Riesling? You are thinking sweet and German, right? Well, you are half right. Riesling is the most prominent of German wines, but it is not necessarily sweet.
This Friday, September 28, at Cooking by the Book we’re having a class on German wines featuring a flight of Rieslings from the prominent German producer Prum. How prominent? Prum is listed as one of the premier Riesling producers in the authoritative Exploring Wine encyclopedia from the Culinary Institute of America.
About 150 miles north of where France and Switzerland meet, the Mosel River flows from France into Germany to meet the Rhine. The Mosel Valley is the heart of Riesling. It’s a very specialized grape. It needs a long growing season, not too much heat, and cannot take a frost. So, you won’t find Riesling growing in Italy or Spain. And it cannot survive a Northern Germany winter.
No, Riesling was destined for the Mosel Valley. The river itself, and its tributaries, are characterized by very steep hillsides, a modest climate and little soil. The terrain is a little dirt over slate or limestone. That terroir gives Riesling its distinctive acid taste. Many hillsides are so steep that each vine has to be staked individually instead of being grouped on a trellis. The long growing season gives the possibility for sweetness. Part of the warmth for the vines comes from the reflected sunlight off the rivers. It is a very complex environment. Skilled winemakers balance acid and sugar to achieve just the flavors that distinguish their vineyard.
And they do. German Rieslings are not all sweet. Many are quite dry and lend themselves to a full complement of foods, not just fish or dessert.
The Prum family has a history going back to the 12th century and have been viticulturists and winemakers since the 17th century. But it was only in 1911 when the current branch of the family set out to produce not good but truly great Rieslings. There is consensus that they have succeed beyond any expectations.
Our Friday class begins at 6:30. We are honored to have Prum estate owner Raimund Prum and his wife Pirjo here to tell us their wine story.
To join us on Friday, at a discount price even, please visit this link:
The best wine survey books all have two things in common: they talk about wine in minute detail and they are so heavy they take two hands. The world of wine is so big, so extensive that a thorough survey will encompass hundreds of pages.
So if you are going to lift up one of these tomes, perhaps for the holidays, which one? Here’s a serious suggestion for you: Exploring Wine, 3rd Edition by CIA experts Steven Kolpan, Brian Smith, and Michael Weiss. There are 800 pages here, expertly written and carefully organized to give you the best survey of the wine world.
That word “survey” is important. This volume talks about countries, grapes, wines and styles. This is a universal educational tour, one that will have value for you year in and year out. Some great wine volumes focus on individual wineries and specific vintages. Those are great shopping lists, but how often will your local liquor store have that Portuguese specialty from 1998?
In the end, the choice of wine comes down to what is available. And your ability to make a great choice — based on your budget and your taste buds and the food about to be consumed — well that ability is what counts. That’s why these educators from the CIA have slanted this volume to enhance your knowledge and confidence about wine itself, not just individual producers or bottles.
Wines of the world are surveyed and with the relative emphasis that reflect wine reality. California gets 70 pages, and the rest of North America 20. The chapter on France, an awesome 92 pages, seems to cover that land acre by acre. French wine history, techniques, and prominence are amply detailed here. The inherent complexity of French wines, such as the Bordeaux region, simply demands the careful attention presented in this volume.
The authors’ intent was clearly not to produce a quick read, not something to scan. Here is the definitive guide that you should curl up and slowly treasure. Like a fine wine.
For me, with my interest in food paired with wine, it’s the last third of the book that is so valuable. The layout here includes many tables and charts to guide you in the pairing process:
- The right white and red wines based on cooking method: use that Chianti for sautéed or fried foods but not for poached or steamed dishes.
- The right white and red wine for types of dishes: your Viognier is fine for veal but not for beef
- Classic food pairings: which wines have been found most successful for shellfish
- A real treasure of 25 sample menus featuring authentic dishes and wine types by region: here’s a six course Alsatian meal with specific wine types for appetizer through dessert
- The best guide I’ve seen on how to read wine labels from around the world: from Oregon to Italy here is how to decipher all the text on that label
I encourage you to leaf through Exploring Wine. You can let it rest on the table and just turn each informative page. I suspect that, like me, you will find yourself reading and enjoying this book throughout your culinary life.