Getting Serious about Riesling

For one of the world’s most noble grapes, Riesling is pretty much unappreciated, misunderstood and under consumed by much of the world’s wine drinkers – especially in the USA.  And that means we are really missing some special sips!  We are a land long dominated by Chardonnay and infatuated with Sauvignon Blanc, so I think it’s time we got serious about Riesling. Many people carry the misconception that Riesling is a cheap sweet wine that comes in a tall blue bottle when it is really a wine that offers incredible stylistic variety, great age worthiness and terrific versatility with food.

Native to Germany, where it is celebrated as a national treasure, Riesling is a colder climate varietal that does well there and in other areas with shorter growing seasons like Austria, the Alsace Region of France, Canada’s Niagara Peninsula, the Finger Lakes Region of New York and, increasingly, Washington State.

As I wrote in German Wine 101, “Riesling has a wonderful balance of acidity and sugars, yielding wines that smack of ripe peaches along with spiciness, tanginess and mineralty.”

Be sure to visit that post because it is a great overview of the German approach to this wine.

What makes it so drinkable?  The main thing that makes Riesling so drinkable and versatile is its naturally occurring high level of acidity. Much of the Riesling on the shelves has been produced with some residual sugar, and the balance between the acidity and some degree of residual sugar makes the wine drinkable with many different kinds of foods.

When it comes to Riesling my mantra is that “a little heat needs a little sweet.” In fact, Riesling seems ideally suited for just about any dish that has some spiciness so it’s one of my default wines with Asian dishes or Mexican flavors. I love Red Snapper Veracruz – grilled or baked fresh snapper filet covered in a salsa of onions, pepper, olives, tomatoes and capers paired up with a well chilled class of Riesling.  But it’s also a perfect fit for seafoods and other fish dishes like clams casino, shrimp cocktail, a filet of sole or some seared scallops.  And don’t forget the chicken stir fry or, given its heritage just about any sausage you like – along with the ideal (to me) German dish, Schnitzel with Spaetzle!

So let’s recap: what can you expect when you pour some Riesling in a glass?

  • Aromas of peaches, apricots or honeysuckle and maybe a bit of lime but also a telltale note of petrol. Yes I said petrol. It sounds bad but when you sniff it you’ll know its not!
  • Tastes of that ripe stone fruit along with a lush texture and that bit of sweet/tart balance of the sugar and acid all wrapped together with a slate – like mineralty that adds to the freshness in your mouth.

Time to Sip!

Ever Day Sip

2014 Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling Eroica, Columbia Valley $20

2015 Chateau Montelena Riesling $24

2014 Chateau Ste Michelle Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling $14

August Kesseler R Riesling Kabinett 2014 $16
Unscrew it an enjoy.

2014 Dr Loosen Estate Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett $20
Great producer. Classic Kabinett profile.

2013 Georg Albrecht Schneider Niersteiner Hipping Riesling Spatlese $15
Nice off-dry Spatlese for your brat!

Guest Sip
2014 Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese $30
Lovely balance of acidity and sugar. Delightful to sip at the dinner table.

2013 J J Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese $50
Elegant wine – terrific producer.

Splurge Sip
Dr. Loosen Riesling Eiswein 2012 $80 375ml bottle

Twelve Wines for Holiday Times

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring… except me – the wine cellar mouse! Yes it’s that time of year and I thought I’d share some thoughts for a Christmas case of wine with some rhyme. So here is my own version of the twelve days of Christmas!

Try one from the Left Bank meant to rest and to age (1)
and one from the West with notes of berry and sage (2).

Then pick a wine from new lands (3)
and one from the boot of old (4);
While making another choice from the hands of Oz (5)
and a bright green bottle from out of the cold (6).

Now you need some sparkle that glints, shines and dances in the light (7)
and a glass filled with ruby red to savor late into the night (8).

No holiday is complete unless there is fame (9) and a jaunty sipper to enjoy with the game (10).
And we’ll end with a bottle of artful delight (11) and one to celebrate the gift of this night (12).

This is a case for all to enjoy any day of the year
but especially now at this time of friends and good cheer!

Merry Christmas to all and Happy Hanukkah too – these are my sips of best wishes for you!
And if you’re still following here are some wines to fill your wishes too.

1 – 2010 Chateau d’Issan Margaux $80 “A complete, medium to full-bodied, exquisite Margaux from this medieval, moat-encircled, compellingly beautiful estate in the southern Medoc, D’Issan’s 2010 is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot – a dense, purple-colored wine with beautiful aromatics of spring flowers, blueberries and black raspberries as well as hints of cassis, tar and charcoal. The wine is gorgeously pure, well-balanced, and soft enough to be approached in 4-5 years or cellared for 25-30.” -Robert Parker Reviewed by: The Wine Advocate – 95 pts

2 – 2012 Chateau Ste Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Canoe Ridge $28 “This wine is aromatically reserved with notes of milk chocolate, char, berry, barrel spices and high-toned herbs. It’s silky and polished in feel, with richness and elegance to the coffee flavors.” – Sean Sullivan, 11/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 90 pts

3 – 2012 Norton Malbec Reserva $16 “Offers a fruity aroma, with red and dark fruit flavors that are complex and woven together with fine tannins. Minerally midpalate, presenting some inviting peppery notes. Finishes with a flush of spice and brambly details. Drink now through 2018.” – Kim Marcus, Dec 31, 2014 Reviewed by: Wine Spectator – 90 pts

4 – 2012 San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva il Grigio $22 “A cool, sleek style of Il Grigio with mint, lavender and black-cherry aromas and flavors. Sweet tobacco as well. Full body with firm, fine tannins and a long, fresh finish. A wine with lovely texture and tension. Drink now.” – October 29th, 2015 Reviewed by: James Suckling – 92 pts

5 – 2014 Two Hands Shiraz Angel’s Share $30 “While there are no half measures with the weight or shape of this wine, it has a touch of elegance running alongside its blackberry, blood plum and dark chocolate fruit; the tannins wait until the last moment to join forces with the oak to speak clearly of the long future ahead. Great value.” -James Halliday – 94 pts

6 – 2012 J J Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett $28 “Prum wines are among the most exciting and delicious Rieslings of the middle Mosel. Slow-to-develop and long-lived, these wines are full of pure stone fruits with a slate-mineral driven finish.”

7 – 2012 Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs $35 “The 2012 Blanc de Noirs expresses generous aromas of yellow peach, fresh orange zest, cantaloupe, and citrus blossom, which gradually layers with fragrances of warm apple dumpling and creme anglaise. Lush flavors coat the palate with tangerine, Santa Rosa plum, candied ginger and a hint of French flan. This sparkling wine delivers a clean, lingering finish with crisp mouthwatering.”

8 – 2009 Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Port $24 “This is a smooth and rich wine, with generous fruit alongside spice and ripe, black plum fruit accents. Ready to drink, it shows surprising balance between a perfumed character and an unctuous palate.” – Roger Voss, 8/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 90 pts

9 – 2012 Opus One $235 “Glorious purity of fruit here with black currants, blueberries, dark chocolate, fresh herbs and forest floor. Hints of mint too, plus hazelnut and chocolate. Full body with seamless tannins and balance. Tight and compacted tannins with beautiful fruit and great length. Goes on for minutes. One of the best Opus’ in years. Hard not to drink now but better in 2018. October 2015 release. This is 79% cabernet sauvignon, 7% cabernet franc, 6% merlot, 6% petit verdot and 2% malbec.” – July 28th, 2015  Reviewed by: James Suckling – 97 pts

10 – 2013 Klinker Brick Zinfandel Old Vine $16 “2013 Old Vine Zinfandel is a blend of 16 different vineyard blocks of old vine zinfandel vineyards with an average age of 85 years. With berries and spice on the nose, dark, sweet fruit fills the palate with just a hint of black pepper. This wine has a long, lingering finish.”

11 – 2012 Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon $50 “With 20% Malbec, this wine is layered in refined complexity, swaying from juicy blueberry to herbaceous cherry and currant. Restrained in oak, with the slightest notion of vanilla on the palate, it finishes in mouthwatering dark chocolate, the tannins firm and structured.” – Virginie Boone, 9/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 93 pts

12 – 2014 St. Rose Pinot Noir Nunes Vineyard 777 $48 “Perfumed aromatics of youthful cherry and dusty tannins mingle with traces of lavender and white  floral notes. A bright entry offers a blend of red fruit— raspberry, cranberry, dark cherry and rhubarb—that is integrated with softening tannins and hints of oak. A ripe blackberry and vanilla essence appears near the  finish, adding another dimension as the  flavors linger on the palate.

German Wine 101

There is one major wine region in the world that is generally misunderstood by lots of people, especially in the US.  Germany.

We were spoiled by “Blue Nun;” the bottles are green or blue and tall and skinny; and the words on the label are tongue twisters for most of us.  So German wines aren’t the most user-friendly.  But they sure are sipper friendly!

Most of the German wines imported to the US are white, not surprising when you think of the cold climate and the need to ripen in a short growing season.  They’re aromatic and flavorful, led by Riesling, which is an amazing wine once you get to know it. Riesling has a wonderful balance of acidity and sugars, yielding wines that smack of ripe peaches along with spiciness, tanginess and mineralty. You may also see Muller-Thurgau and Gewurtztraminer, as well as an occasional Pinot Gris.  There are red wines from Germany as well, but usually you have to be there, or in other parts of Europe, to find them.  Pinot Noir, called Spatburgunder, is the main red, but I really enjoyed discovering Blaufrankisch, another lighter styled red, on a trip last year.

But whites are where it’s at and Riesling is the star so let’s concentrate on that – and what a great time to jump into some as we head into summer.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about German Riesling is how they are classified by the ripeness levels of the grapes.  The German wine laws require a designation on the label for all the highest quality wines, the Qualitatswein Mit Pradikat.  Right up front you then know something about the wine in the bottle.  The ripeness designation isn’t specifically an indicator of dryness or sweetness, because the balance of alcohol and residual sugar impacts that, but it is generally a really good guide to it and a handy shortcut to understanding German Riesling.  It’s also a good guide to the flavor intensity.  Here’s your cheat sheet:

Kabinett: Lowest grape ripeness level and usually the driest wines.  Lighter to medium bodied with alcohol at 10% or below, some as low as 7%.  Riesling Kabinett are awesome summer sippers with flavors of ripe peach along with slate-like mineralty.  And with the low alcohol they are easy to enjoy when it’s warm outside, at a picnic or just sitting on the patio.

Spatlese: Riper.  More lush and full with some residual sugar, which means sweetness. Delightfully nuanced and flavorful. Spatlese wines are the perfect pairing for German sausages (can you say bratwurst!), smoked meats (smoked pork chops with suarkraut!) and spicy Asian foods.

Auslese: Picked later in the harvest when more sugar is concentrated in the grapes.  Better with desert like fruit tarts or tortes unless you have a real sweet tooth and let them stand on their own. Intense flavor and a nectar-like viscosity.

Beerenauslese: A true desert wine. Much like the botrytis (noble rot) wine of Sauternes.  Lush is the word with honey and apricot. Very sweet and rich, they can age for decades.  You might also see the word Edelfaule on the label or in a description.

Eiswein: Grapes are left to over-ripen and freeze. Individually picked frozen berries with highly concentrated sugars. High touch means high price but it’s fun to splurge.

Trockenbeerenauslese: A mouthful to say but what an incredible mouthful to sip! One of the world’s great desert wines.  Grapes are allowed to partially raisin-ate before crush, yielding an intensely sweet wine.  A little goes a long way.  Usually sold in half bottles and in excess of $200 each.  I’ve had one and it was amazing.

There’s a lot more to learn about Germany and its wines but this should get you started sipping and exploring.  Here’s sampling to try.

Ever Day Sip
August Kesseler R Riesling Kabinett 2014 $16
Unscrew it an enjoy.

2014 Dr Loosen Estate Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett $20
Great producer. Classic Kabinett profile.

2013 Georg Albrecht Schneider Niersteiner Hipping Riesling Spatlese $15
Nice off-dry Spatlese for your brat!

Guest Sip
2014 Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese $30
Lovely balance of acidity and sugar. Delightful to sip at the dinner table.

2013 J J Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese $50
Elegant wine – terrific producer.

Splurge Sip
Dr. Loosen Riesling Eiswein 2012 $80 375ml bottle