If you are in the mood for fine German wine and food, why not consider the Pfalz region of southwestern Germany. Who knows, you may find a bargain, and I really think that you'll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour in which we review a local Gewuerztraminer. The Pfalz region has such a mild climate that some farmers raise figs and lemons. It has been called the Tuscany of Germany. While Pfalz is far from Tuscany, it is just over the border from the famous French wine-producing region of Alsace, also known for producing fine Gewurztraminer wines. Sooner or later we will review one (or maybe more) Alsacian Gewurztraminers for our series I Love French Wine and Food.
Did you notice the difference in spelling between the German and the French grape? The Pfalz is quite narrow and about 80 kilometers long, right along the Rhine River. The Church owned the best vineyards until Napoleon redistributed them. There are about 25,000 vineyards whose average size is less than a hectare (about 2.5 acres). With such small vineyards, most owners are forced to take on additional work to make ends meet.
While Pfalz was once the number one German wine producing region, it now ranks number two in both total wine production and vineyard acreage behind its northern neighbor, Rheinhessen. Approximately four out of five local wine bottles are white. The two top grape varieties grown here are Mueller Thurgau, a German developed hybrid, and the often noble Riesling. Local red grape varieties include Portugieser and to a lesser extent Pinot Noir, better known by its German name, Spaetburgunder. About 10% of Pfalz wine is classified as basic table wine, over 70% as middle quality QbA wine, and the remainder higher quality QmP wine.
The German Wine Road crosses the Pfalz region. Virtually anywhere you go on this road you can find something worth seeing, worth tasting, and I daresay worth eating. Be sure to visit the city of Speyer. While its present population is about fifty thousand, Speyer was a major center in the Holy Roman Empire and the site of numerous Imperial Diets, huge parliamentary assemblies. From 1030 to 1061 a series of emperors built the Kaiserdom (The Imperial Cathedral), which was expertly restored more than fifty years ago. Just across from the cathedral you will find the Palatinate Historical Museum.
Other museums to visit include the Technology Museum, Sea Life in the old harbor, and the Wine Museum that features a 1600 year-old glass wine amphora, perhaps the oldest wine "bottle" in the world. Before reviewing the Pfalz wine and imported cheeses that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region. Start with Keschlebreih (Chestnut Soup).
For your second course enjoy Kalbsnieren (Veal Kidneys). As a dessert indulge yourself with Kerscheblotzer (Cherry Cake). OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price. Wine Reviewed Darting Gewuerztraminer Kabinett 2005 10.
8% alcohol about $14 Let's start by quoting the marketing materials. With such a German name, it's surprising that Gewuerztraminer is still a minority in the vineyards of the country. Kurt Darting has created some of the Pfalz's finest examples. The wine has classic lychee, grapefruit and spice tones. A perfect partner for intense, flavourful dishes such as chicken vindaloo.
My first pairing was with turkey meatballs, potatoes, and sautéed vegetables in a moderately spicy tomato based sauce. The wine was round, light, a bit sweet, and not very acidic. The vegetables' sweetness intensified the wine's sweetness, but the wine never became cloying. I tasted apples in the background.
I tried the Gewuerztraminer with chocolate covered candied orange peels. The wine was round but a bit disappointing. As always, I don't blame the wine for failing a stab in the dark type pairing. My next trial was canned tuna doused in Harissa, a Moroccan spice, cold roasted potatoes, and a cold vegetable medley. The wine was sweet and tasted of honey without being at all cloying. I did taste the lychee that I was supposed to taste.
The wine had pleasant acidity. You might consider canned tuna and honey-tasting wine to be a marriage made in Purgatory but I rather liked the combination. I think it would have been even better if the Harissa lived up to its promise as a fiery spice.
For dessert I had homemade biscotti slathered with high-quality apricot preserves. The Gewuerztraminer became pleasantly acidic to match the dessert's sweetness. The final meal included whole-wheat pasta with a commercial spaghetti sauce to which I added sautéed brown mushrooms and red onions. I sprinkled lots of ground Parmesan cheese on the mixture.
The wine tasted quite sweet, sweeter than before. Its sweetness was a good match for the tomato sauce's sweetness. The side dish consisted of steamed asparagus with onion powder and a fair measure of cayenne pepper. This combination rendered the wine more complex than previously. It balanced the spices well.
The wine was weak with a fruit juice based candy. And now come the cheeses. First was a Palet de Chevre, a goat's milk cheese from the Poitou Charentes region of central-western France. It was a goat's milk cheese unlike any that I have ever tasted.
Frankly it looked and tasted like a somewhat runny Camembert. The wine was definitely honeyed with this cheese. I did not find the combination particularly enticing.
Not being able to find a German cheese other than another Limberger, no thank you, I bought a Gruyere, a Swiss cheese without the holes. The pairing was virtually the same. Honey. Once again, no thank you. Final verdict.
Nothing special. This wine was sufficiently disappointing that I won't be buying it again. I like the idea of a German white wine other than a Riesling, but not this particular offering.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten computer and Internet books, but between you and me, he prefers drinking fine German or other wine, accompanied by the right foods and the right people. He teaches various and sundry computer in an Ontario French-language community college. His Italian wine website is www.theitalianwineconnection.com and his major food website is www.fooditalyfood.com