John Curtas is …

Fine Wine Times

I like the best wine drunk at the cost of others. – Diogenes, the Cynic, 412?-323 B. C.

The esteemed British wine writer Jancis Robinson defines the Riesling grape as quite unlike any other: “It is light in alcohol, refreshingly high in fruity acidity, has the ability to transmit the characterization of place through its extract and unique aroma, and, unlike Chardonnay, capable of aging for decades in the bottle.”

Robinson calls Riesling “a star” and one of her great wine heroes, but also decries the flabby, early ripening versions made throughout the New World. She concludes that “Riesling is the wine to drink while writing or reading; it refreshes the palate and sharpens the brain (or at least that’s what it feels like).

ELV thinks that about sums up both the good and the bad of Riesling. For years, it’s been our favorite grape, but like most Americans, we struggle with the obscurity and nomenclature of German wine bottles, something we pointed out in 2005 in  A critique of pure Riesling on KNPR.

When we asked Rudi Wiest (A leading American importer of premium German wines), if a true “Riesling Revolution” would ever take place in America — displacing Chardonnay as the King of Whites, his answer was quick and to the point: “No,” he said, shaking his head, “the large distributors (like Southern Wines and Spirits) are constantly pressured by the big importers like Constellation and Diageo to sell in bulk. Riesling would need help from the distribution system to start reaching more consumers, but the system is too invested in selling the big brand names.”

Translation: You’re not going to get any help from the big boys (distributors and retail wine stores) when it comes to finding great Rieslings. The best you can do is find a retailer that has some (like Valley Cheese and Wine, Khoury’s and Marche Bacchus), or a restaurant that is proud of its selection (Lotus of Siam) and start drinking away.

It also helps to be ELV and get invited to premium tasting seminars like the one above, sponsored by Wirtz Beverage. Wirtz (through its Trilogy Wines subsidiary) takes pride in expanding Las Vegas’ access to fine, boutique producers, and tastings like the one above, and gives local sommeliers and wine directors an education in the possibilities beyond big, blowsy California chards and easy to swill sauv blancs..

Wiest described the Riesling grape as a tango dancer, not a rugby player, and he knows what he’s talking about.

Riesling is a sleek, modern woman, not a zaftig throwback.

Get some and start drinking better.

Besides constantly having his wine chops elevated by the great winemakers visiting our humble burg, ELV is fortunate to get invites to wine dinners like the one above at Sonoma Cellar.

Not as exotic as straight-fr0m-the-German-barrel-wines, the current releases of the old crowd pleaser, Ferrari-Carano were no less satisfying, and paired beautifully with Chef Ken Baima‘s wine-friendly menu.

Of the wines tasted, one of the cheapest, the 2011 Fumé Blanc was one of our favorites — steely and crisp with a touch of sweetness. You’d be hard pressed to find a better $11 bottle of wine anywhere. The oaky-buttery flavor profile of the 2010 Chardonnay is the sort we normally disdain, but occasionally are in the mood for. (Does that make any sense?)

Two things that made a lot of sense were Baima’s braised veal paired with an ‘o9 Siena — a Sangiovese blend packing a 14.5% alcohol punch — and his slightly gamey, dense rack of boar with a majestic ‘o8 Trésor. These were not your father’s pork chops and this was no ordinary Bordeaux blend — with the sweet, intense meat enhancing the depth and suppleness of the wine. Both the pork and the wine had finishes that wouldn’t quit and were, by far, the pairing of the evening.

When you consider the price — $85 for five, hefty courses with matching wines — major props are due Sonoma Cellar for one of the best wine dinners in town.

Steven Shaw Jr. and his Finger Lakes wines

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We didn’t have a chance to pair any foods with Steven Shaw Vineyard wines at a tiny tasting at Caesars Palace, but the three bottles Steven Shaw Jr. brought us all the way from the finger lakes were a revelation in how far this region has come, and how seriously its wines must be taken.

While the pinot noir was a bit light for our tastes, and the sauvignon blanc a tad herbaceous (as it is wont to be), the floral, aromatic and crisp Li Bella pinot grigio hit all of the right notes. Like Don Carano’s fumé blanc, and every one of the 20 Rieslings we tasted at Wirtz, it proved fine white wine times can come from tasting outside of your comfort box.

And that great wines don’t always come at great prices or alcohol levels.

SONOMA CELLAR

In the Sunset Station Hotel and Casino

1301 West Sunset Road

Henderson, NV 89104

702.547.7777

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One Response to Fine Wine Times

  • Good rieslings certainly aren’t hard to find, and at very competitive prices (if you pay more than $30 for one, it had better change your life!). Of course it won’t displace Chard, but if it did, it would only do so at a lessening of quality.

    It cracks me up that the misnomer Fume Blanc persists… but it does, and sometimes even on good wines ;)

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