Riesling is a wine lover’s white wine. Maybe that’s because you have to have some level of wine sophistication to know what you’re getting: It’s difficult to grow Riesling and so the wines have greater vintage variations due to the varietal’s finicky nature … challenge #1. But the product … wow, a complex combination of flavors & terroir: apple, peach, apricot, rose petal, violet, minerals, flint. Riesling also has an incredible range of styles depending on the ripeness of the grape, from crisp, dry sippers, to complex, off-dry food wines (Spätlese & Kabinett) to beautiful, rich, sweet nectars of dessert wines (Trockenbeerenauslese) … challenge #2. And then there’s the German label … challenge #3. I am fluent in German and I still can’t figure out what the heck they’re saying. Of course Riesling is grown in France (Alsace), Austria (still German language labels, but not so confusing), Oregon, California, Washington State, Australia & New Zealand, but the Germans have been doing it since the 1400’s and Germany has the largest production & variety and it’s undoubtedly the home to the greatest Riesling wines.
For a down-and-dirty overview … German Riesling is known for its minerality (from the German soils), for its peach/apricot flavors, for its lightness, elegance & complexity, its excellent acidity and its low alcohol content. Some German Riesling has a petrol nose, but it’s not as common as with Austrian Riesling, where a petrol nose is a common trait. Austrian Riesling is tarter and tangier than German Riesling, but still has some peach/apricot flavors and good acidity. Washington Riesling tends to be off-dry, with flavors of apricot, peach & orange zest. Acidity is what Washington is working on.
Some interesting Riesling to try:
Efeste 2008 Evergreen Riesling (Columbia Valley, WA) $18.50 This is a dry Riesling which is unusual. It’s tangy with more lemon, lime, citrus flavors. Last year it won the Riesling category of Seattle Magazine’s Washington wine competition. We currently serve this wine by the glass at the bar.
Hans Lang 2007 Sabrina Riesling (Rheingau, Germany) $19.50 Off-dry, light- to medium-bodied, some minerality, flavors of peach, apricot, orange zest, grapefruit, pleasant mouthfeel. Would pair well with Thai or Vietnamese cuisines.
Dr. Pauly Bergweiler 2007 Bernkasteler Badstube Am Doctorberg Riesling Kabinett (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany) $31 A very terroir driven Riesling. Not as sweet as the Hans Lang. Lots of minerals, complex, beautiful acidity. This is the big leagues. “Pale yellow color. Aromas of wet stone mixed with peaches and apricot. Very good complexity and concentration. Beautiful acidity integrated in the fruit. Main flavors are peach pie, apricots, pink grapefruit with some honey notes. Excellent, long finish.” (Jens, Tasting Circle, 93 points)
In August, the Tasting Circle (a group of local wine professionals who meet monthly to blind taste, rank and write tasting notes on wines currently available in the Seattle marketplace) reviewed German & Austrian Riesling. To see the wine reviews in their entirety, go to: http://thetastingcircle.wordpress.com/2009/08/
Contributor: Julie Howe