Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Tale of Two Rieslings

As I've mentioned in the past, I'd like to taste some more Rieslings. According to the wine goddess Andrea (Immer) Robinson, Rieslings are very versatile white wines that can pair well with food and are generally under-appreciated in the US. Since most of the food I eat on a regular basis (especially in the summertime) consists of veggies and fish, an exploration of Rieslings seems in order.

The two Rieslings I'm comparing here were not tasted back-to-back, but a couple days apart. And to foreshadow my conclusions here, neither compared to the Alsace Riesling we tasted during our "Big Six" tasting a couple weeks ago (I loved that wine!!), although one came close, and for almost half the price....

Bonny Doon vs Dr. Loosen
The two Rieslings tasted were the 2005 Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Dry Riesling and the 2005 Loosen "Dr. L" Riesling. In the traditional anti-establishment tradition of Bonny Doon, the Pacific Rim Dry Riesling was made from a blend of Washington State and Mosel (Germany) grapes; the Dr. L simply mentioned the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region of Germany
as the source. Both wines were purchased at Total Wine in McLean, VA for $10 and $11, respectively.

Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Dry Riesling
As with all Bonny Doon wines, you can tell right away just from the bottle that the wine is going to be a little "different". ("Different" doesn't even begin to describe Bonny Doon founder and wine philosopher Randall Grahm - just check out their webpage and you'll see what I mean).

So, the idea behind the "Pacific Rim" Dry Riesling is that Washington State is a wonderful place to grow Riesling as the long, cool growing season allows the grapes to fully ripen while maintaining good natural acidity; however, Bonny Doon felt that German Rieslings have a "haunting floral perfume" to them that can't be matched. So they blend in approximately 25% German Riesling into 75% Washington State, et viola - the Pacific Rim Dry Riesling.

(Just for the record, Bonny Doon Vineyard started off just outside of Santa Cruz, CA. Always looking to expand vinilogical horizons, they have spread out to producing wine from Washington State, Italy, France, and probably a couple other countries / locales).

Tasting the Pacific Rim Dry Riesling
So I wanted to highlight that word, DRY, in the title for a reason - I now know what I need to look for in a Riesling to enjoy it - it has to be DRY!

Dry is kind of an interesting word in the wine lexicon, since is doesn't have an obvious meaning. I mean, how can a liquid be "dry", anyway? A lot of red wines may make your mouth feel dry, but that is actually due to their tannins, and is not what the term refers to in wine. In the wine world, dry refers to the fact that all of the grape's natural sugars have been converted via fermentation to alcohol. (Paradoxically, a "dry" county is one that doesn't allow alcohol, so it's no wonder people get confused with this term.) Most "normal" table wines are in fact "dry". Even wines that may seem sweet (many white wines for example) usually don't have any residual sugar left in them and it's just their flavors that make them appear sweet (with the major exception of dessert and fortified wines such as port and madeira).

Getting back to Rieslings - an important thing to look for in Rieslings to clue you in to their style is either the word "dry" on the label, or more likely their alcohol content. This Bonny Doon Pacific Rim was 12% alcohol (the Domaine Trimbach Alsace Riesling I loved so much from our Big Six Tasting was 12.5% alcohol); the Dr. L German Riesling was 8.5% (and as you'll see, this was not what I was looking for). With Rieslings in particular, there are two distinct styles that crop up - sweet and not-so-sweet. The sweet wines are the ones with a lower percent alcohol than the "not-so sweet" dry Rieslings (in general).

End of tangent - now for the tasting notes.

The 2005 Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Riesling had a big nose of pear, maybe lemon and a hint of floral. On the tongue it was nice and crisp, but not overly acidic - very well balanced. There was a hint of crisp apple, with some pear and citrus coming through. Overall we thought this wine had a Good Quality-to-Price Ratio, and will go down on our "buy again" list! We paired this with Indian cuisine and it worked fairly well.

Dr. Loosen - "the Man" of Riesling
So I wanted to do some research here to be able to tell you how important Ernst Loosen (loh-zen) was to world-wide Riesling production, but I couldn't find any pages detailing his influence. So you're just going to have to trust my memory in that I'm pretty sure he's taken his years of experience in Germany and has helped vineyards get Riesling get established in both New York State and Washington State (probably elsewhere as well). So when it comes to Riesling, I think Dr. L is something of "the Man".

Tasting the Loosen "Dr. L" Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Riesling
So the big downer here is that I should have looked at the label before popping this one open for dinner - having recently experienced the joys of dry Riesling, I thought this may go well with some grilled salmon we were having for dinner. D'oh! That 8.5% alcohol meant sweet sweet sweet - definitely nothing you'd want to mix with salmon. So I was a little annoyed at this wine for tricking me from the get-go, so may have been less objective in my analysis...

The Dr. L had apricot, citrus, and perhaps cut grass on the nose. On the tongue it was fruity, maybe with some pineapple, had a bit of gravel to it and had only a bit of acidity. Since it was so sweet I think this wine would need to be paired with really spicy foods if it had any chance to pair well. It had a very nice finish though.

Overall impression here is that if you like sweeter whites, you'd probably like this wine - I could tell it was crafted fairly well, but it just wasn't at all what I was looking for at the time so I couldn't really get into it. We Vacu-Vin'ed it and popped it back in the fridge, but even drinking it on its own the next day just wasn't doing it for me. Again - I'm just not really into sweet wines, so I think this is simply my palate versus any fault of the wine.

In Search of Dry Rieslings
So now that I know the importance of finding dry Rieslings, I'm in search of good examples under $20 (preferably under $15!). Anyone have any favorites? I'd love to hear about them, as I plan to continue my Riesling exploration as the mercury continues to rise this summer! In the meantime, I'm now going to be sure to check out alcohol content on each bottle before I buy it, and try to find some 12.5+% Rieslings to enjoy!

A Quick Foodie Post-Script
So I've gotten comments from folks wanting to know more about the food Kris and I have made to pair with some of our different wines. Well, as I mentioned before we were hoping for a dry Riesling to pair our salmon with the Dr. L Riesling, which didn't end up happening. But here was our meal nonetheless...

The salmon was pretty easy - we just cooked it on the grill in a foil packet with some onions and green garlic from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture - I love the food we get each week!!) The side was a Sweet Corn and Black Bean Salad - a recipe we picked up from Whole Foods. This salad rocks!! It's a cold salad with corn, beans, onions and red pepper and a simple rice vinegar, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper dressing. This is a great summer salad, and I recommend anyone living in a remotely warm place this summer check it out!

And the grand finale of the meal was a raspberry rhubarb pie, again made from super fresh CSA produce! I'm a big fan of rhubarb, and look forward to rhubarb pies each summer. I also made a strawberry rhubarb pie with berries we picked ourselves down the road at Butler's Orchard, a pick your own fruits and veggies place. Overall, I think the raspberries blend better with the tarter taste of rhubarb than strawberries do, which I think are more traditionally used. But both pies rock!


winedeb said...

Holy Cow Nate ! Your post today is really rockin'!!!! Your information on the Rieslings is terrific. You explained it so well! And also you picked one of my favorite Rieslings - The Pacific Rim Dry Riesling. Your food items look yummy! I just returned from our Farmers Mkt. this morning with a boat load of a variety of greens, home made Italian Sausages, goat cheese spread and wonderful rosemary bread. Time to eat!

JonnyEnglidh said...

Hi Nate from the UK,

I found your blog googling Chateau Cedre Heritage. I've just purchased 18 bottles of the 2004 vintage to serve at my wedding reception in September and had been concerned that I'd got carried away.

On a day trip to France I tasted it alongside some perfectly respectable bordeaux and had been blown away. As it cost only €4.95 per bottle the equivalent of $6.50 it seemed like a no brainer but retrospectively it seemed too good value! I am pleased to have read your positive comments on the 2005.

Anyway the main reason for replying is Riesling which is growing in popularity and thereby availability here in the UK. It has become my white variety of choice and I have tasted examples from Germany, Austria, Alsace, New Zealand, Chile, Australia and South Africa.

German Riesling are amongst the finest but do tend to be on the sweeter side. The legislative system indeed supports this as the supposed quality levels are based on ripeness ie. sugar levels of the grapes. However drier versions are becoming more fashionable, particularly from producers in the Pfalz a region to look for if you prefer a drier style.

A stand out dry (or at least drier)Riesling that you may get in the US is top Nahe producer Hermann Donnhoff's Riesling QBA. Great quality, retailing at about £7.50 over here.

Keeping on the dry theme look for bottles labelled trocken or halbtrocken. These are generally more suitable to drinking with food. One I've particularly enjoyed is the Richter Graacher Himmelreich Spatlese Trocken 2001, what you probably were looking for with your Salmon!

Whilst you sound like you're not a fan of sweetness, quality sweet German Riesling particularly from the Mosel have such levels of acidity that they achieve better balance than almost any other sweet wine and I'd recommend further investigation particularly up the quality level Spatlese or Auslese from producers with good reputations. For a fine wine region they offer some of the best bargains from anywhere in the world.

Back to dry Riesling though. Austria and Alsace both offer drier styles. Without breaking the bank, Freie Weingartner Wachau are a great co-op offering a good introduction to Austrian white wine styles. Their Gruner Veltliner as well as Rieslings is worth investigation if you can find it.

New Zealand is, in my estimation, firmly on the Riesling map whereas examples that I have tasted from Australia and South Africa whilst drinkable lack the acidity that the grape produces in cooler climes and thus a primary and distinctive characteristic of the grape.

Chile on the otherhand shows promise. I suspect Cono Sur is a UK only brand but they do produce some very good value wines. Their Bio Bio Valley Riesling was one of my first introductions to the grape and a very convincing one even when I tasted it after investigating better known wines. Cost 2 years ago was about £7.50.

As an aside Riesling from the States is very hard to find over here.

Anyway thanks for a good entertaining blog I will be revisiting.