While visiting Markus Müller at the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Heidelberg to work on on our paper with Cozmin Ududec, I strolled all the way through the old town from my hotel on Bismarckplatz, past the Holy Ghost church on the market square, throught the Karslplatz with the illuminated castle ruins looming on the hillside above, and on down the less frequented end of the Hauptstrasse to the Restaurant Zur Herrenmuehle. It was well worth the walk. In a former mill, from the 17th century (hence the name "at the old mill", or maybe "at Old Man Mill"). I had the four course version of the Landhausmenu. I tend toward vegetarianism with some fish, but am not completely strict about it, and suspended it here: there was a little bit of salted beef in the soup course, and the main course was venison. I suppose I rationalized it a bit by thinking that the deer at least run around free for most of their lives, rather than being cooped up in feedlots for a good chunk of them. The first course, if I recall correctly, was marinated salmon (essentially lox) with anise and pepper, pickled mango, and asparagus; the second was a smooth foamed pearl-onion soup with whole pearl onions and a few salt-cured beef slices; excellent, concentrated flavor (would have been excellent even without the beef). These went very well with a "Trocken" Riesling, Kabinett I believe, but I've forgotten the producer. (One of the Rhine regions, I think.) "Trocken" means dry, and refers to a more typically international method of winemaking that foregoes the traditional German süssreserve (sweet reserve) of unfermented wine added to end fermentation. This wine, however, tasted closer to a traditional German style than your usual West Coast US or Alsatian Riesling. The main course involved rare roasted or grilled venison and brussels sprouts flavored with real vanilla bean (a stroke of genius), as well as other delicious stuff. The final course was semolina pudding slices with pistachios, etc... When I ordered a glass of red wine to go with the venison, I mentioned two of the wines by the glass--neither German---that I was considering. The one I didn't mention was a Spätburgunder, a German pinot noir. The waiter recommended I have the Spätburgunder with the venison, and he was absolutely right. While still recognizably a little bit sweet and fruity (a style that can be annoying in Spätburgunder if done clumsily, which is why I was not considering it initially), it was balanced, rather velvety and refined, with a kind of graham-cracker-like texture to the somewhat softened tannins, and a little bit of minerality and complexity in addition to beautiful strawberry-ish fruit. Perfect complement, in the echoing-with-subtle-differences mode, to the venison. I love it when a restaurant knows what wines go with their dishes, and isn't afraid to tell you. I asked about the producer, and recall that it was fairly local, somewhat to the south of Heidelberg, I believe. But I didn't jot down the name, unfortunately. Probably one of those superb small local producers whose output is all spoken for by the local restaurants, wineshops, and customers, and not to be found in the US anyway (plus Spätburgunder may not be the best-traveling wine, freshness being a big part of its appeal). I ordered a brandy rather than a coffee as an after-dinner-drink, and ended up with a surprise, a Spanish brandy (wish I could recall the producer!) that was a glorious end to the meal, and turned out to be complimentary. The interior, as you can see by some of the pictures on the website, is elegant but still retains some of the rusticity of the old mill, for instance the wooden beams, and the bench seating around the edge of the room, even if not part of the original mill, lends a slightly rustic touch too. Service was perfect, friendly and not obtrusive, and everyone there obviously loves good food and is happy to be providing it at a really high level. I don't know if this restaurant has a Michelin star but I would definitely give it one (at least). This is one of those places that should be known to all in the international fraternity (sorority, egalité) of lovers of fine food matched with equally fine wines... it is obviously owned, run, and staffed by members of the same.
Camp Viejo Rioja Tempranillo 2010 (Spain)--- excellent, not super-complex but lots of bright cherry fruit and some vanilla, yet not cloyingly sweet; a modicum of tannin helps out here. This was not one of my contributions, but I'm pretty sure it's reasonably priced---has been in the past. Probably 8 points on my scale, 85 or so on a Robert Parker / Wine Advocate style 100 point scale. Just basically delicious; I'm delighted to find out about this. I enjoyed some Campo Viejo pretty well years ago (the 1979 and 1983 I think)...the basic flavor profile is still similar but this seems fresher and a bit fuller-bodied and more tannic, perhaps due to a more modern winemaking style nowadays. I recall being impressed with the vanilla and caramel notes and smoothness, but ultimately finding the wine a bit simple and uninspiring when I tried more bottles (perhaps of later vintage). Traditional Rioja style involves holding the wine in very large oak casks, often until quite a bit of tannin has dropped. Also it sometimes involves strong flavors of American oak, which are probably providing the vanilla notes here just like they did in the eighties, but seem to be under better control now or at least have more fruit and tannin to balance them. So I'm very glad to have rediscovered this in improved form thanks to our Thanksgiving hosts.
Rosemount "Diamond" Shiraz, 2010 (Australia). Tasty enough, somewhat similar to the Campo Viejo in having a reasonably rich, fruit-forward style, but a bit less polished and balanced, and the flavors slightly less appealing. A little too sweet for my taste too. Drinkable enough though, and perhaps it would be fairer to retry this with food (I had it before dinner and did not come back to it). Perhaps 6.5 points on my scale, maybe 75-78 on a Parkeresque one. I'm guessing it and the Campo Viejo are in a similar $10ish price range, and the Campo Viejo definitely beats it in my mind.
2001 Faller Riesling Geisberg Grand Cru (Alsace, France). Really excellent Alsatian Riesling from the Geisberg, a Grand Cru vineyard in the village of Ribeauvillé that I brought back from a visit to Alsace. It's aged nicely, comes across as honeyed but still reasonably crisp, with some slight floral notes and hints of minerality, good balance, maybe some slight hints of Brett at first that blew off quite quickly. Good length finish, too. Definitely ready to drink. I'd say 8.5-9 points or so on my scale, maybe 87-89 on the Parker scale. Perfect Thanksgiving wine, too. I would definitely seek this out again if I'm in Alsace, and am quite happy that I have a few more bottles of miscellaneous Rieslings from Faller in the cellar.
2001 Perrin "Les Sinards" Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Excellent, the 11 years of age having mellowed it to where it's much more approachable than a young Chateauneuf usually is, but still with enough tannin to give it good structure. Medium full bodied, with a good balance of fruitiness and some autumn leaf kind of impressions. With the Faller, the most complex and interesting wine of the afternoon. Probably near its peak but should be good for another 4-5 years at least. Very tasty; I'm afraid this may be my only bottle but I will keep an eye out for other vintages. Perrin's Côtes du Rhône and Vacqueyras tend to have a house style that I find slightly glyceriny in mouthfeel and smoother and less tannic than the average while still quite flavorful...not necessarily a bad thing. This wine doesn't really have that style, though: the texture is pretty much classic Chateauneuf, though toward the mellower and more approachable end of the range. I'd say probably 8.5 points on my 10 point scale; 87 on a Parkeresque 100 point scale.