If I had a dollar for every time I served a riesling at a wine tasting and watched someone wince at the mere mention of the name, saying “Oh, no, I don’t like riesling—too sweet for me” I’d be…well, I’d be not so broke. I’m good enough at what I do to be able to maintain composure and explain that it’s a commonly held misconception about rieslings, but what I really wanna do is give them a wedgie. In the end, though, it’s really not their fault because there are, in fact, a lot of rieslings out there that would give Welsh’s white grape juice a run for its money…and a lot of that is readily found stateside.
The Finger Lakes region of New York has been a go-to spot for riesling ever since Dr. Konstantin Frank decided nearly 50 years ago that European varietals could thrive there. Nowadays, rieslings from that region run the gamut from simple, unoffensive quenchers (usually “semi-dry”) to focused, balanced wines capable of aging (usually “dry”). Problem is, sometimes those you think of as dry are labeled semi-dry and those that are labeled dry seem like they’re semi-dry. What the hell did I just say? Basically, that choosing a NY riesling can be a tightrope walk. It’s impossible to tell from the label what style of riesling you’re gonna get. Dry rieslings can sometimes be overly tart and green, and semi-dry can sometimes be inspiring, with little or no perceptible sweetness because it’s balanced. It’s hit or miss—something we actually kinda like when we’re playing angels vs. demons!
Please welcome to the ring, in the “demon” corner and wearing the red trunks, Bully Hill Riesling. What you gotta love about Bully Hill is that it doesn’t offer wine tastings, it offers a wine show. Tie-dye-wearing hosts pour wines for their audience while they tell jokes, sing and all but pull you up on the counters to dance. Its founder, Walter Taylor, was the black sheep of the Taylor wine family in the Finger Lakes, and wasn’t even allowed to use his own name on his Bully Hill wines (making him even more of a cult figure for college-going tourists). That’s really cool and all, but the wine? It doesn’t say “dry” or “semi-dry” on the label, which shows just how much they want to help out an unknowing consumer. And for as often as I praise a winery that steps outside the box with their packaging and marketing, I always add that they have to back it up with great juice. Bully Hill? Baby got no back.
In the opposing corner, our “angel” for this battle is Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling. Hermann Wiemer, funny enough, was once the winemaker at Bully Hill. His own winery, though, is a sort of sacred temple for serious riesling. No stand-up comedy, no song and dance, just great wine. His dry riesling (he makes a semi-dry as well) is NY’s finest, and among this entire country’s finest. If you want to dance on tables, there are always the city’s strip joints, but it ain’t gonna happen in Wiemer’s tasting room.
Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling ($16) – Pretty tropical and stone fruit, but dry and crisp with a touch of honey. Really well balanced.
Bully Hill NV Riesling ($9) – Fruity, nutty, and flacid with an unpleasantly odd sweetness (think Jerry Lewis).