If I was to nominate an underrated wine grape for this week’s issue of the Mercury dedicated to underdogs, it would be Riesling. Blighted with a bad rep as an unsophisticated wine on par with sugar water (blame unscrupulous German merchants for dumping that crap on the world), it can be confusing even when confronted with the good stuff, as it can be dry, medium or sweet, and German labels aren’t the easiest things to decode, with their classifications largely based on the ripeness of the grape, but not necessarily the wine. Things have changed in recent years, not least because Oregon vineyards have (re)discovered the grape and are producing ever refined versions of it. There are also local distributors who are bringing in affordable, but high-quality German and Alsace wines.
Which is good news, as Riesling makes great wines—and according to legendary wine writer Jancis Robinson, the greatest white wines—that are light while having an intensity of flavor. The wines are also lower in alcohol (making them good for summer sipping), high in acid (so they pair well with a wide range of foods), they get better with age, and they reflect terroir (the specific characteristics of the vineyard) resulting in wonderful local variations.
If you have an irresistible urge to explore Riesling, you’re in luck, as tomorrow it’s Riesling Invasion 2014, where 40 regional and European wineries will be pouring nothing but, er, Riesling. With 100 wines to sample, there’s no better place to discover what the grape is all about, especially as top producers from the Mosel region—the heart of German Riesling—will be present. There’s also food from the likes of Olympic Provisions, Xico and Steve Jones from Cheese Bar.
Riesling bubbly is a bit of a rarity so it is also worth checking out the Riesling sparkling flight at Raven and Rose, featuring an all-German trio of ‘Sekts’, as they are known. It makes a great summer refreshment, the pours are generous and the wines demonstrate the wonderful play of minerality and fruit that Riesling is capable of.
Riesling Invasion 2014, Olympic Mills Building, 107 SE Washington, July 19, 4–8 pm, $30/$35 on door. Raven & Rose, 1331 SW Broadway, sparkling flight, $16