Thursday, April 19, 2012

K is for Kabinett

I’ve neglected German Riesling for a bit around these parts. Not long after I started the Vine, I got asked in an interview what my favorite wine was. I said something to the effect of “Riesling. It’s tasty and it goes with anything.”

That was many moons and a considerably changed palate ago. German Riesling gave way to dry Riesling from the Pacific Northwest. Dry Riesling virtually disappeared after I discovered the lean, minerally joys of Alsatian Riesling, which is where my tastes dwell today. For old time’s sake, I decided to swing back around to Germany.

I had to give myself a refresher beforehand, though. Whereas the French and the Italians simply put the name of the region on the wine label and expect a wine drinker to know what’s inside, the German detail-orientation comes out. Look at a German bottle and you’ll get the winemaker, the type of wine, the style of wine, the wine region, and often the vineyard the wine came from. Throw all this together and you’ve got a long, intimidating string of Prussian to sort through. Thankfully, untangling those strings of consonants and diacritics isn’t too difficult. Here’s a quick vocabulary lesson:

There are two types of German wine you’ll usually see. Qualitätswein, which is abbreviated somewhere on the level as QmA. This is generally table wine. The other is Prädikatswein, which is a higher quality wine, subject to classifications. Until 2007, Prädikatswein was labeled with the abbreviation QmP. I mention this because most German wines are age-friendly. Good Riesling can age almost indefinitely. So, if you run into bottles with vintages from a few years ago, don’t be alarmed.

Prädikatswein is divided into a number of categories, based on the amount of sugar present when the wine is fermented. The three types you’ll see most commonly are Kabinett, Spätlese , and Auslese. Kabinett wines tend to be the lightest and potentially the driest. Spätlese , which means “late harvest,” is made from grapes left on the vine longer, thus increasing the sugar content.  The best Spätlese  grapes get made into wines called Auslese, which means “select harvest.” Spätlese  and Auslese wines tend to be sweet or semi-sweet. Kabinett wines can be either dry or sweet. How to know which is which? “Trocken” is German for “dry.” If you see “Trocken” on the label, you’ve got a dry wine. The exception would be Trockenbeerenauslese, which is a sweet dessert wine made from dried grapes.There's also "halβtrocken" -- which is "half-sweet" or "semi-sweet."

Since I’m into lighter-styled whites these days, I decided that I’d sample some Kabinett. I opened these three long, intimidating strings of Prussian:

Darting 2004 Dürkheimer Fronhof Riesling Kabinett Trocken
Darting 2007 Dürkheimer Michelsberg Riesling Kabinett
Leitz 2008 Rüdesheimer Klosterlay Riesling Kabinett

I tried them in that order, thinking I’d lined them up in order of sweetness. All three wines had very low alcohol. Usually, the lower the alcohol, the sweeter the wine. The Dartings were both 11.5%. The Leitz somehow turned out not to be as sweet as the sweeter Darting, checking in at only 8.5%. (Brunch wine, anyone?)

The Darting “trocken” started with a minerally, lemony nose. The taste was right down that alley -- minerally and sharply acidic. My note on it says, “Like a granite grapefruit.” It reminded me a great deal of the Alsace Rieslings that I mentioned above. I found it light in body and flavor with a dry finish that had a little hint of a metallic taste.

I found some big contrasts when I poured the other Darting. It had a similar mineral and lemon nose to the first, but it somehow smelled “fatter.” When I tasted it, I recognized a lot of that  granite grapefruit” flavor – if you’d dropped that grapefruit into a bowl of honey. I found it to be quite sweet initially, but that sweetness mellows into a peachy flavor. The finish starts as honey and ends up as grapefruit rind. That sensation wasn’t as gross as it sounds, trust me.

The Leitz had a very light nose. I got faint apple blossoms and pepper, but I really had to sniff at it. The initial taste was like apples and honey, but the honey morphs into a Granny Smith apple-ish tartness, along with some of that pepperiness. After a few sips, the flavor reminded me of  Chinese take-out “sweet and sour” sauce, if you dialed the sugar was back.

Riesling, as I mentioned before, is exceptionally good food wine, especially when paired with Asian dishes. I made a green Thai curry with shrimp & halibut to go alongside the wines. The Darting trocken, somewhat surprisingly, didn’t fare very well. Paired with the curry, it became somewhat alkaline. It simply wasn’t as good as the other two. The pepper in the Leitz jumped up and danced a little jig with the spice in the meal, cutting the sweetness a fair bit. Very pleasant and flavorful. The sweet Darting definitely held up to the spice, but it initially tasted too “honeyish” for that dish, overwhelming the flavors in the curry. Since Thai food is “creeper spicy,” the sweeter Darting got better as the meal went on.

There are flavors all over the map in German Riesling. With a little research, you should be able to find one you like. It’s also a great choice if you have friends who “don’t like dry wines” but you’d like to serve something a little more complex than white zinfandel. Don’t fear the umlauts. 


Monday, April 09, 2012

Naked Vine One-Hitter: Moscato Allegro

On the heels of the lovely package I received from Shannon Ridge, I received another small box a week Martin & Weyrich 2010 Moscato Allegro.
later. Inside was a bottle of

My immediate thought was that this was an Italian wine sample, since I've rarely heard (and never tried) a Moscato from anywhere else.

I came to learn that this wine is not Italian, but comes from vineyards in the San Joaquin Valley. The growers of the Muscat Canelli grapes that go into this wine are Eric and Mike Shannon. "Too much of a coincidence," I initially thought. A little research turned up that they and the aforementioned "Shannon Ridge Shannons" are acquaintances but not kin. Simple serendipity works around here just as easily. We're flexible.

For those of you not familiar, Moscato is a sweet, slightly effervescent wine with extremely low alcohol content. When I say "low," I mean about as low as possible while still being considered wine. Moscato Allegro clocks in at 7.5% alcohol. (By contrast, many California reds are north of 15%.)

My old pal Brian once commented, "You can drink it for breakfast," when talking about Moscato. He's absolutely correct. Moscato is a top choice of mine for a brunch complement -- only a little below bloody marys and mimosas. (The SPinC makes the world's best bloody marys. I digress...) The Moscato Allegro is an excellent addition to such a menu.

I don't think it's easy to make quality sweet wine. Too much residual sugar makes a wine taste like syrup -- an unfortunate characteristic of much Moscato. Getting the balance right takes some care. That sort of care has certainly been applied here. The particular style of sweetness reminded me much more of fresh fruit than cane sugar. Big flavors of peach and citrus dominate here. The citrus notes are a nice touch, stemming from a relatively high level of acidity that cuts through the sweetness and makes the finish actually somewhat crisp. "Crisp" and "Moscato" aren't usually found in the same sentence.

At $10-12, it's an excellent choice if you're looking for something to go with a morningish meal. Or just if you're looking for something a little more on the sweet side.