Wine: A Capitol Choice

Finger Lakes riesling shines at Obama-Biden inaugural luncheon

It was impressive to see how carefully the wine was selected for the Obama-Biden inaugural luncheon at the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall in January.

Usually, at large events such as fundraisers or state functions, the wine selection is almost an afterthought, something inexpensive and bland. But the inaugural luncheon rose to new heights, featuring a wine that, in my opinion, is one of the most brilliant white wines made in North America today.

It wasn’t a California chardonnay. Neither was it an Oregon or Washington state white. Nor was it a wine from Michigan, although a guess in that direction would be awfully close. The luncheon choice was a 2010 Tierce Dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes area of New York.

Tierce, which effectively means “third,” as in one-third, is a collaborative effort of three of the best winemakers in the Empire State, created by Johannes Reinhardt, of Anthony Road Wine Co.; Peter Bell, of Fox Run Vineyards; and David Whiting, of Red Newt Cellars Winery & Bistro.

Tierce has been known for some time among Michigan winemakers. Its makers are their colleagues in the International Riesling Foundation, a group of riesling producers from here and abroad; but also because Michigan rieslings share many of the same characteristics — climate, soil, and grape varieties.

New York is a kind of older and more experienced cousin of the two grape-growing regions, and the rieslings of both states have been piling on the praise in the wine press and winning competition medals across the country for several years.

I first tasted Tierce at least two years ago, at an informal pre-competition gathering in California, where I judge each year. It is a tradition at these events that each judge bring a bottle or two from his or her region, something unusual that you can’t find in California.

Bell, also a judge, brought that year’s Tierce for all of us to taste — a lush, golden, and elegant riesling of perfect balance and texture; one of those wines that, from one sip to the next, becomes more intriguing and makes you ponder and dissect the lovely parts that keep appearing in the glass.

The following year, Reinhardt, Bell’s partner in the Tierce project, was a panelist with me at the same competition. The 2009 Tierce Dry Riesling received a Chairman’s Award last year at that competition, the Riverside International Wine Competition in California. The 2008 Tierce Riesling received a Best of Class award as the Best Dry Riesling and a Double Gold Medal at the 2011 New York Wine & Food Classic in Watkins Glen.

Both Bell and Reinhardt have been invited to judge the Michigan Wine and Spirits Competition in Lansing, of which I am chief judge and superintendent. Bell did judge last year; Reinhardt couldn’t make it.

What’s exciting about the Tierce recognition in Washington is that we know well that the quality and typicity achieved in New York is very close to what we’re doing already in Michigan, suggesting that it’s only a matter of time before similar, much deserved recognition happens to Michigan wines.

Who’s running for president in 2016?

Tierce is not available in Michigan stores, but can be ordered online through or