The Reality of Riesling

Connoisseurs have known for some time that this white isn’t just for dessert. and now the secret’s out.



Great wine can take decades to reach its full potential, and even longer to be fully understood. Take Riesling, for example. For generations, this German-born varietal ran up against a narrow image of itself, especially in this country, where it was subjected to the sort of type¬casting normally reserved for Hollywood.

Never mind that connoisseurs knew it for its dramatic range, capable of endearing sweetness but also of bone-dry sophistication. In the mainstream market, Riesling was recognized largely for its syrupy parts in cloying productions like Blue Nun.

"It just sort of fell into that place in people's minds," says Janie Brooks Heuck, general manager of Brooks Winery in Amity, Oregon. "It was a sweet dessert wine you had with cheese or chocolate. It’s been a really tough reputation to shake."

Heuck has spent much of the past decade helping Riesling wriggle from that pigeonhole. The winery she runs sits in the heart of the Willamette Valley, where Riesling was first planted in the 1960s but has only recently come into its own. Credit for its emergence goes in part to Heuck's late brother, Jimi, who launched Brooks Winery in 1998.

Around that time, many Oregon growers were busy tearing up their Riesling vines and replacing them with more lucrative varietals such as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. A passionate vintner who’d spent six years in Europe enjoying Rieslings of myriad styles, Jimi was more bullish on the grape. He implored local growers to preserve their plantings, promising that he would buy their fruit.

The wines he wound up making reveal Riesling as anything but a one-trick pony—they strike nearly every note on the dry-to-dulcet scale. When Jimi died unexpectedly in 2004, Janie stepped in to run the operation, maintaining the winery's varietal focus even as she expanded its portfolio. Brooks today produces 12 styles of Riesling that showcase the grape in all its glory. Like her brother, Heuck likes her Rieslings lean and clean, so that even Brooks wines with high residual sugar showcase a subtle tension, their sweetness held in check to create a light, refreshing finish.

"I can't tell you how many times someone will come by the tasting room and tell me that they don't like Riesling because it's too sweet," Heuck says. "Then I pour themone of ours and watch their eyes go wide."

As much as any varietal, Riesling expresses a sense of place. And there are few better backdrops for it than the Willamette Valley, where the cool climate and mineral-rich soil help coax out the bright and complex characteristics of a naturally high-acid grape. Similar traits can be found in wines from other Riesling hotbeds around this country. To sample vintages from, say, Chateau Ste. Michelle outside Seattle or Red Newt Cellars in New York's Finger Lakes region is to taste a wine that gives the lie to mawkish stereotypes.

To Janie Heuck, it seemed the sticky image would never die. But in recent years, an increasingly educated wine-drinking public has embraced the varietal for all that it can be, as evidenced by Riesling's growing presence on restaurant wine lists and market shelves.

It was a long time coming. But Heuck knew that the tipping point was approaching as far back as the fall of 2009, when a sommelier rang her from Washington, D.C., requesting a shipment of her finest white. The party turned out to be the Obama Administration's first state dinner at the White House, where Brooks' 2006 Ara Riesling was served during the second course.

As news of the dinner broke, Heuck's phone started ringing off the hook. The 2006 vintage sold out within days, along with half of the 2007, a choice that proved popular on both sides of the political aisle. "it was interesting," Heuck says. "Half of the people who contacted us said, 'if the wine's good enough for him, it's good enough for us.' And the other half said, 'I'm only buying this because i know it's the only good decision he's ever going to make.'"

Edit Module

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Find Events

October 2019

No Events

Join Grow It Green Morristown on Monday, October 21 for exclusive access to one of Morristown's hottest restaurants: Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen! When the restaurant is normally closed, guests will...

Cost: $125

Where:
Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen
110 South Street
Morristown, NJ  07960
View map »


Sponsor: Grow It Green Morristown
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Joanne Owsiak, MD, Interventional Pain Management There are many forms of neck (cervical) and back (lumbar) pain that can occur for a variety of reasons such as trauma, improper use or overuse. ...

Cost: Free

Where:
Montclair Public Library
50 South Fullerton Ave
Montclair, NJ  07042
View map »


Telephone: 973-744-0500
Website »

More information

New Jersey author Michael C. Gabriele will present a program on his newest book, “Stories from New Jersey Diners – Monuments to Community.” The program is free and open to the public.  ...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Montclair Public Library
50 South Fullerton Avenue
Montclair, NJ  07042
View map »


Sponsor: Montclair Public Library
Website »

More information

What: Come out and taste the best BBQ in town paired with All Points West Distillery cocktails.  When: Tuesday, October 22, 2019, 7pm to 9pm  Where: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, 224 Market Street,...

Cost: $50 tickets

Where:
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
224 Market Street
Newark, NJ  07102
View map »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

On Wednesdays at 2 pm, Montclair Public Library hosts The Every Wednesday Matinee, a film series presented in its auditorium. In October 2019 we will be watching Hispanic Heritage movies. The...

Cost: 0

Where:
Montclair Public Library
50 South Fullerton Ave
Montclair, NJ  07042
View map »


Sponsor: Montclair Public Library
Telephone: 973-744-0500ext 2267
Contact Name: Alex Russo
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

Every Friday and Saturday evening, enjoy a family-friendly fall night out sipping our own fresh-pressed apple cider around a cozy campfire while listening to live music. S’mores kits will be...

Cost: $16.99 per person

Where:
Alstede Farms
1 Alstede Farms Lane
Chester, NJ  07930
View map »


Sponsor: Alstede Farms
Telephone: 908-879-7189
Contact Name: Alstede Farms
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Starting on October 12 at 10:30 a.m. the Montclair Public Library will be hosting Citizenship Exam Preparation Classes, presented by JVS. The classes will cover American History, Civics, and how...

Cost: 0

Where:
Montclair Public Library
50 South Fullerton
Montclair , NJ  07042
View map »


Sponsor: JVS
Telephone: 862-704-2291
Contact Name: Lynn Sternstein
Website »

More information

Every Friday and Saturday evening, enjoy a family-friendly fall night out sipping our own fresh-pressed apple cider around a cozy campfire while listening to live music. S’mores kits will be...

Cost: $16.99 per person

Where:
Alstede Farms
1 Alstede Farms Lane
Chester, NJ  07930
View map »


Sponsor: Alstede Farms
Telephone: 908-879-7189
Contact Name: Alstede Farms
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module