By Tobin Sharp
We tend to find two types of wine enthusiasts who enjoy Riesling: seasoned pros and absolute beginners. The sweetness and great fruit flavors charm the entry-level imbibers, while the range of flavor profiles and longevity entertain those in the know. Regardless of which camp you may be in, this is a worthwhile grape to enjoy.
Originally from Germany’s Rhine region, Riesling is a white-wine grape that makes up one-third of popular white wines; the others are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The wide flavor profile includes tree fruits (such as apricot, white peach, pear, apples, gooseberry); herbaceous notes (freshly cut grass); and mineral and earthen flavors (diesel, kerosene and rubber).
Diesel? You bet. While each Riesling ranges in the amount of its sugar and acidity, most have high levels of both. This creates longevity in the wine, allowing for aging of up to 100 years in the more acidic wines and even longer in the sweeter wines. When the dry and off-dry wines are aged, they tend to acquire a diesel note that may be unusual to those not used to or expecting it; more experienced drinkers often seek it out.
Most Rieslings are consumed while young, when the honeyed fruit flavors dominate and diesel is not often seen (or smelled) anywhere. Estate Rieslings from Germany – Dr. Loosen, Selbach, Monchhof, JJ Prüm, for example – are very affordable ($10 and up), as are many domestic counterparts: Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington is always solid.
Austria and Australia make excellent Rieslings, as well. The decent amounts of both sugar and acidity, even in estate Rieslings, make for wonderful food pairings with spicier cuisine (Thai) or sushi. Since many Rieslings are also low in alcohol, they’re great for end-of-the-evening Jacuzzi summits.
As Riesling was one of the first grapes I ever loved, there’s always a soft spot on my palate for these wines. A few decades back, I recall a skiing venture with a few good friends in Lake Tahoe. We had made some Black Forest ham sandwiches for lunch, and I snuck in a bottle of a 1975 German Riesling I’d been holding; I hid it in the snow before lunch. It was a meal fit for kings, as the sweetness of the wine paired with that of the ham uplifted us for the rest of the day and beyond.