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Riesling

To balance my previous post about Thanksgiving Pinot Noir, I want to review this holiday’s other most commonly enjoyed wine. Riesling, whether fully trocken (dry) or halbtrocken (off-dry, having between 1% and 2% residual sugar), is the perfect foil to turkey and its dinner companions. It has the added advantage of being the shimmering queen of white wine, but that is, of course, just my opinion. Let’s see what I can do to sway you to my side.

Weingut Robert Weil is one of the Rheingau’s younger wine estates, located in Kiedrich, a village that was first recorded in 950 AD. It is, however, also one of the finest, producing a range of wines along the whole spectrum of sweetness as categorized by German winemakers. Michael Broadbent considered Robert Weil “the most consistently brilliant winemaker in the Rheingau.” Thanks to the fabulous terroir of the vineyards in the Rheingau, with their rich mineral content and exceptional drainage, the wines exhibit remarkably distinct elegance, complexity, and nuance. Generally fruit-driven, but not overly forward, Weingut Robert Weil Rieslings exhibit a dancing whirl of acidity around their lush fruit cores, showing extract and poise far beyond what most white wines are capable of reaching. Weil wines are truly wonderful examples of Riesling’s potential.

This example, the entry-level 2011 Weingut Robert Weil Rheingau Trocken Riesling, shows a pale gold in the glass. Once poured, I find typical vibrant fruity aromas of lemon zest, stony peach, with a hint of sandalwood and wet stone. More bright citrus fruit in the mouth, with a tingling acidity that makes this wine seem electric, the texture rounded out by chalky mineral elements. The quenching finish leaves you ready for more, and pairs beautifully with Thanksgiving trimmings – although it could just as easily be enjoyed on its own. A pure steal at $17.

With Thanksgiving just finished, I thought I’d dash down another quick entry about one of my favorite New York State wines, produced by a pioneering family I have written up before: the Franks. Dr. Konstantin Frank, responsible for developing many Vinifera grape varietals and hybrids, such as Seyval Blanc, on New York soil. Their wines are always of high quality, consistently delicious, and remain good values from the Finger Lakes region. As it also happens, I find these wines perfect for the holiday season: they are generous, have some depth, but don’t crowd out anything else on the table. This wine, in particular, demonstrated some of its aging potential when I opened it while trying candidates for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. It has come a long way, to say the least.

In the glass, the 2008 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling is still a pale straw color, tinged green. The first swirl elicits aromas of summer peach, flint, and a touch of pear and petrol. In the mouth, this wine reveals an almost viscous texture balanced to incisive acidity, demonstrating great focus at this price point. In this 2008 vintage, we can easily observe the Riesling transparency: that sense that the fruit, each singular element of its personality, is right there. Finishes nice and smooth, with more soft peach notes, and some really interesting honeyed notes wreathed with a touch of smoke. 12% ABV; heavier than most German takes on what is essentially a Kabinett. I would pair this with… yep, turkey. Or possibly glazed pork loin with potatos and steamed vegetables. $16 nabs you a delicious Thanksgiving. Do it.

Another huge hiatus! Time to make up for it with a dazzling series. Once in a while, especially when playing catch-up on a wine blog, you want a wine that just rocks. No snobby nonsense; no sniff, swirl, spit. Just a wine that breaches all boundaries, pushing the limits of what you thought possible in terms of terroir. I found such a wine recently, and it represents a defiant vision of winemaking I find quite attractive.

This wine is the 2008 Stronghold Vineyards “Tazi,” a white blend made in Cornville, Arizona by no less a personage than Maynard James Keenan, frontman for the alternative/prog metal legend Tool. If anything exemplifies the approach used for producing this wine, it is the name: “Tazi” is a name used for the Persian greyhound, one of the earliest breeds to diverge from wolves. The vineyard site, located at the eastern end of Sulfur Springs Valley, is 80 acres, of which 70 are currently cultivated. If you want to learn about this project, which Keenan undertook with winemaker Eric Glomski, see the documentary, Blood Into Wine, which can be obtained at their website http://www.arizonastrongholdvineyards.com/. Who could expect that Arizona would produce wines of any note, let alone with such bold fruit character and aromatics as this one?

What surprised me about “Tazi” is its composition: it is a blend of 52% Sauvignon Blanc, 21% Chardonnay, 19% Riesling and 8% Malvasia Bianca – Sauvignon Blanc contributes freshness and acidity, as well as some herbal qualities; Chardonnay contributes body and texture; Riesling contributes finesse and some fruit to the finish, while Malvasia contributes aromas and texture. Combined in this blend, they present a wine that is floral and fruit-driven on the nose, focused on peach, tangerine, and honeysuckle notes. It has a nicely balanced mouthfeel, medium-bodied and supple, except a little hot from the 13.7% alcohol. Nice crisp medium finish, but again, a bit hot for my taste. Try this fine example of unorthodox winemaking for only $18.

I held off from updating this forum for a good long while. Why? Lots of reasons. Busy with work, busy being lost in the grey of New York City. Perhaps I was readying myself for the long winter to come. Perhaps I was trying, as so many people do, to plan for ways to combat the icy dreariness of winter. As it turns out, feasting is often the best way to survive the cold months. In fact, this Wednesday I plan to get together with a group of friends and do just that: deny the loneliness of the coming winter. So we gather, and we praise the cleverness of cooking. We sit at the apex, the very culmination of our civilized state: cooking is now a celebrity act, and cooks are our demigods in media and in fact. Decadence, decadence: who’s to say what’s wrong or right about it? Bring it on, I say. Bring it on, and bring friends. And bring the following wines:

Prosecco Brut, Scu Dò, NV – There’s a reason everyone loves this bubbly. Light, dry and pale gold in the glass, this fizzing crowd-pleaser reveals citrus and baked bread aromas on the nose, with a nice mousse. Approachable, good for raising high in a toast. Perfect as an aperitif. $9.

2008 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling – this wine will redefine what New York State wines can do. Beautiful. Dry, with a pronounced mineral element, this wine has definite notes of peach, mango, and apple blossoms on the nose. The mouthfeel is a nice balance of steely acidity and a touch of residual sugar, with more fruity notes of pineapple and citrus leading to a medium finish. Be ready. $15.

2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling – Why not go for Washington State, with its surprisingly good white wines on top of their internationally renowned wines made from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon? This showing has a nose dominated by peach and apricot notes, as well as some interesting floral notes and lime zest. Great balance here, with the 13% ABV offset by the fruit itself. A soft-yet-strident mouthfeel shows more beautiful fruit, with a long quenching finish. $11.

2008 Silver Thread Gewürztraminer – Another New York wine for the table! This is one of the most unusual and excellent wines I’ve had from the Finger Lakes. Rich, almost unctuous fruit with breathy aromas of lychee fruit, rose petals, and peach drizzled in honey. At first I thought this wine was sweet, but it proved bone-dry on the palate. Exceptional with white meats and lightly spicy dishes (have you ever made curry with your leftover turkey?). $18.

2009 Four Vines “Naked Vines” Chardonnay – From Santa Barbara County in CA, this wine has the acidity that makes it a perfect companion for food. Beautifully aromatic nose of lemon and lime zest, as well as other white seed fruit and floral notes, almost like Sauvignon Blanc in its strident (but not biting) acidity. Reveals a nice silky texture on the palate, with mineral notes and more tropical fruit leading to a medium finish. $14.

2009 P’tit Rouquin “Les Vins Contés” VdT, O. Lemasson – A delightful wine made from the Gamay grape, showing vibrant cherry red in the glass. The nose bounces fresh raspberry fruit, with some slight earthy notes. Great quenching acidity in the mouth, with more red fruit and some minerality leading to a nice bright finish. $15.

2006 Côte de Brouilly, Christophe Pacalet – Pacalet is a star in the world of Beaujolais; his wines are renowned for their finesse and purity of character. Bring some finesse to the feast with this aged Côte de Brouilly, a fine Cru wine with exceptionally concentrated cherry and raspberry fruit, followed by hints of savory hung meat balanced to perfect acidity. Awesome with the turkey. $17.

2007 Heitz Grignolino – Oh snap! That’s right, I propose you foist a wine from the Napa Valley on your family this Thanksgiving. But this is no ordinary Cabernet fruit bomb. This is that finest of all things, a beautiful and honest rendition of an obscure Italian varietal produced by one of California’s premiere producers. Pale coppery red in the glass, with an explosion of aromatics when poured: raspberries, strawberries, orange peel, and violets. Nice balance and good poise; silk-like texture. Long finish, strong on fruit but with hints of earth. $19.

Riesling is, as I repeat constantly, my beloved grape. A Riesling’s haunting flavors, piercing acidity, the beauty of Riesling grapes on the precarious slopes of the Rhine, the delicate shimmer of a Riesling… nothing compares. Germany, of course, remains the source of all the best Rieslings (although Austria and Australia both produce wines that occasionally force me to drop my jaw). That said, New York’s showings are becoming increasingly satisfying! I love the wine that is the subject of this post: the 2008 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling.

Dr. Konstantin Frank merits special attention. He was, after all, the first winemaker in New York State to adopt the Vitis vinifera grape, and produced delicious wines nearly from the get-go, at that. Many years after his initial debut of the traditional European grape species, Dr. Frank continued to have detractors – now, thankfully, those objections have been washed away by the profundity of his descendent’s wines. His grandson, Frederick Frank, runs the family business with an extremely talented band of winemakers, specialists with a global perspective. All this, and seeing the place means you get a trip to the Finger Lakes!

Their 2008 Dry Riesling is the first wine I have tried by this producer, having read many articles about the quality of their lineup. Let me make an account of why it is beautiful. This wine is beautiful because it is a crystalline pale straw tinged with green in the glass. This wine is beautiful because of its lemon-lime citrus and green apple aromas accentuated by slate stone and floral notes on the nose, followed by a steely mineral mouthfeel. This wine is beautiful for its strident acidity, piercing the faithful like lightning. Definitely on the mean side in that regard, but the mineral and apple fruit makes it balanced to my tastes. Great snappy finish. Pair this wine with pork chops, or fresh lobster or crab. Pair it with oysters. Pair it with itself. $14.

I am all about Riesling, and feel that not enough people share my passion. Glass after glass, this wine proves to be the most delicious and intriguing one I know. It is not reliably fine (perfect terroir and great skill on the part of the maker are needed), but achieves heights of finesse that can leave me dazzled. The key to great Riesling is that transparency, the sense that every nuance of the wine is right there, shimmering like a visible curtain of honeyed air and perfume. Even average Riesling, however, can prove an interesting experience.

This Riesling, the 2008 J&H Selbach Bernkastel Kurfurstlay, is one such wine, showing some good fruit and complexity beyond what I expect at this price. A nice straw gold in the glass, with lively aromas of peach fruit, lime zest, and floral notes on the nose, leading to more juicy peaches in the mouth balanced by quenching acidity. Some nice mineral here, too. Medium finish. I would drink this with baked or glazed pork and apples, or salmon with mango chutney.Or by itself, all evening. $11.


In Germany, Riesling is king. The reasons are very straightforward: it produces wines of utmost complexity and transparency, with soaring acidity gracefully balanced to intense mineral and fruit, often with floral notes; as it ages, it can take on a softer, honeyed character that matches beautifully to its acidity (and this acidity is what allows Riesling to age so well, often for decades); and finally, because it is one of the great unsung food wines, always in a niche, though why that is I cannot comprehend. Haunting and glorious – these two words sum up how I feel about Riesling.

Hailing from the upper Nahe region, a single-parcel bottling from a side valley in Rheingrafenberg quartzite soil, this gem is one of a series of wines being produced by a new producer, whose credo (literally “QUALITÄT IST UNSERE OBERSTE MAXIME,” on the website) has driven him to incredibly high standards, despite the fact that this wine is technically only a QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiet, the lower tier of quality German Riesling). Superb clarity in the glass, with a golden straw color. On the nose, it balances delightful fresh citrus zest, nectarine, and floral notes to stony minerality. This leads to a shimmering cascade of intense peach fruit in the mouth, springy acidity, proceeding in turn to a clean lemony finish. Very forward, much bigger than the price at $19.