If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Charlottesville
Passion. We know it when we see it, to paraphrase the late justice Potter Stewart. And, Stuart Pigott has it.
When I met the wine writer at Petit Pois last night around 9:30, he could barely keep his eyes open. “Day Nine!” repeated the bleary-eyed Brit-from-Germany-who-lives-in-Manhattan again and again. Indeed, this was the ninth day of a grueling road trip – the Riesling & Co. Road Trip – where Pigott and James Beard Award winner Paul Grieco travel from city to city in a wine bar on wheels to spread the gospel of Riesling. This is their second annual trip, planned by Wines of Germany, the U.S. hub of the Deutsches Weininstitut (German Wine Institute). 22% of Germany’s vineyard area is planted with Riesling.
Key West. Miami. Palm Beach. Orlando. Savannah. Charleston. Raleigh. And now, Charlottesville. It’s tiring just to think about.
Who knows how many glasses of wine Pigott had downed over the last nine days? And who knows how few hours of sleep he had enjoyed? He looked as if he were ready to sleep for days.
But, then something happened. Shortly after 10 pm, he boarded Wines of Germany’s extraordinary wine bar on wheels, parked beside the Downtown Mall, to conduct a Riesling tasting for about twenty Charlottesville wine enthusiasts. And, he sprung to life. It’s as if his passion was his caffeine, I told him. “It’s called adrenaline,” said the man who has written an entire book on Riesling, titled Best White Wine on Earth. Whatever it was, it was something to behold. The man loves his Riesling. And, soon we did all, too.
But, why travel the country conducting Riesling tastings? Ask Grieco, who’s been dubbed “Riesling Overlord,” and he will tell you that he is determined to right the wrong of the underappreciation of Riesling. “We fight the fight,” said Grieco. To do so, he said, it’s not enough to proselytize in the confines of New York City. If he wants folks in other parts of the country to see the light about Riesling, he said, then he needs to travel to those parts of the country and pour Riesling down their throats. Indeed, at his wine bars in New York, he has been known to come darned close to pouring Riesling down throats. At one wine bar in 2008, during the first Summer of Riesling, he offered nothing but Riesling. 30 by the glass. 100 by the bottle. All Riesling.
For their Charlottesville visit, Pigott and Grieco first stopped at Monticello, the home of America’s original wine enthusiast, Thomas Jefferson. A Riesling fan, Jefferson visited Germany’s famed Rheingau region in 1788, and enjoyed the wine so much that he bought vine cuttings to take back to Virginia to plant in his vineyard.
Next was a wine dinner at Petit Pois, where chef Brian Jones prepared a menu that Pigott said paired perfectly with the wines he brought. I was sorry to have missed this part of the evening. Pigott and guests raved about a dish of Rock Barn pork belly, black-eyed peas, Swiss chard, grilled radicchio and panisse, served with the 2010 Fritz Haag Riesling Kabinett Braunenberger Mosel.
So, what to make of all of this? Well, I can tell you that every wine we tasted was outstanding. Really. So, what I’d suggest is this. If you haven’t tasted a good German Riesling in a while, go out and find one. And, if you like it, ask for more. Ask your restaurant server, ask your sommelier, and ask your wine retailer. If they don’t listen, ask them, again. Demand it.