Sparkling Riesling? Ja Wohl!
I love it when winemakers get creative.
Over two decades ago, Bonny Doon Vineyards' Randall Grahm earned the nickname “The Rhône Ranger” by embracing the southern Rhône varieties for production in California, among them grenache, syrah, marsanne, and viognier.
He could have made chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. He probably would have done alright with it. Instead he bucked the trend.
And now? Now that grenache and syrah (especially) are growing all over California? What trend is he bucking now?
Well, my wife and I, and our families, drink a fair amount of sparkling wine. And 99% of it is made from some combination of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier—the traditional grapes of Champagne. There’s a good reason for using these grapes, and it’s not just tradition. They work excellently in the style.
This wine, however, is a méthode champenoise (i.e., traditionally-crafted sparkling wine) made from 100% riesling.
I’d never had anything like it.
In the glass it truly sparkles, a very light color (more like a blanc de blancs than a blanc de noirs) with small, fast bubbles. On the nose is an unmistakable scent to me: aged gouda. The good kind, with those little crystallized something-or-others throughout the cheese. Know what I’m talking about? Dry, aged, gouda. Some sourdough on the nose too.
More of the same on the palate, the wine tastes like a wonderful combination of bread and cheese. A little yeasty, a bit sour, just a little nutty. It’s delightfully effervescent, with a light, crisp mouthfeel.
Back in the mid-80s, Randall Grahm convinced a winedrinking world that Rhône varieties could not only survive, but thrive in California. And in the summer of 2010, when he poured me a glass of the “Riesling to Live,” he convinced me that sparkling wine can be made from this noble German grape.
And well, at that.