Thunder, Lightning, Elbling

17 Sep

lightningTwo things happened last week:  there was a thunderstorm in San Francisco, and I tasted 2008 Matthias Dostert Elbling Trocken Nitteler Leiterchen.  These two events were unrelated.  They did not even take place on the same day, yet they are inextricably linked in my mind.  Here’s why.

I am not a collector of things.  I do not have shelves full of tchotchkes or closets stuffed with shoes.  I do, however, collect wine.  I collect wine for the experience of drinking it, not of holding onto it (a skill at which I do not excel), and for me the quirkier the drinking experience, the more I am interested in having it.  Which is why I could not pass up the opportunity to taste Matthias Dostert’s Elbling.

Elbling is a white variety that grows primarily in the southern Mosel Valley in Germany (although it can also be found in Luxembourg) on the chalky, sandy soils that Riesling does not prefer.  At last count there were 583 hectares, or about 1,400 acres, of Elbling planted in Germany, making it number 23 on Germany’s depth chart, ranking behind Huxelrebe and a couple of spots ahead of Sauvignon Blanc.  Elbling’s low must-weights and high acidity make it the perfect base for the sparkling wine labeled as Mosel Sekt, for which it is most often used.  It is one of those grapes that Jancis Robinson doesn’t have much enthusiasm for, describing it as being “distinguished for its searing acidity” in the Oxford Companion to Wine.  And about that she’s right, of course.  The Dostert Elbling lit up my palate like the grand finale of a Fourth of July fireworks display, but there was something very pure about it too, like biting into a vibrant and perfectly ripe Frog Hollow peach.  There in the glass was the essence of summertime with all its sultry innocence.

Now, about the thunderstorm.  I live in San Francisco but, like many, I am not from here.  I was born and raised in the South, and as a consequence I miss summer thunderstorms, a rarity on the west coast.  Last Friday night, however, I was awakened mid-dream by the crack of a lightning strike.  It was a pleasant surprise, and I realize now, a metaphor for why I taste wine the way I do.  I am enamored of quirky varieties like Elbling because I crave the rush that comes from delving into unknown territory.  The road to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, etc. is long and well-marked.  Not so with Elbling and grapes of its ilk.  For me, experiencing the quirkier side of wine satisfies my curious nature (for a bit), and holds out the hope of rediscovering the awe I felt when I discovered wine in the first place — the flash of brilliance I never knew was coming, but came to love.

The storm was a loud one, a window-shaker, and wholly unexpected.  The best kind.


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