Are You Sure You Don't Like Riesling?

The temperature has been below freezing in Pittsburgh for several weeks, but I've got Riesling on the brain. And since it's getting up to a near-tropical 60 degrees today before winter's chill once again envelops us this weekend, I figured I'd take advantage of that window to talk a little bit about this grape -- especially if you're not currently sold on it.

My husband's family has a tradition on Christmas Eve where they enjoy Riesling after Midnight Mass, and while shopping for the occasion last month, I couldn't help but think about all the times people had said to me, often in no uncertain terms, that they did not like Riesling. When asked why they had such vehement opposition to it, the response was almost always the same:

"It's too sweet."

RuPaul and I react similarly when someone says they don't like Riesling (thank you, Internet, for this image)

RuPaul and I react similarly when someone says they don't like Riesling (thank you, Internet, for this image)

Girl.

Look, I've been there, too. Like these misguided-but-well-intentioned souls, I once shared that monochromatic vision of the Riesling grape, which is quite unfortunate. Sure, there is plenty of off-dry or sweet Riesling out there -- a lot of which is delicious! -- but there's more to the story, my friends. Although Riesling's basically synonymous with Germany (perhaps the Finger Lakes in New York, too, if you're in Pittsburgh), I'm going to venture farther afield this time around. Instead, I'd like to turn your attention to what I'll call the Double-As: Austria and Australia. Other grapes tend to dominate our perceptions of these two wine-producing countries, but both are churning out dry, racy, and exciting Rieslings that are worth checking out. (Note: if you aren't yet ready to leave the German nest, look for bottles with "trocken" on them, which signifies it's done in a dry style.)

Austria

A beautiful example of Austrian Riesling (and labeling)

A beautiful example of Austrian Riesling (and labeling)

Germany's neighbor is doing some pretty amazing things with Riesling. It's fair to say that many wine lovers probably think of Grüner veltliner when it comes to Austrian white wines, but I'm of the opinion that the country does Riesling right. Both Riesling and Grüner tend to be grown in the same regions, namely Wachau, Kremstal, and Kamptal, and here are a few that I think deserve some love:

Domäne Wachau Achleiten Smaragd Riesling 2015: Okay, so that's already a mouthful to say, but this is one truly delicious wine. The color is a bright yellow-green and the nose gives you aromas of apricots, white peaches, and a definite citrus note. You'll find all those things on the palate complemented by super-charged acidity that will make your mouth water and come back for more. There's also a pleasant minerality with this wine, too. Expect to drop $35-40 for one of these bad boys.

Weingut Weszeli Loiserberg Kamptal Riesling 2014: This past summer, I stayed at a hotel in Lower Manhattan with an amazing roof deck -- perfect for happy hour on a hot, sunny day. When I told my friends I was going to pour them Riesling, I saw their noses shrivel and a look of concern come over their faces. Once they took a sip of this, however, their eyes grew wide and chatter of, "Oh, this is a Riesling?" and, "I actually like this," began to grow. This is a great example of why I love Austrian Riesling: crisp, refreshing, bright, and full of peachy deliciousness that won't weigh you down. As an added bonus, it's only around $20/bottle.

Rudi Pichler Federspiel Riesling 2016: Bracing acidity is the hallmark of this wine with notes of limes, crushed rocks, and stone fruit to back it all up. Pair this wine with anything where a squeeze of lemon might brighten things up. Pricing for this wine is likely to be in the $30-35 range depending on where you are.

Australia

The Australian coastline would be a perfect place to enjoy a crisp, cold glass of Clare Valley Riesling

The Australian coastline would be a perfect place to enjoy a crisp, cold glass of Clare Valley Riesling

One of these days Australia's cool-climate grapes will get the love and attention they merit, and I'm glad things are trending a bit in that direction. Australia's Eden and Clare Valleys provide near-perfect conditions for the Riesling grape, and it's remarkable that such high-quality examples are coming from the same general area as the big 'ol Shirazes we all know so well (elevation is an amazing thing, y'all). Much like Austrian Riesling, Australian Rieslings are known for lip-smacking acidity and pure fruit flavors. Here are some goodies to try:

Pewsey Vale Individual Vineyard Selection Eden Valley 2016: This is, in a lot of ways, a pretty much textbook Australian Riesling. The nose and palate give you tart apples, limes, lemons, and a tiny bit of that trademark petrol funk that's Riesling's calling card. You'll only be out around $15-18 for a bottle, so this would be a great first look at what Australian Riesling can do.

Knappstein Hand Picked Riesling (Clare Valley) 2015: Lemon and lime notes are complemented here by a floral aroma (think white flowers) and, once again, bangin' acidity to wash it all down. Bargain juice at around $15/bottle.

Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2016: Alright, this one's going to set you back around $45, but it's worth a little splurge if that's normally above your limit. It's got all of that bright citrus you'd expect, but there's also something underneath after a little time in the glass -- a vaguely anise-y note that gives this wine additional complexity. The singing acidity in this wine also means you can pop this into your cellar for a few years and revisit it down the road. Which, of course, I'd highly recommend if you can manage that degree of restraint.

 

So, my friends, reconsider Riesling. Perhaps you've been burned in the past by sugary nonsense out of a blue bottle, but if you revisit this versatile varietal with one of the above wines in hand, you could be singing a very different tune once your glass is empty.

Have other dry Rieslings changed your mind? Let us know below!

 

 

 

 

Good Morning-ton Peninsula

I think it's fair to say that most Americans, when asked about Australian wine, still point to two things: big, jammy Shiraz and, regrettably, "that bottle with the kangaroo on it." 

To be sure, we're seeing a lot more variety from Australia on our shelves, and we're coming around to the idea that Australian wine is more than fruit bombs that stain your teeth and tablecloth. Serious Cabernets from Margaret River and Coonawarra are regularly finding themselves on tables Stateside, and folks are increasingly unfazed by the notion that high-quality Riesling can be reliably produced just down the road from that famed Shiraz (we'll get into that more during a future exploration of all things Riesling).

Clouds keeping the Mornington Peninsula cozy in winter

Clouds keeping the Mornington Peninsula cozy in winter

One area that still flies perhaps a bit under the radar is the Mornington Peninsula in the state of Victoria. Roughly an hour outside Melbourne, the peninsula lies south of the city and helps frame Port Phillip Bay. Although the first forays into viticulture here happened in the 1880s, it wasn't until the 1970s that sustained efforts at wine-growing took hold. Intrepid souls recognized the Mornington's potential to produce Pinot noir and Chardonnay (among others) in this region's cool maritime climate -- it's surrounded on 3 sides by water, which results in a long and moderated growing season. 

I was lucky enough to visit the Mornington Peninsula to check out some producers and sample their wines. The verdict? Pure, clean expressions of cool-climate wines that are sure to turn heads and satisfy any potential skeptics lurking out there. That said, being a region full of boutique producers does have real, obvious drawbacks: there simply ain't a lot of wine being made, and it can be hard to find on this side of the Pacific due to limited distribution. Oh, and another thing: these aren't your $10 bargain bottles by any stretch. But seek them out you should, and here are some of my favorites in case you happen to make the trip or score some at home:

Moorooduc Estate

This family-run operation was started in 1982 by Jill and Richard McIntyre. While the various Pinot noirs were certainly delicious (the Robinson and McIntyre are real treats), I was particularly impressed by their Chardonnays. Tasting a lineup of the 2013s, the Robinson Chardonnay stood out to me. Medium-bodied and full of citrus and pineapple notes, it's a food-friendly stunner that any Chardonnay-lover would immediately embrace. 

Warming up at Moorooduc Estate

Warming up at Moorooduc Estate

Yabby Lake Vineyard

Yabby Lake's delicious portfolio of wines can be enjoyed in a stylish cellar door atmosphere. It's friendly, relaxed, and beautiful -- which is pretty much how the Mornington can be described overall. The Pinot noirs are exemplary, and each of the Block 1, Block 2, and Block 6 Pinots has a distinct character, with Block 2's softness and restraint being especially pleasing. What really made an impression on me, however, was the Single Vineyard Syrah. It's no accident that they're calling it Syrah and not Shiraz; this is decidedly not your typical Australian expression of the grape. Rather, it's got the meaty spiciness and pepperiness you'd expect with a very fine structure to match. It's a textbook example of cool climate Syrah and worth hunting down if you can.

Tasting at Quealy Winemakers

Tasting at Quealy Winemakers

Quealy Winemakers

Ever heard of a "wine koala" before? Yeah, I hadn't either before dropping by Quealy Winemakers. You see, there's a koala living in a tree just outside the cellar. But as fascinating (and adorable) as that may be, what's happening inside the cellar is just as noteworthy. You'll find the usual suspects in Quealy's lineup (read: several Pinot noirs), but they're also well known for some of their Italian varietals. Pinot grigio is done right here, but their Amphora Friulano is my shining star of a wine. Richly textured and phenolic thanks to extended skin contact, the wine is complex and delicate -- think almonds and soft cheeses in terms of aromas and flavors. Unique and scrumptious stuff.

Can you spot the wine koala?

Can you spot the wine koala?

The fun doesn't stop there, though. Ten Minutes by Tractor, Port Phillip Estate (the views are spectacular, too), and Merricks Creek Winery are other notable producers to try. And I'd be remiss to not mention that many of these fabulous estates, including the aforementioned Ten Minutes by Tractor, also feature superlative restaurants. Other notables are Stillwater at Crittenden Estate, Foxeys Hangout, Paringa Estate, and Max's Restaurant at Red Hill Estate

 

So give these wines a shot, yinz guys. Whether you're looking to make a day trip from Melbourne or simply want to recreate the rustic farm-to-table ambiance in Morningside, it's worth the effort to enjoy the fruit of Mornington's labor.