As Fall begins to wean into Winter, the air grows crisp and damp, colorful lights line the neighborhood, and festivities arise with the rich produce of harvest. At my house this holiday season, I already know the wines for which some of my relatives will be reaching across the table. I, however, will be chilling with a wine that is dry and crisp, sweet and delectable, rich and spicy, and always suitable for any occasion. I’m talking about the often overlooked and much underrated Riesling.
The old and tired stigma against Riesling, is that it produces wines that are sweet and muddled. Although this stereotype can be true, Riesling is undergoing a new renaissance, and is being produced in styles ranging from bone dry to desert sweet, and from round and rich to sparkling and minerality. Riesling has also found new homes for itself far from its native German habitat, adding new heritage and a multitude of styles distinctive to the region it is grown in. Due to the overwhelming variety in styles of Riesling to choose from, it has become extremely versatile, and makes a perfect pairing to many traditional Holiday dishes. Below is a list of some classic Holiday cuisine and appropriate Riesling pairings to enhance and broaden your winter experience.
The purpose of an apéritif is to stimulate the appetite before a meal. Usually an apéritif comes in the style of a dry to off dry, light white wine, and most often sparkling. A dry Riesling makes a great candidate because of its lower than average alcohol and pleasant orchard fruit aromas. The 2007 Solter Rheingau Riesling Brut Sekt ($21.99) fits the bill perfectly, in that it is a sparkling wine made in method traditional used in Champagne. Off dry, with a bouquet of orchard fruit, blossoms, and honey, Solter Brut Riesling starts off the evening with a pop.
First Course: Green Salad with Crab
With crab season upon us, many holiday salads this year will be festively decorated with a little seasonal crustacean, especially here in the Bay Area with our famous Dungeness crab. A dry, mineral driven Australian Riesling with citrus quality pairs perfectly, in that the crisp acidity will compliment the greens on the dish, while the minerals and lime citrus will compliment the crab in the same way that a squeeze of lemon would improve fish. Washington’s 2010 Eroica ($19.99), a partnership between Château St. Michelle and Germany’s famous Riesling producer Dr. Loosen, is bright and fresh, with subtle minerality and mouth watering lime citrus and peach; the right choice for crab season.
Second Course: Smoked Salmon with Honey Almond Rub
Keep oaky wines away! Although Salmon is a heavier fish, it is still far too delicate for oak. Oak also tends to accentuate unpleasant spice, as do high tannins. But never fear holiday diners, for once again Riesling is here for you! Rieslings from Alsace, France, are known for being rich with lots of texture, but typically use very neutral oak that does not drag down the wines with woody density. They are traditionally bone dry, but retain aromas and flavors of honey and stone fruits. One of my favorite Alsatian Rieslings, 2009 Trimbach ($18.99), is an excellent pairing, as it has the roundness and texture to compliment the honey sauce, but great acidity to cut through the salmon.
Third Course: Roasted Pork with Apricot Sauce
A holiday must have, salty roasted pork and fruit sauce go like peanut butter and jelly. And like PB&J is served with milk, I feel that that roasted pork and fruit sauce is best served with a German Riesling with just a bit of sweetness. The saltiness of the pork is immediately complimented by the acidity of Riesling, but is even further enhanced by the residual sugar in the same way that a little sea salt can improve dark chocolate or caramel. The bright fruit sauce is also complemented by the sweetness of Riesling, which can prolong the finish of both the food and the wine to astronomical lengths. The second level of the German Prädikat scale, which dictates the amount of residual sugar and sweetness at grapes harvest, is Spatlese, which ranges around off-dry to lightly sweet. 2011 Dr. Loosen Wurzgarten Riesling Spatlese ($27.99) is off dry, aromas of bees wax, stone and tropical fruits, and a long and seductive finish.
Riesling is a sometimes misunderstood grape, which is unfortunate considering how versatile and complex the wine is, and just how different it can be from country to country. Riesling also makes a great holiday gift, as they tend to age extremely well for several years, with many Alsatian and German Rieslings showing their best with at least five years of age. Try something new for 2013, and place Riesling on your list of resolutions to try.
Jimmy L., Beltramo’s Wine Consultant