Summer has done it….it’s turned me onto more whites. How on Earth did that happen? Regardless, I have been trying to expand my palate and guess what….it’s time for a riesling! Fair warning, I am still not all about those sweet rieslings, though I will be talking about the differences and the fact that I actually attended an ALL. RIESLING. TASTING. Yes, I did it…for you. Okay mostly for me, but a little bit for you. 😉
When you think of riesling, if you’re like me, you automatically picture that blue bottle in your grocery store aisle. I think riesling has almost become synonymous with the tall, fluted blue bottle. And actually, that’s not totally off base. As I recently learned listening to a wine podcast, the blue bottles used to be around a lot more, signifying royalty or more expensive wines, but nowadays they’re primarily used for riesling.
A finicky grape, likened to pinot noir in a sense, riesling does best in cooler climates where the vines and berries are stressed a bit and are made to suffer a little (think rocky soil/terrain). Riesling grows best in Germany, Alsace (France), New York and Washington, but you’ll find riesling from all over the world. This aromatic white wine will generally offer notes of lime or orange, green apple, or peach, along with honeyed aromas and flavors or even light floral notes of jasmine. Generally speaking, you’re likely to find riesling that’s considered off-dry: you’ll see words like Kabinett, Halbtrocken or Spätlese on the label (although the latter could lean more towards the sweeter side). Germany produces riesling across the spectrum – driest to sweetest, but Alsatian riesling is typically made in a drier style. Apparently New York produces some excellent rieslings (New York makes wine? Yeah I had the same thought a while back), which tend to be on the sweeter side.
There is a somewhat unique characteristic which I learned is often considered a positive attribute of German rieslings: the smell of petrol. It can be a dominant aroma and flavor in this varietal. However, some argue that it is due to a fault in the winemaking process. Overall, though, there seems to be consensus that a little petrol on the nose is more of a desireable trait.
This white wine also has one of the highest acidity levels of white wines, which makes it an excellent companion for food, and also a good candidate for aging. Food-wise, the dry version of this wine will tend to pair well with dishes that range from lighter, oilier meats (think bacon or duck, rather than a steak that’d beg for a sip of red wine); the sweeter styles pair extremely well with spicy dishes, especially Thai or Indian cuisines. Because of this fun fact, I was persuaded (didn’t take too much arm twisting, but it did take some) to purchase a bottle of the 2016 Karl Erbes Ürziger in Der Kranklei Riesling Spätlese to try out at home with the hubby, during one of our Thai carry-out evenings.
I mentioned aging. Riesling’s acidity really does lend itself to aging for much longer periods of time than other white wines. Typically, you wouldn’t want to set a white on the shelf for 10 years, but everything I hear from wine experts and read in the books says that this particular varietal is one that will continue to blow your mind a decade (or more) down the road.
A somewhat helpful trick (that should work in most cases) if you’re shopping for riesling: the higher the alcohol content, the less sugar you can expect.
So what does that mean? If you prefer the dry (trocken) style, look for an ABV around 12%. This is high for a white wine in general, but because of how alcohol is made, this higher alcohol content means the fermentation process probably converted the majority of sugars into alcohol. A riesling with an ABV of 7-9% would likely mean you’re buying a sweet wine. Now this isn’t an absolute rule, there will be exceptions, but generally speaking you can use that as a quick and dirty guideline.
Eiswein (aka, ice wine) is even more rare and one of those types of wine where I think the name is not always used appropriately (you know, when you buy a “Champagne” that isn’t actually from Champagne, France?). Eiswein, the 2nd sweetest riesling you’ll get, is made from berries that have nearly raisined because they have been left on the vine to ripen. So much sugar has developed and the water has begun to dry up. But what is even more important to consider – which leads to the small quantities that are made – is that these grapes must be botrytis-free (there can be none of this type of mold on the berries, which is sometimes desired for certain types of wine, so the bunches are pruned to remove any ‘turned’ grapes) and it has to have frosted at least two days before picking. Those are some pretty strict standards to follow, and I’m sure it comes as no surprise that it’s challenging for winemakers to get a good and consistent yield, making eiswein even more rare and precious.
That is not to say that I like eiswein. In fact, at the tasting we had I took a half of a sip and had trouble swallowing it. It is hands down, way too sweet for me. However, I took away a deep appreciation for those who make it, and am glad to have learned about it. For those who do like eiswein, check out the 2016 Karl Erbes Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Eiswein from Mosel. On the nose, it was earthy and smelled, no joke, like black tea. Before tasting it, I had much higher hopes for how this would play out. Taste-wise, it was like a sweetened spice garden. I don’t know what else to say, but with an ABV of 5.5% and knowing what I explained above, you can imagine the great level of residual sugar. Your choice, but that’s a recommendation.
Because I’d always veered away from riesling, I knew nothing about it. Attending a tasting focused solely on showcasing the range riesling offers (granted, they were all from Germany) provided with some hands-on education of its history and background, but also made this varietal more approachable for me. So let’s jump into my re-tasting of one of the wines from that evening:
Introducing, the 2016 Kruger Rumpf Riesling Trocken.
Appearance: This wine poured a light/medium straw color (not gold, but also not as light as sauvignon blanc; more beige than yellow to the color).
Nose: Crisp green and gala apples; you could sense a tartness to the green apples.
Taste: That apple flavor really came across the palate, with a medium acidity that made the mouth start to water, inviting another sip. It was fresh and crisp – I wanted to make it bubbly so badly! This riesling had such a delicate mouthfeel.
Overall: Trocken is the way to go for me. I do really like (GASP! I said it!) this style of riesling. This is definitely one of those wines that could be drunk without food, but which did accompany our sushi (Happy Anniversary to us!) very well.
Prior to the all riesling tasting, you would never have caught me intentionally looking at this varietal on wine store shelves, let alone purchasing one. Now, I’m more inclined to peruse the shelves, and as I said earlier, I have two more bottles sitting on my wine rack at the moment.
For those who want to know a bit more about riesling in a relatively unscientifc way, as always, I recommend checking out Wine Folly’s website. While I’ve pulled my information from a variety of sources, I always fine Madeline’s explanations easy to navigate and process.
Happy riesling drinking! Prost!
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