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 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.
Benjamin Barrone is a Finance and Accounting Professional located in Chicago, IL. Mr. Barrone recently helped Vital Proteins, a Chicago-based startup, secure a Series A financing round. Recently, Benjamin (Ben) Barrone has became interested in brewing great coffee. Here are some tips and tricks Ben has found to start your day off right with an excellent cup.
First, it is important to have the right tools. Ben recommends using a scale, burr grinder, Chemex, and a proper filter such as these:
Next, freshness of the roasted coffee beans is of the utmost importance. It is ideal to brew your coffee within one week of roasting. However, if that is not possible – the fresher the better. Mr. Barrone recently began ordering from a subscription service such as Craft Coffee (https://www.craftcoffee.com). However, Ben also likes to purchase freshly ground coffee at local Chicago roasters such as Intelligentsia (https://www.intelligentsiacoffee.com) and Dark Matter (https://www.darkmattercoffee.com).
Brewing strength is a matter of personal taste. Generally, sticking to a water-to-coffee ratio of 15:1 to 18:1 will yield good results. Benjamin Barrone’s preference is 16:1.
Step One: Heat the water in your 1.2 liter kettle and bring to a boil.
Step Two: Grind your coffee with a burr grinder and determine how much coffee you’ll use based on how many cups of coffee you’re making. For a full container (on the eight cup model), try starting with 4 coffee scoops and adjust as necessary.
Step Three: Place a filter in your Chemex (with the three layer side of the filter facing the spout) and pour a little hot water to wet the filter. This warms the glass and removes any paper taste from the filter. Dump out this water. Note: because you just used water from your kettle, you’ll have less than 40 ounces to brew. If you’d like, you can fill the kettle back up and bring to a quick boil again. Or, you’ll have just slightly less coffee if you don’t refill.
Step Four: Add your coffee grounds onto the pre-moistened filter.
Step Five: Pour just enough water to fully saturate the grounds and let the coffee expand and bloom for 30-45 seconds.
Step Six: Pour your water in a slow, circular fashion until you’ve filled the top nearly full (about a half inch below the top). As the water starts to drain, continue adding more water until your kettle is empty (if you’re using an eight cup Chemex), or until you’ve reached just below the wood handle.
Step Seven: Once your Chemex is full, remove the filter and grounds and enjoy your freshly brewed cup of coffee.