Wednesday, June 24, 2015

White Wine Grapes, Part 6: Riesling

One of the great things about blogging is you can make assertions without having to back them up.    So here goes: Riesling is the finest white wine grape in the world!  There, I've said it.  And I'm not defending a dissertation here so let me just say, that is what I firmly believe.

For any of you who is shocked by that pronouncement, may I clarify by reminding you that my time in this business is getting real close to forty years.  I began in an era when German Rieslings were the most popular whites in America and proceeded through much of my career in an extended era where Germans have become among the least popular of wines in America.

So what happened?  Basically it's the same thing that happened more recently to Australian wines after Yellow Tail.  If Blue Nun and Black Tower became the face of Germany just as Yellow Tail did Australia, then the fine wines from both countries were eclipsed by the mediocrity of the mass marketers.  So what's the average wine customer to do?  Take a chance on the more expensive wines after being less than enthused by the cheap stuff?

What I'm saying is, once the mass marketers inundate a market with plonk masquerading as fine wine, the real stuff can't get any traction.  No one wants to try it because they can't get past the bad impression from the last time.

So what makes the real stuff worthwhile?  First and foremost, Riesling brings a breadth of pretty flavors and especially profound aromatics to the tasting experience.  The wine is almost perfumed displaying nuanced aromas of honey, beeswax, petrol, ginger, flowers, and more.  Flavor components often include lemon/lime, pineapple, nectarine, apricot, apple, pear, and honey; all of which is dependent on the vineyard terroir, especially the soils and climate.  Riesling is actually the most terroir-expressive grape of all.

What Riesling brings to the table actually broadens its food pairing possibilities. The obvious match for us locally would be roast chicken.  Seafood of any kind is Riesling-friendly.  Then taking it a step further, Asian cuisine with sesame, ginger, and/or curry likewise invites Riesling to the meal.  Can Cajun blackened fish with cayenne pepper not be in the mix too?  And what about Thanksgiving dinner and all of the diverse accompaniments with roast Turkey?  It's really the only wine you'll ever need!  Heck, why not crack a bottle with roasted veggies, dried fruits, and mild cheeses?  Are you with me on this so far?

But what if you don't like sweet wine, you say.  That's the beauty of Riesling.  Fine examples can be found anywhere between very dry and the strictly-for-dessert Rieslings and the tasting profile for each will differ for reasons other than sugar!

The finest Rieslings, of course, come from Germany and Alsace.  Historically the Alsatians have been drier but in recent years it seems less dry versions have been on the rise.  Traditionally German Mosels have shown well as cocktail wines with their rounder fleshier style while Riesling from the grape's birthplace in the Rhine have had a leaner, higher acidity that works better with food.  The finest Rieslings, by the way, come from the great estates of the German Rhine.    

The prevailing wisdom is that Riesling does better in cool climates and that is born out in Washington state where the quality of the light, floral, and fruity Riesling grown there seems to surpass California Riesling in general.  But conversely hot climate Australia produces world class Riesling that is layered with heavy, viscous, honeyed, and toasty fruit.  Because of its versatility, Riesling disproves the generalization that Europe makes food wines while the new world makes cocktail wine.  Riesling works in basically any setting.

Please join us this Friday after 5 when David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Cellar Selections de-mystifies European wines here once again with a stellar lineup of French and Italian reds and whites.  David will be featuring his newer offerings with an emphasis on summer season pairings.

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