Last week, I attended a lunch at Portland’s terrific Schulte & Herr specifically designed to show how well German wines – in all their scintillating, not-just-Riesling diversity – attend to soulful, seasonal, lovingly prepared food.

But saying this sells the wines short, because really what the lunch reminded me of is just how good the wines are. Not good-for-, not good-when-, not good-if-. Just – always – delicious, emotionally, intellectually and even spiritually satisfying.

We were led by Rich Girard, sales manager of the U.S. importer for P.J. Valckenberg, a German wine company that has been in existence since 1786. (But that’s nothing: Several of the producers Valckenberg represents have been making wine continuously since the 13th century.) These wines are distributed in Maine by Central Distributors.

The foods were varied – salads, bratwurst, sauerkraut, spatzle, smoked salmon and more – but each and every time, the wines harmonized with what we ate. And that is because they (and especially the Rieslings) contain such diversity of perspectives. Their acidity cuts the fat of cheese or meat, their subtle sweetness offsets the sour elements of vinegar or citrus and complements spices, their minerality braces the laxity of starches. Whatever a food throws at a wine, Rieslings and other German whites have an elegant response.

Yes, most of the whites had some degree of residual sugar, the natural grape sweetness that remains when a wine’s fermentation process is halted near the end (usually by dropping the temperature).

But as we Riesling lovers grow somewhat weary of repeating, this sweetness is picked up in so many of the foods that people love and is balanced by the naturally high acidity of these cool-climate grapes. (Many Rieslings are fermented fully, resulting in totally dry wines. They can be thrilling, but we didn’t taste any of them at the lunch.)

Balance. There is simply no more significant factor in whether a wine – any wine – tastes good than balance: Of sweetness and acidity, of weight and delicacy, of spice and fruit.

White wines made from grapes such as Riesling and Silvaner rise to these challenges of balance like none others. And, never seeing a splinter of oak, they do it with a purity, vitality and clarity that is simply shocking. These wines, tasted with a spirit of receptivity, can literally brighten one’s eyes and make one’s hair stand on end.

Something of this directness of expression translates into German reds as well. We tasted the soft, autumn-leaves Valckenberg Undone Pinot Noir 2010 ($11), as well as the 2006 Grafen Reipperg Lemberger (what the Austrians call Blaufrankisch) for $15, whose gamey, toasty profile reminded me of old-school Cru Beaujolais but whose blackberry notes and slightly cinnamon-y tannic drive would be terrific with grilled meats.

For whites, we started with the Castell-Castell Silvaner Trocken 2010 ($15). Completely dry yet with only 11.5 percent alcohol, it matched beautifully with Schulte & Herr’s spot-on smoked-salmon and potato-pancake entree – though anyone who likes good Oregon Pinot Gris for anything (including a swing in the hammock) will love this.

We tasted two QbA Rieslings, which use grapes picked earlier than Pradikat-level Rieslings and so emphasize acidity over fruit. I especially love the Two Princes Riesling 2010 ($18) from the Nahe region, which, despite its austere slate-stone profile, also brings significant, luxuriant stone fruit.

Then, there was the Riesling Kabinett from perhaps the most prestigious winemaker in the Mosel: J.J. Prum. We tasted the 2010, a smart bomb of minerality, and from Girard’s cellar the 2005, which retains the region’s trademark slate-stoniness while adding an enormous tropical lovefest: Starfruit, mango, and also peach and bright apple. Alongside the spatzle with caramelized onions and Emmentaler, it was heaven.

This summer, the 2010 Prum will be available for around $20. That is simply ridiculous. And my experience with the 2005 begs you to buy enough to let some age for at least five to seven years (you’d be fine waiting 15, seriously).

I was so thrilled at tasting that 2005 that at home the next night, I opened a 2006 Piesporter Goldtropfchen Kabinett (from another Valckenberg property, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt), and found so many layers of flavor – orange peel, clean kerosene, pineapple, starfruit, brown sugar – it was dizzying. It sang with grilled Coho salmon topped with a rhubarb-ginger chutney.

I saved a half-glass for the next night with take-out Indian food, and again, home run. What can’t these wines do? For $20, you can enter this holy land of wine character. For $11, you can enter its vicinity: Try the St. Urbanshof QbA or Milbrandt (Washington state) Rieslings.

Or, you know, don’t. Go on spending more money for less wine, diverted by make-up and high heels; getting drunk, frustrated, lazy. I’ll be over here, in the holy land, with more money in my pocket; clear-headed, clued-in, delighted.


Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog,, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: [email protected]