New York restaurateur Paul Grieco has again declared a "Summer of Riesling," defying the trendsters who've made rosé this season's "it" drink.
"That rosé is trendy is positive in so many ways," says Terry Theise, perhaps the best-known importer of German and Austrian Rieslings. Theise's decades of work promoting the neglected varietal have made him a hero to oenophiles, and earned him a James Beard Foundation medal.
The recent embrace of rosé proves "there's a place even in serious people's wine worlds for frivolity," says Theise, who was in town this weekend to kick off Wild Ginger's observance of the Riesling holiday. Theise further credits the crisp, pink drink with weaning wine drinkers off oak and high alcohol levels, and demonstrating the value of a refreshing wine.
"It's only baby steps from rosé to the virtues of a great Riesling," Theise says. "The best rosé that can be made is about as good as an adequate Riesling."
The Summer of Riesling--launched with an audacious 2008 experiment at New York City's Terroir Wine Bar, in which every white wine but Riesling was scrubbed from the house list--strives to "overcome this hackneyed belief that Riesling is always sweet." Theise takes a slightly different approach: He celebrates Riesling's subtly sweet notes, believing they're uniquely suited to sweet and salty foods (descriptors that cover nearly anything a wine drinker would find on a plate).
"When we think about sugar, we should be thinking about apples, and instead we're thinking about Twinkies," Theise complains.
Theise resists the increasingly common wisdom that Riesling belongs with Asian foods, since he fears "it shunts Riesling off into this Asian ghetto," but says there are few cuisines that aren't Riesling-ready. With the exception of unsauced red meats and certain Mediterranean dishes that are soaked in olive oil, almost every food can benefit from an accompanying glass of Riesling.
And if a pairing goes awry, he adds, what's the harm? Although Theise rejects the populist philosophy that something is good so long as somebody like it, he urges drinkers to play with their wines. He suggests wine drinkers always have at least three wines open, so they can fool around with oxidization and pairings over the course of a few pleasure-saturated evenings. An opened bottle of Riesling can last for months in the refrigerator, he promises.
At his wine dinners, like the event he conducted last night at Wild Ginger, Theise tries to capture the "caprice of the moment" by never previewing the menu prepared to serve with his wines. In addition to fostering the spontaneity and spirited conversation that should surround wine, the practice acknowledges a food and wine pairing can never be reproduced precisely.
"It's like trying to have sex the same way a second time," he says. "This is actual life. This isn't a DVD where you can watch a scene again."
Still, Theise says, so long as chefs, sommeliers, and drinkers respect a few basic structural principles when matching Riesling to food, the pairings "may not be tantric, but they won't be discordant,"
But Theise's relentless defense of Riesling reaches far beyond the flavor and textural descriptors that fascinate wine geeks. While his presentations are leavened with impromptu merriment and vaudeville shtick, his central argument has a staunch spiritual component. "Humility before nature is a positive value," Theise says. "Riesling is our most articulate messenger of terroir. To believe in terroir is to believe there's something the earth is trying to say to us. So, yeah, I think Riesling contributes to the appreciation of positive values."
According to Theise, who last year outlined his aesthetics in Reading Between the Wines, Riesling can heighten drinkers' senses, awaken them to beauty and instruct them in the noble art of tact.
"Wine does not insist," Theise says. "Good wine only gives. It's a perfect relationship."