On a Mother-Daughter Road Trip In Germany, It's Hops vs. Grapes
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Beer and a college student. Well, yeah.
Beer and a college student and her mom and Rieslings and Gerwurztraminers. Well . . . maybe.
My daughter Beck and I recently spent a week touring the wine routes of southwestern Germany, which is, paradoxically, also the vonderland of beer. She's a 21-year-old university student into sampling different brews, and I'm a 55-year-old mother of three who loves red wine. My beer of choice is anything light, while Beck chooses wine for the animals on the label.
We found there was a lot to learn from each other. Among the vineyards of the Rhine and Mosel rivers, I taught Beck the four S's -- swirl, sniff, sip and savor -- of tasting wines. Under umbrellas shading town squares, Beck taught me how to get a good crown of foam and practice patience before that first sip of a cool brew, and how to relish the aftertaste of the hops, yeast and malt on the tongue. I expounded on gravity-flow vineyards while she exalted high-gravity beers.
Over aperitifs of a chilled Mosel, steins of Hefeweizen and dinners enhanced with a dry Riesling, we laughed and shared stories. We talked of tastes, preferences and dreams -- hers of a life to come, full of travels and studies and career, mine of a less-stressed life at home. And through that talk, with or without the wine or beer's effects, we journeyed toward a closer bond.
Though fall is the prime time to visit Germany for its harvest, wine and sausage festivals (and, of course, the big beer swill of Oktoberfest), I got a head start during Beck's summer vacation. She invited me to join her because she was supposed to visit with her former roommate, who was finishing a semester abroad at the university in Freiburg. But the roommate got a new boyfriend and dumped her plans with Beck. A break for me.
We rendezvoused at the Basel-Mulhouse Euro Airport at the border of Switzerland and France and across the Rhine from Freiburg. After renting a car, we planned to drive north, roughly following the Rhine through the Baden Valley to Wiesbaden. Farther north in Koblenz, we'd pick up the Mosel and trace it southward through tiny villages with big wine reputations, ending in the city of Trier. Our goal for each day was about 200 miles, which would allow us to see the sites and taste the libations but not dally.
On the first day, we set some rules: minimal churches, museums and big cities. Breakfast by 9 a.m. We'd take turns driving and planning the day's itinerary, and stay wherever the early evening found us. Each night, we'd search for lodging in an area where we could walk to dinner and sightsee the next morning. (As it turned out, we'd look for the big church in the middle of every town, then follow the steeple. Invariably, we'd find a nice room nearby for under $110 or so, including breakfast.)
As far as the drinking went, we'd have wine with dinner or at tastings. During lunch or late afternoon or whenever we'd find ourselves at a biergarten, we'd sample beers. And we'd take turns being the designated driver.
Our first overnight stop set the tone. We walked into the pedestrian section of Speyer, about 120 miles north of the Swiss city of Basel, where we sat on the outdoor terrace of a weinstub, or wine cafe.
I took one look at the menu and knew I was in trouble. My knowledge of German comes from Wayne Newton's "Danke Schoen." But Beck had had two semesters of German, and she had been there for a few weeks. She greeted our waiter, then interpreted the menu for me, ordering the first of many pork chops we'd have on this trip, along with onions and fried potatoes. What to drink? Usually a red with pork, so I suggested the house Spatburgunder, which my wine book said was a pinot noir.
"Prost!" Beck said, as we clinked glasses.