Jul. 25, 2012 - Issue #875: Shout Out Out Out Out
Give Riesling a chanceIt's a grape that hasn't quite entered the mainstream yet. While Riesling is not nearly as esoteric as some varieties (Lacrima di Morro, anyone?), it's not the first grape that most people tend to choose when perusing a wine list or picking up a bottle from the store.
Much of this could be due to the sugar factor. Riesling's home territory is Germany, and the vast majority of German Riesling tends to be sweet—it might be only a hint of sweetness, or it might be like drinking apple juice, but rest assured that there will probably be some noticeable residual sugar. Unfortunately, sweet wines carry the stigma of being cheap and crappy, especially in North America where up until only a few decades ago, a lot of the wines made here were just that.
But Riesling is good stuff. Well-made versions will balance any residual sugar with zesty acidity, keeping it refreshing. Plus, a lot of New World producers of Riesling make completely dry versions, since dry wines are the general preference of the average wine drinker. Common Riesling aromas and flavours include apples, stone fruit, flowers and citrus. The dead giveaway Riesling aroma (and a surefire way to win a blind testing) is the aroma of petrol—think rubber boots, beach balls or even gasoline. I know this doesn't sound particularly appealing, but rest assured the wine is quite good and won't taste like a glass of vinyl, promise.
Navigating German wine labels is a daunting challenge, unless you speak the language and/or aren't intimidated by arm-length words. But the word "Riesling" will always appear on the label, so if you spot that, you're halfway there; here is the key to determining the level of sweetness: "Trocken" is a dry or almost dry wine, "Kabinett" will be off-dry, "Spätlese" means half-sweet and "Auslese" will be quite sweet. Additionally, Germany makes several types of dessert wine from Riesling grapes; these will be very sweet and will bear the terms "Beerenauslese" (late harvest), "Trockenbeerenauslese" (botrytis/noble rot), or "Eiswein" (icewine, made from frozen grapes just like Canadian icewine—the Germans invented it first, in fact).
Austria and the French region of Alsace are also famous for their Riesling. Austrian versions tend to be more full-bodied than the German ones, and they often reign in the sweetness a bit. Riesling from Alsace is usually very different from typical German Riesling, despite the geographic proximity—usually bone dry and highly aromatic, almost perfumed.
The New World has also embraced the variety. In particular, Riesling from Australia's Clare and Eden Valleys are lovely, usually dry with high acidity and a zesty lime/mineral streak. New Zealand's Canterbury region and Canada's Niagara region also make notable Rieslings, which can range from dry to off-dry.
One of the best reasons to seek out Riesling is its affinity to so many different types of food—this is a great fallback wine to choose when you aren't sure what else would work. Riesling's naturally high level of acidity makes it a great choice for greasy or fatty foods like duck, goose, pâté, and even fried chicken or Chinese cuisine like sweet and sour pork. Drier versions pair nicely with grilled vegetables, salads and seafood, while sweeter Rieslings are one of the few wines that work with spicy foods like stir fries or curries—but you're probably best sticking to beer with those nuclear hot chicken wings. V vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
Vue respects your privacy. We will not forward your personal information to any other organization except as required by law, and will use your e-mail address only to respond to your comments. We reserve the right to edit and remove comments for length, clarity and/or if they are illegal or inappropriate. Your email address is never shown to visitors to vueweekly.com. Read the whole policy at: http://vueweekly.com/privacy