02/20/07 – March Madness (Riesling)

By Jesse on February 19, 2007


First of all, happy President’s Day! In honor of all of the important men and women who have served as commander in chief of this country, we’re all taking Monday off from work. Undoubtedly you’re bored and in desperate need of purpose on this day of respite. Here’s one suggestion: go buy a nice bottle of Riesling. And when you’re done with that, read this article about an extremely interesting business opening in LA soon that we all must go check out.

This week we move to Riesling for the third installment of our little tournament. Riesling generally competes with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris for the title of “white grape besides Chardonnay you’re most likely to see on a typical wine list.” It also has the distinction of often being really, really good. As the Bible puts it: “Riesling is considered by many wine experts to be the most noble and unique white grape variety in the world. Given the right soil and winemaking methods, the tirad of high acidity, high extract, and low alcohol leads to intensely flavorful wines of ravishing delicacy, transparency, and lightness.” Taste-wise, the Riesling grape can be all over the map, but we tend to think of them as crisp wines, typically with some acidity, which are made in cool regions. Some people mistakenly assume Rieslings are always sweet. In fact, many of the best of them are either only slightly sweet or totally dry. The Riesling article on the Wine Varietals Index is really informative — scroll down and check it out!

Riesling is grown (in alphabetical order) in: Australia, Austria, California, France, Germany, New York State, New Zealand, South Africa, and Washington State. You can bring a bottle from anywhere, but my assumption is that we’ll get the most bottles from France, Germany, and California (and maybe Washington), so for the purposes of the blind tasting it might be best to bring one of those regions. Germany is proud to call Riesling its most important and well-made grape. The German Rieslings are known for their extreme precision and complexity. They range from dry to sweet; if your bottle says “Kabinett,” that’s a dryer version, whereas “Spatlese” and “Auslese” indicate progressively higher levels of sweetness (some bottles won’t indicate either way). In France, Riesling’s home is the region of Alsace, one of the very few regions in France that will list the grape type on the label. “Alsace Riesling is as thoroughly different from German Riesling as a wine can be and still come from the same grape. The best German Rieslings are finely etched, exquisitely nuanced wines, low in alcohol, vibrating in acidity, and usually balanced with a softening pitch of sweetness. Alsace Rieslings are not nearly as dainty; they are mostly very dry, broad wines with palate-coating, full-throttle flavors that lean towards gunflint, steel, and minerals, all drizzled with peaches, green plums, and a limey sort of citrus.” The Bible goes on to recommend buying an Alsace Riesling with a couple of years on it, as the young ones tend to be tight. Finally, Riesling does well in and Washington State and California, where the wines are going to tend to be softer and fuller than their European counterparts.

(Riesling is also made into delicious dessert-style sweet wines all over the world, such as the phenomenal Trockenbeerenauslese in Germany and “late-harvest Riesling” in the states. Anyone who feels so inspired can certainly bring one, but they will tend to run pretty pricey.)

For the first time in ’07, we’re returning to the ancestral meeting ground of the Young Winos — our neo-opulent “shag shack” in Sherman Oaks. Don and I just got the carpets cleaned last week, so we’re really excited to show them off! (That also means we’ll be asking you to remove your shoes… bear that in mind when choosing your socks on Tuesday morning. Or you could just bring slippers.) Chill that amazing bottle of Riesling, dig up some tasting notes if you can, and we’ll see your bad selves on Tuesday at 9 PM.