Thirsty alert

Lederhosen 2It’s almost time for Riesling Week!

Wines of Germany and the European Union are sponsoring the 5th annual Riesling Week 5/18-5/24 in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Las Vegas and Miami.  Over 80 restaurants and retailers are participating, offering treats like multiple Rieslings by the glass, flights of Riesling, tasting menus with Riesling pairings, discounts on bottles of Riesling and special in-store tastings.  For the full list of the goings-on, click here or if you’re in NYC, Tasting Table did it up by specifying what the restaurant or retail spot is offering.

I touched on Riesling in the post “sweetness is my weakness“, mentioning that it’s sadly underappreciated.  So, next week will be your chance to give it a try (or try more if you’re already in-the-know).  And here’s why you should:

1. Riesling is a sommelier’s secret weapon – it’s incredibly versatile with food:  hors d’oeuvres like cold meats, light cheeses, smoked fish (try with lighter styles); main courses like most seafoods, pork, poultry and veal (for heavier preparations, go for a full-bodied, dry style); desserts with a slight tartness to them or that contain fruit (many sweeter styles of Riesling are desserts themselves); cheese – harder ones with fruity, low-alcohol Rieslings and blue-veined ones with richer, sweeter styles; Asian dishes – many have a touch of sweetness which works well with wines that do, too – and the sweetness can help cut any spiciness.

2. Riesling is the fastest growing grape varietal in the United States (35.6% by volume, according to Destination Riesling), so you’ll probably start to see more of it when you’re out and about.  Germany’s the top producer, providing 60% of the world’s supply and in Austria, Riesling is the second leading white grape varietal (after Grüner Veltliner).  It has a special place in my heart because it’s one of the few grapes we can grow successfully where I’m from (the Finger Lakes).  New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Northwest are also doing a lot with it. 

3. Few other grapes can produce such a range of wine styles – bone dry to syrup-y sweet, with everything in between.  That being said, I want to briefly explain some things you might see on a German bottle of Riesling.  The overwhelming majority of German Rieslings are sold as Qualitätswein (quality wine), meaning they’ve passed analytical and taste tests.  There are two divisions of this Qualitätswein category: Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (don’t worry, you can just remember this as QbA) and Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP). 

QbA wines must come from one of the 13 approved wine making regions in Germany (think Mosel or Rheingau) and reflect the style of its region (think terroir).  QmP wines meet all of the requirements of QbA wines, but are made from riper or overripe grapes, giving them a special attribute (Prädikat in German).  Generally speaking, riper grapes yield more concentrated wines.   So, when someone says Prädikat level, this is what it means:

Kabinett (KAH-bee-net): light to medium bodied wines and can be finished dry, medium-dry or sweet.  They average 7-10% alcohol.

Spätlese (SHPATE-lay-zuh): means “late harvest”, but don’t be fooled – these wines can be vinified dry, medium-dry or sweet, just like the Kabinetts, though they tend to be more concentrated with more intense flavors.

Auslese (OWSS-lay-zuh): means “select picking” – hand picked very ripe bunches of grapes – intense in bouquet and taste – often sweet, but can be finished dry or medium-sweet.  Dry Auslese can have over 14% alcohol.

Beerenauslese (BARON-owss-lay-zuh, a mouthfull that’s usually shortened to BA): means “berries select picking” – individually selected, overripe berries – here begins your rich, dessert wines.

Eiswein (ice-vine): yup, you guessed it, ice wine.  these babies can stay on the vine as late as December (most harvesting in the Northern Hemisphere is Aug/Sept/Oct) – they’re pressed while frozen and excess water is discarded, leaving lots of sugar – sometimes they have the honeyed influence of botrytis.

Trockenbeerenauslese (TROCK-en-BARON-owss-lay-zuh, also known as TBA): “dry berries select picking” – these things have shriveled to raisins by the time they’re harvested and have definitely experienced noble rot – incredibly rare and considered among the world’s best dessert wines (their prices usually match this sentiment).

So, slap on your lederhosen, practice your pronunciation and go drink up.

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