Monday, May 12, 2014

Riesling and Gewürztraminer—Perfect Wines for Spring!

Spring is my favorite time of year. It's the time of renewal, soft sunlight, warm air, new green leaves, flowers, rose-colored garlic, asparagus, strawberries, fresh goat cheese and good milk chocolate. Everything smells fresh and tastes good.  And we can finally go out again with light and colorful spring outfits and walk through the warm breeze.

When it comes to wine, I highly recommend enjoying two light, aromatic white wines right now -- Riesling and Gewürztraminer.  Just as you are now wearing silky light shirts, cotton pants and slip-on shoes rather than a heavy winter jacket, wool pants and boots, it's time to hang up the rich Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrahs and Chardonnays a little while. Riesling and Gewürztraminer are the perfect wines for spring -- they make you feel rejuvenated and refreshed!

Riesling and Gewürztraminer are not well known in America, but they are generally affordable and easy to drink. The wines are fairly dry, but with a slightly sweet style, aromatic and intensely flavorful, yet delicate enough for light and elegant spring meals (composed salad, seafood pasta, sushi and other light but also a bit spicy Asian foods like Thai and Vietnamese dishes). Another good thing is that many of the wines are lower in alcohol (often below 10%), particularly Riesling.

At the wine shop, Riesling and Gewürztraminer  are easy to spot. They are both in tall slender bottles called a “hock” or Rhine, normally colored brown in Germany’s Rhine region and green in Alsace, France and the Mosel region of Germany. This shape is used elsewhere for grape varieties associated with Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

The following descriptions of Riesling and Gewürztraminer are from Wine for Women, A guide to Buying, Pairing, and Sharing Wine,” by Leslie Sbrocco, published by William Morrow:

The Grape Story
Both Gewurztraminer and Riesling are highly aromatic varieties, but have uniquely different personalities. The two share intensely floral, spicy, and fruity qualities and an uncanny ability to age, yet Gewurztraminer shows its appeal the minute it’s poured. Riesling tends to be more reserved, revealing itself slowly in the glass.

Gewurztraminer: The Flower of the Vine
When you pour Gewurztraminer, a mélange of floral, fruity, and spice aromas jumps from the glass and begs you to take a sip. Once you do, the wine can range from crisp and fresh to soft and smooth, depending on its birthplace.
    Though Gewurztraminer reaches its pinnacle of expression in the French region of Alsace, the name comes from the German word for “spiced—gewürz. The traminer par harks to a village named Tramin in northern Italy, which is where the grape is thought to have originated.
    Like Pinot Gris, the skin of Gewurztraminer grape is more deeply colored than many other white grapes. Its pinkish/golden skin often imparts a more golden color and gives the wine oomph. The acidity is generally lower than in Riesling, which adds to the wine’s voluptuous character.

The Incredible Lightness of Riesling
While Gewurztraminer is a crowd pleaser, Riesling can be a bit harder to understand. Some Rieslings are fruity and lightly sweet, while others are so steely and acidic they take years to soften and express themselves. For lovers of the elusive grape, though, there’s nothing better. It is arguably the world’s greatest white variety and produces wines of ethereal lightness and complexity.
    Riesling can smell of minerals and fruit (peach, apricot). In the mouth there’s a sparkling snap of acidity and juicy freshness. But in its youth it can be angular, like a young supermodel’s face. When the best wines age, however, they become fleshy and immensely interesting.
    While delicious Rieslings can come from a variety of locations around globe, the grape’s origin is Germany. It is planted all over the country in cool to downright cold regions. Riesling gleefully takes the climatic abuse and keeps coming back for more, thriving in conditions that would make most other varieties run for the sun.
    That’s because Germany pushes the northernmost limit for growing grapes. To maximize their exposure to the sun and actually get the fruit ripe, winegrowers in places like the Mosel River Valley plant vineyards on slopes that would make skiers salivate. It works, though, because the grapes get ripe, gloriously so in many cases, and produce some of the world’s most coveted white wines.

And of course many other countries and regions produce good Riesling and Gewurztraminer: California, New York, Oregon and Washington State in the U.S., Austria, Australia, Chili, Italy and New Zealand. Each region produces interesting characteristics due to different climates, soils and winemakers. Cooler climate regions tend to produce wines that are light and crisp; in warmer regions, the wines are ripe, flavorful and more aromatic. However it’s all a matter of style, so try discovering the differences. They are all delicious. Cheers!

Note:  In Germany Riesling is made in a variety of styles ranging from dry to very sweet: Kabinet --dry and light, Spätlesesemi-sweet and full-bodied, Auslese -- sweeter, Beerenaulese sweet, strong, intense, and Eiswein-- very sweet, big flavored, sharp, concentrated. So make sure you identify the variety on the label. Also, the sweeter wines are more expensive than the dry ones -- Auslese and Beerenaulese are very expensive. California produces high-quality dry, fruity and slightly sweet Rieslings, sometimes called Johannisberg Riesling. California also makes excellent Late Harvest wines from botrytis-infected grapes (as are France’s famous Sauternes). Oregon and Washington State produce good Riesling also.

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