A Case for Riesling
I have a confession to make. I used to drink Moscato d’Asti, Riesling, Muscat from California on ice, wine coolers, and Stoli Raspberry with lemonade. This is a pretty typical roster of beverages that any 21 year old female would enjoy. I could not stomach a pilsner beer or a glass of Chardonnay, I only wanted to imbibe something that had the sugar content of a can of Pepsi. No dry wines for me, not ever.
Or so I thought. One night, I found myself at a gathering with some other servers from a neighboring steakhouse. The grand finale to this soiree was the popping of a bottle of Opus One 2001 to denote the host’s birthday which was the reason for celebration that evening. The host insisted that I try a small glass, to which I initially resisted, “I DO NOT drink dry or red wines! Don’t waste your fancy wine on me!” The second that delightful blend of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot hit my palate. I was a changed young wine drinker. The lush and complex layers of chocolate, blackberry, vanilla, and cassis hit me like waves and I knew what it was really like to have a “Eureka!” moment. I was a big, bad red drinker now, and only the boldest wines in the world would sway me.
It seems that many of us who become aficionados of the California Cabernet Cults start to get a bit snobbish when confronted with sweeter wines at some point. Yes, of course we give a pass to Dolce and Chateau d’Yquem, but snooty when at Mom’s house and she pops open a bottle of Riesling that she proudly picked up at the grocery store. Mom, I was wrong. A few years ago, a great mentor of mine dropped by the wine shop that I was working for at the time. She had a bag full of German Riesling from Dr. Loosen for me to taste that day. I groaned, rolled my eyes, huffed and said “Fine. I guess that I need to learn more about this swill”.
She patiently poured me the samples and tried to plead with me to have an open mind. While she talked, I admired the way the rich golden juice stuck to the sides of my wine glass, what viscosity! I inhaled and a wall of late summer flowers came to mind, along with fresh peach and apricot. On the palate, the current of electric acidity cut right through the rich tropical and honeyed notes, leaving a clean yet intense sensation. That acidity- just WOW! I could thought of a million things that this delight should be paired with: some sushi, a salad with a fruit component, Thai food, African peanut stew…the list was endless.
I had judged a grape in error for so many years because I had only sampled a few. My mind was open now! I learned that Riesling could be picked at different degrees of sweetness, truly expanding the possibilities for food and wine pairings. Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein, and finally Trockenbeerenauslese from driest to sweetest. The names J.J. Prum, Dr. Loosen, and Donnhoff are three that I always know that I can expect consistant excellence from. Yes, some of the finest Auslese in the world may cost nearly the same as that bottle of Opus One, but there is a plethora of delicious Riesling coming from Germany, Washington State, Australia, France, New Zealand, and Austria that is more than affordable.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love the big & bad red, but now I have an appreciation and adoration for something a little more graceful.