If I put you on the spot and asked you to name the “noble grapes,” you’d probably first ask me what that even means.
I would then explain that in recent times, wine experts and their ilk have named certain wine varietals as “noble” due to their “universality” and backbone in winemaking, plus their adaptability to other regions (or so they say).
There are arguments — as there are in anything this highbrow — about how many grapes are, in fact, noble, but we’ll stick to the essential six. Could you name them?
I bet you’d pick Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, likely the most popular American choices for everyday drinkers (sadly). If you’re a little more experienced, you might even think of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.
But could you guess Riesling as the sixth?
Riesling is a bit confusing to the typical wine drinker. Most hear Riesling and think of sweet concoctions, and this might be historically true in the kosher world of Riesling.
But as I continue to hammer home, we live in a new world of kosher, and this new world has brought us a variety of wonderful Rieslings, ranging from sweet to bone dry. We are also privy to Riesling from the greatest regions, including Mosel, Germany, and Alsace, France. The hills of Mosel are incredibly steep and laden with slate, giving Riesling some of its characteristic nose and taste.
But world-class kosher Riesling is also grown in the United States and Israel. As for recommendations, Washington State (2017 Pacifica Riesling, $18) and California (Hagafen Riesling, both dry and semi dry, $16-$24) produce some lovely, affordable and even ageable wines (true on the Hagafen Dry Rieslings, produced every even-numbered year).
Israel’s Carmel Winery makes a beautiful dry Riesling from their notable Kayoumi Vineyard (Carmel Kayoumi Riesling, $24), which year in and year out is a winner, and which also ages beautifully.
Yes, some white wines age and improve! There are also nice Rieslings from New York State and Canada. In recent years, we’ve even been gifted a magical Mosel German Riesling called Gefen HaShalom, an interesting story I’ll save for a future piece. Sadly, reports have it that this wine will no longer be produced.
But our “Wine of the Week” (or however often I am writing this column, but it’s awkward to call it the “Wine of Every Other Week”) is a beautiful French Riesling from Alsace (2017 Koenig Alsace Riesling, $15, available locally and online). Koenig has been making kosher wines since the 1960s, truly a forebear of great wines to come.
Alsace can be found at the far east of France, separated by Germany by the Rhine river. Alsace’s capital city is Strasbourg, with a long and storied Jewish history; one of the oldest in Europe. In fact, Alfred Dreyfus was an Alsatian Jew, although Alsace at the time was part of German. (His accusations of dual loyalty are as sadly modern as ever.) Still, the changing national nature of the region lends background to opinions that French and German Dry Rieslings are the greatest of the world since they rely on much of the same geographical and topographical underpinnings.
With all this in mind (and there’s so much more to learn about Riesling, considering it’s been written about for over 500 years), let’s taste our Koenig Riesling. Opening to a bright nose of Meyer lemon, ripe pineapple, day-old peaches and tons of floral and mineral notes, there is acid up the wazoo on the palate. Wow on the acid!
Long and tart, an excellent finish. Dry as a chicken bone left on the table overnight after a fun Shabbat dinner. (That’s to say very dry, but with enough fruit to satisfy.) Hints of the Vaseline-type petroly aroma are specifically found in aging Riesling. Really lovely and affordable wine.
Listen, I love Riesling. It’s perhaps my favorite current wine. Riesling works with so many foods, in so many situations; in any climate and in any temperature. You can drink it cellar temperature or chilled. Just drink it!
Though Riesling seems to be like cilantro, in that it’s loved or hated, you should give a dry Riesling a try. It will likely be a new experience, and unlike other wines you have tasted. You’d do well to pair the 2017 Koenig Riesling with homemade pasta with a nice, spicy arrabbiata sauce.
But be creative in your pairing. You really can’t miss.
Dr. Kenneth Friedman is a Baltimore-born kosher wine aficionado/connoisseur. He is known for his unsolicited wine advice and runs many local kosher wine tastings.