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…
I’m a Rhone girl. That’s a fact. I love Rhone-style wines and I think that winemakers who are truly focused on those varietals and understand where in California these grapes grow best, craft some of the most beautiful wines. California is no Rhone. Indeed, our West Coast, New World, expression is much more different than what you’ll taste from France. And I love that. I love that we have something that is simultaneously etched in wine history, but uniquely our own.
Charles McKahn, winemaker and co-owner of McKahn Family Cellars is one such winemaker whose passion is infectious. Though his family’s winery is based in Livermore, he’s used his years of experience working in wineries all over California to understand the variations of terroir and sources his Rhone grapes from regions that both grow quality fruit and showcase distinct character.
When it comes to Napa, is Chardonnay the first grape variety that comes to mind? Well, it is the second most widely planted grape in the county, at 6,397 acres/2,588 hectares it makes up just 15% of the county’s vineyards. No surprise, Cabernet Sauvignon leads the race with 20,342 acres/8,232 hectares planted, making up 47% of Napa’s wine grapes. But as a consumer, at least in my little world, when I think Chardonnay I think about the “other” side of the mountain range (Sonoma). But Smith-Madrone, once again with the care and attention to the vines and the very minimalistic and naturalistic approach to winemaking, proves that even white wine has its place in the land of “big red.”
After the fun rosé I experienced from Stinson Vineyards, I was curious and hopeful about what their Chardonnay would present. Chardonnay is something I’m not stranger to. It’s the most widely planted wine grape here in California. Styles span a whole spectrum — from oaky, creamy “butterbombs,” to crystal clear and crisp. How a Chardonnay presents relies almost entirely on the winemaker and less so on the soil. But a chance to taste from the east coast doesn’t present itself very often. So I was eager to taste what the other side of our States had so say about California’s great white grape.
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 present to you Riesling from the Rhine…