Two Elegant Rieslings for Winter

Originally written for Petito Wine Selections Blog, published 01/16/13

Riesling is a wine typically associated with summer, I know. But with winter well settled in and sunlight and warmth in short supply, a bit of summer may be just the thing to brighten our spirits. The right Riesling paired with a hearty meal can bring a delightful twist to the usual routine and develop a new appreciation for one of the most versatile and fascinating varietals of wine.

This time of year, the most popular choices tend to be full-bodied reds like California Cabernets, Argentine Malbecs, etc. These wines are fine seasonal choices due to cravings for comfort foods when the temperature drops below freezing. I know that I adore a great Cabernet as much as the next oenophile with a juicy rib-eye steak. These bold reds are classics for a reason, but there will be all winter to enjoy them.

I say give these two elegant, complex Rieslings an audition with your next meal. (Some may scoff at this, but bear with me.) The Rhineland, home to the two Rieslings I propose, is known for its hearty cuisine and these two Rieslings have the great body and back bone that pairs well with it. So if one can pair Riesling with hearty German fare, why not with other substantial foods?

If your taste runs to the sweet type, then 2011 Im Rosengarten Hehner-Klitz Riesling, from Nahe, Germany is the way to go. This is a fantastic, value driven, fruit forward Riesling from one of the best producers in the renowned Nahe region. Upon opening the bottle, one is greeted with the aromas of gentle honeysuckle and white stone fruits. The initial flavor on the palate is tropical, creamy pineapple, giving way to a delightfully minerally lift, derived from the rich volcanic soil of the Rhineland, with nectarines, mangos and limes, culminating in a clean, slightly acidic finish.

Normally when one thinks of food pairings for a fruit forward Riesling, its usually Asian cuisine. If you’re considering Indian food, or looking for the perfect bottle to take to your favorite BYOB Thai restaurant, this is a great choice.

With great body, complexity and ample fruit, this gorgeous Riesling is the ideal companion for a substantial winter meal of spicy broiled pork shoulder with braised red cabbage. With enough fruit to stand up to the spice and great acidity on the finish, the pork’s crispy skin and delectably rich meat will be beautifully balanced. Purchase an inexpensive pork shoulder with some rind still on, make deep incisions in the meat and fill them with crushed garlic cloves, chopped fresh rosemary and ground fennel, extra virgin olive oil and marinate overnight. Then simply roast it in a 425 degree oven for four hours.

If you prefer Dry Riesling, the 2011 Albert Kitlz Kabinett Trocken is a fantastic choice. This sublime selection from one of the oldest vineyards in Nahe is fragrant, crisp and complex. It has the distinct aroma of white peaches and a faint hint of lime. On the first sip, the flavors of white peach, with faint hints of papaya segue to crisp limes and finishes with a bright, clean, acidity. It’s minerality and limey acidity make it ideal for seafood.

Sticking with those comfort foods, my mind immediately turns to scallops and lobster for this winter pairing. Nothing would console me more on a bleak January night more than some bacon wrapped scallops or a rich, creamy bowl of lobster mac and cheese. It’s a pretty simple task to take pre-sliced bacon, drape it over scallops and put them under the broiler. For the mac and cheese, I suggest white cheeses like asiago or fontina melted down in a béchamel base. Chunks of fresh lobster will add even more richness to the cheese and pasta, while partnering with the wine to chase away any lingering winter blues.

-Christian Galliani