Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Traveling hither and yon, part 2

Backtracking a bit - the day before I went to Aachen, I went to a city called Trier with my friend D. I'd been to Trier previously and seen the major sites like Porta Nigra and an absurd number of churches. This time, I got to experience the other part of Trier, namely, its wine culture.

Like everywhere else along the Rhine and Mosel rivers, Trier has the perfect climate and soil for growing grapes. Riesling is probably the best-known variety of German wine, and any Riesling you find in the States that is from Germany is probably made within an hour or so of where I live. Trier is one of the biggest cities in the area, therefore, it is something of a hub for wine growing and especially wine selling.

D and I picked out six wines to try - several Rieslings (of course), a champagne, a wine made from a very old variety of grape called Elbling, and a red. The wines were good, naturally, but my favorite part of the whole thing was the man in charge of the wine tastings. Among his proclamations:

About the champagne: "The members of the Swedish Royal Family bathe in this champagne every morning. If you drink it, you too can be a princess."

About the Elbling: "This grape has been grown here since the Romans. 2000 years of growing, just for you. Just for you."

(As part of this venture I learned that alcohols have three parts or stages: nose, palate, and finish. The nose is how it smells, the palate is how it tastes, and the finish is the lingering aftertaste when you've swallowed. The Elbling had no finish. It was very odd. I kept waiting for something to be there, but it was like the taste just cut off after I swallowed.)

About one Riesling, which he called "the sweet highlight": "It will make you even sweeter than you already are. A sweet princess."

("The sweet highlight" was unbelievably sweet. I like sweeter wines because I apparently still have the tastebuds of a teenager, and I was overwhelmed by the sugars. It tasted almost like grape juice. I can't imagine what you would do with it, except pour it over ice cream. It was suggested that it paired well with particularly strong cheeses, so the insane sweetness of the wine would be balanced by the saltiness and savoriness of the cheese. It was delicious, just not anything I expected from a winery.)

And then, randomly, about Obamacare - this part really went off the rails: "Your president is trying to introduce a new healthcare system. You know that when this happens, you will have a chip implanted in your forehead or your hand which will contain all your medical information, and you cannot participate in this healthcare without the chip. Then, in a little while, everything will be in this chip. Your name, your information, your bank account. Without this chip you cannot shop, cannot work, cannot go to the hospital. Without this chip you will not be a person anymore."

(This was all delivered in German, which D doesn't understand. In the interests of politeness I didn't inform the man that he was clearly insane and instead was left to nod seriously and say noncommittal things like "I hadn't heard that," while he told me very seriously that this was happening right now, "in your country." I kept a straight face and when we left was finally able to relay the story, which caused a reasonable amount of merriment for us both.)

Beyond dire Orwellian predictions of the American future, I learned some interesting facts about the way that grapes are grown along the Rhine and Mosel. D had previously commented that it was odd not to see any terracing - the vineyards were planted all up and down the steep hills on either side of the rivers, which often lead to erosion, and it seemed that problem could be solved by terracing the slopes. It turns out, however, that planting on such a steep grade is deliberate. In the early spring and late fall, when the sun spends more time lower in the sky, planting on a steep include ensures that the vines don't shadow one another, as they would if planted on flat ground. This extends the growing season by several weeks. Fascinating.

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