A Study in Wine – Riesling

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Today I wanted to focus on a gravely misrepresented grape; Riesling. Riesling is one of the worlds greatest white wines and often gets pushed aside as a beginner grape, or just for the ladies. Well, hopefully this blog will open your eyes to how diverse and expressive Riesling really can be!

What is it?

Riesling – A cold climate white wine grape who’s name’s origin is a little foggy but most believe comes from the German word Russ meaning dark wood. Riesling vines are dark and strong, and for many years the grape was called Ruessling, so this makes sense.

Where does it grow?

The very best Rieslings come from their homeland of Germany. Rieslings first account of being bought was in 1435 in the town of Ruesselsheim, Germany. Plantings of the grape are speculated to date back to 1232 in Austria, however, there is no clear documentation. Riesling grows all over Germany, most notable in the Mosel, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Pfalz, and Nahe. Many people get Riesling confused with Piesporter. Piesporter is a town in the Mosel where many good quality Rieslings are made however, if a label simply states Piesporter, or Piesporter Michelsberg, it means that this wine is a blend of many white wine grapes from the area. Each of these regions have a unique style to their Riesling, some are more slate and mineral driven, where as some are more full and fruity.

Besides Germany, Riesling grows all over the world. In Australia, look for Rieslings from the Clare or Eden Valley. Classically, these Riesling are some of the driest world round. In France, Alsace is the only region allowed by law to produce Riesling. Their Rieslings tend to be dry, clean and elegant. Austria, though better known for Gruner Veltleiner, also produces many good quality Rieslings.

In North America, the states that are most focused on Riesling are Washington, New York, Oregon and Michigan. Washington’s Rieslings are a normally quite affordable and very good; Chateau St. Michele is the top producer of Riesling world wide. The Riesling grape, with its strong and frost resistant vines, grow very well in these northern states, producing fruity, fun wines. Chateau Grand Traverse and Black Star Farms are some of the main vineyards in Michigan that are really showing the world what terrific wines we can make.

What does it taste like?

Dry Riesling tastes of apple blossom, lemon, and lime, whereas the sweeter Rieslings lean toward peach, honeysuckle, and apricot. They take on the character of their surroundings, so many will taste of slate or wet stone, which are commonly found in Germany. Rieslings have wonderful aging potential and the older they get the more honeyed and spiced they taste.

What do I pair it with?

The saying goes: drink wine with what is found where it’s grown. Fresh ceviche with Spanish Albarino, Argentine Malbec with beef, Champagne with Brie; and though the racy acidity of German Riesling does go with the rich foods of Germany, Asian cuisine is always a terrific pairing. Spicy foods are cooled by the sweetness of Riesling and the drier wines create perfect balance with light and delicate sushi. It is so versatile that it is a great pick for elaborate meals like Thanksgiving. Riesling cleanses and refreshes the palate after a bite of gravy soaked turkey or creamy green bean casserole.

Cheeses that pair nice are generally creamy and smooth in texture with nutty or floral notes, like Raclette, Gouda, and Gruyere. I could go on and on about food pairing with the different levels of sweetness of Riesling, like, Beerenauslese and Icewine, but I think I will leave that for another blog.

What are your favorites?

Jacob’s Creek Dry Riesling, South Eastern Australia 2011 $6.99 –
Notes of grapefruit candy and lime on the nose, this extreme value is refreshing, clean, and makes an amazing turkey brine!

Chateau Chantal Late Harvest Riesling, Michigan 2011 $16.99 –
Honeysuckle, apricot, pear and peach are all prevalent through out this delicious sipper. Terrific with spicy Asian cuisine or on its own, this one is definitely sweeter but still balanced with acidity.

Schloss Reinhartshausen Erbach Rheingau Riesling 2009 Hohenrain – Old Vines $18.99 –
Peach and lime zest on the nose with white peach and apricot on the palate, this Riesling does an outstanding job of balancing sweetness and acidity. This is by far my favorite, it is complex, mouthwatering, and delicious.

Throughout my career I have noticed many trends. Merlot is a gateway to Cabernet Sauvignon, Moscato is the new White Zin, and wine lovers drink Riesling at the beginning of their wine journey, and always come back to it after they have acquired the knowledge and respect for an this outstanding grape. I hope my blog has given you the extra nudge you needed to try Riesling again.

Enjoy!

– Jennifer Laurie