One of the dangers in writing a wine column is that certain wines can get buried -- wines that I really like, but for whatever reason -- just don't end up making it into the columns all that often. The other day, I was looking at the article from CinWeekly that the Sweet Partner in Crime had framed for me. I noticed in the article that I mentioned Riesling as my favorite wine at the time of the interview, and it hit me...I haven't talked about Riesling in awhile, other than in the context of our recent trip to New York. So, what the heck? Riesling it is! A quick review:
Riesling is known to many folks who are just starting their wine education as "that sweet German wine that comes in the bottle that looks like a tower." That's true. Many cheap Rieslings are simply thick, tooth-searingly sweet concoctions. They don't have to be.
It's true -- Germany is best known for Riesling, but it's a grape that's fairly common in cool climates all over the world. In the U.S., for instance, the best Rieslings tend to come from the Pacific Northwest and from New York -- our colder domestic wine growing climes. As with most cool weather wines, Riesling tends to be fruity and fragrant. They're also wonderful food wines. They're among the most pairing-friendly wines out there, standing proudly next to anything from sausage to Szechuan to sushi. They're some of the few wines out there that don't get absolutely clobbered by capsaicin, the chemical that makes hot peppers hot. Some Riesling, unlike many white wines, can even be aged, so don't get scared if you see older Rieslings in your local wine store.
However, they don't necessarily have to be sweet. You've probably seen more and more "dry Rieslings" in stores as many winemakers realize that not everyone wants a bunch of residual sugar with their meal. Many of the "dry" Rieslings still have a hint of sweetness to them (try some Oregon dry Riesling if you want to see what I mean). While there's not as much variation in flavor as, say, Chardonnay -- each region that grows the stuff tends to put its own spin on it. The Alsace region of France, for instance, makes Rieslings that are fruity, but absolutely bone-dry. They've also got a more mineral character. German Rieslings range from very sweet to dry and generally have strong apple and pear tastes. American Rieslings, even of the dry variety, tend to be on the sweeter side and are usually very fruit-forward.
Jump on back in the Riesling pool if it's a wine you haven't had for awhile. You'll be glad to rediscover it. Here are a few you could consider:
Pierre Sparr 2007 Riesling -- This is one of those Alsace wines that I mentioned. It's a really nice example of a lighter styled, bone dry wine. The nose is of tart apples, with a flavor to match. The finish is crisp with lots of lime flavors. An absolutely delicious pairing with Asian cuisine. I had this with baked trout smothered in tomatoes, green onions, and shiitake mushrooms, flavored with ginger, garlic, and soy. Right around $15.
Leasingham 2007 "Magnus" Riesling -- Australian Riesling has a completely different flavor profile. Much of the Riesling in Australia comes from Clare Valley, a relatively warm region for growing Riesling. Partly because of this climate, the fruit flavors tend to be fuller and the wines are often a little less complex. This particular wine has a spicy, apricot nose. It's full bodied, with intense flavors of peaches and apricots. Finish is fruity and dry with a smoky undertone. The recommended pairings from the winemaker are "seafood and spicy Thai dishes." I'd certainly agree. $10.
Hogue 2006 Riesling -- Hogue, one of my go-to value wines, usually blends their Riesling with another German grape, Gewurztraminer. Gewurztraminer carries a spicy flavor, and that spice comes through strongly on the nose of this wine, as well as some apricot. It's full bodied and is somewhat sweet to go along with the fresh, gentle apricot and pear flavors. On the finish, however, the pepper returns, balanced with a slight sweetness and lasting fruit. The recommended pairings for this are salads or sushi. Anything with a fresh flavor will go nicely here. Again, around $10
Schloss Gobelsburg 2006 Riesling -- If you feel like treating yourself and going a little bit over the $15 (this is more like $20), you can get one of the more delicious Rieslings I've tried in my recent memory. This wine is from Austria -- known more for gruner veltliner, but slowly earning respect (and rightfully so) for other varietals. Simply put, this is a genuinely pretty wine. The nose is full of melon and apple blossoms, but that doesn't tell the real story. The SPinC described it as a "fruity, flowery cacophony." I concur. There's certainly a lot going on here, but the taste is probably best described as apple dominant. The flavor has just a touch of sugar and a little smoky note in the background. The finish is a little bit peppery -- like a junior gewürztraminer -- and slightly tart. Wonderfully balanced and just scrumptious to sip on. For dinner we had a calamari and rice noodle salad with a Thai-flavored dressing and loads of herbs from the garden. Worked nicely.