Wine Dinner: Riesling!
July brought our wine dinner group a Friday evening cruise on Lake Minnetonka and a very informal tasting of Rieslings. Friday nights can be difficult for fancy meals, and who needs fancy meals anyways? It’s really all about getting together with friends. With the informal summer theme, we thought we would explore the world of Riesling. Our tasting lineup was centered on Germany, the heart and soul of the grape. However, we wanted to explore other views as well.
Below you see our tasting lineup:
- Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling, from Washington State ($11)
- Leitz “Ein, Zwei, Drei” QbA Trocken Riesling ($12)
- Strub Niersteiner Bruckchen Riesling Kabinett ($13)
- Paul Blanck Riesling (Alsace) ($16)
- Weingut Brundylmayer Kamptaler Terrassen (Austrian) Riesling ($17)
- Donnhoff Kreuznacher Krotenpfuhl Riesling Spatlese ($33)
- Selbach Riesling Eiswein ($39)
Our goal was to sample the different levels of Riesling from Germany, and to contrast them with Rieslings from the US, Austria, and France.
Riesling is understood by many to be sweet. But those people are missing so much! Many Rieslings are sweet, but not all are. Also, the sweetness is needed to counterbalance the acidity of the grape. Rieslings have a variety of aromas you don’t find in other wines. As part of our tastings, I like to put together aroma markers to help us identify what we are smelling, or to remind us of aromas that we might smell as we enjoy the wines. For our Riesling tasting, we had the following aroma markers:
- Flowers from the garden
- Herbs from the garden
- Green apples
There’s one aroma marker you don’t need to supply: kerosene/tar/rubber/fresh pavement. Rieslings with a few years of aging can display an aroma that reminds you strongly of these things. I understand real fans find this fascinating, but beginners just find it weird. In a previous Riesling tasting, we decided that we wouldn’t drink the wine based on the smell, but it tasted great after we decided to just give it a try.
We had beautiful evening for a cruise on the lake. However, space is limited on a boat, so we just made do with the space we had; no problem!
As a surprise, I brought a couple of reds to try after we had worked our way through the Rieslings. We had a German Pinot Noir (Spatburgunder) and an Austrian Zweigelt. Everyone got a kick from the Zweigelt, as it was bottled with a beer bottle cap!
It was such a beautiful evening, we had to stop for a swim at the old swimming hole. John, our host, did a cartwheel into the water. My dive wasn’t as photogenic, but we enjoyed going for a swim.
We had a ball tasting all the different styles and quality levels of Riesling. No fancy decanters or anything, just a cooler with some ice in the bottom.
Dinner was really informal: Brats, spicy German potato salad and a watermelon/basil/feta salad. If you would have asked me for a wine match before our dinner, I would probably have said “a nice German beer”. However, the Rieslings were really good. The spicier the meal, the better a Riesling seems to match. I even found the rich, smooth, sweet Spatlese Riesling to be a nice match for the spicy brats and potato salad.
Dessert was a rich cheesecake. We had saved the Eiswein for dessert. Honestly, I would say the Spatlese Riesling was so nice and smooth, it was a better match than the Eiswein.
The German Rieslings were very nice.
- Leitz “Ein, Zwei, Drei” – This is the lowest level of Riesling we usually see in the US. This was was “Trocken”, which means dry. We enjoyed this Riesling a lot. It was really fresh and smelled of lemons. It was nicely acidic and very dry. It really cleansed your palate and made your mouth water.
- Strub “Kabinett” Riesling – a Kabinett Riesling is literally one that is nice enough to keep in your liquor Kabinett! Historically, Germans appreciate sweetness in a wine. As the quality level of the wine goes up, so does the sweetness. However, Rieslings can be very acidic, so they need that sweetness to counterbalance. Our group felt like this particular Riesling had more sweetness than acidity, and it wasn’t our favorite. A nice wine, just a bit sweet for our taste.
- Donnhoff “Spatlese” Riesling – Spatlese means late selection. These are the grapes that will benefit from a later harvest, so they have more sweetness at harvest. This wine had a beautiful aroma: I got peach pits and nuts and other things I couldn’t really place, but it was fun to just sit and sniff. It had a richness and smoothness the other wines to this point had lacked.
- Selbach Eiswein – These grapes literally froze on the vine before being harvested. The water in the grapes froze out, so the grape juice was really concentrated. An Eiswein is reserved just for dessert. It is really very sweet. This wine was nice, but I thought the Spatlese actually had an edge over it – at least for me.
We had some non-German wines in our tasting.
- Kung Fu Girl (U.S., Washington State)- This was the favorite of our group; the first bottle to be emptied. This wine had a nice lemon & stones aroma. It had a nice balance of sweetness and acidity and a nice full ripe mouthfeel. Several from our group said they would add it to their shopping list for their next trip to the wine store.
- Paul Blanck (France, Alsatian)- This was our oldest wine of the evening, from 2006. This wine had the very distinctive kerosene/petrol smell. It really was overwhelming. Even though the wine was bone dry and nicely acidic, no one had much interest after the first smell. I came back to it later in the evening, and the petrol had changed into something a bit different, gentler and more interesting. This might be an acquired taste. I’ve had other Alsatian Rieslings that I just love, but this one isn’t one of them.
- Weingut Brundlmayer (Austria)- This was nice and dry, acidic, and worked very well with food.
We enjoyed getting to know Rieslings better. Many people write Riesling off as sweet, but it is a nice wine. Especially with a spicy meal, there are few better matches. Give Riesling a try!