Riesling keeps teaching me lessons, keeps showing me how many of my own convictions are just so much baggage, so many boundaries I’ve consciously and unconsciously put up in front of myself. As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “convictions are greater enemies of truth than lied”. Some lucky moments the wine in my glass just sweeps away all the detritus which has become encrusted on my mind and I feel a wave of joy – freedom! – sweep over me. May the Riesling Force be with you too!
Yesterday evening brought such a moment of joy. Dinner with Robin Schwartz of Garnet Wines and Volker Donabaum from A.I. Selections seemed like the perfect moment to open the bottle of mature Riesling from Dönnhoff in the Nahe/Germany pictured above. When the wine was young it changed my understanding of what a sweet Riesling Spätlese from Germany could taste like. It was like someone taking an elegant townhouse and adding a huge ballroom at the back. For the first time in my life I uttered the fatal words, “I don’t give a damn what it costs, I want a whole case!”
After mentally trying to extrapolate how it would taste in my 2013 NYC Here and Now I bought some blue cheese (English Stichelton and French Fourme d’Ambert from Formaggio in Essex Street Market) to augment the cheeses I already had in the refrigerator and set off for Robin Schwartz’s apartment. As usual Volker Donabaum came with a couple of bottles and the first, the dry 2011 Ehrenfels Riesling from Proidl in Senftenberg/Kremstal was powerful, but graceful and delicately spicy. Astonishingly its 14% alcoholic content were not a problem! The red Shiraz-Grenache-Mourvèdre blend from a small winery on California’s Central Coast (no names mentioned!) was an example of hi-end winemaking that was completely self-defeating. The wine didn’t taste alcoholic in spite of weighing in at 15.5%, but after just a couple of sips we already started to feel drunk. I thought that was bourbon’s role in life! Wondering if we could enjoy any more wine after this Californian steamroller had flattened us we gingerly sipped Dönnhoff’s 1998 Riesling Spätlese “Gold Cap” from the Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle site and wave of hugely refreshing Riesling washed over us, invigorating, delighting, tantalizing us. Sure it was a rich and concentrated wine, but the subtlety of flavor which just 8.5% alcohol content helped to accentuate was almost literally breathtaking and the wine tasted amazingly youthful and vibrant for 15 years of age.
As those two Rieslings showed, the wines of the best white wine grape on earth can be so many different things and just when you think you’ve nailed Riesling down with one or more definitions you discover a wine that doesn’t fit them, because the possibilities are “endless”. Are they really endless? At moments like this they seem to be, and that’s the important thing, for it is this which leads to the unloading of baggage, the breaking down of artificial boundaries, and the resulting feeling of freedom. The cheese also brought some surprises, for as well as the wine went with the blue cheeses it went even better with a “leftover” of Humboldt Fog, a goat’s milk cheese from Cypress Grove in Northern California. The two just seemed to melt into one great joyful whole. Perfect, by which I mean, one of the many, many kinds of Riesling perfection out there.