Friday, November 4, 2011

Isn't that sweet wine?

If I use the word "Riesling" around my Mom, she immediately goes: "Oh yuck, isn't that that sweet wine?" I always respond with "Yes, but..." and proceed to tell her the following: This summer, a friend's father told me that $5-10 Riesling and $20-40 Riesling are two entirely different wines.
My knowledge of this is only second-hand as I haven't had the opportunity to drink a $40 bottle of wine ever, much less a $40 bottle of Riesling. However, I've been intrigued ever since and destined to prove to my mom that she can stop barking "Yuck" at me at any mention of this white varietal.
Unfortunately, most Rieslings that I've tasted have been very sweet, on par with dessert or ice wines. And though it can be fun to drink such sweet wines after dinner on a warm summer day while playing Mexican Train (read: my summer experience in Eugene, Oregon), Riesling has never been a wine that I've sought out and I definitely spend no time in that section of the wine aisle.
Like all things, this changed recently when we had a German dinner night and I was left with one clear option for wine. Rieslings. Ironically, I was challenged by the fact that there were very few German wines under $25 dollars in the Met and I didn't have enough money to spend more than $10 on a potentially "yuck-sweet" bottle of wine. But I went with that option anyway (poverty: 1, tastes: 0) and picked up a Clean Slate Riesling ($10) from the Mosel, Germany.
And, even though this wine was under $20, it was extremely surprising. And delicious. I expected to open the wine and find the usual floral and apple notes, but was met with something but dryer and smoother. The wine reminded me of a more floral Chardonnay and a smoother Pinot Grigio. It was in name and taste a clean slate for my riesling tastes.
The wine was nice and dry, very minerally (in keeping with the slate stones that make up the lower Mosel river valley) which tamed the finishing notes of ripe fruit. I was never once drawn away from enjoying the wine by a lingering sweetness or a heavy sugar feel on my teeth and tongue. Instead, the wine went remarkably quickly.
We had the wine with some delicious German dishes, but I think it paired best with a carmelized onion and chantrelle tart that my friend Maria made for the party. The subtle flavors of the wine went well with the herby crust and spicy sweet filling.
Mosel River Valley
Some facts about Riesling: Riesling is a white grape varietal that originated in the Rhine in Germany. Though it no longer dominates white wine production in the U.S. (as the focus shifted to Chardonnay) in 2006 it was still the most-grown grape in Germany. The Oregon climate is particularly good for growing Riesling grapes and there is some resurgance there, but the production is still heavily weighted toward Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Riesling was first mentioned in writing in the 1400s in some German purchasing logs. Riesling grapes left on the vine much later than all other grapes are used to produce expensive dessert and ice wines. As with the minerally Clean Slate that I tried, Riesling is also suggested to express terroir (or land) of the place it is grown best - one of the reasons the mineral qualities are desired in Riesling grown in slate-filled earth.


  1. It's funny: in your last few posts, you've picked some of the most popular wines from Upper Crust (Alamos Malbec and now the Clean Slate Riesling). I've been feeling so smug about recommending wines you like and then realizing with dismay that although I've recommended them to thousands of people at the restaurant, you were never one of them :( Still, it's lovely to see you tasting wines I'm familiar with!

  2. As always, a well written and interesting read. Thanks for sharing. Nit: One of your images doesn't load.