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.
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.
The 2005 Nahe Kreuznacher Kronenberg Riesling Spätlese was the third white selected for this past Thanksgiving, and made the cut because of the price ($17) and the distinct flavor profile I’ve come to expect from this maker. It’s a good value, and demonstrates why this varietal deserves more popular recognition than it receives. The nose features nice peach notes, mineral and soft floral notes, with a mouthfeel showing mild acidity and apple fruit, with hints of figs. Finishes well, and has reasonable balance. Also a QmP wine. Pairs with baked turkey or glazed ham.
“Go into the woods after a rain, and try to describe that smell.” These are the words of an Austrian winemaker, Willi Bründlmayer, and I think they also apply to this wine, the Weingut Schieler Spätlese Trocken 2003, a German Chardonnay with one of the most fascinating characters I’ve encountered in this varietal. Just try it; I’ll let it remain mostly a mystery. A nose featuring citrus with a zingy effervescence, and a mouthfeel showing bright notes of apple and pear. Not much oak, but balanced acidity buttresses the fruit. $25 a bottle.
For another excellent Thanksgiving white wine, I turned to the 2004 Karl Erbes Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese, from the village of Erden, in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region. This is a QmP wine, and really exceptional, transparent and delicate, yet possessed of a racy acidity. The nose shows concentrated citrus and mineral aromas, while the mouthfeel is soft and full of peaches and honeydew melon, along with exotic fruit and floral notes. Finishes long and elegantly, with classic Riesling flair. $16 a bottle. Quaff this down with heaping plates of turkey and potatoes, and buttered asparagus.
The 2006 Seebrich Niersteiner Oelberg Riesling Spätlese is two kinds of mouthful. Seebrich, a family estate in the Rheinhessen region, was founded in 1783, and has been run by successive sons ever since. I loved its soft fruity nose, followed by delicate notes of peaches and mild, elegant acidity in the mouth. It was a little sweeter than I expected. Golden straw color in the glass. All in all, it proved a basic Thanksgiving wine, and in any vintage is probably not meant for aging. About $15 per bottle. Pairs well with baked turkey or ham.
Here we have one of my favorite Easter wines! We matched this with ham last year. It’s worth noting that white wine is the preferred match for glazed ham. We went with a bottle of 2005 Joh. Jos. Prüm Riesling Kabinett, a delicious wine from one of the world’s premier makers, from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region in Germany. With floral notes, fresh peaches, and a hint of grapefruit on the nose, this light-bodied gem was a perfect match for the honey glaze. Flavors of melon on the mouth, well-balanced, some crisp acidity and good mineral in the finish. $25 a bottle, pretty standard for good Riesling. I should also list the different general levels of grape ripeness – and thus tendencies towards sweetness – for German Rieslings, all QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat), in ascending order: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, and Eiswein. Enjoy!