ€™s
that popular.) The meat is then braised with onions in a 150-degree
Celsius oven for three hours. Served with its buttery sauce and a mound
of spĂ¤tzle noodles, it was sheer comfort food.
Cooked in Riesling, it of course called for Riesling to wash it down. I gulped the J. Ratzenberger 2005 Steeger St. Jost Grosses GewĂ¤chs, which fermented for 11 months and featured yeasty apricot and slate flavors, as well as the 2007 Steeger St. Jost Halbtrocken,
more delicate and flowery, with even a hint of lavender, very
characteristic of the Mittelrhein. But my favorite with the beef was the
weightier 2007 Bacharacher WolfshĂśhle SpĂ¤tlese, which offered apricot, pear, and acacia honey with a mineral oil texture and a long, lovely finish.
I never once looked around for a red wine.
home, the memory of this meal â€“ which ended in the restaurant kitchen
watching Germany defeat Austria in the European soccer qualifying round
â€“ has me digging my spĂ¤tzle maker out of the closet and searching
for Rieslings in the wine stores.