A very personal account—a sort of oenophile’s diary—of experiences and observations while exploring the fascinating world of wine appreciation. It is my hope that you find some of the posts to be interesting and, dare I say, even entertaining.
I was reading an article recently about Germany’s wine regions, and it called to mind one of my experiences about the (perceived) quality of wines that are consumed while vacationing in another country. Some years ago my wife Helga and I visited her relatives in Germany, and while there we made a number of exploratory side trips to various Michelin and relatives-recommended destinations—scenic lakes and towns, ancient and picturesque castles and well-known winegrowing regions.
One of our more memorable side trips was roaming the circuitous, grapevine-laden roads of Baden-Württemberg, a beautiful wine producing region southeast from Helga’s hometown. We gassed-up my brother-in-law’s spunky Volkswagen Beetle, filled a small tin flask with homemade Schnaps, a clear fruit-based brandy (courtesy of Helga’s uncle), and headed out to sample and savor the food and wine of that appellation.
Those were the carefree, reckless days of traveling without hotel reservations, when the dwindling twilight moments were often spent anxiously searching small, storybook forest towns for life-saving Zimmer Frei (room available) signs. But during the daylight hours, however, the first order of business was touring the vineyards, sampling the wines and drinking them again in the local, quaint, half-timbered, family owned inns that served the hearty dinner faire of schnitzels, bratens, kartofelsalats, as well as the local specialties, maultaschen and spaetzle. Life was not just good, it was Sehr Gut!
After sniffing, swirling, and spilling our way through the various red, white, and salmon-colored wines, we eventually found a wine that stood out from the rest. It was pinkish, semi-dry and lively, which is where our palates were at the time. Weissherbst—Germany’s version of a delicate Rosé—was perfect for casual midday sipping and snacking, and an ideal partner with our lunchtime or evening food. It quickly became our “go to” wine while we were there. Moreover, since Weissherbst was unavailable in the States, we decided why not bring a few bottles home and share them with friends? Indeed, why not?
We invited them for dinner, plated the food and poured our special, show-and-tell wine. After the first sip, my wife and I exchanged several panic-filled glances. It was not even close to what we remembered. It was simple and no better than common Tafelwein (table wine), which, in the clarity of hindsight, it was. Our friends, gracious as always, praised it as a “very nice” wine. We were crushed. Our memorable experience in Germany was not duplicated in the least. Why didn’t it excite us as it first did? Was our original perception flawed by too much food and drink?
The answer, I feel, lies with the notion of context—the circumstances that comprise the setting or environment. It has to do with ambience, mind-set, expectations and quite possibly, even hopes and dreams. It affects how one perceives music, food, wine or any other uniquely personal experience. In our case, we were vacationing and in a relaxed, romantic frame of mind. We were enjoying the food and wine of a lake and forest-filled, castle-dotted country, and the accumulated impressions of that dreamy tour all conspired to make that wine, and indeed the entire experience, seem very special to us. Was it any wonder, then, that it could not be duplicated—indeed, relived in our dining room at home?