Last Thursday, Barrel Thief Wine Shop & Café
celebrated The Summer of Riesling
with a special tasting of eight varieties of that special sweet-yet-acidic grape, and I stopped by.
What is The Summer of Riesling, you ask? It’s an international celebration of the patio-perfect wine that runs from June 21 through September 21. The whole thing started in 2008 when Terroir E.Vil
in New York City’s East Village sold mostly Rieslings all summer to get Americans more familiar with the grape, and now the celebration has spread worldwide. To participate, a restaurant has to pour three or four Rieslings all summer long, and at least two of them must be German.
Thursday was a full-on Riesling party with Barrel Thief manager and wine buyer Rob Burden and David Witkowsky of Potomac Selections pouring samples from bottles ranging in price from $11 to $42 from Germany, Austria, Italy, France, and even a bottle from the Finger Lakes in New York. The bargain wine of the evening was Von der Leyen 2012 Riesling from the Nahe region of Germany where most of the famous Rieslings come from. At $11 per bottle, it managed to hit that sweet-acid balance that makes for a perfect Riesling and easily hung in with the more expensive bottles.
Barrel Thief's lobster roll
If you decide to make one Riesling splurge this summer, I highly recommend the Schafer-Frohlick 2009 Felseneck Spätlese ($42), also from the Nahe region of Germany. The flavors on the front of this wine were pure, clear honeysuckle followed by a pleasing punch of acid. Burden described it as a saturation of flavor followed by razor sharpness — exactly what a Riesling should be.
Lucky for me, I also happened to be at Barrel Thief on lobster roll night. For about six years now, on the first Thursday of each month during the summer, Barrel Thief sells lobster rolls. They need to be pre-ordered, and then the restaurant orders live lobsters from Maine and whips up these delicious summery sandwiches.
Owner Booth Hardy told me that co-owner Ross Mattis grew up in New England and started the tradition because he missed eating them. Now it’s turned into a popular summer special diners look forward to. Once chef Sam Hall gets the lobsters, he keeps it simple — he cooks them to order, shucks them and places them on a grilled potato roll with mayo and lemon on the side, along with a side of cool, satisfying potato salad. “The lobster roll is straight meat,” Hardy says. “The lobster has to be cooked just to that magic point.” The flavors were simple and delicious — I can see what this is a popular tradition.
Also, just in the honor of tasting for my dear readers, I sampled the poundcake panino — a bargain at $6, this was basically a giant sandwich made with light poundcake filled with chocolate ganache and almond brittle, topped with poached cherries and caramel. I barely put a dent in a quarter of it, but the flavors were just delicate enough to make me keep taking one more bite. I sampled it paired with Leon Boesch 2012 Pinot Blanc “La Cabane,” and was surprised by how well the wine’s mineral and apple flavors complemented the sweet flavors of the dessert.Along with the next lobster roll night, there’s plenty more to look forward to at Barrel Thief. Every Monday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Friday from 5 to 7 p.m., there’s a wine tasting for $1. On July 21, the restaurant is hosting a Christmas in July dinner. From now through then, the restaurant is hosting a canned food drive for FeedMore, and 10 percent of the $100 per ticket sales will be donated as well. The meal will feature four courses paired with four high-end wines. The restaurant is already booked for the dinner, but places do sometimes open up, so you can still request a spot on the wait list. Also, on July 23, winemaker Michael Lundeen of Walnut City Wine Works and Lundeen Wines will be in the shop from 5 to 8 p.m., and you can taste four of his wines for $5. I snagged a sample of one of the Lundeen pinot noirs, and think this tasting will be a good stop for red wine fans.