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.
No to rock-hard fruitcakes. No to hideous neckties that match nothing in one’s wardrobe. No to useless contraptions like the Ronco inside-the-egg scrambler. And no to more electronic gadgets that pester and scatter the mind with pings, bleeps, and jangles.
Go for drinky gifts instead, which cannot fail to delight and provide hours of levity in these weird times of creepy willy-wavers in America and belligerent lunatics on the other side of the globe.
Thirty years ago, the best beer I could find in most groceries was Michelob or Lowenbrau. How times have changed in our grand land. These days, you can throw a rock in any direction and it has a high probability of hitting a good bottle of beer. Which makes shopping for brews easy.
Icky sweet apple ciders in 12-ounce bottles are common in U.S. grocery stores. Skip them and grab a 750 milliliter bottle of old style cider. Le Lieu Cheri’s Cidre Fermier and Cave de la Lotterie (imported by Wine Traditions Ltd) are dry, light, and decidedly earthy ciders ($10-$12). The aromas arising from these sparkling beverages are sour and mushroom-y. I served these ciders as whistle-wetters before our Thanksgiving dinner. At a mere 5 percent alcohol they can be enjoyed without getting you loopy.
Bourbon, whiskey, and rye
Never has it been a better time to be a whiskey drinker. Newer brands like Angel’s Envy Bourbon (aged in port barrels and $50 a bottle) and the splendid Filibuster Dual Cask Bourbon (finished in French oak barrels and $40 a bottle) are among the brands that have reconceptualized the flavor profile of bourbon without abandoning its essence: sweet and fiery. Traverse City Whiskey Company’s flag ship straight bourbon whiskey (86 proof; $35) gives the tippler a sense of what the whiskey century ago must have been like: a thick with charred barrel flavor and a little hot on the swallow.
Iowa’s Cedar Ridge Distillery, which won the American Distilling Institute’s distillery of the year award, offers the whiskey lover a veritable smorgasbord. They make a wheat whiskey, a bourbon, a malted rye whiskey, two single malts, and an unaged whiskey. All retail for $40 to $60. Smallish (200 ml) bottles of five different Cedar Ridge whiskeys come in the oh-so-givable American Whiskey Explorer package ($70).
Rye, as everyone knows, has made a yuge comeback. To get a sense of old rye versus new, consider giving someone a bottle of Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye (100 proof; $27) and a fifth of Filibuster Dual Cask Rye (90 proof; $45). The former tastes of grain, black pepper, and a little apricot. The latter is gentler, slightly sweet, and offers apple and floral notes. I love each of them. If you want to impress a rye aficionado, pony up $110 for WhistlePig 12-year old rye (86 proof).
Wine and fortified wine
Hands down, the best wine I tasted this year was also the priciest: Ken Deis Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($60 most places; $25 via NakedWines.com). This red tasted like a cross between Bordeaux and a new world fruit bomb. It was utterly succulent, and showed faint blueberry and cedar notes. I nearly wept when the bottle was empty.
If you want remarkable bang-for-the-buck, wrap up some bottles of Jose Maria da Fonseca wines (imported by Palm Bay International). These Portuguese red wines have remarkably diverse flavor profiles. Da Fonseca’s Ripanço ($12) reminds me of beauojolas nouveau. It is light bodied, floral, and only a little fruity. The Jose se Sousa 2015 ($17) is very old world—it is dry, vegetal, and shows a clove note. Meanwhile, Da Fonseca Periquita Reserva 2014 ($15) is very new world. It offers immense fruit and vanilla notes and all but screams for pairing with steak, roasted vegetables, and gooey or salty cheese. For those with deeper pockets, the $40 Domini Plus 2014 would make a welcome gift for a wine collector. This inky red wine is very fruity, tannic, and dry, and will age well. Da Fonseca, I should add, produces terrific fortified wines. The Alambre Moscatel de Setubal 2010 ($17) would appeal to those who enjoy port. It has floral and peach notes. Yum.
For the person who loves to read of drink, there are abundant choices. Alexei Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell’s Alcohol (Fuel, 2017) carries eye-popping photographs of Soviet anti-drink posters from the 1960s to 1980s. The government produced bazillions of them, but the downtrodden citizenry kept boozing. Steven Grasse’s Colonial Spirits (Abrams Image, 2017), as I previously wrote, is a wild and amusing romp through early American drink.
Robert Simonson’s A Proper Drink (Ten Speed Press, 2016) is a lengthy, deep-dive report on how America’s cocktail scene revived over the past 30 years. As someone who was in the thick of the whole New York City drink scene in the 1990s, I can attest that Simonson got much of the truth. Those of an antiquarian bent might enjoy receiving a copy of Sherry Monahan and Jane Perkins’ The Golden Elixir of the West (TwoDot, 2018). It is filled with amusing old yarns about American whiskey.
Friends and family who like to DIY can be given Emma Christensen’s Modern Cider (Ten Speed Press, 2017), a pretty tome that teaches how to make various fruit ciders, shrubs, and wines.
And those feeling charitable to the industrious hack who has written innumerable columns for your eyes, you can help feed his family and fishing habit by filling stockings with his slim tomes on whiskey and moonshine.
But it now is August, and the temperature and humidity often is above 90. My Ohio blood is too thick for this weather, and my thirst turns to lighter fare. I won’t say no to a hop-bomb IPA, or a whiskey, for that matter. What really appeals, however, are drinks that are cold and crisp.
A bottle of Proud Pour Sauvignon Blanc ($18) showed up at my door a few months ago, and it well fit the bill. It noses of grapefruit and paired well with salads and roast vegetables. All the more satisfying is that buying a bottle helps fund the growth of more oysters, with which this wine pairs well.
I accidentally made the acquaintance of Zardetto Z Brut recently, which was happy luck. This bargain ($13) prosecco really hit the spot as I sweltered over a grill loaded with dogs and burgers.
I have enjoyed many rosé wines this summer. A decade ago you’d be lucky to find a couple in your local wine shop. Now supermarkets may stock offer a half-dozen or more brands, most of which are priced between $8 and $15. Brands I have tried (and whose names I recall) include Gerard Bertrand, Famille Perrin Reserve, and La Vieille Ferme. In my experience, it is hard to go wrong with rosé — I do not recall once buying a bottle and thinking, “Ugh, this is a disappointment.” (That has happened with plenty of red wines.)
No recitation of hot weather drinks recommendation would be complete without the gin and tonic. A Bombay or Tanqueray and tonic with a slice of lime is a wonderous thing. Those who want to spice up the old G&T have a wealth of options, what with the flood of new gins and the arrival of some really remarkable tonics (e.g., Fever-Tree).
Yes, summer is here, and the heat is on. But who needs water with so many other delicious, refreshing choices?