Riesling, For Real 

Riesling is the perfect wine for the waning days of summer.

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Bidding farewell to summer with food has become an annual ritual for me. After months of backyard grilling, I love picturing how this welcome change unfolds: Our backyard table strewn with newspaper for a tablecloth, me dumping out a pot of air-freighted, spicy steamed Maryland blue crabs upon it, guests bellying on up to whack away with their seafood mallets and pop the much-anticipated morsels of spicy-sweet crustacean into their mouths. Alongside the briny exoskeletal heap of crabs are stuffed artichokes and fresh summer corn on the cob. All of this is the perfect combination to showcase what I consider to be the best end-of-summer wine, German Riesling.

With its fresh fruit and slightly petrol aromas (this is a good thing), as well as varying degrees of sweetness counterbalanced by racy acidity, German Riesling is lively and playful to drink—just the ticket for an occasion such as this. First of all, a touch of sweetness in the wine is a great foil to the spiciness of the crab and a complement to the sweet flesh. German Rieslings are also relatively low in alcohol, so you do not need to worry about the spiciness being exacerbated by alcoholic heat. Next, artichokes are one of those wine-unfriendly, troublesome foods, like asparagus, that can make wines taste metallic. But the laser-like acidity of quality German Riesling makes this a nonissue. And, as for fresh corn on the cob, when paired with Riesling, it is just meant to be. All of these qualities also make German Riesling a wonderful partner for more summer riches. Its acidity plays nicely with garden tomato salads, and its touch of sweetness makes a meal like no other out of grilled Utah trout with fresh sweet corn.

The world of German Riesling and German wine classifications is a very complicated one, and sure, there are great growth vineyards and a three-tier quality pyramid. But, fear not. What I am suggesting to you here is quality German Riesling with a hint of sweetness balanced by a crisp backbone. Those wines are designated as Qualitatswein (Q.b.A) and Pradikat wines (Q.m.P). Pradikat wines are a step up and are classified according to the ripeness level of the grapes at time of harvest. Remember, this is a very northern and marginal grape-growing country in wine terms, so ripeness levels are not something taken for granted. The first level of ripeness on this scale will be labeled as Kabinett. It’s this classification that I would suggest for end-of-summer quaffing. And although the winemaker dictates the final sweetness of a wine, as you progress onto Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, and finally to Eiswein, ripeness levels increase and the wines will most likely progress from sweeter to very sweet—not exactly what you want in this summer scenario.

I just cannot fully express how wonderful a bottle of quality Q.b.A. German Riesling and/or Riesling Kabinett can be this time of year, as we try our hardest to utilize the gastronomic gifts that will escape us during the darker months. Maybe one more camping trip is on the calendar. Stop by the roadside stand and grab a couple ears of corn on the way, then catch a couple of brook trout upon arrival. As this foil-wrapped bounty simmers gently on the coals of your campfire, the beauty culminates as you take a short walk over to the stream and retrieve from it that bottle of German Riesling you have chilling.

Gus Magann is a partner at Vine Lore, Inc., a Utah wine and liquor brokerage.

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