May 26, 2015
Summer Whites: Riesling
It is now officially summer! And as is customary (at least in New England, where I'm from), it's finally okay to wear white again. There's nothing quite like sipping a super chilled glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc or White Burgundy in the middle of July, so to celebrate summer this year, we'll be profiling white wine varietals in a series we're calling Summer Whites - starting today with Riesling!
Much like rosé (as featured in last year's Summer Drinking series) Riesling has gotten a bad rap over the years because of an overindulgence in the super sweet German riesling in the 1970's and 80's. The fact is that Riesling is actually widely acknowledged as one of the most noble white wine varieties, and one most suited for aging.
Most folks have the same reaction whenever you mention Riesling: "Oh no thanks, I don't like sweet wine," which is understandable (those who were of legal drinking age in the 1970's might be familiar with Blue Nun)...but they clearly haven't tried enough riesling. I'm not just saying this because my "aha moment" was brought to me by a 1995 Trimbach Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile at a Coravin event last summer, either. Rieslings are produced on a sliding scale of sweetness, from the sticky-sweet Trockenbeerenauslese to a light and aromatic Kabinett.
Flavor Profile/Hallmarks of Riesling
Riesling is super aromatic, and the first thing you'll notice when handed a glass of Riesling is that you can smell it from an arm's length away. Hallmarks of this wine are stone fruit (particularly apricot and peach), apple or even citrus (mostly lime), and herbal aromas (like honeycomb). Another term you'll often hear in reference to Riesling is gasoline or "petrol." I know, I recoiled the first time I heard that in reference to what was in my glass, but it's normal - even favored.
A small and durable grape, Riesling thrives in cool climates, which explains why some of the finest Rieslings in the world hail from the Alsace region of France, Germany, and the Finger Lakes (Upstate New York). Of course you can find Rieslings produced in Washington State, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, but a solid bet for a light, crisp and aromatic Riesling is from Alsace or Germany.
No matter where you look, I can almost guarantee you'll find a recommendation to pair Riesling with spicy food - particularly Thai or Indian. This is a confusing pairing - until you try it. A (stereotypically) syrupy sweet white wine from France with green curry? Yes. Absolutely!
Start summer with a chilled glass of Alsacian Riesling, and you'll understand what all the fuss is about, trust me.
Cheers, and happy summer sipping!