Riesling Spirit Nr. 1: THE MAGIC FLUTE (is more than just a bottle shape)

What is this off-the-wall image which has already appeared a number of times on STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL, and what exactly does it mean? I’ve frequently been thrown that Q and it certainly demands an A, but to do that properly requires a Q & A session digging into the purposes of this website, the story of how I got involved in Riesling, and much else besides.

First of all, let me give a quick answer on the origin of the  image. It was my attempt to visualize the RIESLING SPIRIT which is common to all Riesling lovers. At the centre is a Tiebtian Buddhist image of the union of Samantabhadra and Samantabhadri (note similarity of the names are – two sides of the same coin!) representing the complete overcoming of karma and achivement of full enlightenment. I’m a Buddhist, but I’m not a follower of Tibetan Buddhism and I chose the image, because I had a gut feeling that by combining it with a flute-shaped bottle so often used for Riesling wines right around Planet Wine that bottle would become The Magic Flute. It was realized in a manner far more spectacular than I’d dared to imagine by Alexandra Weiss (see www.weisswieschwarz.de) of Bad Dürkheim/Germany, who also designed the STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL logo. In this case world-wide copyright resides joint with her and I, and we ask you not to abuse this.

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of what the Riesling Spirit is. Looked at soberly Riesling is the 20th most widely-planted grape variety on Planet Wine and yields a great diversity of white wines ranging from bone dry to honey-sweet, from feather-light to heavy as gold, which people either find exciting or confusing. It has a recorded history going back to 1435 in Rüsselsheim close to Frankfurt/Germany and was first described in 1552 by Hieronymus Bock in the latin edition of his ‘Kreutterbuch’, or herbal. Riesling became a globetrotter during the first half of the 19th century making its way to the West Coast of North America and to Southeastern Australia, and probably a bunch of other places I’m not yet aware of. It is now cultivated in „cool climate“ regions on all five wine continents and is also very cool in the other sense, being the object of a new global cult which this website documents.

I understand how many people yearn for hard facts, but it’s really difficult to put an exact figure on the global acreage/hectarage of Riesling, since some winegrowing countries cannot supply reliable figures, others lack up-to-date stats. Ukraine is an example of the former group, 30 years ago claiming to have 62,000 acres / c.25,000 hectares of Riesling, which is more than Germany! I can’t even tell you if that figure was true back then, and I certainly can’t find any half-way contemporary figures to compare with it. Does anyone out there know if the Ukraine has gathered statistics for winegrowing since the release of Niravana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991? Then you have places like the USA where each state is doing things differently, with California producing annual statitics, but places like Michigan and New York do so only every 4-5 years, so there’s no national figure based on data collection as level as a football field. See the Riesling Think Pieces Nr. 3 & Nr. 4 below for the best I could do so far.

Of course, numbers can only hint at the true nature of the Riesling Spirit, which is fundamentally inclusive. Firstly there’s the diversity of the wines, not only of type, but also in aroma and flavor. Then there’s the fact that round the world Riesling grows alongside other grape varieties as varied as Pinot Grigio, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Noir and Syrah/Shiraz. For these reasons, and because enjoying Riesling encourages open-mindedness, Riesling lovers also tend to enjoy many other wines apart from those of their favorite grape, and to have better sex than anyone else on Planet Wine. However much we enjoy those other wines though, we keep on coming back to the fermented juice of the Riesling grape, because there’s nothing else quite like it, and it does things for us which no other wines does in quite the same way. RIESLING SPIRIT is undeniably joyful, but doesn’t ignore all the shit going down in our world. It’s certainly playful, but also there’s a serious intent lurking in there somewhere too. That’s why a Buddhist image which also tries to express something that can’t be fully grasped with words seems appropriate.

Sometimes it’s easier to explain something by saying what it is not. Fundamentaly I have nothing against Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, but often these wines are so self-important, so vain and so exclusive in the sense of wanting to exclude others from their presence (as well as the sense of only being available to a “select” few). On top of this they often wear so much damned make up it’s hard to recognize the face behind it at all, and the problem is there’s no way to remove that make up either! One element of this is the oak aromas with which so many of these wines are slathered , which may come from barrels made from 200-250 year old oak trees, or may come from oak chips. „Oaking“ is a process by which, through the reaction of the wine with the oak, the wine is fundamentaly changed. Sometimes this works wonderfully and the oak doesn’t stick out like dog balls, but those are exceptions. Often I enjoy less expensive well-made Cabernets and Chardonnays much more than high-end wines, because they are usually less oaky, less self-important, less vain and leave some space for me, you and other wines. Hell, air to breathe is somehow important! However, sometimes those less and less expensive imposing Cabs and Chards are so sweet; the felony Riesling is so frequently accused of! This ha often been added in the form of grape concentrate, for many Cabernet winemakers the goo of choice is something eating the appetizing name of “mega-purple”, which also peps up the color. 

At it’s worst the demand of certain high-end wines (which shall remain nameless – you know which ones I’m thinking of!) and their hard-core of supporters (who shall remain nameless – they know who they are!) for exceptional status above all other wines and wine lovers is plain ugly. I consider it a form of vinous „racism“, and for a long time the prime victim of this was Riesling. However, other wine which tasted like Riesling were also herded into this group, along with any wines with Germanic sounding names and those sold in a flute-type bottles which made them look like Rieslings. For those demanding exceptional status, both for themselves and their Trophy Wines, Riesling was wrong simply because it was white and Germanic, i.e. it was the vinous equivalent of the „Evil Hun“. All their arguments against Riesling were just rationalisations of their fundamental Anti-Germanic prejudice. More on that subject at a later date.

Even if the wine was called Clos Ste. Hune and was made by the French-speaking Trimbach family in Alsace/France or came from Kueka Lake in Upstate New York State and was made by the descendants of Dr. Konstantin Frank, a Ukranian imigrant, they were still somehow vaguely suspicious. I speak from personal experience during the 1980s when Riesling was down and out, and members of the exceptionalist group also looked at me strangely because I was fascinated by Riesling.

However, the RIESLING SPIRIT only gained in strength through standing up to this discrimination, and the fact that there is still some active opposition, both to those of us gripped by the Riesling spirit and to our favorite wines, continues to strengthen us. Without this I would never have come to the conclusion that the classic Riesling bottle, when filled with good Riesling, becomes The Magic Flute.

Of course, the struggle against all forms of genuine racisim was and is far more important than our own little struggle, but we identify with all underdogs whatever the reason that they have been pushed into that role. It was possible to experience the RIESLING SPIRIT full-throttle at the German Wine Cruise and Concert in New York City – the high point of the 31 DAYS OF RIESLING, indeed of the entire SUMMER OF RIESLING – on the evening of Tuesday, July 24th.  Lez Zeppelin (yes, that name is spelt correctly) – an all female Led Zeppelin cover band stunned and amazed, left no heart untouched, though all reactions were not positive…just like Riesling. Video of this will follow after it has been cut.


PS Thank you Suzanne Winter for making the cruise & concert happen !

This entry was posted in Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Riesling Spirit Nr. 1: THE MAGIC FLUTE (is more than just a bottle shape)

  1. So what can this all mean?

Comments are closed.