I have searched high and low over the past month for a riesling that will make me love riesling. It seems like this varietal is beloved by many but I have never had a riesling that made me say “wow – I LOVE this wine”. Considering I have had that experience with many other types of wine, I have been on the hunt for a riesling to redeem my perception that all wines from this grape are too sweet for my palette.
My adventure started at a wine bar in San Francisco called the Barrel Room which featured a flight of three different rieslings as part of the July Riesling program that ran in many restaurants across the country. This adorable little wine bar is located behind the lobby of an unassuming hotel near Union Square.
None of the wines in the flight were “too sweet” but they were not bone dry either, which actually turned out to be just fine. With the carefully selected cheese plate that accompanied the flight, the wines were delightful. Did any of them scream “run to the store and buy me”? No, but this was progress over the Spatlese from the week prior. And, the very knowledgeable woman who runs the wine bar taught me some very interesting things about German Riesling. I asked her how they made the wines sweeter or less sweet – did they just pick the grapes later or did they add sugar? They pick the grapes at varying degrees of sweetness and the government tells the winery (as the harvest progresses) when they have to pick the grapes which will dictate the sweetness level of the wine. I had never heard of this kind of thing before. She also told me that sweeter Rieslings are more expensive in some cases because there is more risk associated with leaving the grapes on the vines. The possibility of rain or other damaging weather increases the longer the grapes stay on the vine.
She also gave me a cheat sheet for identifying sweetness levels in German Riesling:
- Trokken (dry)
- Kabinett (off-dry) but some wines with this label are considered dry
- Spatlese (getting sweeter)
- Auslese (sweet)
- Trockenbeerenauslese (Eiswein or dessert wine)
All in all, The Barrel Room was a great learning experience and I developed more of an appreciation for riesling. It was cool too that one of the wines included in the flight was from the Finger Lakes region of NY. That area is known for making great riesling.
After I got back to Atlanta, I picked up two different Rieslings in an effort to continue my studies. One was recommended by Karin, my trusted wine advisor from Tower Wines who is also German and knows this subject well. The other was a random find from Costco that said “dry riesling” on the label which I took as an indicator it might be more my style.
I put together a selection of goat cheese to sample with the wine, which included a plain, pepper and garlic herb. Not a good pairing for this wine. It was still sweeter than I wanted and the cheeses were very savory, which made the wine seem even sweeter. FAIL!
Then I thought about one of the wine pairing tenets where you try to match the sweetness levels between the wine and food. So I took some of the pain goat cheese and added some fruit jelly to a cracker and tried the wine again. COMPLETELY DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE! It was as if the fruit took away the sweetness in the wine and I could taste the flavors behind the residual sugar. YUM. And since I love me some brie and red grapes, I plan to try that pairing with this wine next.
Last up was the Australian “dry riesling”. It was definitely not sweet relative to the Germans, however, something was lost. It is a nice wine, but was a little tart for me. It turns out I am a tough critic when it comes to riesling, and the dry Aussie version did not yell out “buy me” either. But this wine did go quite nicely with the savory goat cheese.
What did I learn? Don’t give up on riesling but I am nowhere close to determining if this varietal will make my short list for wines to bring when trapped on a deserted island. I will continue to enjoy the off-dry rieslings but will pair them with foods that help cut the sweetness. I hear they are great with spicy food too, which I don’t eat often, but I will keep a bottle around just in case.
Stay tuned for more adventures with riesling…….