Here’s a fun exercise to helping to learn the different German regions: think about them in reference to the country’s most popular grape variety—Riesling. Going from North to South, let’s talk about Mosel, Nahe, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Pfalz, and Baden.
I used to be the kind of wine drinker that would absolutely shy away from Riesling. That is until I met a new sommelier-friend who showed me that many Americans have a misconception about what Riesling really is, what it tastes like, and how versatile it can be—especially when it comes to German Riesling. Since that time I’ve been more open minded, tasting Rieslings from both abroad and at home and have been impressed what our New World winemakers have to offer. What I love about this expression of Riesling is that it tastes, for lack of a better expression, naked. As if I’m really tasting, not just the grape, but the vineyard—the dirt, the surrounding fields, the river that runs through it all. There are wines that you drink and then there are wines you experience. Experience Kobza Wines 2016 Wirz Vineyard Dry Riesling with me…
So, not too long ago I voiced my frustration with California — or “new world” in general — Riesling. I feel like the majority of us have a stigma surrounding German Riesling, stereotyping it much like Gewürztraminer as a sweet wine. This is not without its merit, as the country is technically known for that style of white wine, but it’s because they were (originally) catering to the palate of the American demographic. And, so, I don’t know if it’s because of that Rhine region interpretation of our tastes, or our initial misunderstanding of our California terroir, but it seems like a lot of American Riesling were, up until a point, created with sweetness in mind.
Well thank goodness that this seems to be dissipating. California, even just within the last 10 to 20 years has seemed to develop a new understanding of terroir in regards to what grapes grow best in which areas. So, Riesling from Napa? I don’t believe I’ve had it before. And I, of course, had some doubts and hesitations. But that being said, Smith-Madrone has quality wines made by people who’ve been working to understand the land for decades. So, if Smith-Madrone says Napa Riesling, then I am, without a doubt, tasting Napa Riesling. Here we go…
Riesling. Oh Riesling. You poor stereotyped varietal. While I’ve had some fun and, for lack of a better word, tasty Rieslings from the States, I have to say that, for the most part, what our New World has done to the variety is a bit of a shame. What’s more, is I feel like there’s a bit of a stigma surrounding German wines — a few sweet Gewürztraminers and suddenly folks think everything from the cool Rhine region is sweet. When, in fact, it is just the opposite. For the most part Germans tend to make (and enjoy) the dryer style wines (and warm beer, but that’s a different story).
Lucky for me I made a new friend at a local wine shop. A sommelier whose specialty is German and Austrian wine. So when I asked him to pour my anything he recommended that would help me discover the area, he asked “how do you feel about Riesling.” My response, “As long as its as dry as God intended it.” So this is what he poured me. This is what I bought. This is what I enjoyed again and can’t wait to enjoy again.
I’m not going to lie, besides the chance to taste my first single varietal Tannat, one of the things that drew me to Troon Vineyard was the opportunity to taste my first “orange wine.” This, of course, refers to the wine’s color, achieved by keeping the grape-skins on during fermentation — much like the process used for making red wine. This can be done with any white grape, most commonly Pinot Gris, but Troon Vineyard takes an interesting approach with their whole grape fermented Riesling.