Like Roses of days past, Riesling in the United States gets a really bad rap: sweet and putrid. White Zinfandel was the same way when it spread through the United States like a virus and so was its Riesling equivalent: Liebfraumilch (“Maiden’s Milk”). These wines were everywhere, and for a little while, they were a craze, much like the Thigh Master, or John Mayer. But like all crazes, they eventually tried too hard and their music seemed insufferable, unlike the slow ascent of talented crooners, like Charles Bradley, that took decades to discover. Wait, we are talking about simple, sweet wine…
The United States was a nation of sweet drinks and sweet foods. Pepsi Free was taking on the new Coke formula and sugar was king. We couldn’t cram enough sugar into our diet and wine was no different. Liebfraumilch and White Zin attacked the American consumer with lethal effect, hitting the sweet spot without remorse. There was no real fruit in the wine, it was something sweet and the average wine consumer didn’t seemingly want anything other than the fermented sugar water. Something had to change…
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Like I said earlier, this craze ended. Americans in general wanted to be healthier as sugar gave way to sugar-like substances, which in some instances, gave way to more natural flavors. Wine in many ways steered the same course, not by additives (we’ll discuss this later on), but by curbing back the amount of sugar in the wine by boosting the alcohol (***WINE 101 MOMENT: Alcohol is created by yeast converting sugar into alcohol and SO2–yes, sulfites…another topic, another time) levels. You will find this the most in California wines. Something else of significance occurred: people started looking past the coying sweetness of Liebfraumilch, and started trying the drier Rieslings that the main Riesling production machine, Germany, was producing. It went from sugar-water to dry, crispness.
Today, Riesling (especially dry, or “Trocken”)is one of the most sought after styles of wines produced, by Sommeliers and wine retailers. Why? For us, after a day of tasting heavy red after heavy red, you want something refreshing and crisp. Dry Riesling fills this void. The bigger picture is that it is both food friendly AND good on its own. Here is just a small list of foods in which Riesling is a perfect pairing:
Korean BBQ (seriously, Korean wings and Riesling? How good a combo it is makes me drool)
Vegetables like roasted Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower (try it with minced garlic)
Fish, Grilled or Smoked
Curry–ALL THE CURRY
Tzatziki Sauce based dishes
Butternut Squash Risotto
Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese
Sausage–(ALL THE SAUSAGE)
Cheese? Come on, Son… Riesling is incredible with a sharp cheddar, Swiss, Gruyere, Comte…
A warm night on the back porch
A hot night on the back porch
Compare this list to a Cabernet Sauvignon list. Riesling wins. This isn’t even close. I’ve seen the UCONN women’s basketball team win by closer margins.
So, what do you look for in a Riesling that will ensure crispness and flavor? Obviously you want to look at who makes the wine, like Manfred Breit, Zind Humbrecht, Trimbach, Margerum, and the list goes on.
Obviously you can look for keywords like “Trocken,” or “Wine from Alsace,” and the somewhat obvious “Dry.” What I like to do, and this really only applies to Riesling, is to look at the alcohol content. I find that the higher in alcohol a Riesling is, the dryer the wine. Rieslings around 9.5% ABV and below tend to be sweeter, while wines that are 10.5% ABV and above tend to be dry.
Put down the John Mayer and give Charles Bradley a try. You’ll be MUCH happier. He is a man that worked his entire life just to survive and finally at the age of 60, his music was discovered and the pain that he suffered to succeed in life is prevalent through his singing. He makes you want to be better in any way possible. His talent is incredible. Try his debut album: “No Time for Dreaming.” You will be amazed.