What wonderful birthday presents I was given this year. Last Wednesday, two days before the birthday itself, I was honoured by the French. Then on Sunday, in an example of EU solidarity, the Germans fell into line when I was given the VDP's highest honour for 'extraordinary long-term personal commitment to the advancement of fine German wine across all borders'. The top national growers' association calls this their Golden Needle of Honor (sic) and I now have this neat little pin to sit next to my French medal.
The ceremony just before the opening of the annual Weinbörse in Mainz was particularly special because the cunning VDP had shipped in a surprise guest who was responsible for the Laudatio - to explain why the heck I might deserve the award.
The picture above of the VDP president Steffen Christmann and me was taken when the doors at the back of the hall parted to reveal my old friend, co-author of The World Atlas of Wine and German super-hero Hugh Johnson. (Previous recipients of the award were Hugh and Michael Broadbent in 1993, Dr Alfred Biolek in 2004, the previous VDP president Michael Prinz zu Salm-Salm in 2007, Michael Graf Adelmann in 2012 and Hilke Nagel of the VDP in 2013.) They had cleverly invited Nick and me to a small dinner with Steffen and fellow VDP member Paul Fürst the night before, while Hugh and dozens of other members of the VDP had attended a much bigger event in the Nahe. They also took the trouble to ensure that Hugh and I were in separate hotels.
It really was a complete and delightful surprise, and Hugh was rewarded for his trouble with this case of top German wine from vintages ending in nine – one for every decade of Hugh's life.
In his speech Hugh made the point that the German Wine Law was brought in as he was writing the first edition of the Atlas and he couldn't believe how idiotic it was. He credited the VDP with subsequently saving German wine and ensuring that quality was given primacy (see, for example, Julia's 2007 article on German wine classification and the VDP). Referring to the reputation of German wine in the UK, he went as far as to say that Riesling is now seen by the British 'as a dirty word'. I think this is going a bit far, but I am keenly aware that the average British wine lover is much more ignorant of the current exciting German wine scene than they should be.
In my very brief acceptance speech I tried to précis the Riesling - will it ever catch on? article I wrote 18 months ago, and argued that Riesling is such a fine partner for many of the (typically Asian) cuisines we now regularly enjoy around the world, particularly in Britain, that it would be worth targeting UK sommeliers and the army of younger independent wine importers to persuade them of this.
After the ceremony, our German wine specialist Michael Schmidt (whose eye witness account of the ceremony can be read in What's new in Germany) and I had the enormous pleasure of tasting dozens and dozens of superb 2015s – from bone dry, hipster-proof ferments to Beerenauslesen that would titillate the most traditional of wine merchants. We are hoping to share our enthusiasm and tasting notes with you the week after next.