Normally, I prefer reds. But I got educated at a Summer of Riesling dinner at Hearth restaurant at a dinner designed to prove that Rieslings, that friendly summer wine, is totally complex and versatile.
The key is balance: sweetness at the tip of the tongue totally matched by the acidity of the wine. Kabinett (never knew what that meant) are your basic Riesling: table wine, accessible, with dryness a possibility. Spatlese means late harvest and while certain soil conditions make for dryness, these are normally lush and sweet, the grapes having had time to mature and even rot. An Abtsberg wine was for the abbots, the heads of the monasteries on or near many of the vineyards: likely to be the best wines and the most expensive. A Herrnenberg can be plebeian but still age gloriously—something I did not not know white wines could do.
But while a California white should be had while young, the 1997 Riesling we drank tasted wonderful.
And then there are the Eiswein, from frozen vines and very, very sweet, Normally, I could not afford the stuff by the half bottle. But a glass was sweet in more ways than one.
My thanks to Hearth, to Marco Canora, George and staff, to Paul Grieco (our wine host) and to Carl von Schubert who brought the wines from his Maximum Grunhaus estate.
“Those are traditional Italian cookies, you know,” the clerk said — a young man I would judge, on the basis of accent, to be Russian. ”I know,” I said. “And I miss the big traditional butter cookies you used to have, the ones that were plain or half covered in chocolate,” I added, going a step too far.
I was purchasing the cookies for my last day of class, wanting my students to have the taste. For reasons unclear to me, I had scoped through a series of Italian bakeries in the Village the day before, noting each time things missing that should have been there: pignolis fully covered in nuts; fig cookies as the Christmas season moves on, those large butter cookies which tended to be eaten after the fancier ones were gone, being simple, but simply delicious. My reasons must have had to do with some desire to regain my past, Proust-like, in the taste of a cookie.
When the Russian young man confided in me that the simpler biscuits I’d purchased were “traditional Italian cookies,” a whole lot came together. The Italians who used to bake the cookies are gone now — to colleges and engineering jobs and to firms on Wall Street. The desire for the authentic Italian cookie or hero can drive us to frenzy — as anyone who has visited Torrisi Brothers or Little Italy on a weekend will know. But traditional Italian cookies? More often than not, they’re gone now too or mingled with a Spanish or Russian twist.