Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Cure for Pain

Tom Gannon is the playwright in residence at Rothmann's Steakhouse in New York City. He is also the sommelier and serves as America's Host.

Recently, I met with Sofia Thanisch, the owner and proprietor of Wwe. Dr H. Thanisch-Erben Thanisch to taste her 2007 Rieslings. Thanisch is one of the top producers in Germany and the main vineyard, Berncastler Doctor, has been held up as the German equivalent of Romanee-Conti. It could be considered the most expensive piece of vineyard land in the world (yes, more than Le Montrachet) based on the price paid the last time any land was sold within the vineyard (1908) when 100 gold Deutsche Marks were paid per SQUARE METER when vines were planted one to the square meter. The label may be the most iconic in all of Germany. The vineyard itself overlooks the Mosel, facing south-southwest and at more than a sixty degree slope making harvest a difficult, almost a dangerous proposition. These wines are made in varying quantities every year, between 100-700 cases, depending on the ripeness of the grapes both from the Berncastler Doctor vineyard and the surrounding Bernkastler Badstube. Just a quick comment on the "c" versus the "k" in Berncastler...the vineyard labels for Berncastler Doctor were registered in 1904 hence the "c" versus the true German "k" both in Berncastler and Doctor. This is why you see variation when the wines are written up using "k". Thanisch uses a "k" in Bernkastler Badstube. Again, German wine labels are easy...

The legend of the vineyard originates in 1360. The dying Archbishop Boemond II of Trier drank two bottles of wine made from the vines on this steep hillside after his doctor had told him there was no hope for recovery. There beings a legend, Boemond not only survived but was restored to full health. Pair this wine with scarlet rubella.

One thing to note about the property is that there was a split between the family in 1988 over (what else?) the direction of the winery and the standards to which it should be held. Sofia Thanisch is not much for compromise. German wine and our thirsty nature are better for it. Her wines are consistently the best expression of the Berncastler Doctor vineyard and the continuation of the family tradition since 1884 of a woman running the winery (the significance of the Wwe. on the label, named after the widow Katharina Thanisch, Sofia represents the fourth generation to do so). This is also true on the other side of the family but again, Erben-Thanisch is consistently better than Erben Muller-Burggraef. Erben-Thanisch is a member of VDP -Verband Deutscher Pradikats- und Qualitatsweinguter, an association of wineries devoted to strict standards and outstanding quality (apologies for the distinct lack of an "oomlat" key, I missed a few back there) while Erben Mueller-Burggraef is not. The VDP was founded in 1910, look for the black eagle clutching a cluster of grapes on the capsule of the bottles of member wineries (black eagle in Germany, black chicken in Chianti).

The wines are rare but surprisingly affordable if you can find them. This is easier in larger markets. For example, Bruce Sanderson of Wine Spectator lists the 2007 Berncastler Doctor Spatlese as Not Available (not imported into the U.S.). This is not entirely true as Sofia told me, they show the wines in a few markets to gauge how much should be shipped to their U.S. importer. James Molesworth of WS confirmed my suspicion that WS will list a wine as not imported if they can't get a rough estimate on the number of cases to be imported . With the hype of the 2007 vintage I can't say I blame them, since the demand far exceeds supply.

If you are not familiar with German wine classifications, it seems complex but is actually very user friendly and efficient. A quick search on the internet with "German wine laws/classification" will bring you up to speed on some of these terms- "Y'all hear that? We using code names..."


And so, the wines made by Olaf Kaufmann...

Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch Riesling 2007
Light apple with a bit of spice and peach on the nose. A lot of minerality is present and has an impressive finish for QbA. Classic Mosel. 700 cases.

Wwe Dr. H. Thanisich Bernkastler Badstube Riesling Kabinett 2007
Bright green apple and limey nose with stony aromas and minerality dominating. A friend compared this to a hangar steak, the tasty bits surrounding the classic cuts...700 cases.

Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch Berncastler Doctor Riesling Kabinett 2007
Minerality and stone dominate with lime and peach kernal popping out. Long mineral finish. 300 cases.

Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch Bernkastler Badstube Riesling Spatlese 2007
Peachy, fresh bright apple a lighter wine that keeps going because of the structure and acidity. Showing well. 300 cases.

Wwe. Dr. H Thanisch Berncastler Doctor Riesling Spatlese 2007
Peach, apple and lime, with wet stone, the minerality shines so well and the fruit is succulent and clean because of the balance. This wine will age beautifully. Worth searching for.
250 cases.

Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch Berncastler Doctor Riesling Auslese 2007
This is stunning. Like Prince, all peaches and cream. Rich apple, a touch of clove in the mid-palate with the minerality, sweet fruit and acid almost perfectly balanced. An incredible example of Auslese. One to cellar if you can...150 cases.

So of the wines listed above I had a few choices. These are not traditional "steakhouse wines", nonetheless, we are not exactly a traditional steakhouse. The long haired sommelier may tip you off to that fact. What I decided to do is not necessarily a novel idea but I think an interesting opportunity for me and any guest who wants to try this out. I ordered (for delivery sometime in March) one case of the Doctor Kabinett, one case of the Doctor Spatlese, one case of the Doctor Auselse in half bottles and one case (6 bottles) of magnums of the 2007 Berncastler Doctor Spatlese of which they only made 70 bottles. This way, when the weather warms up and we open our sliding accordion doors onto 54th street, you can sit, watch the scene and be taken through three different levels of ripeness in the Berncastler Doctor vineyard in a classic vintage. And they will not be that expensive on the list- around $85 for the Kabinett, $115 for the Spatlese and $90 for the half bottle of Auslese. The magnums are just so rare, age so well and look so good...had to have at least six (even though the price hadn't really been settled).

These wines obviously pair well with Thai and other Asian dishes, try any of the Spatlese from Thanisch with Goong Cha Nam Pla (the Thai answer to ceviche) or even pork dishes. I would also just have them on their own, low alcohol levels and the balance of the wines make them ideal for drinking before a meal. These are some of the most versatile wines in the world when it comes to pairing.

If you have any interest at all in German wines or the riesling varietal, these are a good place to start for benchmark comparisions. As far as price to quality ratio it is difficult to beat Thanisch. It can be found. Good for what ails ya. Happy hunting.