It is 10 PM, I am in a cabin, and sipping my third Negroni from a coffee cup. No, this is not the typical evening. Let me explain.
It was a very good night on the dock. Panfish were plentiful, and a couple of bass also hammered the popper I chucked with my fly rod. To surprise, my stationary rod —a beat-up Okuma spinning combo I got years ago— had not landed a channel catfish, as it had in days before. No, a snapping turtle chomped on the cut bluegill I had put out. I probably have made 100 casts to this corner of the lake. Never had I caught a turtle. And here it was clomping across the boards and hissing at me with a hefty circle hook half out its vicious beak.
All in all, the night felt like a culmination of my fishing experience at Punderson Lake, 150 acres of beautiful water and cut into the earth by a glacier thousands of years ago. So why not celebrate with a beverage?
The beer was gone; likewise the tonic. The only elixirs in the fridge were mostly empty bottles of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. I had had gin on ice straight the previous night. A Negroni it was. Again.
A few months back, a friend came to town from Tennessee. His schedule was jammed as was mine, but I was eager to see him. He works in insurance and I inevitably learn a lot when he explains the various fallouts of Obamacare and Trump’s subsequent war against it.
“I have something from George Dickel to bring you for review,” he added. That was that. Logistics be damned, we were going to meet.
He came by my office and pulled from his bag a small of gold from Tullahoma—George Dickel Reserve 17-Year Old Tennessee Whisky (43.5% ABV; 87 proof). There is a whole cockamamie story about how this whisky was a happy accident; some barrels got mis-inventoried or somesuch. I love the folks at Dickel but I am not sure I buy it. That, however, is neither here nor there. This is the longest aged Tennessee whiskey to be found, and you can sip it straight with ease. The deep copper liquor offers notes of corn, white pepper, caramel, apple, and toffee. Wow.
George Dickel 17-Year is not cheap. A half-sized bottle (375 ml) runs around $75. But for the American whiskey fan, or for friends enjoying a rare meet-up, it is more than worth it.
Being a drinks writer has its perks. One never knows when a courier will arrive with an unexpected delivery. On occasion I have shrank back in horror when I opened a box to find dill pickle vodka or a similarly evil concoction. Typically, though, I receive good drinks.
His hand felt like an oven mitt—filled with stone. “My god,” I thought as I removed my paw, “those are hands that have worked the vines.” Which is true.
Raimund Prüm is a mountain of a man, and he and his family having been making wine for a very long time. Some of the vines are 130 years old. The Prüms have vineyards on the slopes above the Mosel River, whose various formations of slate have enviable effects on the grapes. Raimund —with help from his wife Pirjo— oversaw the operation from 1971 until recently, when he put his daughter Saskia in charge.
I’ve enjoyed my share of riesling over the years—Dr. Konstantin Frank’s are a favorite— but it never has been my favorite wine. I tend to drink white wine in warm weather, and too many of the rieslings I have tried are sweet. Maybe it is my thick northerner blood, but sweet drinks just do not appeal to me when the Mercury is up.
And it was a balmy May day when Raimund was here in Washington, DC. The thought might have entered my mind: “Will he squash me like a grape if I show little enthusiasm for his wines?” But it did not have the chance, because before I even met the man his lovely wife saw to it that I got a glass of S.A. Prüm Kabinett 2009, which was surprisingly un-sweet and wafted a honeysuckle aroma. It was, to my surprise, refreshing.
Over lunch, I tasted at least seven different S.A. Prüm rieslings and was really impressed. Not only were they all very good, each riesling was different. The Wehlener 2010 was acidic and nosed of pineapple; the Wehlener Sonnenuhr 2014 was almost a dessert wine and oozed fruit aromas; and Spatlese 2003 unleashed a bouquet of tropical scents. Some wines were dry, some were a little sweet, and one was full-on sweet (but not cloying). It was impressive to experience so many different flavor profiles coaxed from the same grape.
Both the Prüms emphasized that riesling should be treated as a year ‘round drink, with different versions being better in different seasons. As for the old saw about red wine going with meat—humbug. They pair wild boar with riesling.
When I departed the tasting, I thanked Raimund for the eye-opening experience. He expressed his gratitude and invited me to come stay in the guest house at the vineyard. He said it had a fine bed, so that I could rest after we tasted wine early in the day. “You can rest so that you will be ready for the second tasting we will have.” Pirjo surprised me with a farewell hug and told me she would have two chilled bottles waiting for me in the guest house.
Time to book my flight. Tell my wife and the kids I’ll be a week or two late for dinner.