About a decade ago, I was enjoying a superb meal at Taillevent restaurant in Paris—a restaurant that has, at times, been considered the world’s best. It’s my favorite restaurant, bar none. Anyway, I got into a conversation with Taillevent’s friendly and knowledgeable sommelier, first, wanting to know about his favorite Champagne (Salon, it turned out), and second, wanting to know what he and his wife drank during a typical meal at home. The answer surprised me: Riesling.
I’d expected this very French sommelier in a very French restaurant to name a very French wine as his favorite. Nope. In a pinch, he turns to Riesling, which is very German, although the French in Alsace (essentially Germany) do a good job with it, too. I’d expected to hear that French Burgundy—red or white—or perhaps Bordeaux or Chablis was the sommelier’s go-to wine. But I’ll never forget what he said: “There are very few foods that can’t be improved with a glass of good Riesling.” Go figure.
What this man emphasized was Riesling’s versatility. It’s an excellent wine for pairing with a range of foods because it comes in a variety of styles, from bone dry to cloyingly sweet. I’ve written in the past about the various types of Riesling, so I won’t rehash that topic here. Instead, I’d like to provide some tasting notes and food-pairing suggestions for a handful of interesting Rieslings that I’ve recently encountered. You can find expensive Riesling to spend your money on, but it’s unnecessary; good Riesling can be had very economically, which is one of its key selling points.
Lovers of Riesling appreciate the fact that there are many different varieties and styles to choose from in Utah’s State Wine Stores, which are almost overrun with Riesling. This is essentially a random sampling of Riesling from producers I’d never tried before, most under $20.
If you’re looking for a dry, austere Riesling to take you through dinner, Flip Flop “Left Coast” Riesling ($7.99) is not it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have appeal. There’s a scale on the back of Flip Flop bottles indicating level of residual sugar, from “dry” to “sweet.” Truth in advertising: Flip Flop rates its Riesling between medium-sweet and sweet, which is precisely what it is. The wine’s moderate sweetness, combined with tropical-fruit notes, makes it a good candidate for sipping as an aperitif, or to pair with spicy pork tacos or fiery Asian and Indian fare.
Up a few notches in dryness from Flip Flop is Columbia Winery 2009 Cellarmaster’s Riesling ($11.99), from Washington’s Columbia Valley. There are subtle pear and cantaloupe aromas along with apricot and honeydew flavors here—not exactly the crisp, green-apple tang you’d expect from Riesling, but a wine with enough acidity to work with veal or chicken piccata. For a more austere, crisp Riesling, I suggest Chateau Ste. Michelle “Eroica” 2010 ($20.99), which is made just down the road from Columbia Winery.
Snake River Riesling 2010 ($8.99)—made in Idaho and owned by Solitude Resort’s Scott DeSeelhorst—garnered a gold medal at the 2011 Idaho Wine Competition for its aromas of peaches and honey and semi-sweet style. For a more food-friendly Riesling, try Spy Valley 2009 ($12.99), from Marlborough, New Zealand. It’s terrific with herb-roasted chicken.
New to our state is my favorite of this bunch: Bastgen Blauschiefer Riesling 2009 ($16.99). This is much more in the classic, green-apple-flavored Riesling style from the Mosel—bright, crisp, zesty with mineral undertones. It’s the bomb with choucroute garni.