October 30, 2008

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Critical darling
Why Riesling is like the Freaks and Geeks of wine

By Tim Protzman food@hippopress.com

You’ve heard this one before. “It’s the best show on TV you’re NOT watching.” Usually it’s in connection with some critically acclaimed series that just hasn’t caught on in the TV hinterland.

And usually it means an Emmy nomination and cancellation. Some of my favorite shows have gone that way. But then, I’m a professional critic. Sometimes I wear all black and go out to see a film, not a movie. So perhaps my taste in television is wrong. And every show I’ve grown attached to in the last 10 years has been cancelled. I’m sweeps week poison.

Last night there was a package waiting when I got home. We get a lot of packages. Sometimes I can’t tell if it’s mine or my neighbor’s. My middle neighbor gets tons of stuff from Macy’s Shop at Home. My lower neighbor gets CDs, musical instruments and prescriptions. Once I brought his package in and thought it was a set of maracas. It turned out to be Lipitor, but it had a groovy beat. My package was wine. Sent by the vineyard for sampling. It wasn’t expensive, but when I opened it and took the first sip I was pleased.

This is the best wine we’re NOT drinking, I thought in my overclichéd little mind. And it was a white.

This varietal doesn’t even appear on the Top 50 Best Selling Wines on the New Hampshire Liquor Commission Web site. But that’s not surprising. What is surprising is that once they taste it, many old chardonnay hands wholeheartedly embrace it as the new grape messiah.

One reason we aren’t drinking it is that its ancestral home is in Germany, Alsace and Luxembourg. We don’t import a whole lot of wine from there. And the wine we do import is often mass produced and mass marketed. And wines from Germany make up just 4 percent of the total wine imports to the U.S. Chile, Australia, Italy and even New Zealand send us more. But once you taste a crisp Riesling, you’re hooked.

Why Riesling? Crisp acidity. A touch of food-friendly sweetness. Lower alcohol content. Juicy ripe pear and apple fruit. Butterscotch, melon and Juicy Fruit gum flavors. These draw us to it. Even at its worst — no crisp flavors, sickly sweet sugar and stale beer texture — Riesling holds up better than a rowdy cheap chardonnay or a flabby, sloppy pinot grigio. It’s hard to make a bad Riesling — although I have seen and tasted it happen. Usually bad Rieslings have an artificial quality like those Imitation Sour Apple Lollipops your bank gives you when you’re a good boy in line. They’re sickly sweet and have a musty aftertaste.

The nice thing about Riesling is that a $10.99 bottle is pretty much top of the line for everyday drinking. There are expensive German imports that can run you $40 a bottle. I’d prefer to try a $15 Australian Riesling. They’re a touch less sweet and present a bit more alcohol, but the beauty of the grape shines through. Rosemount Estate is a safe bet.

The Riesling that kicked my urge back in was a humble Woodbridge, the second label of Robert Mondavi. The AVA on the bottle was California. The fact sheet told me the wine was a 77 percent Riesling, 23 percent Muscat blend from Monterey, Lodi and North Coast grapes. It went well with salad and with leftover manicotti. I liked the finish, even though it was sweeter than I’m used to because it had no tannins and no alcoholic after burn.  Riesling pretty much put Champagne out of my mind and launched me on a run of white wine, which I drink far less than red. I’ll be tasting Riesling and Semillon, chenin blanc, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc more frequently in the next few weeks because they’re different, affordable and often delicious, which is a word I don’t use very often in context with wine.

Here’s the list:

• 2007 Woodbridge Riesling ($6.99) A bargain! Yummy! (See above.) This is my new house wine, it’s that good! 

• 2005 Duckhorn Paraduxx Red Wine ($44.99) A 64% Zinfandel, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc blend from the Duckhorn Winery. I bought this because the clerk said it was “highly allocated” and it was hard to obtain. Wished it were a tad harder. Big tannins, no structure and a bit of boozy after burn. Perhaps in a few years it will settle down.

• 2005 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre ($23.49) Pascal Jolivet is one of the newer producers who are shaking up the Loire Valley. The region used to be big on tourism and mediocre on wine. Now the opposite is true. You can only visit so many Chateaus. This wine had a finish for miles. Crisp and dry with well-balanced acids that finish in lemon grass and willow flavors. Delicate bouquet with melon, apple and mushroom scents. Definitely a Buy More rating.

• 2005 Agua de Piedra Malbec ($9.99) From Mendoza, Argentina. It came in a giant oversized bottle that fooled me into thinking maybe I was getting 1,000 milliliters instead of 750. The wine was decent for the price, but not worth going out of your way for. I liked the nascent structure and the spicy richness of the Malbec. A refreshing change, but not something I’d run out and buy a case of.


10/23/2008 An epitaph of good wine

10/16/2008 A wine crime
10/9/2008 All my personalities love wine
10/2/2008 Harvest magic

9/25/2008 Where fantasy meets reality9/18/2008 The mojito cure
9/11/2008 Spend Fall in Spain
9/04/2008 Making a break for it
8/28/2008 Achieving the impossible
8/21/2008 AVA in search of a movie
8/14/2008 Return to seller?
8/7/2008 Wine at the game
7/24/2008 Reviving a star
7/17/2008 Champagne staycation
7/10/2008 Pair vintage with vintage
6/26/2008 Leftover wine
6/19/2008 Fortune favors Opus One
6/12/2008 In the year 2048
6/5/2008 Tea, the original infusion
5/29/2008 Hello old friends
5/22/2008 Ancient in the new world
5/15/2008 You are the expert
5/8/2008 The must-drink list
5/1/2008 Gaming wine futures
4/24/2008 Chronos and me
4/17/2008 Getting lucky
4/3/2008 The daquiri's of spring
3/27/2008 Germans play well with others
3/13/2008 Complain yourself happy
3/6/2008 Operatic wine tasting
2/28/2008 Everything must go!
2/21/2008 His & hers bottles
2/7/2008 Friends in spam
1/31/2008 Warm up the wine
1/24/2008 A drink to them
1/17/2008 Stalking the barking dingo
1/10/2008 Wishes and predictions
1/3/2008 Bit of bubbly
12/27/2007 Drinking blind
12/20/2007 Not fighting for the right
12/13/2007 The liquor store suite
11/29/2007 World of drinkin'
11/22/2007 Thanks for the Napa cabs
11/15/2007 Drinks with Diwali
11/8/2007 Candy Corn hangover
11/1/2007 Drinks with History Channel
10/25/2007 Schooled in Shiraz
10/18/2007 Spooky wines
10/11/2007 Location, location, location
10/04/2007 Shiraz history
9/27/2007 Ingenious appellation
9/20/2007 Small world of wines
9/13/2007 How not to get screwed
9/6/2007 Wine lover's shopping trip
8/30/2007 Bottle surfing
8/23/2007 Lobster goes red
8/16/2007 Emotional tasting notes
8/9/2007 Stop, wine thief
8/2/2007 Be your own sommelier
7/26/2007 You do know your wine
7/19/2007 Booze free association
7/12/2007 Raiders of the sidewalk
7/5/2007 A sustainable buzz
6/28/2007 We are the merlot
6/21/2007 Forgot Dad? Bring booze.
6/14/2007 Jack & Jill and a pail of wine
6/7/2007 Our lady of the Rioja
5/24/2007 Breaking the fast
5/17/2007 What the best bears drink
5/10/2007It's OK to be pink
5/3/2007 In praise of tastings
4/26/2007 Invention-tini
4/19/2007 More 'Mas'
4/12/2007 Futures in a bottle
3/29/2007 Uneasy glass of spring
3/22/2007 Chateau de blech
3/8/2007 Finding new beauties
3/1/2007 Infatuation or addiction
2/15/2007 The extraordinary ordinary
2/8/2007 A glass of sweetness
2/1/2007 A glass of sweetness
1/25/2007 Ham it up
1/18/2007 Cheating on wine
1/11/2007 Burning down the tree
1/4/2007 New Year's hangover
12/28/2006 Sins of the vine
12/21/2006 Kissing frogs
12/14/2006 Wine for horrible friends
12/07/2006 Like dregs in the wine glass
11/30/2006 Gift of calmer shopping
11/23/2006 YouTube for YouWine
11/16/2006 Welcome to wine
11/9/2006 Fine art, supermarket wine
11/2/2006 The geography of grapes
10/26/2006 Please continue to hold
10/19/2006 The trouble with reds
10/12/2006 Making new friends
10/05/2006 TiVo-ing the wine
09/28/2006 From an unknown battle
09/21/2006 Toast to turkey
09/14/2006 Wine for life
09/07/2006 What are Malpeques, Alex?
08/31/2006 Hanging out wines
08/24/2006 Falling into new wine season
08/17/2006 Where has that wine been?
08/10/2006 Bringing out the dead
08/03/2006 The birth of a wine fop
07/27/2006 Slow process of maturation
07/20/2006 The pain of adolescent wines
07/13/2006 Nice day for a white wedding
07/06/2006 Scoring goals with booze
06/29/2006 Beer, it's what's for dinner
06/22/2006 A drink fit for a czar
06/15/2006 A summer of beer and fried clams
06/08/2006 Keep your cool, fool
06/01/2006 The social lubricant
05/25/2006 Water, water everywhere
05/18/2006 Big fat greek wine tasting
05/11/2006 Drinking to the end
05/04/2006 Schooled in the art of wine
04/27/2006 Make a wish
04/20/2006 Immigrant wines
04/13/2006 A pain in the glass
04/06/2006 Got milk?
03/30/2006 Throw a dart and there's wine
03/23/2006 A life of good wine
03/16/2006 Honoring the dead soldiers
03/09/2006 What once was old i new again
03/02/2006 The taste of sibling rivalry
02/23/2006 Wine travels, doesn’t sing
From grape, to barrel to red-tape jungle

02/16/2006 Love and vine
02/09/2006 A dog-drink-dog world
02/02/2006 The winos' mecca
01/26/2006 Date-nite drinks
01/19/2006 Touring eastern wine country
01/12/2006 Wine, Cheese and Granny Smith
01/05/2006 Resolve to try new wines
10 Wines To Get Lucky With

Adventures in and past the Euro-Cave
A Do-It-Yourself Wine Tasting
A Red For Everything
A Red Wth Your Leftovers?
A Tasty Way To Put Wine To The Test
A Year Of Wine
An Around-The-World Holiday
A wine for every holiday

Basking In The Mondavi Light
Behind One Door Is Great Wine
Beware The Hot Bottle
Brandy and the nude beach
Champagne, The Other White Wine
Cheers And Whines Of The Vine
Days of wine and jelly beans
Deep in the heart of Texas
Drinking for your health
Drinking like a newspaperman

Drinking Whites After Labor Day
Finding A Great Medium-Weight Drink (I)
Finding A Great Medium Weight Drink (II)
Gifts for blood, love or money
Gin
Grill and sip, sip and sip. Finding the perfect wine for barbecue
Hey baby, stay cool
How The Corleones Saved Wine

In Praise Of An American Wine
In search of the girl next door
Keeping it in the family
Keeping up appearances
Looking back at the heyday of cheap wine
Mondovino
My Big Fat Greek Wine Tasting
The Best Drinks On A Budget
The Highly Drinkable (Mostly) Merlot
The Long, Strange Journey Of Wine
Old French grape in the New World
Olé! to a week in wine
Opening the Parker book

Our French friends — really
Our Northern Neighbor
Poker faces and wine

Presenting A New England Vodka
Presenting The Wines Of Spring
Rewarding Your Support Staff
Schooled In The Art Of Wine
Shopping for Wine Bargains

Sitting By The Fire And Dreaming Of Wine
Slipping A Little Sideways
Spending the holidays in NYC
Spirit World Tales
Springtime calls for wine and ice cream
Sudden ugly mood swings
The new face of fine wines
The wines of fall
Thinking ahead to the holidays
Time To Stay Frosty
Tipples for turkey day
TV worth drinking
What it means to miss N.O.
What To Drink When You Eat Wild
What's Your Wine Sign
White’s OK after Labor Day
Wine Between The Season
Wine for the NASCAR set
Wine is in at the Inn
Wine’ll make you crazy
Wine Works With Red Sauce