Rieslings Strike Right Balance For Summer Award-winning sommelier Paul Grieco shares three Rieslings that are great for the next barbecue — whatever your budget — and explains why it's not true that all Rieslings are sweet and sugary.
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Rieslings Strike Right Balance For Summer

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Rieslings Strike Right Balance For Summer

Rieslings Strike Right Balance For Summer

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host: For many wine drinkers, summer is the season to enjoy white wines. They can be light and crisp with subtle citrus flavors, just the right balance on a steamy afternoon.

Our next guest says Riesling is the perfect summer wine, the greatest grape on the planet, in fact. Riesling aficionado Paul Grieco is a James Beard Award-winning sommelier. And he co-owns...

Mr. Grieco, you're going to have to help me pronounce the name of your wine bar.

PAUL GRIECO: Terroir Wine Bar.

WERTHEIMER: Also Hearth Restaurant in Manhattan, and he joins us from our New York bureau. Welcome.

GRIECO: Linda, how are you?

WERTHEIMER: I'm good, and I think I'm about to be better. Now, I assume that Rieslings are underappreciated by people who are very serious about wine, because most people think of them as sort of sweet and soda-poppy. Isn't that right?

GRIECO: Absolutely. I think for a lot of people, through the '60s and '70s and '80s, the Riesling that they enjoyed from Germany were sweeter then. And so this belief came about that all Riesling was sweet. And that's so wrong because Riesling has absolute balance. When examples do have residual sugar, they also have backbreaking acidity to balance it out.

In this day and age, where conversations in the wine world talk about too much alcohol or too much oak or extracted fruit, etcetera, etcetera, balance is something that we don't address often enough and once again Riesling has it in spades.

WERTHEIMER: Now, you sent us three varieties at three different price points. So let's have a tasting.


GRIECO: Absolutely. We're going to being our journey in the home. In Germany, of course, there are 13 wine regions. This is a small region called the Saar. The producer is Peter Lauer. It comes from the town of Isle, The Kupp; K-U-P-P is the name of the vineyard. It's bottled in honor of his grandfather and that's what he calls it Senior.

And this harkens back to an older style of German Riesling. So we're going to taste it together. Riesling has awesome aromatics...

WERTHEIMER: It certainly does.

GRIECO: ...whole range of fruits - cherries to apples to pears. There's notes of...


GRIECO: ...flowers in there; rose, lavender...

WERTHEIMER: Calm down.

GRIECO: Ah, it's exciting just thinking about this stuff.


GRIECO: And great minerality, so how can you stop smelling this one? You can't. Let's have a taste.


WERTHEIMER: No, I can't. I can't do that great...


WERTHEIMER: ...slurpy tasting thing that you were just doing. This is delicious. It's very light. I've been known to drink lots cheaper wine. But this is not bad, $26?

GRIECO: One might say for that lack of appreciation in the marketplace, you can find great Rieslings for not a lot of shekels.

WERTHEIMER: Okay, so the French Riesling, this is from Alsace, which is a part of a France that might as well be German. I mean - and has been at various times in history, German.

GRIECO: In trying the German first and now the Alsace, you have roughly the two European poles of Riesling. Lean, mean, piercing acidity in the German. And now we go to Alsace where they tend to be bigger, fatter, richer - completely different soil structure here - more limestone in this Alsace example. Let's have a taste together. See how broad it is?


GRIECO: The first wine went right down the middle. That's Germany. This one goes out to the sides.

WERTHEIMER: You mean like of your tongue, down the middle and on the sides?

GRIECO: Exactly, straight down the middle.


GRIECO: Very linear. You know, if I could do a fashion reference, for instance, I think the wine number one, the Peter Lauer, is more like a Paul Smith suit; squared off shoulders.


GRIECO: Where this Alsace example is more like a Hugo Boss or an Armani; the slope shoulders, everything just falls off gently and coats the entire palate.

WERTHEIMER: Hmm. It's a little more expensive. This one is $35. So now we are going to take a U-turn and go to Austria.

GRIECO: Absolutely. Now this will be right in the middle. Austrian Rieslings in general, 'cause there are no absolutes in wine, they have the brilliant piercing, linear acidity of the German, but also the fatness, the power of Alsace.


WERTHEIMER: And they have a price which indicates that they have grand aspirations.


WERTHEIMER: This was a little more expensive, $42.

GRIECO: You're paying that money for this piece of property. This wine is made by Brundlmayer. It's from the town of Zoebing, and it's from a very specific vineyard called Heiligenstein. And we get volcanic soil, desert sands, crystalline rock. And you get a sense of power in this wine that is truly extraordinary. So you have to pay for that privilege of drinking this very unique vineyard.

WERTHEIMER: Okay, I'm trying it.

GRIECO: You notice right off the bat, on the nose, fruit driven, but a little bit more herbaceous; green, wet grass, maybe a little bit of rosemary in there too. And stony, it's as if you you're biting into a big rock.


GRIECO: That is - that's terroir. And that's one thing that Riesling does that a lot of other grapes don't, because it's - Riesling is unencumbered by oak. Riesling will not taste like you're biting into a 2-by-4.

WERTHEIMER: How should we take care of them? I mean should we serve them cold? How cold?

GRIECO: I think certainly if you keep your fridge at 38, 40, 42 degrees Fahrenheit, that's perfectly fine. But when you pull them out, give them 20 minutes to warm up a little bit. I think in this country I think we serve our white wines too cold. And also, we serve our red wines too warm. Maybe put your red wine in the fridge if you're going to have that with dinner.


GRIECO: When you take the white wine out, give it 20 to 30 minutes of chill.

WERTHEIMER: So is that why you think Riesling is good for the summer, that it doesn't mind being warm?

GRIECO: I think Riesling is great for summer because of the inherent acidity in the wine. It cleanses your palate. This is a winter reference: it's a Zamboni.


GRIECO: Zamboni goes on the ice between periods, cleans the ice, lays down a brand-new sheet of ice so we can go out and play hockey again. Acid does the same thing to your palate. You have a bite of food off the barbecue, sip of wine, cleans the palate. Another bite of food, sip of wine, acid cleans the palate. Just refreshes you. It perks you up. Makes you have a second glass of wine; makes you have a second bottle - nothing greater than that.

WERTHEIMER: Paul Grieco is a highly regarded sommelier and Manhattan restaurateur. He spoke with us from New York about the fine points of Riesling.

Thank you very much.

GRIECO: Linda, my pleasure.

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