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  • April 24, 2017
  • Riesling Fellowship Dinner in NYC—April 18, 2017

  • by James Wright

Riesling Fellowship at The Beekman hotel in New York City on April 18, 2017. (Photo by Ben Hider.)

So I went last Tuesday night to The Beekman hotel, on Nassau St. in Manhattan, to attend a celebratory dinner thrown by Wines of Germany, honoring the (indeed considerable) lifetime achievements of importers Rudi Wiest and Terry Theise and writer/journalist David Schildknecht with inclusion in their Riesling Fellowship.

Restaurateur Paul Grieco of Terroir was also on hand to take a victory lap, having been himself previously honored with the accolade, although Paul accepted his award in London, where Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson had also previously received the distinction.

First things first—excellent to see Howard Goldberg among the company and back in action; he has always been a model of class and engagement, inexhaustible curiosity, unstupid language with regard to wine and a paragon of excellent writing in general, terse and epigrammatic.

Second things second—I have been at many wine dinners and more than enough awards dinners. Never before have I been so well fed at one of these affairs; both the exemplary quality of the grub (although trying to make anything palatable out of a cauliflower seems to be from the gitgo doomed to frustration) and the crispness/attentiveness of the service. Tom Colicchio, Exec. Chef Bryan Hunt, and staff to be singled out for particular praise.

Good to see longtime friends and colleagues at the standup/millabout portion of the proceedings—David Bowler, Juliette Pope, Charlie Woods, Evan Spingarn, Daniel Hubbard, Heather Meyer, Cathy Schildknecht...

This part of the evening also provided the most memorable wine of the event...

G•d bless cantankerous old Rudi, who brought Silvaner and Grauburgunder to a Riesling show! A GG Silvaner from Wirsching in Iphofen—perfect with the Gaumenkitzler that were reached around by the restaurant staff, as was Rudi’s Rebholz Kastanienbusch Riesling GG.

...then on to David for a Kallstadter Saumagen Riesling Kabinett trocken 2012 from what was for a long time my favorite estate in Germany, Koehler-Ruprecht.

Then the longest name on the smallest label ever to grace a green bottle: a mere necklace reaching from the throat of the vessel to its shoulder, but wearing names that have always made me sit up straight and take notice...

In tiptop form at age 43, typical Ruwer glint and weightless transparency; had resolved much of its residual sugar into the overall flavor profile, more secondary than tertiary even at this august age—but does anybody know what Ruwer means anymore, since it and the Saar got gerrymandered into the Mosel?

Then the wine of the night, which remained the wine of the night even after the nine carefully selected sippingtons that accompanied the first three courses of the sitdown:

  • Weingut H. Dönnhoff Norheimer Dellchen Riesling Spätlese 2004

Over the course of a life frequently punctuated with Rieslings, I have had perhaps a scant handful that showed aromatics more magical than this one from the hand of the Nahe master. The ensemble of volcanic minerality and generous fruit on the nose, evolving secondary aromatics, the subtlety with which a rather substantial palate spread itself out and the vibrant finish with matching retro-nasals were an almost unimaginably lovely combination. NB: I remember Helmut Dönnhoff telling me years ago something to the effect of

» Spätlese is the essential expression of German Riesling. «

and I have always been a Spätlese drinker. Browsing through social media since the event, I see that this was the one single wine that Howard Goldberg, former editor and wine writer at The New York Times and doyen of NYC vine-scribes, singled out for individual mention, describing it as “an entry key to Olympus’s pearly gates...” It also occurs to me to ask: what would the Hobbyhorse Cavalry say if they knew that this magnif wine could very well have been fermented (knowing Herr Dönnhoff’s pragmatic nature) with cultured yeasts? Shudder... Talk to me about your ‘natural wine’ and I will ask about your würzelecht (ungrafted) vines...

Very good canapés, animated conversations; divergent opinions from Schildknecht and Goldberg on the dramatic merits of the Metropolitan Opera’s new Der Rosenkavalier, which they had attended independently the evening before... Fond memories of Christa Ludwig and Tatiana Troyanos. Kiri Te Kanawa. And my opinion that the lecherous old Baron requires a great singing actor.

Then the awards, accompanied by very respectable Riesling Sekt from Gut Hermannsberg (there’s the Nahe again, most likely the only good to come of Germany’s 1971 Wine Law...).

Everybody spoke well:

First our moderator and hostess Monika Reule, director of the Deutsches Weininstitut, giving the intros, then...

Grieco, with typical infectious enthusiasm and fewer previously unprintable words than customarily characteristic of his oratory.

Theise, giving thanks and singling out his gentlemanly competitor Wiest for particularly generous praise.

Schildknecht, short and to the point.

Wiest, wrapping with a bit of background that was new even to me.

All three honorees are musical, two of them jazzmen—Rudi is a bebop piano player and Terry a monster fusion guitarist...

David was a classical fiddler during his student days and has cultivated the most sophisticated musical sensibilities of the three men. For some thirty years now he has been one of my preferred companions for evenings on the town: Wagner and Janáček at the opera, Mahler and Schoenberg (twice with Boulez on the podium and Barenboim on the bench!) in the concert hall, Sir Andras Schiff in recital performing Beethoven and Schubert sonatas—but Dave was also quick to acknowledge the brilliance of Richard Thompson upon hearing his music.

Terry has extended his eloquence (the fellow’s voice, which invites you to lean forward and listen, helps in this) and marvelous palate beyond the borders of the Bundesrepublik, fielding a first-rate collection of Austrian growers, as well as rendering the singular service of popularizing ‘grower Champagne’ in the USA—fizz produced not by the gargantuan houses Veuve C. or M. Chandon, but bottled and expeditioned by the same folks who grow the grapes. Chapeau! His annual catalogue is eagerly awaited by the trade and amateurs alike—fluid writing and solid information.

Rudi has often been a generous host for evenings spent in the jazz clubs of NYC, with a particular fondness for pianist and bandleader Maria Schneider, whose name even came to grace the labels of wines he imported. The only one of the three honorees who is actually German, he manages to bring off being smoothly Californian at the same time. The great Mosel grower Wilhelm Haag tells a fun story about the night when ol’ Rudi pulled into the driveway in Brauneberg with three carloads of Polizei after him...

German wine lost one of its great champions quite recently, though this is a name not known on this side of the Atlantic—Roy Metzdorf. His wine bar and restaurant Weinschenke Weinstein in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district—offering a fine list of German Riesling (including residually sweet Mosels)—brought refined taste and openheartedness to Germany’s capital city (not known for its refined taste or much of any openheartedness). David Schildknecht and I checked in there one night after a performance of Die Meistersinger at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden (with Barenboim at bat). We were on our way next day to Leipzig for a performance of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in the old boy’s own Thomaskirche, with a pit stop at the Bauhaus in Dessau.

But, at the moment, we were there at Weinstein waiting for Stuart Pigott (another Riesling Fellow, by the way)—who was waiting for us ’cross town in Charlottenburg—ah well, ’nother story... We waited, chatted; chatted, waited. I was pleased to see Ridge Geyserville on the wine list. At one point, Roy came to the table and addressed the two of us. He wanted to know why two Americans were speaking German with each other all evening... Schildknecht is perhaps better known for comprehensive elucidations, but on this occasion he pounced, as follows: I live in Cincinnati, in Ohio. James here lives in a suburb of New York City. The dialects are so totally different that we can only communicate with one another if we speak German...

Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, the awards ceremony went to table...

I refrained from telling the chap (not naming names) who sat by chance on my starboard side that he had in fact stood me up (and wouldn’t reschedule) when I had an appointment to sell him Riesling coupla years back... mentioned this to the colorful un-Diva Heather Meyer perched on my left, but promising no theatrix...

The dreaded cauliflower (first course, roasted) lived up to its track record, singlehandedly slaying three rather substantial wines, one selection per honoree:

  • Schildknecht: Keller, Dalsheimer Hubacker Riesling GG 2007 (Rheinhessen)
  • Theise: von Winning, Pechstein Riesling GG 2014 (Pfalz)
  • Wiest: Rainer Sauer, Ab Ovo Silvaner trocken 2013 (Franken)

...though the Pechstein had better luck than the name would seem to indicate. There’s just something about the Pfalz. Whether it is the black basalt in this patch of ground or the limestone in Kallstadt or on the Südliche Weinstraße... The wines are generous by nature and born to the dinner table. Here no exception, nuances of ginger and nutmeg to go with the luscious primary fruit.

Second course came the Radiatori with smoked mussels and co. in peperade:

  • Schildknecht: Emrich-Schönleber, Monzinger Halenberg Riesling R 2010 (Nahe)
  • Theise: Selbach-Oster, Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett halbtrocken 2015 (Mosel)
  • Wiest: Salwey, Eichberg Pinot Gris GG 2014 (Baden)

In which Señor Piperade did indeed flex his muscles and ride rather roughshod over the Pinot Gris, flattening it to the point of fruitlessness.

I think Mosel wines are the greatest wine-for-wine’s-sake wines in the entire world and I tend to drink them as solo acts, but loved the way that the Selbach-Oster caressed the dish and filled in the upper level of the harmonic spectrum.

The Monzinger worked best of the three matches, blue slate and quartzite coupled with marvelous depth of fruit that enveloped every other flavor in a chaste embrace.

Not so chaste was the bear hug delivered by the remnant of the Keller Hubacker left still alive by its encounter with the cauliflower—a better and wilder match for the dish than any of those intended and certainly better here than where it had been placed. I have always been a partisan of the Roten Hang (red slope) where Rheinhessen is concerned, but this indeed exemplified great breadth and class.

And then the Berkshire pork loin with fennel and cippolinis in mustard, done to spec...

  • Schildknecht: Hofgut Falkenstein, Niedermenniger Herrenberg Riesling Spätlese feinherb AP 15 2015 (Saar)
  • Theise: Müller-Catoir, Riesling feinherb »MC« 2015 (Pfalz)
  • Wiest: Schloss Schönborn, Hochheimer Domdechaney Riesling Spätlese feinherb 2013 (Rheingau)

I had thought that This Little Piggy would be the moment for the leftover Salwey PG, but it was actually the Hock that won the round. Splendid substance and balance, lovely and long. Though I am still confused by why Hochheim is in the Rheingau—perhaps because there is no Maingau? But that would be Franconia, or?

The Saar (see above re: Ruwer) Riesling from magnum was marvelous, finest wine of the three but only after the pork loin had faded to a flavor-memory, rather than a presence on the palate. It was suffering from extreme youth and carrying a couple kilos of baby fat, but it’s impossible to mistake the animated signature of Winzer Weber & Co.

Very attractive carrot cake. I admired it from a distance, content with reflecting upon the flavor of the dinner wines and their compelling interplay of fruit and acidity, most notably the Selbach-Oster and the Keller.

All in all, credit given where credit had certainly been earned; years of swimming upstream, facing resistance—and occasionally being obliged to overcome intransigence and stupidity.

I’m glad I know these guys. ♦

Photo by Ben Hider / Courtesy RF Binder.

...perhaps the world’s champion cultural compost heap, James Wright has woven a loose and rewarding aesthetic braid of music, literature, and working profitably with wine—occasionally writing about it though not really a journalist. He had buried himself in Vienna, active as a jury-taster and more recently as a translator, but is always happy to return to his old vines, which grow in the gray slate, Muschelkalk, and rhyolite of Deutschland.

  • Thanks to Howard for letting me post his flattering comment below:

    Beyond James Wright’s deeply appreciated generous mentions of a certain Goldberg, for years I have found enviable, indeed intimidating, his oceanic knowledge and depths of judgment about wine and booze, music (opera, jazz), food, local traveling, Europe. To begin with.

    In his review of Wines of Germany’s riesling fête — nay, it is a mini-essay — we can appreciate his sophistication, his urbanity. (He handles German well.) I especially admire the subtle ironies of his humor. I found in his posting a shared opinion: “I think Mosel wines are the greatest wine-for-wine’s-sake wines in the entire world.”

    I also found another sharing: James speaks of the “Kallstadter Saumagen Riesling Kabinett trocken 2012 from what was for a long time my favorite estate in Germany, Koehler-Ruprecht.”

    Years ago, my wife and I spent a Pfalz day with the masterly Bernd Philippi, then the owner, tasting his memorable dry wines, and then downed his Saumagen riesling with other saumagens — delicious stuffed sausages — in his charming adjacent hotel Weinkastell Zum Weissen Ross.

    James’s literary skills aside, his journalistic bent (“magnif wine”) sometimes evokes the style of one of my few gods, A.J. Liebling (“exemplary quality of the grub”). He delivers nifty coinages: “millabout,” “sippingtons.”

    To sum up, winewise (excuse the expression) James is himself a Dönnhoff.

    Howard G. Goldberg, a former wine writer at The New York Times and Decanter columnist, spent 34 years at The Times, 23 of them at its Op-Ed page, where he was senior editor.

  • For a complete lineup of the wines from the three inductees, see Wine & Spiritswrite-up by Deanna Gonnella. She doesn’t, however, list the Dönnhoff wine.

  • Andrew Bair says:

    Nice article, James – very well written and entertaining. Congratulations to David, Terry, and Rudi on their well-deserved “lifetime achievement” awards.

    Incidentally, Norheimer Dellchen is one of my absolute favorite sites in the Nahe, and Dönnhoff’s Spätlesen and GGs from Dellchen rarely fail to impress me. While I haven’t had the “regular” 2004 Dellchen Spätlese, the auction version was great when I had it earlier this year. It really amazed on the second day.

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