Ladies and Gentlemen,
Riesling is awesome. Ask anyone.
Wait. I forgot. Ask anyone that is a somm. The darling of enogeeks and restaurant wine professionals everywhere, it is that go to grape; the one that makes agnolotti sing like Pavarotti, scallops taste like they were just plucked from the ocean, and pairs with foie gras to the point you want to slap yo’ mama. If you are one of these people, I am boring you.
‘Tell me something I don’t know already…’ ‘And…? Your point?’
Yes, you are the little old Southern Baptist lady that has attended the same church in Tulsa, sitting in the pews, hanging onto the words of riesling evangelists. Carl von Schubert is your Billy Graham. Your cute little church group on Wednesday evenings cackles of the latest vinous gossip whilst worshiping Mosel slate, Alsatian gres de Vosges, and Traisental limestone. I think the Hosemaster of of Wine says it best…
‘Wine blogs are the attention barkers of lonely poodles.’
Sorry. Just went to read a couple of his posts, wicked funny stuff. Explains why I cannot get anything done. What was my point? Yes. My point was that, this post is not for you. This post is for all those out there that are, in fact, the Southern Baptist lady, in the most literal sense. You know who you are: the ones that hear the word ‘riesling’ mentioned, and run screaming as if they watched a Marilyn Manson concert.
‘Riesling? No thanks. I HAAAATE sweet wines.’ ‘I only like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. The oakier the better…’
I am not knocking your preferences. I am knocking your lack (and refusal) of understanding the grape variety, and the range of styles it produces. It is like saying Justin Timberlake peaked as a member of N-Sync, and didn’t he and Britney Spears make a cute couple? It is nice that she played the innocent girl next door over a decade ago, but she is also batshit crazy, and, lets face it….Jessica Biel, better choice.
Riesling is a better choice. A grown up choice. Not tube socks and sandals choice. Sophisticated, if you allow it to be.
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending the Riesling Rendevous symposium in Seattle, Washington. One of two individuals selected by Loosen USA and the Guild of Sommeliers, it was a dream chance to taste and talk with some of the greatest producers on Earth. The event, spearheaded by the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery of Washington State, and Ernst Loosen of Weingut Dr. Loosen, is responsible for one of the most compelling rieslings made in the United States, the Eroica. I arrived in Seattle with enough time to head down to Pikes Place Market and grab Sunday brunch with my bro, Kelly Wooldridge of Bonanno Concepts in Denver, and the owners of Austin Wine Merchants (best little wine shop in Texas, check it out). Fish and Chips at Etta’s is a good way to start a Pacific Northwest visit. Kelly needed oysters. They looked awesome.
Stop. Riesling time.
Sunday afternoon was the grand tasting, held at the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery in Woodinville, a 45 minute drive east of Seattle. On the bus, we had the Colorado contingent; Jarrod Schott, Colorado market manager for SMWE, Kelly, and myself. Our fourth partner in crime, Matej Dolenc of Superior Liquor Mart, arrived later that evening. The VIP and trade tasting was at 4 p.m., before the onslaught of consumers from 5 to 8. Close your eyes, and imagine: 500 Rieslings from across the world, poured by the winemakers themselves. We beelined for Australia and New Zealand. Dry before sweet. The wines of Villa Maria, Pike, Frankland Estate, and Jim Barry were excellent, but I was most taken by the wines of Framingham, based in Marlborough. This is truly a story for the ages. Dr. Andrew Hedley is the winemaker; a rock star in every sense (you should see him in his Sex Pistols getup), the man recovered from throat cancer in 2006, and makes some of the most compelling wines I have ever tried. The ‘F’ Series Riesling is a phenomenal offering; shame he makes 450 bottles a year. In fact, half of his production came with him to Seattle, as it was featured in a seminar on dry riesling the next day (more on that later).
For some reason, they also included the wines of Canada in the same tent. Okanagan Valley in British Columbia has made strides with pinot noir and Bordeaux varieties. Tantalus Vineyards has riesling plantings going back to 1978; their brut sparkler, made from riesling, is a cool alternative to Sekt or Vouvray Petillant. Ontario is doing a fine job, led by Cave Springs Cellars. Niagara Peninsula is a perennial favorite for ice wine, and their job on both dry and off-dry riesling do not disappoint. Their home vineyard, located on the Beamsville Bench, shows just what we can do on this continent in regards to ‘terroir’; the limestone found through the Niagara Escarpment provides lift and minerality rarely found in the Americas.
We had barely scratched the surface.
Austria was next. It is easy to fall in love all over again with producers like Knoll, Loimer, and the major player in the Wachau, the co-op Domane Wachau. Their wines were consistent, beautiful, clear, pure. I found a pleasant surprise here also, and it was Huber. This Traisental property, with both gruner veltliner and riesling approved for the DAC designation, makes ripe, round, yet focused wines with the ability to age. The ‘Berg’, his 1. Lage vineyard, was fantastic. Carrying the Traisental DAC Reserve designation, think Smaragd without the late harvest or botrytis. All I could think of was white asparagus and pork shoulder to pair with this one…
I spent some time in the New World, heading back to the United States. I had the chance to walk around with Kerry Shiels from Cote Bonneville, a winery known more for their reds in Columbia Valley, only recently experimenting with riesling. One of her favorite producers (and one to watch) is the Woodhouse Wine Estates, made by a Frenchman, Jean-Claude Beck. These, in my opinion, were the most Alsace-like of the entire tasting; dry, with richness and intensity to match. The new Ste. Michelle Eroica offering, the Eroica Gold, is made in a sweeter style to its brethren, and very well balanced for the style. The Pacific Rims’ Wallula Vineyard had grace. Nicolas, the winemaker, poured this bottle out of magnum, which was an extra treat. Oregon was not to be outshone, however. Trisaetum, a great little producer out of the Ribbon Ridge AVA of Willamette Valley, was excellent across the board. Again, it goes to show you that both large and small wineries with focus in their grape management and winemaking abilities can create amazing wines.
On to Germany; the mighty homeland, Burgundy for pinotphiles, beckoned. Basserman-Jordan, Christmann, Donnhoff, Maximun Grunhaus, Reichgraff von Kesselstat, Loosen, Prum, Haag, Weil. Names that evoke greatness. Not surprisingly, this was the tent looking more like a hipster bar; 3 deep, cattle line. I had the look of a wine refugee, glass in hand, arms stretched out. In my third year juniors (4th Grade, to you yanks), our school play was ‘Oliver’.
‘Please sir…can I have some more?’
Two German producers to look out for are Clemens-Busch of the Mosel, and Battenfeld-Spanier (think Kuhling-Gillot, same family) of the Rheinhessen. Riesling lovers may already be familiar with Kuhling-Gillot, as their Oppenheimer Sacktrager is a benchmark for the region, but the Battenfeld-Spanier CO Riesling (named for Caroline and Oliver, husband and wife of the two properties) is spectacular. This is a blend of the best lots of their Grosses Gewachs, and only 50 cases are produced in the best years. All the wines of Battenfeld are made in a trocken style, which should appease those dissenters of Blue Nun. I’m reminded of the phrase…
‘Don’t hate the player…’
Clemens-Busch is super cool, and not referring to the Mosel region. Their approach to vineyard site wine is, well, focused. The family works with the Marienburg GG vineyard site, located in Punderich, north of Enkirch. The unique red, blue, and grey slates in the vineyard prompted the creation of the ‘Von Grauen Schiefen’ (grey slate) and the ‘Von Roten Schiefen’ (red slate) bottlings in addition to the Grosses Gewach collection. GG’s in their own right, both made trocken, it was remarkable to see the differences between the two. In fact, the notion that dry wines showcase the nuance of soil and climate more drastically than sweeter wines was the topic of a breakout session held the next day in Seattle.
And, that, ladies and gents, is for the next post…