In the western reaches of California’s San Benito County, at the convergence of two tectonic plates and perched at about 1,000 feet in the Gabilan Mountains, vines planted in 1965 by Pat Wirz are still producing fruit. Dry farmed for 54 years and thus treated to a drink of water only when it rains, they offer up less than one ton of grapes per acre today. But if you’re expecting the punchline to be about ancient-vine Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon, guess again. No, the Wirz Vineyard, in the Cienega Valley, is home to winemaker Ryan Stirm’s most prized asset: old-vine Riesling.
If you haven’t yet experienced Stirm’s bone-dry Riesling from this special vineyard, don’t worry: You’re not alone. He generally makes about five barrels of Wirz, and his mailing list buys four. We are offering the last barrel of the 2016 to help you get acquainted. For me, this is the top of the pyramid for California Riesling and a wine that rivals some of Austria’s greats in its combination of profound depth and racy refreshment—proof that a keen understanding of terroir, in capable hands, can yield a white of ‘Grand Cru’ dimensions at an everyday price. In the five years since we founded SommSelect, you can count on one hand the number of times we’ve offered a California Riesling, and two of those have been from Ryan Stirm—a wine fanatic who loves three things: Riesling, terroir, and natural farming. He’s on a mission to “pioneer the new age of California Riesling,” and while that’s a bold statement, it’s one he and his team can back up. Taste this wine and you’ll agree.
In the glass, Stirm’s 2016 Riesling from Wirz Vineyard shows a brilliant straw core with green hues and accented silver reflections moving out to the rim. It has a wonderfully fresh nose, full of green apple, citrus blossoms, and stony minerality as the wine opens up. Expect further notes of meyer lemon, white peach skin, candied lime, crushed rock, sea spray, fresh white flowers, grapefruit zest, honeydew blossoms, and a subtle presence of white pepper. The palate reveals a medium-bodied wine that is bone dry through and through; there is no presence of residual sugar here (.2 grams per liter for you wine techies). It’s a well-rounded wine that has a strong acidic foundation which directly correlates with its superb freshness. This is a “drink now” wine, not because it won’t hold up for several years—it will—but because it is so enjoyable right out of the bottle. Pour into all-purpose white or Riesling stems and serve around 45-50 degrees. Stirm’s Riesling is not afraid of air, so take your time enjoying this one. Pair it with the attached grapefruit and avocado fish taco recipe incorporating the freshest and flakiest fish you can find. Cheers!