|Food 99/1: Reasons to love Riesling|
|Tuesday, 01 November 2011 14:21|
Originating from Germany, Riesling wines and grapes are produced in many regions of Austria, Alsace, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Riesling is one of the noble grape varieties although it is often given less attention than its more known noble counterparts. Arguably, Riesling is one of the most undervalued and misjudged.
The vine itself is known for its knotty appearance, hard wood vine that is frost resistant, making it a good choice to plant in cool wine regions. The grapes themselves also ripen considerably earlier than most other varieties. Riesling grapes are naturally high in acidity with aromas of green apple, white flowers, honey and minerality.
This aromatic grape is renowned for show casing the terroir (local conditions that denote a certain area of origin like topography and soil) of where it was produced. Because during the wine making process there are rarely additional steps like oak ageing or heightened alcohol levels, Riesling wines are very pure and able to showcase its area of origin. Due to the purity of the winemaking process, the wines can be particularly susceptible to cork taint. To avoid the possibility and guarantee the purity and freshness expected from most Rieslings, producers often bottle these wines with a screw cap closure, not a cork.
An important characteristic of Riesling wines — both dry and sweet — is their high acidity. This acidity increases saliva production in the mouth, which, in turn, makes you want to eat more. This helps Riesling pair very well with a wide variety of foods. Try pairing pork, fish, salads, spicy food, salty food and smoked foods with Riesling.Several times over the past few weeks I have had people tell me they don’t like Riesling because it is sweet. While there are definitely some sweet varieties of Rieslings, there are even more dry or off dry versions. Riesling wines are of the most versatile because of the range of styles from sweet to dry.
A “rule of thumb” is that a Riesling from a cool climate will be less sweet than that from a hot climate. In a warm climate (like California, for instance) the grapes on the vine get very ripe and contain a lot of natural sugars. These natural sugars can either be left in the wine as sweetness or turned into alcohol.
Because, as discussed in my previous article on champagne, fermentation is sugar + yeast = alcohol + carbon dioxide. If the winemaker decides to create a sweeter wine, the natural sugars are not turned into alcohol, thus creating a sweet wine with a lower alcoholic content. Because it is balancing a chemical equation, a winemaker must decide to have either higher sugar or higher alcohol. In a cool climate, the grapes will not get as ripe as grapes in a warm climate and there is less natural sugar in the fruit to use to ferment into alcohol.
A safe assumption to make is that the cooler climate wines (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region in Germany, for example) will produce a drier style Riesling and warmer climates will produce a sweeter style Riesling. Rieslings range from 6% alcohol to 13% alcohol and in addition to the region of origin, the alcoholic content is an indicator of sweetness. Generally speaking, the higher the alcoholic content, the drier the wine and the lower the alcoholic content, the sweeter the wine.
If you are buying a German Riesling, there are certain terms that are on the label that will help guide you to the right decision. German wines are divided into two categories: Tafelwein (table wine) and Qualitätswein. You rarely see Tafelwein sold outside of Germany, most wines you see outside of Germany are under the Qualitätswein designation. The Qualitätswein designation is broken down into two categories: Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (much more commonly know by its abbreviation of QbA) and Prädikatswein (or Qualitätswein mit Prädikat, commonly known by its abbreviation QmP). Most importantly when looking at the label for a German Riesling is the six levels of Prädikatswein (these levels are based on ripeness level).
1. Kabinett: Light, semidry wine made from grapes of the lowest level of ripeness, so this category is the driest wine of them all.
2. Spätlese: The word “spät” means “late” and “lese” means “picking” so this category of wines have more ripeness in the grapes producing an off dry to medium dry wine.
3. Auslese: Auslese means “out picked”, the grapes are individually hand picked from especially ripe bunches of grapes, which results in a medium to full-bodied style of wine categorized as medium dry to sweet.
4. Beerenauslese: “beeren” means “berries, “aus” means “out” and “lese” means “picking”. Again, these are exceptional grapes that are picked out individually, but vintners are FAR more selective about the grapes for these wines and they seldom produce enough grapes of sufficient quality to make it. These wines are typically very rich desert wines at a higher price point.
5. Trockenbeerenauslese: this is a step above beerenauslese, but it also uses grapes that are dried (trocken) and look more like raisins than grapes. These dried out grapes have lost most of their water and therefore can only have a small amount of juice squeezed from them, but that juice, as you might imagine, is very rich and highly concentrated with sugar and flavors, resulting in an exceptionally sweet wine that is also very expensive.
6. Eiswein: (Icewine) The ripe grapes are allowed to freeze on the vine and are picked while frozen. Because the water in the grape freezes, and the sugars do not, when frozen pressed, only the sugar syrup is extracted, eiswein is the sweetest of the wines.
Make some notes, do a little research and make an informed decision on a Riesling to enjoy with your next meal or company. And as always if you have any other wine or food questions drop by our website at www.ninetynineone.com and drop us a line in the Q&A section of the site. We’re always happy to answer any questions you have.
Cheers & happy quaffing!
- Rebecca Tibbitts
99/1 Food Service Management in Freeport is owned and run by Tim and Rebecca Tibbitts. 99/1 is a full service catering business serving scrumptious offerings with top quality ingredients. 99/1 also specializes in cooking classes, guided wine tastings and tutorials, drop off dinners and in home catering. www.ninetynineone.com (242) 553-2426.
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