September 18, 2013

Wine: In praise of Riesling -- and not those disappointing dry ones

By Joe Appel

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S.A. Prum Blue Kabinett 2007 exemplifies the positive effects of maturity on a Mosel Riesling. Eugen Muller Forster Mariengarten Kabinett from the Pfalz region pulls off a perfect balancing act.

Courtesy photo

The dish was at a high level. I wouldn't try it at home. I offer it as an example of how all of this works, the mechanics of Riesling's sublime sympathies with food. Roast venison with herb gratinee in wine butter, with walnut potato terrine, raisin-and-Riesling-flavored speck (smoked prosciutto), and honey carrots. The wine (not available here) was a village-level 2006 Spatlese from P.J. Kuhn in the Rheingau. It wasn't extraordinary wine, but it was very, very good; the seven years of bottle age had brought it up to pre-adolescence -- in 15 years it will be prime.

What was extraordinary was the meeting. Reread the details of the dish: Every one of its flavors and textures -- gamey, nutty, smoky, herbal, unctuous, caramelized, balsamic, salty -- was echoed in the wine. I simply don't know of another sort of wine that could have done this. (The course was also served with a terrific Spatburgunder (German Pinot Noir), but no one paid it much mind).

With Riesling, you don't have to roast a young deer and produce a walnut potato terrine to get this sort of magic. With a mid-level Kabinett, a simple gingered chicken soup will come alive. A ham-and-cheese sandwich with mostarda or chutney simply soars.

German Riesling is (dis?)organized by all sorts of classifications according to ripeness of the grapes at harvest, amount of residual sugar in the final wine, location, acidity and more. Vintage variation is crucial with a grape so attuned to terroir, but there hasn't been a "bad" year for some time, so you're safe; you'll just sense so much variety depending on year.

Read the alcohol level on the wine to get a sense of how sweet it will taste. This isn't sure-fire, but it works quite well. A Riesling with 12 percent alcohol will be totally dry; with 11 percent there's a hint of sweetness, though barely. Kabinetts, unless labeled "trocken" (dry), usually contain 8.5 to 10 percent. Spatlese levels are usually even lower, but with some age the wines will present less as sweet than as profound. You might come across other designations ("feinherb," "halb-trocken"), but for now ignore them.

Forthwith, a short list of excellent wines, not in any way complete. It's just a useful introduction to exploring the world's greatest wine category.

St. Urbans-Hof Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett 2011 ($19, Central). A textbook Mosel, slatey, smoky and floral. Want to know what happens to a lovely Mosel Riesling from an exceptional vintage as it matures? The S.A. Prum Blue Kabinett 2007 is available for just $18 (Nappi). Three years ago the fruit shouted jubilantly; now this golden wine's sweetness barely whispers; the stones and clean branches carry the day.

Donnhof Estate Riesling 2011 ($22, SoPo). From the Nahe, the most geologically varied wine region anywhere. The wine's importer, Terry Theise, has a bias, of course, but he says this is the "single greatest white wine value in the world," He has tasted more wines than I have, but this wine makes me babble incoherently. It's a poem, a soprano ode to joy. It ripples, drapes, and lingers. Donnhof is a Great One. Start with this wine and then try the maple-walnut Kreuznacher Krotenpfuhl Kabinett for a few bucks more.

Eugen Muller Forster Mariengarten Kabinett 2010 ($17, SoPo). This is from the relatively warm Pfalz region, from a year with both insanely high acid levels and equally chart-topping ripeness. Many 2010 Rieslings don't manage to balance those poles; this does, in dramatic fashion. Jam-packed with spice and sunshine, agave, just ravenous, and if you don't like your Rieslings quite so flinty and sharp-tongued as you get in the Mosel, this is your guy.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market, but not all the wines mentioned in this column are necessarily sold there. His blog is, and he can be reached at:


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