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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Wine Tasting in the Sultry Summer

The narrow road wound its way through the verdant rolling hills and quaint, picturesque villages of the Saxony-Anhalt countryside. At times, this thoroughfare was ample enough for two vehicles—some of them load-bearing trucks—while at other points, particularly in the towns, in had scarcely enough room for one.

The square houses of these small towns came right up to the road, as a result of having been built in a time when the largest traffic conceivable consisted of a beast of burden and a cart with wooden wheels. As we breezed through these towns in a sleek, German-built automobile, I was occasionally able to glance into these dwellings and glimpse a hand-crafted wooden table or vintage porcelain wares. Some of these structures were extremely well-maintained, while others had exposed bricks, stones, or even support beams. In the centers of the villages, houses had been built consecutively and sharing a common wall, lending themselves to the “classic European” architecture and style that I had come to expect while dreaming of my travels on the continent.

My companions for the day were Marcel, his wife Nancy, and their youngster. (Marcel is Madlen’s older brother and my former coworker, who is mentioned at the end of the previous post.) We were on our way to one of Deutschland’s wine-producing regions, located in the heart of the Saxony-Anhalt state. Some of the wineries are the former monasteries of centuries ago, and thanks to their thirsty and ingenious monks, present-day Germany enjoys its beer (and to a lesser extent, its wine) prestige. The car drove up a green hillside and past the blooming grapevines while Marcel explained that most vineyards have been planted on south-facing slopes so as to bathe the grapes with as much sun as possible. Our destination, Thüringer Winery, lay among the gathering of structures at the top of the hill. We hurried into the cool, air-conditioned tasting room, a welcome respite from the unusually hot and humid summer day.

The German wine tasting experience is a bit different than ones I have done elsewhere. There was no “flight,” where I was guided through a sampling of specific 3-8 wines that were chosen for a structured “wine tasting.” Instead, I was presented with a sheet of all the wines produced by Thüringer—totaling around thirty styles and/or grape varietals. Fortunately, this was not Marcel’s first rodeo, and he informed me that we were to pick and choose which wines we would like to taste, and at the end, buy a bottle or two of our favorites. I happily acquiesced, and owing to my friend’s direction (there were many varietals I had never heard of before), I was soon the owner of a couple of bottles the ones I had liked best—a dry rosé and an unfamiliar Müller-Thurgau.  

After our first stop and before our next one, we paused for lunch in a small countryside town. (Then again, in the German countryside, what “towns” are not small?) We pulled up to a restaurant built onto the side of an aging—or so I thought—watermill. It turned out that the owner of the watermill is Marcel’s business associate; he was kind enough to give us a brief tour of the grounds and its machinery. To my surprise, inside the old brick walls was a factory full of 21st century wheat-processing technology, including a modern watermill machine to generate power. To finish the tour, the proprietor gifted us a five-kilo bag of fine wheat. We said our thank yous and made our way next door to the restaurant, lunching on traditional and tasty local fare of meat and potatoes.

 The watermill as seen from the restaurant’s outdoor patio.

Finishing our meal, we used extra spatulas from the kitchen to pry us off the booths, as we had sweat ourselves into the seat material while eating. (I suppose that part of the historic “authenticity” of the watermill and attached restaurant was the lack of air conditioning.)

The post-lunch digestif was at Pawis winery, built on top of a nearby hill and on the site of a medieval monastery. What the monks of long ago began, Pawis winemakers gladly and artfully continue today. Fortunately for us, the winery was not as “authentic” as our lunch spot, and we slowly sampled not a small number of their craft products in the cool air of modern technology. The tasting was of the same format as the previous one, but I enjoyed the wines here a tad more, as did Marcel. We readily purchased a few bottles and walked around the scenic grounds.

Unfortunately, the other inebriated tourists had left the backdrop by this point.

The satellite makes for a nice juxtaposition of centuries.


This wine tasting experience, as well as many other of my Deutschland adventures, are entirely a product of the generosity of my dear friends, Marcel and Nancy. Thank you, to both of you.

Stay tuned for Prague!

Full-smiles can be a challenge in sweltering heat.