Austrian Grüner Veltliner’s Versatility & the Magic of Minerality with Terry Theise



Is minerality a taste, a texture, or something else when it comes to wine? Why is Austrian Gruner Veltliner more versatile than Riesling? How do you find a great grower Champagne?

In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with Terry Theise, a much-respected expert on and importer of boutique wines from Germany, Austria, and Champagne.

You can find the wines we discussed here.


Join me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube Live Video

Join the live-stream video of this conversation on Wednesday at 7 pm eastern on Instagram Live Video, Facebook Live Video or YouTube Live Video.

I’ll be jumping into the comments as we watch it together so that I can answer your questions in real-time.

I want to hear from you! What’s your opinion of what we’re discussing? What takeaways or tips do you love most from this chat? What questions do you have that we didn’t answer?

Want to know when we go live?

Add this to your calendar:





Three of you are going to win a personally signed copy of Terry Theise’s terrific book, Reading Between the Vines.


How to Win

To qualify, all you have to do is email me at [email protected] and tell me that you’d like to win a copy. I’ll choose three people randomly from those who contact me.

Good luck!



  • What do people misunderstand about Riesling?
  • Which questions can you ask retailers to better explore the world of Riesling?
  • What are some of the best and worst Riesling pairings that Terry has had?
  • How can you best pair Riesling with food?
  • Why was it difficult to change people’s opinion of Austrian wine?
  • What is it about German and Austrian wines that keeps them from being on top of the wine world?
  • Why does Terry say Sauvignon Blanc can sometimes be described as vulgar?
  • What makes grower Champagnes different?
  • What prompted Terry to write his first book, Reading Between The Wines?
  • Why did Terry want to make the case for What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking in his second book?


Key Takeaways

  • I agree with Terry that minerality is an incredibly useful metaphor to refer to a wine’s texture and something more. Riesling is one of the greatest and most fundamental wines when it comes to minerality.
  • I love Terry’s description of petrichor, the smell of pent-up, super-charged air just before a thunderstorm. It makes wines smell and taste super vivid.
  • Austrian Gruner Veltliner is more flexible than Riesling when it comes to food pairings. It’s such a lovely, undervalued wine worth exploring.
  • Great grower Champagne is also worth seeking out, though far more of a challenge as these producers are so small and scattered throughout the region.
  • I love Terry’s phrase that wine is an important glide path into the world of beauty.


Start The Conversation: Click Below to Share These Wine Tips


About Terry Theise

Terry Theise is a much-respected expert on and importer of boutique wines from Germany, Austria, and Champagne. He has published two bestselling books—Reading Between the Wines and What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking: In Praise of the Sublime. His articles have appeared in The World of Fine Wine and other magazines. Terry has also won the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional, Wine & Spirits Man of the Year Award and Food and Wine magazine’s Importer of the Year Award.




Tag Me on Social

Tag me on social media if you enjoyed the episode:


Thirsty for more?

  • Sign up for my free online wine video class where I’ll walk you through The 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner (and how to fix them forever!)
  • You’ll find my books here, including Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines and Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.
  • The new audio edition of Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass is now available on, and other country-specific Amazon sites;, and other country-specific iTunes sites; and



Terry Theise (00:00):
For me, there are two primary arguments to make on behalf of Gruner Veltliner. One is, it’s the dry white wine that will go with all the foods that no other white wine will go with. Asparagus.

Natalie MacLean (00:11):
Including Riesling?

Terry Theise (00:12):
Including Riesling. Yeah, Gruner Veltliner I think is even more flexible at the table than Riesling. Asparagus, artichokes, peppers, all the cruciferous vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower. If it stinks up your house when you cook it, then Gruner Veltliner is what you should drink with it.

Natalie MacLean (00:29):
[laughter] That’s catchy.

Natalie MacLean

Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places and amusingly awkward social situations? Well, that’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie MacLean, and each week I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please and let’s get started.

Welcome to episode 248. Is minerality a taste, a texture, or something else when it comes to wine? Why is Austrian Gruner Veltliner more versatile than Riesling? And how do you find a great grower Champagne? In today’s episode, you’ll hear the stories and tips that answer those questions in Part Two of my chat with Terry Theise, author of two bestselling wine books. And just a reminder that three of you will win personally signed copies of his books if you email me to tell me that you’d like to win them at [email protected]. Now, you don’t need to have listened to Part One from last week first, but I hope you’ll go back if you missed it after you finish this one.

In my new book, Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much, I write that as painful as my no good, very bad, terrible vintage was, I realized that I am who I am because of it. Extreme failure made me face something I never want to return to, but it also gave me a taste of a full life that I never want to lose. When the angry online mob shoved me up against the wall, I had to ask myself am I really this person? Am I who they say I am? Yes, no, and something more. We change with our experiences. Each brings out different things in us. Just as Syrah and Shiraz grapes express themselves as different wines in the soils and climates of the Barossa and Okanagan Valleys each season, the vines must adapt to different weather. One year, a killing frost. The next, a drought. They thrust their roots farther down through the cracks into another layer of rock to find the nutrients they need to survive. I’ve reclaimed what I almost lost my family love, health, and career. My roots are deeper, my wisdom fiercer. Have you had a tough life experience that has made your roots stronger and deeper? Let me know.

Here’s a review from Kim Jang in Vancouver, BC. “I described this book as a life story. I felt a connection with the author of both empathy and sympathy, and I noted some similarities between us. It was like meeting a new friend. I have friends who would be interested in this book’s discussion of what is drinking too much. It comes up regularly in our chats. Our friend takes regular hiatuses for several weeks or months at a time, and a lot of that comes from the culture of mummy needs a drink or mummy juice, et cetera. Five stars.” Thank you, Kim.

If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear from you at [email protected]. If you haven’t got your copy yet and would like to support it, and this podcast, please order it from any online book retailer no matter where you live. Every little bit helps spread this message. I’ll put a link in the show notes to all the retailers worldwide Okay, on with the show.

Natalie MacLean (04:47):
The outdated notions of course of German Riesling are being simple and syrupy or whatever, but what on a more nuanced level do people really misunderstand about German Riesling?

Terry Theise (04:57):
About Riesling in general? Okay. The fundamental misunderstanding of Riesling in general is that it’s a fruit driven wine. It’s not okay. It’s a mineral driven wine.

Natalie MacLean (05:06):
And minerality being, you have to define it.

Terry Theise (05:10):
You could say minerality is a metaphor. I don’t believe that it arises from a literal uptick of potassium or colonium or what have you from the soil that I never believed it, and it has subsequently obviously been disproven. But it is incredibly useful metaphor for those flavours which are sometimes quite voluminous and intangible that can’t be explained any other way. They’re not herbs, they’re not spices, they’re not umami, they’re not savory, they’re not floral, they’re not fruity, but they are nonetheless. So what are they? So you’ll have some tasters will use crushed rocks or wet stones or gravel or scree or lots of different kinds of words that can be employed. Minerality to me has always been a very appropriate metaphor because without being told that it existed, I arrived at it spontaneously by myself. And I remember just thinking, wow, this wine tastes like something. It’s more than stones or rocks. It’s like minerals. So that became something that it put in my tasting notes, and then I found that it was something other people put in theirs.

So back to Riesling. Riesling is fundamentally a mineral wine. It can be fruity, it can be floral, but it can be any and all of those things. But generally speaking, Riesling doesn’t lead with fruit. If it does, it’s probably a pretty boring Riesling or it’s grown in a climate that’s too warm or it’s planted in a soil that doesn’t really suit it very well. So I think for people disinclined to drink Riesling because they believe they don’t like fruity wine. Were they to explore, they would probably discover that Riesling, in many respects, was the driest of the dry number one. And number two, very often was able to express itself passionately without recourse to fruit.

And again, fruit’s not public enemy number one, but lots of the reasons that people don’t approach Riesling are barriers that they themselves erect. The other one is that it’s too complicated that you can’t understand it and there’s so many different ones and yada yada. And I just think, okay well if you don’t want complicated then just decide between Coke and Pepsi and go on about your life. Wine is complicated. Get over it. A lot of things are complicated. Wine is incredibly complicated. But the thing about wine that’s so amazing is it’s not obtuse generally speaking. It’s just complicated. So if you’ve got the kind of mind that enjoys swimming in complications, then wine will keep you interested forever. And the other thing that’s really cool about it is you don’t have to master all these complications. You can stop when you feel like stopping. There’s a whole places in the world of wine that I don’t know at all, that I just gave up the idea that I ever had to know everything about everything.

Natalie MacLean (08:09):
And find your own little corner of the world and settle into it nicely.

Terry Theise (08:13):
Exactly. I wanted to go deeper on fewer things than to try and kind of skimm the surface of everything. So I think Riesling, to come back to your initial question, one of course can be unlucky and you can randomly buy a bottle of Riesling that’s going to confirm your prejudices against it. But that’s where a good retailer comes in. And knowing the right question to ask and the right way to ask it. Just if you say to a knowledgeable retailer in the past, I haven’t liked Rieslings because they’ve been too fruity for me, but I hear that there’s a whole lot of Rieslings that aren’t that fruity and that are more stony, or can you lead me to a couple of those? That kind of question is a catnip to a retailer. They love to hear questions like that. That’s a smart question. And the answer will be, oh, you bet I can. And the next thing you know, go home with a couple of wines that rock your world.

Natalie MacLean (09:09):
Yeah, absolutely.

Terry Theise (09:10):
Pun intended.

Natalie MacLean (09:13):
[laughter] And do you have a favourite pairing? Well, there’s so many styles of German Riesling. What would be your favourite pairing? What would be the type of German Riesling, and what would be the memorable pairings that you’ve had?

Terry Theise (09:24):
There’s a couple of sort of gross ones, and I don’t mean gross like yucky. What I mean is you can really go down a rabbit hole with wine and food pairings, and I prefer to look at the kind of larger architecture. And you figure if you get the basics right, the nuances, generally speaking, take care of themselves. So we all know low alcohol, sweet Riesling can go very nicely with salty food in many of the Asiatic cuisines. That’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche because it works more often than not. So that’s one of them. The thing with dry Rieslings on the mineral side, let’s say mineral flavours in wine really like herbal flavours in food. And if you’re cooking with herbs, more often than not, that’s going to be the primary flavour of your dish.

To use again another cliche, let’s say that you poached a salmon and you had it in a cucumber dill sauce. Well, the salmon is an umami flavour. The cucumber is an umami flavour, but the dill is not. The dill is going to be the dominating flavour in that dish. Dill is an herb. Dry, stony, Rieslings love herbal flavours. That’s going to be a match that’s fantastic. And generally speaking, matching a wine to the protein is the wrong way to go. Look at the flavours on the plate and you say, okay what’s the dominating flavour here? Match the wine to that, whatever it is. It could be the sausage, it could be the sides. So those are the things that we like to do Riesling with. And if you like to drink Riesling, you can also sometimes kind of pattern your food to make it go with Riesling. So if let’s say you want to make a salad for Riesling, you want to avoid really sharp vinegar. So you might use a fruit vinegar or something along those lines. Just a nice mature vinegar, no raw onions, please, no raw shallots. None of those flavours are absolutely. They’re homicidal to wine, not only to Riesling.

Natalie MacLean (11:16):
And why is that you found the combination doesn’t work?

Terry Theise (11:19)

Just because on the palate they leave this kind of accurate hot thing on the palate that sort of destroys any fine flavour receptors that you may have arrived at the table with.

Natalie MacLean


Terry Theise

Then you might want to put a salt source in your salad, whatever it might be. It could be croutons, it could be grated parm, could be blue cheese. And if you’re going to do that, maybe a little fruit, whatever’s in season. Toss in a few blueberries, strawberries fruit or slice up some peaches or whatever. Now you have a salad with a little salt in it, a little sweetness in it, and now you’ve got a Riesling with a little sweetness in it. And it’s just going to go so beautifully with your salad, you’ll think how did I get through my life up until this point without ever having had this match?

Natalie MacLean (12:01):
I love it. It’s great. Now you also represent Austrian wine. And why was that such a tough sell for you back in the 1990s or along the way? What did people misunderstand about Austrian wine?

Terry Theise (12:14):
Well, remember, there was really no market at all for Austrian wine outside of Austria, except in Germany up until the middle of the ’80s. And then, one doesn’t wish to remind people of this, there was a wine scandal in Austria in the ’80s in which diethylene glycol, which is the main ingredient in antifreeze, was placed into some ordinary sweetish wines to make them taste like much more expensive Beerenauslese wines.

Natalie MacLean (12:47):
And I assume that wasn’t fatal. It was just scandalous and not allowed by law.

Terry Theise (12:51):
Exactly. And to give you an idea of the mentality of the people who propagated this, it was discovered because one of these rascals attempted to write off the chemical on his tax return.

Natalie MacLean (13:05):
Double corruption, it’ll get you in the end [laughter].

Terry Theise (13:07):
The Austrian IRS who knew something about wine was examining this return and saying, you don’t need this chemical in wine making. And the next thing, the holding went kablooey. But as wine scandals go, this one had quite a hold on the imagination of the trade. The antifreeze scandal, blah, blah, blah. So basically, Austria was at that point dead on arrival. But it was an amazing opportunity for this wine culture to really reinvent itself. How often do old world wine cultures really get to do that? They reinvent themselves almost from scratch. So by the time we arrived at the early ’90s, they were fantastic wines coming out of Austria, and I was hearing about them from my German growers, but I hadn’t tasted them. And then a friend of mine opened a couple of wines for me one evening, and I was so blown away by these Austrian wine. And I was so blown away, I have to know more about these even if I’m just go over as a tourist. If this is typical, I need to see more of this.

So I went over, tried to talk myself out of representing the wines commercially because I knew it would be difficult. It was already difficult working with German wines. And I just thought, okay how many more rocks do I want to push up this hill? But finally, I just got to the point where I was so passionately persuaded by the wines I couldn’t not do it. And the question that I would ask myself was, if I don’t do this and someone else does and makes a success out of it, how will I feel? And the answer was, I will feel like I was a coward. So I had to do it. So in the early days, sales weren’t good. Reviews were okay but they weren’t so fabulous to charge the market into buying wine. It was really grassroots, old fashioned selling marketing. And then the Gruner Veltliner became the temporary darling of that generation of hip sommelier.

And as we both know, trends are made in the wine industry from restaurants out into the larger trade. And so I was a little bit skeptical about that because what rises like a rocket often will fall like a rocket later on. But I thought, I just have to make hay while the sun shines here. I mean, I need to get some critical mass going with these wines. And finally did. And it just took a lot of doing. And it still, it kind of trundles along Austria. It does okay, but it needs to do better. I’ve always felt that way. I’ve always felt like if people really knew how amazingly great these wines are and what amazing values they represent, a lot of other categories of wine would be shoved out of the way to make room for these.

Natalie MacLean (15:49):
Why don’t they understand? Is it just they’re not willing to try? Is it the language? Is it trying to say Gruner Veltliner? What is it?

Terry Theise (15:57):
I call it death by umlauts.

Natalie MacLean (15:59):
Okay. Death by what, sorry?

Terry Theise (16:00):
Death by umlauts. Double dot on top of the e.

Natalie MacLean (16:06):
Oh, right, right, right, right.

Terry Theise (16:07):
We wanted to print t-shirts that said Get the Hots for the Double Dots, but there’s a magazine called Trink, T R I N K.

Natalie MacLean (16:15):
Yes, Valerie.

Terry Theise (16:17):
Yeah, Valerie Kathawala and Paula Redes. And they’re dedicating themselves to making the world safe for what they call LAU wines. So it’s kind of that there has been in my years in the business a strange operating assumption that nothing that happens in German-speaking countries can be anything but trivial. And I’ll give you a really blatant example. In the Mossel Valley in Germany, there are nearly 1 million ungrafted vines. Many of them are well over 75 years old and a substantial minority or over a hundred years old. Can you imagine if that story was being told in Italy, Spain, or France? Wine writers would be swarming over it like fruit flies to an overripe banana. But it’s happening in Germany, and so it is generally ignored.

Natalie MacLean (17:10):
Why ignored in Germany?

Terry Theise (17:12):
I wish I could tell you.

Natalie MacLean (17:14):
Don’t know. Okay.

Terry Theise (17:14):
I wish I could tell you. So I think that Austria suffered for a while by dint of the language. If Gruner Veltliner were Italian, it would have been Verde… and would probably have sold a lot better.

Natalie MacLean (17:28):
Why didn’t Gruner have that moment and then sink? Wasn’t it able to sustain? It was a darling.

Terry Theise (17:35):
Yeah. It’s an interesting question and I can’t answer it. But a subsequent generation of sommeliers came along. Every generation wants to have its own hobby, horses to ride, and they don’t want to do what the generation before them did. And that’s just human nature. So that was part of it. But you’re right. Why didn’t it sustain? Because it’s such a remarkable grape variety. And for me, there are two primary arguments to make on behalf of Gruner Veltliner. One is it’s the dry white wine that will go with all the foods that no other white wine will go with. Asparagus…

Natalie MacLean (18:10):
Including Riesling?

Terry Theise (18:11):
Including Riesling. Yeah. Gruner Veltliner I think is even more flexible at the table than Riesling. Asparagus, artichokes, peppers, all the cruciferous vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower. If it stinks up your house when you cook it, then Gruner Veltliner is what you should drink with it.

Natalie MacLean (18:28):
That’s catchy.

Terry Theise (18:29):
No one forgets that.

Natalie MacLean (18:33):
And even better than Sauvignon Blanc? I’ve often heard that paired with your asparagus and your artichoke and so on. You think Gruner is still better than Sauvignon?

Terry Theise (18:41):
Yeah, agreed. But I think Sauvignon Blanc can be somewhat vulgar.

Natalie MacLean (18:46):
In what way?

Terry Theise (18:47):
Well, it’s innate nature. Of course, we know that there are great Sauvignon Blancs in the world, but they’re the small tip of a very large iceberg. There’s a lot of Sauvignon Blanc in the world that’s either bubble gummy or vegetal or just various kinds of yucky. And so Gruner Veltliner just does not have that problem. Gruner Veltliner is really never vulgar. It’s a more rather refined grape variety. Which leads me to my second case that you make for Gruner Veltliner, which is like Chardonnay, it excels at every echelon of quality. Little tiny Gruner Veltliner that are sold in liter bottles are wonderful. You have the bottles empty before you know it, and then you can rise up through the quality levels and you can get to the top range of Gruner Veltliner, which are like Grand Cru White burgundies only they cost half as much. Well now they cost a quarter as much.

So you have an enormous amount of stylistic flexibility, and you have an enormous amount of gustatory flexibility with Gruner Veltliner plus, self-evidently it tastes great. So I still have never really understood it, but like I say, it trundles along. When I was in the business from which I have now been retired three or four years, about three quarters of the Austrian wine that we sold was Gruner Veltliner. So it still leads the market and it’s such a fantastic contribution to the world of wine. I mean, there are people who are just never going to Gruner Veltliner, but if one does it, I think it comes to occupy a pretty large space in your wine drinking life because you find yourself reaching for it so often. It just goes with so much.

Natalie MacLean (20:28):
Yeah, it’s a remarkable wine. And then the grower Champagne was the third prong of your portfolio triumvirate.

Terry Theise (20:36):
Trilogy of families.

Natalie MacLean (20:36):
Grown, Vinified. Aged. Your trilogy. Grown, vinified and aged by a specific grower and their families versus those big houses like Moët Chandon. So what drew you to that versus another region or style that might’ve offered you sparkling wine or just something completely different, but still in that area?

Terry Theise (20:53):
That was kind of love of Champagne, first of all. You had a chat earlier on with my beloved wife. We were long distance for a long time, and so our comings together and goings apart required the consumption of Champagne first to celebrate a reunion and then to console an upcoming separation. And we quickly ran through the commercial stuff that was on the market. And so we started buying the few grower Champagnes that were already on the American market. So that leads me. Champagne is about a three and a half hour drive from most of the German wine regions. So I thought on our next trip to Germany why don’t we eke out a few days and drive over to Champagne and visit some growers and load up the trunk of our car with grower Champagnes and take them back to Germany and then we’ll ship them over.

And now we’ll have a cellar full of grower Champagnes. So I had some addresses that I had found from reading what literature was then available. We visited those folks just as normal wine tourists on our way back to Germany. Again, I had that experience like, wow this was an amazing experience. There’s really good stuff over there if only people knew. And then my wife said, well they won’t know if you don’t make them know. And I said, but life is already really difficult selling German wine and Austrian wine. Now I’m pushing these two rocks up a hill, and you want to strap a grand piano to my back while I do this.

Natalie MacLean


Terry Theise

And she said, come on you know have to sooner or later I’m going to wear you down. And I said, well, that certainly is true. So I guess rather than subject myself to the wearing down, I’m just going to start doing it. So I started the following year. And I mean, really people thought that I had taken leave of my senses. Even my loyalist customers just said, what they really expect us to buy this? And I just thought, you have to figure out how to explain it to people. So I said, well just think of the three big houses of Champagne like Budweiser, Coors, and Miller, and what I’m offering you are microbrew.

Natalie MacLean (22:59):
Ah, okay.

Terry Theise (23:01):
What would you prefer to buy? You can also, if you prefer, you can think of the big Champagne houses as the big whiskey houses. And what I’m offering you are single malts. And Champagne at that point was the last place in Europe where the grower culture had not taken over the means of production. I mean, let’s say outside of Bordeaux obviously. And the last place, perhaps not in Europe, but certainly in France. So again, I told people what we are doing is reenacting the revolt of the peasants in Champagne that took place in Burgundy that took place 25 or 30 years ago where the Négociant class was overtaken by the advent of individual grower producers. So that also took a while. And there were a couple of years where I wasn’t sure it would work. And there were a couple of dark nights of the soul where I sort of thought I may just have to fold this particular tent.

We began with Champagne in 1997. The year was 2003 and that was where I thought okay there’s a fire under this now, and it’s just going to keep growing. And in some ways, we were also the victims of the millennium because the millennium was such a kind of fizzled out. But everyone was overloaded with Champagne. So nobody was buying Champagne in 2001 or 2002, and they were certainly not buying grower Champagne if they were buying Champagne at all. So I think that’s a lot of the reason why in ’03 suddenly it just sort of went. And at that point it started being fun and we really were making the point. And I remember making a sales call to a very trendy restaurant in Manhattan who was beginning to pour one of our grower Champagnes by the glass. And in this little office, I saw all these chachas from Veuve Clicquot buckets, stoppers, golf clubs I kid you not, t-shirts, caps. And I said, wow you’re really getting the full court press from Clicquot. And he said, well, they want their glass poured back. And I said, well, yeah, of course they do. He said, Terry, it’s really a pleasure to be doing business with wine merchants for a change.

Natalie Maclean (25:15):
There you go.

Terry Theise

So it was immensely satisfying. I mean, I wasn’t the first person to do it. I was the first person to overdo it because my initial offering of grower Champagne was nine producers, and it grew to 17 before I retired, because I thought, if you’re going to make a case that Champagne is a wine of terroir, you need to have growers scattered throughout so you can show the differences among them and that they are terroir driven. And you can’t do it with a token two or three.

Natalie MacLean (25:47):
That makes total sense. Wow.

Terry Theise (25:48):
I always knew Natalie, that in order to sell the kinds of wines that I was trying to sell, there had to be an overarching story. And the story actually took precedence. If the story was convincing, then people would explore the wines. I knew the wines were good. I knew that what was in the bottle was convincing, but the story had to be convincing. So…

Natalie MacLean (26:12):
Absolutely. I hear you on that. And speaking of convincing stories, segue, segue. Let us talk about your books because I definitely want to get to them. Such beautifully written books. Let’s talk about the first book. There you go. That’s the product shot. That’s the second book. Okay. That you go. And the first one is Reading Between The Wines.

Terry Theise (26:34):
Yeah, I’ve got a kind of a beaten up.

Natalie MacLean (26:36):
That’s okay. It’s a much love copy. There you go.

Terry Theise (26:39):
Beaten up paperback copy of Reading Between The Wines.

Natalie MacLean (26:41):
When we’re going to link to both of those books in the show notes. And I’ll post in the comments for the Facebook and YouTube, but tell us what prompted you to write your first book Reading Between The Wines? So you were writing for your catalogs and you have, as you say, the gift of the glib. But I think you have the gift of language. But what prompted you to get to that first book?

Terry Theise (27:02):
It’s interesting. I just read in the New York Times yesterday the David Marqueese interview with Joyce Carol Oates. And in the course of that interview, she basically made the case that life is short, but art is long. And she was saying a lot of the things that happen to us in our lives that we think are so important as they’re happening turn out to be ephemeral. But if you actually produce a work that lives on past you and you don’t necessarily have to write symphonies or poems. I mean, any architect can do that. Someone who designs a car, I mean all kinds of more or less prosaic things. But the point is to produce some sort of a work that will endure.

Natalie MacLean


Terry Theise

So when I won the Beard Award, my thoughts started running in that direction. I thought, okay, I’ve bought and sold a lot of wine. I’ve made a few things happen. 50 years from now, none of that’s going to matter and it won’t even be a blip in the screen. I need to come up with something that can constitute a legacy if that’s not too pretentious a word.

Natalie MacLean (28:07):
Absolutely. That was the word in my mind. Legacy. Everybody yearns for that, I think.

Terry Theise (28:11):
Yeah, that was my hope. And I had a lot of writing already. A lot of the catalog writing, which I knew I could sort of strip mine to have the basis of a book. And I looked at that catalog writing as kind of the bricks and B R I C K S, and I would sit down and write the mortar that would hold those bricks together. And in the process of doing that, the book sort of took its own shape. I didn’t sit down with an apriori knowledge of the kind of book it would be. I had a vague knowledge because I knew the kind of person I was and the kind of writer I was. But the book began taking its own shape in the process of being written. And I liked it. I felt sort of fond of it.

And it’s a young man’s book because there were parts of it that were written when I was a young man. It was published in 2010. I mean, some of the writing came out of the aughts, or even the late ’90s where I felt like it was good. I put it in. There were times where I kind of thought I could rewrite this and actually make it better. But I thought, you know what? I like the kind of clunky purity of the way I wrote it 10 years ago. I’m just let it stand.

Natalie MacLean (29:18):
Sure, sure. It is a legacy in that respect as well. Preservation of time.

Terry Theise (29:23):
I was amazingly lucky. I mean, it was published by UC Press. I had a great publicist who really believed in the book. It was fantastically well received for a wine book. It sold well. It didn’t sell Karen McNeil levels, and it probably didn’t sell Natalie McLean levels, but it sold pretty well for,

Natalie MacLean (29:41):
Oh, I don’t about that.

Terry Theise (29:43):
But for a little kind of esoteric wine book, it’s sold pretty well. And the book is, it’s essayistic. It’s not a wine guide. People would ask me for an elevator pitch for it, and I would say I can tell you the two things. It’s not a wine guide and it’s not a wine simplification manual. Those things have been written. I’m not interested in rewriting them. If this book has a purpose, it is to try and persuade people why they should care about wine in the first place, what wine can be for you.

Natalie MacLean (30:10):
Okay. And how does that differ from your other book, the second book What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking? That sounds like that’s on a similar theme.

Terry Theise (30:20):
It is. And that chapter, which was the first thing I wrote actually after Reading Between the Wines came out. I felt and I wanted to get back to first principles. I knew I had tried to do Reading Between the Wines, but I thought there’s more that could be said though. I really wanted to make the case once and for all. What makes a wine worth drinking? What makes a wine worth drinking versus another wine? So I thought, okay you need to make value judgments to answer that question. So I will make mine and people can decide if they agree or not. And the rest of the book again and I’ve came together more or less spontaneously from bits and pieces of things that I was writing. Everything in the second book was written subsequent to the publication of the first. So the second book is more contemporary.

All of it had been written let’s say in the years between 2013 and maybe 2020. In those days I turned 60. 60 is one of those birthdays that causes a person to pause for a moment and pensively regard the ark of his life. And particularly that the arc of his life ends with the end of his life. So realizing that you’re not going to live forever after all changes, I think, one’s approach to a number of things. It changes your approach to your relationships. It changes your approach to the things that you value. It changes your approach to the way you use time. And for me, it changed my approach to beauty since I always felt that wine was a really important sort of glide path into the world of beauty. To a certain extent, it changed my approach to wine. So I wanted to write about that I knew that no one else had. And.

Natalie MacLean (32:13):
How did it change your approach?

Terry Theise (32:15):
Well the shorthand answer, which is likely to prompt further questions, which I may or may not be able to answer, it made me sadder. And sad is a curious word. Nobody wants to be sad. No one wants to be bummed out. We have this kind of tyranny of cheerfulness that we live in. In fact, there’s been a new book written about that and I can’t remember its title, but it was the woman that wrote the book about introverts, of which I’m one

Natalie MacLean (32:39):
The Shy Quiet…

Terry Theise (32:40):
Yeah, Quiet. That book. And then she has a subsequent book about the value of melancholy, the value of poignancy. And I began feeling at that point that sadness was like a cooperative little ghost that rides on your shoulder to remind you your days are numbered. And I can sound terribly lugubrious to say that it doesn’t mean that you walk around with a Sword of Damocles over your head all the time, or that you become a brooding sort of guardian philosopher type. It just means that you are aware. Wallace Stevens has a line in one of his poems “death is the Mother of beauty”. And you’re aware that there is this connection between the way we apprehend beauty and the knowledge or understanding of the finiteness of life.

So wine became something that I was experiencing much more deeply in the last 10 years. When I was younger and I had a great wine, it was an exalted moment depicting the dancing of my noble soul. Which was all well and good, my young noble soul needed to dance. But more recently, it has become a moment of quiet. The soul doesn’t need to dance anymore. The soul needs to hold still and consider what is happening. And what is happening is you’re being invaded by beauty and silence. And in that I don’t mean silence, the absence of sound. I mean silence is the presence of eternity. And when you are in that moment, if you don’t pause and pay attention to it,  it’s just you’re wasting it, it’s incredibly valuable instant of life and you don’t want to walk away from it. It’s there the things that it shows you, which you can’t necessarily put into words try though I might. The things that it shows you are things you need to see. So in a way that kind of came into a lot of the writing for the second book, which makes the book sound like it’s probably more. My writing tends to be kind of energetic. I can’t help it. Though the book concerns itself with kind of a pensive and thoughtful subject, I hope it’s written in a propulsive and energetic manner. I want to say that.

Natalie MacLean (34:45):
Sure. Others have. So you don’t need to.

Terry Theise (34:48):
I keep a copy in that part of the house where people do a lot of their casual reading and I’m sure which part of the house, I mean. And while I am there, I will kind of dip into the book just to see if it’s any good at all. And mostly I’m reassured that it’s okay.

Natalie MacLean


Terry Theise

Every once in a while I’ll wince and I’ll just think, oh man how could I have let that one go? How could my fantastic editor not have seen this? But for the most part, the book’s okay. They’re my little guys. And the movie I made is also the same kind of thing. It was like my little guy. That movie disappeared without a trace.

Natalie MacLean (35:24):
Oh, this was a documentary in 2012?

Terry Theise (35:26):
Yeah, this was the documentary which, and the reason it disappeared was we had all kinds of really boring issues connected with licensing and printing and distribution. And the movie was supposed to have come out around Halloween, and instead it came out literally 13 days before Christmas. So we had an initial print run that we ran through pretty quickly, but nobody really wanted to do another. So that little movie, which is a tone poem of my love of the German wine culture. Sort of like I say it’s a legend in my mind anyway because it’s vanished without a trace. But it’s a beautiful piece of work. The cinematography is great. Tim Story did the music. It is what I wanted it to be. And as a companion piece to the two books, I think it’s really valid. But I’m sorry I don’t mean to inspire desire for people to get it because you won’t find it unless you find it on eBay or Etsy or something.

Natalie MacLean (36:18):
You can’t post it on a website or anything like that. Or is it…

Terry Theise (36:22):
I just don’t think there’s copies in print in the normal.

Natalie MacLean (36:26):
Oh, okay. It would be interesting to see that. When you were talking about the whole quiet moment with wine veering, maybe to the melancholic but in a good way, these lines keep coming to me because I studied the romantic poets. And I was like I just can’t help but share it with you. But where off upon my couch I lie, in a vacant or pensive mood I flash upon my inward eye, which is the bliss of solitude.

Terry Theise (36:50):

Natalie MacLean (36:51):
It’s what you’re reminding me of that just, and that’s enough. And we come back full circle to we wanted the words to describe the wine and now we don’t need them either.

Terry Theise (37:03):
And a lot of the things that will happen is how do you find those words? I mean, we had a cool September night and a nice bottle of old Rioja, and our house has a deck off of the dining room where we can go outside to taste and listen to the birds or what have you. Wine always tastes a little more vivid in the fresh air, I find. So I took this glass of Rioja out to taste it and there was a full moon that was behind this scrim of mid-level clouds. And the moon was casting this kind of moon rainbows behind these clouds, sort of ice rainbows.  It was incredibly beautiful. And so I had this vision in the sky of ice and I had this wine in my mouth and so I had ice and warmth at the same time. This old Rioja that was avucular and tender and consoling and warm, and this wine was like a lullaby. And as I’m receiving it, I’m looking at this vision of ice and there’s an arc that passes between these two things that seems to encompass the entire world of beauty. And I’m standing out there thinking, okay writer hotshot how are you going to put words to this? And I just…

Natalie MacLean (38:21):
Well, you just did. That’s beautiful.

Terry Theise (38:24):
I just came inside laughing just like I can’t believe what just happened.

Natalie MacLean (38:30):
Yeah, those moments.

Terry Theise (38:31):
They’re just incredible.

Natalie MacLean (38:33):
They make life. Oh my goodness. The time. Speaking of time passing, I can’t believe how it has flow by,Terry. I could really talk to you for another few hours at least. And I’m going to have to skip over a bunch here, but is there anything else before we wrap up that you wanted to add, maybe any thoughts you had that I just did not get to?

Terry Theise (38:56):
Not really. You’re such an incredibly good person to talk to.

Natalie MacLean


Terry Theise

You opened me up. It was lovely. The kind of conversation I live for. I hope you can do it. I hope we can do it again.

Natalie MacLean (39:11):
Absolutely. Terry in person with wine. Yes, absolutely. Alright, where can people find you online, your website?

Terry Theise (39:20):
My website is easy. It’s It’s all lowercase. My website, in opposition to my general tech aversion, my website is actually pretty cool. I have a guy who does it for me who’s really sharp at these kinds of things. But the website is lovely. The blog is lovely. I’m pleased with the writing I’m doing now. It’s very different from anything I’ve done before. Yeah, I hope people will explore it. The website it’s free, it’s not monetized. I didn’t want to be enslaved by it. I didn’t want to become someone under pressure to generate content so that I could keep my customers feeling like their money was well spent, which is why I left it free. So yeah, it’s just a free for all.

Natalie MacLean (40:01):
Awesome. Well, we’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well so people can find it easily. Alright, so say goodbye for now.

Terry Theise (40:09):

Natalie MacLean (40:10):
Bye for now.

Natalie MacLean (40:17):
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoy my chat with Terry. Here are my takeaways. Number one, I agree with Terry that minerality is an incredibly useful metaphor to refer to a wine’s texture and something more. Riesling is one of the greatest and most fundamental wines when it comes to minerality. Number two, I love Terry’s description of petrichor, that smell of pent up, supercharged air just before a thunderstorm. It also makes wine, smell and taste vivid. Three, Austrian Gruner Veltliner  is more flexible than Riesling when it comes to food pairings. It’s such a lovely undervalued wine worth exploring. Number four, great grower Champagne is also worth seeking out though far more of a challenge as these producers are so small and scattered throughout the region. And number five, I love Terry’s phrase that wine is an important glide path into the world of beauty.

In the show notes, you’ll find a full transcript of my conversation with Terry, links to his website and books, the video versions of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube live, and where you can order my book online now no matter where you live. That’s all in the show notes at Email me if you have a sip, tip, question or if you’ve read the book at [email protected]. If you missed episode 79, go back and take a listen. I chat with winemaker Heidi Fisher-Pfaffl about how Austria’s Gruner Veltliner got its groove back. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.

Heidi Fisher-Pfaffl (41:55):
Gruner can be so versatile. You can have a Gruner that’s lively and fresh, but you also can find quite rich and full-bodied Gruner. That’s how it reminds you of Chardonnay. We often have tastings of old Gruner Veltliner  in comparison to old Burgundy wines, and it’s often hard to find the difference.

Natalie MacLean (42:16):
So they age well because they’ve got the acidity, which is one of the aging elements.

Heidi Fisher-Pfaffl (42:21):
Yes, but also not all of them are the same. You have some very full bodied rich ones that age really well, the reserved styles. But you also have this easy drinking, lively, fresh Gruner Veltliner.  They’re really made for be drinking young.

Natalie MacLean (42:40):
If you like this episode, please email or tell one friend about it this week, especially someone who’d be interested in the wines, tips, and stories we shared you won’t want to miss next week. When I chat with Dr. Andy James, who has just published a new book called Bandol Wine and the Magic of Mourvèdre. He’ll join us from his home in Tokyo.

Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week. Perhaps a versatile Austrian Gruner Veltliner. You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full bodied bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at Meet me here next week. Cheers.