I feel like I shouldn't let a summer go by without a post about Riesling, probably the finest white wine there is. How can I say that you ask when you vividly remember that last great Chardonnay you had? Easy. While both types are usually single varietal wines, Chardonnay typically benefits from the ample oak aging most of them have. If the truth be known, that's where most of its character comes from. What would Chardonnay be without the oak? Probably a fine light white wine...but far short of the complex masterpiece that unoaked Riesling is.
Wait a minute... Perhaps you thought Riesling was the sweet, nondescript, flaccid, step-above-jug-wine stuff sold in the chain stores. Sad to say, that's what most people think of when the subject comes up. The finest Riesling, however, comes from Germany and like all of the other noble grape wines, you have to pay a bit more to taste the good stuff. Also like other fine wine, you have to look for brand names and code words like predikat and trocken and place names like Rhine and Mosel and then you should even learn vineyards that bespeak quality. So it is a bit more difficult than just grabbing a Chardonnay off the shelf!
Chardonnay and Riesling share a common parent, by the way. If it wasn't still around in Europe, Gouais Blanc could reside in the realm of the semi-mythical for all of the esteemed wine grapes it has sired. In Riesling's case its origins are in the Rhineland and written references to the grape start in the Middle Ages. The other parent grape, by the way, is a Traminer/wild vine hybrid.
The standard Riesling flavor profile includes just about all of the tree fruits (apples, pears, etc), honey (flavor), flowers, minerality, and something called petrol, which may include gasoline, lanolin, rubber, and diesel. While you may think you can live without this dimension, I love it. Petrol means quality!
The intrinsic high acidity this flavorful grape brings to the table means food affinities include just about everything. (Think of German sausages and cabbage!) Riesling also works with salty foods and it's ideal with most Asian foods. And because it is so flavorful you can iced it down in the summertime without fearing it will lose its character.
Riesling is also terroir-expressive which means its flavors reflect its environs. It performs best in sandy, slatey soils and does better in cool climates which explains why Chateau Ste Michelle in Washington State has become the world leader in Riesling production (2 million cases!). We currently stock their Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling along with a half dozen from Germany.
This Thursday at 5pm as Cheri Rubio presents the wines of Rabble of California. The lineup includes Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Red Blend, and Rose. Please join us.