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Book Excerpt from “Reading between the Wines” by Terry Theise – On Riesling …

Good Grape / Ed. Note: Riesling is everybody’s Charlie Brown, a lovable loser possessed of abundant charm and talent waiting to be tapped if only the marketplace, the proverbial Lucy pulling the ball away before the would-be successful kick, would see what the rest of us know …

… Apparently, what the rest of us know isn’t what the New York Times knows, as evidenced by Frank Bruni’s profile on restaurateur Paul Grieco who has moved the by-the-glass menu at his two Terroir wine bars to Riesling-only this summer, supporting the notion that Riesling is an ugly duckling that requires iconoclasm.


Grieco’s persona is something of a derivative mash-up of Terry Theise and Randall Grahm, co-opting Theise’s apostolic work for Riesling and ladling in some of Grahm’s quirk as marketing shtick.  I guess it works as unique if you’re not wine culture literate.  I prefer to get my milk straight from the cow, however.

That said, as I write this, I’m drinking an ’07 Leitz Spatlese from the Rheingau, a Terry Theise selection – a wine that is vital and pure of spirit.  I’m listening to Natalie Merchant’s Kind and Generous on repeat, a simple ode that is what it says it is, kind of like a good Riesling. 

With the permission of the publisher, the below is an excerpt from Terry Theise’s new book, Reading between the Wines.  Excerpted from chapter 6, Of Places and Grapes, Theise riffs on Riesling:


My favorite grapes are those so woven into where they grow that grape and place are no longer extricable, like when you pull one thread and whole sweater unravels.  But when pressed to consider grape alone, there’s no question in my mind at all which is the greatest grape, of either color:  Riesling.

If there’s any problem with Riesling, it’s that it will spoil you for anything else.  Hans Altmann of the Jamek estate in the Wachau once said, “There are times when I think that any sip of wine that isn’t Riesling is wasted.”  Riesling is so digitally precise, so finely articulate, so pixilated and pointillist in detail that other wines seem almost mute by comparison.

And if you grow Riesling where it belongs, its wines come out of the ground already perfect.  They are inimical to the diddlings of hot shot “winemakers” eager to strut their cellar chops.  Riesling resists the face-lift depilation tummy-tuck breast implant school of vinification. Riesling does more than just imply terroir:  it subsumes its own identity as fruit into the greater meaning of soil, land, and place.  Riesling knows soil more intimately than any other grape, perhaps because it ripens so late in the fall and is thus on the vine longer than other varieties, and because it trives in poor soils with deep bedrock strata into which it can sink its probing roots.  Riesling is beloved of all who grow it for being so cooperative—the furthest thing from a diva.  It survives all but the most brutal frost, is hearty in its resistance to disease, and yields well without sacrificing flavor—perhaps because it ripens late in the fall when everything is taut and crisp and golden.  Riesling wines are the afterglow of the contented world.

Riesling will thrive in any idiom.  Its dry wines can be superbly focused and expressive, its almost-dry wines can be even longer and more elegant in flavor, its going-on-sweet wines are the apotheosis of fruit and mineral flavor, and its truly sweet wines are uniquely piquant.

It is also food’s best friend.  If, from this day forward, you swore to drink nothing but Riesling and eat only the things that went with it, your diet would hardly change, unless it consists of rare unsauced red meat and eggplant Parmesan.  You would also discover the wine you’d been seeking for any number of dishes you’d thought were too “difficult” for wine.  Riesling wine may be the most complex in the world, but it’s never boastful; it is a team player, there to make food taste better.  Riesling isn’t shy or demure, it is modest and tactful, but if you pay attention to it—which it never insists you do—you’ll discover how deep these still waters run.  Ironic, isn’t it?  The grape with the most to say is the very one that speaks in a moderate voice.


Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (3) |


On 01/07, cilt bakimi wrote:

Riesling is so digitally precise, so finely articulate, so pixilated and pointillist in detail that other wines seem almost mute by comparison.

On 01/07, cilt bakimi wrote:

a simple ode that is what it says it is, kind of like a good Riesling

On 04/18, Vacuum Pump 4U wrote:

This was a great read, thanks for sharing these great insights. Keep up the great work.


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