The hot weather has settled in and summer is officially here. It’s time for something crisp and light to drink, and maybe with a hint of sweetness to go with all of the bold flavors and spicy summer foods we eat. A delicious way to quench your summer thirst is with a refreshing riesling.
The riesling grape is one of the most versatile grapes on the planet and can vinified to make everything from pale, austere, bone-dry sippers, to luscious—almost viscous—deep golden dessert wines. Rieslings tend to be wonderful wines to pair with foods because of their balance of sugar and acidity. Another characteristic of this grape is its mutability based on terroir, which is to say that the character of riesling wines is greatly influenced by the wine’s place of origin.
I think of the Max Ferdinand Richter 2014 Richter Estate Riesling ($17) as a quintessential German riesling. Hailing from the Mosel region of Germany, a region known for the high quality of its rieslings, this wine has notes of honey and peach on the nose, with a pleasant sweetness that would make it a lovely aperitif, especially when served with some spicy little bites after work. It has an acidity that almost comes across as effervescence at first. I first sampled it with a pot of garlicky bitter greens fresh from the garden braised with a smoked ham shank. The wine played beautifully off of the saltiness of the pork, and when I splashed the greens with a little spicy homemade pepper vinegar, the combination was even more perfect. It also played nicely off the heat of some early summer radishes sprinkled with a bit of salt. Another interesting note, both on the nose and the palate of this wine was a hint of petrol (some refer to it as rubber), a complex characteristic considered to be a sign of excellence in rieslings, mainly from the Old World, that evolves as the wine ages. And rieslings can generally spend a decade, sometimes multiple decades, in the bottle without any detriment to the wine.
The Dandelion Vineyards Enchanted Garden of Eden Valley Riesling 2015 ($19) expresses even more of this petrol note, surprising because this isn’t a characteristic known to come from its New World terroir. Eden Valley is a wine region in South Australia known for its crisp white wines, especially from the riesling grape. Generally speaking, wines from this region are produced in a distinctive style unlike those found in Germany or Alsace. When first opened, this wine seemed extremely austere, tight, minerally, and dry without a hint of residual sugar. Tried with the braised greens and pork, it fell flat compared to the German riesling. But on the following day we sampled the Eden Valley wine and over 24 hours time it had opened up, with a nose revealing less petrol and more citrus, honey, and caraway. It paired beautifully with a lunch of baked cod with crispy breadcrumbs, garlicky green beans, and a lemon-caper butter sauce.
I confess to a great love of the wines and food from Alsace, France, due in no small part to spending some formative years on the German side of the river that runs through it. The Albert Seltz Riesling 2014 ($18) from Alsace was the most elegant of the three. It was dry but not austere, with well-defined notes of apricot, peach, and honey on the nose. We enjoyed this wine most with a skillet of roasted smoked sausages, new potatoes, and eggplant with a hint of fresh basil and marjoram—and a little spice from a jalapeno pepper. It also paired extraordinarily well with the garlicky green beans from the cod dish. The finish was long and lazy and made this the wine that could most easily stand alone, without the accompaniment of food.
As we enter the height of summer, don’t forget to adjust your wine to the season. Because when the temperature rises, it’s time for riesling.