Today we sober up from the Munich palaces and an unpronounceable Scheurebe white wine with a visit to Dachau’s concentration camp.  We link a train and shuttle and then shuffle through snow and suburbs.  Then the duplexes stop abruptly at a wall.

Dachau HomesI give my wife our camera: partly because she has a knack for dispassionate documentation, and my dollar store gloves suck.

Our guide takes us to the gate. A touching speech details the long, suffering walk, the harassment, the end of 32,000 lives.

Dachau EntranceOnce he finishes, cameras pop out and people pose, smile, and flash peace signs in front of the Arbeit Macht Frei gate…ah, memories…

We enter the cold courtyard, where Nazis roll-called and gave Jews and other minorities their daily forced labor.

Dachau CourtyardInside, we tour the entry hall, where Nazis stripped people of everything that made them human. Placards, display cases, and videos detail the meticulous, sterile horror.   At least they didn’t smoke:

Dachau Rauchen VerbotenHimmler founded Dachau to house political prisoners and rebellious clergy.  A building of dorm-like rooms soon imprisoned important prisoners of war thought worthy of ransom. This was about as fancy a stay as one could get.

Dachau Fancy DormsWe trudge back to the courtyard and discuss the various memorials.  One depicts the arm badges used to identify the prisoner as Jewish, Jehovah’s Witness, communist, criminal, emigrant, race polluter, and idiot. However, it still omits pink triangle worn by homosexuals…times change too slowly…

Dachau Memorial to deadWe head to the now empty rows of where dormitories filled a field. One was reconstructed.

Dachau BunksBodies crammed in here and used communal toilets and wash basins. There were no heaters. We cross the compound, as prisoners once did, their one moment of daily reprieve. Trenches and electrified fences provided one the easiest “escape”.

Dachau Fence

We reach the gas chambers and furnaces, where countless bodies were disposed of.

Dachau CrematoriumBack in the compound, we find memorials erected by various persecuted faiths.

Jewish Memorial DachauJust behind them, sits a Carmelite convent.

We head back to the museum, which overwhelms our small group with endless placards detailing statistics, personal stories, and displays.

Exhausted, a setting sun tints our departure with the first warmth we have seen all day.

Sunset DachauBack in high school, when I watched videos of the graves and bodies, one classmate broke into uncontrollable laughter. This history is so extreme, so surreal, that as reflex we find it hard to believe.  However, visiting empty Dachau in the dead of winter makes it all too real.

Next post, we shed Germany for Austria, Mozart, and fantastic wine and beer.


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Scheurebe Wine from Bruder Dr Becker, Rheinessen, Munich, Germany

With the holidays in full swing, we need to escape from the joy/stress of shopping, family/work parties. So Wayward Wine will up posts EU Austerity Drinking Tour in the following weeks.

Last Monday’s post, Munich’s Residenz palace managed to glow through winter.  We slighted some rather nice beer (mainly out of frustration with the monopoly of big producers). So let us give Germanic wine a chance.

Munich lacks water bodies to make wine this deep into the continent. So this white comes of the steep banks of the Rein, in the heart of Germany’s western wine country: the Rheinhessen:

Rheinhessen MapAmongst Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, and even Pinot Noir, 3.5% Scheurebe vines grow here. Dr. Scheu created his silly-sounding crossing just for the Rheinhessen’s sandy red soils. Let’s see…

Brüder Dr. Becker, Scheurebe (grape), Kabinett, Prädikatswein Gutsabfüllung, Rheinhessen, Germany, 2010 bio €10.00

Bruder Dr Becker ScheurebeThis is a Kabinett classification: basically a main harvest, reserve wine, meant for cellaring in your “cabinet”. So game on:

Appearance: A bright, crystalline lemon color.

Aromas: Youthful, powerful aromas of grapefruit, black currant, and steel carry.

Palate: A smidge of sweetness tames prickly acidity, mild 10.5% alcohol, and a nice, medium body.

Flavors: medium intense grapefruit, lime jelly, and slate mineral wind into a dry finish of medium plus length.

Conclusions: Becker’s sugar balance is perfect. This Scheurebe grips and grabs attention with an excited but light touch.  It is very good quality (4 of 5). Scheurebe, who knew? Now if only I could pronounce it!

Next post takes us to Dachau’s concentration camp. Here’s a moment of lightness beforehand:

Tracy Milka Cow

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Munich: Residenz to Bavarian Royals and an EU Austerity Drinking Tour

The 140th straight day of travel ticks over with my wife and I (still married) jetting across Germany into Munich.  Strasbourg charmed us with its bilingual, Alsatian wines, Christmas markets, and history (post here). What will the land of lager bring our EU Austerity Drinking Tour?

EU map New York to Munich Day 140We leave late from a fabulous AirBnB apartment in the burbs. Steely snow blankets a gray city.

Munich River View IcyWe pass neoclassical buildings and monuments.  The walk warms us up and soon we discover town squares and golden architecture that almost compensates for the lack of sun.

Golden Munich ChurchWe tumble into lovely Christmas markets that feed from one square to another like a snake with bulges.  The town clock churns with wooden automata.  But unlike Strasbourg or Luxemburg, everything is meat. This is Germany. We finally find a café with sad cheese sandwiches.

Fueled but still cold, we visit the Royal Treasury, which packs its walls with bedazzling finery from Germany’s earliest kings.

Munich Crown  As well as the most bling-tastic, miniature knight and horse ever seen:

Crazy Munich HorseAfter a few hours of getting overwhelmed by toiletries, crucifixes, and odd cups, we enter the Residenz: Germany’s largest palace, where Bavaria’s Kings ruled, dined, and wallowed in their own opulence in 130 rooms.

The audio guide takes us to shell-bedecked Grotto: one of ten courtyards:

Munich Grotto ResidenzAround the corned and down the stairs we expect a small hallway and find what can only be described as the largest Renaissance hall north of Italy:

Residenz Antiquity HallThis Antiquarium fills endless niches with (mostly real) busts and statues from Duke Albert V’s eclectic collection.

We traipse through further rooms of extravagance, from Baroque, to Mannerist, Neoclassical and beyond.

Munich gives me HeadspinThere are porcelain cabinets made out of porcelain…to hold porcelain. Bedrooms were built for visiting popes. A hundred dish gold place-setting.  Everything is so atrociously ornate, busy, and obsessed with minutia.  Gold Place settingWith winter’s sun setting we find the Cuviliés Theater, an utter gem of a space, where Mozart once held a few gigs. Cuvilies Theater MunichWe have the fanciest-pantsiest hangover imaginable.

We head out to get groceries for dinner, drink, and oh yes, a cow:

Tracy Milka CowThis being the home to Oktoberfest, we grab three Munich beers. They are all Hell beers (literally “light-colored” nothing to do with damnation) but of different kinds (Lager, Tegernseer, and Weissbier.

Munich beerThey are all good, refreshing, yet don’t register much to our, as then, untrained beer palates. I also forgot to take notes. Drinking in the palace was enough.

Next Monday’s post purges our fabulous hangover with a trip to Dachau.


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Riesling and Beer: Ecliptic’s Rigel Sparkling Riesling Ale

What can 1% of Riesling from Tresoria winery add to a beer? Let’s see.


John Harris of Ecliptic used Pale, Munich, and light crystal malts for body and texture.

Appearance: Clear, medium intense amber. Off white, creamy head.

Aromas: Clean, medium plus intense apricot, orchard, whole grain bread, honey, lemongrass

Palate: off dry, medium acid, medium minus bitterness, creamy texture, medium body.

Flavors: more malt and bread on palate, light lemongrass, apricot, tightens into a lightly grainy, pine-like finish. Medium plus length.

Conclusions: this a bright, pleasant, refreshing beer with low bitterness and complexity. Well done 4 of 5

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Serendipity: Biodynamics -vs- Wines from Jura #MWWC13

mwwc mwwc13Serendipity provides the lucky theme for this 13th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge.  So, what role does fortuitous chance play in wine?  Well, one theory thinks we can control nature’s chaos: biodynamics.

Logo DemeterImagine organic wine-making on astrological steroids, based, weirdly, on lectures given by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s.  Biodynamics looks at a vineyard as a whole ecosystem tied to celestial phenomenon and proscribes rituals to better enhance sustainability and produce. Intriguing…

However, bio-ists also latch their lunar planting calendar to a wine tasting calender.  In theory, wine lives, and moon phases effect it just like living plants. Now wine certainly evolves and changes chemically with time and oxygen exposure, but to consider it “living” is like believing in zombies: those grapes aren’t growing anytime soon.

But can this (pseudo) science really predict chance? If we can calculate and plan our pleasure: “today is a leaf day, I shall avoid wine for maximum delight!” does it rob us the joy of surprise? Can we control serendipity?

November 6th, Jean-Francois Bourdy came to town. His family had made wine  traditionally, never planting new varieties, and converted to biodynamics a decade ago. With him came a tasting of 16 wines from Jura: France’s smallest, cold, continental region, sandwiched between Burgundy and Switzerland, and famed for long-aged wines.

Jura France wine MapBut November 6th was a Root Day and a full moon: a horrid day to drink: fruit and flower days are best.

image Would Bourdy’s wines taste like dirt or fruit? To avoid bias, I did not check the calendar beforehand.  Let’s see if Biodynamics can predict serendipity.


Bourdy Cremant de JuraWe start with Jean Bourdy, Crémant du Jura, NV $23.99: 100% native Trousseau grapes fermented like Champagne. It looks like a gold-flecked, peach sunset. It smells and tastes of pear, croissant with vanilla icing, dried apricot, and lemon peel. Off dry, bright acid, and chalk dust lead to lightness and length. The fruits are there, but maybe today’s root-itude emphasizes more serious elements. Maybe their Crémant is just damn good (4 of 5).

We sit and Bourdy details Jura’s history.

imageA flight of four reds appears: 2010, 1998, 1979, and 1967.  The thin skinned, red grapes Poulsard, Trousseau, and Pinot Noir barely ripen in Jura: they look like rosé.  So Bourdy co-ferments and ages them 4 years in neutral, teenage barrels to tame their acid.

imageThe 2010 (left) looks a bright ruby blue baby.  Aromas smell ripely of Turkish delight, clove, earthy mineral, eucalypitis…but not fruit…hmmm… The palate seers with acidity and tannin, a lean body but silken texture. Flavors ring of hot iron, eucalyptus, aniseed, and orange peel.  It is way too young, Bourdy says drink it in a few decades. But 2010 has great potential (4 fo 5). In retrospect, the lack of fruit might draw on this root day.

The 1998 glows a light garnet. Aniseed dominates, with maraschino cherry (fruit!) and vanilla. Again it’s dry, tart, tannic, but silky and more plump. Flavors taste far more open, long, and complex adding forest leaves, pumpkin pie crust, and salt. 1998 is very good (4 of 5). Fruit is second fiddle here, but present.

The 1979 looks a copper amber with ruby flecks. Aromas trumpet toffee, creme brulee, hot oil, orange marmalade, and clove. Same palate. Flavors add a lovely woody depth, saline, molé sauce, cinnamon clove. 1979 tastes outstanding (5 of 5) but is fading.

The 1967 shows a slight more ruby than 1979. Aromas seem quiet, but pruned apricot, brioche, figs, figs, figs, golden figs.  ’67 is drier, grippier, and stonier than ’79, and tastes of hot coals (like ’79), gold fig, musk, and bacon (5 of 5). Surprisingly more fruit here.

Maybe blame the 4 years of barrel time. Maybe blame the cold climate. Maybe blame the soil. But fruit is my last thought. Tertiary characteristics are king. Could this root day be the culprit? Maybe Jura reds lack fruit. On to the whites:

imageBourdy’s 2009 Blanc comes from Chardonnay aged four years in oak. Intense aromas smell of cream cycle, verbena, and tart yogurt. Dry, high acids lead to a soft, silky, medium body. Flavors tend to graham cracker, clove, and a light white wood ash but the fruits hold. Rather good (3 of 5) and showing more fruit than expected.

The 1995, however, smells and tastes twangy, grassy, like margarita salt and white pepper. It feels nervous, lean, and linear. Acid dominates. Maybe the root day hurts this 1995. Maybe it just sucks (2 of 5).

The 1990 returns to form with powerful pear, golden apple, and salt. The body balances high acids creating a delicate, complex thing. The palate tastes spiced with cinnamon, creme brulee, and toasted baguette. Stellar (4 of 5).

1983 looks a bright, deep gold. Aromas glow with clove honey, white mushroom, and gold pear. Flavors remind of spiced, candied orange peel, gold pear, tending toward eucalyptus. It seems still taught, even jagged, but lengthy and very good (4 of 5).

So we find more fruit, ripe flavors, and pleasure with the Chardonnays. What happens with Jura’s native grape Savagnin?

Bourdy’s entry 2009 looks nearly effervescent light, lemon gold. Aromas pound with lemon, lime meringue, white pear. Acid-like lemon juice, no body, salt, some vanilla dust, florals and light honey. It is a nice youth (3 of 5).

I will post on Bourdy’s Vin Jaune, Château Chalon, and spirited Macvin and Galant next Thursday.  These first “regular” reds and whites provide an adequate sample. Although a control and comparative tasting over other days would help.

Nevertheless, even on this root day, fruit presents itself and these wines delight.  But I like them because they taste interesting not easy.  With hindsight it seems that I picked up tertiary characteristics more often.  Bourdy later explained that his “terroir” (minerality, earth, herb, and individuating characteristics) shines better on root days.

Granted these are serious French wines from a cold climate. They never see the ripeness and methods to emphasize their fruit.  But did today’s root day really make a difference? Can I control my pleasure by avoiding root days? Do I prefer wine on root days? Is human subjectivity too fickle to find the same pleasure?

Is our life merely a cog in a mechanistic machine?  Would charting out my drinking life ruin the adventure? Predestination made life hell for Calvinists and pilgrims (e.g. Salem witch trails).

One may not have their fruit or root day work out.  But by splurging on a wine night I gained something: physical pleasure is fleeting. There is no fruit or root day for learning.



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