By Elspeth Brown
My husband and I took our son out for sushi, always a favorite, on his birthday. The restaurant’s wine list focused primarily on riesling wines. Most restaurants don’t offer many options for riesling because the general public still think of them as syrupy sweet. This restaurant had done a beautiful job of choosing a wide range of riesling wines that paired perfectly with raw fish, noodles and grilled salmon. It really woke up my taste buds and got me excited to try different styles of rieslings. There are so many amazing, dry rieslings that are very food friendly. Some of the hardest foods to pair wine with are asparagus, artichokes and tomatoes—all of which taste great with dry rieslings.
Rieslings are grown on every continent except for Antarctica. Amazing juice is being produced in France, New Zealand, Australia, Oregon and New York, but the grape originated in Germany where it dates back to the first century A.D. Riesling is one of the six noble, or international, grapes. The other five originated in France. Noble grapes are the most prolific grapes in the wine world.
There are five different sweetness designations in Germany. Kabinett, which literally means ‘cabinet’ because these are wines that can be cellared, offer dry to off-dry flavors. Spätlese wines are fruity and sweet, while Auslese has even more residual sugar. The very sweet Beerenauslese style translates to select berry harvest because the winemaker selects overripe grapes from various bunches. Trockenbeerenauslese is an extremely rich, sweet style of riesling wine.
Riesling wine tends to be powerfully scented with flowers, lime, honeydew melon, ripe pear and honey. Most of the wines produced have low alcohol that does not mask any of the fruit flavors while leaving the wine finishing light and crisp. The grapes are typically not aged in oak and do not experience malolactic fermentation or any manipulations at all. The winemaker is left with the pure example of the grape and where it was grown. There is no better example or expression of terroir in a grape than what riesling wines display. These wines also age extremely well because of the high levels of acidity in the juice.
Dry rieslings lack residual sugar. The fruit flavors tend to be a little zesty with the acidity one would find in a dry pear or tart apple. Some of my favorite rieslings are from Lujon Wine Cellars and Montinore Estate in Oregon. Maison Trimbach is always a classic from the Alsace region of France. Schloss Vollrads in Germany is one of the oldest wineries in the world, with its first recorded sale in 1211 to a monastery in Mainz.
If you have tried a riesling wine in the past and it was much too sweet for your taste buds, take another chance. Put your faith in the sommelier to recommend a beautifully dry riesling with crisp acidity and ripe stone fruit. It will pair perfectly with the sea scallop entrée drizzled with cream sauce on a bed of asparagus.
Rieslings are still a well-kept secret. They are affordable, age worthy and offer amazing flavor profiles. Enjoy!
Elspeth Brown is the owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store, 10 C South Main Street in Weaverville. For information, visit MaggieBsWine.com or call 828.645.1111.