Water cost $1 on last night’s Summer of Riesling Wine Cruise, but the wine was free, and 300 lovers of the German varietal embarked on a three-hour voyage around New York Harbor to imbibe, part of a summer-long initiative to promote Riesling, engage new drinkers, and dispel any misconceptions people might have about the wine (like, for instance, that it’s always sweet–that’s false). And according to Paul Grieco, wine director at Hearth and Terroir wine bars and the man behind the movement, everyone needs a glass–or, in the case of the cruisers, several glasses–to get the point.
We found the gangplank right next to the Jewish Love Boat and stepped aboard, immediately aware that we were in the right place because everyone on this cruise was branded with a Riesling tattoo (temporary, but very realistic and not easily removed). At the helm was Grieco, always a bottle in hand, and German wine queen Julia Bertram, this year’s Deutsche Weinkönigin (think Miss America, but with blind tastings instead of a swimsuit contest). She launched the party with a toast to, of course, German Riesling.
This is the fifth annual Summer of Riesling, and because it spun out of Grieco’s wine bar Terroir, which is dubbed “the elitist wine bar for everyone,” it works to represent both high- and lowbrow examples of the wine (that’s why you’ll find Le Bernardin, one of New York’s classiest restaurants, involved, but you were also able to get on a Riesling-themed booze cruise that was decidedly not fancy). As in past years, participating restaurants are featuring three to four Rieslings by the glass from June through September, and this year, restaurants as far as Alaska, Sweden, and Ohio are “rocking on and drinking Riesling.”
As the boat made a u-turn by the Statue of Liberty, people started to sway. Judging by the crowd, it seemed after five years, Riesling had officially graduated from estoteric status to summer drink of choice, just behind rosé. There was a touch of Spring Break to this double-decker boat via a DJ and girls in “31 days of German Riesling” tees walking around to fill empty plastic cups. And as testament to the fact that the larger population has latched on to this formerly geeky wine, partygoers stumbled over pronunciations of the Kruger-Rumpf Riesling Kabinett Münsterer Rheinberg from the Nahe, one of the stellar wines being served. “The third one,” declared one eager drinker, holding out an empty glass.
Nerdery instead came in the form of retro pins stamped with the words “Spätlese” and “Auslese,” reminding drinkers of the varying ripeness levels of the grapes that went into the “nectar of the gods,” as Grieco dubbed the versatile varietal.
Later in the night, a lightning storm raged over Queens, but the passengers on the three-hour tour safely sipped their Trockens and Traditions. The wine was appropriately celebrated, and Grieco perhaps converted a few more terroir-ists (his term of endearment term for appreciators of terroir). It was indeed a fateful trip. At the end of the evening, we happy drinkers pulled back into the marina, just after the Jewish Love Boat. Let’s hope the wine flowed as freely for them. Prost!