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Untangled Vine

An attempt to sort through all things wine. Specifically of, and about, but not limited to: Food and Wine in Toledo, Ohio. Plus the day to day musings of a Wine Distributor...

“The Riesling Why…”

Once upon a time, Riesling was viewed far and wide as the undisputed king of wine. Then Americans ruined everything! More precisely, Americans decided they liked sweet wines, witness White Zinfandel. And Germans, being the largest producers of Riesling, made many wines tailor made for America’s collective sweet tooth. As far back as most can remember, German wine meant Piesporter, Blue Nun, Liebfraumilch and the like. These aforementioned, would never be touched by any self-respecting Germans. So forget all of your previous Riesling programming. Now, buy into this next mantra, and wine salvation will be yours: German Riesling is the greatest White Wine in the World!

Controversial? Perhaps, but let me make my argument. German Riesling at it’s best, has Bright Acidty, purity of fruit, a thread of minerality, perfect balance and viscosity, oh, and a touch of sweetness. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “I don’t like sweet wine”, well, neither do I. If the wine tastes overtly sweet, feed it to granny. The best Rielsings have sweetness as a characteristic, not a defining trait. It should be used, as anything in food and wine, with restraint. But the sugar naturally present in these wines makes for a texture that few grapes can provide. The naturally high acids play well with an amazing variety of dishes. The minerailty gives it assertiveness, and the fresh fruit just tastes so good. These wines are also very long lived. German Rieslings last seemingly forever, but drink great young.

When it comes to food & wine pairings, the question isn’t what will Riesling go with, the question is, What won’t it go with? Next time you eat any Asian, Pan Asian or Indian cuisines, try them with a nice Riesling, you will be blown away. Riesling will lift up subtle flavors in these cuisines like nothing else. Find me another wine that brings ginger, lemongrass, sweet basil, coconut to the forefront and show off these flavors. Then turn around and give me some really spicy pork carnitas, and Riesling comes through again. The slight sweetness cools off any sort of spiciness, and bring balance to an otherwise hot dish. Of course, you then have the classic pairing of Riesling with any Roasted white meats like chicken, pork, turkey, etc.

The biggest challenge with German Rieslings is without question, the labels. So here is a very simple guide to reading German wine labels and terms to use. We are simply talking about Riesling from Germany. After you find the Riesling there are a few things that will always be on the label:
When-Vintage-obviously the year the grapes were grown
Who-Name of the winery- Obviously important
Where-Geography is very important; the best Regions for German Rieslings are Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Rheingau, Rheinhessen. This will be either on the bottom, or the top of the label. You will also perhaps see the name of a village and vineyard. The Village will end in the letters -er (means from that village), potentially followed by another name, usually this is the vineyard.

And Finally, the quality assessed to the wine. In Germany, they actually have a panel that approves wines. And this is where it gets a little confusing. Quality is directly correlated to the amount of sugar in the grapes at harvest. Which usually, but not absolutely determines alcohol and sugar present in the wine. So we classify German Rieslings according to a scale. The assumption is the higher you go on the scale, the longer the grapes stayed on the vine, thus, the sweeter the wine will be, but the acidity and concentration will also rise. We will number these with 1 being driest, 7 being sweetest.
1. QbA- This is the first level of quality wines, they may range from relatively dry to off-dry. You can get the best of these for under $15 retail.
2. Kabinett-Slightly sweet, but balanced. A great way to offer great wines for a good price, in fact prior to 1971, this was a designate of wines that the winery would keep for their own consumption. These will cost $15-$25 retail
3. Spatlese- Literally means late harvest, perceptively sweet, but the acidity will still keep this in balance. These will cost $20-$30
4. Auslese- This is the first Dessert Wine, Latest harvested traditional wines, each bunch is individually selected.
5. Beerenauslese- Pretty sweet, grapes picked individually, and left to, at least partially go through Edelfaule (aka Noble Rot). Only made in select years.
6. Trockenbeerenausle- Or TBA. Complete edelfaule, only made in the best years
7. Eiswein- Or as we say Ice Wine. Literally grapes picked on the second day that the temperature drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the sweetest and rarest of all.
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At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Lenn said...

You won't get any argument here...Riesling (particularly German) is my favorite of all white wines.

Great piece...    

At 10:05 PM, Anonymous jay said...

Please don't say Americans ruined everything! As Lenn knows, I'm fiercely loyal to NY wines - and I do have to say, we produce some really good Rieslings upstate. Skip that sweet swill produced elsewhere - Rieslings from the Finger Lakes are dry with awesome acidity.    

At 7:45 AM, Blogger ThePurpleSeal said...

Hi there,

Great was really interesting, great read! A while back I started brewing my own wine, I have really started getting into it and now actually sell my wine to friends and family. I wanted to add that extra touch to my wine so I designed my own wine labels and had them printed by a british labels company who did a excellent job. It has made my wine bottle look really great!    

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