Hermann J. Wiemer HJW and Magdalena Vineyard dry Rieslings, paired with radish-top soup

Hermann J. Wiemer HJW and Magdalena Vineyard dry Rieslings

On a beautiful day in late September my husband and I decided to take a little road trip to the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Although we very much needed a break from our relentlessly hectic schedules, the truth is that I had an ulterior motive: I wanted to taste wines.

Four wineries were on my list, and Hermann J. Wiemer was at the top. We had tasted their Magdalena Vineyard Dry Riesling at the notorious Terroir Wine Bar in Tribeca (New York) just a few weeks before. My wine notes read: “Wiemer. Must order.”

Instead of picking up the telephone, though, we jumped in the car.

As it turned out, we also got to meet Evan Dawson, managing editor of The New York Cork Report, whom I’d been following on Twitter. Evan writes an informative and passionate column about Finger Lakes wines for the notable online magazine.

“Come to Wiemer whenever you like!” he wrote me in an email early that Sunday. “I’ll be arriving at Wiemer somewhere around 11:00 this morning to help them sort grapes… I never cease to learn when my hands are stained with grapes.”

We pulled into Wiemer’s parking lot around midday. Evan greeted us with the contented smile of a man immersed in his bliss. Within a few minutes we were in the tasting room with him and Oskar Byrne, Wiemer’s estate manager and marketing director. And there we remained for the next three hours, tasting more than a dozen wines, each more exquisite than the previous one.

That’s when I understood what had drawn me to Wiemer. Our glasses were filled not just with wine, but with artistry. The story of the vines and the winemaker unfolded with every sip. A story of courage, expertise, vision, fervor — and of grape-stained hands.

Prior to our visit to Wiemer, Evan had written me: “I must, must, must ask you to do one thing on your travels: When you are at Wiemer, taste two wines side by side. They are the HJW Riesling and the Magdalena Riesling. They come from vineyards ten miles apart, and yet they are such wildly different wines. The difference is fascinating, and telling, and — for me, anyway — it definitively answers the question of whether terroir can exist in the Finger Lakes.”

At the time, neither of us knew that we’d end up tasting these two wines together. It was a thrill for all concerned. As we drove off after saying our warm goodbyes, I knew I would soon write about the two Rieslings Evan had so enthusiastically wanted me to taste side by side. But first I wanted to create a food pairing that would be unusual – one that would do justice to the wines that winemaker Fred Merwarth crafts with such skill and passion.

The inspiration for the recipe I ended up creating for the two Wiemer Rieslings came in a flash. A silky-smooth radish-top soup with a bit of spice, served with fennel-roasted radish roots.

From the first sip and first spoonful, I knew it was a perfect match.

Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling 2008

HJW Dry Riesling 2008

Producer: Hermann J. Wiemer

Region: Finger Lakes 

Grape: 100% Riesling

Alc: 11.5% 

Price: $39

You can see the HJW vineyard right from the tasting room. It is planted with some of the oldest Riesling vines in the Finger Lakes, in shallow, gravelly soil. HJW also happens to be the coolest of the Wiemer vineyards. What this translates into is a wine with powerful minerality and crispness. Those two elements alone make the HJW a perfect food wine.

On the nose I picked up citrus, exotic fruits and floral aromas. On the palate the crispness of the wine, its delightful weight and mineral notes made every taste bud stand at attention, ready to receive the delicious flavors of zesty lemon, melon and passion fruit that followed. The long finish made me pause and take it all in.

Hermann J. Wiemer Magdalena Vineyard dry Riesling

Magdalena Vineyard Dry Riesling 2008

Producer: Hermann J. Wiemer 

Region: Finger Lakes 

Grape: 100% Riesling
Alc: 12.3% 

Price: $36

When Oskar Byrne poured this wine during our tasting, there was a little glitter in his eyes. I asked him many questions about the vineyard, about its location, and why it is so different compared to the HJW site. Although the Magdalena is the northernmost of the three Wiemer vineyards, it’s the closest to Lake Seneca. Oskar explained that the lake moderates the climate, making it one of the warmest sites in the region. What’s more, he said, the location is blessed with richly varied soil types – from rich Honeoye silt loam to eroded hillside gravel. Lastly, its location protects it from some of the harsh winter elements. One got the feeling that this vineyard is the jewel in Wiemer’s crown.

Although the nose was similar to the HJW, if a bit more pronounced, the flavors were astonishingly different. Creamy, candied citrus peel followed by ripe pears, ripe exotic fruits and a hint of tarragon came wrapped up in a round mouth-feel that was sublime. The word that came to mind repeatedly as I tasted the wine was generous. Yes, this wine is generous and round and complex and luscious – in other words, a dream!

Radish-top soup and slow-roasted radish roots with fennel

Both the HJW and the Magdalena Rieslings paired marvelously with the radish-top soup. The lemon notes in both wines picked up on the subtle flavors the lemon-infused oil imparted to the soup. And both played up the creaminess of the soup, making it even more velvety to the palate.

But each wine also distinctively paired with different elements in the soup.

The Magdalena harmonized with the slight sweetness of the roasted radish roots. The tarragon notes in the wine were brilliant with the fennel in the dish and kept me sipping between every spoonful.

The HJW’s minerality, on the other hand, was a perfect counterpoint to the mellow yet slightly mineral-tasting cooked radish tops. It also highlighted the spiciness of the soup.

One grape, one winemaker, and two vineyards gave birth to two distinct, unique and magnificent wines. Each spoke of the land, of the climate and of the skills of Fred Merwarth. Each was a thrill to sip and drink – and absolutely delicious with the radish-top soup.

Today’s soup and Wiemer’s two Rieslings are perfect for a special-occasion dinner. They are not only festive, they’re guaranteed to spark good conversation too. Bon appétit… and santé!

Hermann J. Wiemer HJW and Magdalena Vineyard dry Rieslings


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  2. Heavenly — and I especially love that you included all the parts of the radish! I’ve been to the Finger Lakes area, many moons ago, and the wines were so delicate and lovely. Great profile of some wines to keep an eye out for — Washington has much love for Rieslings as well, so I’m always looking for new things to try!

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  4. What an honor to be included in this lovely post! You describe the wine – and its accompanying food – with such artistry. It was a wonderful day, indeed, and all my pleasure. I can hardly wait to try this wine-and-food pairing, Viviane. And I must take a moment to remark upon the gorgeous photography on this site. Each photo only makes me hungrier. Cheers!

    • Evan! Thank you for your very kind words… They have a lot of meaning and power. The time we spent with you at Wiemer was very special. I’ll never forget that day. You are an inspiration, Evan. I’ll look forward to your thoughts if you get a chance of making the radish-top soup and open the stunning Rieslings from Wiemer! Santé and to our next together… Chez nous!

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