I know I've been talking a lot of white wine lately, but when it's 95 degrees with 100% humidity, red can be a hard sell for me. I genuinely have no preference for red vs. white wine -- I love them equally -- but in the summer when even my sweet, rascally, and energetic puppy, Ellie (11 months and soooo cute, see right), can only go out for 7 minutes before she's wilting, chilled white is the way to go.
So when it hit 104 with the heat index the other day, M.C. Ice (my fabulous husband) and I busted open the bottle of German Riesling that the folks at Destination Riesling sent me (there's my disclosure, but as always I'll be honest, as you know) with total joy and excited anticipation. What is Destination Riesling? Well, to quote them:
I love the idea of this campaign, since I think perceptions of Riesling that it's sweet and for rookies are just plain wrong. Creating more awareness about styles and the range of Riesling is so important, because people are just missing out by sticking with their bad impression of this awesome wine.
So let me just step off the soapbox (ah, nice to be back on solid ground) and tell you that the wine we tried was a German Riesling from the region of Rheingau.
Rheingau is an area near Frankfurt, whose name literally translates to "Rhine District" (really original, huh?). Geographically it's interesting because the Rhine River, which flows in a fairly straight, northerly shot from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea, bumps up against the Taunus Mountains and is forced to turn west at Rheingau. This is great for winegrowers because at the bend is a big ledge of south-facing slopes. The vineyards are planted on these gentle hills right on the water, so they benefit from the sun and warmth reflecting off the Rhine -- totally key in an area that's so far north that it's nearly impossible to ripen fruit. Given all that, Rheingau is a fabulous place to grow grapes.
And grow they do.
Even though it represents only 3% of the total wineland area in Germany, Rheingau's history as a wine growing region (winemaking began in the 1100s here) and its commitment to quality make it a standout. For example, I think it's very classy that instead of growing mainly lesser grapes such as Müller-Thurgau and Silvaner, 80% of the land in this region is planted to Riesling, a rarity in the German wine world and especially ironic because the Geisenheim Wine Institute, which developed Müller-Thurgau, is located here. Adding further to its cred, Rheingau is the home of the famed Johannisberg Riesling, which you've probably had so you know it's super fruity, creamy, aromatic, and delicious. Even if you don't like sweeter or fuller styles from Germany, you can appreciate that Rheingau winemakers also invented late harvest wines, or Spätlese, which are made by letting the grapes hang on the vines for a few weeks after the regular harvest to build some ripeness and make a sweeter, fuller-bodied wine. All these accomplishments and delicious wine make Rheingau a great region.
That said, people make a big deal of Riesling from the Mosel and often forget those from Rheingau. I love them. They are so cut and dried: a good Rheingau Riesling will be fragrant and super clear in flavor -- you won't be grasping for descriptions. These wines are upfront with what they are. Dry or sweet, they are fruity (like peaches and limes), rich and creamy, have a spicy mineral twang, and wicked acidity.
The Schloss Schönborn that M.C. Ice and I tried is from the largest estate from a designated high-quality vineyard within Rheingau, called Marcobrunn (I keep wanting to call it Macro Bun, as in large yummy, bready, roll, but I'm wrong. It's Marco, as in Polo, and brunn, which apparently means stream). There are several vineyards in the area known to be outstanding sites for grape growing and this is one.
Schloss Schönborn started growing grapes here in 1349. It's one of the oldest wine estates in Germany. Today, it is known for outstanding Rieslings. Schloss Schönborn is a member of the VDP, an organization of high quality German wine producers that signify their compliance to these standards by placing an eagle emblem on their capsule (yeah, that's what that is). This organization is hard-ass -- they review members closely, guard membership by ensuring that the temperature, altitude, rain, wind, sun, soil conditions, etc. are up to par. They don't mess around, so believe that Schloss Schönborn's wine is no joke...it's a solid wine.
The wine is a Kabinett. That doesn't mean you stick it in the cabinet and never drink it. It's the way that Germans classify their wines. They have a scale of different ripeness levels (which they refer to as Pradikat, which they equate with quality, although we dry wine drinkers are better off thinking about it in terms of ripeness or sugar levels). Here are the most common levels and what they mean:
Kabinett: Ripe grapes from a regular harvest. They can be dry or they can be slightly sweet.
Spätlese: Late harvest with very ripe grapes. They can be dry but usually they are pretty sweet and they can be fruitier than a Kabinett but not always.
Auslese: It means "select harvest," and this wine is made from very ripe, selected bunches and is either sweet, semi-sweet, or rich and dry. Auslese is tricky because it covers a lot of different styles, so you have to ask or research before you buy one.
Other sweeter styles are Beerenauslese, Eiswein, and Trockenbeerenauslese and these are uber sugary and just really for dessert. Oh, and lastly, if the wine says "trocken" on the label, that means it's dry. I've found that hard to find, just as an FYI, but that may just be me.
Ok, with that out of the way, here's the wine...
The Wine: Schloss Schönborn Kabinett
Where It's From: Marcobrunn Vineyard, Rheingau, Germany
The Grapes: 100% Riesling
Color: This wine was the color of a ripe yellow apple and kind of reflective (I probably could have applied lipstick in the reflection it was so sparkly!). There were a ton of little bubbles -- probably from the addition of CO2 at the end for freshness, or an early bottling with little filtering left some yeast that processed some sugar and made CO2 while working away. Either way, they are harmless, common in German wines, and I don't mind a little spritz in young white wine so I was happy to see them.
Smell: I loved the smell of this wine because it was a study in contrast -- both typical and atypical of Riesling. I know that when you smell a wine and you read these descriptions that I put down or other wine people write you think we're full of BS and question our sanity or sobriety when coming up with this crap, but I swear this wine had distinctive scents that you would call out easily (goes back to what I said before about Rheingau -- focused, easily pinpoint-able flavors). The typical -- nice ripe peach, white flower, and honey smells. The atypical -- it smelled exactly like figs, clovers in a field, and English peas (seriously). There was one thing in which it was very much lacking -- no noticeable spiciness or strong mineral tones to smell. I worried. Was this going to be a powder puff wine, all fruit and nothing else?
Taste: Nope. No powder puff here. Whew! This wine had the honey, sweet pea (I know it sounds weird but I swear it's there), and dried apricot flavor, but to my relief it also tasted like licking a slate slab. It was a little spicy and rocky (think mineral water), and it was spritzy and fresh from the mini bubbles. It had low alcohol and was lightly sweet and creamy in texture. I loved that the wine was so acidic that I felt like I needed a dentist hose to drain the moisture from under my tongue. Another thing I adored about this wine was that the flavor and texture were consistent from start to finish -- it kept its (tasty) character throughout. I like this in a white wine and find that it is a rare occurrence, so I was happy with this attribute (it's the kind of thing that you don't notice until you have a wine that has it and then you realize that it's amazing!). This was a typical German Riesling and it delivered.
Food: Asian and Indian cuisines are this wine's best friends. The acid mitigates the burning effect of the spice and the fruitiness and sugar make Asian spices rounder/less stinging. Your mouth goes from being on fire to being coated with slightly sweet creaminess and clean acid. The effect is that the food tastes more balanced/less hot and the wine tastes creamier and less sweet. What a killer combo (I love this with Indian because it complements those warm spices -- curry, tamarind, cumin, etc).
Drink or Down the Sink?: Although definitely not an everyday sipper for me because it's a little sweet (I love my Rieslings bone dry), this one goes into the rotation for anytime we do Indian, Thai, or Chinese. It's a wonderful wine with food and I'd give it a whirl next time you're trying anything with Eastern spice! If you don't believe me, M.C. Ice, who hates semi-sweet wines (although strangely doesn't mind dessert wines, but that's a story for another time) really liked this wine for its balance, its clear flavors, and its great ability to become tastier with food!
How to Shop For a Wine Similar To This One: Well, first either go to the German section or to the Riesling section of your shop. The wine will be in a long, skinny green bottle (called a Hoch bottle). First look for Riesling then Rheingau on the label. Then look for a vineyard name like Johannisberg, Mannberg, Rüdesheimer Berg, or Marcobrunn, as was the case here. Look for that VDP symbol (right) mentioned above. Lastly, look for the ripeness/sweetness level. This wine was a Kabinett, which tends to be a little drier. If the wine says Spätlese or Auslese it will most likely be much sweeter than this wine, so caveat emptor. All these tips should increase the likelihood of you getting a high quality product that's typical of the area and similar to the wine I'm describing here!