August 01, 2008

My favorite wine - Gewürztraminer

It's the last day of the week and it's finally time to address my current favorite wine. I say current because my favorites have been known to change somewhat frequently—kind of about every time someone recommends their favorite wine to me and I try it. But I must say that Gewürztraminer has been my favorite for a few months now, which makes it the longest lasting favorite I've had so far.

I seem to have a fondness for German wines as a whole. Good friends of ours gave us a bottle of Eiswein (ice wine) for Christmas this past year and we absolutely loved it. Eiswein is a very rare, sweet, concentrated wine made from grapes that have been left on the vine until the weather turns cold enough for them to freeze. Late harvest results in grapes that are more ripe, thus wine that is sweeter. The extreme late harvest of eiswein results in a wine that has depth of flavor unlike any other wine and a mild and appealing sweetness that is not cloying for those who don't favor dessert wines.

Typical style: dry to mildly sweet
Aromas: tropical fruits, spice
Mouthfeel: very smooth
Acidity: low to medium
Regions: France (Alsace), Germany, Washington, California, New York
Accompanies: turkey, veal, pork and pork products, fully-ripened cheeses

German wines

Germany produces only two or three percent of the world's wines. Of course, beer is the national beverage, so this comes as no surprise. The wine Germany does produce depends greatly on the weather. Germany is the northernmost country in which grape vines can grow. Also, about 80% of the German vineyards are located on hilly slopes, which eliminates the possibility of mechanical harvesting. The upside of this is a far higher quality and deeply flavored wine. Bacchus loves the hills, is a famous phrase among wine aficionados. Bacchus was the Roman god of wine and the phrase means that wine produced from grapes grown on hills tends to be far higher quality wine than wine made from flat-land vineyards.

When I say that German vineyards are on hilly slopes, it doesn't paint the full picture, however. Twenty percent of German vineyards are on relatively flat land (10 percent or less slope). Fourteen percent are on hillsides that average about 45 degrees slope. A full sixty-five percent of German vineyards are on steep hillsides that average 66 degree slopes. Those are very hilly vineyards and make the growing and harvesting much harder—and the resultant wine delightful.

The most well-known types of wine from German are:

  • Riesling—This is by far the most widely planted and the best grape variety produced in Germany. If you don't see the name "Riesling" on the label, then there's probably very little, if any, Riesling grape in the wine.
  • Silvaner—This type of grape accounts for about seven percent of German's wines
  • Müller-Thurgau—This wine is a cross between two grapes (Riesling and Chasselas). Müller-Thurgau accounts for about twenty-one percent of German wines.

The reason for the almost exclusively white wines out of Germany is simply because Germany's northern climate is not well-suited to red grapes. But it is so well-suited to the white grapes that they may be forgiven for producing very little red wine.

The photos shown here are of a basic Riesling. In fact, this McWilliams Riesling is Australian, not German, but I had no German wine in the house when I took these photographs. The wine glass is part of a hand-carved pewter set that we purchased quite a few years ago at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. The one shown in these photos has a wizard as its base. Each of the glasses in this 8-glass set feature a different carving as the stem. They include King Arthur, Lady Guinevere, a joker, a satyr, and other wonderful Renaissance-style statues.

We love pewter and have quite a few pieces of dinnerware made from pewter. At one time we had hoped to create a complete Renaissance-style dining room, complete with heavy ceiling beams and cast iron candle holders. We even purchased a cast iron chandelier for use in this dining room that never actually came to fruition.

The first late-harvest wine
Legend has it that at the vineyards of Schloss Johannisberg, the monks were not allowed to pick the grapes until the Abbot of Fulda gave his permission. During the harvest of 1775, the abbot was away attending a synod. That year the grapes were ripening early and some of them had started to rot on the vine. The monks, becoming concerned, dispatched a rider to ask the abbot's permission to pick the grapes. By the time the rider returned, the monks believed all was lost, but they went ahead with the harvest anyway. To their amazement, the wine was one of the best they had ever tasted. That was the beginning of Spätlese-style (late-harvest) wines.

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