This summer New Zealand is set to experience its first "Summer of Riesling". From a one-man mission started by New York restaurateur, Paul Grieco a few years back to get more people to experience his favourite grape, the movement has now gone global. And in January Grieco, and the concept, are coming to our shores, spreading the word among the wine drinkers of New Zealand that riesling rocks.
If you follow this column, you'll have realised I'm already a riesling believer, as are many fellow wine writers and winemakers. Its ability to transmit the place its grapes have grown into your glass like almost no other variety, and its exhilaratingly fresh and pure profile inspires an almost religious zeal in its disciples. What other grape would inspire a T-shirt adorned with the slogan, "Jesus drank riesling", as sported by one local riesling-worshipping winemaker?
But for all our proselytising, supported by the fact that the world's rieslings have never been better and offer some of the best value in fine wine, drinkers have been slow to join us on the path of riesling righteousness.
This is one of the reasons for Grieco's bold move to make riesling the only white wine by the glass served at his East Village Terroir Wine Bar throughout the summer of 2008.
"The staff were incredulous and the guests suspicious," admits Grieco. "But with 30 different glass pours and another 100 bottle offerings, we set upon a massive inspirational and educational scheme that was challenging and fun. There was no end game so to speak; our only goal was to ensure I did not bankrupt the wine bar. Needless to say, it is still open."
It was an extreme approach, but it worked. Given its dizzying diversity, from light and dry to rich and sweet and almost everything in between, if there's one white that can cover most bases it's riesling.
I'm convinced there's a style to suit most tastes, and, through my own experience, that once wine drinkers put their preconceptions aside and actually taste the stuff, most will become converts.
By 2009 Grieco's initiative had spread to other bars in New York, then to establishments nationally, with 222 restaurants and retailers involved by the 2011 Summer of Riesling. It's now an international phenomenon and will be making its first visit to New Zealand in January at wine stores, bars and restaurants across the country. Grieco will be here to spread the gospel according to this glorious grape in person.
Bringing the initiative to New Zealand are marketing whirlwind Angela Clifford of the newly formed regional promotional group, Waipara Valley NZ , and Central Otago winemaker and creator of that Son of God inspired T-shirt, Mount Edward's Duncan Forsyth.
"We're bringing the concept to New Zealand to raise the profile of riesling in this country," explains Clifford.
"We've held the In Praise of Riesling event in Waipara before and this feels like a natural progression. Rather than just talking about it among ourselves, the idea is to get wine bars, restaurants and fine wine retailers on board to engage with consumers and pour them some mighty fine New Zealand riesling."
"For us, it's it is not about us or our wines," adds Forsyth, "but about trying to get people - whoever they are and whatever riesling they choose - to give it a go and rediscover that it is one of the best freaking wines out there!"
See summerofriesling.co.nz for more information.
DRY AND DELICIOUS
Villa Maria Private Bin Dry Riesling Marlborough 2010 $21.99
Many rieslings are made in a dry style, like this delicious example with its notes of white peach, mandarin, mineral and zesty lime. At this price you can afford to put your preconceptions aside and prepare to be converted! (Widely available.)
Waipara Springs Waipara Riesling 2010 $20-$22
In sweeter styles, riesling's naturally high acidity can prevent them from being cloying, as illustrated by this beautifully balanced example which counterpoises the gentle sweetness of its pure peach fruit with fresh notes of lime cordial and elegant mineral. (From most New World and Pak 'N Save supermarkets.)
Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett, Mosel 2010 $33.99
A great Mosel riesling like this showcases the variety in all its edgy splendour, with its delicate sweetness offset by a powerful lemony acidity. At just 7.5 per cent, it may be light in alcohol, but it's filled with flavour, from its pure peach and lemon fruit and nuances of mineral salts to the spicy note characteristic of the Urziger Wurzgarten (herb garden) vineyard. (From First Glass, Caro's.)