Even after summer ends, Riesling is still a welcome quaff, especially during Oktoberfest celebrations. (Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images)
Columnist, Food

October means Oktoberfest, which for wine lovers means Riesling.

Wait a minute, you say. We’re done with white wines now that autumn is here, the air is cooler and nighttime arrives before it’s welcome, like Christmas music in shopping malls. Isn’t it time to push aside our few remaining bottles of white wine and dust off the reds?

Nonsense. There is no “red wine season” linked to colder weather, as though it’s bad form to drink red between Easter and Labor Day or white anytime else. White wines not only are more refreshing than reds, as a rule, but they can be just as complex and contemplative. They deserve equal status. 

Andy Myers, the former sommelier at CityZen who is taking over the wine programs for José Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup restaurant empire, scoffs at the notion of autumn as red-wine season. “After we’ve had our warm-up bottles of Riesling, sure,” he joked. “Despite the weather, the natural acidity, delicacy and intensity of flavors of Riesling have a place at the table at all times.” 

A similar argument can be made for the weight of chardonnay, the richness of pinot gris, the minerality of chenin, and so on, through the list of white wines. A case can be made for rosé as a warm-weather quaff, but I know people who stock up on pink wines during summer, when they are easily purchased, and squirrel them away for winter. Wines should be paired with a meal, not a weather report.

As the wine importer Kermit Lynch once wrote: “Never a red without a white to precede it. Never a white without a red to follow it. I am convinced the Creator had a plan, if only in this specific instance.”

I asked Myers, Kathryn Morgan and Keith Goldston, the District’s three master sommeliers, to explain Riesling’s appeal. Myers and Morgan cited its acidity and relatively low alcohol content as factors in Riesling’s accessibility with food. “And if you’re doing Oktoberfest, foods like wurst and sausages go great with Riesling,” Myers said.

Goldston chimed in with a cultural reference: “It’s the ‘Spinal Tap’ of wine,” he said, referring to the 1984 “rockumentary.” “Everything always turned up to 11.”

For an American Oktoberfest, we can draw on several delicious U.S. Rieslings made by German winemakers. Hermann J. Wiemer was a pioneer in New York’s Finger Lakes, helping forge that region’s reputation for fine Riesling. Wiemer sold his winery a few years ago, but the wines remain among the region’s best. Up the road on the west side of Seneca Lake, Johannes Reinhardt crafted top-notch Rieslings for more than a decade at Anthony Road Vineyards before leaving this year to focus on his own label, Kemmeter. In January, Mosel producer Johannes Selbach announced a joint venture with American winemaker Paul Hobbs to establish vineyards and a winery in the Finger Lakes.

In June, I wrote about Ernst Loosen and his collaboration with Chateau Ste. Michelle to make Eroica Riesling in Washington State’s Columbia Valley. Allen Shoup, the Ste. Michelle executive who forged that partnership with Loosen, later established his own winery, Long Shadows, where he invites top winemakers from around the world to produce wines expressive of Washington’s terroir. For the Poet’s Leap Riesling, the only white wine in the Long Shadows portfolio, Shoup recruited Armin Diel, of Schlossgut Diel in Germany’s Nahe River Valley. Drawing grapes from three vineyards, Diel crafts a wine that is both effusively zesty and elegantly classy.

So here’s a toast to autumn — and to Oktoberfest — with a glass of Riesling. 

McIntyre blogs at dmwineline.com. On Twitter: @dmwine.