Berlin-based British wine scholar Stuart Pigott literally wrote the book on riesling, The Best White Wine on Earth, and is headed to Traverse City for its Midwest launch at the ‘City of Riesling’ event, July 26–28, which will showcase the popular Northern Michigan wine varietal. We caught up with Stuart by phone to get the skinny on this noble vinifera, ask him how Northwest Michigan stacks up in the universe of riesling, and get a few of his favorite picks from the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas. The following interview on Northern Michigan riesling was first featured in the July 2014 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
Let’s start with the obvious question. Why is riesling the best white wine on earth?
Riesling is the only grape that manages to achieve greatness in every iteration from bone dry to extremely sweet. Heavy, light, dry, wet, acidic, alkaline, riesling will grow in just about any soil, and it fits into a wide range of climatic zones. That and it’s a democratic wine; no matter what your style or budget there’s a good bottle of riesling out there for you.
Your book gives a lot of props to Northern Michigan rieslings, what defines the wines made here?
Good riesling has attractive fruit character plus non-fruity elements that give the wine tension. There’s no scientific explanation for this, but your rieslings have distinctive aromas of fennel and licorice in addition to the fruit character that goes most frequently toward apple and pear. Northern Michigan rieslings really excel in the medium-dry style.
To get a global perspective on great dry riesling, what should we be drinking?
For dry rieslings, I’d recommend starting with rieslings from Lower Austria, which are the most textural, followed by German wines from the Rheinhessen, what I call the dream factory of dry German riesling, and ending with Germany’s Nahe region, which makes seriously steely, uncompromising wines for the mineral freaks and acid hounds out there.
What would you like to see next from Northern Michigan rieslings?
I think there’s the potential for this region to produce truly great sweet wines, Leelanau in particular because of the brighter acidities. I think local wineries ought to produce high-end late harvest bottlings.