Riesling Road Trip: Day 7 – The Eagle has Landed in Manhattan / New York Wine City!


As you can see the Riesling Road Trip made it to Manhattan and by some miracle we were also on time. How could that possibly function? I still don’t understand it that once again I’ve got both feet firmly on the ground in Manhattan after more than a week of being welded to the seat of an automobile (sometimes night and day). Until just a few minutes ago I felt like one of the pieces of fast-food trash or fragments of styrofoam which have been rattling around our GM Suburban since we left LA last Wednesday. However, almost every day began this way, and each time our journey and tastings energized me. There were also some playful hours like the one in Birmingham/Alabama during which the picture below of our driver Devin and I with Spätburgunder from Huber in Baden in our glasses was taken.

Dazed and confused from many thousands of miles of travel right across America we Riesling Road Trip survivors just rolled into Manhattan and this divine madness came to an abrupt end. Last night (see below) we gave our last tasting next to a Washington DC sidewalk. But, let’s complete the story before euphoria overcomes me. Last night we gave our last tasting next to a Washington DC sidewalk (pictured below). The entire thing was of questionable legality, but it wasn’t our fault that two cars illegally parked in our space in front of the restaurant where we would have been on the right side of the law. They left us no alternative, but to move down the street and thankfully neither the local cops or the secret service didn’t spot us.

None of this mattered to the great group of somms and other wine professionals who became the last group to enter the belly of our Great Riesling Whale for a tasting (see below). Like a rock group on the final night of their tour Paul Grieco and I threw everything we had at it and they loved it. One young somm even asked me if she could work for me. I said she could if she’d start unpaid, a demand which saved me from having to start playing the role of employer. Then the super-exotic,enormously rich, but beautifully balanced 2006 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese from S.A. Prüm in the Mosel blew everyone’s minds.

Now I’ve got the time to draw a few initial conclusions. On the practical side, and a project of this kind stands or falls on practicality,  a schedule which was barely feasible was made to work thanks to the indomitable spirit of Irene Vagianos (pictured below) Andrea Davidoff from Wines of Germany in New York. They threw themselves at this thing as if their lives depended upon it and never demanded thanks for that, much less a moment in the spotlight. They also kept their cool when we were suddenly confronted with serious problems. I found that seriously amazing. Our drivers Devin and Alfonso never complained although the demands upon them were enormous. Hats off guys!

Perhaps the most important thing about the string of tastings we held was that we reached a bunch of important people in the American wine scene who almost certainly would never have come to a tasting in New York or San Francisco. Our unusual set-up certainly made a big impression on most of our guests, and the form of direct eyeball to eyeball communication (with a bunch of serious content) we cultivated within that framework was also welcomed with open arms by nearly all our guests. We reached out to people and we actually reached the great majority of those people too. The Riesling Spirit was everywhere we were, the agents of the Bullshit Chardonnay lobby didn’t manage to intimidate us as I feared they might, and somehow we managed not to get arrested anywhere!

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Riesling Road Trip: Day 6 – The “Gospel” according to Paul Grieco as “preached” in Charlotte/North Carolina

“Amazing yumminess for all,” is the first principal of the Riesling “Gospel” according to Paul Grieco, co-owner of Restaurant Hearth and the Terroir chain of bars in New York Wine City (NYWC). He’s sitting next to me on the back seat of the GM Suburban propelling the Riesling Road Trip towards our final destination in NYWC. Plenty has been written about the self-styled “Overlord”, and much of it was good to read, but nothing really captured his combination of highly-motivated somm(elier), cool-headed businessman and full-throttle wine anarchist. Hence the dire need for this brief exposé of the man who is the eye of the Riesling hurricane.

According to Andrea Davidoff of Wines of Germany sitting in front of me in the car Grieco’s Wine Anarchy in the USA means, “a hundred ideas per day”. Grieco admits that, “I need minions to realize all the ideas”. The paucity of those minions means that anyone who ventures into his vicinity risks being sucked into the storm and being put to work on one bizarre project or another. This mad, bad morning was a perfect example of that.

A couple of days ago while we were driving through the desert I heard that amongst our copious luggage was a “baptismal font”, but nobody in the team seemed willing or able to explain why we were dragging the darned thing right across America. Shortly after leaving our hotel in Charlotte/North Carolina this morning we pulled up outside a Baptist church surrounded by a swathe of leafy suburbia. Suddenly the “font” appeared on the sidewalk, Grieco donned robes reminiscent of a preacher’s and our driver Alfonso Ruiz was “baptized” into the “Church” of Riesling by Grieco. First he had to be absolved of his sins, which the “Gospel” according to Paul Grieco said were drinking Chardonnay. All of this was recorded for posterity on video, also by yours truly. I’m making a movie so that’s how I got sucked in, but how did he talk Wines of Germany into all this? Well, talking people into things they’d regularly dismiss out of hand is one of his great talents.

Our tasting at ‘VinMaster’ in Charlotte last night was rather tame in comparison to all this, but looked at from the point of view of the professionals who joined our Riesling Boot Camp it surely looked and sounded very different. Or would you say that swearing allegiance to the wines you’re about to sample is normal practice at wine tastings? That’s one of Grieco’s standard practices, the “Holy Communion” of his Riesling “Church” during which he reminds everybody of Rieslings strengths: balance, delicacy, amazing aging ability, etc. Maybe that’s all showmanship, but even I don’t get to taste wines like the 2003 Bernkasteler Lay Riesling Kabinett from Dr. Loosen in the Mosel or the 2010 Bienenberg Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) from Bernhard Huber in Baden every day. So we weren’t low on conventional content and the discussion about our perception of acidity in our mobile tasting room was very serious. Talking about them he was in his element.

It was a perfect Summer of Riesling night at ‘VinMaster’, and after the serious business of analyzing how Riesling ticks (rather differently from most other wines and totally different from Bullshit Chardonnay) we sat out under the XL moon and wallowed in Riesling wine and the Riesling Spirit until the thought of today’s 8 hours of driving finally made us think seriously about heading back to our hotel. By this point Grieco was hungry again, but the prospect of the prices which the local titty bar charges for mediocre food saved us from that fate (worse than death).

As the Great Alfonso puts his foot to the metal (“ain’t no shame in my game!”) and we speed towards our next secret destination I’m wondering what the next “black ops mission” he’s cooking up is. Am I about to be co-opted into another “commando raid”? Watch this space to find out, and to discover what our next secret destination of the Riesling Road Trip is. To see some highlights of the first section of our mad-cap adventure go to:


Riesling Road Trip: Day 5 – Sad to leave Birmingham / Alabama What is the Future of Democracy in the West?

If you had told me a week or a year ago that I would be sad to leave Birmingham / Alabama, then I would have laughed. Before I arrived Birmingham meant nothing to me except Randy Newman’s sad song, but he wrote a bunch of sad songs (as well as a lot of funny ones). Then I met chef and restaurateur Frank Stitt (pictured above) and the almost blank sheet of paper in  my mind with Birmingham at the top began filling up with really interesting stuff, not least Frank Stitt’s spirit. How many people in this business manage to combine perfectionism with generosity and remain relaxed and down to earth as Frank Stitt has? Very few. I’m still trying to figure out who this extraordinary ambassador for this city and the South is. However, it seems very significant to me that he studied philosophy in Berkeley and drifted into the restaurant scene gaining inspiration through working at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant in the same town. It is surely no less significant that he returned to Alabama and chose to found his first restaurant, the Highlands Bar and Grill, in Birmingham in 1982. Doing our tasting in the restaurant’s parking lot helped attract one of the best groups of somms and wine buyers to date, which enabled us to get a glimpse of the city’s lively and colorful wine culture, and it’s culture in the widest sense of that word. This reinforced the impression I gained from our other stops in the South and  forced me to seriously revise my picture of this part of America. It also makes me want to return there as soon as possible.

Since Paul Grieco came on board the Riesling Road Trip in Austin / Texas conversation has come back to US government ‘Prism’ program to analyze the entire email correspondence of the US and the even more ambitious ‘Tempora’ program of the British government which seems to have attempted the same thing for the entire world. This is governments spying on their entire populations, and in the case of ‘Tempora’ on the entire online population of all nations. I can only speak for myself and do so as a British citizen and must say that ’Tempora’ completely contradicts the democratic principles which theoretically are the basis of our nation and culture. If the people of Britain accept this situation, then that compromise will surely have grave consequences. We are on a slippery slope and if we don’t pull ourselves back up, then we shall slip further down in the direction George Orwell predicted in his novel ’1984′.

Thankfully, the government of Germany doesn’t accept that the British government can spy on all their citizens and resident aliens (of which I am one) just because it feels like doing so. However, they haven’t been nearly forceful enough in rejecting this gross usurping of their sovereignty (which might be considered an act of cyber war). Thank you Edward Snowden for getting this all into the open and risking your own neck in so doing! But what about the people behind these programs? They have placed all the citizens of their own nations under 24/7 suspicion, effectively declaring them to be potential terrorists first and citizens second. That strikes me as a sign of extreme paranoia, (which might be considered a mental disorder). Extending this to the rest of the planet is an act of extraordinary arrogance, cyber-colonialism according to the motto, “we know best, we only have your best interests in mind.” We’ve learnt exactly nothing from our history, and we will suffer the consequences of this.

Thank you Frank Stitt and everyone else who came to our tasting for providing an antidote to all of this and showing us what civilized behavior is. I will return!

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Riesling Road Trip: Day 5 – The Angle of the Dangle

Early this morning I ran in the French Quarter of New Orleans, the city which survived the double disaster of hurricane Katrina and George W. Bush’s callous lack of interest in the suffering it caused back in 2005. OK, it felt like running in a sauna under a powerful sun lamp, but that strikes me as a detail in the great scheme of things. In half an hour I saw as many residential properties dating back to the 18th century as the whole of Berlin/Germany has to offer. America may be a “New World”, but history is big in New Orleans!

However, as the Riesling Road Trip team and I found out last night at ‘Lucky Rooster’ – a new “Chinese” restaurant run by non-Chinese – the city is certainly not locked into a rear-view mirror thought mode. It was another inspiring tasting with a group of extremely switched-on, open-minded somms and wine retailers. The picture above shows Paul Grieco applying a Riesling tattoo to Lucky Rooster’s Cocktologist Christine Jeanine Nielsen.

A particularly big thank you goes to John Mitchell of Stella Restaurant in New Orleans/Louisiana for the coolest saying of the entire Riesling Road Trip: the angle of the dangle. Strange as that sounds this term requires a scientific explanation, though I promise to leave out all the jargon and the math.

A lot has been talked about how Riesling is a cool climate grape and global warming might number Riesling’s days in Germany. However, Riesling is a much more adaptable grape than many people realize as its success in Clare Valley / South Australia proves. Clare Valley is actually hotter than Barossa Valley where so many of South Australia’s big Shiraz reds grow! Because the nights which follow the blistering Clare days are positively chilly, and temperatures during the final straight to the finishing line of harvest are rather cool Riesling has no fundamental problem. It will take a lot more global warming before anywhere in Germany is as hot as Clare Valley.

Then come all the things which the winegrower can do to influence conditions in the vineyard. Planting the vine rows North-South (as is normal in Germany) was a way of optimizing the exposure of the vines’ foliage (their solar panel). That was the logical approach in a climate where ripening the grapes fully was frequently a problem. However, the higher ripeness levels regularly being achieved today already makes this type of vineyard planting questionable, and further warming may make a reorientation absolutely necessary. By replanting the vines in rows with a Northeast-Southwest orientation you can pull down the temperature in the vineyard during the early afternoon (the hottest part of the day) by 4 – 5° Fahrenheit, which is very significant. So yes, the angle at which the Riesling grapes dangle in Germany is a crucial question for the future of these wines. Just like Global Warming that’s not just my opinion it’s hard science.

As you can see I had a great time in New Orleans. In the car this morning to our next secret location I’m feeling a bit wasted, so I have to sign off now. But, before I do so I must let you know that Paul Grieco promised that next time we’re in the city he’ll  organize a traditional New Orleans style funeral for Chardonnay including a Second Line (a parade). This promise is surely going to keep him at the top of the hit list of the Chardonnay International Army (CIA), so I wish him luck when the shit hits the fan.



Riesling Road Trip: Day 4 (Part II) – The Houston Principal

This lunchtime I wasn’t expecting anything particular in Houston/Texas except a (hopefully) interested crowd at our next tasting on the Riesling Road Trip, but without even looking for it I discovered an aspect of contemporary America, which also says something important about its future. And because I found that out in Houston I’m going to call my discovery the Houston Principal.

Before today for me Houston was Mission Control for the Apollo moon program. July 21st 1969 was the day the Eagle landed, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to step on the moon, and my parents forbade me to watch the live TV pictures because they reached us at 2am local time and I had to go to school the next day. Actually I’d been hooked the previous Xmas when the Apollo 8 astronauts become the first men to leave earth orbit. Later the words, “Houston, we have a problem,” would etch themselves into my mind and popular consciousness around the world. “ETA” or Estimated Time of Arrival took on a whole new meaning during the following days.

For once we arrived at the location for our tasting, the ‘Underbelly’ restaurant, early and this enabled us to visit first the neighboring ‘Blacksmith’ café, then ‘The Hay Merchant’ beer bar on the other side of the building from Underbelly. In the Hay Merchant we met the owner of all three establishment Kevin Floyd (pictured below – for more info visit www.haymerchant.com), who took us “backstage” where we saw the technology (pictured above) which enables them to serve 73 American craft beers on draft. We tasted a bunch of extremely diverse and individual beers with Kevin and it was impressive to see how quickly he honed in on my personal taste (as with wine, a little bit of funk goes a long way). But that’s not my subject today, rather what interests me here is the whole nature of what Kevin Floyd’s doing, that is how extremely professional, innovative and stylish the Hay Merchant is.

“If only you could take things like this place back home with you!” Michael Schemmel of the German Wine Institute, who lives between Frankfurt and Mainz/Germany, said to me. What he meant was if only this was his local bar, down the road in Frankfurt, or at least easily reachable in Berlin. The important thing here is that someone from a country renowned around the world for its beer culture wanted to take a beer bar from Houston/Texas, a city and a state not traditionally renowned for beer in a country not internationally renowned for the quality of its beer, back home. Michael drinks beer for refreshment, but also comes to it from a wine perspective, so this really says something.

Then Paul Grieco of Hearth restaurant and the Terroir wine bars in New York Wine City (NYWC) added a decisive observation. “It used to be that you had to go New York in order to find out what was happening in the wine and food scene, but it’s not that way any more!” Exactly! Just like San Francisco and Los Angeles, New York still often claims that it’s the capital of the American wine and food scene, but this very notion of a center and backwater has now gone out the window. The Houston Principal says that if it can be done in NYWC, SF or LA, then it can be done in your city just as well, or maybe even way better.

That impression was confirmed by our tasting, which attracted an extremely knowledgeable crowd, who really put Paul Grieco and I through our paces. They had no difficulty making sense of the complex feinherb/medium-dry 2011 Drohner Riesling from A.J. Adam in the Mosel, which is light years removed from any kind of “standard” German Riesling style. They may have never tasted a 44 year old Rheingau Riesling before, but the 1969 Schloss Joahnnisberg Riesling Spätlese lit their fire. It had an aroma that was at once mellow and of jewel-like brightness which will haunt me all the way back to NYWC where we are due around lunchtime on June 27th. The Eagle has landed again!

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Riesling Road Trip: Day 4 – 25 Hours Later in Austin/Texas

Yes, our drive from Phoenix/Arizona to Austin Texas via Marfa/Texas clocked in at 25 hours. 25 hours is a really strange unit of time and if you decide to do it, then I promise that it will do something really strange to you. What the hell were we thinking of when we dreamed up that schedule? Well, it may not have been my idea, but I certainly signed off on the plan which involved driving thru the night and more than a thousand miles of American Emptiness. And I dreamed that it in that vastness I might garner some fundamental insight into this country, or at least to shoot some really cool footage for my movie.

By the time the 24 hours mark rolled by we were still in the hill country – beautiful wine country! – between Austin and Fredericksburg and I was wondering who the hell I was. Sleep deprivation of this kind is banned by a slew of international treaties, but of course Extraordinary Rendition still happened. And how many seconds of usable footage had I shot with my improvised movie-making equipment? Not enough for a trailer, never mind a full scene!

Then we reached ‘The Whip In’ an ex-grocery store turned Indian restaurant, live music venue, bar, wine, beer and grocery store, and something miraculous happened, as you can see from the photograph above. It certainly had a lot to do with Paul Grieco who’d flown in “fresh” from New York Wine City (NYWC), and with the great group of Austin wine people who turned up and filled the belly of our Great Riesling Whale for the tasting. Maybe our ragged appearance – finally we looked as scratchy as our Whale (a customized shipping container) – and equally deranged mental state actually helped stimulate the “buzz” too? Whatever the correct A to that Q is I’d say that it was our best tasting to date. Even the opening wine, the regular dry 2011 Pinot Gris from Heger in Baden in liter bottles, seemed to hit a nerve, and the 2011 Riesling Kabinett from Jungwinzer Matthias Meirer in the Mosel was tailor-made for that steamy evening parked at the side of a freeway in Downtown Austin. Anyone who tells you that America is boring is not only bullshitting, but they certainly haven’t attended one of our tastings!

Then came the final wine, the 2003 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese from Joh. Jos. Prüm, a wine from a vintage rejected by the American wine press as “untypical”, although the climatic data and analytical data of the wines is an almost 1:1 match for 1959. And  according to every vintage chart that was a great year! It was so creamy-dreamy and so drop-dead gorgeous that I forgot all the suffering endured on the back seat of our White Whale (the GM Suburban the Riesling Road Trip team and I are travelling in) to reach Austin. I felt truly inspired and that’s why it happened.

I can’t remember exactly who brought up the subject of Bordeaux, but it definitely was one of our guests. I may drink red BDX less often than I used to, but I regularly run into seriously impressive red wines. However, during the last twenty years I didn’t have one dry white BDX which excited me. Many solid everyday wines, yes, and occasionally something that tasted a bit better than that, but absolutely nothing which could stand next to a wine like J.J.’s 2003 Riesling Auslese. Not even close! And I blurted all that out finishing with the words, “for me Haut Brion blanc and the other high-end Bordeauxs are huge pointless lumps of dry white wine”.

“Could you be more direct?” someone asked with a tinge of irony. “We’ll I could be even more explicit, but I don’t think I should,” I replied realizing that I’d just added the producers of dry white BDX to Global Sauvignon Blanc and the lunatic fringe of the Bullshit Chardonnay lobby on the growing list of my enemies. But what am I supposed to do after espousing the idea that every wine is as good/bad as it tastes to you (or in this case me) for more than a decade? To my mind there’s a bunch of exaggerated and clumsy “fancy” wines out there which are grossly over-priced because they’ve got a famous name on the label. High-end dry white BDX is just one particularly ugly example. German wines almost never suffer from that problem, in fact much more often the opposite is the case. That is the wines have no famous names on the label, but taste great, are full of character and modestly-priced. Is that Good News, or what?

So what did I learn about America? Well, certainly that I have to return to Austin/Texas and this time not just for 12 hours in order to further explore this place which defies all the stereotypes of Texas and America. ‘Keep Austin Weird’ is the city’s slogan and you can buy T-shirts emblazoned with that slogan at the airport, so it’s mainstream. However, I didn’t find Austin at all weird, in fact everything I experienced from the moment my feet hit the sidewalk of that downtown freeway deserved another W-word: wonderful.

OK, I managed to recharge my devices during the night, but 6 hours sleep were barely enough to do anything for my internal batteries. And now we’re rolling way yonder to our next tasting, my next faux pas and, perhaps, somewhere along the Riesling Road, maybe at a gas station or in a hotel lobby, some kind of revelation about this country who’s vastness I’m finally beginning to appreciate.


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Riesling Road Trip: Day 3 – The Importance of Refreshment

I was running, as I try to do every morning, and suddenly there it was with nothing else visible to the horizon. The eternal window-shopper in me liked the look of what he saw displayed in the ‘Prada Store’ just outside Marfa/Texas, so I stepped inside and Bingo! There was a great range of German Rieslings. We’s already run out of the 2008 Riesling Kabinett from Emrich-Schönleber in the Nahe (great freshness and balance!) and this being great Kabinett-weather I decided to grab a bottle. The photograph above shows me leaving the store with my purchase with that special high only successful shoppers experience. If only every neighborhood grocery store in America was like this place!

Much had already happened by then though. For starters my feelings about our Little White Whale – a white GM Suburban in which the Riesling Road Trip team travels while our roadies pull our Great Riesling Whale (the mobile tasting room) with a yet more powerful vehicle – had undergone a transformation while I spent the night in her belly on the long overnight drive from Phoenix/Arizona to Western Texas. A generous portion of excellent pizza from Pizzeria Bianco (the pistachio and herb pizza was a revelation) in Phoenix helped me get some sleep en route, and when I awoke at 7am I’d bonded with this huge hunk of metal from Detroit in a way I’d never have thought possible. I mean, I’m not the car guy.

After experiencing some serious loathing (though absolutely no fear) in Las Vegas I was glad to get out of the luxury hell hole which is the Wynn hotel, and after being incarcerated in it the five and a half hour drive to Phoenix/Arizona was positively relaxing. On the way we stopped for some great cherry pie (pictured) at a roadhouse in the desert after which Chris Miller, the somm of Spago Beverley Hills gave me an illuminating lecture on American pie and all the things which BBQ can mean in this country (prep for Texas and Beyond).

That kept me in high spirits until we pulled into Sportsman’s, a wine store and café that would be something special in LA or New York Wine City (NYWC) never mind Phoenix. Inside the store there was not only a great wine atmosphere, but also ideal temperatures for storing the stock and keeping us cool. Then like madmen we stepped out into the afternoon and into our Great Riesling Whale for our tasting gig and the hundred plus (41-2° C) heat hit us like a wall of fire.

The amazing thing was how well some of the wines, most particularly the regular dry Rieslings from Louis Guntrum (2011), the regular medium-sweet Riesling from Schloss Reinhartshasuen (the still fresh 2008) from the Rheingau and the Riesling Kabinett halbtrocken from Dr. Deinhard in the Pfalz (2011) showed beautifully. It was test-to-destruction, except that these moderately-priced German Rieslings came thru the ultimate stress test with flying colors and refreshed us. Château Lafite would have tasted like a cocktail of burnt vegetable soup and blackcurrant jam under those conditions!

We almost got fried ourselves, so as soon as the tasting was over we ran for cover in Sportsman’s where an impromptu tasting of American beers developed. First Chris introduced the Riesling Road Trip team and I to some of his favorites, of which I really dug the intensely hoppy IPA from Dogfish Head in Gaittersburg/Marylandalthough it was a little on the rich side to drink a whole bottle of. Then the Sportsman’s staff made some suggestions which included the ‘Matilda’ Belgian Style Pale Ale’ (pictured above) from Goose Island in Chicago/Illinois which turned out to be one of the best beers I’ve ever tasted. There was a fascinating dried orange peel aroma, was pleasantly hoppy without being hard core, and wonderfully refreshing. I feel sure that its 7% alcoholic content – moderate in the high-end American micro-brew context was helped give it its brightness of flavor. With beer as with wine balance and freshness are at least as important as character.


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Riesling Road Trip: Day 2 – Leaving Las Vegas

Chris Miller, the somm of Spago Beverley Hills, sitting next to me in one of the Riesling Road Trip vehicles at an undisclosed location in the American West just made an important observation about the Riesling Road Trip’s last stop: “Las Vegas is everything poor Midwesterners dream of come true.” Certainly there were a lot of Midwesterners in the Wynn hotel on the Strip where we were staying until a couple of hours ago, but there were also a lot of my countrymen, and the Brits were the loudest-mouthed people in the place. I heard one instructing a group of Americans in the elevators how to pronounce “asshole” in the correct English way according to the imperialistic motto, “it’s our language”. I felt like yelling in his face, “NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION!!!”

The other bizarre thing about this hotel-resort-mall-casino was the mind-numbing inefficiency of this sprawling complex with pretensions to being a glitzy destination for the Midwest and the Rest of the World. Yesterday after our tasting outside the Lotus of Siam Thai restaurant our “roadies” Alfonso and Devin (thanks guys, also for those hamburgers from the In and Out Burger at midnight last night !) were working until 3am packing everything for the drive to our next stop today. When they got to the hotel the reception made a huge and totally unnecessary fuss before finally giving them their room keys almost an hour later. All things are relative but my check in of sluggish slowness compared to every major hotel I’ve stayed in around the globe during the last couple of years. It felt like being sucked into a Communist system with designer interior décor, hordes of bimbos, plus 24/7 blackjack.

Lotus of Siam was a devastating contrast to all this with its unpretentious commitment to great Thai food and great wine, most importantly a stunning list of German Rieslings from QbA to TBA. We may have started our tasting a bit late, but once we got going the enthusiasm of the group made me forget the heat and the long drive through the desert during which we passed the ugliest trailer parks on the entire planet, ghost towns of various sizes and outlet malls pretending to be towns. I also forgot all the casinos in this world of beauty and suffering (including the largest of ‘em all, Wall Street). Thank you Dönnhoff, Kloster Eberbach, von Schubert and Wagner-Stempel for bringing joy and nuance to this den of iniquity where it almost never rains water, never mind fire and brimstone.

But, I must finally explain the picture of Chris Miller and I above. We were standing under the dress of a 26 foot high statue of Marilyn Monroe which is currently parked in Downtown Palm Springs/California. It depicts her in that famous pose from the movie ‘The Seven Year Itch’ when her dress blows up. I can honestly report that her underwear was very proper. We stopped to say “hi” to her after our tasting in neighboring Palm Desert where we did a lunchtime tasting.  The high point of it was the 2008 Riesling Kabinett from Emrich-Schönleber in the Nahe, a wine that was simultaneously effusively youthful and had some of the sexy patina of maturity. Chris finished the last drop of it under Marilyn, and yes that German Riesling paradox was perfectly suited to the desert climate and that iconically American situation.

Of course, there’s another side to our mad undertaking and Chris found out all about that last night when we arrived at that parking lot behind the Lotus of Siam. “Could somebody hold this for me?” Devin called out to us and Chris rushed forward to grab the pole supporting the opened side of the whale, that is our shipping container that was customized to become a mobile tasting room. Chris ended up minding that pole for a good twenty minutes, pointing out that it wasn’t exactly his idea of pole dancing. Jokes like that help keep up our spirits in places like the stretch of Arizona wilderness we’re currently passing through. We just passed a place called ‘Burgers and Bullets’ where you could shoot a machine gun while chewing on charred ground beef…

It’s now to sign off for a while and to try and catch up on sleep. We’ll be driving through the next night from Phoenix/Arizona to Marfa/Texas and in spite of the soothing influence of the Riesling Force I don’t imagine that we’ll get much sleep. If you see us and our whale (see the posting below for assistance in identifying the beast), then knock on wood for the Riesling Road Trip.

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Riesling Road Trip: Day 1 – The Longest Day in LA

Is it a truck, is it a whale? No, it’s the Riesling Road Trip mobile tasting room. I begin with a picture of the largest of the vehicles with which I’m traveling Coast to Coast, LA to New York Wine City (NYWC) to aid identification. Yes, this is our truck, our whale. I call it a whale, not only because of its bulk, but also because if you look at whales close up then they have barnacles and other stuff clinging to them making them look a bit like our grungy truck. Anyway, if you see the above then you are having a Close Encounter of the Third Kind with Riesling Road Trip. If we’ve stopped then step inside where it is much less grungy and there are a bunch of dangerously refreshing German Rieslings.

Yesterday was our first day and we began in eccentric style by doing our first tasting art the curbside directly outside Spago Beverley Hills. The reason for this restaurant location is that Spago’s somm Chris Miller (pictured below) is on the Riesling Road Trip with means the team as far as tomorrow night when we reach X. I’m not supposed to tell you where X is until we reach it, which will cramp my writing style at times, since it will often deny me one of the five Ws of journalism (where?). However, first we need to even reach that distant point X. Spago we made without much trouble and the team found that the tasting room was easier to open up and fire up than expected. Almost immediately our first guests arrived there was a buzz inside with wines like the dry 2011 St Remigiusberg Riesling from Tesch in the Nahe and the 2007 Blanc de Noir Sekt from Raumland in Rheinhessen respectively proving the Germany can make elegant dry whites and refined sparkling wines. Really? Wow? I had no idea!

Yesterday evening we drove from our hotel in Hollywood through Thai Town to the Covell Wine Bar where a mixture of party atmosphere and serious curiosity greeted us. Dark and cool, this wine bar with around 180 (!) wines by the glass was a dramatic contrast to the airy and self-consciously sophisticated Spago. Chris looked completely different without of his Spago suit and seemed as at home as I felt in our tasting room. Some old LA friends of mine mingled with people from the wine scene completely new to me. One thing they had in common was the disadvantage of not being able to taste the wines of a slew of young German producers who have come up in recent years, but don’t yet have a US importer. There was some discussion about how importers here still want to focus on the sweet Rieslings, since this is what the majority of consumers expect from Germany. It strikes me that this is just another example of the widespread need to pigeonhole all manner of things. Every time we stop, open up and fire up our tasting room we will be trying to help expand minds in a gentle and (almost entirely) legal manner. America still has a lot to discover about the diversity of Germany’s Rieslings and other wines.

It was past midnight by the time we were finished and by the time we reached our hotel I was feeling the Longest Day in LA in my bones. However, this was just the beginning and will probably soon like it was a piece of cake. Now I have to wrap this up and throw my last things in the suitcase ready to leave this city of angels and strange creatures. If you see us knock on wood for us. We’ll need all the luck we can get the next days.



On the Riesling Trail: Day 15 – Only One Day before the Great “Adventure” of the Riesling Road Trip begins!

I’m full of sympathy if you’re wondering how these palms and this beach could possibly have a Riesling Message for the citizens of Planet Wine, but here they are directly outside my hotel window in Venice Beach/LA. Their significance is that they at once mark the end of the road of my long journey on Riesling Trail on the West Coast and the beginning of the Riesling Road Trip (RRT), which begins here Wednesday morning. On paper the RRT is a coast to coast journey to promote German Riesling organized by Wines of Germany in New York Wine City commissioned by the German Wine Institute back in Mainz/Germany. Venice Beach is our official starting point and New York Wine City (NYWC) the official finishing line around lunchtime June 27th. Yes, that is fast and I’ll be a little amazed if we make it on time, not least because one of our vehicles is a 20ft shipping container remodeled as a mobile tasting room. I’ve no idea how a whale like that supposed to keep good time over more than a thousand miles. If you see us then knock on wood for us!

The RRT will undoubtedly fulfill it’s intended role unless something very unexpected and very bad happens to us during our “adventure”.  However, for me at least the RRT is much more than this, not least a road movie which I will be filming with the help of a rucksack full of improvised movie-making equipment and a head packed full of ideas, but inadequate experience to fully realize them. That’s also part of the movie’s story, although it will no doubt be dominated by my struggle against the attempts of the American wine industry’s Bullshit Chardonnay lobby group (as I call it) to intimidate me into moderating my pro-Riesling stance. Whoever the henchmen of Bullshit Chardonnay are they seem determined to stop me in my tracks, not least because of the success of this blog/website. Clearly I worry them very much and so does your interest and enthusiasm for Riesling. Watch your backs!

“You don’t need to really worry until Paul Grieco goes down,” someone who was very drunk confided to me one night in a New York bar. Was he serious when he talked about Paul Grieco of Hearth Restaurant and the Terroir wine bars in NYWC becoming the target of a hit man? It all sounded completely ridiculous to me, then he told me a bunch of stuff about some kind of terrorist cell, but I found no evidence for any of it on the internet. Later when I challenged him about that (he was sober this time) he said to me, “how many terrorist cells advertise their next attack in advance on the internet?” I’d have dismissed all of this out of hand, but I got some very strange looking post the other day and have no idea how someone knew where I’d be on the Riesling Trail. What’s going on?

Whatever the truth behind all this is there are many strange creatures out on the streets, and I don’t just mean in Venice Beach where craziness is so normal even the tourists adjust to it fast. This being America some of those strange creatures are armed and dangerous. Ugly as even a weapon as small as the popular Glock 9mm pistol is, I think that ideas which are completely dislocated from any kind of reality are much more dangerous.  Think of how some members of the Bush Administration dismissed the majority of journalists as members of the Reality-Based Community and what that said about the state of their minds. That drunken guy in the bar also told me about a group of people who are claiming that Chardonnay is the American wine and that it isn’t of French origin, but was actually discovered by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. OMG! Sorry guys, but Chardonnay is a rather recent arrival in the US from Burgundy/France, and that’s not propaganda! It lagged behind Riesling until into the 1970s and only became big in California during the early 1980s. Prior to that German Riesling enjoyed extremely high renown in the US and American Riesling attempted to match its elegance, sometimes with considerable success. Riesling, both imported and domestic, has been making and continues to make a substantial comeback in the US, and regardless of whether people heckle me, throw rotten fruit, cans or rocks at me I won’t stop talking and writing about that.

But back to day one of the RRT in LA tomorrow. We kick off with a tasting at Spago Restaurant in Beverley Hills. Although I’ve been to LA many times this will be my first visit to the restaurant where the luxury pizza was invented by Austrian chef Wolfagng Puck. There I will also meet the restaurant’s sommelier Christopher Miller who will be my companion on the trip as far as Phoenix/Arizona for the first time. So far all we did was have a telephone conference call. I hope (and expect) we’ll get on as well in the flesh as in the ether, but who knows. Then we have an evening tasting at the Covell Wine Bar in Hollywood. At both locations we’ll be emphasizing German Riesling’s enormous diversity from feather light to granite density and from bone dry to honey sweet. That’s something Chardonnay simply cannot match wherever it comes from and whoever discovered it. If you see us knock on wood for us!



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