Another Great American Riesling (meaning what?)

Red Newt Lahoma Vineyard Riesling 2009 is a surprising drink, not merely because this is a great American Riesling. “Great American Riesling” has, for much of our vinous history, been damnably faint praise. Moreover “surprising” isn’t a term I would likely apply to American Riesling. Satisfied (often)? Sated (frequently)? Surprised. Hmm.

There are lots of beachheads for the grape here. While the Left Coast may have a significant head start, it’s back east that the many of the best are found. You have to like some delicacy in your Riesling, but if you do, you will find stunners in Michigan and particularly in New York. I know that there will be some fat but nonetheless fine examples from California, north to south. But nearly none have that rasp of acidity that gives Riesling its distinctive shape.  Oregon and Washington can do that. Sometimes they can get some soil notes in their Rieslings, but more often not, the wines don’t repay aging the way I wish they would.

Cross the border into BC, the odds might be even better and often are. Along the East Coast, things get uneven until you get to Long Island, head up the Hudson and drive over to the Finger Lakes.

Here, you are more likely to find excellent Riesling than not. In fact, you’ll have to work at it if you want to find something boring or bad (your time could be spent in more productive pursuits). The Rieslings that have some sugar to them are more piercing than lush, and that’s exciting. The drier wines are sometimes easy to overlook, like the quiet girl at a party. I pity the fool who doesn’t see her, but then I always figured my job was to look at them all. That’s how I approach my wines.

So each place has its style and for the most part that’s what you get. Or so I can convince myself for short stretches, and then something like this comes along. Yes, it has some sugar, and it has some bite. But it’s not only that it has considerable teeth to that bite, it that it’s unruly. That’s not the way of Finger Lakes Riesling. Indeed, that’s not what I expect of American Riesling. With a sort of peachy, even apricot, basso profundo, there is more fat than I get from any Riesling this tangy. It’s IRF rated as somewhere between Medium Sweet and Sweet, but that will not help you know how this wine tastes.

How does it taste? Like grapefruit pie. Yep, grapefruit pie (whatever that is, but go with me on this), especially if you threw white peach and mangos slices on top of it. The “bite” explains this wine, just as the best of all Rieslings are defined. But what makes the best Riesling so damned exciting is when, in spite of fulfilling these demanding but often achieved standards, it surprises. That this wine can be so robust and so delicate is a patent surprise. Thank you, Red Newt.