Written by Denise Kotopoulos on March 28, 2013
Monterey County’s cool climate helps Riesling grapes ripen slowly and maintain their acidity.
With the exciting new release of the 2011 Calamity Sue, Riesling, Monterey County, California (CAL932) $17.99 now showing at tasting events everywhere, we thought it would be a good time to distinguish between the many different styles of Riesling. As varietals go, Riesling is probably one of the most misunderstood. This is perhaps because Rieslings can vary dramatically in style from very dry to very sweet and even sparkling.
Riesling is known to be a wine that very much expresses “terroir” meaning that it is highly influenced by its place of origin. That being said, let’s take a look at the various places around the globe where it is produced.
Alsatian Rieslings from France’s northern region are generally drier than their German counterparts. The difference is partly the result of soil, but mainly due to variations in winemaking styles. Alsatians winemakers ferment every bit of sugar from their Riesling grapes resulting in wines that are drier and higher in alcohol with a cleansing quality. They’ve generally spent more time in stainless steel tanks causing them to be rounder, and this lack of oak makes them varietally pure in their character. Therefore, when a Riesling is described as more as being more “Alsatian”, it implies that it is low in residual sugar. By contrast, when a wine is termed “Germanic” in style, it implies that it is relatively sweet and lower in alcohol.
Australian producers in the Clare Valley and Eden Valley have adopted Alsatian-style Riesling and are noted for Rieslings with citrus flavors. US producers cluster in the cooler climate areas of upstate NY, northern California and Washington state. These New World styles vary but are typically at the mid-point of the Alsatian and German extremes.
Riesling can be crafted as a dry, off-dry (as in our 2011 Calamity Sue, Riesling, Monterey County, California) or sweet style. Sweet wines or late harvest dessert wines are made by letting the grapes hang on the vine past the normal picking time. This increased hang time causes evaporation of water in the grape either by promoting a beneficial fungus called “noble rot” or by freezing the grapes as with ice wine (German Eiswein). These sweeter styles are popular in Germany and in New York’s Finger Lakes region.
Regardless of the style, Riesling is typically described as a very aromatic flowery or perfumed wine. The Riesling flavor profile is consistent exhibiting delicate flavors of fresh ripe peaches, apricots and melons. If you’re tired of Chardonnay (especially oaked ones), you’ll find these flavors make it a lovely alternative. The fact that it’s unoaked means it will generally work well with food, especially difficult to match ethnic foods like Thai, Chinese and Japanese dishes.
The word to know with our 2011 Calamity Sue, Riesling, Monterey County, California is “racy”, a wine term which refers to the juxtaposition of stimulating, refreshing acidity (a dry element) with the pear fruit “base flavor of Riesling (a sweet element). Dry versus sweet vying for dominance on the palate at the same time equals “racy”.
Brilliant pale yellow, straw in color, this racy white wine harvested in the Santa Lucia Highlands opens with white flowers and ripe pear on the nose. It delivers soft and round flavors of pear with apricot and nectarine notes along with beautiful food-friendly acidity.
Riesling is a chameleon-like wine that adapts to many dishes and is a must for all “foodies”. The fresh flavors in glazes, salsas and Asian dishes work magically with its powerful fruity elements. A sweeter version of Riesling might get in the way of the food. Not this wine. It brings out the best in so many different types of foods. It’s a delicious partner with spicy foods so it’s safe to go Asian. Or, try it with Alsace’s famously delicious cuisine—foie gras or Choucroute Garnie (sauerkraut with sausages).
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