The SOMM Journal
planet grape by Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis
THE HILLS ARE ALIVE WITH THE SOUND OF RIESLING
Benchmark old world Riesling is one of the world’s great vinous treasures, and Austria delivers it in spades. Supremely intense, rich, pungent and dry, quite different from the lacy, low alcohol, delicate, minerally, acidic and lightly to very sweet German Rieslings, and the corpulent, tangy, often sweet Alsatian ones, these Austrian beauties have the concentration, personality and stamina to showcase the richest of dishes, making them a slam dunk for your wine program.
Riesling, the world’s greatest white variety, has very vibrant natural acidity, giving it the potential to make a very balanced and long-lived sweet or dry wine. Misunderstood and for the most part unappreciated, brilliant Riesling is a tremendous value for those who appreciate it, or for those who are lucky enough to discover it. With its characteristic notes of green apple, peach, and when mature, petrol, it is a tremendous resource for the savvy sommelier.
In Austria, the steep terraced slopes of the Wachau, overlooking the lovely Danube below, provide the country’s finest dry Rieslings. Producers like Hirtzberger, Rudi Pichler and Alzinger, whose wines are widely available on the US market, are must haves for any well-rounded wine program. They are the kind of wines that please everyone – the guest, because they are delicious and full and dry, the chef, because they make the food taste better, the somm, who can geek out on how cool they are, unlike those stodgy old fashioned French or German wines, and the number crunchers because they represent such outstanding value.
By the glass, rich, dry and slightly herbal Austrian Riesling presents an excellent alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. By the bottle, it can go just about anywhere. Take a rich, flavorful clove-studded ham for example. The wine can stand up to the boldness of the clove while refreshing the palate from the salty, fatty ham. Grilled pork belly, pork chop, pork loin or anything with bacon would pair beautifully as well. Braised lamb shanks are another example of a meat-based main course to pair with these beauties.
On the lighter side, fish dishes, such as seared scallops (bacon-wrapped or not), or the Hawaiian Ahi salad, Poke, would be ideal, as would a classic Miso glazed salmon. While pasta dishes are a natural with Italian selections, try pairing an Austrian Riesling with Pumpkin Ravioli with sage brown butter sauce. The fruitiness of Riesling makes it ideal for Acorn or Butternut squash dishes, and it is a nice foil for roasted winter vegetables. Pair it with a meaty but vegetarian kale salad with Parmagiana Reggiano at the beginning of the meal, or with your cheese plate at the end. Austrian Riesling will waltz effortlessly throughout the meal, leaving everyone a little lightheaded and more than a little satisfied.