by Fred McMillin
for January 21, 1999

 

The Man Who Came to Dinner


Prologue

On Dec. 7, 1965 our only guest for dinner was the greatest gastronome in America. I poured the wine for the first course from a napkin-wrapped bottle. He swirled, sniffed and then without hesitation, named the wine.


The Rest of the Story

The guest was James Beard and the wine was a Wente Grey Riesling. Both are gone now. James Beard left us all 13 years ago this weekend...on Jan. 23, 1985, which is the reason I'm writing this. As to the wine, Wente recently stopped producing it. Their final vintage was the 1995. I have a bottle from the Wente Wine Library which my wife and I shall savor this weekend, along with our fond memories of Mr. Beard. (She took lessons from him in his Manhattan-apartment cooking school for eight years; I attended in her place when she [rarely] had to miss a session.)

Wente Vineyards
Wente Vineyards
Now, Grey Riesling is not a member of the Riesling family, so how did it acquire that name? Well Tom Levesque (Marketing Dept.) tells us that founder Carl Heinrich Wente bought the only Livermore Valley vineyard in 1883. It included vines of French origin called Chauche Gris. Being of sturdy German stock, he gave it a new name with a Teutonic tone. The "gris" became "grey", to which he added the name of Germany's most famous grape, regardless of the genetics...Grey Riesling was born.

About that "Wente Riesling" for the first course, since you can't get the Grey, try the Johannisberg. The 1997 is now on the market.


Todays Wine

1997 Johannisberg Riesling, Central Coast, CA.
Wente Vineyards, Livermore Valley
Food Affinities—Crab or lobster dishes for this light, pleasing, off-dry white.
Contact—If you want to get more scoop from Tom Levesque, the number is (925) 456-2333, FAX (925) 447-4837.
Price—$6 range; excellent value for Riesling fans.


Postscript

Looking back, James Beard's first cookbook, Hors d' Oeuvres and Canapes, was published in 1940. Four years earlier, Wente had an important "first," too. In 1936 they were the first winery to produce in California a wine named Chardonnay!

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 

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