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Rieslings calm the heat of spicy Asian food


Michael Austin writes about Riesling, food and the dentist... With a paper bib resting on my chest, I found myself on a recent morning apologizing to my dentist and dental hygienist for my fire breath. Scheduling is not my forte, so the appointment was at an hour I normally am not awake for, and on a morning following a late-night spicy food and wine feast in Chinatown. “We all have our nights-at-the-Chinese-restaurant,” my dentist assured me. “Don’t worry.” This is one of the reasons she has been my dentist for more than a decade — because going to the dentist, like eating hot Asian food, can sometimes be a little painful, and a touch of sweetness always balances out the experience. Of course the dentist also has to be good at her job, which mine is, and the food has to be not just hot but also good, which is why I chose Lao Sze Chuan (2172 S. Archer, 312-326-5040) for some Riesling research. A classic question among the dining curious: What kind of wine goes with spicy Asian food? The classic answer: Riesling. To prove it to myself I headed to Chinatown with two bottles of the renowned white wine and ripped through five hot dishes, many of them cooked with onions, garlic and chili peppers. In the end I confirmed what I had long believed — that sweeter wines are the best complement to spicy foods. Some say that dry, sparkling wines are best because they have a cleansing effect. It’s a good argument, and a valid option. But for me, a nice contrasting sweetness is equally or more satisfying. Not all Rieslings are sweet, let alone overly sweet, despite what a lot of people think. In fact, some Rieslings are tart enough to induce scrunched faces, but many land somewhere in the middle, between tart and treacle. The wine usually offers some combination of lemon, green apple, apricot and peach flavors, and when there is a touch of sweetness in the mix, along with Riesling’s signature bright acidity, it is a good fit with spicy Asian food. Before the first dish arrived at Lao Sze Chuan, a cold rabbit dish swimming in chili oil, I enjoyed a glass of 2007 True & Daring Riesling ($35) from New Zealand. It was on the drier side, so it was a great way to start dinner. Its citrus flavors and minerality also were delicious with an order of spicy green beans, chef Tony Hu’s signature chicken, and a tender lamb dish spiced with cumin. But the dishes with more heat just overpowered it. Luckily I also had carried a bottle of 2011 Cupcake Vineyards Riesling ($13) into Lao Sze Chuan. (The restaurant sells wine but also allows guests to bring their own for a $10 a table corkage fee.) The Cupcake, made from grapes grown in Germany’s famous Mosel region, was lemony and sweet and slightly viscous. It paired well with the chicken and lamb, but it went a step further and stood up to the eyebrow-raising spicy cabbage, and the lip-numbing rabbit appetizer. At times during dinner, plain rice never tasted so good. And at the end of dinner, as my mouth recovered, I enjoyed another glass of True & Daring on its own. While Riesling is grown and produced all over the world, some of the most sought-after Rieslings come from Germany, Austria and the Alsace region of France. Other noted Riesling areas include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, California and Washington. Riesling labels can be tough to decipher, especially when you factor in language barriers and a dizzying amount of classifications worldwide. The next logical question: How do you know if a Riesling is dry or sweet if it doesn’t say on the label? The simple answer: Check the alcohol content. If it is below 10 percent, the wine probably is on the sweeter side. As that number notches up toward 12 percent, the sweetness fades. My spicy food-Riesling research supports this notion, as the sweeter Cupcake clocked in at 10 percent, and the drier True & Daring reported 12.2 percent. “Is that what you call it?” my dentist said. “Research?” “Well, I paid attention and I took notes,” I said. She then stuck her fingers back into my mouth. “Oh, then it really is research,” she said in a supportive tone. A little heat, a little sweet. At a dinner table or in a dentist’s chair with a light shining on you, it’s all about balance. Michael Austin is a Chicago free-lance writer. E-mail thepourman@suntimes.com.

A Case for Aging Riesling


Tim Gaiser, Master Sommelier

Tim Gaizer, Master Sommelier writes about the beauty of old Riesling... The oldest white wine I’ve ever tasted was a Reinhold Haart Spätlese Piesporter Goldtröpchen from the 1921 vintage.  In a half bottle.  Opened the day before.  The wine was originally in a full bottle, one of the last three the estate had in their cellar.  Owner Theo Haart opened the full bottle for his grandfather’s 80th birthday but knew we would visit the estate the following day so filled a half bottle and then gassed and re-corked it.  We tasted the wine over 24 hours later and it was still fresh, vibrant and very much alive at 80 years young.  It’s pretty amazing when you think about it considering a half bottle of newly released Fino Sherry at 15.5% ABV oxidizes within 24-36 hours of opening.  Yet another mystery of the wine world.  So why is that Riesling ages so much better than practically any other white wine, much less any wine?  I’m convinced it has something to do with the grape’s inherent high natural acidity combined with generally less alcohol found in the finished wines.  Add residual sugar to the mix in the case of the Mosel Spätlese and you have a magic recipe that will consistently result in years, even decades, in the cellar. But the aging phenomenon is not just limited to the fruity styled wines.  I’ve enjoyed bottles from Australia and New Zealand that were several decades old and still possessed a great deal of freshness and youth.  These older dry Rieslings remind me of aged fine white Burgundies in terms of their aromatic complexity and layered palates.  And they are wonderfully versatile when it comes to pairing with food.  An old vintage of Riesling goes with practically everything except for red meat and some believe that even that gap can be bridged with enough age.  Hanno Zilliken, of Weingut Geltz- Zilliken in the Saar Valley, once told me that a good 25-30 year old Spätlese was a perfect match with venison, wild boar and other local game.  I tasted one of his older vintages soon after with wild boar carpaccio and was instantly converted. But finding an older Riesling is not exactly an easy task.  In today’s wine world where instant gratification and quick inventory turnover are the rules of engagement it’s challenging to find a bottle that’s had some decent cellar time.  Recently I did come across an outstanding dry Riesling from New Zealand with five years of age.  The wine, the 2007 True & Daring, had literally just been released.  Owner Hennie Bosman was emphatic in expressing his belief that good Riesling can only show it’s best with some age.  To that end he will only release his wines after 5 years of age.  The 2007 did nothing to dispel that rumor.  The primary ferment was done in stainless steel and the wine shows a great deal of varietal intensity in the aromatics with the secondary vinous notes just starting to appear.  Flavors suggest white flowers, preserved citrus, white peach, kiwi, chamomile/herb and a touch of mineral.  The palate combines the rounded texture from five years of bottle time with the rapier, mouthwatering acidity.  In short, a delicious white ready to enjoy now and over the next 15 or so years if you have the patience. Tim Gaiser, MS San Francisco, CA

Hard to find…

Mary Ross of the Chicago Daily Herald sought, found and wrote.... And we love what she has to say...! "Nearly as rich and chewy as red wine, this stunning, off-dry Riesling has saturated marmalade flavors with unctuousness brought on by age and elevated by brilliant acidity. Local chefs have embraced True and Daring as their go-to wine for the most decadent cuisine, from succulent charcuterie and melt-in-the-mouth foie gras to eye-popping Asian spice. This is a good thing, because one retail promotion would sell out our market's limited allocation. Ask for it at Chicago's Blackbird/Avec/Publican group, the Trump Hotel, Charlie Trotter's, The Gage and other fine dining establishments." Suggested retail and availability: About $100; seek and ye shall find (distributed by Southern Wine & Spirits, Bolingbrook)

True & Daring or Truly Mad

Tracy Ellen Kamens of "Grand Cru Classes" in New York poses the question we've been asking ourselves many a time in her article written for "Wine Portfolio"...

True & Daring at Porterhouse Restaurant, New York

If you make only one wine, it can be a bit risky. If you only make Riesling in New Zealand, it’s downright daring! In fact, that is precisely what Hennie Bosman and his wife, Celia, are doing. The proprietors of True & Daring admit that the venture is high risk; at a recent event Hennie joked that they should have called it Truly Mad. But, despite the inherent madness, the result is a wine that is true to their palate. Born in South Africa, the affable Hennie planned to make wine in retirement, but their relocation to New Zealand prompted them to accelerate their plans. Starting out in the usual vein, they made several different varietally-labeled wines, including Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. However, as Hennie explained, they “decided to be daring; to stay true to the wine [they] love.” Accordingly, they turned their attention exclusively to Riesling. Not wanting to imitate a particular style or region, Hennie believes that the vineyard speaks through Riesling more than other grapes. In this regard, the grapes are carefully sourced from vineyards in Nelson, on the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. He then works in small batch fermentations and leaves the wine on the lees for a longer period of time (by New Zealand standards). Consequently, the wine is bottled in December or January as opposed to September. Finally, the couple allows the wines to age before releasing them, further adding to their audacious behavior. Production is deliberately kept tiny with only 2,200 cases produced. So what does all this mean in the end? An event held at Porterhouse brought together several top New York sommeliers, including Roger Dagorn, MS, all of whom were asked to taste nine wines blindly. While the tasters knew that the wines were all Riesling and that the True & Daring was among them, they didn’t know what else was in the line-up. Despite the tasters’ honed skills, upon tasting the True & Daring Riesling they couldn’t place the wine as being either distinctly Old World or New World. Moreover, the wine held its own in the company of such wines as Trimbach’s Cuvee Frederic Emile 2004 from Alsace, France, the Muller-Catoir 2009 from Pfalz, Germany and Eroica 2009 from the Columbia Valley, WA joint venture between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Dr. Loosen. First released with the 2004 vintage, True & Daring’s current release is the 2007 vintage. Tasted in October, this wine was showing some development with honey, citrus and a hint of petrol on the nose. The dry palate was dominated by citrus and petrol with high acidity, medium body and long length. Unfortunately, all of the Bosmans’ audacity doesn’t come cheap; the wine retails at $35.00/bottle, but it is well-worth the splurge.
  • A lot of things going on in this wine that we did not experience in the others…so layered and intriguing to drink…delicious and will be enjoyed by those lucky enough to taste it.
    Marissa Copeland
    Sommelier, Sho Shaun Hergatt
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