Stuart Pigott is a Riesling evangelist. A British wine journalist living in Berlin and New York, he has championed the grape variety for years without let-up. He has many articles in influential journals to his name, and a string of wine books in German!
‘Best White Wine On Earth’ is sub-titled ‘The Riesling Story’, and Pigott tells the full and broad, overall story superbly in the space of 200 or so pages. The book isn’t a comprehensively detailed one if a reader or researcher might be looking for data and full coverage of every aspect of the variety, but it is packed with so much information, scope and enthusiasm that does the same job as a more seriously proposed work might do. In that sense, it is a must-read for any wine enthusiast. The key point to the book is the author’s unbridled passion for the variety, which is totally infectious, and Pigott effortlessly draws the reader into his world of ‘Planet Riesling’.
The book begins by describing and backgrounding Riesling, and its place in the wine world. There’s no dry ampelography as the author describes the characteristics of Riesling wines and what are important factors making the wine unique and what might be responsible for the common characters of Riesling. Riesling lovers will recognise the importance of words such as perfume, petrol, acid, sweetness and dryness, minerality and the ‘taste of the place’ and how Riesling shows and reflects these attributes. Pigott touches on technical aspects too, such as sulphur, cork and screwcap, and the role of skin contact and lees in vinifying the wines.
The Riesling Adventures
In espousing the virtues of the Riesling variety, Pigott takes the reader on five ‘Riesling Adventures’, visiting The Wine Lakes of the North East (of America), The West Coast (of America), Australasia, The Danube and its Tributaries, and The Valleys of the Rhine and its Tributaries. In describing his journeys through each of these regions and areas, Pigott’s depth and appreciation of the diversity of Riesling, his understanding of the evolution and development and styles, and the history in each district, unfolds. For those who know Riesling as a wine influenced by sweetness, the importance of flavour, weight, texture, dryness and versatility (especially with food), which are attributes valued by Pigott, become very clear.
Each of adventures is equal in length, except the Rhine journey (surprise, surprise!) which is twice the material of the others. Within each adventure, the author introduces and profiles many of the seminal producers of Riesling in the region, and describes their influence, whether locally or from a global perspective. Of course, there’s not enough room to do full justice, but the succinctness that Pigott shows is admirable. But not only is it facts, but the feelings and personalities that are also conveyed with clarity. As with any personal selection of producers to profile by a writer or critic, there will be many names missed out. This is noticeable to me in the Australasian journey, but then I have my own experiences over the decades to draw from. Internationally, it appears Alsace may be short-changed, as only six producers are profiled, whereas the Finger Lakes section has 13 producers mentioned.
An up-to-date assessment and description of Riesling in the world is the result of following the adventures. Along the way, the author puts to bed a good many myths and misconceptions about the variety. Pigott highlights the growth of Riesling in the different parts of the world, showing how its significance has generally grown over the years in feature reading panels labelled ‘Crazy Riesling Stats’. Probably more important are the ‘First Base’ feature panels which explain rudimentary principles in understanding the different facets of the variety. Some of these are technically based, but they are in laymen’s language, so are in no way intimidating. There are a number of photos, almost all taken by the author with vineyard perspectives and faces of key people. These help to brighten the book, along with the feature panels, thus making the book very easy to put down and pick up again.
The book finishes with the author’s lists of the ‘Top 20’ in the ‘Dry, ‘Medium-Dry’, ‘Medium-Sweet’, and ‘Sweet’ styles, as well as a list of the best 10 at modest price points, and ‘Blade Runner’ wines which are daring or challenge convention. Pigott acknowledges the dynamic nature of the world and the temporary nature of such lists, but there they are for consideration.
Stuart Pigott has laid his passion on the line with this book. Anyone with an inkling of passion for Riesling will find it easy to read this book. Anyone with a passion for wine in general will be energised by it. I highly recommend it.
Best White Wine On Earth, By Stuart Pigott
Stuart, Tabor & Chang, New York, 2014 ISBN 978-1-61769-110-2