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Riesling Is Ripe For The Picking

By Stephen Eliot

Once or twice every year, most usually during our annual tastings of new West Coast releases, I find myself scratching my head and wondering whatever happened to the supposed Riesling revolution that seemed to be fomenting a half-dozen or so years back. There was a brand new organization, the International Riesling Foundation, that was supposed to lead the way, and there has been a series of ballyhooed gatherings of the world’s top Riesling producers and their fans up in Washington at Chateau Ste. Michelle, but the very genuine and justified excitement I remember at those first Riesling Rendezvous events has apparently stayed in Woodenville.

Now, I readily admit to a real fondness for Riesling that can at times border on being an obsession. I would not argue with those such as its foremost cheerleader, Englishman Stuart Pigott, who claim it to be the world’s greatest white wine grape, and I simply cannot understand why it has gotten so little attention in an era when new and obscure varieties, regardless of real credential or worth, have become the grail for the supposed next generation of in-the-know wine aficionados. We hear about Assyrtiko, Vermentino, Verdelho, Ribolla Gialla and Trousseau Gris, but I would submit that, considering its puny place in the market, Riesling is sufficiently obscure to be equally deserving of “newly discovered” status, it long history notwithstanding.

In truth, Riesling seems tailor-made for the new wave of wine lovers who are supposedly turning their backs on a stodgy past. It meets every criterion that counts in the new collective consciousness. It is wonderfully nuanced, quite high in acid and succeeds brilliantly at far lower alcohol levels than any other of the world’s great wines. And, it expresses terroir as few varieties can. Anyone who has tasted more than a few bottles from the Mosel and Rhein, or Alsace and Austria for that matter, knows that Riesling is amazingly revealing of the place from which it comes.

So, I ask, why has it been largely ignored by the legions of new wine drinkers that we are told are changing the world? It is just sitting there waiting to be “discovered”.

Eric Asimov has rightly observed that Riesling, more than any of the world’s other great wines, has been stubbornly resistant to commodification and that the very best bottlings are made in such woefully small amounts that its audience must necessarily be small as well. There are attractive wines to be had for the taking in most every market, but the takers seem to have been few.

Riesling clearly has a limited, but sufficiently loyal fan base because scattered new versions keep popping up everywhere from British Columbia’s Okanagan to the New York’s Finger Lakes and from Ontario to the Old Mission Peninsula in Michigan. It has not been wholly forsaken by the folks who make wine, but, when I look at restaurant wine lists and what is on retailers’ shelves, it would be easy enough to believe otherwise. And, Riesling hardly gets anything like proper attention in the wine press at large.

If there is a worthy candidate for “Next-Big-Thing” status, it surely must be Riesling, but then I have thought the same for as many years as I can remember.


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