Greetings, Internet! I apologize for the Monday release. Celebrating the various mothers of my family was, naturally, a highly festive event. One at which I may have enjoyed just a little more wine than is recommended for competent editing. Speaking of mothers, the theme for today's pairing is a trait gracefully exhibited by mothers everywhere — versatility. Much like the metaphorical Swiss Army knife of talents brought forth when one commits to raising a child, today’s episode showcases a duo with chameleon like brilliance. An enjoyability unbound by any particular region, style, or genre. Yes brothers and sisters, today we journey into the grape that put the variety in varietal, Riesling, and the 1974 Capitol Records release that sent Linda Ronstadt from critical acclaim to super stardom, Heart Like a Wheel.
The following are two of the most common refusals I hear when pouring Rieslings at industry tastings and promotional events: “I don’t DO sweet wine.” “I only like Rieslings from (insert region where they went on vacation once and werepoured a Riesling they were surprised to enjoy).” Now, while both these statements are undoubtedly true for said individual, the logic behind them is faulty.
Now, it’s safe to say that most American’s introduction to Riesling likely came in the form of semi-sweet to sweet affordable wines, and that they were written off by fun fearing Cab-enthusiasts as “wine for people who don’t like wine.” I not only contest this sentiment, but would go (nearly) as far as to say the opposite:“If you don’t like Rieslings, you might not like wine.” Fine Rieslings the world over are made in styles ranging from intensely complex and sweet styles (a perfect dessert if you’re not into chocolate) to bone dry with laser sharp acidity and a finish length that would rival a bold Cabernet. Of course, in between the two you’ll find delicious off-dry and semi-sweet bottles. If you haven’t yet found a place in your heart for semi-sweet Rieslings, pick one up the next time you order Thai or Indian take out. You’ll find the touch of residual sugar delightfully refreshes the palate leaving it fully prepared for the next bite of spice.
As for the region-specific comment, with all due respect to vacation nostalgia and domestic U.S. wine industry clout, yes, upstate New York and Washington state do produce some killer Rieslings. But the fact of the matter is that these wines were no doubt inspired by and modeled after wines from the grape’s native Germany, or elsewhere in northwest Europe, orpossibly the southern coast of Australia. Furthermore, I believe one of the most crucial steps on one’s wine journey is to do away with the idea of a “go to” bottle and start drinking your way around the globe. This is especially exciting when you focus on one particular varietal at a time. Pick up a Mosel Kabinett from (northern Germany? or wherever its from) onMonday and a Washington state dry Riesling on Tuesday and make note of the subtle (or not so) differences. This is not only excellent education and palate training, but also a foolproof way to liven up the weeknights. Trust me.
Now, we are on our eighth episode and though I feel I’m starting to hone my chops at this thing, I have favored some of my previous pairings over others. That said, I am relatively certain that this is beyond compare the most compatible couple I’ve put together so far. It’s bigger than that, even. It's more like, if Riesling were a singer it could only be Linda Ronstadt. Heart like a Wheel, though unanimously considered a “Rock and Roll” album, is anything but a genre specific experience. You can start to examine the intense diversity by looking at the songwriting credits on the back cover: Paul Anka, J.D. Souther, Phil Everly, Lowell George, Hank Williams (Sr.), and James Taylor, to name a few. While any songwriter can attest that these names are all legendary, you’re certainly not going to find them lumped together on any era specific or genre themed Spotify playlist. Still somehow, with the help of Peter Asher’s production and an all-star cast of musicians (seriously, check out the credits) Ronstadt interprets each work brilliantly, remaining completely authentic throughout.
One interesting note about the song selections is that these are not just songs written by a staff writer at a publishing company that Ronstadt went on to make famous, as is common for artists who don’t write their own material. Nearly all of the songs on the album had already seen commercial success when they were released by the artists who wrote them. It’s common logic in the music business when covering a song that if you can’t make it your own, or do it better than the original, you probably shouldn’t do it. So in my estimation, if any other artist at Capitol Records said they wanted to do a full length record of songs that were already famous, they would have been promptly and properly shut down. But, when you have a serious talent as versatile and unique Linda Ronstadt, this is a risk worth taking. Heart Like a Wheel was a massive commercial success, spending four weeks at number one on the Billboard Country album chart, with singles charting on the pop, adult contemporary, and country charts. A feat that proves the only real formula for success in the music business is (or at least was) in fact, greatness. What a concept.
Here is this week’s recipe:
The Wine - Eden Trail Riesling
Region - Eden Valley, Australia
Price - $17
Notes - Intensely refreshing acidity, notes of lime and green apple cling to firm minerality.
Assessment- high quality, well worth the price tag.
The Record - Heart Like a Wheel, 1974, Capitol Records
Artist - Linda Ronstadt
Tracks of note - “You’re No Good,” because it rocks, so hard. “Faithless Love,” written by Ronstadt’s former lover J.D. Souther, who lends an eerily beautiful harmony to this masterful examination of perpetual heartbreak. “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You,” an old Hank Williams standard in which Ronstadt sounds so authentically country it’s hard to tell that Emmylou Harris is singing harmony, and not Ronstadt herself. And of course, the smash hit “When Will I Be Loved,”showcases a vocal arrangement that almost surely sent The Eagles and Crosby, Stills, and Nash into jealous temper tantrums.
Until next time,