Are you ready for the Summer of Riesling?
Oh, c’mon … yes, you are.
What’s that, you say? You don’t like riesling? It’s too sweet? It’s too heavy? It’s only for dessert?
Oh dear. It looks like we need a riesling reboot!
When the weather warms up (or, in our case here in the desert, becomes unbearably scorching), the world of wine professionals reaches for cool, crisp rieslings—so much so that a campaign was launched about a decade ago officially titled, you guessed it, “The Summer of Riesling.” Every year, restaurants and wine bars around the country feature several rieslings by the glass for the entire summer. I get giddy just thinking about it!
This riesling lovefest is designed to bring awareness to this tragically overlooked grape through a slew of high-profile wine dinners, tastings and, in years past, some pretty epic wine parties.
This noblest of noble grapes has slipped past the radar of even the savviest wine-drinkers. It seems to be shrouded in misconceptions about its sweetness and drinkability. The mere sight of that tall, skinny bottle is a nonstarter for a lot of people—and as a result, there are a lot of people missing out on wine bliss.
Riesling is a true chameleon. It’s capable of being so dry that it will rattle your bones; it is capable of being dessert in a glass—and it can be everything in between. But no matter what style you try, the one thing that is consistent is its electrifying acidity. This one component is what makes this wine so truly special. It’s what keeps those sweeter rieslings bright and fresh, preventing them from being cloying and overly sticky. It’s what makes the dry versions taste like lightning in a bottle, waking up your palate and quenching your thirst. It’s what makes these whites so age-worthy. I’m not talking about a few years here; I’m talking about decades in the bottle. They stay bright, focused and laser-sharp; this age-worthiness is a trait we don’t see in any other wines made from white grapes.
The acidity also makes these wines the ultimate companion to spicy, salty or fatty foods. This is why any Japanese restaurant worth its weight will have an extensive riesling selection. There is no better foil for salty soy sauce, spicy wasabi or fatty tuna. Indian food, Thai cuisine, Mexican dishes—hell, even good ol’ American barbecue is ideal for the low-alcohol, high-acid freshness that riesling brings to the table.
While Germany is the original home to riesling, it’s been successful growing around the world. Australia, France, Austria and the United States all create beautiful examples that brilliantly highlight the areas from which they come.
If you care to join me on my summertime riesling adventure, here are my favorites that I will be sipping.
Forge “Classique” Riesling, Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes, N.Y. ($18): You may be thinking to yourself: Wine from New York? Yes! As a matter of fact, New York is home to the oldest winery in the U.S.—but Forge Cellars is a young operation, established in 2011 by 14th-generation vigneron Louis Barroul, who is responsible for the great wines of Chateau St. Cosme in Gigondas. His love affair with riesling prompted him to explore new regions where this grape could thrive. He discovered that the Finger Lakes in New York would be an ideal second home—not only for him, but for this cool-climate-loving grape. The lake helps keep the winter frosts at bay and promotes a great temperature shift at night. This wine is so dry that it has less sugar than a New Zealand sauvignon blanc! With mouthwatering flavors of white peaches, grapefruit and chamomile tea, this wine will leave you speechless.
Leeuwin Estate “Art Series” Riesling, Margaret River, Australia ($16): Back in the ’70s, Napa Valley pioneer Robert Mondavi was the first to identify this vineyard site in the Margaret River region in Western Australia as a grape-growing paradise. He even stayed a while and mentored the owners of this special place as they planted the vines and created Leeuwin Estate; it’s now considered one of the greatest wineries in Australia. Every vintage of this wine has received critical acclaim. The glass bursts with aromas of fresh-squeezed lemons and limes, with hints of orange blossoms and jasmine. It’s positively tingly on the palate and goes down the gullet-frighteningly fast. Thank God it only has 12% alcohol!
Dunham Cellars Lewis Estate Vineyard Riesling, Columbia Valley, Wash. ($20): Eric Dunham is considered a legend in Walla Walla. His winemaking skills were intuitive, and he consistently put out Washington state’s best bottles. Dunham was responsible for helping actor Kyle MacLachlan launch his Pursued by Bear wines, and he mentored Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars. Dunham was only 44 years old when he left this world, but his winemaking style lives on through the dedicated team at Dunham. In my opinion, this wine is where they shine. The Lewis Vineyard has long been considered the best site for riesling in the state. Elegant and silky, this wine is layered with green apples, lemongrass, that beautiful smell of wet stones, and a touch of honey on the finish.
So, that Summer of Riesling is starting to sound pretty good now, isn’t it?