A tribute to a great beer: Radeberger Pilsner

When we first moved from Dresden to Seattle in the fall of 1999, I remember going to our little neighborhood pub, asking for a good local pilsner, and having the guy matter-of-factly say: oh, we don’t serve any light beer.  It was confusing.  The standard local drinking beer in Germany – village or city – is pilsner.  It is lighter in color, but it’s full of flavor & bite (the best part!), which is what makes it so good with food, be that bratwurst or BBQ.

Radeberger Pilsner is Dresden’s shining star of pilsners … or should I say Radeberg’s shining star, as Radeberg is a village (now a suburb) on the northwestern edge of the city, on your way to the Meissener wine country which is several more villages out on the same road.  Jens and I moved to Dresden at the end of December 1994 for him to start his residency in January of the new year.  It had already been 5 years since the wall had come down, but you would never have known it.  The East German autobahns were in the early stages of being rebuilt (since Hitler’s originals in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s) which was one of the first big capital projects (and one that had still not been completed when we left a decade later) and the city sat in its sad, gray, dilapidated state for several more years after we arrived before the funding came through for the rebuilding to begin. 

Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-60015-0002 / Löwe / CC-BY-SA

We arrived in Dresden after dark that December day, and I remember Jens driving me down to the Altmarkt to see the famous ruins of the bombed Frauenkirche.  It was snowing, and the huge flakes were falling slowly over the partially standing walls of the church, still perched within the remaining fallen stones.  The Frauenkirche has since been rebuilt, an impressive technical feat as all the stones that were still in the town square at the start of the project (some 50 years after its demise on the evening of February 13, 1945) were chronicled in a sort of outdoor stone museum and then reused in the rebuilding in each of their original positions.

After stopping downtown, we arrived at our little student housing accommodations on Bodelschwingstrasse, the photos of Eric Honecker and Fidel Castro still hanging in the stairwell.  Most of the buildings in our area had not been destroyed in the bombing of Dresden, but through lack of money & upkeep during the ensuing years of communism, they were condemned, awaiting money from West Germany to arrive so that they could be renovated and made livable again.  (From the East German perspective they would be made unaffordable and therefore still  unusable for the locals.) 

Friedrichstadt, Fall 1995

There were few restaurants in the town when we first arrived, a legacy of not allowing public places to gather. But right in our neighborhood, next to the hospital, was Riesa Efau, an underground students’ club which had thrived as a meeting place under the old regime and continued to do so after German reunification.  It was small and thick with smoke every time you entered.  The mood (by Dresden standards) was generally festive, the food was cheap & good (with 2-3 items on the menu any given night), and the beer was Radeberger, served in tall, thin, upright German glass mugs.  Radeberger (along with Meissener wine) was one of the few items that the locals could sell to West Germans for hard currency during East German times.  And there was a reason it was so sought after as it’s some of the best out there:  fresh, with mild flavors of herb & citrus and a nice hoppy bite.  It wasn’t available in Seattle when we first moved back, but in the last years it has been imported to this area.  Whenever I drink beer (which isn’t that often anymore), it always takes me back.

Hope you get a chance to try it!  And better yet, I hope you get a chance to try it in Dresden.  You won’t have the experience we did in the early years after reunification (today, it would take some luck to see a Trabi), but the “Pearl on the Elbe” is still a jewel, closer now to its former, pre-World War II glory.


The History of Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest – Ein Prosit zur Gemütlichkeit

Oktoberfest is one of the most famous events in the world… and by the way the world’s biggest fair on Munich’s Theresienwiese.  About 6 million people from all over the world attend the Oktoberfest.

Munich’s historic beer bash began as a wedding celebration for Crown Prince Ludwig (Neuschwanstein [the Disney Castle] – anybody?) in 1810.  The prince later turned into the Mad King, or if you ask my kids the “Nut” King, but don’t blame the beer!  This year is the 200th anniversary!  Since its beginning, Oktoberfest has been cancelled only 24 times due to war, diseases and other emergencies.

In 1880, electrical light illuminated over 400 booths and tents. (Albert Einstein helped install light bulbs in the Schottenhamel Tent (still exists) as an apprentice in his uncle’s electricity business.)  In 1881, booths started selling bratwursts. Beer was first served in glass mugs in 1892.

Visitors eat huge amounts of hearty fare such as grilled Hendl (chicken), Schweinsbraten (roasted pork), Schweinshaxe (ham hock), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Würstel (sausages) along with Brezn (Pretzel), Knödel (potato or bread dumplings), Kasspatzen (chesse noodles with onions), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), Sauerkraut & Blaukraut (red cabbage), along with other special Bavarian dishes like Obatzda (a spiced cheese & butter spread) & the famous Weisswurst (white sausage).  Hungry yet?

This all goes down well with beer!  And Oktoberfest is all about the beer.   About 7 million liters of beer (127,000 liters are non-alcoholic) & 80,000 liters of wine are consumed.  As the days begin to shorten, here are some good beer suggestions you could check out at Portalis:

Spaten Oktoberfest Ur-Märzen

While not quite among the top ranks of German brews, it’s pretty gulpable, which, after all, is the whole point of Oktoberfest.  Slightly malty with notes of caramel & toffee. Light spicy, bitter hops on the finish.

Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock $5.50
This is like a Grimm Brothers fairy tale: raw, meaty, tempting & dangerous (goes down way too easy). Flavors of roasted malts, caramel, molasses & dark chocolate. Sweet & tangy with the right amount of bitterness. Magnificient!

Ayinger Jahrhundertbier $6.00
A Helles Lager from the same brewery. Made for the 100 year anniversary of the brewery. Bright, grassy, floral, grainy, with slightly hop bitterness. Dry, crisp finish. This classic Bavarian beer leaves you craving more.

Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen (Weissbier) $6.50
Hazy golden Hefeweizen fom Bavaria. Flavors of citrus, banana, bread & spices , with a hint of cinnamon. Light & refreshing! Bring on the Weisswurst.

Thirsty?  Slap on your Lederhosen or your Dirndl & polka at Portalis!

Jens (owner of Portalis & yes, a native German!)

Presenting Ernst Loosen of Weingut Dr. Loosen

The photos of Ernst (Ernie) Loosen say it all: humor, charisma, passion, knowledge & opinion.  This guy was entertainment pure, poured on top of a mountain of knowledge and a deep love of his land & his wine.  When asked where the spit bucket was, he answered that he prefers to spit in reverse!  Or when questioned about the impact of global warming in the Mosel, he said “Yes, we have it, but it will still be 250 years before we’re growing Syrah.”

With 4 world tours a year (always fly west he said), Ernie Loosen has become the face of German Reisling, its ambassador.  He said he has had to take on this role as German Riesling is one of the great world wines, but increasingly only Germans were drinking it.  Clearly, he has taken it upon himself to change that … and this guy might just do it! 

After bumming around (not in so many words, but basically his description) at university for the normal extended period in Germany (“as you know it’s free & at that time it wasn’t very demanding” … said like a very smart guy), his mother gave her kids an ultimatum.  They had 4 weeks to decide who, if any of the kids, was going to take over the family estate (which had been in the family for approaching 200 years) or she was going to sell it and she had a buyer waiting in the wings.  Long-(very funny)-story-short, Ernie Loosen took over in1988 and immediately made some very important decisions. 

Realizing that he had 60 year old vines in some of Germany’s top vineyards, he had the ingredients for world-class wines.  To reach this goal, Ernie immediately did 3 things: 1) changed vineyard practices to reduce crop size, 2) moved to organic fertilizers (if at all) & 3) strictly selected fruit at harvest.  This, in combination with the gift of his land and highly skilled winemaking, has produced a stunning result.  Accolades>  Here are wine notes on the wines we tasted:

Dr. Loosen 2008 Villa Wolf Gewürztraminer
$13.99 | mixed case $11.19
7.5-8% alcohol.  Alsacian Riesling is higher in alcohol and has a richer oilier texture.  According to Ernie Loosen, German Gewürztraminer is elegant, with traces of rose petal & it’s good with food.  Delicate, not overpowering.  The general comment from the tasters was that this tasted nothing like what they think of as Gewürztraminer.  It was not spicy or oily.  It was light, with very faint essence of rose petal, refreshing, and we can imagine that it would be delicious with food!  By the way, it sold out at the tasting.

Dr. Loosen 2008 Blue Slate Kabinett Riesling
$22.99 | mixed case $18.39
The Blue Slate vineyards have super steep slopes that drain well, filling the wines with mineral flavors, yet this wine was still light & refreshing. “There’s a spicy, tangy quality to this white, along with quince and anise. It’s all underscored by a mineral element and a vibrant structure, with a fine, lingering aftertaste of stone and anise..” 90 — Wine Spectator, Nov. 15, 2008

Dr. Loosen 2007 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett
$28.99 | mixed case $23.19

Ernie understood that German wine labels can be intimidating for American wine buyers, so he made an effort to explain each label of the line-up to our group.  In this case, Erden is the village and Treppchen is the diminutive of Treppe which means stairs, so this is the little staircase of Erden. He also explained Germany’s system of naming the ripeness of the grape, and like the Blue Slate above, Kabinett is the least ripe (and subsequently has the least residual sugar) of German wines.  This wine had a lovely, refreshing effervescence, with flavors of pears & slate; slightly sweeter than the Blue Slate Kabinett. 
Dr. Loosen 2007 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese
$32.99 | mixed case $26.39

Ernie gave a great history lesson with this wine, explaining that 60-70% of the Mosel vineyards were accumulated through the years by the Catholic church.  It was secularized by Napoleon after he conquered the area in 1804-1806.  Graach is a village in between Bernkastel & Wehlen and these vineyards once belonged to the monastery there; thus the name Himmelreich, which means Kingdom of Heaven.  Spätlese is the next step up in the sweetness classification.  These grapes were harvested 2 weeks later than the Kabinett.  They are not overripe, but they have more aroma structure, are more delicate and can age better.  Flavors of ripe pears, pineapple, apricots & white peach. Beautiful minerality & fantastic acidity. This wine will age for decades.
Dr. Loosen 2007 Ürziger Würzgarten Auslese
$44.99 | mixed case $ 35.99

Ürziger Würzgarten means the spice garden of (the town of) Ürzig and that’s what this wine offers, lovely flavors of spekulatius cookies (spicy Christmas cookie flavors) within a white wine. Very unusual and delicious.  Auslese is the latest harvested grapes when they are at their ripest state.  This wine is sweet, but has beautiful acidity.  A terrific complement to spicy Asian cuisine. Very complex, well-balanced, elegant & delicious. Very intense nose of ripe peaches, apricots followed by flavors of mainly yellow plums, peaches, hints of dried apricots, peaches & notes of honey. Wonderful long, lingering finish. This is built for the ages.

Dr. Loosen 2006 Riesling Beerenauslese
$22.99 | mixed case $18.39
Ernie described this as “berry selected, shriveled raisins” explaining that vintages can have from 5%-50% botrytis-affected grapes (where the grapes have shriveled down to about half their normal size & are exceptionally sweet). 2006 had picture book fruit., with the wine containing 50% botrytis grapes. This rich, decadent dessert wine has intense flavors of peaches & nectarines.  In Germany, you would sit around the table after a meal with family & friends and sip this wine and visit and enjoy yourself immensely. 

Really, it was such a pleasure having Ernie Loosen at our shop for a tasting.  We hope he stops by on his next jaunt around the world.

We have the Dr. Loosen 2007 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett in stock.  The other wines are available via special order, so give us a call 206-783-2007 or email info@portaliswines.com for more information.

Wine Notes from our Trip to Germany (Part I)

With long-time friend Brigitte in Regensburg

Coming back from Germany, customers have asked me over and over what kind of wines we drank while we were there? What wines are hot right now in Germany? Naturally, I was curious to see what was up in the German wine market, so I spent a fair amount of time checking out wine shops and wine in grocery stores. Here’s what we drank and here are my observations about those wines:

First stop on the second day…
A local, relatively small grocery store with a great wine selection focusing on European wines, mainly Spain and Italy. I got in a conversation with another customer who insisted I had to buy two Spanish wines which were his favorites. I ended up with two wines from the Spain & two wines from Alsace which looked really good. Here are some tasting notes:

Valtier 2000 Reserva €2.79 (approx. $4)
An unbelievable value. The other customer was right. A fantastic Tempranillo/Bobal blend from Utiel-Requenea (Valencia). Smooth, medium-bodied, a little bit rustic. This wine has aged 12 months in American oak, but you don’t really taste it anymore. This red aged well & still shows good red & black fruit, with fine tannins on the finish. This wine was an excellent food companion with our “Abendbrot”, traditional German dinner of bread with charcuterie.

Bodegas Los Llanos 2000 Pata Negra Gran Reserva €6.49 (approx. $9)  From the Valdepañas appellation, this is a red with 100% Tempranillo. Surprisingly still lots of acidity which carries the dark fruit, black cherry and raspberry flavors. Well-balanced & silky texture with beautiful smooth oaky notes on the finish. It was a fantastic sipper.

Joseph Cattin 2008 Pinot Blanc €4.89
(approx. $9)  100% Pinot Blanc from Alsace. Wonderful balance & acidity. Round, soft & delicious. Beautiful flavors of apples & pears combined with citrus & lime notes with a hint of tartness. An excellent sipper.

Joseph Cattin 2008 Sylvaner €4.89
(approx. $7) 100% Sylvaner from Alsace. Light, fresh, with pleasant acidity. Flavors of lemon, lime with pink grapefruit notes. Wonderful fresh finish. This white was wonderful refreshing. A producer to look out for.

Two days later I went to one of my favorite wine shops, Jacques Wein-Depot. It’s a big chain (franchised) where you can taste lots of wine and educate yourself quite well. The coolest thing is the customer interaction. So off I went mid-afternoon, and I found the place rather crowded. I got offered a glass and was told to help myself because the patron was busy ringing people up. I tasted about 15 wines, conversed with several customers & finally left with a 6-pack of some very cool stuff:

Cave De Vignerons De Buxy 2008 Montagny Vielles Vignes €8.95 (approx. $12.50) 100% stainless steel Chardonnay made out of old vines. Beautiful bouquet of pears & melon. Excellent acidity, elegant & harmonious. Wonderful melon & bosch pear flavors with hints of citrus & lime. Good weight & length. Long, soft finish. We had it with Züricher Geschnetzeltes (Veal) & Rösti (cut-up fried potato cakes). A match made in heaven. A good Burgundy for a good price.

Reichsgraf von Plettenberg 2008 Königschaffhauser Vulkanfelsen Grauer Burgunder €9.80 (approx. $14)
Repeat after me … just kidding!  100% Pinot Gris from the Baden appellation. Delicate, elegant, smooth & soft. Wonderful acidity with a touch of pear & melon fruit & some citrus notes. Beautiful soft, long finish. I could drink that forever.

Hans Spohr 2008 Dornfelder €7.65 (approx. $11) 100% Dornfelder from the Rheinhessen appellation. It has been a long time since I have tried one of these reds. Delicate cherry & raspberry nose with some herbal notes. Medium-bodied, smooth, with excellent dark fruit, very fine tannins and a long finish.

Zantho 2007 St. Laurent €7.65
(approx. $11)  A female customer at Jacques’ insisted I had to try this, saying it was an “out of this world, unbelievable Austrian red”. My brother wanted to grill some Seebrich (similar to trout) with grilled vegetables & potatoes & I thought this could be a good match … and it was! A co-production of Joseph Umathum & Wolfgang Peck. This red is from the Burgenland appellation (outside of Vienna) and shows beautiful red berry fruit with fine spicy elements & ultra fine tannins. Smooth, medium-bodied & elegant. It went down way too fast.

So, we had to open another bottle(!). My brother loves Spanish & Italian wines. We flipped a coin & ended up with:

Bodegas De La Marques 2004 Valserrano Rioja Reserva €14 (approx. $20) Some of you might be familiar with this producer. We have sold and poured by the glass one of the lower-end Rioja from this producer. The 2004 Reserva was a delight: A blend of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano, mainly from old vines. Intense & complex aromas of red berries, black tea & spicy & herbal notes. Long & good depth, elegant, round, with soft tannins on the long finish. Beautiful! We were sorry we only had one bottle, but we had to head up to Regensburg early the next morning to visit some other friends (and have more good food & wine), so it was probably a good thing!

Part II to follow …

As always, cheers!

Riesling, an overview

Riesling is a wine lover’s white wine.  Maybe that’s because you have to have some level of wine sophistication to know what you’re getting:  It’s difficult to grow Riesling and so the wines have greater vintage variations due to the varietal’s finicky nature … challenge #1.  But the product … wow, a complex combination of flavors & terroir:  apple, peach, apricot, rose petal, violet, minerals, flint.  Riesling also has an incredible range of styles depending on the ripeness of the grape, from crisp, dry sippers, to complex, off-dry food wines (Spätlese & Kabinett) to beautiful, rich, sweet nectars of dessert wines (Trockenbeerenauslese) … challenge #2.  And then there’s the German label … challenge #3.  I am fluent in German and I still can’t figure out what the heck they’re saying.  Of course Riesling is grown in France (Alsace), Austria (still German language labels, but not so confusing), Oregon, California, Washington State, Australia & New Zealand, but the Germans have been doing it since the 1400’s and Germany has the largest production & variety and it’s undoubtedly the home to the greatest Riesling wines.

For a down-and-dirty overview … German Riesling is known for its minerality (from the German soils), for its peach/apricot flavors, for its lightness, elegance & complexity, its excellent acidity and its low alcohol content.  Some German Riesling has a petrol nose, but it’s not as common as with Austrian Riesling, where a petrol nose is a common trait.  Austrian Riesling is tarter and tangier than German Riesling, but still has some peach/apricot flavors and good acidity.  Washington Riesling tends to be off-dry, with flavors of apricot, peach & orange zest.  Acidity is what Washington is working on.

Some interesting Riesling to try:
Efeste 2008 Evergreen Riesling (Columbia Valley, WA) $18.50  This is a dry Riesling which is unusual.  It’s tangy with more lemon, lime, citrus flavors.  Last year it won the Riesling category of Seattle Magazine’s Washington wine competition. We currently serve this wine by the glass at the bar.

Hans Lang 2007 Sabrina Riesling (Rheingau, Germany) $19.50 Off-dry, light- to medium-bodied, some minerality, flavors of peach, apricot, orange zest, grapefruit, pleasant mouthfeel.  Would pair well with Thai or Vietnamese cuisines.

Dr. Pauly Bergweiler 2007 Bernkasteler Badstube Am Doctorberg Riesling Kabinett  (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany) $31 A very terroir driven Riesling.  Not as sweet as the Hans Lang. Lots of minerals, complex, beautiful acidity. This is the big leagues.  “Pale yellow color. Aromas of wet stone mixed with peaches and apricot. Very good complexity and concentration. Beautiful acidity integrated in the fruit. Main flavors are peach pie, apricots, pink grapefruit with some honey notes. Excellent, long finish.” (Jens, Tasting Circle, 93 points)

In August, the Tasting Circle (a group of local wine professionals who meet monthly to blind taste, rank and write tasting notes on wines currently available in the Seattle marketplace) reviewed German & Austrian Riesling.  To see the wine reviews in their entirety, go to: http://thetastingcircle.wordpress.com/2009/08/

Contributor: Julie Howe

Saskia Prüm visits from the Mosel Valley (Germany)

Saskia Prüm, winemaker at S.A. Prüm, with Jens Strecker, owner of Portalis Wines in Seattle
Saskia Prüm, winemaker at S.A. Prüm, with Jens Strecker, owner of Portalis Wines in Seattle

Saskia Prüm holds an honored position for us at Portalis.  She is the first German winemaker to do a tasting at our shop since we opened in 2003, and it was well worth the wait.  She was lovely.  She told me a little about the history of the winery … Located in the village of Wehlen (southwest Germany) near the one of the most famous vineyards in the Mosel Valley, the Wehlener Sonnenuhr, the estate has been in her family since her great grandfather began in 1911.  The estate flourished under father, who began running the estate in 1971, and as of 2005, it has been in Saskia’s hands.  She said that she knew from an early age that this was her calling.  With a smile, she said she had probably participated in her first wine tasting at age 9. She received a Diploma of Engineering in Winemaking from the Technical University in Geisenheim.  After that she completed a series of internships in Pfalz/Reingau, Baden & Alto Adige.  Her time in Alto Adige must have been particularly interesting, 1) because it was a huge 200 hector co-op compared with the 16.5 hectars of the S.A. Prüm estate and 2) she got to go hang out in Northern Italy, after all.

Americans so often have a block against white wine that’s not dry, but I can’t encourage you enough to open your experience to these wines as German Riesling is considered some of the finest white wine in the world (and S.A. Prüm is an excellent example of this style of wine).  It’s a thinker’s white wine … beautiful fruit flavors with an amazing acidity that off-sets the slight ending sweetness of the wine.  It’s refreshing as a stand alone sipper, but Riesling also rates as the most versatile white wine to pair with food.  The acidity as well as the fact that it’s not dry allows it to pair beautifully with appetizers, fish, shellfish, chicken, pork and especially cheeses.  It can also handle sweeter & spicier flavors (perfect for Asian cuisines) and the tanginess and heat of Middle Eastern & Mexican dishes.

Here’s what we tasted with Saskia, as well as her commentary on the wines:

S.A. Prüm 2007 Essence Riesling
$12.50/case $10
This wine has a spiciness to the fruit which is lovely, off-set by beautiful acidity.  Lighter than the next wine, it is a beautiful sipping wine.

S.A. Prüm 2003 Bernkasteler Lay $39/case $31.50
This wine has a little more body and a little more yellow in the color.  It has lovely grapefruity flavors and surprisingly, Saskia suggested pairing this wine with a red meat such as lamb.

S.A. Prüm 2007 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett $24/case $19.20
This Riesling comes from the most famous vineyard in the Mosel, the Wehlener Sonnenuhr. As a Kabinett, this wine is sweeter than the first two, but pleasantly so with the tingling acidity off-setting the sweetness beautifully.

S.A. Prüm 2003 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese $39/case $31.50
Auslese, from a selection of highly ripened grapes, is sweeter still than the Kabinett, and moves into the dessert wine category.  Try this with your favorite artisan blue cheese, for an amazing salty sweet combo.  You can enjoy this wine now, but Saskia said that you can lay it down for up to 20 years.

Contributor:  Julie Howe