As any wine geek worth his or her tastevin knows, riesling is one of the world’s most food-friendly wines and is the wine kingdom’s equivalent of a shapeshifter. Riesling comes in, but is not limited to, the following styles: bone dry, decadently sweet late-harvest, decadently sweet ice wine, beguilingly complex off-dry, sparkling … You get the picture.
And us wine geeks have forever been trying to charm the collective palates of the wine drinking public, enticing them to experience the beauty of riesling. (This is the third column I’ve written about riesling this year.)
I’m sensing, however, an attitude change in the wine industry’s push to get consumers on board. The riesling industrial complex is preparing to take the American marketplace by storm.
The man with the biggest you-must-drink-riesling-or-else stick is Paul Grieco, who started his quasi-militant Summer of Rielsing campaign back in 2008. During the summer months, he serves only rieslings by the glass at his Terroir wine bars in New York City. “You can have any wine by the glass you want, as long as it’s riesling.”
This stiff-necked riesling drive by the wine establishment has, naturally, led to a website (www.summerofriesling.com). The site contains dictates from Central Riesling Command on how to participate in the Summer of Riesling and blog posts from around the world concerning the grape in question.
Locally, my comrade in arms is Eric Brown, proprietor of Le Caveau Fine Wines in Chamblee (across the street from Chamblee MARTA station). Not only is he dutifully following the tenants of the Summer of Riesling campaign, he added his own twist in July: 31 Days of German Riesling (with just a little help from the German government, which is similar events across the country).
Seventy wine enthusiasts crammed into his shop for his main event on July 11 featuring several German rieslings of royal heritage (including one of my faves from Dönnhoff Estate). “It was our biggest response yet,” said Brown, who has held riesling events for the past three summers. “We’re seeing an upward curve in sales where we are not hand-selling riesling. People are coming in and looking for specific styles by themselves. The newer converts are looking for dryer styles.”
But what more can I do for the cause? In my time, I’ve turned my meager lens to the rieslings of Germany, Austria, Australia, Washington, New York and Alsace, France. Whither now?
There is another Northwestern powerhouse, aside from Washington, that is focusing its pinot noir-stained gaze at riesling. Long considered by many Oregon winemakers as a cash-flow wine (high volume, middling quality), winemakers across the state are rediscovering their riesling roots.
“Thirty years ago, as much as 23 percent of Oregon production was riesling,” said Harry Peterson-Nedry, founder and winemaker for Chehalem wines. “Although the percentage is much lower than that today (around 5 percent), there is even more passion and focus on riesling.”
I see the reason for Peterson-Nedry’s enthusiasm. I recently tasted through a dozen Oregon rieslings, ranging from the off-dry types to the steely, tart, bone-dry versions. Some simple and delicious, others quite complex and enticing. My picks of the litter: Anne Amie ($23); Penner-Ash ($23), Elk Cove ($21), Argyle ($21) and Chehalem ($26), which, unfortunately, is no longer available in Georgia.
“Riesling will eventually be the most widely planted white variety in Oregon,” declared Peterson-Nedry. “Mark my words.”
Onward to victory, my brother!
Gil Kulers is a sommelier and maitre d’ for an Atlanta country club. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.
— Gil Kulers, AJC Drink blog