October is a great time to celebrate all things German, so this edition of “Monday Wines” is dedicated to Riesling. Too often, it gets poo-pooed for being too sweet, but, if that is your reaction, you have probably not given it a fair shake. I prefer Kabinett Trocken, in general, but sometimes a little sweetness is just what you need. You won’t find a much better pairing for Thai and other Asian cuisine, especially if it has some heat. The crisp, sweet Willhelm Bergmann Piesporter Spatlese was a perfect foil for this chicken and vegetable stir-fry. It really complimented the garlic and soy flavors without overpowering the food.
To choose a Riesling that you might enjoy, it is important to learn the designations based on the level of sweetness. Stacy Slinkard on about.com provides this chart and the following descriptors.
“The ripeness classification system communicates when the grape was picked, so it’s an indicator of initial grape sugar levels not final bottled residual sugar levels. The wines in ascending ripeness level order are as follows:
Kabinett – This is the Riesling classification that is made from the grapes that are the least ripe, producing the lightest style of Riesling wine. They tend to have lower alcohol levels (in the 8-10% range) and are made in a drier style. As a Riesling wine, this is a fantastic option for pairing with a wide range of foods. Consider pairing a dry Kabinett with sushi, shellfish, goat cheese or Thai food.
Spätlese– Literally translated as “late picking” refers to the Riesling grapes that are picked late during the harvest season. This Riesling typically has a medium-body and ups the flavor intensity, due to its extra days of sunshine. This Riesling classification can be made in either a dry or sweet style. Consider pairing the drier form with creamy sauces, rich poultry or pork based dishes or crab; keep the sweeter version of Riesling for serving with Asian or Mexican fare – something with a bit of spice.
Auslese– Translated as “out picked” designating ripe grapes picked out from a specific cluster of berries. This Riesling can also be crafted into either a dry or a sweet version. This is the first Riesling range that may exhibit true dessert wine status. However, many Auslese wines are made in the dry style and make for an elegant pairing partner for heartier fare.
Beerenauslese(BA for short) – This Riesling is made into the luxurious dessert wines that are sought out for their compatibility with a myriad of dessert options but specifically peach-based desserts, caramel delights and even foie gras.
Trockenbeerenauslese(TBA for short) – Translated as “dry berry select picking” designates a late harvest, Botrytis picking, where the berries have started to shrivel on the vine, concentrating the sugars). These Trockenbeerenauslese wines are the ultra concentrated, nectar like dessert wines that can claim quite a price. Give them a go with blue cheese, apple pie, fruit-filled desserts and sweet treats in general.
Eiswein– These are the famous dessert wines that are harvested from highly concentrated grapes that have actually frozen on the vine and are then pressed to produce a low-yield, high-flavor rich dessert wine.
There are also label residual sugar indicators to keep in mind: if the wine is dry, it is labeled as “Trocken” (dry); “Halbtrocken” (German for “half-dry,” meaning “off-dry”) and keep in mind that sweeter Rieslings can be made in either Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese or Beernauslese (BA) and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) styles, it just depends on balance between the acidity, sugar, pH and alcohol.”
So, now that you know more about the Riesling designations, what are some good, reasonable choices? Recently World Market here in Austin had a Riesling tasting so I was able to try a few. Some I really enjoyed, with others I would pass. There are quite a few that fall in to the “Monday Wine” category with a price point of under $10.00. Here are some tasting notes on Rieslings I have recently tried:
Funf– (5.99) Non descript. Fruity and sweet, but not much going on. You can do better.
Relax-(7.99) I enjoyed this more than the funf but still nothing to write home about. A little more going on. Still lightly sweet, a bit of citrus, apple/peach notes.
Wise & Heimer-(7.99) Bright, apple and pear. It gets points for the name,too. I would try this one again for sure.
Ziergarten-(11.99) My favorite of the ones at World Market. More complex than the others, it would make a good Monday wine. A slightly herbacious note went along with the fruitand it was on the drier side. But there are still others I like more.
Willhelm Bergmann Piesporter Spatlese– (14.99) Slightly sweet, crisp, honey fruit. Smooth and easy to drink.
You can find some really impressive Rieslings. The Germans have a pretty good track record for precision, right? But if you are still a little shy of this varietal, try a reasonable one with your next Chinese take-out. If you like it, invest a little more on your next bottle. There are many others worth trying, but don’t take my word for it. There is only one way to find out if you would enjoy a drier variety of Riesling. Pop one open.