Great wine can be the sweet revengeBecoming a proper wine snob can be SO hard. We start out drinking sweet blush wine, half a step up from Kool-aid, but are soon given to know that connoisseurs drink dry wines. So we try them, wince a little and learn to like them. We start to feel competent.
By: Fred Tasker, McClatchy Newspapers
Becoming a proper wine snob can be SO hard. We start out drinking sweet blush wine, half a step up from Kool-aid, but are soon given to know that connoisseurs drink dry wines. So we try them, wince a little and learn to like them. We start to feel competent.
And now we're asked to appreciate the ancient German wine called riesling, praised by some as the finest grape, and wine, in the world.
But wait, we say ... rieslings are "sweet."
Well, yes. some of them. Actually, they range from bone dry to lightly honeyed to something akin to syrup. But that's OK, because rieslings are also high in fruit acids, which make them crisp and refreshing, not cloying. If we want to be wine know-it-alls, we have to get used to it.
It's worth the psychic shift, because rieslings create matches made in heaven with certain foods: soft cheeses like brie and Camembert; Asian delicacies like spring rolls and dim sum; American staples like grilled chicken, tuna salads, even fruit.
Rieslings help us eat spicy Thai, Szechuan, Cajun and Tex-Mex, soothing our palates with their hint of sweetness between fiery bites.
Riesling is an ancient grape, mentioned on sales receipts in Germany as early as 1435, that today is planted around the world. True to its continental heritage, it likes long, cool, growing seasons, even long periods of fog, so it's planted in Washington's cool Yakima Valley and California's Monterey region and Russian River Valley, along rivers that bring in pea-soup fog from the Pacific.
A problem with many rieslings is that you can't tell from the label how dry or sweet they are. Here's a hint that works — sometimes: Since fermentation is the act of turning grape sugar into alcohol, the higher the alcohol level in the finished wine, the dryer it will be. So chances are a riesling with 9 to 11 percent alcohol will be sweet and one with 13.5 percent will be dry.
Growers usually pick their riesling grapes by September or October, but when conditions are right (cool and foggy), they sometimes leave the grapes on the vines for another month, creating late-harvest rieslings.
Strange as it sounds, they hope the grapes will be attacked by mold — Botrytis cinerea, the "noble rot" that pokes holes in the skins, letting out water and concentrating sugars and acids. This produces a honeyed flavor that creates some of the world's finest, sweetest dessert wines.
Oh, and just so you can be a proper snob about it, the wine is pronounced "REESE-ling."
2008 V. Sattui Winery White Riesling, Booneville Vineyard, Anderson Valley: white flower aromas, intensely fruity, flavors of white grapefruit and limes, semi-dry, very crisp; $24.
2008 Mercer Estates Riesling, Yakima Valley, Washington State: crisp and sweet, with aromas and flavors of tangerines, peaches and honey; $14.
2008 Geyser Peak "Late Harvest" Riesling, Russian River Valley: sweet and unctuous, with flavors of oranges and honey, crisp acids; $20.
2009 Jekel Vineyards Riesling, Monterey County: floral aromas, lightly sweet, with apricot and mineral flavors; $12.
2008 Tangent Riesling Paragon Vineyard, by Niven Family Wine Estates, Edna Valley: lightly sweet, very crisp, with apricot and orange aromas and flavors; $20.
2009 Fletcher Family Vineyard Riesling, Marlborough: floral aromas, lightly sweet, flavors of ripe peaches and minerals, very crisp; $22.
2008 Mirassou Riesling, California: aromas and flavors of ripe apricots and peaches, lightly sweet, very crisp, intensely fruity; $12.
2009 Fetzer Riesling, California: aromas of roses, flavors of apricots and limes, lightly sweet; $10.