The Big Six of Grapes: A crash course on the most popular varietals in six installments
Part One: Introduction & Riesling
There are six grapes that you really need to know about. Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the white grapes. The reds are Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. These grape varietals are known and produced around the world. We’ll learn a bit about each grape, its aromas and flavors, and potential food pairings.
Riesling (Reez-ling) is one of the most food friendly, flexible grapes on the planet.
The Riesling grape is an extremely flexible varietal. While Riesling does produce some of the world’s finest dessert wines, it is not merely a semi-sweet wine reserved only for novice wine drinkers. Many wines produced from this great grape are bone-dry. The range of Riesling is wide and deep.
Originally from Germany, Riesling is grown in California, Washington, Oregon, Australia and, importantly, Michigan. We make some world-class Rieslings right here in the Wolverine State! Aficionados argue that the best wines come from the Mosel-Sarr-Ruwer area of Germany. Grown on hillsides along steep river banks, grapes from this region give wines of magnificent depth and longevity.
This white grape prefers to be bottled by itself rather than blended with other grapes. As with many wines, there are two styles of Riesling, the German style and the French style. If only partially fermented, the residual sugar left in the wine creates varying levels of sweetness. These levels range from medium dry to sweet in the German style. The French style fully ferments the grapes to produce a dry wine.
A rule of thumb (with exceptions) is: the lower the alcohol the sweeter the wine and, correspondingly, the higher the alcohol, the dryer the wine.
Some of the most famous Rieslings are dessert wines. They range from late harvest to rot wine (not what you think) to ice wine. These can be rather expensive but are some of the best dessert wines available.
This varietal makes one of the most aromatic wines available. Tree fruits, such as apricots, peaches are frequently associated with Riesling. Lemons, limes and raisins are other enticing aromas found in your guest’s glass. Some wines have a bouquet of flint, petroleum and almost steely-like scents.
Tropical fruit flavors along with apples, peaches and pears are all part of the Riesling flavor profile. Honey and golden raisins may make an appearance! The body/weight of the wine depends upon the sugar/alcohol levels mentioned earlier. The sweeter, lower alcohol wines are fuller, richer and heavier than the drier, higher alcohol Rieslings.
This wine is one of the easiest to pair with food. Lighter fish dishes, whether poached or sautéed work well with drier versions of Riesling. Sushi pairs very well with French style Rieslings. The intense aromas and flavors of middle-weight Rieslings work well with salty, spicy, fatty foods. Pork and poultry with béchamel, cream-based and hollandaise sauces all pair well with this flexible grape. Spicy Asian and even some Mexican dishes are complimented using the German style of wine. Fruit-focused desserts are complimented by late harvest wines produced from this versatile varietal. Items like fruit tarts, cobblers, pies and pineapple upside-down cake are enhanced by sweeter, heavier Rieslings.
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