RIESLINGFEIER Seminar: An inside view from an outsider

This past Saturday, I was lucky enough to attend a seminar led by David Schildknecht, featuring four amazing German wine producers from the Mosel (A.J. AdamSchloss Lieser), and the more southerly Saar (Peter LauerForstmeister Geltz Zilliken). This was only one small portion of RieslingFeier, which also included some amazing dinners (but with a hefty price-tag) and a city-wide tasting crawl. In addition to the four producers above, wines from J.J. Prüm and Keller were also being poured at wine-shops from as far North as 72nd all the way to TriBeca at Chambers Street. The crawl was free (yippee!) and a pretty awesome way to spend a Saturday.

Somehow, there I was on a Saturday morning, in the private tasting room in Bar Boulud for an exclusive seminar on the sommelier's favorite grape. This seemed to be a "who's who" of the NY wine scene, with distinguished wine writers and top NYC Somms, and no more than 40 seats.

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And there I was... 

I felt like I cheated. I simply emailed to see if there were open spots, and I got a reply within minutes that I was confirmed for the seminar on Saturday morning. I must have emailed within moments of the seminar's announcement, because the waitlist for this event was, apparently, extensive. People seemed curious as to who I was, since I was likely the only person in the room that they did not recognize. Several people told me how lucky I was that I got into the seminar, as the waitlist was as long as the total number of seats for the event. 

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I felt guilty taking a spot from someone else who is "officially" in the industry, especially since I was nervous that the seminar material might be over my head. But, I have been studying a lot, and soaking-up as much as I could prior to the event. (READ: I woke up in the middle of the night, and would look up German Wine Laws). And to be honest, I got a lot out of the seminar, and nothing was so esoteric that I didn't grasp the content. 

The whole reason for this seminar: to showcase the incredible diversity of the darling grape of the wine-world, on a fine-grained level. Riesling is a grape that really expresses "terroir": the complicated, and often much debated, concept of place that really makes each wine unique. It was great to hear from each of the wine makers about their properties, what the soil is like, how the grapes are trained (how they grow), and THEN taste the differences between vineyard site, trellising techniques, must-weight, etc. When Dorothee Zilliken discussed walking through the vineyards after the rain, and the scent of the rainwater evaporating off the unique slates present in the vineyard - it just gave the wine a bit more context. You could REALLY detect that minerality. It seemed as though the wet-stones were there, sitting in my glass of wine.

Sounds crazy, but trust me. Wet stones = delicious. That is the beauty of well-made Riesling.

I really enjoyed all of the wines we tasted. I was hoping to get the chance to taste some older Rieslings, but I suppose that was reserved for the dinners and other events (I did get to taste a 2003 AB Prüm during the crawl).

All of the wines were crisp, bright, and nothing like the cloyingly sweet, unbalanced Riesling my mom thinks of when she thinks of Riesling. (She did NOT sound impressed when I mentioned I was going to RieslingFeier.) As this seminar was curated by a specialist, I should not have expected anything short of amazing, and it truly did not disappoint.

  • 2011 Schloss Lieser Kabinett Trocken - As "Trocken" means dry, this was exactly that. With about 8g Residual Sugar (RS) and such high acidity, you can't detect any sugar. I would love to give this wine to anyone who says they don't like Riesling and show them how versatile it can be. Some white peaches, a floral note, this fragrant wine was a great way to kick off the seminar.
  • 2011 Zilliken [Saarburger] Rausch Grosses Gewachs - Also quite dry, this was slightly spicy, tart, wine with juicy pears and apples. Especially on the finish, I got apples. This wine made me think of apple pie... I wanted some roast pork with this wine. Oh - and some of the berries used to make this wine came from vines that were over 100 yrs old. SO that is pretty cool.
  • 2011 Zilliken [Saarburger] Rausch "Diabas" - Diabas is a unique volcanic stone that is only found on one particular aspect... My notes here are "tart, crisp, smokey. More mineral driven, not as much acidity." Though this wine was definitely not as dry as the previous ones (17 RS), which might have made the wine seem lower in acid, it was, of course, still quite high in acid relative to most wines.
  • 2011 Peter Lauer Ayler Kupp Fass 17 "Neunberg" - Peaches, white flower, a little wet stone, but more fruity. Some honeydew melon, and even a little honey. Something slightly spicy! Ginger! YUM.
  • 2011 Peter Lauer Ayler Kupp Fass 9 "Kern" [Neunberg] - Ripe fruit, maybe even some tropical fruit, peaches, and a rounder mouthfeel. Definitely some citrus, but just a little grassy? Something interesting going on here that I couldn't quite put my finger on...
  • 2011 A.J. Adam Dhron Hofberg Feinherb -  30g RS, but would have guessed only half. The acidity is there, but not TOO much. From 60 yr old vines that re not directly on the river Mosel (which plays a pivital role in helpeing to ripen the grapes). Again, peaches, apples (tart), something aromatic. Love. So much. Did you see all my teeny-bopper hearts here to indicate how much I enjoy this wine? Just the right balance of everything for me. 
  • 2011 A.J. Adam Dhron Hofberg Kabinett - Sweet, tart, complex. I love the touch of floral scent - It automatically elevates the wine. The Hofberg Kabinett exemplifies what I think of when I think of Mosel Riesling. This has double the sugar of the previous wine, and has a little more "saline" notes than the previous. I feel like there is some apricot in this wine, but what is really striking to me was the acidity, despite the sugar. These grapes were picked earlier than other QmP wines (the earliest picked is Kabinett), and then it was fermented in the barrel
  • 2011 Schloss Lieser Kabinett Trocken - Fermented in Stainless steel, south facing slopes, blue slate, musty, GAS! PETROL. WHOA.

FINALLY, I GOT the whole "GAS/PETROL" thing. It was like a unicorn sighting... I've heard about it so many times, but it seemed mystical to me. I knew what it should taste like, but I was still amazed. Hit me over the head...

I could not. stop. sniffing. Definitely an "A-HA" moment.

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The other A-HA moment was just a moment of validation. During the fourth wine of the tasting, I wrote down my notes while Florian Lauer discussed the vineyard. Then, he described the wine: 2011 Peter Lauer Alyer Kupp Fass 17 "Neuenberg".  I wanted to jump up with each additional note that I had just scribbled in chicken scratch...

  • White flowers, peaches, a bit more fruity... melon!
  • Spice. BING!
  • Honey: SCORE!
  • Botrytis?! Yesssss! Even though that is unusual for a wine that is not at least Auslese. High Five! (Oh, wait - I can't run up to the panel and give out high-fives like I just scored a goal in the world cup?)

Now, this might not seem very exciting to most. So I got some tasting notes. But, less than a year ago, I would have sipped this wine and thought: "Yummy. A good white wine. I like this."

And that would be it. 

...Just goes to show that PRACTICE is key - like anything in life that you want improve upon. However, you can't just drink a lot of wine.

I mean, don't get me wrong. That certainly helps, but as you drink, you need to take note of what is going on in the wine...Ask questions. Take notes. Be a bit nerdy. The pay-off might be more than you imagine.

I know I have a long way to go... especially with remembering and learning more about different producers, vintages, etc. But with each wine I drink and every seminar I attend, I'll get a little better at tasting, gain some knowledge, and in general, just have a blast. 

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This sounds crazy, but you know in The Little Mermaid, when Ariel is singing, "Part of that world?" dreaming of being on land, dancing with Prince Eric (Yes - I am a child of the 80s...). Anyway, I couldn't help but feel giddy, excited, and saw just a piece of what it would be like to be in the wine-industry. Of course, it isn't all glamourous seminars and dinners. It is A LOT of hard work, but I'd like to think if you're really passionate, the long hours are worth it. Everyone I spoke to was so kind, welcoming, and excited for all the events of RieslingFeier. I hoped they could sense my enthusiasm and appreciation for being allowed to attend such an exclusive seminar.

For that hour and a half, I felt like I was part of that world. 

Trust me: I didn't take a single moment for granted. 


ASSORTMENT OF IMAGES FROM THE SEMINAR/CRAWL


MY NOTES FROM THE SEMINAR

(apologies for the pink pen)