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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cork Poppers Taste German Wines

When our guide to the grape, Dick, decided that the spring Cork Poppers gathering would be tasting Austrian and German wines, I was a little apprehensive. I like dry wine and prefer red. The only German wine I'd ever had was sweet and not my thing.

But I love it when I was surprised and I was indeed as on a steamy hot Sunday, coming fresh from staffing the art festival, I got to sip chilled whites that were complex, fruity, (sometimes sweet), and in general, delicious.

I caught up to the group with a good sized (and eagerly awaited) taste of what would be my favorite of the day -- Domane Wachau 2007 Reisling, Terrassen Federspeil, from Austria.

At $21, it's more than I would normally spend for a bottle of wine. That said, it was delicious!

Then it was on to the German wines. Dick said he had trouble finding as much information on the German wines as he generally does about those from other countries, but I learned quite a bit.

For example, there are two primary wine regions -- Rhine and Mosel. Wines from the Rhine come in brown bottles; from Mosel, in green bottles. Most of what we had was from Mosel.

At $6.50 a bottle, Clayton called the Karl Heins Piesporter Michelsberg 2009 "great for the relatives." He must not like his relatives as much as I like mine, because I'm not sure I'd even serve it up to them. Too sweet for me.

(I learned at this point that sweet wine hasn't fermented nearly so long as the dryer versions, so you can get things with the same grapes and have a totally different flavor.

Our third wine was Nobel House 2008 Riesling, by winemaker Dr. Pauly Bergweiler. Another Mosel wine, this was peppery, not too sweet, not sour -- but it was also "just there."

I found it light but bland. I can't remember which of our tasters called it "good for breakfast," but many of us agreed it would be something fine to add to a punch where the wine is overridden by everything else you throw in. At $14, not worth it from my point of view.

Around here we learned that until 1805, the Mosel region was owned by the Catholic church. But then Napoleon sold it off to finance the war. My history is weak, but I never knew Napoleon had enough power over Germany to be able to sell off the land. Learn something new every day.

Number 4 was Urban Reisling 2010, Nik. Weis Selection, again from Mosel. At $11, this peppery wine with a floral aroma was pretty tasty. Rick called it "Best so far" and liked it better than the one to folllow.

I loved the elegant, simple label.

Door number 5 was a Piesporter Riesling -- Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt 2007. Remember, I didn't like the Piesporter earlier -- no one did. But this was quite nice. It wasn't my favorite and at $19, I probably wouldn't buy it. My notes said, "I like this OK."

(Meredith and Roger, on the other hand, called it "Vanilla pudding gone bad."

Dick, rick, Claton and I all liked Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Spatlese 1997. (I called it "not at all bad.")

But it had really mixed reviews. It smelled great. I mean, GREAT. Or, as Cheryl said, "This doesn't smell like cat urine." Roger said, "This is terrible" and Barb said "This tastes like goldfish water." (Which leads me to ask....)

At $19.50 I wouldn't buy a bottle to sample unless you have a nice wine budget. The reviews were too mixed.

One of my favorites was the last white, Dr. Loosen 2007 Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett. I have expensive tastes -- it was $22.50.

I found this one peppery, spicy, a tad sweet but also tart and not too sweet. It wasn't cloying. Cheryl, who doesn't much care for wine, loves this one. Dick said this is a top quality, light, semi-dry and given that his wife Cheryl loved it, was worth the price! I just wrote "Yumborama."

We had one red -- a Reinhessen 2008 Dornfelder Rotwein (well named). I'm a red wine fan and wrote "decidedly disappointing, this is NOT doing it for me."

At $10.50, it's reasonable. but there are so many better reds for that price or less, particularly from South America. I'd opt for one of those.

Dick pointed out that Germany isn't noted for its reds -- it is far too north to get the grapes right, with a latitude equivalent to Newfoundland. In fact, Germany is the northernmost country in which grapevines can grow, he said.

Other facts -- Germany produces 2-3 percent of the world's wine; they are better known for beer. About 80 percent of the vines are on hilly slopes and have to be handpicked.

Here's another fact -- with German wines, 85 is the number to remember. It produces 85 percent white wine and if a wine is labels "Riesling," for example, 85 percent of the grapes must be of that variety. Most use 100 percent of the particular grape. German wines are also lower in alcohol than French -- 8-11% compared to 11-13%.

Of course, our group always eats! This week was no exception with Chicken divan, a wonderful veggie cheese dish and potato salad by Rick.

Pat's table was gorgeous. I loved how she put the menu on our favors -- truffles -- by attaching a "back" to the box and writing it there.

A very good tasting. Now, if we ever get anymore hot summer nights, a cool white might be just the thing -- and I'll have some favorites!

(Note: Over at my book blog, Chopsticks and String, a delightful wee book about Paris -- this may become my favorite guide book!)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

No Fur or Foam for Me!

Art festival weekend -- it should be my favorite time of year. It wears thin! Or did this past weekend! I really shouldn't complain -- it was gorgeous weather -- in fact, really warm weather! Good for some, not-so-good for a reason you'll see in a minute!

This past weekend WKAR had a booth at the festival. This meant more or less being tied down! (I did get away for our Cork Poppers wine tasting -- more on that in the next post.)

It also meant -- especially because I got to leave early for that -- I didn't get out to much of the cool art, except for what I passed by!

But the booth was a hit. We had Word Girl, PBS' newest powerhouse series (vocabulary for kids).

We had lots of calls about Word Girl before the event. Some of the kids waited for a long while to get a hug!

Our other featured guest was "Cat in the Hat" who attracted a lot of adults who remembered the wonderful stories, including MSU University President Lou Anna Simon!

The kids loved "Cat," too, who got right down on the ground to meet them eye to eye!

It was beastly hot, no pun intended for that cat with a huge hat and furry costume and a superhero dressed in padded fleece and a big head. It is almost impossible to explain how hard the young women who portrayed these characters worked and how hot and exhausted they were.

But they were indeed a hit! Especially with me!

My view of the festival -- I saw some crowds...especially at the Main Music Stage.

Got to see wonderful Root Doctor lead Freddie Cunningham sing the blues on my way to lunch...

...and did end up with a very quick stop at one of my favorite pottery booths, colorful glazes by Alice Ham.

My favorite site of the day? This "invention" -- the doggie stroller. It's a bit of a "pet" peeve of mine that so many people bring their dogs on such warm days when water isn't easily available and the cement is so terribly hot. This woman got it right!

And then it was off to wine. But that's the story for another day!

(NOTE: Over at my book blog, Chopsticks and String, my take on the novel "Sarah's Key" is still up. Coming soon -- a more arty look at Paris, setting for that novel!)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday at the Ditch with Harry

OK, it wasn't really Sunday. But I couldn't resist riffing on "Sunday in the Park with George"!

Time to visit my favorite heron, Harry!

I haven't seen him for a bit -- since we last visited the ditch, the leaves have come out and things are looking green and lush.

They should. We've had a ton of rain!

Harry is so muted that he blends into the reeds behind him.

But he was there, fishing...

... and preening...

...and just enjoying the May evening.

And so was I!

Spring really might be landing! It's about time!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Ride of Silence

Nine years ago, I was sitting at my office desk when the phone rang. It was Rick, who said he was in the hospital in Iron Mountain, Michigan, eight hours away. He had been hit by a car while riding his bike on a business trip in the Upper Peninsula.

Rick's a good rider, a former racer. He's had spills and crashes before -- some serious, some far worse than this accident. It can happen to anyone -- stopping too quickly, a tire blows out, a skid on something slippery or rocky, a crash with several riders, hitting a stone the wrong way.

But this was different. This time, it wasn't anything to do with chance. A driver turned left, crossing his lane, right in front of him, as he came down a hill -- with the right of way. Someone who wasn't looking or thinking or paying attention. He went over the hood of the car, shattering the windshield. It wasn't good -- but it could have been fatal. I swear, he has nine lives. I hope more.

That's why, in the cold, pouring rain -- 59 degrees that felt like 49 -- Rick and a host of other cyclists, participated in the Ride of Silence.

This annual event -- held worldwide on the third Wednesday in May -- is to honor bicyclists who have been killed or injured by drivers.

The group left the MSU campus and rode down the main east-west artery to the state capitol, where there was a program on the capitol steps.

There should have been media or legislators to greet them, to support them. People who can make a difference, tell their story. Perhaps they were at the start of the ride, but no one but a group of intrepid riders and several policemen -- some who rode bikes, others who accompanied them by car -- came to the capitol.

It's a shame. Media and legislators would have heard about Mason Barker -- an MSU triathlete who two-and-a-half years ago was hit by a car on a country road and was in a coma for five months. He is a bit of a miracle, recovering slowly -- very slowly. But recovering.

They didn't hear about my friend Jim DeLine, but they could have. You'd never know it to see him now, more than two decades later, but he, too, was hit by a car while riding.

They didn't hear about a lot of people -- but I would bet that every single person on those steps knew someone -- or knew of someone -- who had been on the wrong side of a car.

It's very easy for us all to get frustrated when we see riders "slowing down the traffic." We want to get where we are going as quickly as we can, and sometimes -- in our gas-guzzling cars -- we crowd them too closely. Some even try to push the envelope, saying they don't belong on the road.

And yet, on their healthy, eco-friendly vehicles, bicyclists have as much right to the road as the drivers. In fact, they have the right of way.

We all need to remember that.

I can't keep Rick off a bike. The fact that my heart sticks in my throat every time he rides is something I have to deal with, because to even suggest he not ride would be as cruel as locking a person in a tower. But I can ask everyone to think of Rick and every other rider when they see a cyclist -- and share the road.

(Note: Over on my book blog, Chopsticks and String, a look on another book about World War II -- the wonderful novel, "Sarah's Key.")

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ukein' It Up!

Saturday was Mighty Uke day in Lansing's Old Town and I never knew ukuleles could be so much fun! All this plus Happy Hour! The place was so packed that the restaurant hosting the open mic had to have had one of their best days ever! (And if Elderly Instruments didn't sell a ton of ukes, I wouldn't doubt that they will!)

My experience with ukuleles was seeing them in movies -- generally with bear skin coats, doing the Charleston and singing "Varsity Rag." Then, of course, there is the Hawaiian sound, ukes on the beach, swaying hula skirts, setting sun, leis. But it is so much more!

The event included open mic periods (that had been scheduled -- more on that later!) and a screening of the movie "Mighty Uke." (You can also hear a Susan Stamberg take on this and some great music from the film at NPR.)

You may or may not be a ukulele fan -- you might be one and not even know you are! But if you watch this terrific film, you may well discover a new passion! You will also discover Jake Shimabukuro (below, courtesy Tiny Goat Films., Ltd./NPR), one of the astounding musicians featured that gives new depth and dimension to the simple ukelele.

You will also "meet" numerous uke players from around the world, including an amazing class of high school students from near Vancouver, Canada, where every child learns the ukulele as part of school. The things these kids do simply defies belief.

Filmmaker Tony Coleman introduced the film and did a Q&A after.

He and Margaret Meagher, his co-producer on the film, then staffed the t-shirt/DVD table. Rick bought a DVD -- on the back Leonard Maltin says everyone should also watch every single on of the 10 shorts after the movie -- they are wee movies in themselves and simply wonderful.

The movie introduced us to a number of uke players and one I was familiar with, Kimo Hussey, who played the Great Lakes Folk Festival last year. I had a chance to spend some time speaking with him and he was such a geuninely nice guy. I was glad he was featured.

Then came the local performances -- in the two-hour mic segment we saw (there was an earlier one) about eight area/regional groups performed. They were all fun and there was a lot of singing along. This one is the MMUGS (Mid-Michgian Ukelele Group Strum).

This MMUG is my work buddy Mike Mihalus.

Rachael Davis is pretty much of a local star in our region of the folk world. (You can see her performance on WKAR's BackStage Pass here -- or perhaps in your community, on your PBS station!)

This isn't the best photo -- but it really captures her joy at playing this wee little instrument!

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was Magdalen Fossum. I think she's 10 and had just recently played at the Ark in Ann Arbor, introduced below by organizer Ben Hassenger.

As Mike said, "I wouldn't have wanted to follow her!"

She sang several songs, including a Boswell Sisters scat number called "Heebie Jeebies" and at times sounded just like Billie Holliday!

Another favorite was The Fabulous Heftones with Brian Hefferan and Lynn Hershberger. Lynn is also a terrific knitter, pattern designer and yarn-dyer making some of the loveliest wool ever!

They played old-time, 1920a-style uke -- fast, furious, fun! Dressed to the nines and playing everything from songs like "Shine on Harvest Moon" to ragtime, they were a wonderful way to end the day.

So, was it uke overkill? No way! The thing I learned in the film about the instrument (and also watching the acts) is that almost anyone can play it. Sure, like every instrument, there are degrees of difficulty and if you are fortunate enough to see the Mighty Uke film, you'll see exactly what I mean. (Imagine the fastest classical piece you know on a uke.)

It's the people's instrument. You can play it alone, you can play it with friends. You can teach a four-year-old, you can be like one fellow in the movie still playing -- 101. You can play as easy or difficult music as you choose to practice. You can accompany yourself singing. Add a kazoo or slap the wood of the uke, and you're a band!

And perhaps best of all, it makes people smile.

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