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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Down a Gothic Road, Where the Red Wines Flow

A wine for all days and all occasions 

Just as beautiful with leaves on the ground

We attended a quiet feedfest for eight or ten, in an old, German restaurant we’d never visited. Blasted nuisance tracking the place down, but a quaint find. High-timbers bridged the ceilings.  Candles flickered; scintillating conversation flowed. Without a second thought, and needing a brace from the cold, I ordered some German red wine, a Dornfelder halbtrocken, or half dry.  Some people who haven’t been to Germany in decades, my friends among them, will solemnly swear or affirm: There are no good German reds!  Other lost souls drink nothing but dry wines, the dryer the better.  Unlucky them, bogged in the truth of the past, and blind to the wealth of the present.  German reds can be glorious.  Half dries can be even gloriouser!   Here’s the gospel:  German reds have thrived in the last thirty years.
The wine arrived.  I held it to the light of a candle and a rich ruby glow banished darkness from the corners of the room.  The nose was perfectly balanced.
(Add here, tones of chocolate, hints of sock, eye of newt, any of your favorite pompous wine adjectives). I sipped and murmured an amen to Dionysus, the Greek god of the grape. 
           Through clever conversation and relying on my heavily accented German (Know you this wine the name of and where can I it buy?) I cajoled the waitress into giving up some cherished secrets of the kitchen. Turned out the vintner was about an hour away, in a little town on the Deutche Weinstraße, or German Wine Road.                 
Started in 1935, the wine road is the oldest named wine route in the world and stretches from the French border, south for about 85 kilometers, or 53 miles.  If you haven’t visited, it’s a delight for the eyes and palate, with classic village after classic village, broad acres of well-tended vines, and plenty of chances to stop and taste.  We could have jumped on the autobahn and pushed the chariot to well over a hundred miles an hour.  Could have.  Didn’t.  Instead, we harnessed ourselves to a winding two laner,  following deep valleys, and through tiny towns, including Frankenstein.  Yes, there is such a place, with the castle ruins on a hill overlooking the village, a castle that (supposedly) inspired Mary Shelly to write her famously gothic novel (pub 1818).
            The weingüt, or wine producer we searched for was Karl Dennhardt, who along with his reds, offers some of the finest whites and rosés in the region.  His winemaking facilities are tucked into a spacious old stone barn, on a small and somber street on the outskirts of the town of Neustadt-Mussbach. Vineyards stretch in quiet rows behind the house and barn.   Karl and his wife, both in their eighties, own the vineyards independently, and are almost embarrassingly hospitable.  On the day we shuffled into their tasting room, a group of Germans had beat us to the punch; but in Germany, if there is room at the table, you’re welcome to sit, and in this case, sip. Fifteen or twenty bottles already sat open on the scared oak table.  Lots of whites, but we came for in the reds.  In German and English, a group of about ten tasted, compared, and offered opinions, most of which were lost in translation and the flow of the wine.
            The two most popular red wine varieties in Germany are Spatburgunder (pinot noir) and Dornfelder.  We sipped each and munched pretzels in between.  Mrs. Dennhardt told how most of her family immigrated to the U.S. and sadly have no intention of returning.  She confessed, when she and Karl’s wine making days are over, they’d sell the business.
            Meanwhile, the wines tasted better and better.  The Dennhardts offered some excellent 2005 Cabernets and we purchased a few bottles. Couldn’t resist.  These Cabs tiptoe fragrantly across the taste buds and if you like ‘em dry and flavorful, you’ve found the lost silver mine.  We also brought home a couple of cases of the Pfalz Bereich Mittelhaardt Rotwein halbtrocken, the wine that had led to our journey, and six bottles of a light and bright rosé.  Average cost for all the wines was about six bucks a bottle.
            The morals of the story are, don’t live in the past, unless the past is written on the label, don’t take the autobahn and Vive! those damn good German reds!


  1. I've been through Frankenstein! I remember it well. Truly quaint little valley. But, I'm one of those who steadfastly swear there is no such thing as a good German red wine. Sorry!

    Maybe it was my one experience with winery purchase. It had been a day trip to Baden-Baden. Had a wonderful lunch, similar to what you describe. A fruity Spatburgunder that seemed perfect. Wonder of wonders, the winery was just a few hundred meters down the strasse. Post lunch, taste some of this, some of that, next thing I know I've got half a dozen bocksbeutels of Baden wein and a full case of the Spatburgunder tucked in the trunk.

    The Baden white was wonderful for paint-removal and the Spat worked well for redoing the back bedroom and converting the white draperies into a dark pink window treatment.

    Lesson du jour: don't buy wines after hearty lunch.

  2. Ed, I thoroughly agree, never shop for groceries when you're starving, and never shop for wine when you're drunk!

  3. Hello. fantastic job. I did not expect this. This is a remarkable story. Thanks!
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  4. Thanks, David! So glad you liked it!

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