From the Archives: Randall Grahm and Johannes Selbach at the Riesling Asylum (VinExpo 1999) – Wine & Spirits Magazine

From the Archives: Randall Grahm and Johannes Selbach at the Riesling Asylum (VinExpo 1999)


Inmates André Ostertag, Johannes Selbach and Randall Grahm, self-imprisoned at the Riesling Asylum, their recovery center for cabernet burnouts at VinExpo ’99

It’s easy to fall in love with riesling. After all, it’s the perfect date: intellectual, earthy, sweet and subtly sexy all at once. Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard and Johannes Selbach of Germany’s Weingut Selbach-Oster reveal that even experienced winemakers aren’t immune to its charms.

W&S: I’m curious. Was there ever a sublime moment of riesling drinking that stands out above all others for either of you?

Grahm: Oh yes. I was very young. It was when I was first starting to taste wines, and I was working in a wine shop in LA, and I had a chance to try the ’71 Scharzhofberger Auslese Goldkapsel [from Egon Müller]. That blew my mind. That utterly blew my mind.
Selbach: Can I tell you something? Ironically, though I am many, many years younger than Randall (much laughter)—and though he has more hair, admittedly—the ’71 vintage was for me the benchmark that triggered my interest in becoming involved in the wine business. I was fifteen years old, I was vacationing with Martin Kerpen and his mother in England, we were on a camping trip, and since we do not have the silly drinking laws you have, at the age of 15 or 16 our parents had no problem serving us a glass of wine or even sending us off into our vacation with a stash of bottles! We sat in the campground in the evening under starlit skies and we drank ’71 Zeltingen Sonnenuhr Auslese [from Kerpen] and our ’71 Schlossberg Auslese, which at that time were four years old, and the wines were just beautiful. And I will never forget that vacation and I will never forget the smell and the taste and that’s when I said, this is where you want to be. The tent was full of fragrance, and it was something you went back to and went back to and didn’t stop until the bottle was finished. And I went from hating to go to the vineyards, detesting it, and saying “I’m never going to do this,” to coming home a convert.
Grahm: I will say that the most psychedelic experience I ever had in my life—and growing up in Northern California this is saying something—was that ’71 Scharzhofberger. That was my yellow submarine wine.

OK, clearly you’re both qualified riesling fanatics. Let me present a situation to you: Suppose you want to put together an all-riesling dinner, and the objective of that dinner is to make your date fall in love with you. What would you serve?

Grahm: [After much initial amusement] An all-Auslese dinner! No, just kidding. I think you would want a Scharzhofberger Auslese in their somewhere. Maybe an older J.J. Prüm?—but no. The object is to get someone to love you.
Selbach: It’s to seduce someone, Randall!
Grahm: OK. I’d begin with foie gras, or at least definitely have foie gras somewhere along the meal. I’d definitely have smoked salmon somewhere in the meal. These are seduction dishes. So maybe a Mosel with the salmon, and an Auslese with the foie gras. And maybe lobster…with a Spätlese, perhaps. And we should have a great dry riesling as well.
Selbach: Wachau.
Grahm: Right. Maybe a Nigl or a Pichler. Definitely a great dry Austrian riesling.

What would you serve with it?

Grahm: (Leaning back thoughtfully) Hm…let’s see. Maybe some fish. Something poached…poached Dover sole.

One of the great things about riesling is that it actually allows you to do this. Whereas, say, an all-cabernet menu for your date—

Grahm: You wouldn’t have sex afterwards. You would get a woody.
Selbach: A real woody.
Grahm: Watch out for the chainsaw.
Selbach: I would throw in some scallops, some nice plump scallops. With a Spätlese. A mildly fruity Spätlese. I’d also have a cheese course, with some fresh goat, gorgonzola, Münster or some other smelly cow cheese. And then desserts. No chocolate. Passionfruit, peaches, apricots. And with dessert, I’d serve more than one wine. And before going to bed, I’d open an Eiswein. For the reawakening of the senses after a long meal…
Grahm: And you’d want to have all the regions covered. Rheingau—I like Rheingau with lobster. And Pfalz. What would you do with a Pfalz?
Selbach: Could be the meat riesling, if there were a meat course, like a pork loin or a veal chop. A medium-dry Pfalz Spätlese. With braised sweet onions. Because it’s a meatier wine, a bigger wine with more texture.
Grahm: Maybe a Müller-Catoir.
Selbach: Müller-Catoir, absolutely. Though actually, I wouldn’t go through all the regions. My choice would basically be Mosel since I’m biased. Heavily Mosel, of course, and a Pfalz, and a Rheingau or Nahe.
Grahm: Von Schubert Mosel.
Selbach: And lots of Selbach-Oster!
Grahm: And Austria. And Alsace—I think Clos St. Hune, or the Weinbach wines, or André Ostertag.

Sounds like a pretty damn good dinner.

Grahm: Yeah, I’ll go.


This story appears in the print issue of Fall 2000.
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