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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 103 (September 11, 2006)

Thursday, August 31: (continued from last week) ...Got kicked up to Executive Class for the flight to Munich. Am sitting next to a woman who is dripping in fashionable names – Prada, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana. She is also, disconcertingly, wearing a thong which is exposed every time she moves forward and since she is a woman of a certain age this is not a pretty sight. Before take-off a baby a few rows ahead begins to cry. She immediately puts ear plugs in her ears and dons the head set, looking very annoyed. They serve us Drappier champagne before the meal. I order a glass of Baddaginnie Run Shiraz 2002 with the smoked duck starter and MontGras Cabernet Sauvignon of no apparent vintage from Chile with Mushroom & Leek Agnolotti. The wine is corked and I ask for another glass. This is the first time I've sent a bottle back at 39,000 feet. The steward is very enthusiastic and reels off the organoleptic qualities of each wine. Good to see that Air Canada is encouraging its cabin crews to take an interest in wine – or maybe he's a closet alcoholic. Arrive in Munich and change planes for Berlin, a flight of about an hour. I am met at the airport by a young man named Christophe from the Brandenburger Hof hotel in an impressive Chrysler 300C. His English is impeccable, idiomatic and fluent, with a faint American accent. It turns out he was an exchange student and lived in rural Ohio for about 15 months. The family he stayed with, he tells me, were Baptists. He said he grew up in East Berlin in an atheist family. "It taught me tolerance," he said. He is about to take his final university exams, studying Politics & Economics, specializing in North America.

My room is small and very Japanese in its neat, monochromatic minimalism. I sleep for a few hours before joining a press conference with Michael Prinz zu Salm-Salm. There are a few journalists from North America at the table and representatives of the three regions that traditionally have had VDP auctions. They are now integrated into a single auction to be held in Berlin from September 16 to 19 at the DaimlerChrysler building in Potsdamer Platz. We are poured a glass of 1993 Forstmeister Geltz Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Auslese as we listen to explanations of the auction process. The prices fetched for the various wines will fix the price on the general market. The wines offered will be mainly the 2005 vintage. We have a bite to eat – Michekalbsbeuscherl kleine Semmelknödel (delicious but I don't know what I'm eating) followed by Wiener Schnitzel, Kartoffelsalat und Gartenkresse. After the press conference we assemble for a tasting of 31 wines from the pre-auction tasting, mainly 2005 Riesling Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and one Eiswein and a TBA (Trockenbeerenauslese). The 2005 vintage is magnificent. Egon Müller says it is the best vintage he has ever had, comparing it to 1976. "In my opinion our '76s are just starting to be drinkable." Hans-Joachim Zilliken says 2005 has the ripeness of 2003 with the acid structure of 2004. The standouts at the tasting of the 31 wines were those of Egon Müller, his 2005 Wiltinger braune Kupp Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel, 2005 Scharzhofberger Riesling Spätlese and his magnificent 2005 Scharzhofberger Auslese Lange Goldkapsel. Equally good, 2005 Robert Weil Kiedrich Gräfenberg Beerenauslese Goldkapsel. The wines of the night were the last two – Egon Müller 2002 Scharzhofberger Eiswein and Hermann Dönnhoff Neiderhäuser Hermannshöle Trockenbeerenauslese. The journalists were invited to dinner after this tasting, which ended about 8:45. I was exhausted, excused myself and went to bed.

  Inside the glass dome of the Reichstag
  The roof of the Reichstag
  Sidewalk tasting outside the wine shop

Saturday, September 2: A fitful night's sleep in spite of melatonin. Woke around midnight and took a long time to fall back to sleep. Next thing I know it's 9:37 am and I have to be down in the lobby for 10 am for a visit to the Reichstag. Our group of four, two American wine writers, one from Moscow and myself, are shown around by Michael Prinz zu Salm-Salm. Great views of the city from the glass cupola. The opera house, dubbed the "oyster shell" by Berliners, looks exactly like the Saddledome in Calgary. Inside the Reischstag they have preserved the graffiti scribbled on the walls by Russian soldiers in 1945. On to an outdoor tasting at a wine store of eight producers whose products are set up on barrels on the sidewalk.

Tasted some 25 wines from Gerhard Aldinger (Württemberg), J.J. Adenauer (Ahr), Reichsrat von Buhl (Pfalz), Franz Künstler (Rheingau), Jakob Jung (Rheingau) and Salwey (Baden) before walking over to the Kollwitz Market at Prenzlauer Berg for a traditional Berlin snack of Currywurst und Champus – a deep-fried sausage with a thick tomato-based curry sauce and a glass of Sekt. At three o'clock, a taxi to Kulturforum at Potsdamer Platz to a terrific exhibit of Rembrandt paintings. Back to the hotel and into black tie for a formal dinner. The American ambassador, William Timken Jr., is the guest of honour and I run into Jim Clenenden of Au Bon Climat, whose Chardonnay is to be served at dinner. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs and Burgerspial zum Heiligen Geist Pinot Cuvée Brut are the sparkling wines served. The menu features Californian produce, each course served with two wines:

  • Smoked Alaska salmon and nutmeg pumpkin with Kruger-Rumpf Weisser Burgunder "S" 2004 (Nahe) and Rebholz Muskateller Kabinett trocken 2005 (Pfalz)
  • Scallops and California walnuts, pineapple and cilantro with Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett 1990 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, the wine of the night) and Robert Weil Kiedricher Gräfenberg Riesling Spätlese 2004 (Rheingau)
  • Maine Lobster l'americaine with Burg Ravensburger Löchle Grauburgunder Grosses Gewächs 2004 (Baden) and Jim Clendenen Chardonnay "Mont Carmel" 2002)
  • Fillet of Bison and Shortrib of Wagyu Beef "Don Morgan," maple syrup, sweet corn and wild herbs with Weingut des Grafen Neipperg Schwaigerner Ruthe Lemberger Grosses Gewächs 2004 (Baden) and Salwey Oberrotweiler Eichberg Spätburgunder "RS" trocken 2004 (Baden)
  • Desserts Cranberries and Tahiti-Vanilla, Warm Chocolate cake and cranberries, Soup and sorbet of cranberries and Charcoal melted goat cheese and baked potatoes and Gaperon, cranberry chutney (must be cranberry season) with Weingut Groebe Westhofener Kirchspeil Riesling Auslese 2005 (Rheinhessen), Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Josephshöfer Riesling Beerenauslese 1989 (Saar), Ratzenberger Bacharacher Wolfhöhle Riesling Eiswein 2004 (Mittelrhein) and Hansjörg Rebholz X-Periment Likörwein
  The tasting at the DaimlerChrysler Building, Berlin
  Nik Weis, winemaker at St. Urbans-Hof

Sunday, September 3: The breakfasts at the Brandenberger Hof are amazing. They bring you three plates of cold cuts, cheeses, vegetables and savoury pastries on a stand, along with muesli, little containers of yoghurt and whipped liver pâté or potato salad and sausage. There is also a fruit buffet and sweet rolls and you can order eggs and bacon, omlettes, pancakes and maple syrup or fish. I need as much sustenance as I can get to face this morning's tasting at 11 o'clock. Chris Stilliman, a New York wine writer who publishes 10 Nice Wines for Around $10, and I share a cab over to the DaimlerChrysler building for Gutswein.

One hundred and fifteen VDP wine producers are pouring their wines that will be auctioned later this month. There are 600 wines for tasting from the 13 German regions. Plus a table of California wines with Jim Clendenen's Au Bon Climat, Shug, Morgan, Shafer and Ridge, manned by a representative of the local California Wine Institute. Joel Paine, who wrote Planet Riesling and lives in Germany, marked our dance cards, telling us what not to miss. We have to pay 5 euros deposit for our tasting glass and some tasters will not get it back, as the sound of glasses hitting the marble floor punctuated the proceedings.

I really don't like these table top tastings especially in a crowded room. Spent a long time talking to Nik Weis, the winemaker at St. Urbans Hof on the Mosel. Tasted a lot of trocken wines. My feeling is that if you want to make trocken wines they have to be of at least Spätlese quality, a sentiment shared by Nik. "Sweetness," he says, "belongs to Mosel wines as bubbles to champagne." By 4 pm I am tasted out. When I count up the number of wines I tasted it comes to 75, plus several at the California table that I didn't mark off in my tasting book. It confirms what a magnificent vintage 2005 is, especially for Riesling and Spätburgunder. But I am exhausted and Chris and I have been invited to the 20th anniversary dinner of HADES at the Reichstag. HADES is an acronym of five producers in Württemberg, the first region in German to use barriques. Actually it should have two S's, since Staadtsweingut Weibger is al so a member. The other five are Fürst Hohenlohe in Öhringen, Graf Adelmann in Kleinbottwar, Drauz-Able in Heilbron, Jürgen Ellwanger in Winterbach and Sonnenhof in Gündelbach. I visited these wineries the year they set up their association in 1986. There are six reception wines set out as we arrive. I taste the Sauvignon Blanc 2005 from Drautz-Able, a delicious wine as was their Jodokus Rotwein Trocken, an interesting blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Dornfelder cross, Dornfelder, Lemberger and 2% Merlot! The oak was judiciously handled but I found it overpowering in many of the other wines, especially the whites. A master sommelier with a high-pitched voice spoke interminably, three times during the seven-course meal (with two wines for each course). His harangue was obviously too much for one couple – the man proposed to his date, much to the delight of the assembled company when it was announced.

  Memorial garden in the Jewish Museum; olive trees grow out of the concrete pillars
  A part of the Berlin Wall kept for historical reasons

Monday, September 4: A miserable night. Didn't fall asleep until after 2:15 am. Could it have been the intake of alcohol? Breakfast at 9 am with Chris, who leaves for New York this morning, but I was up by 7 am. There is a two-page story in the Europe edition of The Wall Street Journal about William Koch, the wealthy collector who spent $1,000,000 to research the four Thomas Jefferson bottles (1784 and 1787) only to find that they are fakes. Koch alleges that Hardy Rodenstock, the German collector and dealer who sold them to him for $500,000, defrauded him, and is filing a suit in federal court against him. I used to drool over the stories in the Wine Spectator of the tastings of pre-phylloxera wine Rodenstock put on in Munich. On my own for the day. Time to discover Berlin. I walk over to KaDeWe, the huge department store on seven floors that out-Harrods Harrods. The food and wine departments on the sixth floor are I amazing. The only Canadian producer I could find was Mission Hill, with three wines. Then I take a city bus tour that allows me to get off at various stops and hop on the next bus. Visit Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum, a puzzling building architecturally, but the artifacts displayed make it a moving experience...

It amazes me how many young people smoke in Berlin. Back at the hotel by 3:30 pm and sleep till 5 pm. Walking from the hotel in search of somewhere to eat I run into Jim Clenenden and we go for a drink at the Swiss Hotel – my first beer of the trip. Then to dinner at a local Italian restaurant. I order a pizza and a bottle of Fra Giacomo Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2002. Jim has a pasta dish, salad and veal liver that arrive at the same time. A nightcap in Jim's room, a half bottle of Kreber Blauer Spätburgunder 2003.

Tuesday, September 5: A 7 am alarm call, pack and take the Chrysler 300C to the airport for the flight to Munich. On the Munich-Toronto leg I used a voucher to get into Executive Class. The MontGras Cabernet was corked again. I think it must be a barrel problem for that wine. Arrived home at 4 pm to a riotous, tongue-washing welcome from Pinot the Wonder Dog. For dinner, a bottle of Henry of Pelham Baco Noir Reserve 2004 with chicken.

Wednesday, September 6: Last night I went to bed at 10:30 pm Toronto time (4:30 am my body time) and slept until 7 am. Recorded my 680 NEWS reviews and went on to lunch with Wendy Cheropita of Diageo at Vertical (which used to be The Tasting Rooms). Joe, the co-owner, poured me a glass of La Riva dei Frati Prosecco. Excellent food. I had calamari in red wine sauce followed by Ahi tuna and a half bottle of Malivoire Pinot Noir 2004. Plowed through the emails (what a lot of garbage I get). A lentil salad for dinner with a couple of glasses of Deakin Estate Chardonnay 2005 from Victoria, Australia.

Thursday, September 7: Finally got through the emails. Wrote a piece for based on an interview with Thomas Bachelder, the winemaker at Le Clos Jordanne, on the terroir of the Niagara Escarpment. I love his enthusiasm. Am looking forward to the official opening of the winery next month – and to hear if the Frank Gehry's design for the winery will ever be built.

Friday, September 8: The tasting for the second half of the Vintages October release, another big one. No Zoltan Szabo to help me out here – he's in Hong Kong. For dinner, a bottle of Southbrook Winery Cabernet Merlot 2002 with pork loin.




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