Once responsible for the prized wines of Germany, Riesling fell out of favor in the late 20th century. Overly sweet examples lacking in flavor dominated the market and damaged Riesling’s reputation. Fortunately, wine lovers, tired of over-oaked whites, rediscovered its appeal.
And grape growers worldwide are responding, planting a portion of their vineyards to Riesling. It harmonizes with many types of cuisine, offers a great value and can be crafted into a variety of wine styles ranging from bone-dry to sweet, late-harvest dessert wines.
Top-notch Riesling starts in the vineyard. The cool-climate grape ripens late and enjoys spending time on the vine. So it grows in areas where other varieties are less successful. Delicate, fruity flavors such as citrus, green apple and floral stand out in the coolest of climates (think: Northeast Ohio) while moderately cool regions produce tree fruit aromas of peach, pear and apricot.
Fruit aside, Riesling has an uncanny ability to expresses what the French refer to as terroir or a sense of place. A combination of the region’s specific soil and climate, terroir varies from site to site, and Riesling grapes are capable of expressing such flavors in the glass.
More good news, quality crafted Rieslings can age beautifully. The primary fruit aromas of an aging Riesling develop in bottle and become honeyed with pronounced aromas of dried fruits, beeswax and flint.
While wines destined for early consumption are typically fermented in stainless steel vats to keep the fruity aromas, those meant for aging receive a bit of subtle oak treatment.
Regardless of location, Riesling always provides mouthwatering, lip-smacking acidity, making it one of the best wines to pair with food. Once overshadowed by Chardonnay, Riesling is taking a prominent place on restaurant lists and retail shelves. So when in doubt, raise a glass to Riesling.
Marianne Frantz, CWE and founder of the Cleveland Wine School, is joined by some of Northeast Ohio's top tasters, the NEOenophiles, in selecting wine for this month's Cellar Notes.
2003 Trimbach Riesling, Alsace, France ($20): Medium straw yellow with youthful aromas of lemon, white peach, mineral and pear. Medium body with crisp acidity and long, clean finish. Good example of a dry Riesling.
2004 Clos Clare Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia ($20): Dry with a medium body, youthful aromas of unripe peach, honeysuckle, white peach, lime, mineral and herbs. Balanced wine with great acidity to pair with spring menus.
2002 Selbach-Oster, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Auslese Riesling, Germany ($30): Sweet on the palate, medium-pale yellow with moderate acidity and intense aromas of pear, apricot, mineral and lemon. Balanced finish makes this wine a good dinner choice.
2003 Grand River Valley, Riesling, DebonnÃ© Vineyards, Ohio ($10): Medium sweet with pronounced citrus, lemon curd, floral and mineral aromas. Youthful and fresh with medium body and acidity. Herbal freshness is perfect for spring affairs.
2005 Hogue Johannisberg Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington State ($8): Medium intensity of citrus, candied lemon rind, orange blossom, sage and white peach. Medium bodied with mouthwatering acidity, moderate alcohol leading to a lingering finish.
2005 Villa Maria Riesling, Marlborough, New Zealand ($15): Medium body and lip-smacking acidity. Intense aromas of honeysuckle, grapefruit, white flowers and mineral notes. Great first-course wine for your next spring dinner.