My friend Arthur looks at me, eyes twinkling with hope and anticipation. He looks like Willy Wonka, who is about to hand me the Golden Ticket. “What are you doing tomorrow night? Are you free?” I am indeed free ~ a rare occurrence these days. What have you got up your sleeve for me, Arthur? Nothing really could have prepared me for his answer. “Come to an Austrian Riesling dance party!” Um, what?! A dance party with all-you-can-drink Austrian Riesling? Austrian Wine Queen will be there? And Riesling Overlord? My confusion is not at all remedied when he hands me an Ode to Austria button, a temporary tattoo that reads “Riesling” and a list of Austrian-themed events that includes among other things The Sound of Music screening and sing-along. What is happening?!
I should now mention that my friend is in fact Arthur Hon, the wine director at one of Chicago’s best restaurants, Sepia. The man knows his wine. When he pours me a glass of anything, I drink it, and happily. His taste is impeccable. Leave it to Arthur to introduce me to Summer of Riesling. For the next few days I am going to be Austrian. Or at least Austrian-adjacent.
Riesling is often misunderstood. When you think of it, what comes to mind? If your first reaction is that Riesling is too sweet, you have never had its Austrian version. Crisp, dry and minerally, with hints of lemon, Austrian Riesling is one of my favorite food friendly wines. It is unlike its German and Alsatian cousins. It is well balanced and delicate and utterly delightful. Just ask my friends, whom I dragged with me to ALL of the Austrian-themed events. By the end of the weekend, they were Riesling converts. Granted, we tasted dozens of different bottlings. I would gladly drink any of them again and again. But I digress.
I walk into an art gallery, sporting a Riesling tattoo on my arm. Music is thumping. Visual effects are stunning. But the centerpiece? The thing that holds my attention firmly? An industrial sink tub filled with ice and tall, slender, graceful Riesling bottles. There are SO MANY! I am greeted at the door by Riesling Overlord himself, also known as Paul Grieco of Terroir wine bar in New York, a passionate Austrian wines advocate. “You need some juice!” With a glass full of Leth Riesling, I am off to a great start. I meet Austrian Wine Queen Elisabeth Hirschbüchler, a sweet soft-spoken, 24 year old beauty from a winemaking family, whose wine knowledge would put most of us to shame. I chat with ladies who represent Austrian Wine USA and Austrian Trade Commission. Everyone is sporting a Riesling tattoo. We dance, we toast, we make plans. An Austrian Riesling dance party! What a blast!
A lot happens in the days that follow. Most everything involves sipping a cool glass of Austrian Riesling. The culmination? Picture yours truly belting out: “Doe, a deer, a female deer. Ray, a drop of golden suuuuuuuuuun!” It happened. Because such is the power of great Riesling: just like that, in a flash, you fancy yourself Julie Andrews with the Alps in the background. I may not have been transported to Austria but I did make plans to visit The Overlord and my new Riesling-loving friends in Manhattan. That too will happen and very soon. Such is the power of Riesling.
A few days after the Ode to Austria weekend comes to an end, I find myself sipping a glass of sparkling water at lunch. Something is off. Something isn’t right. Wait, I know! It doesn’t taste like Austrian Riesling. I am not Austrian after all and I cannot yodel. But the next time Arthur has that twinkle in his eye, the Willy Wonka look, you can bet I will be so excited. Because maybe, just maybe, he’s got the Golden Ticket that buys me a passage to the land of Austrian Riesling. That special place, where a cool sip of wine inspires me to sing: “The hills are aliiiiiiiiive with the sound of music…” Try it. You will see what I mean. Such is the power of Austrian Riesling.