Beginning today, the Bowdoin Daily Sun is pleased to offer “Great Grapes,” a periodic column on wine by Debbie Barker of the Bowdoin Class of 1980. In her first post, Debbie describes the pleasures of a good Riesling.
As the weather improves and we move outside to entertain, our wines choices change too. Gone are the heavier chardonnays and reds, as we long for the crisper, refreshing flavors of wines made from the lightest white grapes. Riesling is one of the lightest grape varietals. It is also one of the most underrated and is often a great value. The gallon jugs of “Johannesburg Riesling” we used to see in the local grocery store did damage to this wonderful grape’s reputation! It is grown in the cooler climates of Germany, France’s Alsace region, and in Washington and New York states.
Riesling grapes date from the 1400s in Germany and arrived in the United States in mid-1861. Along the alcohol spectrum, they often have the lowest-ranging from 8% to 10%, as compared with a hearty red, which might have up to 15% alcohol content. They are aromatic, balanced wines with a fair amount of acidity; they are made at all ranges of sweetness, and can be particularly delicious dry. In German wines, “trocken” and “kabinett” indicate drier wines, where “spatlese” and “auslese” indicate sweeter.
The best Rieslings from Germany can be aged for up to 30 years, but 90% of them are created to be enjoyed right away. They are stored in steel tanks before bottling, so the taste of oak is not present in these wines. Nor do they go through malolactic fermentation, converting malic acid to softer lactic acids, so they keep their crisp and tart taste. Flavors are high in mineral, honey and citrus.
Some of my favorites include Sybill Kuntz Riesling from the Mosel-Sarr-Ruwer region of Germany, and Thirsty Owl Riesling from New York’s Finger Lakes. Expect to pay less than $20 for a great bottle of Riesling and pair it with fish, pasta, or Asian fare. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to celebrate the spring moving into summer!