Riesling itself.  Photo by Tom Maack from wikipedia

The Terroirist: Reviving Riesling

Riesling is, especially for white grapes, perhaps the most underappreciated - and multitalented - berry of them all. It's reputation badly damaged by cheap German plonk in the 80s (most of which wasn't even Riesling at all, but more often Silvaner or Muller-Thurgau) such as Blue Nun and Black Tower, Riesling is only now starting to regain it's international credibility.

Even now, say 'Riesling' to most people, and the images conjured in their head are of medium sweet German wines or very sweet Niagara Icewines. Yet Rieslings in their purest form can deftly occupy anyplace on the sugar spectrum - from the bone dry versions of Alsace or Australia, to the sticky-sweet nectars of German Trocken-Beren-Ausleses.

While Chardonnay is often thought of as a chameleon-grape, able to alter itself to the whims of its vintner; Riesling much better reflects the nature of its terroir, with each producing region exhibiting a style of Riesling that is both undeniably typical, yet distinctly their own. In Ontario, where Riesling is set to become one of the dominant white grapes, that style spans the sweetness index, yet always light and crisp, with touches of minerality, lime, and pears. In Alsace, where Riesling is perhaps best known, they are mostly dry, full bodied, and luscious, with notes ranging from white pepper to petrol.

It is also a grape that adapts well to any sort of food, having the body to stand up to fuller flavours, but also the delicacy to not overwhelm more ephemeral tastes. Lately it has found an unlikely home with spicy asian foods - a Pad Thai with an Alsacian Riesling quickly becoming a classic match.

But now for the recommendations...

Something Red:
L.A. Cetto Private Reserve Nebbiolo 2001 (Baja Califonia, Mexico) $18.95, 590182

Nebbiolo is often known to winemakers as the 'Primadonna of grapes' - it is a wonderful, classic grape when treated exactly the way it prefers, but often performs abyssimally when it isn't. Sadly for wine-geeks everywhere, those conditions are rarely met anywhere outside of a few fog-covered hills in the Piedmont region of Norther Italy. Needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive then in tasting a Nebbiolo from Mexico, a country not generally regarded for its wines. I needn't have been; this dark plum coloured wine far exceeded my expectations. The nose exuded aromas of herbs, earth, mushrooms, and cherries, while the medium-full body displayed clean flavours of cherries, earth, herbs, and liquorice. A perfect accompaniment to venison or lamb burgers.

Something White:
Tony Jost Riesling Kabinett 2004 (Mittelrhein, Germany) $21.95, 682336

I know I just went on about how not all Rieslings are semi-dryt Germany wines, but sometimes when it works, it works well: and this is one of those times. A rich greenish yellow in colour, the nose was full and very forward, throwing mineral, floral, and grapefruit scents all about. In my mouth, the wine was slightly sweeter than off-dry, but with good balancing acidity. Along with the flavours evident in the aroma (all of which were represented on the palate) delightful raspberry and peach notes were also present. If you must have food, try it with a seafood pasta in a cream sauce. Personally though, I'd just wait for the next hot day, and sip it with some bread on your balcony.

Something Different:
Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling 2005 (Washington, USA) $16.95, 685651

Everybody knows about the wine from California - it's big, full, and oozing fruit. After California though, most people's knowledge of United Statesian wines tends to bottom out, despite it being produced in over a dozen other states to one extent or another; for the other 49 states, Oregon and New York tend to be the next most well known, with Washington coming in a close third. The problem with Washington is its marginal climate. It doesn't get overly hot, and it rains quite a bit. Despite this, it can occasionally have flashes of brilliance, and this Reisling from Chateau Ste Michelle is amongst them. A very pale gold in colour, the nose is fruity, with raspberry, cherry, and earth predominating. In the mouth, it is slightly off dry, and light, with raspberry cherry and lime flavours showing themselves. A tasty wine, probably perfect as an aperitif before a big meal.

All of these wines can be kept for a few years, and will reward that keeping, but can all be enjoyed right now as well. The choice is yours.


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