What is misunderstood?
Really, I think it is important to note that Riesling is often misunderstood in two nearly opposite directions. Both of these misconceptions stem from the grapes reputation for producing sweet wines. To be sure, there are a large number of sweet Rieslings produced. However, one of the beautiful aspects of Riesling is that fantastic wines are available that range from bone dry to syrupy dessert wines that are among the sweetest wines produced anywhere in the world.
All too often wine lovers are missing out on some wonderful wines that exist on the opposite range of their usual tastes on this wonderfully broad spectrum of sweetness. Dry wine lovers poo-poo sweeter Riesling, often believing it is only suitable for “novice” wine drinkers or those with unevolved tastes. Sweet wine lovers, meanwhile, may often be missing an opportunity to gently broaden their tastes to include dry wines.
Whichever camp one may be in, Riesling serves are a perfect “gateway wine” to open up an entire new world of tasty (and food friendly) wines. The key, with Riesling, is its’ high level of acidity. The balance between acid and sugar can vary to almost any degree and be complimentary of each other. Further, in case I haven’t made it clear already, wines are available all over this spectrum. This makes it easy to expand your horizons just a little at a time.
So, here is my challenge my fellow wine lovers of all shapes and sizes. Try a German Spätlese – preferably with some mildly-spicy Thai food on a hot summer night. Enjoy venturing into a whole new world! Cheers! Errrrrr…. or should I say Prost!
What is Riesling?
Riesling is a white grape varietal that first originated in Germany’s Rhine region. Aromatic and flowery to the point of having perfume-like qualities, the grape is characterized by its high levels of acidity that lend to its immense versatility. While commonly thought of as a “sweet” wine, Riesling is actually capable of producing wines which are dry, semi-sweet and sparkling as well. The grape is highly expressive of the region it’s grown in, taking in the terroir as few others can.
Since Riesling is usually not oaked and tends not to be blended with other grapes, it is considered by many to be Germany’s purest expression of white wine.
Expansion Throughout the World
While Riesling is by and large a German grape, its popularity led to plantings throughout the rest of the world over the years. Today, Riesling is considered to be the 20th most grown variety in the world at an impressive 120,000 acres worldwide. Significant plantings can be found in Austria, Italy, Slovakia, New Zealand, Australia and even in California and New York. Because of the grape’s ability to take on nuances of the soil in which it is grown, Rieslings from around the world can vary greatly from one another — especially in sweetness.
Characteristic Flavors of German Riesling
While it’s true that no two Rieslings taste identical to one another, there are a handful of characteristics that the wine is known for regardless of production area. In general, Rieslings tend to showcase high levels of minerality, which tends to give way to flavors of lime, lemon, melon and pineapple. Much of the balance between minerality and tropical flavors can be attributed to the dryness of the wine; drier Rieslings being more mineral-heavy, sweeter Rieslings leaning in the direction of tropicality. Because of the firm acidity found in most Rieslings, it’s possible to age finer varieties of the wine for many years — something not typical of most white wines.
A Food Wine Like No Other
There are countless wines that can pair nicely with food of all kinds, most of which tend to be on the dryer side. Food pairings are where Riesling shines, especially when you consider the wine’s clever balance of sugar and acid. A perfect fish wine, Riesling can also stand up nicely to roast pork or whole-roasted chicken. Where the wine truly shines, however, is in its ability to stand up to some of the world’s boldest cuisine — particularly Thai and Chinese. The spiciness of foods from these regions makes pairing them with wine quite challenging, yet Riesling showcases all of the qualities needed in a complement to Thai and Chinese cuisine.
Benjamin Barrone is an experienced accounting and finance professional from Chicago, IL. As Director of Finance for Vital Proteins, Mr. Barrone recently led the Chicago-based startup in their efforts to secure a $19 million Series A financing round. Benjamin was the first finance hire at Vital Proteins and built the department to scale with the significant growth the company is experiencing. In his spare time, Benjamin Barrone is an avid golfer and enjoys playing many of the great Chicago courses.
Mr. Barrone carries a single digit handicap and is a fairly long hitter off the tee. While Benjamin acknowledges accuracy is far more important than distance, maximizing distance is very helpful in scoring well on Par 5s and short Par 4s.
Getting a driver that is properly fitted to your swing is of paramount importance in the quest for distance. Driver technology continues to evolve so if you’re carrying a driver that is more than five years old it is very likely you could stand to gain at least 10 yards off the tee simply by upgrading to a more recent model that is properly fit.
When considering the proper fit it is vitally important to use current technology like Trackman to find the right combination of ball speed, launch angle, and spin rate. As technology has evolved, one of the lingering misconceptions is that golfers should seek to maximize launch angle and minimize spin rate. While this may be true for some golfers, the reality is that every swing is unique and one needs to find the right launch angle and spin rate for the ball speed you generate.
For example, professional golfers generate a ball speed of 165 mph or greater and optimize their distance by achieving average launch angles around 11 degrees with average spin rates of approximately 2700 rpm. In contrast, a weekend golfer with a ball speed of 140 mph would benefit from a higher launch angle of 13 to 15 degrees. However, when it comes to spin rate, the conventional wisdom of “less is more” falls short here. The reason is the lower ball speed. In this scenario, the golfer probably needs more spin than 2700 rpm to optimize carry and total distance because it is needed to keep the golf ball airborne longer.
Another common scenario is the low-ball hitter. Say, for example, your ball speed is fairly high at 155 mph – just a bit slower than a professional. However, you are a low ball hitter with a launch angle of 7 degrees. This golfer would also want to have a higher spin rate of approximately 3000 rpm to maximize total distance. The reason is the same – they too need that spin to keep the ball in the air longer.
Of course, there are many factors in play when it comes to driver fitting. These examples focus on spin rate. Both of the golfers described above could also benefit from finding equipment that further optimizes their launch angle, given their ball speed. When the two are taken in combination, it is likely that finding the proper fit could result in an additional 10-20 yards off the tee if their existing equipment is dated and/or not properly fit to their swing.
Those 10-20 yards are quite often the difference between making a par 5 reachable in two or in getting a wedge into a short par 4, making for great scoring opportunities. Of course, this is all for naught if accuracy is compromised but who doesn’t want a “free” 15 yards without making any swing changes?
Benjamin Barrone is a finance and accounting professional located in Chicago, IL. Mr. Barrone most recently served as Director of Finance for Vital Proteins, also located in Chicago, IL. Benjamin (Ben) Barrone enjoys making great food and wine pairings. When it comes to red wine, Ben indicates that his favorite come from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. Best know for their long-lived Barolo and Barbaresco, the region is produces Barbera and Nebbiolo that are more approachable in their youth. Perhaps the best part of these wines is their versatility with food.
Situated in the northwest, Piedmont shares borders with France and Switzerland. The region’s Italian name, Piemonte, translates to foot of the mountains, which is a fitting descriptor for its subalpine location and the fact that it’s surrounded by mountains on three sides—the Alps in the north and west and the Apennines in the south.
There are two distinct winemaking areas in Piedmont. One is northeast of Turin in an area near Lake Maggiore. The other, which is the region’s real heartland, is located southeast of the city in the provinces of Asti, Alessandria, and Cuneo. The highest concentration of vineyards altogether is in the Langhe and the Monferrato hills. This is where the region’s most acclaimed vineyard sites can be found. The land here is strikingly dense with vines. The surface area of some villages, particularly around Barbaresco, is almost entirely planted with curving rows of grapevines.
As a wine region, Piedmont has had enormous success cultivating its own indigenous varieties. Though some international grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc are planted here, the region is renowned for its red wines made from grapes like Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto and whites made from Cortese, Arneis, and Moscato
The mountains create a protective barrier around Piedmont and the sub-alpine foothills offer many sunny slopes for planting the region’s most-prized grape. While the sunniest aspects tend to be reserved for Nebbiolo, nearly all of the vineyards in Piedmont are planted on hills ranging in elevation from 150 to 450 meters above sea level. Very few (less than 5 percent) are officially classified as flat. The coolest sites are usually planted with Dolcetto, except in the hills southeast of Asti, where cooler vineyards are reserved for Moscato.
The most famous winemaking area, the Langhe, gets its name from the Latin word for tongue, which aptly describes the long, narrow strip of hills that make up this sub-region. The Langhe is surrounded on three sides by rivers. The Tanaro runs west and north and the Bormida di Spigno to the east.
Soils are typically made up of varying degrees of sedimentary clay, calcareous marl, sandstone, and sand. Those in the Langhe, as well as in the area around Gavi, are rich with limestone. In the Roero, soils are sandier and less calcareous. Variations in soil composition, altitude, and aspect combined with the sub-mountainous landscape contribute to a range of mesoclimates throughout the region.
Overall, Piedmont has a classically continental climate (though the area of Gavi in the southeast experiences some maritime influences from the Mediterranean Sea). The continental climate brings long, hot summers that extend into early autumn. Then temperatures drop quickly for a cool fall and cold winter. Spring is also cool and often rainy.
The area is known for the morning mists and thick fog that roll through the mountains and valleys. It’s commonly believed that the Nebbiolo grape takes its name from la nebbia, the Italian word for fog. In the Langhe, fog helps to prolong Nebbiolo’s ripening season, yielding aromatic wines that are high in acid, alcohol, and tannins with excellent aging potential.
Hail can be a particularly hazardous threat to both the quantity and quality of grapes in Piedmont. In the past, it has caused losses of up to 30 percent of an overall grape harvest. Fortunately, when hail does hit, it typically affects only a few slopes and never the entire Nebbiolo crop.
As Director of Finance with Vital Proteins, Benjamin Barrone enjoys playing golf in his free time. As a resident of Chicago, Benjamin Barrone lives in close proximity to a number of highly rated courses. Below are three of the best.
1. Chicago Golf Club: Some say the Chicago Golf Club opened the first 18-hole course in the United States. Actually located in nearby Wheaton, the historic 6,846-yard, par-70 venue garnered recognition as both the top-rated course in Illinois and the 14th-best course in the United States in Golf Digest’s 2017-2018 rankings.
2. Cog Hill Golf and Country Club, No. 4: The fourth course at this public-access club challenges golfers with tight landing areas and a heavily bunkered green. Located southwest of downtown Chicago in Lemont, “Dubsdread,” as it is known, has hosted 19 PGA Tour events, including several in the last decade.
3. Medinah Country Club, No. 3: Most recently the host of the 2012 Ryder Cup, the third course at Medinah has undergone significant renovations since opening in 1928. Today, it welcomes golfers who are willing to navigate vicious doglegs while avoiding such water hazards as Lake Kadijah.