A question I keep posing these days has to do with what one drinks when temperatures reach into the 100s. In the Northwest, temps are hovering at 102 degrees. This is an area where many homes lack air conditioning, so keeping cool requires fans, basements and cool drinks. When I ask what is most refreshing in this weather, an answer I frequently get is Riesling.
Riesling is a perfect hot weather drink as it is extremely refreshing, while still very fruit driven. The acidity and lower alcohol are a perfect match for quenching your wine thirst. Even when served ultra cold, Riesling’s layers of fruit and minerality can show through.
One to try is the Schmitt Sohne Thomas Schmitt Riesling QBA 2007. At $15, this wine is perfect for summer. Great acidity with ripe peach fruit backed by some good mineral notes. Fruity but crisp & a good, strong finish. Great for hot nights and/or spicy fare.
Does reading a German Riesling label leave you scratching your head and running for the beer aisle? Too much information on a label can be daunting especially when the words are in German. What the heck does “Kabinett” mean anyway? Thankfully, there is a method to the madness. The many designations on the label are designed to be helpful so that you can select something that you will like. Once you crack the code you can be confident in what you are buying and even (to some extent) what it will taste like.
The striking purity of flavor is one of many reasons to love Riesling. As an added bonus, these wines are often very low in alcohol, ranging from 8-11%. The versatility of Riesling lends it to many winemaking styles. The wines range from bone dry (no noticeable sweetness) to powerful honey-sweet wines. This wide range is one of the reasons that the labels contain so much information.
The labels contain 6 types of information: Winemaker, Quality Level, Region, Village/Vineyard, and Ripeness.
You will see one of two designations: QbA and QmP
QbA stands for Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiet. Whew, that’s a mouthful. This simply means the wine is of average quality. The standards for making this wine are relaxed. The prices for these wines are very affordable. Keep an eye out for QbA wines from the Nahe Region, as these wines often offer outstanding values.
QmP stands for Qualitätswein mit Prädikat. These are the real beauties of the Riesling world. In order to label a wine QmP the winemaker must follow specific requirements about where he or she got his grapes and at what level of ripeness the grapes were harvested. These wines can be pricey but are well worth it; offering a unique experience that most people bypass in favor of more well-known wines. QmP wines are the hidden treasures of the wine world.
Just as the words Burgundy and Bordeaux conjure images of unparalleled quality and tradition, so too should the words Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and Rheingau. The regions are named after the rivers that run through then. The Mosel River twists and turns through ravines, meeting up with the Saar and Ruwer rivers along the way, which in turn follow their own courses. The grapes grow on steep terraces overlooking the water. The Rheingau region runs along the Rhine river. After 2000 years of experimentation, German vintners have proven these regions as the finest. You can tell the difference between Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and Rheingau wines in their taste and by the their bottles. Mosel wines are delicate and mineral-driven, often with a hint of slate. They also come in green bottles. Rheingau wines are fuller bodied, with more petrol notes. These wines come in brown bottles. There are many other regions but these are the finest and best places to start when trying new wines.
Villages & Vineyards
Many times, the label will contain a village name followed by the vineyard the grapes came from. Unless you have oodles of time on your hands there is no way to learn them all. Most likely if the wine is pricey and it uses a “village-vineyard” format, it’s a safe bet that the vintner has added the vineyard because it is particularly famous. Here are some examples: Piesport-Goldtröpfchen and Brauneberger Juffer- Sonnenuhr. Some labels may only have the village, in those cases, the price tag can be indicative of quality.
I saved the best for last. The easiest way to shock and amaze your guests is to actually remember the words indicating the levels of ripeness. Stated simply, the words listed below indicate how ripe the grapes were at harvest time. Riper grapes were picked later in the growing season, usually all from the same vineyard. Generally speaking, the riper the grape the sweeter the wine it makes. This fantastic nomenclature allows you to pick the sweetness level you enjoy the most. Although the wines can be very sweet, they are never sickly sweet. This is because German Rieslings have an intense acidity that balances the sweetness perfectly. I have listed the levels of ripeness in order of driest to sweetest (which is also typically the order of least expensive to most expensive). Note that there are some Spätlese that may seem sweeter than Auslese, depending on the winemaker’s preference of how much grape sugar to convert to alcohol and how much sugar to leave in the wine.
Kabinett – Refreshing and aromatic dry wines. They are picked first from the vineyard.
Spätlese – Typically they have some noticeable sweetness and are picked later.
Auslese – Sweet and full-bodied, these wines can be expensive ($40 and up). They are harvested later in the season after the grapes have accumulated a substantial amount of sugar and perhaps some noble rot.
Beerenauslese (BA) – Rare, intensely sweet and very expensive. The labor-intensive winemaking process dictates the high price.
Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) – The rarest, sweetest and most expensive of all, these wines are made from grapes after they have shriveled on the vine. They are carefully hand picked one berry at a time. More a nectar than a wine, these wines are only made in exceptional years – you can tell this by the price tag if nothing else!
It’s summertime, and the drinking is easy… and more often – we’re sipping wine during the day at BBQs and parties, in the sun and occasionally out of a plastic cup. I think of wine as seasonal and this is the season for crisp whites, juicy reds, and of course, the ultimate summer drink, rose! A good number of these wines are ideal for summer’s most popular container – the plastic cup.
Some of my favorites that fall into this category:
Sauvignon Blancs– Sauvignon Blanc is a perfect summer wine, particularly on those very hot days. They are excellent when served superc old, and their acidity is so deliciously refreshing. It makes a day gone bad become good. Chile and New Zealand are doing some excellent wines right now- some of my favorite producers include Santa Rita Floresta & Seresin.
Rosé – I am a rose junkie. From about April to September it’s what I like to keep constantly stocked in the fridge. Just can’t get enough of the dry pink drink. Crisp and refreshing like a white wine, but with lingering characteristics of the red wine it never became. California, Australia, South Africa and France are my favorites for dry rose. For specific producers, check out Mulderbosch, Bonny Doon, Chateau d’Aqueria, and Angoves.
Riesling – Riesling is too often overlooked because it’s the feared “sweet” wine. Not in every case! Not even in most cases. And the wines that are slightly sweet are balanced by a searing backbone of acidity, which gives it balance – something a good white wine needs. Add this to the reasonable alcohol level and you’ve got a perfect wine for BBQ food and long days in the sun. Try Pewsey Vale from Australia or Dom. Schlumberger from Alsace.
Off the Beaten Path Whites – I love cool and different grapes, like Albariño, Torrontés and Grüner Veltliner. Try something new if you have not yet done so, as you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Beaujolais – Juicy is the best word to describe Beaujolais. I like to serve it slightly chilled and it goes great with lots of food styles. Duboeuf is a classic producer of Beaujolais.
Rhone Reds –Rhone wines are great all year round, but they are delicious for pairing with anything off the grill, which makes them perfect summer reds. The Delas St-Esprit CDR is particularly good.
Zinfandel – Jammy and fun, Zinfandel is the typical wine for BBQ. It’s got the fruit, spice and tannins to match all that spice & sauce. Just watch the alcohol, it can be dangerous… Some great Zins are made by Murphy-Goode, Kenwood and Ridge.