Published March 26, 2010
With the sun shining, birds singing, a hint of warmth in the air and massive amounts of cash being blown on NCAA pools, it almost seems wrong to pour a heavy-bodied red. It's time to put winter to bed, and that includes its booze. It's time for alcohol that speaks of flowers, love, and weekends spent in the garage working on semi-functional motorcycles and Mustangs. But because spring still has an edge to it - cold winds, brisk nights and days of rain punctuated by the occasional unwelcome snow storm - we still need something with a little weight to it. Riesling fits the bill perfectly.
Riesling is a white grape originating from Germany - most likely the Rhine Valley. In fact, the grape is the most planted in Germany, as well as in France’s Alsace region, which is known for producing some of the finest white wines in the world. As a grape, Riesling in known to express terroir dramatically, the taste being heavily influenced by where it's grown. With Riesling vineyards cropping up everywhere from Germany to Austria, the U.S., China, Australia and pretty much everywhere in between, there is a huge amount of variation in flavors and aromas available.
A few elements remain common to all Rieslings, however. They tend to be extremely acidic, with crisp fresh flavors well-suited to pairings with rich and creamy cheeses like brie. Rieslings also tend to be extremely flowery, with almost perfume-scented aromas that belie the complex flavors beneath. Many people associate Rieslings with very sweet wines, but while they can be sweet, the good ones are well-balanced and not sugar bombs at all - with varying levels of sweetness cut by that refreshing acidity. These wines are rarely cheap, but they're often great deals with awesome Germanic names that lend themselves to entertainingly butchered pronunciation. Some excellent examples to take for a test drive, or picnic, include:
Strub Niersteiner Bruckchen Riesling Kabinett - A classic German riesling, Strub Niersteiner is an extremely fruit-forward wine with a grapefruit-like citrus impact and aroma. Apples, apricots and even a little mint make an appearance as well, with a rich well-balanced sweetness that makes it a perfect companion to a triple-creme brie and a baguette. Despite these qualities, the wine maintains enough savory notes, with “crunchy” mineral-based flavors, to stand up to a chilly spring evening. Or at least take the edge off the cold after two or three glasses.
Château Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen Eroica Riesling - Light, bright, tangy and fairly cheap at $15.99 a bottle, this collaboration between winemakers in Washington State and Germany is a combination of U.S. and German-style Riesling, offering measured sweetness with the heavy acidity common to American Rieslings. Honeysuckle aromas and apple flavors are prominent with a heavy dose of lime. The initial sip can be a bit challenging, with almost bitter citrus flooding the palate before the sweeter flavors take over. But spicy Chinese or Thai takeout would be a huge hit with this bottle, helping balance the flavors further. Load up on General Tso's chicken and relax on the couch with a movie and a bottle close at hand until the 70 degree days roll around.
Leasingham Magnus Riesling - An Australian Riesling, this is an intense bottle with powerful citrus flavors tempered by floral notes and an interesting herbal undertone that makes it stand out and adds versatility. It's a wine that really sticks with you, with aftertaste for days. While a white fish would seem to be the natural pairing with this bottle, it's actually far better with marzipan - or Mission to Marzipan ice cream from Ben & Jerry. Who knew a bottle of wine could be an excuse to tuck into a pint?
Trimbach Riesling Reserve - Bottles like this are the reason Alsace has earned a reputation for putting out the some of the best Rieslings in the world. Spectacularly complex, with honey and citrus flavors tempered by gravelly mineral notes and a funky alcohol scent Europeans call “petrol” which makes it even more interesting, this is a bottle to be savored. And at $16.99 a bottle, the deals don't get much better. Easily the best bottle of the tasting, this is the wine to take onto the patio or deck on a sunny spring day along with a BLT, grilled brat, or any other form of porky deliciousness.