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Wine and Food Wednesday
Make Mine Riesling

By Stephen Eliot

There are more than few folks in the wine business that would argue that Riesling is the greatest white wine grape of them all, and, on any given day, I just might agree. It can be delicate and yet uncannily complex at the same time, and its ability to balance sugar and acidity is unrivaled. It succeeds equally well in dry, slightly sweet and extremely sweet versions, and, but for those sporting extreme residual sugars, the wines created from it are remarkably easy to match up with food.

I never ceased to be surprised at the raised eyebrows and skeptical looks I get when, in my lectures at culinary school, I talk of the remarkable food-friendly nature of those of moderate sweetness and at the persistent belief by even those who are food and wine savvy that sugar in wine is somehow a bad thing. Perhaps it is because we all started out on wines that play to sweetness and then graduated to dry wines. There is a need, I think, to bolster our sense of learned sophistication by belittling what we enjoyed as rank beginners. Well folks, there is a world of enjoyment waiting for those willing to rethink such silly notions.

One of the simple rules of successful wine and food pairing for me has always been that if there is palpable sweetness on the plate, then it is a good idea that the accompanying wine has a touch more. No, it is not a hard and fast rule, and "taste" is hardly a universal absolute, but too often dry wines turn bitter and harsh when teamed up with sweeter dishes. I mean, how many people prefer Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and the like as a dessert-course companion?

The thing to remember, however, is that there a good many entrees that show a sweeter side as well. That piece of sea bass buried beneath some sort of tropical fruit salsa, fresh cracked crab and what seems to be half the cuisine of Southeast Asia are all foods that can bring out a stiffer, sometimes shrieky side of very dry wines. A little balancing sweetness in the glass can be very welcome, and, for my money, Riesling does the trick at the table as well as any grape that I know.

Not surprisingly, we have been tasting our way through a bevy of new Rieslings here at CGCW, and our kitchen counters are filled with open bottles of the same. I have not, therefore, been cooking a lot of tomatoey pastas, and hearty braised meats have been put on hold. Chinese, Thai and Indian flavors have been the thing at Chez Eliot of late, and, if there has not been an especially revelatory moment of discovery at dinner, there has been enormous satisfaction in the near-nightly reminders of just how wonderfully well slightly sweet Riesling works in washing down slightly sweet foods.


by Gerald Weisl
Posted on:7/28/2011 8:35:15 AM

We recently hosted a prominent Barolo vintner for a massive seafood feast.  The Chinese restaurant has more fish tanks than the Steinhart Aquarium (practically). 

We began with a 1994 Stony Hill Napa Riesling, still alive and showing ripe peach note and a bit of petrol...remarkable!  The winemaker tasted the J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling, a 2007, and remarked that it was a bit sweet as though this was a bit of a flaw.
"Wait until the crab arrives..." we advised...

The crab, spicy, salty, succulent and sweet arrived...she tasted the crab, had a sip of the Wehlener and said, in a moment of illumination, " I get it!"

The restaurant does have a wine list and they do not offer any Riesling.  They do, however, have numerous California Cabernets.  I can't imagine the pairing of Caymus Special Selection Cabernet with shrimp, crab or lobster...



Sweet wines with food
by Christian Miller
Posted on:7/29/2011 9:52:49 PM

A breath of fresh air, this posting. It has always been a great puzzlement to me why restaurants will proclaim that dry wine complements food better, all the while adding beets and candied walnuts to the salad, mango salsa to the grilled fish, fruit sauces to the duck or foie gras and balsamic vinegar reductions to the meat.

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:7/30/2011 5:42:17 AM

Too right, Christian. Had dinner last night here in Montreal at Le Piment Rouge, an upscale Chinese restaurant that was chosen as the best restaurant in Montreal in 2010 by the major reviewer here, and there were dishes on our eight-course tasting menu that cried out for Riesling. I did find a couple of decent Alsatian and Aussie Rieslings on the list, but nary a German wine. The explanation given was that the restaurant does not use any sugar in its dishes--save for dessert. But, of course, there are caramelized items, 30-year old vinegars and the like. On the whole, we did just fine with the wines we chose, but I would have liked a wider set of choices.

But, let me not sound too outraged because the dinner itself was made up of complex dish after complex dish and it would have put most San Francisco Chinese restaurants to shame.

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