Riesling is a wonderful wine because it can vary so widely in its level of dryness (or sweetness), complexity, and mouthfeel (thin or lush). It is an acidic wine, which can offset the sugar content to allow for a dryer perceived wine. This, along with its floral aromatics and low alcohol content, make it a very amenable wine to pair with a whole gamut of dining options. If you get invited to a dinner party but are unsure of the menu being served, Riesling is a safe bet to bring in tow. Germany is where this grape originated, but it can now be found throughout the world. (Interestingly, Chateau Ste Michelle in Washington State, is the single largest producer worldwide.) The most complex Rieslings are said to be those grown in the Mosel region of Germany. Pfalz and Rheingau also make delightful renditions. While Alsace isn’t presently part of Germany, over the years it has been under German rule a couple times, and produces quality Riesling. The one thing all of these areas has in common is their cool climate, which helps maintain its high level of acidity and low alcohol content.
German wine law has created a system to differentiate Rieslings based on how they are produced and where they are grown. The most basic wines fall into the level of Landwein. These are run of the mill table wines. They tend to be simple and light. Next, is Qualitätswein, which indicates the grapes are grown to a greater level of ripeness and come from one of 13 designated wine regions. These wines tend to be fuller bodied than Landwein because of the increased ripeness of the grapes. The highest level, Prädikatswein, requires a higher level of sugar in the fruit than the first two categories. Within this level, there are 6 subclasses. These subclasses have requirements for the minimum level of sugar in each style of wine. Kabinett is the lightest style, which is followed by Spätlese. Spätlese is a late harvest, which means the grapes were kept on the vines longer. This process results in a greater amount of sugar in the grapes at harvest. Depending on how much of this sugar the winemaker chooses to convert into alcohol, the wine could have a little higher alcohol and less sugar. Since Riesling is a cool climate grape, there will always remain a level of acid to balance the residual (or remaining) sugar, often referred to as RS. The next subclass is Auslese. These wines are made from extra ripe bunches and are sweet unless you see the designation of ‘trocken’, meaning dry in German. Subclass four is Eiswein (or Ice wine as it is occasionally written in the US). These wines are traditionally made from grapes that have frozen on the vines once the weather gets cold. The grapes are then harvested and pressed. This style of wine maintains its acidity and sweetness because it consists of the same level of moisture. The final 2 subclasses are both affected by Noble Rot, or botrytis. This fungus infects cold climate grapes with thin skins and dehydrates the grapes, leaving behind a concentrated, syrupy liquid (the most classic version of this is Sauternes from the Bordeaux region of France). In Germany, Beerenauslese (BA) and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) both undergo this process. The difference in these two subclasses is that TBA is made of dried grapes as compared to BA whose grapes are merely concentrated from the process. TBA is quite uncommon as it produces very little wine and because it is climate dependent, doesn’t occur every vintage.
Now that we’ve learned all the nitty gritty, time to find something to pair with my bottle of 2019 Dr. Loosen Erdener Treppchen Spätlese from Mosel (wow…that was a mouthful!!). I debated between Thai and Indian cuisine but chose Thai because it was most convenient. All this means is I will need to get another bottle to pair with Indian food later! I chose my favorites, Pad Kee Mao and red curry. The wine was a medium yellow with some fine bubbles that clung to the base of the goblet. It had brilliant aromas of honeysuckle, gardenia, yellow pears, white peaches, and orange blossoms. On the palate, it starts with a bit of honey that quickly evolves into a sweet acidic liquid, reminiscent of the best tree ripened lemons. It also features fresh, juicy pineapple, ripe peaches, and a wet slate that lends an earthy note. When paired with the red curry, the honey and spice were beautiful while the acid cut the fat from the coconut milk. The floral and fruit notes made the basil and red pepper take a more prominent role in the dish. While the pad kee mao was delicious, the curry is what really made the wine show it’s true brilliance. If you don’t want to seek out a bottle from Germany, Eroica (yes, a Chateau Ste MIchelle product), is a partnership between Chateau Ste Michelle and Dr Loosen. The 2018 vintage of Eroica was named the #3 best wine in the northwest in 2020 by Eric Degerman, who writes about northwest wines.