Last week, on a Tuesday with the distinct flavor of summer I had plans to attend one of the most anticipated tastings on my calendar year—the Terry Theise portfolio tasting—unveiling the 2011 vintage offerings of Germany and Austria. This marked one year since I last stepped foot in Hatfield’s on Melrose. The distributors—Winewise—had traded settings, exchanging 90038 for the high profile 90211 zip code that encompassed Red Medicine, current vanguard of the Los Angeles culinary scene and event headquarters, to showcase the magnificent collection of wines.
Bearable traffic and parking relatively close at a metered spot, there was hardly any delay in my arrival. Coins to buy three hours worth of parking allowed me to trot down to the corner where South Gale Drive intersected with Wilshire Boulevard, arriving in my restaurant-best-duds and my camera slung tautly over my shoulder ready to check in. I grabbed a glass and entered a kinetic buzz. There was a healthy turnout, sommeliers, restaurant and retail buyers, bloggers and fellow tradesmen stood shoulder to shoulder huddled over bantam tables bearing ice troughs that held dozens of Rieslings, in the hopes of assessing the newest vintage.
German wines may not be consumer-friendly, with difficult names and even more confusing ripeness scales; it would be an understatement to say that these wines were not fully understood. I study German and Austrian wines regularly and I am still perplexed by their individuality. The difference between three separate Spätlese Rieslings, all hailing from the same blue slate soils and sharing an identical birth year can be staggering. What could I do to share my passion with the consumer? I made the rounds looking to answer that question.
Beginning at the first table, I tasted through twenty-four different trocken Rieslings, bereft of residual sugars, leaving only minerals and the essence of stone fruits in their wake. I rounded thirty-seven wines in a heartbeat, trying my best to keep in line with the wine buyers of the Wine Exchange who tasted with celerity.
I sojourned to the Rüdesheim vineyards, of the Rhinegau, where Tobias Fiebrandt poured eight variations under the Leitz label. I drafted behind the swift pace of my running mates (those two buyers) and tasted the delectable lineup at my own leisure. My palate was pleasantly shocked to a variance of dry to off-dry levels of fruits, minerals and faint herbal notes. My deference for Riesling, no matter how commercially unsuccessful, was dwarfed by our German liaison, inked earnestly with his Riesling tattoo.
From the Leitz table, I transitioned into a heavy assortment of Kabinett wines. With mouth-searing acidity I was particularly drawn to the Jakob Schneider Kabinett Riesling, along with the softer and more attractive Spreitzer Oestricher Lechen Riesling Kabinett (I wasn’t kidding about the difficulty of the names).
I whipped through seventy-four wines before I landed at the manned tables of two different Mosel producers, with German representatives behind the brand standing by to acquaint me with their unique offerings. Selbach-Oster bowled me over with more than one example but I nerded out over the halbtrocken, or officially, the Zeltlinger Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett halbtrocken. Affording a blend of summer stone fruits that had been rinsed in a zesty lemon juice and spearmint cocktail that was balanced by a nice weight in the mouth and an unrelenting finish. Next door, it was time to taste Meulenhof before departing for the wines of Saar and concluding with the Nahe.
There were too many sterling examples, in all ranges, starring my pricelist repeatedly since there was nearly a winner in every third bottle. After about one hundred and forty Rieslings I took a break, excusing myself from the tight gauntlet of Rieslings. I snacked on a smattering of treats and slugged some water to alleviate the palate before I would even entertain the Austrian flight.
My tongue recovered and I turned the page in my packet (pricelist) ready to begin sifting through the assorted Grüner Veltliner. Unlike the German portion of the tasting, by the time I made it to Austria the crowd was thinning and I found more elbowroom to swig, spit and note comfortably. I would unscrew the majority of the tops, pouring through the miscellaneous wines. Among the similar characteristics there were a few clear favorites; those Austrian whites that showed more finesse in the palate, with notes of celery and cabbage leaves, aspirin and hints of green fruits as they sloshed over my tongue. Between Kremstal and Kamptal I found my favorites, with producers like Nigl and Hirsch surging ahead of their brethren for their drinkability and definition.
After roughly twenty Grüner, I continued to the following stations, each representing three individual producers, two more from Kamptal—Schloss Gobelsburg and Willi Bründlmayer—and the last, for my purposes was Nikolaihof from Wachau. In addition to Grüner Veltliner each of the three producers were showing their Austrian Rieslings—those lithe beauties.
A memory came fleeting when I tasted the Willi Bründlmayer lineup. I had served older vintages of those wines at the restaurant for a foie festival at the hest of my superiors at Wilshire. It all made sense to me when I put the stemware to my lips.
Palate fatigue had set in around 180 wines, so any tasting notes I scribbled after that would be dubious. I was impressed with the Austrian leg of the tasting this year, something that failed to grab my attention last time… perhaps I wasn’t in the right frame of mind then. I closed my price guide, trying best to remember the question I had asked myself before I had entered at the head of the queue. After seeing a man literally wearing a tattoo that read Riesling, someone with a serious conviction for the grape, I knew that there was a lot more that I could do. The easiest thing though, would be to let people taste them—the rest would naturally fall in place. I thanked the host and my rep, departing for my metered spot before time expired and I journeyed home with flavors that were still sounding loudly, replete with everything I love about summer.