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A Sucker for a Good Riesling

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jan 8, 2007 4:15PM


Frequent viewers of "Check Please" will know what we're about to describe. One of the guests will describe the wine he may have paired with his meal, and the camera will do a quick cut to Alpana Singh, who has her head turned to the guest, listening intently. That look turns to an enthusiastic, knowing gleam if the guest chose an Alsatian riesling. It's one of those rare occasions where Singh lets her guard down, and the master sommelier appears to commend the guest for making such a great choice. Singh's made no secret of her fondness for Alsatian rieslings in interviews. It was her passion for the varietal that led to her big break. At a dinner with chef Jean Joho she spoke with such unbridled enthusiasm for the wine that Joho hired her to be his sommelier at Everest, which boasts one of the largest collections of Alsatian riesling in the world.

Riesling is an amazing grape. It's a strong grape that perfectly expresses the terroir conditions of where they were grown, while still maintaining the characteristics that make the grape so unique. Riesling has a wonderful balance of sugars to acids, so the wines produced are ideal for cellaring. And the range of wines produced by the riesling grape? They spread across the spectrum, from desert-dry Alsatians to syrupy ice wines from Washington and New York State guaranteed to satisfy the most fickle of sweet tooths. Riesling is tolerant of cold weather and bloom late in the harvest season. If the grapes develop a case of noble rot (botrytis cinera, a fungus which removes the moisture from the grape), they make wines of intense flavor and long shelf life.

The grape is an old varietal, dating back to the 1400s in Germany. In addition to Germany and France's Alsace region, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, North America, Chile, and South Africa also grow sizeable riesling crops. Because of its balance of sugars and acids, riesling is a versatile wine that pairs equally well with pork, white fish, lighter fruits, and spicier fare like Thai and Indian cooking. Rieslings are noted for their tropical fruit notes, floral noses, and flinty textures on the palate. Left to age in a cellar, rieslings can develop a slight alcohol note as the flavors mellow.

Following the jump, we have a few riesling selections for you to try out.

Wynn's Coonawarra Estate Riesling, 2003 ($12): What Chicagoist likes about this riesling is the medium dry palate. It's also teeming with green apples, apricots, and richer citrus notes.

Trinity Oaks Johanniberg Riesling, 2004 ($6-8): The very definition of a fruit bomb. This wine is overly sweet for our tastes, but folks looking for an alternative to white zins and blushes will take to this like a duck to water.

Wagner Vineyards Riesling, 2004 ($12-15): A visit to New York City for Chicagoist isn't complete without a glass of this riesling at Vintage New York's Upper West Side retail/wine bar location. This is one of the few rieslings produced in North America that we feel truly stands up to German and Alsatian varietals in their dryness. You'll also find some notes of apricot and peaches on the palate. This is a great wine to pair with Korean-style kalbi barbecue.