My Riesling education

Our man in Germany discovers dry gems of the Rheingau

While Calgary is fast becoming an international city sadly we still lack a few of the touches that cities like Montreal and Toronto enjoy — direct flights to Paris for example. So that means having to pick between flying to another metropolitan Canadian hub or choosing a different destination like Frankfurt or London. For me I usually go with Frankfurt and although I believe Germany to be one of Europe’s most beautiful countries the general lack of interest in her wines back home means it’s low on the totem pole when it comes to visiting wine regions.

My original plan was to get out of Germany straight away and begin my two weeks in France by making the drive to Champagne the moment we landed. But nine-and-a-half hours of Air Canada had taken its toll on me. Rather than risk death in a fiery crash on the autobahn I decided a night of recharging my batteries in Germany might be better idea.

Frankfurt is only a half-hour outside of the Rheingau arguably Germany’s most famous wine region. So I thought why not hang out there? At least in wine country I could find some decent eats and slurp some of the local juice to help forget my Air Canada woes.

The beauty of the area grabbed me as I guided my rental car through narrow winding roads en route to the sleepy town of Erbach. The rapeseed was glowing yellow between the vines that had just woken up from their long hibernation finally offering their bright green buds to the sun.

The Rheingau has a palpable energy to it — the vines follow the vast Rhine River in neat rows like soldiers waiting for orders. Wine is never far from its peoples’ minds as they constantly consider how they can change their methods to improve its quality.

Famished I pulled into a restaurant to meet a winemaker friend and we soon got caught up while pouring over the wine list’s considerable options. Coming to an agreement we presented our choice to the proprietor who then weighed in. We debated for another five minutes. Finally we settled on two wines just to keep everyone happy. People here take wine seriously.

While I do profess a secret love of German wines I do not pretend to be an expert on them so I welcomed this opportunity to further my understanding. I happened to stumble into Germany during the white asparagus season and our menu was littered with a variety of ways to consume it. I settled on a simple preparation — blanched with a sidecar of drawn butter to pour over it. It turned out to be a good choice. We had only just finished our beers and begun to sip the wine before the asparagus arrived. But the wine’s laser-beam acidity and bone-dry finish had already captured my attention.

Asparagus is a notoriously hard dish to pair with wine so my expectations for a sublime match were low. I smothered the large white thumbs with a sickly amount of butter — like a kid dumping syrup on pancakes — and tucked into my first bite. The simple yet magical combination left a thick layer of buttery fat clinging to the sides of my mouth so I reached for my glass to clear it away. The acidity of the wine that had been so startling earlier was the perfect foil refreshing my mouth and revealing subtle flavours in the food. It was one of those magical wine and food moments you’re lucky to get a few times in your life. I extended my stay another night and spent my time climbing hills examining soils and remarking on the amazing micro-climates along the river’s edge.

Unlike many of my friends I like sweet wine from time to time but I was surprised to learn that in the Rheingau up to 85 per cent of all the wines produced are dry. The subtleties of each vineyard are easily tasted here as there is really only one grape to deal with — Riesling.

I ate as much food and sampled as much wine as possible in the subsequent 24 hours and was continually shocked at how these powerful dry white wines seemed to go with everything I ate — from Schnitzel in paprika and cream sauce to local fish and game dishes.

There really isn’t a better wine to go with food than Riesling and strangely I probably would never have discovered that if you could fly from Calgary to Paris. Lucky me.

Editor’s note: Oops. After going to press with this story we discovered you can indeed fly direct to Paris — via Air Transat. Luckily Kevin didn’t know this or he might not have ended up discovering the abundance of quality wines in the Rheingau. Still apologies for the inaccuracy.