Monday, April 2, 2012

Local Wine, Abroad

After years of discussing it, we finally organized a trip to Germany and Austria. As the spring weather broke, we took some time off from work and from our exploration of the New York wine scene and made our way to Europe.

We managed to stretch it out to a long trip, and visit a large swath of Germany and Austria. Starting in the small Alpine resort town of Lindau, a bucolic little inlet on the Bodensee (Lake Constance). There, we took a couple of days to decompress before moving on to enjoy the big cities. We walked the streets of the old city, marveling at the old architecture, the medieval city wall, winding streets and back alleys. We enjoyed the peace and quiet of this town in the off season. But we made sure to do our best to sample the local cuisine, along with the local beer and wine. There were many places focused on local products--fresh fish from Lake Constance and wines from the Bodensee region. The wines were wonderful; crisp and tart fruit as would be expected from the cold climate they worked well with the fattier fresh water fish. We had such a wonderful time there, and there seemed so much more to try that we were reluctant to leave, but we were off to Munich.

Those cute little paper-flowers at the stem of Tina's beer? Quite common when you ordered "ein Pils."

Munich was everything we expected. The history was palpable, and the German culture was so "obvious" it was nearly a caricature of everything you'd read in books. We wandered from church to church, taking pictures with every step, stopping only to grab a beer at whatever spot piqued our interest. We had sausage and beer at the Hofbrau Haus as soon as we arrived -- both surprisingly good for such a tourist destination. We enjoyed a humongous meat and cheese plate in the shadow of the Frauenkirche cathedral, along with some wonderful Augustiner pilsner beer. We discovered at a small cafe on a side street where we could enjoy a couple of glasses of wine in the warm spring sun. And we enjoyed a locavore meal of German specialties at a restaurant where the German wine list (pages of Riesling, and pages of Gruner Veltliner!) made us thankful for an English-speaking waiter who gave us a great recommendation. It was wonderful to see wine lists filled with both imported and local wines.

A "Mass" bier at Hofbrau Haus. Tina's German only went so far - she accidentally ordered us the largest biers on the menu!

Our last stop was Vienna. It was like Munich, writ large, but felt like NYC with an added edge of antiquity. We visited churches and cathedrals. We drank more beer and wine with sausages and pork. Through very, very careful testing, we confirmed that sauerkraut, pork, and especially wiener schnitzel go wonderfully well with crisp white wines. We wanted to visit the some of the Wachau wine region along the Danube outside of Vienna. We found ourselves exploring the medieval town of Duernstein. There, in the quiet off-season, we found a delicious "locavore" meal without any pretension that put most big city versions to shame. I never thought that organ meat could make such a rich and delicious stew. (Tina still doesn't believe it.) The small restaurant-pub stocked nothing but local wines, a range of light Blaufrankish and crisp Rieslings wines for yet another sunny spring day. The next day, we ended our trip with an excellent dinner in a hidden plaza in Vienna: four courses of carefully prepared dishes with more Austrian wine.

The remains of the castle where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned, in Duernstein
Along with being a wonderful and relaxing trip, it was a great experience. While the food was heavy and meat-centric, it was well-executed and prepared with care. The beer available in every bar was on par with the best microbrews we can find in the States. And the wine lists were startling: either a short list of local wines at even the crudest tavern, or pages of varietals found only sparingly in the US. It's rare for us to find a bottle of Gruner Vitliner or Blaufrankish, let alone multiple vintages from a range of wineries. And wherever we went, no matter what sort of place it was, the wine was good. It was refreshing to see such dedication to the local food, beer, and wine at every level, and it helped us feel like we were really experiencing the local culture, instead of having the same meals we could have back home.

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