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Wine words

Terry Theise has spent much of his life singing the praises of Riesling in a language we can all appreciate.

Greg Horton June 1st, 2011

Terry Theise makes wine nerds gush. Jane Black, writing for The Washington Post, introduced him thus: “If you like wine and don’t mind name-dropping, here’s the name to know: Terry Theise.”

Wine tasting at The Tasting Room
Credits: Shannon Cornman

Oklahoma has had a few of Theise’s wines for several years, but as of this summer, the availability expanded to about 30 wines.

What marks Theise as special in an industry with so many names and personalities is both his ability to select outstanding wines and his commitment to a way of selecting those wines. Theise has been going to Germany since the 1980s, developing relationships with growers and winemakers, all family-owned businesses.

Valerie Masten, regional sales director for Skurnik Wines, the company that imports Theise’s portfolio, said Theise has had a relationship with most of his growers since 1986.

“He looks for growers with a sense of place and a connection to their land,” Masten said. “He’s committed to those places, as well. He goes over there every year and tastes through the vintages of all 32 of his German producers.”

When Theise finishes tasting, he compiles his notes into a catalog that is published on the Skurnik website, and this is where things get a little odd. Theise eschews the descriptors common to wine because he understands the associative nature of language. He explains this in his 2010 catalog, in a section colorfully titled “Daddy’s F*cked Up Tasting Notes.”

above from left Candice Pugh, Megan Martinez and Chris Hancock sample Theise wine at The Tasting Room.

Sommeliers and wine writers assume everyone has trundled down to Super Cao Nguyen and purchased lychee, it seems.

“British children eat gooseberries; American children do not,” he writes. “Thus, if we read ‘gooseberry’ in a tasting note, we have to imagine or ‘suppose’ what it tastes like.”

Those types of descriptors are all over tasting notes. Sommeliers and wine writers assume everyone has trundled down to Super Cao Nguyen and purchased lychee, it seems. Try to remember the first time you heard someone say Cabernet has flavors of cassis. The immediate response might have been, “What the hell is cassis?” Theise often avoids those adjectives, and opts instead for something far more interesting and evocative, if possibly less helpful. The wines are cataloged according to criteria related to value, taste and function: Absolute Top Values, Best Imaginable Food-Wines and the amazing Short-List For Goofy Pleasure, which has the following explanation:

“The wines that give the utmost stupid joy without reference to their objective qualities, just sheer batshit-loony fun.”

There are occasional references to onion, hay, salt and fruit, but you’re as likely to see this: “A beaming skipping daisy-girl of a wine …” Maybe not helpful with what the wine tastes like, but that sort of description captures the soul of the wine, and Theise is all about the soul of wine. He’s often described as almost spiritual in his approach.

Theise was evangelizing for Riesling in the 1980s when almost no one in America except for military personnel who had been stationed in Germany knew what it was. His catalog explains Riesling in a way that sounds nearly religious, and when you taste them, you may be inclined to agree.

The styles range from bone dry to sweet, and as Theise likes to say, all Riesling isn’t sweet. Darting Kabinett, one of the wines, is slightly sweet, but the eye-opening acid offsets the sweetness, making it a fine summer choice.

Strub Soil to Soul is crisp, with good structure for food. Selbach’s Fish Label Kabinett and Dry have been in the state for a few years. If you want to try dry Riesling with all the minerality and petrol that is supposed to be in good Riesling, try the Selbach Dry.

Many of the wines have opted for American-style marketing, using names that aren’t as confusing as German labels, including Leitz Eins Zwei Dry and Leitz Out. Don’t be afraid of the German label on Reuscher-Haart Piesporter Riesling, however. It’s a fruit forward, crisp refresher that comes in at less than $20 for a liter.

The wines are widely available at fine wine shops, and any store can have them delivered within 24-48 hours. A large selection is available at Edmond Wine Shop, 1520 S. Boulevard in Edmond; Broadway Wine Merchants, 824 N. Broadway; and Spirit Shop, 1117 Garver in Norman.

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