Thursday, 8 March 2012

Spaetburgunder and sauerkraut soup - Ist German Symposium of International Pinot Noirs

Sauerkraut soup at Carpe Diem Cafe -recommended

Ludwig Van B & friend in Bonn's central Platz

Badneuenahr's Lutheran Church

The Ahr on a bright

Badneuenahr -Ahrweiler 24/26 Feburary

A couple of weeks ago, so vivid it could have been yesterday, I spent a delightful long weekend north west of Bonn (birthplace of Beethoven) in the Ahr valley for the first-ever German symposium of International Pinot Noir. Badneuenahr is a charming spa town, solidly bourgeois, of Lutheran rectitude, and so seems a natural home to some of Germany's most cerebral Pinots. Definitely wines for those who prefer pure, tense sensations to powerful fruit bombs. Yet these racy crus of the Ahr belong in the same cradle as fine Volnay and Chambolle with the haunting draw of great Pinot, wines you feel rather than analyse or classify, to borrow Victoria Moore's unbeatable analogy. Nonetheless, in this northern clime, Pinot grown over slate does have as strong appeal to the intellect as to the soul.

Arriving late on friday night, I slept in late at the Dorint Park Hotel, as the symposium did not start till a civilized 11am. As we gathered for coffee in the conference hall, I was glad to see two  familiar faces - my dear friend Charlotte Van Zummeren proprietor of the fine Dutch website and Anne Krebiehl, a daughter of Baden who enlivens London's wine journalism with her sharp mind, bubbling humour and fine turn of phrase.

The saturday all-day session  brought all-embracing tasting presentations from producers from every Pinot Noir region in Germany, as well as the US and New Zealand in all their diversity. My first impressions, later confirmed, were that of the northern territories, the Ahr Pinots definitely stole a march over their counteparts from the Mosel and more surprisingly the south-facing slopes of the Rheingau (pace the great August Kesseler whose Pinots weren't present). Yet in the warmer south of the Palatinate, Franconia and especially Baden, the ripe richness and intensity of  expression was beautifully balanced by finesse and elegance - so much better than the quaffable (no more) PNs of Alsace, westwards across the Rhine, where the enormous yields jeopardize any chance of making fine wine from the minx that is Pinot.

The quality of the speeches was inevitably variable. The palm should go to John Belsham, of Foxes Island Wine, Blenheim NZ for his admirably clear and compelling narrative of the different conditions that shape Pinot growing across New Zealand from Gladstone and Waipara through Marlborough onto Canterbury and Otago. Other speakers did not respect their alloted span.One German journalist went, uncontrolled, way over time to give an surfeit of numbing technical detail, which reminded me of his great nation's one little fault - Wagnerian long-windedness. As the acerbic English novelist Evelyn Waugh sat under the Stuka dive bombers in the Luftwaffe's assault on Crete in 1941, he remarked,  "too loud and too long!" In fairness to grand German musical culture, Waugh for all his genius had a tin ear and could not possibly appreciate the glories of Mozart, Brahms, Richard Strauss and Mahler.

We digress. Saturday's highlight was a gala dinner, where most people dressed  nicely but not too formally. Unlike many of these wine dinners (I remember grisly food once at the Clos Vougeot) the cuisine of master chef Hans Stefan Steinheuser was exquisite, the outstanding dish roe deer cooked in spaetburgunder, with rouennaise sauce that had more than a passing acquaintance with duck's liver. The next morning we had plenty of time to taste at numerous tables. My standouts from the Ahr were Meyer-Nakel in Dernau and Weingut Nelles in Heimersheim; from Franconia the lovely subtle Pinots Of Rudolf Furst; and thanks to the marking of my card by Gert Crum, the Champagne & Burgundy authority, Franz Keller in Kaiserstuhl and Knipser in Johannishof ( Palatinate). Rosy-cheeked, I then ambled across the river for a sustaining and deliciious sauerkraut soup at the Carpe Diem cafe in town. The best comfort after a red wine tasting.

More details in the next post.

the girls at Meyer -Nackel
Sebastian Furst

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