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Summer of Riesling at St Johns Bar

By January 22, 2012No Comments

The underground ‘Summer of Riesling’ movement is gaining momentum. It seems Riesling Resistance is Futile! Wellington Riesling aficionados were honoured with the presence of the Summer of Riesling ‘overlord’, Paul Grieco, who started it all in 2008. At his ‘Terroir’ wine bar in East Village, New York City, he took it upon himself to promote the virtues of Riesling to his customers by serving only Rieslings by the glass over that summer. Some of his patrons walked out because of the lack of choice, but Grieo stuck to his guns. Summer of Riesling is not an official promotion, nor is it sanctioned by any organisation, so it truly is an expression of personal passion, and it is spread by word of mouth, glass of Riesling and the adopting of an idea – to educate people on the qualities of this noble grape.

The word has indeed spread, across the United States, this coming summer, Grieco expects over 200 establishments to participate in Summer of Riesling. It has already come to Australia and now this summer to New Zealand. Central Otago’s Mount Edward winemaker Duncan Forsyth was in ‘Terroir’ in New York in 2008 and was hooked. While Pinot Noir is the main variety he deals with, Riesling is held in the same esteem, but he recognises the work that needs to be done to get more people loving it. So he has teamed up with Angela Clifford of the Waipara Valley in bringing Summer of Riesling to New Zealand – all on their own backs. An invitation to Paul Grieco to visit New Zealand was surprisingly accepted, and Grieco’s enthusiasm and knowledge has been a boon in the exercise. Don’t be mislead into thinking Riesling is all that Grieco knows. If you visit his wine bar (or website) and peruse the 51 page wine list, you can see he covers all the bases with all manner of wines. The list shows that passion is all. And love of Riesling is truly part of Grieco’s passion.

There is actually no compunction to be involved. It’s whatever anyone wants to do. Clearly, Riesling wine producers have a great deal to gain. And the hospitality trade has a unique and different focus to conduct a promotion and drive some business. This self-interest and ownership is very much a personal matter, and that’s what makes it so strong. Blair Fryer of Vivo Wine Bar put the concept in front of his staff, and left it to them to get behind – or not – with no expectations put on them. And they have taken up the challenge. It’s like that with everyone involved. Most of us know that Riesling is a superb wine variety. And this vehicle just makes it justifiable and worthy, and really appeals to the inner Riesling lover in us wanting to back a cause.
Summer of Riesling in Wellington and at St Johns Bar
Jason Pearce of St Johns Bar has also taken up the challenge. He has put 17 Rieslings on by the glass for the summer period. He is not alone, with Stephen Wong behind Ancestral and Arbitrageur also doing things in a similar passionate fashion. The White House Restaurant has teamed up with Framingham Wines for a Riesling Masterclass and matched dinner. (Click here for details.) Summer of Riesling is being mentioned all over the city.

For Paul Grieco’s visit to Wellington, Jason Pearce and St Johns Bar put on a Riesling and food-matched lunch. The cost was a very affordable $50.00 per person. Paul spoke about how it all started, and his reasons for doing it. His enthusiasm was contagious. Duncan Forsyth and Angela Clifford also contributed with their stories. All three sported the word ‘Riesling’ in the form of tattoos (non-permanent!) on their persons, which demonstrated their commitment. I don’t know if this affected our objectivity about the wine and the food, but it all was pretty tasty. Here’s my quick run-down of the wine and food served:

‘Ritzling’, the creation of Chris Archer, a confirmed fanatical Riesling winemaker was served as an aperitif. Slightly effervescent with modest alcohol, this is quite simply a varietal wine that will take the place of an ugly RTD, and have something with a little class instead. Served with ice and a slice of lime, it carries the moniker ‘bottled happiness’ and it sure is.

First wine and food pairing was the Mount Edward Central Otago Riesling 2006 with Crayfish and prawn Vietnamese spring roll with vermicelli noodles, mung beans, Vietnamese mint and coriander wrapped in rice paper with a chilli lime dipping sauce. Showing some lovely development, the Mount Edward is an elegant and refined wine, possessing subtle toastiness along with a lively, sherbetty mouthfeel and slightly drying texture. This has aged with beauty and subtlety, and great class. There was sufficient residual sugar to mollify the heat from the chilli, and all the delicate seafood and wine flavours met on a par, sweetness and freshness of both being enhanced. A very workable match, as long as the chilli was partaken in moderation.

The second pairing was arguably the best in terms of match. A Black Estate Waipara Valley Riesling 2010 served with Kingfish carpaccio with a ginger and lime dressing. The depth and linear drive of the wine is sensational. Still very tight, the intensity of lime and mineral fruit is the feature, and texturally, the wine is very fine. The only distraction was a thread of reduction, something that will certainly amalgamate with secondary complexities if it doesn’t blow off. The acidity provided excellent cut with the flesh of the fish, and the lime-like flavours were enhanced by the lime dressing and vinegar of the pickled ginger. Here the youthful, discreet wine flavours and subtle fish worked very well, with nothing dominating. Harmony was the word.

The most powerful wine was the Pegasus Bay ‘Bel Canto’ Waipara Riesling 2010, made from fully-ripened fruit in a dry style. This has great weight, density and presence, and anyone who thinks that Riesling is light-bodied and subtle can be shown another side to the variety with this wine. Deep, full, yellow stonefruit and citrus flavours, and sufficient acidity all work together. A robustness of style that never becomes rustic or coarse. And the flavours linger. Bottle age promises great interest and layers. The power of the wine handled the Hazelnut crusted veal fillet with apricot puree and crème fraiche. Weight for weight, this went hand in hand. The nuts, apricots and cream were all echoed by components in the wine. The other half of the food course was Crispy free range pork belly with feijoa chutney. Here the acidity of the wine was overly enhanced, though its cut was essential with the fatty aspect of the meat. Maybe an older wine with toastiness would find some similarity of traits with the crackling. Just out of kilter, though in theory, this looked workable.

The finale was a cellar-release Fromm Marlborough Riesling Auslese 2001, matched with three different cheeses. Fully mature by way of its wonderfully integrated and seamlessly creamy textured palate, the interplay of florals, honey, limes and toast is exquisite in this wine. The age really came through in the dryness of the finish, showing the fruit has begun to fade a little. Still, not bad for over a decade old! It was an excellent match with the President chèvre goats cheese with truffle honey. Creamy wine texture was allied to soft crumbly cheese texture, the sweetness of the wine enriching the cheese, and echoing the honey. Truffle and secondary character a match too. The matching was even better with the Over the Moon brie with balsalmic strawberries. Well, not so much the balsalmic vinegar, but certainly with the creamy cheese and its relatively restrained flavours. Strawberries have always worked with Riesling, the delicate florals and acid nip similar in both, and here the wine, strawberries and cheese all came together – acid and salt being natural partners. The Kikorangi (creamy blue) with walnut praline was just too strong and dominated the lighter wine notes. As is well-known, port is best with blue.

We were told that the kitchen prepared the food matches ‘on paper’ as the wines were not available to taste at the time of menu decisions, and knowing this made the lunch a little more special if not remarkable. Maybe it is the accommodating nature of Riesling to go with a variety of foods and circumstances that was the highlight of the event?

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