Dining with Winemakers from Austria & Bordeaux

Berkeley’s Claremont Hotel at sunset

Intimate and focused, there’s nothing like hearing from and tasting with a winemaker directly. Last issue, I met with three Napa/Sonoma winemakers. This issue, it’s two European ones from the unparalleled regions of Bordeaux and Kamptal. Look (or ask) for these wines in local wine shops.

Laurenz V. wines (photo source: Laurenz V. website)

LAURENZ V., Austria – Technically Laurenz, the 5th (but read as Laurenz Five), Laurenz V. wines are Gruner Veltliners and Rieslings from one of my favorite wine-making countries, Austria. I adore these two varietals in skilled hands and Laurenz’ are. Laurenz Maria Moser, V. comes from five generations of winemakers, his grandfather being the legendary Professor Dr. Lorenz Moser III., who invented the Austrian trellising system, Lenz Moser Hocherziehung, which spread across Europe.

A truly delightful man, lunch with the hilarious Laurenz entailed colorful stories and many a laugh. It also meant a line-up of gorgeous Gruners. Growing on terraced landscape in the Kamptal (north of Vienna), his wines are all stainless steel-fermented for that crisp, bright Gruner profile.

I tasted through seven Gruners, from a juicy 2009 Laurenz und Sophie Singing Gruner to his line of Charming Gruners (years 2005-2009). I was partial to the full 2005, balanced with acidity and apple spice; and to 2006 with its clean nose, creamy yet mineral taste. We even sampled a honeyed 1980 (!) Gruner to witness the possibility of a Gruner aging, contrary to popular opinion.

We ended with a lively citrus/apple 2009 Prinz Von Hessen ‘H’ Riesling and a lush, grapefruit-touched Johannisberger Klaus Riesling Kabinett Trocken. Both further reflect the range of beauties that come out of Austria.

Claremont Hotel, the setting for Berkeley Wine Festival Winemaker dinners

CHATEAU PALMER, Bordeaux, France – When you’re invited to a winemaker dinner with a winemaker from Bordeaux, you jump at the opportunity. The joy of over three hours with Bernard de Laage at Berkeley’s Claremont Hotel was that we tasted twelve Chateau Palmer wines of varying vintages. Comparing years side-by-side, we gained a deeper appreciation of the factors of each harvest and strengths of their blends. Chateau Palmer is a blend of equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with a touch of Petit Verdot, while Alter Ego is a robust, young expression of Chateau Palmer.

For me, stand-out Chateau Palmer vintages were the lush 2000 Palmer, young but bright 2005 Alter Ego, opulent and exuberant 1999 Palmer, and the musty, full, smoky but acidic 2002 Palmer. There certainly was no low point in the line-up, however, from 1998-2006.

Maine scallop topped w/ foie gras over rhubarb compote

The evening, as part of Berkeley Wine Festival (check their site for future dinners), was over the top with spectacular views of San Francisco and the Bay from the back room of Claremont Hotel’s Meritage restaurant. Twinkling lights on a warm night made a brilliant partner to rising star chef Josh Thomsen’s menu. I was duly impressed with all his dishes, and wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot more from him in coming years. Maine Sea Scallops topped with Hudson Valley Foie Gras stood out among five courses. Over rhubarb-balsamic compote and endive, it was the dining pinnacle of the night. But satisfaction points go to Thomsen’s succulent Creek Stone Beef Short Rib.

All in all, a happy marriage of wine, food, people and setting.