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.)

Benevolent Wine Dictator Strikes Again

July 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

You know how when there’s something you know something about, and you talk with someone who’s interested in that something but has her or his facts a bit screwy, but thinks she or he knows quite a bit, and you want to correct the misinformation but don’t want to come off like a jerk, so you’re caught between fake-smiling and letting it go, or bringing the knowledge hammer down, and in the aftermath you resent yourself for either the fake abiding or the heavy-handed pedantry?

That was how I started my Portland Press Herald wine column last week. The rest of what I wrote was my way of exploring the best way to be of true help when you know something someone doesn’t.

Along the way, I mention some particular wines I like a lot — Chablis, Pinot Noir, Riesling — which betray many calcified notions we have of grape variety, region and style.

The big lesson is: Kill your idols, smash your categories. Every moment is a new one, and the primary purpose of your knowledge is to help you see how little you know. Knowledge to make you more curious, less rigid, more open and accepting.

Pfister: Alsace, wound up

May 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’ve been so excited by so many wines lately that I’ve fallen a bit behind in committing them to 0s and 1s, pixels and screens. That’s a slippery way of excusing myself for failing to post to this-here blog in as timely a fashion as I’d like.


Super long finish, oily and full-bodied in classic style, but also quivering and agile. Amazing wine!

A couple of weeks ago now, in the Portland Press Herald, I wrote about a winemaker in Alsace who has exploded my notions of Alsace. That’s because Mélanie Pfister is carrying on her family’s wine tradition in the Bas-Rhin, the more northerly outpost of vineyards in this most distinct of France’s wine regions. As Mélanie herself explained to me, the Bas-Rhin compared to the Haut-Rhin is akin to Côte de Nuits as compared to Côte de Beaune, or Cornas as compared to Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe. More mineral, more precision, more finesse and focus. Haut-Rhin has the better known wineries, and I love ’em, those rich, ripe Weinbachs and Zind-Humbrechts. But try Pfister’s wines from the Bas-Rhin if every once in a while you like your wine a little bit more scalpel-like.

Purple Wednesday: Give wine

December 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

A dangerous mix of widespread digital downloads, the ubiquity of gift cards and the debased triumph of the individual has brought us to a point where finding an actual gift for an actual person who will actually like it has gotten a lot harder. As always, there’s always wine. Who wouldn’t want a bottle? Trick is, it needs to be good. Not SuperGreat/SuperExpensive/SuperRare/SuperPricey. My latest column is a helpful guide. Happy Hanukkah!

I ❤ NY! Ravines Finger Lakes Riesling and Gewurz, with respect

October 31, 2012 § 2 Comments

The column I wrote for today’s Portland Press Herald had a line about New York State’s “Cracker Barrel-like” marketing for the wines of the Finger Lakes. The line got cut during the editing, but I still think that obsolete, 1982-ish, c’mon-down-to-our-Cayuga-and-Riesling-tank approach is partially responsible for the failure of Finger Lakes wines to capture more people’s attention.

Another thing that’s partially responsible: there’s a lot of crummy wine from the Finger Lakes. But the quality in the quality-wines sector keeps going up. Which is nowhere more evident than at Ravines Wine Cellars and Hermann Wiemer, two Finger Lakes wineries with impeccable Old-World pedigree and unique, fascinating, delicious wines.

It’s mostly about the whites these days — Riesling and Gewürztraminer — but keep any eye out, too, for Cabernet Franc and (maybe) Pinot Noir. The Ravines Riesling is truly, thrillingly dry. Wiemer’s Riesling has a touch of residual sugar (which is why I love it). The Ravines Gewurz is restrained but still exuberant. The three of them would make a spectacular line-up for Thanksgiving.

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!

Grüner Veltliner and Zweigelt. Just (don’t) add lobster…

October 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Grüner Veltliner is still riding a trend wave, though the wave has mostly washed ashore on Wine Fashion Beach. That’s good, because now those of us who actually love the wine can have fun with it and not get distracted. Still, a lot of young, affordable Grüner can be too angular and…well…boring. I could say similar things about Zweigelt, Austria’s best-known red varietal: all smiley faces of raspberry and strawberry, not enough to hold the interest of a full-grown adult.

To the rescue come Martinshof’s “Lobster Label” Grüner and Zweigelt, which I explore in my latest Portland Press Herald wine column. A modicum of ennobling Riesling excites the Grüner, while an analogously minimal addition of Pinot Noir to the Zweigelt has an analogously intriguing effect. What’s the effect? A subtle richness. A tethering earthy touch. More versatility with food. Young Grüner Veltliner and Zweigelt are meant to be fun, and you’ll still have fun with these wines. But it’ll be a more memorable sort of fun.

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.

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