For rieslings, practice makes perfect
There are those who say riesling is the world's noblest grape: infinite in variety, versatile in food pairings, inspiring in its subtlety, so pure that winemakers seldom blend it with other grapes or age it in wood barrels.
Most of those people, unfortunately, are not Americans.
We don't understand riesling. Its labels are hard to read, its sweetness-dryness rules are hard to comprehend. We've heard it's sweet, and that scares us. We're not sure what foods it goes with.
Well, the best way to get past this is to practice. Practice drinking riesling. See which you like, which you don't. (It's not as if the homework is unpleasant.)
Here's an oversimplified but workable rule about sweetness to get started: The average table wine has an alcohol level of about 12 per cent. That's the level you reach in fermentation when the yeast has turned all the grape sugars into alcohol.
• If a wine has less than 12 percent alcohol, there are some sugars remaining, and the wine will taste sweet. Sweet rieslings can be 11 percent, 9 percent, sometimes even 6 percent alcohol.
• If a wine has more than 12 percent alcohol, it will taste dry. Some dry rieslings reach 13.5 percent alcohol and more. These, not surprisingly, are powerful wines.
I've listed the alcohol levels in the tasting notes below, but you can find them on the labels.
Here are some wine-food pairings for Rieslings:
• Sweet rieslings go well with spicy foods. The sweetness seems to sooth the palate for the next fiery bite. So they're great with Caribbean, Chinese, Thai, even Cajun dishes.
• Dry rieslings go well with creamy cheeses, chicken and fish with creamy sauces, grilled seafood, roast pork, risottos.
So get out there and practice. (This will be on the test.)
• 2007 Pacific Rim Wallula Vineyard Riesling (pictured at right), Horse Heaven Hills, Columbia Valley, Wash. (13 percent alcohol): dry, full-bodied, smooth and crisp, with hints of ripe peaches and cloves; $20.
• 2005 J. Lohr White Riesling, Monterey County (11.5 percent alcohol): lightly off-dry; white peaches; crisp and fruity; $12.
• 2008 Kendall Jackson Riesling, Vintner's Reserve, California (13 per cent alcohol): White grapefruit flavors, crisp, dry; $14.
• 2007 Pacific Rim Solstice Vineyard Riesling, Yakima Valley, Wash. (13.5 percent alcohol): ripe pears, tart limes; full body, lively crispness; $32.
• 2007 Robert Mondavi Riesling, Private Selection, Monterey (12.5 per cent alcohol): floral aroma, white peach flavors; $11.
• 2007 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling, Columbia Valley, Wash. (12 percent alcohol): tart lemon-lime flavors; crisp and dry; $13.
• 2005 Chateau Ste. Michelle "Indian Wells'' Riesling, Columbia Valley, Wash. (13 percent): aromas and flavors of ripe peaches; light and crisp; $15.
• 2006 Schmitt Söhne Riesling, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany (9 percent alcohol): aromas and flavors of ripe, golden apples and minerals; sweet and soft; $9.
• 2006 Thomas Schmitt Riesling Private Selection, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany (12 percent alcohol): tart lemon flavors; crisp, lean; $14.
• 2006 Blue Nun Winemaker's Passion Riesling, Germany, H. Sichel Söhne (10.5 percent alcohol): sweet and soft, with peach and pineapple flavors; $9.