Riesling Does Not Always Equal Sweet

Wehlener is the village and Sonnenuhr is the vineyard. Kabinett refers to a wine which is made from fully ripened grapes of the main harvest.

Please take note that this post is not filed under the “Sweet” category.

The European Union and varietal trade association folks have come together for Riesling Week, a promotional blitz with restaurants and wine merchants intended to debunk stubborn myths about the varietal like this one… the reasons for which can fill another post entirely.

In Miami, sommelier Eric Larkee has selected three special examples ($9-18) by the glass (one from each sanctioned area in France, Germany, and Austria) so that you can judge how you feel about Riesling for yourself.  Riesling is a very terroir specific vine, something that becomes clear with our flight, available for $20.

Josmeyer, Le Kottabe, Alsace, France 2005 (glass/9): Since 1854, Josmeyer has been producing Riesling in Alsace, the only region of France where it is legal to do so.  Regarded as a great producer, Josmeyer these days is also biodynamic.  This wine is a prime example of how petrol notes develop on the palate as Riesling matures.  In fact, the varietal can be aged longer than any other white grape.  A crisp minerality matched with high acidity on the palate and fruit on the nose makes it an ideal match for lighter dishes, like the butter lettuce and rock shrimp salads.  Oysters beg for it.

S.A. Prüm, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Kabinett, Mosel, Germany 2007 (glass/12): S.A. Prum is a storied German Riesling producer, making wine for 200 years.  The Prüm Family can be traced back to 1156 on its mid-Mosel River valley site, just across the French border from Alsace.

Prüm is a member of Verband Deutcher Prädikats or VDP, a growers’ association that since 1910 has classified and controlled the quality of the varietal to further establish its credibility in the wine world.  According to its website, 55 percent of members’ vineyards are planted with Riesling. Despite its small size, the association cultivates some 6 percent of the world area devoted to Riesling and (the top) 11 percent of Germany’s Riesling vineyards.

This wine craves salt, fat, and spice.  But rather than try it on the obvious crispy sweet and spicy pork belly, I took a gamble on the kingfish escabeche on assistant sommelier Scott Fuller’s recommendation.  Not only did it mellow out the dish’s acidity, it fully developed its flavors, even sparking notes of nectar and stone fruit.

FX Pichler, Loibner Oberhauser, Smaragd, Austria 2008 (glass/18): Like this FX Pichler Riesling, the greatest white wines in Austria come from Wachau (vac-cow.)  This stretch of the Danube Valley between Melk and Krems was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000 to protect the landscape (filled with monasteries, castles, ruins, and of course prime vineyard acreage)  from certain destruction to a dam project.

Franz Xavier “FX” Pichler is regarded as Austria’s number one winemaker, known for his acute attention to detail.  Vine growth and grape selection are meticulously monitored.  Eric explains that botrytised fruit is removed in the vineyard to keep the wines pure.  Clonal selection is the key to the intensity of FX’s wines: Small berries with thick skin and little juice are favored (high phenolic ratio.)  It’s what creates flavor. One wine is labeled “M” for monumental, and another “U” for unendlich, or a prolonged finish.  You can’t help but admire his audacity.

This one, tough to find in Florida, has pear on the nose and tropical fruits on the palate.  A stark acidity, minerality, and persistent finish means it wants fat and salt in food.  Try with any fish out of the hole (our wood burning oven) and if any Riesling could go with beef, this would be the one.

One thought on “Riesling Does Not Always Equal Sweet

  1. Pingback: Summer of Riesling with Grieco & Canora | the genuine kitchen

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