I do believe it was Riesling that Robert Louis Stevenson was referring to when he proclaimed, “Wine is bottled poetry.” It is a varietal that inspires verse. It is complicated, thought-provoking, multi-faceted, and above all else—ambiguous. It offers itself to anyone willing to read her rhymes, greeting the nose with a stanza that is often laced with the friendly aromas of peach, pear, apples, minerals and flowers. She is light, fun, accessible. Importer Terry Theise once wrote in response to a Merkelbach Riesling, “How many wines have ever just made you laugh out loud, they were so happy and irrepressibly gorgeous?” But behind the blissful bravado, there lies a dimension that is seldom, if ever, touched. More often than not, it is rarely identified.
People have been conditioned to write Riesling off as a sweet and, therefore, not serious wine. First of all, not all Rieslings are sweet. There are a variety of styles—sweet and dry—that are among the most austere I have ever had. So cerebral is Riesling, I quite honestly never feel I know her well like I do with some grapes. She is a keeper of secrets, an enigma.
What many fail to understand is that Riesling is one of the few varietals that can promise what so few others can: a lifetime of discovery and rediscovery. So laden with layers is Riesling, it befuddles and captures the intrigue of the world’s greatest tasters. It is deceptively evasive, forcing one to revisit the rim several times in an attempt to make something that transcends a trivial affair. Like poetry, one must take time and focus in order to decipher the nuances that lie beneath and between the language that is written on the palate.
Many wine geeks may roll their eyes and think, “This defense, again? I thought people caught on to the fact that Riesling was so much more than just a sweet wine a few years ago.”
But no. People haven’t. I know the majority of people haven’t. I see it daily. A customer asks what is best with their coconut curry or Asian-style pork loin, and as I lead them to the Riesling, they recoil, no almost panic. “No, no. I don’t like sweet wine,” as though I was testing them, and they had just announced the correct answer. I plead the grape’s case, but it is often in vain. They walk away with another appropriate (albeit not nearly as fantastic) wine to go with their meal.
And the Rieslings sit silently on the shelf.
Luckily, they have such great acidity (German Riesling especially), they can afford to sit much longer than most whites. In fact, they only get better with time.
What sets Riesling apart is its ability to possess more than our senses of smell, taste, and sight… it possesses our mind. It is an intellectual wine. Theise writes, “You can’t identify that slippery little thing soul in wines by how they look, smell or taste. It’s how they make you feel. It’s how deeply they peal and echo. It is how quickly they leave themselves behind and lead you elsewhere away from ‘wine’.” No longer is it the liquid, then, but the effect it has on your meal, your memory, the thoughts that surface when you consume the wine. Like poetry, the words and wine are merely the translators of truth. Once felt, they fade… and all that remains is an impression.
Here are some of my favorite (more affordable) selections from Terry Theise’s portfolio:
2007 Weingut Spreitzer Kabinett ($19.99)
2007 Leitz Out ($13.99)
2007 Darting Riesling Kabinett ($16.99)
2007er Hexamer ($17.99)
2007 Leitz Magdalenenkreuz Spatlese ($20.99)
2007 Selbach-Oster Kabinett ($22.99)
2007 Selbach-Oster Spatlese ($28.99).
Or, check out some of these:
2006 Weingut Halbtrocken Pradikat ($19.99)
2007 Josef Rosch Halbtrocken ($21.49)
2007 Gerhard Kabinett Pradikatswein ($30.99)
2007 Monchhof Estate Riesling ($17.49)
1999 Heinz Schmitt Spatlese ($22.99).