Riesling Plus | Constantin Press of The Wine Contor, plus German Wine Queen in Beijing

By Jim Boyce | It’s that Riesling time of year and importer / distributor The Wine Contor will hold a fancy tasting and dinner with the German Wine Queen at Aman Summer Palace in Beijing tomorrow night (July 7). All details below plus an interview with Wine Contor’s Constantin Press.

You grew up in the Mosel region, a place with its fair share of good wines. How did that upbringing affect your attitude toward wine?

The Mosel does have world class wines but I didn’t start drinking until I was 19, nor was I particularly affectionate toward Riesling or wine in general. In fact, I am very sensitive to sulfites and get an allergic reaction if there is too much in a wine.

It wasn’t until I moved to New Zealand that I started to enjoy wine, notably from Waiheke Island, and I later made my way to Chile, Australia, Italy and numerous other countries that have fantastic “grape juice”.

Riesling was a rediscovery for me, due to the development of a new generation of young bold winemakers in Germany who wanted quality instead of mass produced “reflux enhancers”.

Your focus is “high-end” wines. How do you define that?

All of this wine jargon like “fine” and “high-end” may have once had real meaning but has lost significance for the most part. Our company tends to stick to what we know rather than to pursue wineries that have large promotional budgets and possibly “assisted” ratings. We enjoy working with family estates that happen to often have small quality-driven production and winemakers and farmers with strong passions and ideals.

Willi Haag (Mosel) and Dr. F. Weins-Prum (Mosel), to give two examples, only make between 30,000 to 60,000 bottles of Riesling, and Quintarelli (Veneto) is also low production.

We have the privilege of working with people we like and who are often true quirky farmers with sharp edges and strong opinions. Their concerns are not the latest ratings but how to develop their fields better and handcraft their wines.

I have enormous respect and admiration for large wine dynasties, iconic winemakers and savvy business people, yet we seek to bring a taste of authenticity back to our clients.

A portfolio of Italian, German and Chilean wines might strike some as eccentric. What is the reason for choosing these three sources?

This is not really eccentric but based on wines we personally enjoy.

Italian wines are like its people—eccentric, complicated and captivating—while German wines are vibrant, direct and structured.

My background is in development economics, with stops at the UN in Brussels and German Embassy, and it was by coincidence that I ended up working for Vinitaly in Verona and got acquainted with the Italian maestros of the wine world. That gave me an impressive overview of what the wine circles look like and showed me wine production and marketing are worlds apart.

A big part of your focus is German wine. I think most people associate Germany with Riesling, but there’s more out there, right?

Indeed, yet we should certainly not overstate the importance of Riesling for Germany. We are globally the largest producer of Riesling with over 22,500 hectares. The U.S. is far behind with some 4,800 hectares under Riesling vines, while France is the fourth largest producer with 3,490 hectare, being trumped by Australia with 4,110 hectares of this special grape.

I doubt many people know that Germany is also a mayor player in Pinot Noir production and quality. France is obviously number one with some 29,000 hectares dedicated to Pinot Noir, followed by the U.S. with 16,700 hectares, but Germany is the third largest producer. While we have some fine examples to prove that our quality can compete with fine Burgundy, alas, we are far behind in terms of prices.

For those keen to learn something more about Riesling, we will offer a class called Riesling Rocks at the Aman Summer Palace on July 7, and a fine wine dinner with the German Wine Queen [see details below]. This is a really unique occasion to meet and greet as well as try some fascinating wines introduced by the ambassador of German wine.

German wines also tend to be white. Given China’s wine market is seen as highly leaning toward red wines, what’s your take on white?

You should ask our clients what they like to drink in the evening with their families at home. The heavy reds are certainly on the table, yet increasingly fine white wines find their way into the mix.

I believe firmly Riesling can be both: a fantastic introduction wine for the first-time drinker as well as the ultimate grape for the connoisseur. You may go to a Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, and switch it around, yet once you develop a taste for fine Riesling it will be difficult to go back.

China is so large and has so many facets and tastes that it is very difficult to generalize where we are heading, though from our experience we cannot deny that Riesling is on the rise.

The general consensus is a growing number of consumers are buying for reasons of taste rather than status. Are you finding this?

This is a natural development and we do find this particularly for people that are well traveled and appreciate different types of food. We still encounter a strong leaning towards status purchase but recommendations by friends are also a very strong factor.

Let’s saying you’re going to open your favorite dry Riesling tonight. What Chinese food would you pair with it?

I don’t need to pair it. I can have it by itself. But if you insist on bringing the plethora of Chinese tastes into the equation, I do enjoy simple food, such as lovely Sichuan meal. It could be as simple as dam dam mian (担担面). I’m happy already.

Note: Here are the details on the events at Aman Summer Palace.

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