(Driving at night from Moselle Valley to Cologne, Germany)
Weingut Markus Molitor
Haus Klosterberg 1
54470 Bernkastel-Wehlen, Germany
In 1984, at the tender age of 20, Markus Molitor took over his father’s winery with a clear aim: to produce Mosel Rieslings under the name “Molitor” in the tradition of eight generations and in the same quality that made the region world-famous 100 years ago – terroir-specific, unmistakable and extremely storable. I gave Markus a call and informed him that I wanted to include some of his Rieslings in my cellar. Undoubtedly, he was honored and invited us to his estate. When we knocked on the door, it was his wife that answered and handled our tasting. Markus was in the background assumable running Christmas errands. We began with your typical water cooler talk highlighted by suggested curry wurst pairings and Germany’s irreproachable philosophy on race relations. Then we cut to the chase and tasted few Rieslings. First, an early harvest Kabinett. Then, an elegant spätlese. The spätlese just took me for a ride. It had a greater intensity and strength than the Kabinett with high levels of acidity that curbed any overt sweetness, fleshy and intensely flavored, often tasting of apple, pear and honeysuckle, elegant nose with highly detectable aromas. Then, we moved on to a couple special GGs. At this point, I had to understand the Molitor philosophy. I asked what makes their terroir so unique. She replied with, “Vineyards with genuine steep slopes as opposed to the vast expanses of vineyard found in so many parts of the world are what make our terroirs unique.” I was curious is it mattered where the grapes were planted on the property and she was reluctant to answer at first, but then revealed, “Planting the ideal grape variety for the respective location is the key to the quality of our wines.” Captivating, I had to know more. What do you think is the right proportion of inclination, grape and passion I asked her. She felt it was “80% inclination – 94% Riesling – 100% passion” I agreed and we tried a few more wines and Jen and I bought three or so bottle for our cellar. It was then a short 10 minute drive across the Moselle river to Weingut Dr. Pauly Bergweiler.
Weingut Dr. Pauly Bergweiler
54470 Bernkastel-Kues, Germany
Dr. Bergweiler was a well respected neurosurgeon credited with separating conjoined twins and developing a hemispherectomy technique for controlling brain seizures. Following his retirement, he did what most German doctors do as their fallback, he started a winery. Thus the genesis of Weingut Dr. Pauly Bergweiler.
The tasting room a wide selection of wines to sample and our server had quite the personality. She had the devilish glare of a James Bond villain, could take an American joke and dished a couple of her own. The wines weren’t bad. We tried some ranging from a juicy, hearty table wine to a creamy, sweet dry berry. But, it wasn’t as good as the product as Markus Molitor. With all the samples, we were bound to find one we liked and we took that bottle home.
54470 Bernkastel, Germany
It was getting dark, so we didn’t have time to go to another winery. Instead, we headed to Rieslinghaus/WeinhausPorn, a well respected wine shop in Bernkastel. The name of the shop was arrived by combining the owner’s two favorite hobbies, but we were just here for the wine. Their collection is focused around the Mosel wine region with over 500 wines to choose from. It’s a popular destination among tourists with crowds funneling in to avoid the cold outside. The best thing to do is browse their selection, wait for the owner to become available and have him guide you in your purchase. When it was our turn, he didn’t want to take Mosel wines. First, we had to try his gluhwein. We were reluctant at first, but he mentioned this one was made with white wine, not red. “I’ll give it a go, mate”. A lot better than what we had tried at the Christmas markets. I’m surprised they don’t serve more of the white version. We were off to a good start and he then proceeded to mention some of his favorite producers in our price range. The section that held the Riesling magnums caught my eye and we settle on a personally autographed bottle from Fritz Haag. As opposed to the magnums in the U.S. where the bottles are wider, in Mosel they make the bottles longer and the same circumference as the standard 750 ml bottle. Quite sexy for serving at a dinner party.
Bernkastel Christmas Market
DE-54470 Bernkastel-Kues, Germany
With a little extra time before having to head to dinner, we walked through the Bernkastel Christmas Market. Nothing to blog home about, but you get a quick understand for why Cologne, Dresden and Nuremberg are so well-regarded.
51429 Bergisch Gladbach, Germany
Dining at Restaurant Vendôme was a no-brainer. It’s is ranked #12 in the world, has three Michelin stars, 19.5 points in Gault Millau and a setting that’s as grand as they come within the Althoff Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg hotel on the outskirts of Cologne. The stars were aligned and we were expecting great things from Joachim Wissler’s cooking.
It also marked the end of fine dining on this trip. A great one at that, there were no disappointments when the white table clothes were present. The night started out with a little exercise as we trekked it to the lobby of the hotel only to be told the restaurant is back where you came from. If you think of the hotel as the alphabet “U”, the lobby is at the bottom center of the U and the restaurant and parking is near one end of the U. I checked in with the hostess, but she assumed I didn’t have a reservation when I walked in. It was a bit of an awkward start and unexpected at a three star Michelin restaurant.
We hadn’t eaten a square meal all day, so we decided on two Diverse Menus / JW Autumn Menus (268 €) and added the mascarpone ravioli to each menu (38 €). Do note menus are served for the entire table, which I’m not a fan of due to the limitation. However, lack of variety would not be an issue tonight. Quite the opposite. I tacked on a wine pairing (108 €) with Jen passing since we had just come from Mosel.
We also ordered some champagne to start hoping to wipe our memories of the hostess who nearly spat our way for not looking the part. The service was as formal as they come. Comparable to Le Louis XV or Le Bernardin, formal to a fault. As the meal progressed and other tables exited, this became less noticeable and servers were more relaxed. With regards to food, I can easily see how chef Wissler is regarded as the best in Germany. He reminded me of Grant Achatz in a way. Both could viewed as the best chefs in their respective countries and I do regard chef Achatz as the best in the U.S., but they both lack constraint. Constraint for chef Achatz in the sense of putting too much of his experiments out on the table before he’s mastered the dish. For chef Wissler the need to put his entire repertoire on the menu is filling to say the least. A course at Vendôme could have been three or four on another tasting menu. And while each component tasted great, we were stuffed at around the bread basket and the Yin & Yang. After that, it was all mentally challenging to get each bite down. In the restaurant’s defense, they did mention it was going to be a lot of food. Another 100 calories and I would have had no choice but to retire to one of the hotel’s suites. With all that said, the food itself was wonderful, just sample each course and you should be fine.
Dorint Hotel am Heumarkt Köln
Pipin St 1
50667 Cologne, Germany
After dinner, we drove into central Cologne to check into our hotel. It was late Saturday night and there was a small crowd smoking outside as we pulled up to valet. Then, loud music coming from inside and as we made our way through the lobby carousers were overflowing the bar. Not what we expected or wanted, but we checked in and quickly made our way up to our room. The hotel has a great location with views of the Cathedral from the elevator.
(Hotel Elevator at Dorint Hotel am Heumarkt Köln in Cologne, Germany)