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Friday, July 1, 2011

Appreciation for German Rieslings

Riesling has left me scratching my head a number of times over the years.  So many people use Riesling as their gateway or training wheels to drinking wine, and while I do realize it has those sweeter, fruity characteristics that tend to somewhat mask its radiance and acidity, I think most people who start with Riesling tend to underestimate the varietal.  Riesling isn’t just an entry level wine the way white Zinfandel is.
I knew a guy several years back, and one day he and I were discussing wine.  He was dark and handsome and very Southern Italian, and I was figuring him for the Super Tuscan type, and then he told me he really just drinks Riesling.  Now, drinking Riesling isn’t something to be ashamed of - it’s something to be proud of and happy about.  But it sounded as if he had just told me he drinks only white Zinfandel.  Riesling is not a set of training wheels, and while it’s a fairly easy wine to break in on, I think for that reason many new wine drinkers assume it’s nowhere near as special as Cabernet or Pinot Noir, for example.  Not so.
Riesling is a white grape native to the Rhine area of Germany and dates back somewhere between 500 and 600 years ago.  Over the years, Riesling has been planted elsewhere, including Alsace (France), Austria, United States (most notably in the Finger Lakes region of New York), Canada, Australia, and some other areas as well, and it tends to grow best in cooler areas.
I’ve tried Rieslings from several regions and have enjoyed most Rieslings I’ve tasted, but my favorites are often from Mosel, Germany.  In Mosel, producers tend to be purists, and the Rieslings are rarely blended with other grapes, rarely exposed to new oak barrels, and rarely treated with commercial yeast.  For those reasons, Mosel Riesling is especially indicative of its cool terroir and stony soil, and its true characteristics are able to come through to the nose and palate of the drinker.  Karen MacNeil (in The Wine Bible) goes so far as to describe the pure Mosel Riesling as seemingly “naked” and “transparent.”

Mosel Riesling with sesame seared tuna and avocado, with a sauce of lime, soy, honey, and wasabi - Riesling is generally very food friendly

Riesling, particularly from Mosel’s steep slopes, is often very pale in color and light in texture with characteristics of citrus (most notably lime), tropical fruits, bright green apple, blossoms, and of course mineral.  So many people think of Riesling as a sweet wine, but in fact it has very high acidity and is very nicely balanced, making it especially food friendly with lighter dishes as well as spicy Asian cuisine.  And as strange as it may sound, one of the things I like most about the German Rieslings I’ve tasted is that many are very low in alcohol content, making them so refreshing and easy on the palate.  Lots of Rieslings should be enjoyed while young in order to experience the fruit and floral characteristics, but Riesling also has great aging potential, particularly the sweeter Rieslings (but watch out for the petrol notes that tend to surface in older Rieslings).
Other German regions are increasing their production of Riesling as well, particularly Rheinhessen, which has generally concentrated on Muller-Thurgau over the years.
My “everyday” Riesling is the Doctor Loosen “Dr. L” Mosel Riesling, a very dependable and consistently good pale colored, light Riesling with characteristics of lime, peach, and a hint of something tropical in its fruitiness, with just a bit of spice.  The wine initially appears a bit sweet, but the acidity comes through and cleanses the palate, making this wine extremely food friendly.  I’ve tasted it with pork, seafood, chicken, turkey, lighter cheeses, spicy Thai food, and even on its own, and I’ve enjoyed it every time - and it’s a good bargain as well, at only about $10.

2008 Doctor Loosen “Dr. L” Mosel Riesling

A somewhat more textured and less dry Riesling I recently tried is the Fritz Windisch Selzer Osterberg Riesling Auslese from the Rheinhessen region.  A bit more golden in color than most Mosel Rieslings I’ve tried, this wine still has the citrus notes, but has greater emphasis on orchard fruit characteristics such as peach and apricot, and still has the floral aromas but leans a bit toward honey sweetness instead of the lighter floral characteristics.  This wine would be especially well suited for spicy Asian foods.

2009 Fritz Windisch Selzer Osterberg Riesling Auslese (Rheinhessen)

The most recent Riesling I’ve tried is the St. Urbans-Hof Mosel Riesling; this wine defines transparency, with its pale color, and fresh lime and peach characteristics and floral notes with a hint of spice and lots of minerality.  It is a perfect reflection of its Mosel terroir with a balance of sweeter fruit and racy acidity, leaving the palate perfectly cleansed.  This wine is very food friendly and so sophisticated and elegant, I was very impressed with this Riesling.

2009 St. Urbans-Hof Mosel Riesling

Due to the complexity and beauty of Rieslings as well as their aging potential, not to mention the work that goes into producing it (the slopes in Mosel are so incredibly steep, and the producers do all that they can to maintain the purity and integrity of the wine), I would hope that so many new wine drinkers stop using Riesling as their training wheels and eventually come to appreciate the wine for what it is.

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