Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cats and Muscat

Still suffering from withdrawal symptoms from the Tour and dealing with the recent job news. I have a piece on my Mosel visits in process, but for now, cats.

Heidi Schrock Muscat '08. The importer says: At first the Sauv-Blanc is prominent – somehow – and Muscat is a high note imposed atop it, but this shifts with each sniff, growing catty here and orange-blossomy there; a creamy hologram of shifting exotic flowery spice that leads into a white-pepper finish.

I say: Hard to know exactly why this has been a comfort wine for me. Note the past tense,  as this seems to be my last bottle. I can agree on orange blossom and white pepper, but more importantly, this is in simplest terms, a happy wine for me. Said importer once wrote in an email, "that wine’s a lot of fun," and some nights that is enough. Especially when the Red Sox have just gone up 10-2 on my TV.

And speaking of cats and comfort, the pride:

Violet on the left, Willow in the middle, and Oolong on the right.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tour de France Stage 21
From LeTour: “It has been the tradition since 1975 for the Tour de France to end with a prestigious stage finish on the Champs-Élysées. At the start in Créteil, we will remember Laurent Fignon, who held a licence with the local club. In 1989, his duel with Greg LeMond maintained the suspense right to the finish, where Fignon was sure that he would be the winner. That was the only occasion that the final stage was run as a time trial. Every other time, it has been a road stage that has been decided in a bunch sprint, except on four occasions. Those exceptions were the victories taken by Alain Meslet in 1977, Bernard Hinault in 1979, Eddy Seigneur in 1994 and Alexandre Vinokourov in 2005. It is incredibly hard to get a telling gap on this stage when breakaway riders are always within sight of the peloton.”

We have reached the end. Three weeks, thousands of miles and a compete disruption of my sleep schedule have come to their expected conclusion--a dramatic sprint along the Champs-Élysées. I have said this before, but my love of the sport stems from coincidentally being in Paris for the final day of the tour in 1998. I was charmed. Each year since, I have said that I will return to watch. It hasn't happened yet, but as they say: There is always next year.

The day began with the four jersey holders (Evan, Cavendish, Sanchez and Rolland) at the front, along with the two Norwegians, Thor Hushovd and Edvald Boasson Hagen, for a moment of silence to honor the victims of the recent tragedies in Norway. 167 riders started today, which means that 31 have dropped out along the way, many due to crashes. A special shout out to one of my favorites with a stat that amazes me: Riding in his 16th race, George Hincapie has now ridden for NINE tour winning teams, seven with Lance Armstrong, one with Contador and today for Evans. Fingers crossed that he comes back next year to complete what would be a record setting 16th tour as he did not finish his first attempt. 

Next up was one of the scenes I have come to expect: The yellow jersey wearer drinking champagne on the stage. Indeed, a glass was passed from the team car to Evans. I wondered, as always, exactly which champagne?

Meanwhile, back in the race, it was time for some actual racing as teams struggled to get riders into a break. That established, it was time for the intermediate sprint point. Important of course, because unlike the other jersey wearers who were enjoying a relaxed day, Cavendish's green jersey was still in play. With six riders up the road, Cavendish easily took the seventh place, padding his lead slightly. However, rather quickly afterwards he flatted, adding additional drama as he had to use some energy to catch back on as the tv coverage treated us to the beauty of Paris. 
As expected, the teams with stage win dreams came to the front, intent on bringing the break back in time for some final drama. And: Cavendish! The stage win, number 20 for him, and the green jersey after yet another brilliant performance by team HTC. Now I can hope that Cavendish and Renshaw remain together next year.

Stage: Mark Cavendish
Yellow and our winner: Cadel Evans

Wine: As is tradition, champagne: H. Billiot "Brut Reserve"

From the importer (I'm not objective, but will say that his book is a joy. Note that a paperback edition is coming with fall with a new preface): 

Henri Billiot at a glance: 100% Grand Cru, particularly satisfying Pinot Noir here. Fresh, bracing red-grape Champagnes with long, swollen mid-palate flavors. Just 5 hectares in size, so availabilities are scarce!  How the wines taste: Billiot does not filter his wines, and they never undergo malolactic fermentation. That makes them very frisky and reductive when they’re first disgorged, and occasionally a Billiot bottle will show a slightly metallic aroma for the first few minutes. That’s rare and nil if you hold the wines six months after disgorgement. Billiot seems to want liveliness most of all, as he can presume upon lavish and deep fruit flavors.
 If you know the wines of Egly-Ouriet (Billiot’s friend and neighbor) they couldn’t be more different. Egly pulls  you down into its mealy-ripe depths; Billiot lifts you up on a billowing fountain of fruit. His wines have marvelous stamina and brightness. They’re hedonistic but not sloppy. Too firm and impeccable to be sloppy! 

My thoughts: I actually consulted with said importer, as I was deciding between this and another bottle. He said "Billiot if you want something full and sumptuous" and as this is a day of celebration, that sounded just about right.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tour de France Stage 20 The Time Trial

After almost three weeks on the roads of France, it all came down to the time trial. A fitting end for a tour that has been unpredictable from the start. For those not familar with cycling's unofficial rules, the final stage of the Tour de France is a mainly ceremonial ride through Paris, with only the final sprint truly contested. So as the time trial started this morning, it was up Cadel Evans to make 57 seconds on Andy Schleck to win yellow. Most, myself included, expected that he would. In my case, I will even admit to yelling encouragements at the tv as he rode along.

Evans had a virtually perfect ride. Shortly after the first time check, he already held the virtual race lead and the lead only grew from there. Sunday, he will become the first Australian ever to win the Tour de France. Andy Schleck has now finished second in the Tour de France three times (well, depending upon the results of the Contador inquiry. 

In the battle for the stage victory, well, Fabian Cancellara did not win. Rather, Tony Martin did. Evans finished second, just 7 seconds behind. Alberto Contador in a last-ditch effort to finish on the podium  or perhaps simply to win the stage, finished third.

And a story from twitter: (Millarmind is the twitter handle of cyclist David Millar)
If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
In team car being driven to hotel. Chatting to VdV & spot cyclist on autoroute ahead, dressed in full Europcar kit. Looks oddly familiar.
Chat stops, tell car to slow. As we pass have time to look into eyes of a tired and broken Voeckler. Tragic doesn't come close to describe.
1 Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad 0:55:33
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:07
3 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:01:06
4 Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:01:29
5 Richie Porte (Aus) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:01:30
6 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:33
7 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:01:37
8 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Leopard Trek 0:01:42
9 Peter Velits (Svk) HTC-Highroad 0:02:03
10 Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne

Current GC:
1 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 83:45:20
2 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:01:34
3 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:02:30
4 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 0:03:20
5 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:03:57
6 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:04:55
7 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:06:05
8 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:07:23
9 Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:08:15
10 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:10:11

Wine: I had plans for something French, I really did. But, while champagne is not negotiable for tomorrow,  today I could open something Australian : Torbreck Barossa 06 The Struie

From their website: The Eden Valley lies within the Barossa Range and consists of river valleys and undulating hills covered with large gums, rocky outcrops and Aboriginal sites. It is a high-altitude area of between 400 and 500 metres, compared with the Barossa Valley's elevation of 200 to 300 metres. This higher altitude, with its (one to two weeks) later ripening pattern, results in more distinctive varietal flavour characteristics, lower pH and higher acidities. Whilst the Eden Valley region is most associated with the white wine variety, Riesling, it produces elegant, tautly structured Shiraz which is highly prized by winemakers.
This Torbreck Shiraz cuvée from the cooler climate, higher altitude vineyards of Eden Valley is skillfully blended with fruit from Barossa Valley which traditionally provides greater richness and intensity. A blend of 44 year old Eden Valley Shiraz vines and 80 year old Barossa Shiraz, The Struie is aged for 18 months in a combination of old and new French oak barriques prior to bottling.

I say: Not a bad trade I made, as this is lovely. Dark berries, vanilla and cocoa. A long finish with integrated tannins. I probably could have aged this for a while to come, but it is breathing now and tonight, I'll celebrate Cadel's win with this and a steak from Prather Ranch.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tour de France Stage 19 Alpe d'Huez

Well, now. That was not a day to sleep through the alarm. Luckily, Oolong is very reliable. She bites my feet every morning around 4:30.

General Classification
  1. Andy Schleck
  2. Fränk Schleck :53
  3. Cadel Evans  :57
  4. Thomas Voeckler  2:10
  5. Damiano Cunego  3:31
  6. Alberto Contador  3:55
  7. Samuel Sánchez  4:22
  8. Ivan Basso 4:40
  9. Tom Danielson  7:11
  10. Pierre Rolland 8:57
The stage started very quickly with an early attack from Alberto Contador, followed by Andy Schleck, on the first climb of the day - the Col du Télégraphe. It looked like this might be the end of the yellow jersey hopes for Cadel Evan,s as he was clearly struggling, and eventually needed a bike change. 

However, after another fine piece of riding by Evans and a few teammates, the main contenders were back together at the base of the storied Alpe. Contador went on the attack again on the steep early slopes.  This looked like a winning move, but Pierre Rolland had other plans. Rolland, who has been a super domestique all tour for Thomas Voeckler chased back on, joined by Samuel Sanchez. Rolland then surged forward with a late attack that earned him the stage victory. Sánchez finished second and secured the mountains polka-dot jersey, with Contador finishing third.  

Behind the trio was a fierce battle for yellow. Thomas Voeckler, who clearly struggled all day, was dropped, showing his displeasure with a water bottle toss.  Meanwhile, Cadel Evans tried several times to shake the Schleck brothers, but was unable to gain any time. Andy Schleck now leads the general classification, his brother Fränk is second at :53, and Cadel Evans is in third just  :57 seconds back. This sets up tomorrow's time trial as one of the most exciting in years. Evans is clearly a better time trialist than either Schleck, but can he make up enough time to take yellow?

Wine: More Savoie, the Château de Ripaille Chasselas 

From the importer, a history worth reading:
There was a Roman villa with vines on the grounds from the first to the fourth centuries. Bonne de Bourbon built a hunting lodge here at the end of the 14th century. The area surrounding the Château de Ripaille was used as the hunting grounds for the Comtes de Savoie and eventually became their preferred place of residence. In 1434, Amédée VIII, the first Duc de Savoie who later became the last antipope in the history of the Catholic Church and reigned as Felix V from 1439 to 1449, built the château. It originally had seven towers, of which four still exist. At the end of the 15th century the property was occupied by invading Swiss, and records show that they sent wine in barrel back to Berne.
The château became the center of the brilliant culture of the Savoie. After the wars of the reformation,  Ripaille became for two centuries a Carthusian monastery, protected from the world by its formidable walls. After the French Revolution, the estate was sold to Général Dupas of Evian who retired there after the Napoleonic wars. In 1892, the site, in ruin, was restored and rehabilitated by Frédéric Engel-Gros of Mulhouse. With the help of noted architect Charles Schule and ten years of painstaking work, the château was restored to the condition in which it is found today. The château itself, once standing in ruin, was renovated in a style of a remarkable combination of Medieval and Art Nouveau. Their descendents, the Necker-Engel family, still own the Château de Ripaille. 
In 1976, Madame Harold Necker, with government assistance, created the Ripaille foundation to conserve and maintain its legacy. Ripaille was designated in 1994 by the National Culinary Arts Council as one of the 100 sites remarquables du goût in France.

The château is surrounded by 21 hectares (52 acres) of vines, which produce about 160,000 bottles of wine a year. The vineyards are on fairly flat ground, which gently slopes toward the lake. The soil is stony, with sun-baked glacial deposits, mostly limestone. All the vines on the property are of the Chasselas variety. Chasselas is the oldest known grape variety, originally coming from Egypt where records indicate its presence 5,000 years ago. Harvest is done manually at the château, and the wine is aged in stainless-steel. All the wine goes through malolactic fermentation. The resultant wine is pale in color with an intriguing nose that combines creamy mineral notes with a touch of quinine. The wine is medium-bodied, with additional hints of lime, almond and dried peach.

I say: Again from Greg Borden at Cheese Plus. I'm going to miss the Savoie. At $11.99 this is another bargain, though yesterday's wine was more to my taste. Round and creamy with enough mineral to keep it interesting.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tour de France Stage 18 Back to France

From LeTour: “We return to France and there are three very big cols on the menu. The Agnel will be tackled for the first time ever from this side, then there’s the Izoard and its legendary Casse Déserte, followed by the Galibier. This will be our chance to celebrate the centenary of this mythic climb’s first appearance on the race route back in the 1911 Tour de France. In addition, the finish, located at an altitude of 2,645 metres, will be the highest in the race’s history. It will remove from the history books the place held since 1986 by the 2,413m Col du Granon. This stage will certainly see a match-up between all those riders who are in contention for the overall title, as will the stage the following day. Whoever is leading the race runs the risk of succumbing to such physical demands.”

Well now, that was a bike ride with some very interesting tactics. Attacks were expected and indeed they came. Andy Schleck won the stage after attacking on the penultimate climb of the day, the Col d'Izoard. To my surprise, his competitors let him go and he gained valuable time.
Frank Schleck and Cadel Evans finished second and third, after Evans towed, with essentially no help at all, the leaders group up the Galibier to turn keep things much closer than it looked like they would be. Ivan Basso crossed the line fourth. Thomas Voeckler continued to defy expectations by holding on for 5th on the stage. He may want to thank Evans for the assist.
The story of the day was the change in the GC (see below) and the cracking of Alberto Contador on the final climb. Can he improve tomorrow or is the knee injury combined with the Giro miles too much?
My rides of the day: Andy, Cadel and Voeckler, all impressive. The question on every one's mind now is will these riders pay for their efforts tomorrow as it is another day in the Alps.
Also via Podium Cafe:
Mark Cavendish retained the Green Jersey, but not without a bit of drama. The grupetto finished outside the time cut, but because the group numbered some eighty riders, the race jury applied the 20% rule and allowed them to continue the race. If 20% of the race field is outside the limit, they will not be time cut, according to the rules. The race jury did apply a 20 point penalty to the riders in the group. Cavendish now leads the points classification by 15 points over JJ Rojas. 

General Classification
  1. Thomas Voeckler
  2. Andy Schleck :15
  3. Fränk Schleck 1:08
  4. Cadel Evans  1:12
  5. Damiano Cunego  3:46
  6. Ivan Basso  3:46
  7. Alberto Contador  4:44
  8. Samuel Sánchez  5:20
  9. Tom Danielson  7:08
  10. Jean-Christophe Péraud  9:27

Wine:  Le Cellier du Palais Apremon
100% Jacquere, another Greg Borden suggestion
 Charles Neal: The property surrounding Le Cellier du Palaishas been in the Bernard family since 1700. Bottling at the domaine started two generations ago; Rene took over for his father in 1974, and his daughter, Béatrice, has now taken over the vinification. Their small vineyard is scattered over just 7 hectares. Some of these have a subsoil very rich in chalk, others with decomposed glacial deposits. The Bernards have three grapes planted, Jacquère, Altesee and Chardonnay.
Béatrice works her vines according to the practices of lutte raisonée keeping treatments to the absolute minimum while organically working the soil to promote healthy support for the vines. Some leaf plucking and green harvesting helps to maximize the concentration of the remaining grapes.The harvest is done by hand by a small team of workers. A gentle pressing is followed by a cold fermentation in an effort to guard the maximum aromas of the grapes. Afterwards the wine stays sur lie for between 4 and 10 months, depending on the cuvée. The wines do not undergo malolactic fermentation, so that they retain their bright, refreshing acidity. Le Cellier du Palais, the name of their winery, comes not only from the name of its location (called Le Palais) but also from the play on words with what we taste wine, the palate (palais in French). Production at the domaine averages 45,000 bottles a year (3,750 cases).
The Apremont cuvée in the United States is made with pure Jacquère, and provides clean, citrus fruit notes along with soft mineral notes and thirst-quenching acidity. This wine makes for a light and crisp aperitif, and is also excellent at the table with trout, perch, smoked salmon, or mountain cheeses like tomme and raclette.

The wine: Vibrant. Crisp with  minerality and green apples. Another one to refresh after a long day riding or, you know, watching.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tour de France Stage 17- Now with Italy
Gap Pinerolo 179 km

From LeTour:
“There are still four intense race days left. Heading to Briançon, the road rises gently. Then the riders must cross climb the Col de Montgenèvre, descend, then climb again up to Sestrières this time, then descend again into Pinerolo. Ahead of them is still the Pra Martino, a small climb that’s 7km long and of modest gradient. A rider who is good in the mountains such as Cadel Evans may well be able to make an impression there, because the final run-in, which enables tribute to be made to the 150th anniversary of Italian unification, doesn’t feature any notable difficulties. This stage will bring huge satisfaction to the people of Pinerolo, who for many years have been keen to host a stage finish. The town is near to the border and offers the opportunity for this year’s only incursion into foreign territory.”

Another day, another Norwegian as Edvald Boasson Hagen bounced back from the disappointment of his second-place finish on Tuesday to take another stage victory. Meanwhile, the contenders had another interesting stressful day.
Two consecutive sharp climbs and a sometimes frightening descent combination just before the finish saw Alberto Contador again trying to make up some of the time he lost so early in the race. Contador attacked twice on the way up the Pramartino and then escaped on the descent along with Samuel Sanchez  It looked like the two would gain significant time, but Cadel Evans led a chase that brought back the bulk of the contenders, including the Schlecks.
It was another mistake-free day for Evans: not only did he catch with Contador, but he narrowed his deficit to yellow jersey Thomas Voeckler after the Frenchman misjudged a bend on the descent and ended up in a conveniently located driveway.
Tomorrow the race now moves on to two successive summit finishes in the Alps, where one would expect more gaps to develop between the overall contenders.

Stage:  Edvald Boasson Hagen
Yellow: Thomas Voeckler

Wine: Valli Unite, Il Brut and the Beast
Region: Piemonte
Grapes:  Cortese with Moscato, Favorita, Chasselas, and Timorasso (Though I have seen different grapes listed)
I think this was another recommendation from Melissa Sutherland at 67Wine.

From the Valli Unite website: The co-operative was born over thirty years ago.
At a time in which increasing numbers of people had moved to the cities and to factory work, three young men from local farming families got together to discuss the future of farming in this area.
They were deeply attached to the work and to their own land, but they wanted to find new ways of using traditional methods. To begin with they merged their vineyards and built stalls for farm animals so they could use organic manure to fertilise their fields and vines. The old ways were combined with a very modern belief in organic farming as the way of the future, as part of the wider project known as 'contraction', involving reducing our human impact on the natural environment. 
As time went on the co-operative became bigger, and at present there are 25 of us working together.
The viticulture aspect of our work follows an old saying dear to wine-lovers: drink little but well.
In the production of our wine, our 10 labels and our bulk wine, the aim is to let the wine remain as alive as possible so that it truly is 'the son of the grape'.

My thoughts: Yum. Slightly sparkling and, well, zingy. Apples, pears and a lot of refreshment. Probably be nice after a long and terrifying descent. This is a wine to buy a case of and enjoy all summer long.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tour de France Stage 16
Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux - Gap 163km

From LeTour: “It’s the start of the final week. The race heads into Gap, crosses the Col de Manse, then drops down again into the finish after completing a small circuit. As we’re heading towards the Alps, this stage is not flat, which is what you would expect, but it isn’t too hard either as it just rises steadily throughout. . . Be aware also that something often happens after the second rest day, and it may be something completely unexpected. In 2003, for example, in order to avoid crashing into the prone figure of Joseba Beloki, Lance Armstrong opted, on pure instinct, to indulge in a bit of cyclo-cross over an Alpine meadow. That stage ended up making the headlines without any previously expecting it to."
Nice call by LeTour. Indeed on a day that was expected to be dominated by breakaways, the main competitors decided to come out and play.  The stage winner did come from the breakaway with Thor Hushovd getting his second (smash) victory after a massive effort in the day's escape group. But more interesting is what was happening on the road behind him. Pre-race favorite Alberto Contador decided to show that he was still in the game, opening an attack on the final climb. Then came the usual series of counterattacks. At the end of the day, the big winner was Cadel Evans. Evans showed that he's on fine form, soloing away from the rest of the group, gaining 4 seconds on Samuel Sanchez and Contador and 21 seconds on Frank Schleck. The Schleck brothers were the big losers today, with Andy losing 48 seconds. Is this a preview of what will happen in the Alps or just one bad day? A partial answer to be found tomorrow.  

Stage Winner: (Again) Thor (smash) 
Yellow: Thomas Voeckler (Hanging on far longer than anyone expected.)

Wine: Well, here we are in the Haute Alpes. I tried, albeit at the last minute, to find a wine from the area. But after coming up empty at three stores, it was off to the Savoie, a region I'll be drinking several times for during the last week of the Tour.
Tonight: 09 Andre & Michel Quenard Chignin (Mondeuse) Vieilles Vignes

From the importer:The Savoie is a picture of fairy-tale perfection: snow-capped peaks, green rolling hills, wildflowers, and cold, sparkling mountain streams. This idyllic region hugs the western Alps, where Michel Quenard farms twenty-two hectares of vineyards along the steep, terraced slopes of the Coteaux de Torméry around Chignin. The limestone scree that dominates this vineyard land has brought great diversity to the soils, and consequently, the wines. His grandfather started the domaine in the 1930s. Though he slowly increased the vineyard holdings, he also sold off most of his wine in bulk. It was not until 1960 that Michel’s father, André, began bottling under their own label. Michel joined the domaine in 1976. Today, his son, Guillaume, joins him, fresh out of wine school in Switzerland. While they are far from the only Quenards in Chignin, they are certainly the most well-known—perhaps this is due to the severity of their terrain and the quality of wines it produces. Andrew Jefford writes in his contemporary classic, The New France, “Michel Quenard and his father André are masters of the Bergeron grape, known in the Rhône Valley and elsewhere as Roussanne. They argue it should be limited to the best and steepest local sites where it can ripen fully, like the Coteaux de Torméry, giving wines of real texture and perfume as it does so.” (p 122). We think it is one of the most unique and beautiful renditions of Roussanne in the world.
Despite the domaine’s proximity to the Alps, the vineyards enjoy a surprisingly warm microclimate with southern sun exposure. Fig and olive trees are also found among the vines, unusual for such a snowy region. There are sixteen crus in the Vin de Savoie designation, and each commune is known for a different grape varietal. Michel’s vineyards are planted to some of the region’s best known: Bergeron, Jacquère, Mondeuse (also known as Refosco in northern Italy), Altesse, and Pinot Noir. Michel bottles eight different cuvées, seven of which are still, and the other a sparkling Vin de Savoie Brut, which is made in the méthode champenoise. The minerality of Michel’s vineyards expresses an alpine freshness and liveliness in his wines. His cuvées go beyond the simple “eclectic” that categorizes wines from the region; whether they are quaffed or savored, they are all unique revelations that reflect the complexity of their terroir and the fine artistry of this master vigneron.

My notes: Red fruits, violet and earthy notes. Nice acidity. Very easy to drink with my Fatted Calf salumi.

German Trip Day 4

This was a very busy day.
 First up, a visit to monastery and Staatsweingut Kloster Eberbach

We started off with a tour by Managing Director Dieter Greiner of the very modern and efficient winery. Opened in the summer of 2008, this is the most state of the art facility I may have ever seen. Featuring a three-story pressing house that makes use of gravity to move the grapes and juice, they can process up to up to 7000 liters of grape juice daily. The cellars stretch out on 5000 square kilometers and on several levels below the earth. Indeed, I was reminded of a statement made a few days earlier about an over sized bridge: Germans love concrete.
As for the wines, they are the largest winery in Germany with 220 hectares, including 32 that make up the Steinberg vineyard.  2010 was their smallest crop in 30 years. We tasted four wines: the 09 Steinberger Riesling sekt brut, an 09 Hollenberg Spätburgunder dry Spätlese, a 2010 Steinberger Riesling Kabinett trocken and my favorite, an 07 Steinberger Riesling "aus dem Cabinetkeller."

We then took a short ride to the monastery. In 1135 famous Cistercian Abbot Bernard of Clairveaux visited the valley with Archbishop Adalbert from Mainz when, a boar jumped out of a hedge and over the brook. Whether this is really the origin of Eberbach's name – meaning the boar's brook – is not accounted for by historic sources. The next year, 13 monks from France established the monastery and, they brought grapevines with them. The monastery grew to be one of the biggest and most important cloisters in Germany. The monks, freed from toll charges along the Rhine, dominated the wine trade all the way down the river to Cologne, a very profitable business. In 1803, the monastery was secularized. It was owned first by the Duke of Nassau, then from 1866 on by the Prussians and finally, since 1945, by the State of Hessen. 


Today, the Estate Monastery of Eberbach administers six Domains belonging to the State of Hessen, five of them situated in the Rheingau and one on the Hessische Bergstraße.  The site was used for the interior shoots for the movie Name of the Rose and since 1988 the abbey has been a principal venue for the concerts of the Rheingau Music Festival

Next up was lunch at  Weinhaus „Zum Krug.“ 
Much to my delight, lunch was one pound each 
of almost perfectly prepared white asparagus, 
served with hollandaise and a small piece of
schnitzel paired with a 1997 Johann Maximilian 
Riesling Spätlese trocken

After lunch we visited to Schloss Vollrads, where wine has been made for over 800 years. In 983 the archbishop of Mainz, the estate's owner, invested in vine growing, although vines had been cultivated there since Roman times. The core building of the estate is a substantial tower house, surrounded by a square moat. It can be traced to the first third of the 14th century and the family of Greiffenclau, a very Harry Potterish sounding name. The octagon stage tower was erected in 1471. In 1684 the present two-winged manor house was built by Georg Phillip Greiffenclau von Vollrads near the tower. His son Johann Erwein erected the estate buildings around 1700, as well as boundary walls around the manor garden, and finally equipped the tower with a typical baroque roof.
Sadly, the original family no longer owns and operates the estate. In 1975 Erwein Matuschka Greiffenclau took charge of the property, which was heavily in debt. An important figure in the emergence of a new or rediscovered style of high quality dry Rheingau wine, he was not successful in reorganising his estate. In 1997 with bankruptcy apparently inevitable, Erwein committed suicide. Since then, the estate has belonged to the bank, which runs the manor house as well as the vineyards and a restaurant.

We toured the manor house, which looked strangely as though the family might return at any moment, with their pictures still on the walls and furniture in place. We then climbed the spiral stairs to visit the tower to see more of the estate's history. 

The highlight for me was a book from 1463. Kept in non temperature controlled bookcases, it creaked as opened. When I questioned the storage, I was told that it had survived this long in those conditions and that when national archivists visited they had approved. I did shudder a bit to think of it on the table, with so many wine glasses nearby. But, I'm a book person. While in the tower, we tasted a 1977 dry Kabinett. Which was interesting to me because I have rarely had older trocken wines. My favorite current wine was an 09 Auslese.

Next was a tasting at Weingut Georg Müller-Stiftung.This VDP estate, situated in Hattenheim, featured one of the most interesting cellars I have ever encountered. It was not just a wine storage or production facility, but an art gallery as well.  
The history of the winery is interesting: Georg Müller, the co-owner of the famous Eltville sparkling wine cellar, "Matheus Müller", established the estate towards the end of the 19th century. In 1913 he donated the wine estate  to his home community of Hattenheim: Thus the wine estate became the "Georg Müller Stiftung." Things changed dramatically in 2003, when the local government decided to privatize it. Peter Winter purchased the estateand brought in winemaker, Alf Ewald.
The estate covers approximately 12 hectares. Approximately 80% is Riesling and 15% Spätburgunder. In terms of wine growing and wine making philosophy, as much as possible is done by hand. Soil management is based exclusively on a sustainable approach. In the cellar, Riesling is produced in individually temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. The red wines are matured in barrique barrels. 
We tasted wines in the cellar, all paired with specific pieces of art and snacks: 5 from 2009, 1 from 08 and 2 from 2007. Afterwards we tasted 3 from the 2010 vintage. The wine of the visit was the multiple award winning 07 Hattenheimer Wisselbrunnen Riesling TBA. To our delight we were all given a bottle of their 2009 Edition PW Frühburgunder Auslese trocken to enjoy at home. New to me grape alert!

We then took a short drive to Weingut Balthasar Ress and their wineBANK, where we were met Stefan Ress, the president of the Rheingau Winegrowers' Association. The WineBank is an idea I am surprised has not been tried elsewhere. It is essentially a wine storage area, in an old cave that has been decorated to be used not just for storage, but for entertaining as well. As you can see in the picture, wines can be seen through the bars in their cases and I enjoyed wandering around seeing what was there. Customers can rent a space and are thus granted key card access 24 hour a day for themselves and 6 guests to the entertainment facilities included glassware, restaurant delivery and music. With advance notice, they can arrange for larger events. We tasted several Balthasar Ress wines including an 07 Von Unserm Riesling sekt brut, which was very refreshing after our long day and my favorite, an 01 Hattenheim Nussbrunnen Riesling Auslese.

Our final stop was for dinner at Weingut Koegler, home of the first  Grüner Veltliner in the Rheingau. I thought it wasn't a bad Grüner and perhaps with climate change, they are right to experiment now.
With 34 hectares of vineyards, this estate has had 5 generations in wine making since 1899. They produce annually 180,000 bottles and were the first winery to produce our Spätburgunder with the “Erstes Gewächs” accolade. I thought the Spätburgunders we tasted were a bit young but had potential. I'd be very curious to taste an older vintage. They seemed a bit pricey, but Ferdinand Koegler assured us that they can sell almost their entire production to the Asian market.  Indeed, he frequently travels to Asia and there was much discussion about the importance of the Asian market to this estate. The meal was excellent, with more asparagus and finally, exhausted and full, we returned to Wiesbaden for a much needed digestif.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tour de France Stage 15
And we are out of the mountains, for a pre-rest day, mainly flat, 187 kilometer ride from Limoux to Montpellier. The favorite for the day, Mark Cavendish, having survived, barely, thanks to an almost team time trial during yesterday's mountain stage, tweeted this morning: the finish today is a little technical. Hopefully we can make the last few day's suffering worthwhile with a win.

On the road, it went as expected with a five man breakaway taking early time over the field. At the intermediate point, Cavendish took maximum points from the bunch, adding to his lead in the green jersey/points competition. Then, with concerns about crosswinds and echelons, the chase was on, with HTC spending many hours at the front of the race. As they got close to the finish in Montpellier, the break was caught and Gilbert, in hopes of both a stage win and points in the green jersey competition launched a doomed attack. To my delight however, HTC was rewarded for their hard work with yet another amazing team performance culminating with a lead out from the best in the business, Mark Renshaw. 

Tomorrow, they rest. 

Stage: Mark Cavendish
Yellow: Voeckler

Wine: Here we are in the Languedoc-Roussillon. I had all sorts of ideas and thoughts on what to drink but instead, something a bit different, mainly because I think it will pair well with my ugly but rather tasty apricot cake. Les Petits Grains Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois

From their website:
Terroir:30 miles from the Mediterranean Sea on the foothills of the Montagne Noir (Black Mountain), Val d’Orbieu’s St. Jean de Minervois winery stands on a limestone plateau surrounded by steep cliffs. At an altitude of 980 feet above sea level, the sun reflects off the dry white stones in the soil, swept by northerly winds.
Grapes: Muscat à Petits Grains
Vinification: The grapes are harvested by hand when they are overripe to ensure maximum sugar concentration. Yields are low at an average of 25hl/ha depending on the year. After cold settling, the wine is kept at low temperatures, 64°F, to optimize fruit and flavor extraction. Neutral alcohol is added to halt the fermentation process and preserve the sweetness. The wine must have a minimum alcohol level of 15% and residual sugar content of 125g/l.
Their tasting notes: It has a brilliant golden color and boasts flavors of honey, quince and apricot. The bouquet reveals hints of peaches and orange zest highlighted by elegant spicy notes.

My notes: As I said, chosen to pair with my apricot cake.  And, indeed, it did.

Apricot Cake

I clearly need to work on my food photography. Also, my decorating skills.
Friday night I went to a canning swap sponsored by Punk Domestics and Blue Chair Fruit. I returned home with a few new items, which meant it was time to once again reorganize my overcrowded bookcase of home canned items. Hidden on the top shelf, I found two jars of "Spirited Apricots" that we had canned on our apricot day last year. Rather than flavor them with the more traditional brandy we had used a bottle of Qi. From the website: "Qi Black Tea Liqueur is a seductive spirit craft-distilled from rare fruits, exotic spices, wildflower honey, and cedar-smoked tea." The jars had been neglected long enough and it was time to find a use for them.

I've written before about Dorie Greenspan's Apple Cake. In fact, it has become one of my go-to cakes because it is easy, flavorful and takes to adaptation well. As I originally wrote, this recipe was inspired and altered from a recipe featured in this David Lebovitz post: 
Last time I added bourboned cranberries. This time I altered it a bit more. If you do not have spirited apricots, I would imagine that you could substitute fresh. In that case I would not puree and add to the batter, but use them more as a straight substitute for the apples in the original recipe.

Note: I used one jar of the apricots with their syrup and one without. This led to a very moist batter (no scraping needed this time!) and a cake that took a long time to bake. In the future, I will probably drain both jars and then add a little bit of their syrup to the batter, much like the original recipe uses rum. I also think this cake calls out for whipped cream, but I was baking from pantry contents and did not have any cream on hand. Next time!

3/4 cup flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
8 tablespoons (115g) butter, salted or unsalted, melted and cooled to room temperature
2 pints Qi-ed apricots, 1 drained, 1 as is
powdered sugar for dusting the top of the cake

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF and adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven.

2. Heavily butter a 9-inch springform pan and place it on a baking sheet.
3. In a mixer, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add eggs, sugar, vanilla, and butter, and mix until well combined.
4.Add one jar of the apricots and beat until fully combined in the batter. As they have been soaking in syrup, they will break down and puree quickly. The batter will be very moist.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and add the additional jar of apricots, drained, to the top. If you are more talented than I am, they should probably be in some sort of decorative pattern.
6. Bake the cake for 1 and 1/2 hours or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen it from the pan and carefully remove the sides of the cake pan.
7. Dust with powdered sugar or top with whipped cream and serve.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Tour de France update

Crazy time right now, with many changes afoot. Apologies for the lack of a wines of the TDF post yesterday and today but expect one tomorrow. Briefly, Friday's stage was fun and Saturday's did not include the sorting out most of us hoped for. Tomorrow? If we are lucky, crosswinds. 

To tide you over, a photo I took of yesterday's stage winner, Thor Hushovd, warming up at the Tour of California a few years back. 

As for wine, I'm participating in the Rootstock TTL today, so look for my thoughts on twitter @amybcleary.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tour de Franc Stage 12

 Stage 12: Cugnaux - Luz-Ardiden 209km

And wasn't that fun? Even for those of us who got up at 3:30 a.m. to watch live on the west coast. After an intermediate sprint with more points for Mark Cavendish, it was time to climb. And the climbers did not disappoint. First, a word about teammates. I've written before about the importance of a lead out man for the sprinters. Today, we saw the importance of teammates in the mountains, with impressive performances by Jens! Voigt and Pierre Rolland in giving their all today. Voigt worked, as we have come to enjoy, for harder and longer than one could imagine, to shed the lesser climbers from the peloton today and set things up for the bothers Schleck. Rolland, the surprise of the day, shepherded Voeckler all the way to the line today. 
The battle between the contenders began when Sylvester Szmyd and previously invisible Ivan Basso, calm smile in place, took the lead in a group that rapidly grew smaller. When Contador dropped back at one moment, Andy Schleck moved quickly to the front. Contador followed, but right away Fränk Schleck shot up the other side. Indeed, the game was on and other surges and chases followed.
Frank Schleck’s third try was his best, and he got away in a solo effort.
Basso and Cadel Evans led the chase and the group gradually fell apart. First Voeckler and then Contador fell off the pace and lost time. Voeckler held yellow ( A Frenchman! On Bastille Day!) but this finish had to have Contador's rivals wondering if he would be vulnerable in the mountains after all. Perhaps he really does have a knee problem? Or is he waiting as this year's tour has many mountains to come? Answers to come.

Stage: Samuel Sanchez
Yellow: Thomas Voeckler (really, really impressive ride today)

Current top ten:
1 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 51:54:44   
2 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:01:49  (time back) 
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:02:06   
4 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:02:17   
5 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:03:16  
6 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:03:22   
7 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:04:00  
8 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:04:11  
9 Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:04:35  
10 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:04:57  

Wine: Champagne Brut Reserve, Henri Billiot

Yes, I know. But it is Bastille Day and I really needed champagne. 

From the importer (Italics very intentional): 
When this is “on” I am sure you won’t find a better N.V. Brut in all of Champagne. The solidity, length and complexity are incomparable, and the wine soars above its category. This cuvée is the same as last year’s (though with new corks!), 50% ’07 and 50% ’06- ’05, only cuvée, disgorged 1/10, and with, let us say, sufficient dosage. It was hard to read when I visited, so soon after disgorgement, but there was a swell of mid-palate length.

Henri Billiot at a glance: 100% Grand Cru, particularly satisfying Pinot Noir here. Fresh, bracing red-grape Champagnes with long, swollen mid-palate flavors. Just 5 hectares in size, so availabilities are scarce! 
how the wines taste: Billiot does not filter his wines, and they never undergo malolactic fermentation.  That makes them very frisky and reductive when they’re first disgorged, and occasionally a Billiot bottle will show a slightly metallic aroma for the first few minutes. That’s rare and nil if you hold the wines six months after 
disgorgement. Billiot seems to want liveliness most of all, as he can presume upon lavish and deep fruit flavors. . . .  Billiot lifts you up on a billowing fountain of fruit. His wines have marvelous stamina and brightness. They’re hedonistic but not sloppy. Too firm and impeccable to be sloppy!