Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In vino veritas

Four misted glasses on the table. Wine cooled to perfection. Two Bacharacher Posten, the best wine I ever enjoyed. And two German red wines, my memory tells me it was Dornfelder, but I’m not sure. Poured in those typical German glasses, 0.2 litre each. The owner of the hotel, who also owned a winery, was proud of his wine. And so he should be. One minor problem though. All glasses were mine.

The cellars of winery Jost.

I do not claim to be an expert on wines, I am not by a long shot. However, I like my glass of dry white wine and over the years I’ve mastered somewhat a talent of choosing the wines I like. Note the words ‘I like’. Few things are as subjective as a taste in wine, it is pointless trying to educate people how to appreciate wine. Many people like red wines, but red wines are not for me. Red wine and I have never become friends. They give me headaches. They make my throat dry. Most can only be appreciated to the fullest when accompanied by cheese or food, but alas, many people do not offer that when you visit. And leave me struggling with a hostile liquid, I’d rather pour into a plant pot, if not for the fact that most people have thrown all their plants out these days.

Between the left and main tower you can see a slope where the Riesling grapes for Bacharacher Posten grow.

I’m not sure if it is the ambiance next to the wine – but white wine never tastes as good as it does in Germany – provided I choose the dry varieties. There are many sweet German wines, but it is preferable to drink grape juice instead. It spares you the alcohol in your veins. Now, the funny thing is that many people outside Germany associate German wine with sweet wines. I wonder if that dates back to the days that the now elderly booked a bus tour to our eastern neighbours, and daringly tried their first wine there. Not used to drinking alcohol, a sweet Mosel was a safe choice. And liquor stores stepped in that custom, leaving the dry French wines for the small elite of connoisseurs in those years gone by.
So, I could have been warned. But I was still shocked when only a few years ago a friend, an intelligent woman who is not a stranger when it comes to wines, confined to me that she never tried or bought any on the trips to Germany she did with her family. “You can only get those sweet lemonade wines there,” she said, leaving me speechless in disbelieve. I tried to convince her that some of the best dry wines in the world come from Germany, but I’m sure she did not believe telling from the way she looked at me.

When I visit the country of the Teutons, and I look at the wine lists there, I feel like a kid in a candy shop. So many good dry whites, that it is difficult to make a choice. But my favourites are the full bodied, crisp dry Rieslings. Old fashioned maybe, and perhaps not as fashionable as the Alsacian Pinots or Italian Pinot Grigios, nor as popular as the cliché Chardonnays, but it is the wine of my choice and the one I try to bring home a few bottles of. That brings me to the owner of Guesthaus Jost in the quaint little town of Bacharach in the Rhine valley. Mr. Jost doubles as a wine grower – but I’m pretty sure that it is actually the other way round judging by the modest state of his small hotel. When sitting down in the hotel restaurant for a basic, but calorie rich Schnitzel dinner, the wine list was - as can be expected from a wine grower - both eloborate and seductive. One white attracted my attention, not only because it was clearly more expensive as the others, but primarily because of its imaginative name: a Jost Bacharacher Posten, listed as dry Riesling, from 1996 vintage – by then ten years old. It was obvious that this would my choice for the evening. And an excellent choice it is, I was assured by patron/wine grower. He did not say one single word too much. It was heaven. Tasteful, with the exact amount of sourness, and a long ‘after taste’. After dinner the patron grabbed a chair and inquired what I thought about his a Bacharacher Posten. A nice conversation followed on the ins and outs of wine growing, and the difficulties and hardships wine growers in the Rhine valley region face. Young people have no interest anymore to work on the steep slopes where the vineyards are located. And many young people leave the region because there is little work apart from the wine business. Many vineyards have closed the past two decades, and the only way to survive is growing first quality grapes to produce excellent wines. Like the Posten. And it is not a mystery how to distinghuish a sweet wine from a dry one, the patron learned me. “Look for the percentage of alcohol,” he said. “The less there is, the more sugar there will be, and the sweeter the wine. Eight percent is very sweet, but eleven to twelve percent alcohol guarantees you a nice dry wine."

I could not leave without buying some bottles of Bacharacher Posten. Mr. Jost looked around to assure that he was not overheard, and with a soft voice he said that he had only a few boxes of 1996 Bacharacher Posten left in his cellar before a new vintage would be ready for sale. Bacharacher Posten grapes are difficult to grow and require special attention, so supply is always limited. ‘I don’t have the Posten listed at my cellar for direct sale to customers, but for people appreciating this special wine, like you, I keep a few boxes.” And so I left with a box of six expensive ten year old wines, that could not be stowed in the trunk of the MX-5 anymore. So the remainder of the trip the passenger had to share the footwall with six bottles of wine.

Guesthaus and winery Jost / Gästehaus und Weingut Jost:

Time to get back to the four glasses of wine that were all exclusively for me. My travelling companion never drinks one single drop of alcohol. Not out of principle or conviction, but simply because he does not like it. “What is so special about that wine?” he wanted to know. But you can’t explain taste. “I’ll have one too,” was his unexpected and bold decision. After just one sip he had to catch his breath and that was his firts and very last taste of wine. That left me with two glasses, but I was not prepared for what happened next. The patron, meanwhile mistaking me for a connoisseur, emerged from the kitchen two 0.2 litre glasses of red wine. “These are on the house. Dornfelder, German red wine, rather unknown, but so nice. You should try it and tell me what you think about it.” Four glasses were staring at me. I vino veritas they say, but I will not confirm that. But hey, finally someone sees me as a connoisseur. One for whom the doors of the cellars with rare Bacharacher Posten are opened.