Find out where to sip this summery, yet often misunderstood grape.
By Kelly A. Magyarics
Ahhhh, Riesling. Is there another grape that inspires such passionate reactions on both sides of the spectrum? While aficionados tout the grape’s heady aromas, complexity, mouthwatering acidity and mind-boggling age-ability, those in the other camp (many of whom have admittedly tasted only low-quality versions that are mere shadows of what the grape can be) complain that it’s too fruity/floral/cloyingly sweet (Sweet? Sometimes. Cloying? Good Riesling should never be.)
To turn on more people to this noble white varietal, Terroir wine bar in New York’s East Village began the “Summer of Riesling” campaign in 2008. I recently caught up with Terroir and Hearth partner, general manager and wine director Paul Grieco, along with wine expert and author Stuart Pigott, in a mobile bar set up outside Oyamel, part of the Wines of Germany Riesling Road Trip. That evening, we tasted through five German Rieslings ranging in style from dry to sweet. Grieco works tirelessly to promote Riesling and, as he puts it, bring the grape back to the greatness and popularity it had about a hundred years ago. He lauds Riesling’s multiplicity of styles and believes it’s a wine that’s capable of always putting a smile on your face.
Since Grieco launched the promotion in New York five years ago, the Summer of Riesling has expanded to more than 500 restaurants, wine bars and retail shops across the globe. This summer, a handful of Washington venues are participating in the official campaign, led by enthusiastic sommeliers and wine directors eager to introduce Riesling to wine newbies and oenophiles alike. As Tim Galvin, sommelier at Vinoteca, puts it, “So who’s Riesling? He’s the cool guy in the corner that is independent and unique. Does everybody like him? Maybe not, but Riesling doesn’t care, he’s going to keep doing his own thing. He’s pretty good at everything and he doesn’t care what anybody else thinks. Basically, he’s the Fonz, and who doesn’t like the Fonz?”
Well put. Try it for yourself. The spots below are offering tastings, flights and other Riesling-based specials through summer.
Where: Vinoteca, 1940 11th St. NW
What: The wine bar is declaring its love for the classic aromatic white varietal with a 94-day celebration. From now through September 21, Vinoteca is offering a variety of Rieslings by the glass and hosting tastings, dinners and more to showcase the grape. Sommelier Tim Galvin is prepped and ready to show guests what he sees as Riesling’s five major qualities: balance, complexity, delicacy, longevity and sense of place (terroir). “My favorite thing about Riesling is its versatility,” says Galvin. “It makes some of the world’s best dry wines, sweet wines, sparkling wines and everything in between.”
More: The Summer of Riesling flight ($14) features Henkell Sekt Trocken from Germany, Sawtooth Riesling from Snake River Valley, Idaho and Pewsey Vale Riesling from Eden Valley Australia. Vinoteca is also offering these by the glass, along with a few other by-the-glass and bottle options. Check Vinoteca’s website for the complete schedule of “Summer of Riesling” events.
Where: Bourbon Steak, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
What: Head Sommelier Julian Mayor is offering several Rieslings by the glass and bottle in both the main dining room and lounge.
More: Mayor will be pouring the Leitz “Dragonstone” from Germany ($12), Ovum “Off the Grid” from Oregon ($15) and Trimbach from Alsace, France ($10).
Where: Proof, 775 G St. NW
What: Wine Director Joe Quinn always has a selection of at least three Rieslings by the glass, ranging from easy summer sippers to more complex ones, and a nice mix of sweet and dry styles to showcase the grape’s diversity.
More: To introduce more guests to its many styles, Proof is offering all Rieslings by the bottle for 20 percent off through summer.