Sunday, April 19, 2015

What young Americans can learn from an old German ~ The Rudi Wiest register

Rudi Wiest will turn 79 this year. But as he likes to say, “I have a long ways to go to catch up with your mom. She’s going to be 101 this year, yes?” Older people have a different conception of time than younger ones. The younger ones have been young all their life, and they likely think they will be for the rest of their time on earth. “I used to think that too,” my almost 101 year old mom once told me. “And then I turned 40. And then 50. 60. 70. 80. And so on. And now I have been older for most of my life than young. That’s just the way it is.” And so it was this last week, I tooled around Texas in a very large SUV with two young guys and an even younger soon-to-be 79 year old

To say Rudi is a force of nature is to press an overused cliché upon us all. “I’m old,” I heard him say more than once. In fact, too often. In some form, you’re neither old nor young. You’re simply alive or dead. And Rudi is very much alive.

Is there anything he doesn’t know about jazz? If there is I wouldn’t be able to tell you. His knowledge of jazz is encyclopedic, only rivaled by his knowledge of the wines of Germany. I cannot tell you how it feels, at this stage of my life, to sit in front of someone for four days and be tutored by a master. It is humbling. And it is invigorating. To have been on the wine trail for as long as I have and to feel there is something totally undiscovered in the wine world which is deep, intense and engaging, well it’s as if I turned back the clock and started all over again, this time with German, not Italian wines. It’s unlikely I, or very many of us, will ever reach the level of mastery that Rudi Wiest has with German wines. If post-World War II signaled the start of the golden age for wine, as I believe it did, Rudi was there in the early days to witness the transformation that many of us, old and young alike, take for granted. The quantum leap in winemaking, quality and selection wasn’t something that just happened. It was a factor of time, a progression, a development, that led to where we are now. And spending an hour or a day with Rudi will give you that sense that something really big has happened in the world of German wine.

To those lucky (and humble) enough to have had the opportunity to be led in his seven flight, 20 wine tasting this week, in Austin, in Houston and in Dallas, what we saw and tasted literally put one’s perception of German wine on its head. Gone are the Blue Nuns and the Black towers, the Zeller Schwarze Katz, even the Piesporters. Hello to classic method sparkling wines to rival Champagne itself. Get to know dry white wines from single vineyards that will give Burgundy a run for their money. And while you’re at it, the same with Pinot Noir. “Look out Volnay,” Rudi likes to say. And if you really must insist on the “sweets”, as Rudi calls them, how about a 20 year old with acidity that will recharge your batteries better than a double espresso. We are talking about wine, by the way.

I’m a stranger in Paradise with these wines, and I’m loving it. And from the looks of things, there is a young crowd of wine directors and sommeliers who do too.

No, I’m not abandoning my beloved Langhe. I’m not turning my back on the Tuscan sun. Sicily needs not worry, nor does the Adriatic coast with the Marche and Abruzzo. I’m just doing my due diligence. Expanding my horizons. Blowing up my preconceptions. And having a great time along the way.

If you ever get the chance to spend any amount of time with Rudi Wiest, I urge you to do so. Don’t let formalities stop you. Barge right in; insist that you are given a place at a tasting, even if it is standing-room only. And if you are invited and you let the busy-ness of your day prevent you from making it in time, remind yourself never to let that happen again. Rudi might make it to 101, like my mom, but why gamble on it? It’s a big world, and there are lots of people tugging on him to sit with them, taste and learn about the history of German wines in the greatest era wine has ever known. Word.

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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