June 2009                               


Wines of the month - Paul DeRose

Riesling Rising for Summer

Getting ready for summer in my house means making room for Riesling. Some people drink these wines all year round, but I find them most enticing from May to September when temperatures rise and rise…

What inspires this craving in me is a combination of characteristics that make Riesling, particularly German Rieslings, unique. Firstly, the alcohol levels are low for wine, coming in at 8 to 12 %. This is in stark contrast to Chardonnays or most reds from CA which often exceed 15 %, too heavy for summer in my opinion. Riesling also has pure fruit flavors that are both sweet and tart, complemented by mineral flavors (think mineral water). These flavors combined with less alcohol make Riesling both tasty and refreshing, an ideal combination for warmer weather. Sweet, tart and fruity also enable it to go well with a variety of summer foods or to be drunk by itself.

The only frustrating thing about Riesling is that it’s often difficult to know how sweet the wine will be from reading the label. Firstly, almost all German Rieslings have at least a touch of sweetness (off-dry), so if you demand bone dry whites, try Alsatian or Austrian Rieslings. But here, I will concentrate on German Rieslings, not only because I think they are the best, but also because their sweetness level is most clearly marked on the label if you know what to look for.

The level of ripeness of the grapes is often indicated by the words “kabinett”, “spatlese” or “auslese” with kabinett being the least ripe and auslese being the most ripe among non-dessert wines. The level of grape ripeness generally follows the level of sweetness, and in cases where it does not or where ripeness level is not given, “trocken” (dry) or “halb-trocken” (half-dry, i.e., semi-sweet) is often put on the label as well. There are also very sweet wines (dessert wines) made, labeled “beerenauslese”, “eiswein” and “trockenbeerenauslese” (now that’s a mouthful), which are progressively more sweet and more expensive.

Here are a few recommendations:

2006 Schumann Nagler Christopher Philipp Rheingau $12 * (off-dry)
2007 Karl Molitor Hattenheimer Kabinett Rheingau $16 *
2003 Karl Molitor Hattenheimer Spatlese Rheingau $19 *
2005 Dr. Fischer Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett Saar $22 *
1993 Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Auslese Mosel $28 *