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.)

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Oh, you mean Vinho Verde is actually good?

July 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

razaYes! The third in a recent  (unplanned) blog series of mildly misunderstood zippy/dry-white-wine categories that most people take for granted, my Portland Press Herald column a couple of weeks ago expressed pleasant shock at how interesting Vinho Verde could be. I’d had no idea.

But as always, it’s gottabedoneright. A lot of Vinho Verde is mass-produced by co-ops, from bought grapes that are held at low temperature from one year to the next. Hence, the absence of a vintage listing on that $5 bottle you plucked from the wine-shop cooler.

The good stuff rarely comes to the U.S., though that might be changing. Michael Hutchinson of MatadorVino, whose Portuguese portfolio includes several estate-bottled Vinho Verde wines (white, red and rosé!), told me all sorts of fascinating things about the region. (He also sent me a bunch of wines that I can’t wait to try and then write about, especially the organic and no-sulfur [!] ones).

Speaking of that $5 bottle, I got little-to-no beef with it. But I was a bit surprised that Eric Asimov, whose New York Times wine column is usually a well-considered and insightful overview of a given wine category, chose in his recent Vinho Verde column to speak only of the cheap-n-barely interesting stuff.

I gently called him out on this on the ol’ Twitter, and once the gracious Asimov retweeted that post, it led to a moderately lively exchange amongst a few folksBruce Schoenfeld, for instance, Travel + Leisure’s wine editor, tweeted: “The problem is, those small-batch VVs (and I’ve had plenty) run the flavor gamut from A to about D. Scant complexity.” I like the comment, but disagree. Which small-batch VVs has he had?  I’d say the gamut is more like A to J, which is pretty damn good for $10 wine!

Awww, isn’t that sweet?

October 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

Bestill my heart, Eric Asimov’s wine column in this week’s New York Times is about Spätlese Rieslings. There’s not much for me to add to it here; just read the damn thing. His central point is the one we’re all sick and tired of repeating: People are unreasonably afraid of sweetness in wine, holding wine to a foolish double standard they don’t apply to their food (duck? squash? scallops? root veggies?), soda, beer or even wine (California Pinot noir, anyone? Viognier?). When sweetness is balanced as well with such braced, taut acidity as is well-made German Riesling, there is no more transcendent experience in wine. Serious.

Also, note that about half of the wines Asimov and crew recommend are imported by one of my all-time heroes (not wine heroes: life heroes), Terry Theise. Terry will grace our fair city (Portland, Maine) in December, signing copies of his crucial new book, Reading Between the Vines, at Rabelais, and hosting a dinner at Bar Lola.

If you plan on celebrating Thanksgiving this year, that’s all the more reason for you to get into Rieslings. A couple of years ago I wrote a still-relevant “manifesto” of sorts, about Riesling, that has proven helpful for some people. Let me know if you want a copy.

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