Most of our military men and women who have served a tour in Germany come home with a taste for Riesling wines. And till the last few years, they have been generally disappointed in the Rieslings produced in our wine regions. Riesling likes cool temperatures and just will not show its best in the heat of Napa or the Midwest. Even along the California Coast, the exposure to sun ripens this hardy grape too fast, and it loses much of the character it enjoys on both sides of the Rhine Valley.
There have been steely dry Rieslings and richly sweet Rieslings in the Finger Lake Region of New York for decades, but they don’t make it to Indiana retail stores. Producers in Washington State and Oregon have been getting the hang of working with this grape in recent years and are now producing it in all the various ways its versatility allows. Riesling is neither a dry nor a sweet wine. It can be either or a wine of varying degrees between.
Hoosiers no longer need to go without well-made Riesling at moderate cost. True, those semi-sweet Mosel wines are readily available and a handful of truly dry Rheingaus appear here and there in Indiana shops but often at prices that discourage average consumers. No, the Riesling is not grown in Indiana. Our summer heat and humidity won’t permit it, but Bill Oliver has the knack with Riesling grapes he finds in the Northwest to turn into those wines our soldiers learned to know and enjoy in Germany.
He describes them as “semi dry”; my palate finds them slightly sweet, somewhat like the Halb-Trocken Rieslings from the Mosel. No matter, they are very well made, light and refreshing as a result of the Oliver cool fermentation process and the use, of course, of excellent fruit at the peak of ripeness.
The 2012 vintage is now available at the Oliver Winery, so Hoosiers, head for Bloomington to get your summer-time Rieslings — and while there and in a Rhine Valley mood, pick up a few bottles of Bill’s Gewurztraminer as well. Foie gras anyone?
After three thousand years, you’d think they’d get their wine-production right. But then fifty or so years of the last six decades saw their wines forced into a state industry and two millennia of wine tradition became a cheap commodity. I haven’t been in Bulgaria since the modern “Liberation” from the Iron Curtain (modern as opposed to ancient Liberation when the Bulgarians were freed of the Ottoman Empire and its sinister attitudes toward alcohol consumption in 1878) when I, as a visitor, could dine in good restaurants. In the 1970s my “minders” saw to my food and drink, but unfortunately they knew nothing of wine and could not tell me where my dinner wines came from or how they were produced.
This commentary results from one of our Mothers’ Day wines. My son-in-law, fresh back from Sofia, presented a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon from Pomorie, long recognized as the best wine district in Bulgaria. On my travels behind the Curtain, I learned of grapes named Rkatzeteli, Pimid, Miskit, and Dimyat, written in a Cyrillic script I couldn’t read. The restaurant servers back then didn’t seem to know about Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot though they had heard of Riesling and Muskat Ottonel.
That’s changed a lot, I’m told, since the political climate changed in 1989 and the state monopoly of the wine industry came to an end. By the end of the 1990s, the wineries had become privatized and consultants and cuttings came across the borders from Germany, France, Italy, and the rest of the European Union. While the Bulgarians are shipping more and more of their wines westward, their primary markets are still in Eastern Europe, but wineries such as Black Sea Gold , which produced our bottle, are making a dent in the world markets.
Two years is very young for a Cabernet, but the tannins in our bottle had diminished considerably and there was harmony throughout the bottle. The color was an impressive garnet and the finish on the palate lingering and pleasing. Even after traveling thousands of miles, this one bottle proved more noteworthy than anything I could remember from those dreary 1970s in Bulgarian hotels and cafes with names I could neither read nor pronounce. We wish those plucky producers well and hope to see their wines in our stores in the near future.
A trip to Los Angeles isn’t complete without a visit to at least one of the Hollywood neighborhoods to see homes of the stars. “Look–Lucille Ball’s former home! Wow, Jack Benny was right next door!” You get the idea. . . .
A trip to Napa Valley is much the same to wine lovers. Drive up California highway 29 and you’ll be calling out the names of the Napa stars: Mondavi, Coppola, Inglenook, Beaulieu, Sutter Home–the list goes on and on. In fact, there are 450 wineries just in Napa Valley, alone.
The vineyards are everywhere, all in perfect order, with geometric precision, up hillsides, down valleys, cradled within mountains. The huge eucalyptus trees tower over the vineyards, adding their amazing fragrance to the already fresh air. The tasting rooms are restored villas, or in the case of the Sattui family’s Castello di Amorosa winery, a 13th century Tuscan castle.
The gardens are gorgeous–roses grow prolifically under these conditions and the geraniums trail down the large terra cotta urns. Bougainvillea climbs up the stone walls, covering them in shades of pink. The tasting rooms and cellars are humming with happy tourists.
Most of the wineries offer tours and tastings, and some require reservations. With so many wineries, you may want to do research beforehand, so you find the right wineries for your style. Prices vary and there are sometimes coupons and Internet specials to be found.
My husband and I had just a short visit, THIS time, but will be back as often as possible. If you haven’t been to this Heaven on Earth, be sure to add it to your bucket list–it’s a visit to the stars!
More on Napa to come….OLDER POSTS »