Is Riesling Your Next Favorite Wine?

Sommelier Paul Grieco Talks German Riesling

Passion is contagious. When someone is passionate about a topic, they are often able to transfer that passion to you. You see how excited they are about the topic, and you get enthralled. You want to be that passionate about it. You want to be that passionate about ANYTHING. Paul Grieco, Partner and Sommelier of NYC’s Hearth restaurant and Terroir wine bars, is passionate about Riesling. And, if you have the chance to sip some with him, perhaps during the Riesling Road Trip, you may just become passionate about it too!

What is The Riesling Road Trip?

The Riesling Road Trip is a brilliant marketing idea from the PR team of Wines of Germany US. They travel up the East Coast, from Key West to NYC, stopping at various cities to meet and greet everyone and anyone who will take a moment to learn about Riesling!

The Riesling Roadtrip Mobile Wine Bar

The schedule of Riesling Road Trip stops – is it coming to you?

  • Orlando, FL May 8th 2014
  • Savannah, GA May 9th
  • Charleston, SC May 10-11
  • Raleigh, NC May 12
  • Charlottesville, VA May 13
  • Baltimore, MD May 14
  • Washington, DC May 15
  • Berkeley Heights, NJ May 16th
  • New York City, NY May 19th

They’ve partnered with Paul Grieco, dubbed The Riesling Overlord, who is behind the Summer of Riesling! Short story long, Paul only served Riesling at his wine bar/restaurant for the 94 days of Summer 2008, and has continued the annual event, which caught on at over 200 restaurants. Paul is joined by Stuart Pigott, author of The Riesling Story, BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH, due out June 17th 2014, who has spent  the past 20 years studying, writing about, and living German Riesling.

Stuart Pigott – Author and Riesling Fanatic!

Riesling as a very dynamic wine grape that has a terrible reputation. Maybe it’s the Monica Lewinsky of wine; it got a bad rap a few years ago, and people haven’t let it go. I implore you to let the past go, for both Monica and Riesling. They both deserve a second chance! Seriously. Riesling has this image of being a poorly made sweet wine that comes in a ridiculous blue bottle with a nun on it. I won’t get into the fact that this nun wine was probably Liebfraumilch, made from Müller-Thurgau, and not Riesling… although Paul did! He explains how Riesling has been tarnished by its past associations, and it’s up to us to forgive, and forget. Just like with Monica Lewinsky. (Seriously, people, give the woman a break, and stop writing about her, Eminem!)

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In another article, I will share about the six German wines we had a taste of with Paul and Stuart at Virginia Philip Wine Shop & Academy, the West Palm Beach boutique wine shop owned by Master Sommelier Virginia Philip! However, first I want to talk a little about the grape itself, briefly cover the diversity and dynamic nature of Riesling, and offer you snippets of the entertaining and educational hour I spent with Paul and Stuart.

What Is Riesling?

Riesling Wine Grapes

Riesling is one of the most ancient German grape varieties, with the earliest documented mention of Riesling dating back to 1435. Riesling is related to the Gouais Blanc grape, which is also related to Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, and Fermint. Think Kevin Bacon and Six Degrees of Separation, they’re easy to connect to one another! Riesling is a grape that does well in cool climates, which is why you see it not only in Germany, but New York, France (Alsace), Northern Italy, and many other cooler zones in wine growing countries.1

Riesling is a very aromatic wine, with a high natural acidity and can be made in a dry, off dry, sweet, or dessert style. Fruit flavors often found in Riesling include stone fruit (apricot, peach, nectarine), as well as citrus such as lemon and lime. White flowers and honey, or honeysuckle flowers, are often found on the aroma and palate. German Riesling is known to have an aroma of Petrol or even pencil eraser, which can be off-putting to some. This aroma does not translate to the palate.

Deciphering German Riesling Labels

I think one of the biggest barriers for Americans related to German Riesling are the labels. While my past colleagues from Europe always were great linguists, knowing three or more languages, most Americans barely know English, or American as my South African friend Kurt likes to remind me. And, if we do know a second language, it’s usually Spanish. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it’s just a lot more familiar than German. Which, as I mentioned, seems to be a barrier to ordering their delicious white wines!

Weingut Robert Weil Rheingau Riesling

Paul does go into the art of German wine labels. He hit on a few very important pieces of information:

  • Sweetness Level – Trocken means dry! You’re going to associate this more with a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or even an unoaked Chardonnay such as Chablis! Halbtrocken wines are semi-dry and may not have more than 18 grams of residual sugar per liter.
  • Ripeness Level – This can be a little Wine Geeky here, so I’m going to try to not go over to the Somm Side,which is similar to the Dark Side! The ripeness of the grape can be classified as Qualitätswein, Kabinett, Spätlese (means Late Harvest), Auslese, BA (Beerenauslese) and TBA (Trocken Beerenauslese). BA and TBA are typically dessert wines. These Ripeness levels, or quality levels, denote how much sugar (ripeness) the grapes have when picked. And while the wines can have more residual sugar (sweetness) the higher in the ripeness category they are, wines from Qualitätswien through Auslese can be made Trocken, or dry. YOU ARE NOT CONFUSED! Stick with me!
  • Origin – Where the Riesling comes from can denote a lot about the style of the wine. Getting into the 13 Anbaugebiete (Wine Regions) is a bit ambitious for this post, but we had some great Riesling from Baden, Mosel, and Rheinhessen with Paul and Stuart.
  • Producer – This one CAN be tricky. Weingut So and So means Producer So and So. Oh, and the W is pronounced like a V, so it’s Vinegoot. Yeah, we’re back to that language barrier thing. DONT LET IT GET TO YOU!  In some cases, you wont see Weingut, such as with Dr Loosen German Rieslings.
  • Still or Sparkling – Yes, there is sparkling Riesling. It usually has the word SEKT on it, or perhaps the word Schaumwein. Slightly less yeasty than Champagne, perhaps a little more mineral driven than fruity, German Sparkling Riesling, Sekt, is a fun sparkling wine worth trying.
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Don’t Let Language Be A Barrier

Seriously, the language thing should NOT be a barrier between you and German Riesling. I’m a Certified Sommelier, who has devoted a lot of time to studying wine and wine regions, and I still have an issue pronouncing German wine labels. And French wine labels. And American wine labels. That does not stop me from ordering them, drinking them, and enjoying them.

In most cases, you can “sound it out” and get close enough to the pronunciation. Of course, the W in Weingut pronounced as a V throws a monkey wrench in that! But, seriously, do you think people will laugh at you, or worse, NOT SERVE YOU WINE, if you said WEENGUT instead of Vinegoot? I think not. Ask your server, Sommelier or store clerk if they can help you with the pronunciation. Or, just ask them what German Riesling they recommend. I’m fairly sure they will have a TON of great options that could make Riesling your next favorite wine.

German Riesling, Drink Now or Let It Age?

YES! German Riesling is quite approachable when it hits the market. Stuart suggested that Riesling “settles down” a bit during the first year it’s on the market, and holding them for a few months before drinking them is the best course of action. Of course, unlike Budweiser Beer, there’s no BORN ON date on your German Riesling, so this is a little difficult to figure out timing wise. However, what it does bring to mind is German Riesling can age, quite nicely.

C H Berres 2002 Wehlener Klosterberg Kabinett Riesling – Mosel

The vintage date on a bottle of wine, any wine, tells you when the grapes were harvest. Therefore, if the wine says 2013, which is the vintage of many white wines coming to market now, it means the grapes (or the majority of them) were harvest during 2013. Using that vintage date as your starting point, don’t be afraid to set a good bottle of Riesling down in your cellar or cooler for a year or so before you open it. Stuart says that screw caps, which some love and others loath, are excellent at preserving the freshness of German Riesling while allowing them to age nicely over 10 years or so. We then got into the great Cork versus Screwcap debate, which was brought back on track with “I’ve had rieslings over 100 years old, and they were delicious.”

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Wines will change with age. The primary fruit notes will diminish a bit, and secondary notes take center stage. Not everyone loves older wines. So, don’t let this little paragraph force you into waiting a year before you open your newly acquired German Riesling. OR WORSE, don’t let it dissuade you from drinking it at all. There is absolutely nothing wrong with opening a bottle of German Riesling the day after it hits the store shelves. Just be aware that it will age nicely, if you want to lay it down.

Should You Catch The Riesling Road Trip?

ABSOFRIGGENLUTELY! First, Paul is a New Yorker, and I was surprised that within his color commentary on wine he didn’t say “RIESLING, FUHGEDDAHBOUTIT” at least once. He’s a dynamic speaker, who brings Nietzche quotes to the table as easily as he does wine descriptors and German geography. Stuart, a Brit living in Germany, has an amazing amount of scientific knowledge, wine research, and practical experience that makes LEARNING about German Riesling interesting. I was quite jealous Stuart’s recollection of having German Rieslings dating from 1811, and 1893. Clearly, he’s had wines older than I have, and I’m green with envy!

Enjoying The Riesling Roadtrip

I’m going to talk about the six wines I had this evening, as well as a few more I have in my cellar, in a few days. So, come back soon, or even better, Subscribe to the blog! However,  if you can catch the Riesling Roadtrip, the German Rieslings, and one Pinot Noir, that you’ll be exposed to during the Riesling Road Trip will definitely impress you! Probably enough to make you consider Riesling as your next favorite wine!