Generally, when wine nerds like me think of fine wines from Germany, we think white: Mosel Riesling, with its enormous capacity for longevity and nuance, its bright acidity and vibrant minerality, is considered by many to be one of Europe's greatest wines. (Celebrity sommelier and winner of this year's James Beard Wine Professional award Paul Grieco has built his career out of his obsession with Riesling and presents Mosel wines every year at the prestigious Aspen Food & Wine Festival.)
But more and more we're seeing superb red wines arrive from Germany, like the Friedrich Becker Pinot Noir (above) that I picked up for under $25 at the Houston Wine Merchant and opened for my mother-in-law's birthday party on Saturday night.
In my experience, Pinot Noir raised in Pfalz (in southern Germany, where the grape is called Spätburgunder, meaning literally late [ripening] Burgundy) tends to express more earthy and savory aromas and flavors than its counterpart in the Côte de Nuits (Burgundy), where the variety is most famously cultivated. And where Burgundy Pinot Noir can achieve that ineffable balance of lightness in body and power in tannic structure (often accompanied by exorbitant pricing), Pfalz Spätburgunder delivers meaty, juicy, lip-smacking wines that we can afford to cellar and drink on a regular basis.
The Becker Estate Pinot Noir (not to be confused with Becker Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country) was ideal with the hamburgers my father-in-law grilled on Saturday night: I loved the way its acidity and chewy mouthfeel cut right through the fattiness and tanginess of the ground beef that he had seasoned with Tony Chachere, and its earthiness was a perfect counterpoint to the sweetness of the H-E-B hamburger rolls.
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And the Crown Royal cocktail glasses?
They have a saying in Orange, Texas, where my wife was born and where my in-laws live: When you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with...