My first documented professional tasting happened almost two weeks ago, and though I am falling behind in chronicling my tasting adventures I have to say I can remember it vividly. Not too long ago I was invited to my first trade tasting that I would blog, by a former colleague from WFM; it was an event that I very much looked forward to attending.

Held at Hatfield’s—a restaurant with a great pedigree—the smaller, upscale event would be a departure from some of the bigger trade tastings I had already attended in the year. Hatfield’s was hosting a German and Austrian tasting provided under the auspices of Wine Wise.

The venue fostered a different vibe; the gathering was smaller—not exclusive—but more intimate, good for discussing the wines with fellow buyers and not one person was rushed or unprofessional, unlike some of the larger tastings (getting shoved or elbowed out of the way for the last taste of Sauternes…happened!). Refreshing. While the gathering was more personable and petite, the wines were ample; over 150 different bottles were available to taste. Just a note, if I included these tastings into my ‘Count’, I would have been done already, arriving at the checkered flag of my Road-to-500 about three weeks ago. Why don’t I count them? I am going to rationalize my behavior by stating that these events, though valuable—in an educational sense—would be cheating form a story-telling perspective. Even if I could type up all the tasting notes from over a hundred wines, no matter how onerous, it would be unfair to most of the wines. Any mass tastings, including a large number of the wines I tasted at the Wine Wise event, deserve more than a technical breakdown—perhaps a novella each. Sixteen wines (as in the most I ever reviewed in my wine class) were pushing it, but I did pay for the class and the wines indirectly, so I guess I feel that those wines that I purchased (in whatever capacity) are to be reflected in the countdown. On to the marquee bout.

The spotlight was beaming lustrously on Rieslings from Germany and Austria but the showcase was not strictly on high acid white wines…, there were reds too, plenty of Zweigelt from Austria. Wine Wise—a distributor that represents the brilliant selections of Terry Theise—was showcasing a bounty of gems from the legendary importer’s portfolio. The wines were submerged in tubs of ice, a wide array of producers positioned in stations, kabinett, auslese, spätlese and trocken were there for the taking. Those terms (besides being difficult to pronounce until acquainted) signify varying degrees of ripeness for the Riesling grapes.

I shoots & laddered my way through the tables, beginning the tasting incredibly nervous; I poured my first wine* into my spit cup (luckily, it hadn’t been used) but quickly overcame my nerves as I rounded the second table. The acidity in the first few wines revved up my taste buds and I was ready to evaluate at that point. I made my way through the tables, tasting in order, trusting there was some logic behind the architecting of one’s passage through the maze. At every table stood exciting wines and after each sip, I would swoosh the liquid vigorously around my mouth and make an evaluation—basically, scribble my notes in a very small scrawl on the paper provided—based on the brightness of the wine, the residual sugar, the flavors (minerals with a squeeze of lime or dried apricots and other stone fruits…) and the way the wine left an imprint on my palate (the finish). There were some deadly gorgeous wines, lithe acidity and a serious persistence of fruit lingering on the tongue. It would be really painful for me to expound upon 50+ wines of merit, parsing that many notables out of the 120 I tasted but, I will list a few that wowed me:

Joh. Jos Christoffel Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese

Merkelbach Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling BA

Kruger-Rumpf Münsterer Rheinberg Riesling Kabinett

Döhnnhoff Norheimer Kirschheck Rielsing Spätlese

Döhnnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Spätlese

Dr. Deinhard Ruppertsberger Reiterpfad Riesling Kabinett

Leitz Rüdesgeuner Klosterlay Riesling Kabinett

Selbach-Oster Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese

Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnernuhr Riesling ”Rotlay”

There were too many Rieslings that I enjoyed, the notes and bouquets were varied and came in different degrees of complexity. What I can tell you honestly is that a measured dose of residual sugar really chimes well with my palate.

After sipping through an endless trove of delicious Riesling and Grüner Veltliner I was not really prepared to sample the red wines, even after a time out, where I casually grabbed a handful of halved figs and grapes (not the ideal palate cleanser but certainly emblematic of summer) and slugged some water. I tried to transition flawlessly into the Austrian red wines but the oak—no matter how faint—really upset my palate. Tastes of meat and wood went wild on my tongue and I was ready to kind of wrap up. After nearly an hour and a half of tasting sumptuous white wines from Austria and Germany, the reds jarred me. I couldn’t get past it and so I was back to enjoying the white wines before calling it quits.

A fraction over two hours and I had tasted over 120 wines, not swallowing more than two full glasses during that time because the emphasis is on introduction and assessment and it would be extremely arduous, simply impossible, to evaluate any wines while intoxicated. I was able to thank my representative for inviting me and talk to a few people before exiting on that warm Thursday. I was sad to think that Rieslings were a tough sell after leaving Hatfield’s and had the privilege of tasting so many of these exemplary wines. I had a realization—not an epiphany—while driving back to the Westside that many people who deny themselves the pleasure of German Rieslings because they are “too sweet” are closing the door on an incredibly exciting varietal, one that can partner with a montage of fantastic foods. This is a challenge to whomever reads this (and may not already be smitten with the zesty grape): Please seek out Rieslings. They deserve your interest.

* Something I was unaccustomed to doing during this encounter, was pouring my own wines. It quickly appealed to me, as I could be as judicious as I wanted, or, perform my own tasting experiments, trying certain standouts side by side and just revisiting wines.