November 15 2018

By the Glass: Riesling: The World’s Noblest Grape (and Most Underrated Holiday Dinner Wine)

by Larry Sterner

Let’s be honest: The most important activity during the holiday season is eating. We gather around a table with our friends and family and eat and talk and talk and eat. But what’s the best wine for these cozy, convivial gatherings?

The answer is Riesling, a wine that was first cultivated in Germany a few hundred years ago. Riesling is exactly one of those wines that, because of its acidity and fruit, helps bring good balance to almost any meal, making it ideal for the varied spreads and buffets at holiday time.

Within the Riesling grape itself, there’s quite a bit of variation. Dry Rieslings are well suited to shellfish and classic preparations of fish, pork and poultry as well as cream sauces. Medium dry Rieslings are terrific with spicy Asian/fusion cuisine, smoked fish and salty cheeses. Medium sweet Rieslings pair beautifully with rich, spicy Indian dishes or dishes featuring fresh fruits. And sweet Rieslings are wonderful with salty blue cheeses, fruit desserts and foie gras.

In addition, Riesling’s low alcohol content prevents the food from being overpowered by the wine while allowing you to keep eating and drinking without feeling fatigued—perfect for a long night of feasting.

Give Riesling a try, but know that it does not show itself best as a standalone glass of wine. It is when paired with food that it reveals its magic. No other wine reflects its soil and region (terroir) as well as Riesling. You’ll first notice intense aromas that rise from the glass (even when the wine is ice cold), typically orchard fruits like nectarine, apricot, honey-crisp apple, and pear. Besides fruit, you’ll often smell things like honeycomb, jasmine, or lime peel, along with a striking aroma that smells similar to petrol or petroleum wax (a natural compound called TDN). On the palate, Riesling has high acidity, similar to the levels in lemonade.

Traditionally, most Riesling wines were on the sweeter end of the spectrum, in order to balance the wine’s high acidity. Those are the wines the German’s call Pradikat (including Kabinett, Spätlese, etc) or labeled “feinherb” and those are often the most value-driven Riesling (sub-$10) bottles. Nowadays, there is also a great deal of dry Riesling from Alsace, Germany, Washington State, New York State and Australia’s Clare and Eden valleys.

A good wine merchant can recommend a solid “entry-level” selection. A great place to start is Moore Brothers Wine Company, which has a substantial curated collection of great Rieslings from the finest producers at reasonable prices.

Some of my personal favorite European Rieslings at Moore Brothers are:

Riesling Vom Gelben Fels  Weingut Weegmüller 2016
Keller Riesling QbA trocken 2017
Hallgarten Riesling Trocken Rheinschiefer
Weingut Peter Jakob Kühn 2016
Bacharacher Riesling Trocken
Weingut Ratzenberger 2015

Here are some excellent Rieslings from the United States:

Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars Dry Riesling (Finger Lakes, New York)
Ravines Finger Lakes Dry Riesling 2015 (Finger Lakes, New York)
Teutonic Willamette Valley Riesling 2016 (Oregon)
Smith Madrone Vineyards and Winery Dry Riesling (Napa Valley)

Also, look for Rieslings from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.


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