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Wednesday, August 28, 2013
When I was young I assembled a Dynaco stereo power amplifier and pre-amp from a kit. My goal was to achieve the high quality of components such as Marantz without the high price tag. The assembly process required detailed soldering and wiring.
An analogy could be made to the popular chardonnay grape. Lots of winemaker manipulation is required for interesting results. Its neutral flavors provide a blank canvas for a winemaker to paint with such techniques as malolactic fermentation, oak barrel aging and sur lie aging. The wines cover a broad spectrum from crisp to buttery.
By comparison, Riesling is more like the Marantz receiver — total high quality as soon as it comes out of the box. It excels with minimal winemaker manipulation.
Riesling provides fresh flavors of flower blossoms, honey, slate, minerals and in some cases even a petroleum note. Noted for racy acidity and loads of extract, it excels with spicy Asian and Pacific fusion dishes.
While many folks perceive Riesling as saccharine and sappy, many are bone dry and quite fascinating.
D.H. Lawrence once said, “Riesling is a supple nymph and slippery as a fish by nature.”
Riesling is one of the best grapes for translating the characteristics of its terroir into the glass. Terroir is a term describing all of a vineyard’s characteristics, including geographical location, soil composition, climate and position of the vineyard relative to sunlight. If Riesling is grown in slate soil such as Germany’s Mosel valley, slate flavors will be displayed in the wine.
An open bottle of Riesling will keep longer in the refrigerator than any other, thanks to the preserving acidity.
Riesling was born in Germany where winemaking history can be traced back to the first century. The first all-Riesling vineyard was planted at Schloss Johannesburg in 1716.
Many folks remember liebfraumilch, an undistinguished German wine that was very popular some years ago due to effective marketing and a light sweetness. It, like Riesling, comes in the tall, tapered “hock” bottle (developed in the German town of Hochheim) that some wine drinkers came to associate with insipid, sweet wines. But liebfraumilch is not made from Riesling at all, but instead the ubiquitous Muller-Thurgau grape.
Germany has a complex classification system for its wines based on ripeness and sugar content at harvest.
In France, the Alsace region is home to massive plantings of Riesling and is the only area in the country where the German grape variety is allowed. Most of the wines from this area are made in a dry style.
Riesling thrives in cold climates, and is popular in New York and Canada, but Washington state is the top state for American Riesling production. Riesling is also cultivated in Australia’s Clare and Eden valleys, which offer a warmer climate and riper grapes, resulting in dry wines with as much as 12 percent alcohol. Even Chile is producing dry Riesling now.
The flavors of Riesling are often compared to orchard fruits such as pears, apples and peaches. In addition there can be notes of jasmine, honey and even petrol. The petrol note can be attributed to the compound 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene (TDN), which is a byproduct of warm growing conditions and bottle age. A small amount can be intriguing but too much can remind one of No. 2 fuel oil, and who wants to drink that?
The next time you are serving pad Thai or sushi, try Riesling. You might be glad you did.
Gordon’s picks for dry Riesling
Cave de Beblenheim Heimberg Riesling 2011
This fresh and aromatic Alsatian libation displays a light golden color and bright aromas of jasmine, honeysuckle and lemons. On entry the flavor is reminiscent of lemon meringue pie sans the sweetness. This is followed by a wash of minerals and tangy acidity on the finish. The wine is redolent of fresh lemons. Try it with Tom Yum Soup or other lemongrass-based dishes. 12.5 percent alcohol by volume. $17
Weingut Gysler Weinheimer Riesling Kabinett 2009
Produced in Germany’s Rhine Valley, this wine displays a light straw color and aromas of lychee, honeysuckle flowers and a hint of petrol, but in a good way. On the palate the wine has a slight sweetness and a tangy lemon note like a lemon drop candy. The wine’s racy acidity on the finish would make it a great match for spicy Szechwan chicken. 8.5 percent ABV $15
Pacific Rim Dry Riesling Columbia Valley 2009
Pacific Rim was founded by self-avowed Riesling enthusiast Randall Grahm in 1992. It was purchased by Banfi Vintners Mariani family in 2011. The wine displays a light straw color and aromas of minerals, slate, citrus and a trace of fuel oil. The wine is bone dry, bright and crisp on the palate with tongue-tingling acidity. Flavors of lemons, grass hay and loads of minerals predominate. This wine is designed with Asian foods in mind, so try it with a maki roll. 12.5 percent ABV $11
Cono Sur Bicicleta Riesling Valle Central 2012
This wine illustrates why Chile can compete with good wines from around the world. Cono Sur strives for sustainability and a limited carbon footprint. The Riesling has a light straw color with a tinge of green and aromas of peaches, green apples and minerals. Bone dry on the palate, it vibrates with bright acidity and citrus and tangerine flavors. A tangy finish rounds out the experience. Try it with smoked salmon, capers and a squeeze of lemon. 12.5 percent ABV $10
Peter Lehmann Eden Valley Dry Riesling 2011
Tanunda, South Australia
Peter Lehmann gained fame in 1979 when he put everything on the line to open his own winery, buying fruit from growers who were being pressured by corporations. He passed away June 28. The wine has a light yellow color and aromas of nectarines and honey. It is crisp and clean on the palate with citrus notes and racy acidity. Try it with grilled spicy shrimp as you toast Mr. Lehmann. 11 percent ABV $18
Gordon Kendall’s column on wine and spirits runs monthly in Extra.
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