Riesling Rumble! Bigwigs weigh in!

October 2, 2013 § 1 Comment

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling 2012, deliciously in the feinherb vein

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling 2012, deliciously in the feinherb vein

Kerfuffle alert. Coincidences are amazing. On the very day when the first of my two successive Portland Press Herald columns on German Riesling was published, the most interesting English-language players in the (yes, small) world of Riesling passion — Terry Theise, Lars Carlberg, Stuart Pigott, David Schildknecht — were duking it out over the very same issues I had taken up: Riesling’s unique talent for holding dryness and sweetness simultaneously, and the future of German Riesling in light of its domestic audience’s apparent preference for fully dry wines.

Another passionate explorer in the Riesling intelligentsia — The New York Times’ Eric Asimov — had a couple of weeks earlier written a necessary column investigating dry Riesling from Germany, and a quotation Theise gave Asimov (about dry Riesling being an “invasive species” in Germany) stirred up a bit of a firestorm with the Briton Pigott.

I subsequently wrote a second article on German Riesling, focusing on the compatibility of its form of sweetness with actual food that we actually eat.

If you’re at all interested in how our present is influenced by the future and influences the past (or, for you traditionalists, vice-versa), it’s a worthwhile, lively debate to follow, which would be easiest for you to do by entering here, on Lars Carlberg’s site , and there’s even more (mind-numbing) back-and-forth here! My own articles are at best a more introductory sort of fill-in.

After a bit of Twitter-based back-and-forth that included me, Lars wrote me to say, in part, “As for traditional Mosel Riesling, you’ll be surprised at the analysis that I found in many 19th-century books. The wines were more often bone dry. The traditional ‘fruity sweet’ style rose up in the post-war years….Mosel wines pre-1950s tended to be more dryish than sweetish. If we go back to the Mosel’s heyday of the late 19th century, the wines were dry, except for the rare Auslesen, which then had discreet sweetness.” I trust him, because I have for a long time read and admired Carlberg’s reports and insights on German wine, and his account last year on what is happening to Kabinett Riesling is comprehensive and undeniable.

Still, as I replied to Carlberg, “I’ll just say that my interest is only secondarily in history/tradition (not not in history/tradition, just secondarily), and primarily in what my own experience tells me is the fullest expression of the grapes. I don’t mean to dismiss the longer view of Mosel wine culture! Just to assert that for me personally the indigenous, unique traits of the Mosel have been most emotionally moving and satisfying in the wines not vinified to utter dryness.”

(I added, “I do get on my high horse in my own writing, sometimes, just because I sense that my audience needs a prod or two to accept [balanced] sweetness as an acceptable aspect of wine.”)

In the end, I think where all of us who love German Riesling converge is in agreeing that the true beauty of this grape from this general place is that it is possible to make exquisite wines across the dryness spectrum. It is not limited! This, more than anything else, is what we ought to say when trying to communicate what is important here. (And I acknowledge my own small failure to say as much, sufficiently clearly, in the articles I wrote.)

June 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

Drinking Riesling always makes me wonder why I’m not always drinking Riesling. At lunch last week at Portland’s first indispensable new restaurant in years, Schulte & Herr, I tasted through a terrific selection of German wines — not just Riesling — that renewed my enthusiasm for how splendidly they accompany seasonal, soulful, lovingly prepared foods of all sorts. And just how damn good they are. Riesling, yes, but also Silvaner and some terrific reds: Pinot Noir, of course, but also Lemberger (what the Austrians call Blaufrankisch). Today’s wine column gets into it.

Bubble bubble, no toil or trouble: sparkling wine at Thanksgiving

November 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Sparkling wine. Yet another phrase to strike fear into the heart of the average wine consumer, and to strike obstreperous pretension into the mouths of countless wine salespeople and sommeliers. We all whine: Why don’t people drink more bubbles? It’s so hard to get folks to buy Farmer Fizz (grower-made Champagne). Quit-cher-beetchin, dude. The stuff is expensive! And doesn’t usually last well into the next day (actually, it often does…but perception = reality).

Anyway, today I write a gentle nudge toward considering sparkling wine for more of your meals, especially for Thanksgiving. What is it about low alcohol, charm, food-flexibility, high acidity merged with subtle sweetness and a generally festive mood that you don’t understand? Actually, forget “understand”; how about like? The focus is on Albert Mann from Alsace, with brief shout-out to Gruet. But the gist is: don’t get caught up in details, just drink effervescent wine!

Leitz ON! Here we go a-Riesling-ing, merrily merrily merrily

September 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

How could you not love the wines of Johannes Leitz? My latest column fails to answer that question. Wines of truth are sometimes a bit grim. Leitz’s are the opposite: open, thrilling, and just kind of…jolly. They’re gutsy and deep-down, with fabric-y textures that I continually find fascinating. These aren’t in the “ethereal” category of Rieslings, but sometimes you just want to strum some major chords and rock.

USA uber alles: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Gruner Veltliner, home-grown

August 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

My latest Portland Press Herald wine column focuses an American lens on cool-climate, Germanic grapes such as Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Muller-Thurgau and Gewurztraminer. No, they’re not Donnhof, Weinbach or Diel. They’re proud to be American, but they’re respectful, terroir-based – and delightful – expressions of these most gracious and lovely of all wine grapes.

Is German Pinot Noir (from Mosel) the world’s most popular wine? Yes! Er, I mean: No! But drink their Riesling and dream with me

June 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

My latest Portland Press Herald wine column brings together the world’s two greatest grapes, Riesling and Pinot Noir, from a spectacularly talented winemaker, Konrad Haehn at Freiherr Von Schleinitz in Germany’s northern Mosel Valley. The wines fly a bit under the radar, but they’re singular, delicious and reasonably priced. I write about the Kabinett Riesling and the Pinot Noir, but they do a full line-up of Pradikat Rieslings (Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese) as well as the lower-priced VS line which has a Dry and Off-dry style. Try a couple, and then go for the Von Schleinitz (sparkling) Sekt, which is my hands-down favorite sparkling wine in the world and yes I’ve had grower Champagnes. (The Sekt is less complicated than great Champagne, but more fun than most.)

Then, there’s the Von Schleinitz Pinots. The straight-up red is steely but delicate, a pure expression of Mosel slate terroir.  Of Von Schleinitz’s 5-6,000 cases per year total, a tiny sliver of Pinot Noir rosé is made, and then there’s the even-more-limited-production Blanc de Noir (Pinot, with skins removed before any maceration). It’s a mind-blowing magic act of a wine, with the full, suede mouthfeel of a red and the acidic cut of a…well, of a Riesling. Don’t know if you can find it where you live, but ask around…

Von Schleinitz isn’t distributed everywhere in the U.S., though word of their greatness is spreading. By you, if you catch on!

Der Riesling Manifesto

June 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

A couple of years ago I wrote an info screed entitled Der Riesling Manifesto, and posted it in the store where I work. Since then, a number of people have asked for copies. To celebrate the start of Summer of Riesling 2011, I’m now posting the full Manifesto below. In the spirit of Karl Marx, I hope it goes viral!

All summer long, I’ll be writing about Riesling in my Portland Press Herald wine column and elsewhere. YOU ARE POWERLESS TO RESIST.

Also, here are a few other Riesling-based Manifestos available in that there World Wide Web:

Anyway, on to my very own…

Der Riesling Manifesto

(You have nothing to lose but your culinary chains!)

Hey you, don’t pass by the Rieslings! You say you don’t like “sweetness” in your wines. But we don’t quite believe you. Here’s why…

First of all, some Rieslings are bone-dry, with far less sweet in them than many Malbecs, Pinot Noirs and Shirazes. These dry Rieslings match perfectly with all sorts of right-now foods: vinegar-y salads; briny seafood such as shrimp, scallops and bivalves; simple white fish; grilled meats of all sorts; pasta with cream sauces; enchiladas.

On sweetness and food

Non-dry Riesling has a perfect sweetness in it, along with stunningly refreshing acidity. It’s that acidity that transforms these wines into fantastic food partners, rather than cloying, sugary messes. Accompanied by this acidity, a little bit of sweetness in wines is terrific with

  • spicy foods (the combination of low alcohol and some residual sugar does an end-run around the heat, so you can actually taste your food and wine at the same time)
  • strong cheeses (blues, Beemster, smoked cheeses and more)
  • the majority of foods we all eat a lot of the time, which contain a good deal of sweetness in them, like

Veggies, etc.

  • caramelized onions, shallots
  • winter squash
  • sautéed red cabbage with currants and balsamic vinegar
  • grilled or roasted veggies like peppers, zucchini, summer squash, fennel
  • roasted tomatoes
  • carrots, beets and other root vegetables in any form
  • corn, either on the cob or in cornbread, polenta, spoonbread, tamales, tortillas
  • mango salsa, and other semi-exotic fusion-y flavor combos

Animals, etc.

  • bacon! ham! sausage!
  • veal and pork chops, if not aggressively herbed/garlicked
  • chicken wings, with all manner of sauces
  • grilled salmon, char
  • trout (a perfectly sweet fish, especially when stuffed with sautéed leeks and roasted!)
  • eggs — poached on toast or another grain, scrambled, omelets
  • foie gras
  • lamb, believe it or not


  • American” hors d’oeuvres often crying for a subtly sweet, acidic punch, such as dips and spreads, pigs-in-blankets, canapés, etc.
  • honey mustard sauce, teriyaki, barbecue sauce
  • most other glazes for fish or meat
  • coconut milk (and remember that when it’s spicy, as in much Southeast Asian cuisine, Riesling is doubly relevant)

Any of that sound like parts of a good meal? Yeah, I thought so.

Wine for LIFE, not for GETTING BLASTED!

On its own, sipped late at night with friends, on the patio while you’re stoking the grill, or in the kitchen while you chop veggies, Riesling makes you happy to be alive. Any good wine does that, but Riesling’s advantage in such situations is its low alcohol level: there are plenty of times when you don’t want to be overwhelmed by the besotting qualities of wine; you just want to taste something delicious while remaining cogent and upright as the evening wears on. (And get a nice, manageable buzz with less downside!)

Wine for FOOD

Low alcohol is also the Ginger Rogers to food’s Fred Astaire: it accompanies the food rather than competes with it — and like Ginger to Fred, it does everything the food does but backwards and in high heels!

Wine for HARMONY

Most foods have sweetness in them — the type of sweetness that is either obliterated by Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Tempranillo (especially in oaked Rioja), Chianti, and Shiraz, or contradicted by Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. For foods with a strong olive-oil-and-garlic orientation, enjoy one of those French, Italian or Spanish varietals (though even in those situations a dry Riesling might be better). But for the majority of your meals and the actual contours of your life, try a Riesling (or Scheurebe or Silvaner, but that’s a different manifesto…) and see what happens.


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