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Riesling—the crowd pleaser

Mar. 22, 2010
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I wasn't always a big fan of whites. I'd drink them, sure—and it was nice to have something cold around the house, but I chilled them almost to freezing and basically used them like light beer. Once I started learning, I grew to tolerate them. I thought most were too tart or too oaky. I discovered good Riesling and my eyes opened—my gateway white.

Among many U.S. wine drinkers, "Riesling" means "syrupy-sweet German wine." That's an unfortunate stereotype. While the grape is of German origin and the most expensive Rieslings are dessert wines—the majority of decent Riesling out there isn't going to pucker your mouth.

For our tasting, I decided to do a wine tasting for my family. The cast of characters:

  • My father and mother—neither of whom are big drinkers.
  • My sister and brother-in-law—the usual drink of choice at their place is Michelob Ultra.
  • The Sweet Partner in Crime.
  • My 95 year old grandmother who only drinks an occasional glass of Manischewitz.

They were faced with:

  • Pierre Sparr 2006 Riesling (France) -- $11-14
  • J & H.A. Strub 2005 Riesling Kabinett (Germany) -- $13-15
  • Salmon Run 2006 Riesling (New York) -- $11-14

We started with the Sparr. My grandmother's initial comment was "This is sour. I like sweet wines." My mom and sister thought "bitter apple" was a good description. The most colorful description was from my brother in law: "It's kind of got an odor in your mouth. It tastes like…I'd say…rubbing alcohol smells. Not that I drink rubbing alcohol or anything."

Rieslings like the Sparr from Alsace region are very dry. Most Alsatian wines are in this style. French Rieslings improve with a little age, so this wine would be different after two or three years. These wines are generally much more acidic than other Rieslings. We still had some shrimp cocktail from lunch, so thehe wine's acidity worked extremely well. Everyone liked it then. This would be a great choice at a raw bar.

Next, the Salmon Run. My grandmother liked this "better than the first one." My brother-in-law thought it was "pleasant" and he said it "didn't have any nasty taste." My mother said it was a wine you could easily "drink too much of on a sunny day." My dad said only, "Fuller, fruitier." My sister said it was "tangy, but sweet."

American Rieslings are not quite sweet enough to handle heavy food, but are good everyday wines. If you're going to a party and don't know what to bring, a New York Riesling is a safe bet.

Finally, the Strub. My grandmother indicated the wine "smelled and tastes sweet." My brother in law said the body tastes "like when you eat a bunch of sweet candy…you get that thick taste in your mouth." My mother thought it would be too heavy for food. My father reclined, saying little, contemplative. Perhaps the accumulated effect of wine, cognac, and Kahlua got to him.

This wine would go very well with traditional Rhine-style cooking. Spaetzle, beef & pork sausages, and sauerkraut would natural pairings, as would anything spicy. As the SPinC put it: "Anything that would go with beer would go with this."

So ends our tour of the big six. I hope you've enjoyed this, picked up some good information, and you'll feel a little more comfortable when faced with a wine list. I invite you to share of your own observations.



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