Friday, August 15, 2014

Drink More Wine: Kings of riesling

Winemakers in Germany and Washington are redefining the varietal.

Posted By on Fri, Aug 15, 2014 at 7:19 AM

click to enlarge GRAPE ROYALTY: Ernst Loosen and Bob Bertheau. - JON PALMER CLARIDGE
  • Jon Palmer Claridge
  • GRAPE ROYALTY: Ernst Loosen and Bob Bertheau.
Ernst “Erni” Loosen is a regal guy. I first met the renowned winemaker and charismatic front man for some of the German Mosel region’s best wines at the NY Wine Experience in 1995. It’s an opportunity for wine buffs and trade professionals to taste great wines from across the globe. I didn’t know much about riesling then, but his Dr. Loosen wines (and friendly demeanor) blew me away.

Fast forward to 2014. Earlier this month, on one of those arduous sojourns that food critics take so you don’t have to, I went to Germany to taste along the Rhine and Mosel, and the first appointment I made was for Dr. Loosen, Erni’s “weingut” at the charming, historic family home on the banks of the Mosel just north of the picturesque town of Bernkastel.

A few days before my appointment, in between stuffing my face with every kind of wurst and potato variation known to man, I took a side trip to one of Europe’s most famous and distinctive castles, Burg Eltz. As I waited in the courtyard for the English-language tour to begin, I turned and there they were. Two honest-to-god wine monarchs. Right in front of me, surrounded by cobblestones and ancient turrets in all their royal glory, the “Kings of Riesling”: Erni Loosen and his U.S. partner, Bob Bertheau, winemaker of Chateau Ste. Michelle, the flagship Washington state winery based just outside Seattle.

I’ve long been a fan of Ch. Ste. Michelle’s wine portfolio and visited in 2012. Not only do they produce an amazing 1 million cases of their perennial, off-dry “best buy” Columbia Valley riesling (widely available under $10), but they produce a dry version at the same price point.

Luckily for wine drinkers, Erni & Bob collaborate on Eroica, a fabulous riesling with mouth-watering acidity. It’s not bone dry, but the touch of sweetness hangs in the background. It’s so fresh and drinkable, especially with Asian dishes, that I always have some on hand. And at under $20 at Costco, it’s one of the bargains for wine of this quality. Bob proclaims that “I have learned from [Erni] how to protect fruit purity and produce fresh, fruit-driven rieslings.” Eroica’s floral aromas are haunting and the stone fruit flavors, especially white peach on the palate with a kick of minerality on the finish, make this a perfect summer wine.

It was great to meet Bob, pick his brain for a few moments and to remind Ernie of our appointment. When the time came, I was lucky to be joined by Australia’s renowned wine guru Huon Hooke to taste through 13 wines — with Erni narrating in great detail. As if that weren’t enough, I had the surprise of being asked to dinner. Erni, it turns out, is also a world-class cook, and served us a delicious three-course meal from his grandmother’s cookbook with four additional wines.

The Dr. Loosen wines are refreshing, balanced and delicate instead of heavy with alcohol. As Erni says, “You can drink yourself sober with Mosel wines; they are for ‘reverse spitting’” — in other words, drinking.

As we go to print, nine of the Dr. Loosen wines (from $12 to $28) are available at B-21 Wine Company on U.S. 19 in Tarpon Springs. If you love wine, and you’ve never been to B-21, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit. And while you’re there, pick up at least one of Dr. Loosen’s rieslings from the six Mosel “grosse lage” (grand cru) vineyards. They’re not bargain wines, but when you compare them with wines of similar quality from Burgundy or Napa Valley, you’ll appreciate the finesse in the winemaking as well as the value. And for an everyday, food-friendly white, you’ll have to fight the battle between Ch. Ste. Michelle’s Columbia Valley bottling and Dr. Loosen’s bargain “Red Slate” riesling. These dog days of summer are the perfect time to make the leap. You need to drink more riesling; I dare you to try these wines and not be seduced.

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