and AproposRiesling Rediscovered
the beginning, for many a boomer, there was Riesling. That is to
say, the first truly fine wine many of us grew to appreciate after
being weaned off of Cold Duck, Blue Nun, Mateus, Lambrusco, Chenin
Blanc, and other sweet wines popular in the 1960s and 1970s.
The authentic German Rieslings that we drankbearing noble
names like Doktor, Goldtröpfchen, Sonnenuhr, Vollrads, Johannisberg,
and Scharzhofbergmay have been just as sweet as Blue Nun and
Mateus, but tastes were simpler then. All we wanted was something
soft, airy, and nectar-like, and German Riesling were the ultimate
expression of that.
Then, with the introduction of the $9 Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay,
we fell into a deep end. Fine wine suddenly became a game: the bigger,
more prestigious and pricey, the better. $35 Château Montelena
and Peter Michael Chardonnays led us to $75 Turley Zinfandels, $100
Beringer Private Reserves, and $500 Screaming Eagles. What happened?
Bonny Doon's winemaker/proprietor, Randall Grahm, blames it all
on the popularity of Chardonnay. He calls the grape the "Vintichrista
symbol of our degeneration into cholesterol-infused mania."
I don't think Chardonnays, or Turley Zinfandels and Napa Valley
Cabernets, are inherently evil. But I sure do miss the days when
wine drinking was simpler. When, like eating quiche and driving
Bugs, we could still boast about enjoying a great Riesling Spätlese
from Piesporter Goldtröpfchen. It's a shame, says Grahm, that
Riesling today is perceived as the "nerdiest possible grape"
when, in fact, it is the "very hippest."
But maybe the times are a'changing once more. I heard one of Mr.
Dylan's songs on television the other night; his wasted, sandpaper
chords obfuscating an ad for lingerie on some wickedly sleek, elastic
female bodies. Geekiness is also inskinny guy shirts, goggle
glasses, ill parted or sheep scissors shorn hair
There could very well be some room, once again, in our hearts for
Riesling. Even for real men, and women who like them that way. There
certainly seems to be some signs of energy from the wine producing
community besides Mr. Grahm. In his most recent newsletter, Harry
Peterson-Nedry of Oregon's Chehalem Vineyards goes absolutely primate
in his description of the grape:
"Riesling is a dancer, a Mia Hamm, a lithely elegant Audrey
Hepburn or firmly aristocratic Katherine Hepburn," says Peterson-Nedry.
the world of grace, manners, reserve and contemplation, Riesling
has been neglected, deferred to a competition of wines made in macho
proportions, wines on steroids like oak and alcohol and extract."
'em hell, Harry. If anything, the finest Rieslings are the direct
opposite of "steroid" pumped Chardonnays and Cabernets.
The best are light, delicate, wickedly sleek, often cuttingly dry
and just as often meltingly sweet, yet almost always brightly acidic,
even nervy. A tale of two Hepburns, as it were.
So why drink Riesling today? Twenty years ago we drank Riesling
precisely because of its inherently sweet nature; and the very best
of that style, of course, always came from the Germany, where the
cool climate (the coldest in the world for growing grapes) gives
the natural acidity necessary to balance wines with residual sugar.
But the fact of the matter is that during the past twenty years
over 90 percent of Germany's Rieslings have been produced more in
the dry stylebottled as trocken ("dry") or halbtocken
("half-dry)similar to the style of Riesling traditionally
produced in France's Alsace region. Why? Because people in Germany,
and much of the rest of the world, now prefer it that way; particularly
to go with their increasingly internationalized taste in food.
Five years ago, when I first visited Bernkastel-Kues on the Moselle
River, I found it almost ironic when I asked Johannes Selbach (owner
of the Selbach-Oster winery) which restaurant I should go to for
the best selection of local wines, he said, "Why, that would
be the Indian restaurant near the center of town."
in the fairy tale wine country towns, Germany is much more than
sauerkraut, liver dumplings, and blood sausages. Is Riesling the
greatest single white wine for food? If you go by the tried-and-true
premise that intrinsically balanced wines of any type tend to go
better with food, it may very well be. No, Riesling cannot leap
tall buildings (or at least, tall orders of foods) in a single bound.
But it is Riesling's naturally fresh, lithe, vibrant balance of
acidity and fruitiness that tend to make it an easy match with the
oft-times fatty, sweet, soured foods of traditional Germany.
is for the same reason that Riesling easily matches many of the
globally styled foods we enjoy today that were once perceived as
"impossible" wine matches: hot curries, chile laced sauces,
sweet/sour barbecues, salty soy sauce dips, herby vinaigrettes,
and umami intense vegetables (such as mushrooms, seaweeds, and vine
ripened tomatoes) and meats (especially raw fish and slow cooked
"other white" meats). Again for the same reason, Riesling
is especially apropos in contemporary restaurants driven by classically
trained, but multi-cultural inspired, chefs who almost invariably
incorporate ingredients that give hot, sour, salty, sweet and even
bitter sensations. Why? These are the restaurants we enjoy the most!
of acidity, lightness, and food versatility are not the only qualities
of classic Rieslings. The perpetually lush, peaches-and-cream fruitiness
of Riesling is as fresh and soft to the palate as a proverbial spring
day. In other words, Riesling is as much a wine for all times and
all tastes as for all kinds of foods.
have I perked your interest? Since most of us are now accustomed
to more or less dry wines, the best place to begin, or rediscover,
the joys of Riesling are with the trocken or halbtrocken bottlings
from Germany. Very often the labels will say Dry Riesling,
Half-Dry Riesling, or even just "Riesling." You'll have
to trust mesince some of my best friends are the nerdy types
who should knowwhen I tell you to look for the following producers,
with their regions of origin in parenthesis (weingut simply
Weingut Dr. Burklin-Wolf (Pfalz)
Weingut Dr. von Bassermann-Jordan (Pfalz)
Weingut Pfeffingen (Pfalz)
Weingut Georg Breuer (Rheingau)
Weingut Robert Weil (Rheingau)
Schloss Vollrads (Rheingau)
Weingut Franz Kunstler (Rheingau)
Staatsweingut Assmannshausen (Rheingau)
Weingut Gunderloch (Rheinhessen)
Weingut von Hovel (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer)
Weingut Dr. Loosen (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer)
Weingut Forstmeister Gelz-Zilliken (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer)
dry Rieslings of Alsace in France tend to be fuller, less
fruity and acidic than those of Germany, but are nonetheless pure
and penetratingly scented in the classic style of the grape. Some
of the finest French producers:
pickings are a lot slimmer, but there are a few perfectly fine (especially
for the price) dry or off-dry style Rieslings produced in the U.S.,
Australia, and New Zealand. Look for the following:
Chehalem Vineyards (Oregon)
Pacific Rim (by California's Bonny Doon, blending Washington
St., California and German grapes)
Trefethen (strong value from this Napa Valley winery)
Leeuwin Estate (Margaret River, Australia)
Kim Crawford (New Zealand)
is more than a good start. Find out for yourself why Riesling could
very well redefine your sense of hip and culinary sophistication,
if not self.