An appreciation of enology, geology in a glass
Kilgore: Smell that? You smell that?
Kilgore: Petrol, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of petrol in the morning.
Yeah, I’m with you. I love the smell of petrol in the morning, too.
So I’m paraphrasing here, one of the most memorable scenes in Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece Apocalypse Now. Because for enophiles, Riesling, whose origin lies in the rocky, steep terraced vineyards along the Rhine River of Germany and the Alsace region of France, has an aroma so distinct it’s as invigorating to wine lovers as napalm to Lt. Colonel Kilgore. It’s revered for its telltale notes of petrol complementing ripe orchard fruits (in a richer, sweeter style) and minerals like slate or chalk uplifting citrus (in a leaner, drier style). Though it currently ranks 18th in wine grape acreage globally, riesling is one of the four most important grapes to know.
If Riesling were a musician, it would be the Ringo Starr of the wine world. Often underrated, but those in the industry know that, like Ringo, riesling is uniquely stylistic and influential. That’s why in 2010, while my friends left Berlin for Munich to celebrate Oktoberfest, I made a pilgrimage to Koblenz to spend three days hiking down the Mosel River to imbibe this inspiring wine in its provenance. Nowadays, world-class wines from this varietal are abound beyond the Rhineland of Western Europe. Just last month, I visited over a dozen wineries in the Finger Lakes region of New York and the Niagara Escarpment of Southern Ontario, Canada and found many that rival Old World stalwarts. From the Columbia Valley of Washington state, all the way down to the South Island of New Zealand and from Western Australia to Tasmania, these areas are also gaining a reputation for excellent rieslings. While styles range from racy, bone-dry thirst-quenching acidity to noble, unctuous age-worthy wines, their minerality expresses a sense of soil and climate in a particular place, in other words an expression of terroir, like no other.
Another reason foodies and cork dorks love this wine is its versatility at the table. A dry, slightly effervescent, minerally riesling is a fantastic pairing for seafood, particularly shellfish. Also, consider how the inherent sweetness of this grape even when vinified dry, perfectly balances a salty or spicy dish. That’s what makes this wine the call for Asian dishes such as chicken tikka masala, Thai curry, and especially spicy octopus and pork favorites here in Busan. And if you’re looking for a wine to pair a proper cheese plate as an appetizer or dessert, riesling can complement the funky notes of strong cheeses and the sweetness of the accompanying fruits and nuts from the note of honey in the glass. In addition, these wines are lower in alcohol than the usual suspects. Most bottles are from eight to twelve percent alcohol by volume, which makes them especially quaffable for breakfast or brunch, particularly delicious with a Korean seafood pancake (해물 파전 haemul pajeon).
Therefore, if looking for a recommendation available here in the ROK, here is a six-pack of labels with quality to price and style in mind. Chill and enjoy. Salud!
Weinhaus Schloss Koblenz, Riesling, Kabinett, Urziger Schwarzlay, Germany (₩15,000 EMart, Jungdong)
Kessler-Zink, Riesling, Kabinett, Rheinhessen, Germany (₩8,000-20,000 NC Department Store basement, Jangsan)
Chateau Ste. Michelle, Riesling, Columbia Valley, USA (₩15,900 Costco, Mangmi)
Hugel et Fils, Riesling, “Hugel”, Alsace, France (₩29,900 MegaMart, Namcheon)
Weingut Max Ferd. Richter, Muelheimer Sonnenlay Riesling, Zepplin-Label, Mosel, Germany (₩44,000 Shinsegae, Centum City)
Weingut Robert Weil, Riesling, Trocken, Rheingau, Germany (₩56,000 Shinsegae, Centum City)