Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Is Riesling Really That Unreasonable?

Column for February 22nd.

Lately I've been on a serious Indian/Thai food jag. I love that stuff. I just love it. Seriously, I wanna mainline curry. You got it - melt it down on a spoon, pour it into a syringe, and shoot it up. Snort it. Smoke it. Whatever. Just gimme. I could eat breakfast at Sophie's, lunch at Cocodine and dinner at Priya every day.

There's probably something seriously wrong with me, but I don't care. I want to dip some naan in a nice lamb korma sauce. And I want to do it RIGHT NOW!

The only problem for this winoholic is - you guessed it - what wine to pair with my delectable Thai or Indian feast.

Well, that's easy. In my not so humble opinion Riesling is THE wine to pair with Indian and Thai food (mmmm... Massaman curry). Why? A good Riesling is very balanced but also very acidic, and that acidity acts as a great counterbalance to the food, cutting through the spiciness without overwhelming or masking the food's flavor. The light sweetness of some Rieslings can contribute to that effect.

The problem is finding a decent Riesling in Chico.

I mean really, what could be so hard about just one place in town stocking a few decent Rieslings? Let's see...

Trader Joes... I was there yesterday (and I blame them for this rant). A wall o' Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc? Absolutely. Sweet plonky Liebfraumilch and Piesporter Michelsberg? Sure 'nuff. Riesling? Two bottles. Seriously.

CostPlus... a couple bottles of sweet, cheap, low end German swill is about it.

Vino 100... sadly ditto. Just a couple of sticky sweet bottles.

Creekside Cellars... I think they have one, and it's from California.

The best Riesling I've bought locally I found at Safeway. I mean really, what's up with that?

I just can't believe that there isn't the demand. A good dry Riesling should go well with a wide variety of seafoods, light chicken dishes, cheese, as well as the Masala and Paneang that I lust for.

I think part of the problem is that it's very hard to know what's in the bottle until you taste it. Rieslings run from virtually bone dry to so sweet that they're denser than syrup. And it doesn't always say on the outside of the bottle how dry or sweet the wine on the inside is (or if it does, its in impenetrable German). And there is nothing more disappointing than opening a bottle expecting to find something crisp and dry only to discover corn syrup.

The Germans came up with an oh-so-typically complex grading scheme for Rieslings, but in the interest of brevity, we'll skip the bulk of it.

Of the 847 different classifications of German Riesling, Kabinett is the driest and best to pair with food. and Spatese (spaht-LAYS-uh) is a bit sweeter but still OK, depending on your taste. Beerenauslese (beer-en-oss-LAYS-uh) and Trockenbeerenauslese (say-THAT-three-times-fast) are super sweet, dense and complex wines that you flat out can't get here, so don't even worry about it. And even if you could get them, you couldn't afford them.

The key thing to look for on the label of German Rieslings is the word "trocken", which means "dry". "Halbtrocken" means "half dry", and "half dry" means "really, really sweet", so you're going to want to avoid that, unless you think white Zinfandel is just a little bit too dry for your tastes.

Of course, all of these wonderful German tongue-twisters go straight out the window when you start talking about non-German Rieslings. And you can't find any decent German Rieslings in Chico anyway.

So what's a Tandoori hound to do?

Bottom line is that you're going to have to take some chances on getting some too-sweet wines, and you may need to turn to the Internet if you want to score some decent Rieslings.

Best bets? Washington makes some great Rieslings. Chateau Ste. Michelle is actually making a name for themselves in the world of affordable Rieslings. And you can find them in any grocery store. Australia is also starting to make some respectable Rieslings. Aussie Rieslings tend to be completely dry, so they're worth a try if you can find them.

And as I reported a couple of columns ago, the Finger Lakes region of New York is kicking out some fine offerings as well. Emailing or calling the wineries and asking about their driest offerings might not be a bad approach, even though you're still basically shooting in the dark.

Personally, I would express my disappointment in Riesling selection to my local retailer in the hope that they will try to stock a wider, better, and drier selection.

Recent favs:

Tierce 2005 Dry Riesling (Available from Fox Run Vineyards)
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2006 Columbia Valley Riesling (available at Safeway)
Plantagenet 2006 Riesling South Australia (wonderful and dry, available at Creekside Cellars)

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