A young man (we’ll call him Rick) appeared in my University of Maryland office to ask if I’d direct his senior thesis — a series of short stories he had been writing for several months.
Since he’d never been in one of my classes, I asked to see his portfolio and then set up a meeting a few days later so we could talk. The stories starred alcohol-fueled, angst-ridden male students, who had sex as often as possible and despised the women involved — and just about everyone else.
I tried to tell Rick as gently as possible that he needed to find someone else to work through these stories with him. “I’m not suggesting,” I explained, summoning my inner prevaricator, “that you’re not a good writer but I don’t find your themes or characters compelling enough to spend a lot of time with them. Just a matter of taste, of course.”
Instead of taking the hint, he returned a couple of days later, convinced that he could charm me into taking him on. He started with small talk. He’d gone fishing over the weekend. He’d heard really good things about my classes. His girlfriend was on an extended trip to California.
“Oh,” I said, “are you planning to join her at some point?”
“Are you kidding?” he said, “in my house we refer to California as the Land of Fruits and Nuts.”
For a moment his comment filled the space between us.
“Aha,” I said, “perhaps that explains why we’re not a good fit — I’m a native Californian” — most definitely a fruit, quite possibly a nut. He didn’t come back.
While this was an extreme example, I regularly — in my 20 East Coast years — encountered similar prejudices against the opposite coast. Even some of my colleagues harbored the view of Californians as narcissists, slackers, new ageies, hippies, foodies. You know.
Much as I loved my D.C. years, I’m relieved to be back in the land of fruit and nuts. I do, though, have to confess to some reverse biases. East Coasters, I find myself thinking (fueled by the daily N.Y. Times) are pretentious, over-focused on success, always busy (and proud of it). Too busy to talk, meet, enjoy, relax. Certainly too busy to stop and smell the roses. But then they, unlike us, don’t have roses blooming nine months of the year.
And, of course, they can’t make good wine — this judgment I based on one visit to a Virginia winery that served several varieties of bitter Concord grape juice.
So as not to admit evidence contrary to these biases, I’ve tried to ignore reviews of excellent wines coming from New York state, but these reviews have been so frequent and persuasive of late I’m ready to concede that the Finger Lakes District might indeed be producing some very fine rieslings. As a consequence, I didn’t resist when one of the Corti Brothers’ wine guys (why are they always “guys”?) led me straight to a Finger Lakes riesling when I asked about his top recommendation for a wine to serve with Thanksgiving dinner.
This Ravine Dry Riesling comes from a Finger Lakes estate owned by a winemaker raised and certified in France. Said by Eric Asimov to be “clear, fresh and focused with chalky mineral flavors,” it sounds to me quite perfect for a turkey-and-trimmings feast, and at $17.99 not outrageously expensive.
I was surprised, though, when the guy went on to tell me that one of his favorite pinot noirs came from the same winery and also would be an excellent choice for Turkey Day. I guess it makes sense that a region famous for rielsings would also produce good pinot noir — witness Oregon and Germany, whose dry rieslings and pinots would definitely be among my own top choices to accompany holiday fare.
I guess my anti-East Coast-wine biases are shared: New York state rieslings aren’t exactly easy to find in Davis. I couldn’t find a single New York wine on the shelves at Nugget. The Co-op carries a riesling — Red Tail Ridge Dry, which was also on Asimov’s list of really good choices. And Red Tail is an excellent winery, the first LEED gold-certified winery in New York, owned and operated by Mike Schnelle and Nancy Irelan, a husband-and-wife team. Nancy got many of her winemaking skills at UCD, so maybe we can think of her wines as “semi-local.” Unfortunately, the bottles of this riesling on the Co-op shelf are ’09s — I’d be wary of spending $18 on a riesling with this much age. Might be fine — some rieslings age well. Might not.
Vini has had some New York state rieslings in the past but currently doesn’t. If the dry-riesling-for-holiday-suppers idea appeals to you, though, go to Vini and pour yourself a 2-ounce taste of the 2010 Kunstler Stielweg Old Vines Riesling. Made of grapes from a single vineyard of 50 year-old vines in the Rheingau, this wine is just delicious — elegant, full-bodied, multi-layered. Tart fall apple dominates with hints of lime, gooseberry, and peaches — and lots of good minerality. A serious wine, worthy of a heritage turkey and all the trimmings. Since this wine retails for more than $30, the $24 Vini price is a good deal.
While Valley Wine Company doesn’t have any Finger Lakes rieslings either, they do carry Red Tail Ridge 2011 Chardonnay, which VWC’s John, a big fan of Nancy Irelan, said was just terrific, “the best unoaked chard I’ve tasted.” When he told me the price — $12 — I couldn’t resist. I tried it that very night with a beet and ricotta pasta, thinking that if it could pair nicely with that earthy vegetable, it would indeed work with anything on the Thanksgiving table.
John recommended not serving it too chilled, so I took special note of its flavors at different temperatures, and, yes, as it approached cool room temperature its bright melon, apple and citrus were nicely tempered with a smooth rich nuttiness. “This is really good!” punctuated our dinner conversation, and we finished the bottle entirely too easily — happily, the alcohol content is only 12 percent.
Prejudice overturned, I’m hoping that my new-found respect for New York grapes is matched by a softening of Rick’s animus toward the fruits of California.
— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com