Some people speak in sentences (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), some in paragraphs. Terry Theise speaks in chapters. Miraculously, his soliloquies are much like the wines he enjoys most: complex, persistent and distinctive, with enough intrigue to lure you back for more.
His narratives are looping but never loopy, seemingly stream-of-consciousness trains laced with coherent insights and opinions and juiced with an infectious exuberance. For example, here's Theise on why wine is best if grapes are grown in a suitable area:
"A simple example is Mosel riesling; the vine clearly belongs in the land, the wines are holistically appropriate. If in order to make potable wine, it must be subject to manipulations ... something is askew.
"Say I like golden retrievers, and say I live in a very hot climate, and say this breed of dog is extremely uncomfortable in very hot climates. Obviously, I should get a different breed of dog. What I shouldn't do is to shave the poor dog bald or give him some drugs to make his coat fall out."
That's how Theise sounds whether the subject is wine, food, baseball or tea, about which he is equally passionate. And it helps explain why his semi-annual tasting-and-talking events in the Twin Cities draw scores of avid followers, many of them repeat customers. Opinions, uncommon dollops of common sense and some seriously swell sipping are part and parcel of these festive occasions.
Theise's portfolio includes 37 producers in Germany and 19 in Austria, plus 15 smaller, family-run champagne houses. Surdyk's, which sponsors his Nov. 6 appearance here, has an exclusive retail agreement for all the German wines and some of the others; about a year ago, many of the Austrian wines and bubblies became available at other local stores and restaurants.
Coming to the Upper Midwest twice a year isn't exactly a chore for the Maryland-based Theise, given that he's married to Odessa Piper, the chef who founded L'Etoile restaurant in Madison, Wis., in 1976 and put it at the forefront of the local-seasonal culinary movement. She won a James Beard Award as best Midwest chef in 2001; her husband nabbed a Beard Award last spring as wine and spirits professional of the year.
Textures and metaphors
After years of traveling -- with Piper, who sold the restaurant in 2005, often accompanying him -- in search of "that feeling of wonder when you find something fresh and new," Theise remains an exuberant crusader.
But while he might be a voluble wine fanatic, Theise has little use for wine snobbery, particularly in the form of intricate lists of aromas and flavors in a wine. Sipping tea at La Société du Thé in Minneapolis, he chuckled over wine critic Robert Parker's recent reference to melted licorice. "Seriously, does anyone know what melted licorice smells like? I bet [Parker] put it on his car console in the sun, then took a whiff of it," Theise exclaimed.
Theise's own tasting notes instead home in on textures and non-food metaphors. "No one should buy a wine because someone else says it tastes like quince or gooseberries. But if they hear that it's sensuous or crunchy or has lightning-beam clarity, that should make sense to them."
Still, Theise loves to delve deeply into discussing a particular bottle. "Rooting one's mind around all the little nuances that can be found in a glass of wine is a very pleasant sort of cerebral exercise," he said. "It's like doing a crossword puzzle or playing Scrabble, using a particular part of the brain that wants to apprehend and analyze."
His foremost crusade on these shores has remained the same for years: prodding Americans to get over the notion that they don't like sweet wines such as riesling.
"It's one of those bizarre things. People don't realize that they do like sweetness," he said. "For the most part it's a vestige of some strange idea that took hold that dry wines were more sophisticated, and that anyone who had pretensions to connoisseurship would despise that which was sweet, when we're actually anthropologically programmed to crave sweets in so many forms.
"It's changing slowly, but it's an idea that really dies hard. So all we can do is to keep fighting it with as much ill humor as we can dredge up."
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643