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Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for April 25, 2000


Get Set for an Upset


There was no way Wine B could win the tasting. There were 23 rivals, consisting of other white varieties, plus some pinks and some sparkiers. Eleven of them were more expensive.

Worst of all, here's what the press said about this particular white variety, which we'll call "Y."

"Growers are pulling out Y grapes, wineries are dropping Y from their lines, and restaurants are cutting the wine from their lists."

"Y is the Rodney Dangerfield of wine—it gets no respect."

...Gerald D. Boyd, San Francisco Chronicle

The Rest of the Story

Daryl Sattui Here's the wine that pulled the upset. It was a Riesling!
1998 Off-Dry Johannisberg Riesling
V. Sattui Winery
Description—We agree with Tasting Room Manager Damy Tamburrino's appraisal. "Citrus and tangerine nose. Explosion of orange zest in the mouth. Slight acidity in the finish. It will sell out quickly."
Winemaking—Daryl Sattui (pictured), says to make the off-dry Riesling (2% sugar), they raise sugar levels a bit by leaving the grapes on the vine longer before harvesting. Then they handle the juice so as to maximize pineapple and honeysuckle, along with the citrus.
Food Affinities—Fish and fowl, served with lively sauces. Damy suggests mango chutney with grilled sea bass.
Contact—You can reach Damy at (707) 963-7774, FAX (707) 963-4324.


Our winning-wine grape has several names, Riesling, White Riesling, and Johannisberg Riesling. I like Roy Andries De Groot's description of the origin of the names, written some 30 years ago.

It all started with the Emperor Charlemagne at the end of the Eighth Century. He ruled from his Palace of Ingelheim on a hill overlooking the valley of the Rhine. On a spring day he noticed how the snow was melting first on the south-facing slope. [I've been there and seen the sunlight reflecting off the river's surface, providing additional warmth.]

Charlemagne said something like this to one of his nobles. "It would be a good place to plant vines. See that it is done."

The hill was found to be covered with wild black currants, called Johannisbeeren in German. A few centuries later, black-robed Benedictine monks took over development of the vines, and named the grape Riesling...Germany's greatest grape now had a name.

But while the origin of Johannisberg (BERG means HILL or MOUNTAIN in German) seems clear, Riesling isn't. A good guess—Jancis Robinson points out that the vine's bark has deep grooves, in German, Rissig.

Note: About the time Roy De Groot was writing the above words, my wife was taking cooking lessons in James Beard's Greenwich Village apartment. What did he pour after they prepared Salad Nicoise (tuna)? A Riesling!

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


This page created April 2000