Irate with a side of Riesling

Dear Grape Lady,

I’m sick of being stuck at home. I’m sick of my usual wines, not that it matters because I’m running low on options in the home cellar. My wife pulled out a bottle of German Riesling we were given as a gift and said before we go back to the store we really should drink it. So… What do we do with this oddball bottle?

-Irate with a side of Riesling

Dear Irate,

It sounds like this bottle of Riesling has caused undue tension. Since it was given as a gift it may actually be a great bottle. Depends on who gave it to you. Riesling is a really fantastic grape, and most people love it – they just haven’t met the Riesling they love yet. Sommeliers love recommending them- if it’s on their wine list it is there because they love it. 

Riesling developed a terrible reputation as a candy-sweet, low quality wine from the 1980s and the ban of the Blue Nun. For years the Riesling was the step up from Pink Zinfandel on the average restaurant’s by the glass list. The grape’s homeland is Germany where the grapes are generally planted on steep hillsides near rivers. Riesling barely reach ripeness with the cold temperatures which is countered by the reflection of the sun back on to the grapes. Workers wire into harnesses in some places, belaying down the slopes to hand harvest the grapes. All this work is done for a reason. The wines are fantastic. Wines here are labeled by ripeness level so how much sugar was in the grapes when harvested, and thus how much sugar will be in your final wines. From least amount of sugar to highest:

  • Kabinett
  • Spätlese
  • Auslese
  • Beerenauslese
  • Trockenberrenauslese
  • Eiswein

Kabinett and Spätlese can be bone dry or slightly sweet. It depends on multitude of factors. The grapes are qualified by the sugar levels at harvest. If the yeast converts all of the sugar to alcohol then the wine will be bone dry, if the yeast only converts some of the sugars the wine will have a touch, or more, of sweetness. This touch of sweetness can be good! It counters spice in food when paired makes each bite more enjoyable than the last. Grilled shrimp and a pineapple, jalapeno  slaw with a glass of dry Riesling is amazing. Rieslings are great with spicy foods, especially within Asian cuisine.

Auslese is moderately sweet and is lovely with desserts in general but Beerenauslese, Trockenberrenauslese and Eiswein are lusciously sweet. They can be dessert on their own. The grapes for these wines are allowed to hang on the vines for a longer period of time thus accumulating more sugars. The Eiswein grapes actually freeze on the vines before picking, so when the grapes are pressed the water in the grape floats to the top of the juice as ice, resulting in a sweeter final product. If your bottle is one of these- have it with cookies, cake or crème brûlée depending on how adventurous you are cooking in quarantine. 

Why don’t you order some Thai, Sushi or Chinese food tonight and crack open that bottle? Personally I keep a bottle of Kung Fu Girl Riesling from Washington in my fridge at all times for when we order Thai food at home. It’s generally under $14 at the grocery and it elevates even really inexpensive takeout. It’s also the most lovely aperitif, crisp and refreshing as Texas summer creeps up on us. 


The Grape Lady