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Canada Takes Its Wines to Germany (November 21, 2001)

Last month Governor General Adrienne Clarkson paid a state visit to Germany. I was fortunate to be included as a member of the Canadian delegation that accompanied her. In addition to the artists, playwrights, filmmakers, politicians and political thinkers, a group of seven of us represented Canadian wines. And of course we took along a goodly selection of vinous products from Ontario and British Columbia.

Coals to Newcastle? You might think so, but the reception we got at tastings and formal dinners where are wines were served ranged from the incredulous ("You make wine in Canada!") to the rapturous ("But this is as good as our Riesling!")

His Excellency John Ralston Saul, the Governor General's husband, takes a keen interest in wine and particularly Canadian wine. Under his stewardship of the official residence at Rideau Hall, the cellar has been rigorously Canadianized – to the point where some restaurateurs grumble that H.E. has snapped up the entire production of some of the best wines made in this country. (See "Canada's First CEllar" in my Wine Bar articles.) Here's an account of the week in Germany:

Sunday, October 21:
When our military airbus entered German airspace at night we were escorted into Dresden airport by two F4 fighter jets on our wingtips. The next morning our wine group flew to Frankfurt from where a bus took us to Nackenheim to lunch with Fritz and Agnes Hasselbach, the proprietors of Gunderloch. The highlight of our tasting was a 2000 Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling Auslese (light-bodied but richly extracted, honeyed grapefruit with a slatey note) and the 1999 vintage of the same wine (unctuous, sweet peach, honey and red grapefruit, broader and fleshier than the more elegant 2000). The crowning touch was Hasselbach's amazing dessert wines – 1999 Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling Beerenauslese (very fresh, sweet red grapefruit, wonderfully balanced), the incredible Balbach Nierstein Oelberg Riesling Eiswein 1999 (honeyed apricot, so light and elegant it danced on the palate) and the 2000 vintage of the same wine (unctuous, intense and syrupy with tart acidity, not yet together but promises well for the future).

That afternoon we drove on to the Schloss Westerhaus winery at Ingelheim in the Rheinhessen, where we were greeted by Dr. Henz von Opal, a board member of the VDP (Germany's association of fine wine producers). After a glass of Sekt and a tour of grounds of the old castle dating back to the thirteenth century, we adjourned to the tasting room for a comparative tasting of Canadian whites, reds and Icewines alongside those of our host.

This was not merely an "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" operation. There were discussions about wine quality and particularly the mutual need to promote the Riesling grape on a global basis.

This theme was taken up in earnest the next day when we visited Balthasar Ress at Hattenheim in the Rheingau.

Monday, October 22:
At a round table discussion with Armin Göring, president of the German Wine Growers Association, its Secretary General, Dr. Rudolph Nickenig, and other German winegrowers, we discussed the recent recognition of the international Icewine standard and perceptions of quality. At one point John Ralston Saul referred to Chardonnay as "the Perrier of international relations…there is an enormous education to be done about how good dry Riesling is." This brought the topic around to Riesling and the need to rejuvenate its image. All of which made the group quite thirsty so we repaired to the tasting room to sample Stephan Ress' wines and those of his colleagues alongside a selection of Canadian wines. At lunch in the nearby Kronen Schlösschen Hotel restaurant Stephan Ress produced a bottle of 1989 Balthazar Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Auslese that offered minerally, honeyed notes of dried apricots and toasted limes. An amazing wine that complemented the 1994 vintage of the same wine we had before lunch.

We drove on to the Geisenheim Research Institute to discuss grape varieties they had propagated that might be useful in our cool climate. Dr. Ernst Rühl, Geisenheim's director, who succeeded the late Dr. Helmut Becker, showed us around the institute's experimental vineyard. The most interesting variety I found was Rondo, a red that produced in 2000 a dense purple-black wine that tastes of plums and prunes with a floral grace note.

The interesting thing about the Geisenheim cellar is that all their wines produced from varieties they have propagated, dating back to 1973, are under SCREWCAPS.

Wednesday, October 24:
East Berlin. The most happening place in Germany; all the smart hotels and restaurants are on this side, including The Four Seasons Hotel, where we stayed, and Restaurant Guy, where we had a table-top tasting for wine writers, sommeliers and restaurateurs. We set up at several tables each manned by a member of the wine delegation: Riesling table – Lloyd Schmidt, viticulturalist; Chardonnay table – Gary Koestler, Deputy Director, International Trade Policy Directorate Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Blanc table – Harry McWatters, President of Sumac Ridge Winery (BC); Pinot Noir table – Sinclair Philip, proprietor of Sooke Harbour House (BC); Red varietals table – Tony Smyth, Deputy Secretary, Protocol office at Rideau Hall; Red blends – Paul Speck, president of Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery (Ontario). I opted for the hot corner – the Icewine and dessert wine table, curious to see what German wine professionals would say about our sweet wines (see below).

Thursday, October 25:
The wine group flies to Cologne and then buses to the Ahr – "the Arctic Circle of German winemaking" as our guide described it – about two hours away to visit a co-operative in the village of Mayschoss. The vineyards are so steep here (60 degree angle in some places) they need chairlifts to pick. The Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) were a real revelation here, especially those from a co-op. The Mayschosser Edition Ponsart No. 10 Goldkapsel Spätburgunder Trocken 1999 had good depth of colour, a slatey, cherry nose with a spicy note, firm yet velvety on the palate, while the co-op's Selection 12 Spätburgunder Trocken 1999 was more Burgundian in style, with a barnyard note on the nose, firm and tannic with raspberry and pencil lead flavours, a really powerful wine at 13.5% alcohol.

Friday, October 26:
Düsseldorf. A trip by boat down the Mosel as a prelude to another large tasting for wine writers, sommeliers and restaurateurs in Cologne at the Fischers InC Galerie, a restaurant run by Astrid Müllers who has her own wine show on TV. The East Berlin tasting was replicated before an even more sophisticated and wine-knowledgeable crowd. Here are some of the responses from the different tables.

Lloyd Schmidt on Riesling: "If they picked up the bottle I knew it was the one they like. We used up all of Henry of Pelham and Vineland Estates."

Gary Koestler on Chardonnay: "The response was night and day between Berlin and Cologne. In Berlin they like Chardonnay as long as it tasted like Riesling. Here they thought the wines were well balanced and that the best table was Chardonnay. The Daniel Lenko Old Vines Chardonnay 1999 was most appreciated along with the Hillebrand Trius' Lakeshore' Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay 1998. There weren't too many comments about too much oak as there were in Berlin."

Harry McWatters on Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Blanc: "In Cologne they weren't offended by the level of oak as they were in Berlin. They were very polite and volunteered only positive comments. They were much more receptive to Pinot Blanc than to Sauvignon because they could relate to it. They gravitated to the wines they knew."

Sinclair Philip on Pinot Noir: "They were very, very interested in Pinot Noir. They liked older wines with less tannin and less oak. One woman said 'I'm having trouble spitting. I can drink but not spit because of the trouble you've taken.'"

Tony Smyth on Red varietals: "They preferred the fruit-driven wines not with overpowering oak."

Paul Speck on Blended reds: "We had favourable reaction to our Bordeaux blends in both places, but more favourably in Cologne. Some tasters thought the wines had too much oak but they were shocked and surprised by the amount of extract we had in the reds. They were all pretty good wines but the two that got the most comment were Thirty Bench and Henry of Pelham."

Icewines/Dessert wines: At my table they were really impressed by both the Late Harvest and the Icewines. They recognized them as being different from the Rhine and Mosel styles and were intrigued by the power and voluptuousness of the flavours, especially the wines produced in Ontario which had better acid balance.

Saturday, October 27:
Our wine group heads off to the Mosel to visit St. Urbans-Hof winery in Leiwen, owned by Hermann Weiss, who created Vineland Estates in Ontario in 1982 and subsequently sold it to John Howard. We tasted a series of Rieslings from their vineyards in Leiwen, Piesport and Ockfen. Highlights were the Ockfener Bockstein Spätlese 200 (ripe, floral and peachy nose, elegant, well balanced grapefruit zest flavour), Piesporter Goldtröpchen Auslese 2000 (honeyed peach, lively green apple acidity, great balance – 8% alcohol), Leiwener Laurentiuslay Auslese 1975 (spicy, petrol and honey nose, elegant grapefruit and mineral flavour, lovely acidity) and, perhaps the best wine of the trip, Ockfener Bockstein Eiswein 1998 (deeply coloured, dried apricot, honey and white chocolate; intense, unctuous mouth feel, youthful with great balance and length).

The final winery was S. A. Prum, on the banks on the Mosel. We were greeted with a Wehlener Sonnenuhr Sekt made from Pinot Blanc (dry and peachy) followed by a tasting of Rieslings, the most interesting of which was the 1996 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese (spicy grapefruit, mineral notes with a peachy middle taste, already showing some maturity with petrol notes.)

Some final thoughts:

  • Germany is the world's largest wine market.
  • They import 50% of all the wines they consume
  • Their own production comes from 100,000 hectares of vines in 13 appellations.
  • 75% of production is white, 25% red.
  • They export 20% of their production to Europe, 5% to the US and 2% to Canada.

THE CANADIAN CELLAR (taken to Germany)

Riesling

  • 1999 Cave Spring Cellars CSV (Best Ontario White)
  • 2000 Hernder Estate 2000 Millenium (2001 Air Ontario Gold)
  • 1998 Henry of Pelham Riesling Reserve (2001 All-Canadian Gold)
  • 1999 Saturna Island (Best Dry Riesling 2001 All-Canadian)
  • 2000 Quails Gate Dry Riesling
  • 1999 Vineland Riesling

Chardonnay

  • 1998 Hillebrand Trius "Lakeshore" Barrel Fermented (2001 Chardonnay duMonde Silver Chaintre France)
  • 1999 Daniel Lenko Old Vines French Oak (2001 All-Canadian Silver)
  • 1998 Quails Gate Family Reserve (2001 Chardonnay du Monde Silver Chaintre France)
  • 1999 Sumac Ridge Private Reserve (2001 All Canadian Wine of the year & Best Chard.)
  • 1999 Henry of Pelham Barrel-Fermented (2001 All-CanadianGold)

Sauvignon Blanc / Pinot Blanc

  • 1999 Jackson Triggs Proprietors Reserve Pinot Blanc
  • 1998 Sumac Ridge Pinot Blanc (2001 All-Canadian Gold)
  • 2000 Cave Spring Sauvignon Blanc (2001 All-Canadian Gold)
  • 1998 Hester Creek Signature Release Pinot Blanc (2001 All-Canadian Gold)
  • 2000 Peninsula Ridge Sauvignon Blanc

Pinot Noir

  • 1998 Quails Gate Family Reserve
  • 1996 Sumac Ridge Private Reserve
  • 1998 Cedar Creek Platinum Reserve (2001 Okanagan Spring Gold)
  • 1998 Henry Of Pelham (2001 All-Canadian Gold)
  • 1998 Inniskillin Founders Reserve (2001 Pro-Wein Gold Dusseldorf)
  • 1999 Daniel Lenko (2001 Air Ontario Gold)

Red Single Varietal

  • 1998 Burrowing Owl Merlot (2001 All-Canadian Best Red )
  • 1998 Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc (2001 All-Canadian Gold)
  • 1998 Jackson-Triggs BC Grand Reserve Merlot (2001 All-Canadian Bronze)
  • 1998 Pillitteri Cabernet Franc Family Reserve (2001 Cuvee Best of Show)
  • 1998 Peller Estate Cabernet Franc Barrel-Aged Signature Series

Red Blend

  • 1998 Sumac Ridge Meritage Black Sage Vineyard (Double Gold San Francisco International)
  • 1998 Henry of Pelham Cabernet Merlot (2001 Toronto Wine Gold and Best of Show)
  • 1998 Cave Spring Cabernet Merlot (2001 All-Canadian Gold)
  • 1998 Inniskillin Meritage ( 2001 Air Ontario Gold)
  • 1997 Thirty Bench Reserve Blend

Dessert/Ice Wine

  • 1999 Cave Spring Cellars Indian Summer
  • 1999 Konzelmann Icewine (2001 All-Canadian Gold)
  • 1997 Sumac Ridge Pinot Blanc Icewine
  • 1998 Henry of Pelham BA Riesling 2001 Air Ontario Silver)
  • 1998 Jackson Triggs BC Icewine G.R. Riesling
  • 1998 Quails Gate Riesling Icewine
  • 1999 Inniskillin Riesling Icewine

 

 

 

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