In August, we all begin to wilt a bit from the unrelenting summer heat. This is the time to reach for the refreshing, delicate rieslings from Germany's Mosel River Valley.
If you associate German wines with cloying, overly sweet wines like Blue Nun and Liebfraumilch, you'll miss out on some of the finest wines produced anywhere in the world, wines that are perfect with summer food or for sipping on the patio after a long, hot day.
The elegant riesling grape makes its home in all the wine-growing areas in Germany. Many believe the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer area in the southwest may be the finest location in the world for it.
The area is so far north, it's surprising grapes even grow there. The vineyards are precisely situated to extract every bit of precious sunshine and warmth.
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The best vineyards are on steep hills that face south along the twisting Mosel River. The slopes act like solar panels to capture sun and reflect heat from the river. The soil is a gray slate that retains heat to keep the roots warm and reflects heat up to the plant. Riesling also is so successful there because it is one of the few grapes that doesn't need to be fully ripe.
Riesling is an aromatic grape, meaning it has distinct, pure aromas that don't need to be enhanced by oak aging. The best wines have gorgeous aromas of fruit and flowers, with underlying hints of minerals. Because the acid is so high, most winemakers leave in a bit of sweetness.
The goal is not necessarily to make a wine that tastes sweet, but to make a wine that is perfectly balanced, where all the components – aromatics, acid, alcohol and sweetness – fall in line.
Rieslings are pure, clear expressions of the grape, complex and interesting yet delicate. Some have more sweetness than others, so you may like one producer or style over another. But the hallmark of any style of Mosel wine, from completely dry to sweet, is clarity and elegance.
These wines are among the most versatile and food-friendly in the world. Lightly sweet styles are perfect with spicy foods. The sweetness tames the heat and creates great flavor experiences. I love these wines with take-out sushi or Thai food. It seems kind of odd match, but they also are wonderful with fried foods, such as calamari or with a picnic of cold fried chicken.
Scratch the surface of any wine lover and you'll find that even folks who drink nothing but big, tooth-staining reds appreciate the sheer elegance of Mosels. Many of our local wine shops carry a nice selection, and they're often real bargains.
You can find a wine from one of the top estates in the Mosel for less than a tenth of the price of a wine from one of the top estates in Bordeaux.
I recently enjoyed a Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben 2006 Riesling Kabinet for $27.99 at the Wine Shop at Fairview. It's one of the very best wines produced in Germany and still less than $30. Try finding a deal like that from France, Italy or even California.