When the auction house Acker Merrall & Condit announced the selection for its next sale in New York City, the news echoed like wind through a cove: Legendary wine importer Rudi Wiest is selling his personal wine collection. Wiest has specialized in importing the finest German wines since 1978, and has been highly influential in rebuilding his homeland’s wine reputation.
Wiest was born in 1936 in Illertissen, Germany, and was educated as an engineer and mathematician. He moved to the U.S. in 1952, first working at machine shops in Queens, N.Y. He joined the U.S. Air Force, paving the way for his citizenship here, and he's called the United States home ever since.
However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that Wiest discovered his passion for wine. In 1974, as an employee of the Bell System, he was transferred to San Francisco. There, he joined a tasting group, the Cellar Society, where he learned of the impressive wine collections of his fellow tasters. Wiest was suddenly filled with desire to grow a collection of his own. To start, he approached several boutique importers from Southern California, asking to represent them. They were, however, hesitant to accept, explaining that they couldn’t afford to pay him. Wiest countered that he only wanted to work on commission, and wanted to be paid not in money but in wine. With that, an epic collection got its start.
What began as a hobby soon became Wiest’s obsession; eventually, he would refer to it as his life's calling. In the process, he became friends with another legendary importer, Kermit Lynch, with whom Wiest often discussed the knowledgeable enophile and founding father, Thomas Jefferson.
Incidentally, Jefferson’s wine knowledge brought to their attention one particular German village: Dusemond (meaning, two mountains). In 1920 the village changed its name to Brauneberg, and remains renowned for its wines. “Kermit and I kept telling each other that we never had a damn Brauneberger that we liked!” Wiest said. That was, until one day when Lynch purchased six bottles of Fritz Haag’s Riesling Auslese Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr 1971, found at an auction in Trier, Germany. They'd never heard of the grower before. “I took one of the bottles home,” Wiest explained, “And thought it was superb! I called Kermit the next day and told him to stay the hell out of Germany. That is my gig! You do your French stuff!” That’s how the focus on Germany started.
In 1977, two fellow Cellar Society tasters asked Wiest to become sales manager of their own import company, Cellars International. A year later, Wiest bought them out, forming Rudi Wiest Selections. The French wines were quickly phased out of the portfolio, and the company devoted its focus entirely to importing premium German wines.
Now, after more than 40 years of collecting and nearly 7,000 bottles amassed, Wiest is ready to part with his collection. "What am I going to do with all that wine? I kept some for my wife and I, but the rest is for sale," Wiest told me, adding, with a laugh, "I also need the money!"
“We are honored to be offering Rudi’s personal collection,” said John Kapon, chairman of Acker Merrall & Condit, beginning a preview dinner that I attended this past Tuesday, June 11, at Oriental Garden restaurant on Manhattan's Lower East Side. “I drink German (and Austrian) Riesling more than any other white wines at home and am honored to present this collection of [his] lifetime’s work.”
The dinner, honoring Wiest’s life's work in wine, featured 18 bottles from his collection. The youngest wines hailed from the 2001 vintage, the oldest from 1971, and all were produced from the noble Riesling grape. It was a true display of the ageability of German Riesling. To highlight the finest standouts would be hard work, and a disservice to those not mentioned … but somebody's gotta do it!
Schloss Lieser Riesling Spätlese Niederberger Helden 2001 showed why the estate’s winemaker, Thomas Haag (son of Fritz), is one of Germany’s most decorated vintners today. At age 18, the wine is singing, with a seductive silky texture and notes of spruce, citrus and honeyed chamomile tea, all laced by an incredible minerality.
A pair of wines from 1990—Fritz Haag Riesling Auslese Long Cap Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr and Joh. Jos. Prüm Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Gold Cap—display the distinct magic of the classic-rated vintage. Both are incredibly vibrant and complex, with at least another 15 to 20 years of brightness ahead.
Finally, my star of the night was the Egon Müller Riesling Auslese Gold Cap Scharzhofberger 1971, hailing from another of the best vintages of the 20th century. The wine now is nearly brownish in color in the glass, but on the nose and palate, it still demonstrates incredible freshness. The acidity alone left me awestruck, while flavors of jasmine green tea, apricot jam, saffron and pine kept inviting me for another sip.
In addition to these incredible wines, the Acker Merrall & Condit auction of Rudi Wiest's personal cellar, to be held in New York, on Wednesday, June 19 (online bids will also be accepted), will include classic bottles from celebrated producers like Gunderloch, Robert Weil, Von Buhl and Zilliken. In all, the sale will feature more than 200 lots, each ranging in size from single bottles to multiple mixed cases. As a true lover of German wine, I won't soon forget tasting those incredible rare Rieslings from Rudi Wiest's cellar.