Riesling off the beaten path
In my head, I know that the Riesling grape is one of the most classy varieties in the vineyard, capable of making ageworthy, food-friendly wines of rare balance and complexity.
In my heart, I must not be quite so sure, as a quick database query reveals that Rieslings make up only about 3 percent of all the wines I've featured in tasting reports over the past couple of years.
But something about the siren song of this historic grape keeps calling me back. And when a reader's question about the perfect wine match for latkes (potato pancakes) and applesauce for Chanukah prompted a culinary investigation for yesterday's Wine Advisor FoodLetter, Riesling sprang to mind as the obvious choice.
Rather than going with the usual Riesling suspects from Germany and Alsace, however, I decided to follow a less-beaten path, selecting a couple of fine examples from the United States:
Salmon Run is positioned as a "fighting varietal" label by its producer, Dr. Konstantin Frank, but this excellent Riesling ranks well above that mass-market level for quality. It helps cement New York State's growing reputation as one of the best U.S. regions for Riesling.
"Eroica" is a joint project between the major Washington State winery Chateau Ste. Michelle and leading German wine producer Ernst Loosen from the Mosel. It has been winning raves in the wine press as setting a new standard for Riesling in Washington State, whose fast-growing wine industry now includes more than 100 wineries and claims second place in the nation in premium wine production.
They're quite different in style, but both are impressive. And yes, they went very well with potato pancakes and applesauce. My notes are below.
AFTERTHOUGHTS: I should formally note a mistake in yesterday's FoodLetter on potato pancakes and applesauce, in which I indicated that Chanukah began last night. It's tonight, of course. I knew that, but unfortunately, for a few minutes there yesterday morning, I had myself convinced that it was Friday already. Mea culpa! The archived editions have been corrected.
Regarding that article, several readers proposed sparkling wine as another excellent choice with potato pancakes (and as a festive addition to a Chanukah feast). I can't disagree ... I'm just about always willing to pop the cork on a good bottle of bubbly.
If you missed the FoodLetter or don't subscribe but would like to pick up our recipes for potato pancakes and old-fashioned homemade applesauce, you'll find it online at
TALK ABOUT RIESLING ONLINE
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Chateau Ste. Michelle - Dr. Loosen 2002 "Eroica" Columbia Valley Riesling ($19.99)
More American than Germanic in style, this is a clear, pale-gold color wine, with subtle but impressively complex aromas that blend apples, tangerine peel, pine needles and a distant whiff of the minerally "petrol" that's sometimes characteristic of Riesling. Full and dry but rather soft, it shows an unexpected prickly mouthfeel that suggests slight carbonation in the bottle. Fresh-fruit acidity becomes more evident in the long, lemony finish. Interesting, a bit awkward, might benefit from a little cellar time. (Dec. 17, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with a seasonal dish of potato pancakes and applesauce.
VALUE: The $20 price I paid in Louisville is a dollar or two above the median for Internet vendors. In the high teens, it's fairly priced but not really a bargain for a quality dry Riesling.
WHEN TO DRINK: Riesling is one of the most ageworthy white grapes, and as noted, this intriguing wine may benefit from a year or two in the cellar.
WEB LINK: The winery Website hosts a news release bragging on Eroica's ratings:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Find vendors and compare prices on Wine-Searcher.com:
Salmon Run 2002 New York Johannisberg Riesling ($12.99)
This pale straw-color wine offers appetizing aromas of ripe cooking apples and spice; swirling brings out an appealing mineral note. Fresh, appley fruit flavors are off-dry but crisply acidic, a well-balanced table wine with just a hint of peach-pit bitterness in a long finish. The winery Website implies that it's a Finger Lakes wine, but the "New York" appellation on the label hints at more widespread grape sources. (Dec. 17, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Chosen specifically as a partner for potato pancakes with applesauce, it's just about a perfect match.
VALUE: Competitive with German Kabinett-level Rieslings in both quality and price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Fine now, but well-balanced Rieslings age beautifully, so it could be a very interesting experiment to sock a few away for several years.
WEB LINK: Salmon Run is produced by Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars. Here's the winery Website:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Our friends at Saratoga Wine Exchange offer Salmon Run Riesling online at
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Friday, Dec. 19, 2003