Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Seasons Rieslings

This time of year rolls around and the seasonal beverages start to come out of the woodwork. You'll see pumpkin beers, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin wine, eggnog, and that weird "holiday spice" coffee blend. All of this pumpkin nonsense is just that. Nonsense. Pumpkin lattes and beers have their place, but that place is not at the dinner table, and let's be honest, the "season" is about eating, not pumpkin beverages. And when it comes to food there is one wine that stands above all others, an uber-mensch of wine that stands alone, and that wine is Riesling. Don't get it twisted.

I know what you're thinking, "Uh, excuse me? Riesling is a white wine." This is the season for cold, crappy, dark, damp weather, right? You think we should be drinking earthy Oregon Pinot Noirs, meaty, funky Washington Syrahs, Cabernets, Southern Oregon Tempranillos. Now is the time, man! Sure, drink those too. Just remember what you must keep in mind: huge dinners of poultry and pork; over indulgence of fatty meats, sweet deserts and appetizer after countless appetizer. All that calls for Riesling. There's no two ways about it.

In order to fully understand why Riesling is such a natural for food pairing, we need to understand German history. Most of us don't (including many of us here at the Anthem, our knowledge peters out after we note that Augustus Gloop, the most famous glutton from Willy Wonka's adventure through the chocolate factory, was German).

The brilliance in Riesling is its variance in styles. The reason for this variety is somewhat historical and somewhat German so it will suffice for understanding German history. The German wine classification system is similar to the Biological classification system. You remember: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order...etc. Only it's completely different because it's just about Riesling. Remember that. The first two classifications you can pretty much forget about because "Tafelwein" or table wine, also sounds kinda like "Awfulwine" and "Qualitatsweine mit Pradikat" obviously means "Quality stats wine with a Prada Cat." This is weird, but that's okay because we're moving up the classification to the wines we actually care about.

The three most common styles of Riesling that pair up well with food are the Kabinett, a style of Riesling that is picked least ripe, followed by Spatlese and Auslese. All of these styles of Riesling can vary in their levels of residual sugar and acidity but all three make excellent food pairing options. Kabinett style Rieslings are predominantly done in a drier style, while the Spatlese and Auslese have a greater range and more body, making them naturals to pair with both spicier lighter fare and hearty food, the seasonal kind of food we spoke about before. Kabinett style Riesling may also be kept in your cabinet (get it?), whereas the other two should be stored elsewhere.

This being the Northwest Wine Anthem, we're taking the Northwestern angle thanks to our good friends at Pacific Rim. Not familiar with them? Pacific Rim is serious about Riesling. How serious? They're making eleven Rieslings. Eleven. Two sparkling Rieslings and one ice wine. They make Rieslings in different styles, with different sweetness levels and four single vineyard Rieslings. The Pacific Rim project started out as a release in 1992 from Bonny Doon's Randall Graham. The idea caught fire and in 2006 a bunch of the ne'er-Doon-wells moved from California to Eastern Washington to focus almost entirely upon Riesling, a Riesling they could believe in. As it turns out, there are several Rieslings they believe in, representing 90% of their production.

While the good folks at Pacific Rim aren't German (the winemaker is French), they are making the Awesomelese style of Riesling and as we move into this holiday season, you might consider Rieslings for your holiday table, Riesling for gifts and Rieslings for stocking stuffers... They are aficionados, after all. With all the upcoming holiday dinner tables in mind, the Pacific Rim Riesling, Dry Riesling and Sweet Riesling will certainly hit the sweet spot when it comes to quality to price, and food friendly flavors. For those of you new to the varieties of Riesling, you're in luck because the good folks at Pacific Rim have placed a Riesling Scale on the back of each of their wines. How dry is the Dry Riesling? Not sure how sweet the Sweet Riesling is? What about just the Riesling, what's that gonna be like? This scale will give you some guidance.

2009 Dry Riesling is an acidic dynamo. The aromatics come across with very sweet floral notes and fresh cut green apple. The acidity is the star of this wine and that is what makes it such a wonderful food pairing option. The tropical fruits mix with early season stone fruits continuing that hint of sweet that is really brought home with a puckering acidity on a flavorful finish.

2010 Riesling is the mid point on the Pacific Rim Riesling scale. This wine is a harmony and balance to your search for sweet and dry. Smack dab between sweet and dry, floral and fruit components on the aromatics, tipping towards peach fuzz and honeysuckle. The rounder mouthfeel and sweetness on this Riesling (compared to its dryer counterpart) makes it a good match for spicy dishes. This wine was the #1 wine on the Wine Enthusiast's Top 100 Best Buys of 2011 and it packs a serious QPR wallop.

2010 Sweet Riesling is certainly sweet but the acidity makes it a can't miss for food pairing.  Aromatics include sweet grass, lemon zest and peach.  The sweeter and fuller palate comes across with candied orange peel, grapefruit and loads of honey.  This is no Def Leppard Sweet Riesling, a la "I'm hot, sticky sweet from my head to my feet."  This is a sweeter wine with complexity, acidity and balance and it is one that certainly deserves it's place at your holiday table this season.


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