Riesling, the noble grape of Germany — whether you fall in love with its racy acidity or its aromatic purity — is an interesting white grape, period. At the table, its razor-sharp acidity and lower alcohol make it a perfect partner for many foods. In the vineyard, Riesling has an uncanny ability to express a sense of place, what the French refer to as terroir. Suited to cool climates, winemakers around the globe look for spots in which to plant this lovely vine.
In Germany, quality Rieslings may be crafted sweet or dry. More often than not, we encounter German Rieslings with some degree of sweetness: (from driest to sweetest) Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. This information is on the label.
Riesling's flavor profile includes complex floral and honeyed-citrus perfume that, with age, develops a distinctive petrol-like bouquet. Drier wines may be served as an apéritif or at the table as a starter wine, while sweeter versions are better suited for dessert. Alsatian Rieslings, made just over the border in France, are often bone-dry with a steely character and lots of acidity. These wines are great with food — think pork chops with sauerkraut and apples.
Interested in visiting a wine-growing region that produces quality Riesling? You don't have to travel far. Great Rieslings are produced right here in Northeast Ohio. Markko Vineyards makes a fantastic dry Riesling that can stand up to most Alsatian labels. Harpersfield and Debonné also make excellent Rieslings full of aromatic fruit and exciting acidity in varying levels of sweetness.
Washington and California, however, are Riesling's main growing regions in the United States. These wines exhibit bold apricot and peach flavors supported by higher alcohol. Sweeter examples are labeled "Late Harvest Riesling."
As one of my favorite grapes, I fondly refer to Riesling as a "mouthwatering sweetheart." Regardless of style, it's always packed with lip-smacking acidity that's sure to put zing into your spring and melt away the winter blahs.
Marianne Frantz, founder of the Cleveland Wine School, is joined by Robert Eppich from Chesterland's Colonial Wine & Beverage in selecting wines for this month's Cellar Notes.
2003 Hogue Late Harvest White Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington ($12): Honeyed peach, apricot and lemon zest with a shot of residual sugar make for perfect pairing with a seasonal fruit tart.
2003 Covey Run Riesling, Washington ($8): Apples, pears and grapefruit with lavender and peach blossom perfume. This is a great value wine.
2003 Debonné Grand River Valley Riesling, Ohio ($10): Honeysuckle, peach and orange blossom. Semisweet balanced by crisp acidity. If you like less sugar, try Debonné's Lake Erie version.
2003 Von Buhl Pfalz Riesling, medium-dry, Germany ($15): Citrus, honeysuckle and delicate floral perfume with lots of grapefruit acidity and a hint of sweetness. This is a great starter for your next spring dinner.
2002 Wilhelm Bergmann Binger St. Rochuskapelle Auslese, Germany ($10): Bob's "Riesling of the Year." Fruit, minerals and a terrific price. In his words, "Run, don't walk" to your favorite wine shop.
2002 Richter Graacher Himmelreich Auslese, Germany ($30): Complex flavors of apricots, peaches and apples. If you're feeling spendy, try this wine for a fuller-bodied experience.