The Wine Drinker

This is the Dead Letter Office of my wine writing. These stories ended up not fitting on our company's Facebook page (Piedmont Wine Imports) or website,, for reasons that I think are clear once you scroll through a few posts. Less professional musings, impressions that ultimately never got past the rough prototype stage. Um... enjoy!

Monday, June 28, 2010

A. Christmann, Pfalz, Germany


Steffen Christmann has a dog named Lola. Her presence made me feel my heart, warm and soft in my chest. I'd traveled a quarter of the way around the globe and hadn't slept yet: it was mid-day in Germany but still the early morning after a sleepless night in the time of my homeland. I would be awake for twelve more hours. Weingut A. Christmann was the first winery I'd visit on a long trip through Europe, and I was greeted at its door by a scruffy amiable old mutt, similar in demeanor and appearance to the one I'd left home without. This was a bit of joy and a good omen on all the business to come.

I tried to focus my fuzzy vision on the place. It was a hazy grey day, not cool or hot. I stood in Lola's courtyard made of clean white walls and damp vibrant spring green almond trees. It was my first day in the Pfalz, and I didn't know what the place would look like. The town was unexceptionally pretty, the landscape rolling and green but not dramatic. For me the Pfalz remained a mostly blank page. Late in our visit Steffen's father took us to a high overlook above their village of Gimmeldingen to improve our sense of the Pfalz. OK, that's France off to our right, not very far away at all. 40km. A ruined castle perched near the vines marked the border until 1835. And the continuous belt of city and industry that spins out most of the new Germany's wealth was mercifully barely beyond view to our left, though I'm certain it would be an orange glow at night. Hard to imagine on this breezy afternoon, with a agrarian elder statesman shepherding us about, that at the edge of his pastoral world begins the grey economy of Mannheim, Frankfurt, Koln. The most densely-populated area of Europe begins on the horizon. In the foreground are only old Riesling vines, stone churches, Lola pooping in the tall grasses of Christmann's organic vineyard. This inevitable action visibly irritated Steffen's father. My taking a picture of the dog pooping in the vineyard irritated him more. It was worth it: it's a really funny picture.

If you are brave, try to drink a lot of Riesling in an advanced stage of sleep deprivation and then fight the urge to make repeated off-color jokes based on the word Gimmeldingen, which people are of course using incessantly. Because it's where you are. In Gimmeldingen. Letlag + glass of wine and a big meal = IQ of an 11-year-old. Christmann's vines are all organic, and each row has attached to it "sexual confusion devices" to remove the threat of certain predatory insects. Chuckle.

There is a deliberate modern minimal feel to the tasting room at Weingut A. Christmann. A few large pieces of art, carefully displayed strata of the region's soil, a long wooden tasting table with expensive handblown Austrian glasses and spit buckets. A frequently encountered object in my life is the expensive spit bucket, carefully designed to be simultaneously fully functional and a little shy about its purpose. Christmann's were made of an almost obaque graphite/black glass, and were relatively curvy and small. Vase-like, not practical for a big event but I'm sure always ample to retain the volume of once-tasted wine generated during private meetings between Steffen and clients in this intimate space. And of course the spit went away through come sort of lid akin to a fast-food sneeze guard, designed to reduce revulsion, and splash-back.

Weingut A Christmann may not be big (130,000 bottles annually is modest) but Steffen is a big deal. He is the head of the VDP, the biggest and most important consortium of quality-minded wine growers in Germany. If the reader of this is lucky enough to be earning a living outside of the wine trade, I should emphasize that head of the VDP makes you a figure of considerable power. He must be something of a political being to ascend to this post. The VDP holds sway over a cloud of contentious issues. As a group of considerable prestige, entrance to or exclusion from the organization can create storms of anger and gossip and public reprisals. Members of the VDP are of course very diverse in their size, methods and goals. Inevitably the group wishes to pull in many directions at once.

Steffen seemed to wear this stress well. He did have to rush to the airport straight from our lunch and tasting (hence the father being shuffled onto the stage for the walkabout kick-the-vines portion of our visit. But he was kind enough to have scheduled a (billed as) light lunch at the on-premise restaurant before our tasting began. Little mercies. The lunch was good, pike and a leafy salad. Light is wasn't, the fish being of the secret-butter type commonly found in fancy restaurants. How could a pretty little circle of fish make me feel so full... undoubtedly a day's dose of dairy hidden in its flesh. At the time I felt duped and a little drugged; as my visits across Germany and Austria began to run together it became clear that this was by local standards a light meal. But that's another story.

After lunch we trudged back across the courtyard to the previously described tasting room / spittin' saloon, to conduct a little proper business. Here's a summary of the best of what we tasted.

2007 Konigsbach SC Riesling The forest behind Gimmeldingen protects this area from bad weather, as does its 400 meter-high hills. This entry-level wine is certainly worth buying, a very auspicious start to the tasting.

09 Pfalz Riesling - Very pretty and concentrated fruit aromas. Pfalz peach in the foreground. All wild yeast. Biodynamic for nine years. 12% alcohol. Some young fruit aroma, akin to watermelon. Sandstone soils impart the apricot/peach aroma.

09 Deidesheimer Paradiesgarten Riesling - Intense oily waxy aroma. Almost over-the-top ripe aroma. Dry finish. Clean, pure mineral on the long finish.

09 Gimmeldinger Biengarten Riesling - More bones less opulent fruit. I enjoy it more at this point in time. Perfect mouthfeel, open and airy with a long mineral finish. 1/2-1 star. Buy.

I have a highly arbitrary star system in my personal notes. About 5% of wines get 1/2 star, and there's a roughly 50% chance I'll buy them if they clear this hurdle. Maybe 1/2 of a percent of wines get one star, and I usually buy them. Once in a blue moon a wine get more than a star, and maybe 3-5 times in the last decade I've gone as far as using two stars, denoting the wine to be a totally transcendent, uniquely mindblowingly awesome delicious wine.

08 Idig GC Riesling Brings to mind Alsatian Grand Crus. Limestone soils. Large barrel. Good palate feel. Enough mineral. Toes the line of too much alchohol but stays fine.

07 Idig GC Riesling - This has more ripe fruit opulence and a bit of petrol aroma. Clean finish, not too alcoholic.

09 Idig GC Rielsing tank sample - Very pleasant.

09 Pfalz Spatburgunder - Very concentrated berry fruit aroma. Going through malo at present. From barrel. Will be bottled in two years. They use very small berries to give tannic structure. Chocolatey full texture. Pretty delicious in the cellar. The do not inoculate for malo.

09 St. Laurent - Wild exotic berry fruit aromas. Brambly. Baking spices. St. Laurent got its name from the saint's day it used to be harvested on. From barrel. Going through malo. Some pure maraschino cherry aroma. Bringht acidity. Pure. 1/2 star.

08 Spatburgunder Pfalz Lean wild fruit aroma. Dry, Alsatian. Lean, not sweet fruit.

07 Spatburgunder Konigsberger Olberg. Harmonious and easy in its appeal.


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