Riesling is, perhaps, the most misunderstood of all the wine varietals. People who don’t like sweet wine dismiss it because it can be sweet, while people who drink sweet wine are often confused by the various ways that riesling is made. Both of which are too bad, because riesling is a refreshing alternative to the white wine that we usually drink — and it’s especially welcome this time of year, a wonderful hot-weather wine that is low in alcohol and pairs with a surprising number of foods (smoked pork loin, anyone?).
Most rieslings, even those that are dry, have some sweetness. But since it occurs naturally, and not as added sugar (or even high-fructose corn syrup), it’s not overwhelming. In fact, in the best rieslings, the sweetness — even in the most sweet — are balanced by the fruitiness and acidity of the wine. One of the biggest and best changes in rieslings over the past several years is new labeling, which identifies the wine by sweetness. This is a far cry from the old days, when consumers had to navigate German wine terms to try and make sense of sweetness.
In this, fine rieslings are made all over the world, including New York and Michigan. These rieslings will get you started:
• Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling ($15): This New York producer makes top-notch riesling, and it’s not even the best in New York state. Look for candied lemon fruit and a long finish; this is an excellent example of dry riesling.
• Bogle Riesling ($10): Bogle is probably California’s best grocery store wine producer, and this wine shows why. It’s varietally correct, with some lime fruit and just enough sweetness to be riesling. Not as crisp as the Dr. Frank, but it doesn’t need to be.
• Domaine Rieflé Riesling Steinert ($42): This Alsatian wine is quite different from most, and should appeal to anyone who likes riesling, feels adventurous and wants to splurge. It features an almost olive-oil aroma and herbal taste.—Jeff Siegel
Ask the wine guy
What are riesling’s sweetness levels?
Traditionally, they’re German — Kabinett , which is dry; Spätlese, more sweet or off-dry; and Auslese, or sweet. They still appear on German rieslings, but new labels pioneered by the International Riesling Foundation list the wine’s sweetness on a scale and are much easier to figure out.
With your wine
This is the ultimate summer food — cheap, nutritious, easy to make, doesn’t heat up the kitchen, and lends itself to infinite variation. Add cilantro, for example, or red pepper or coriander to the mix. Serve as a side dish with roasted peppers and pitas, or as a dip, and it’s perfect with a dry riesling.
2 c drained, canned chickpeas (reserve the liquid)
1/2 c tahini paste
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil, plus oil for garnish
2 cloves garlic, peeled, or to taste
Juice of 1 lemon, plus more as needed
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp ground cumin or paprika, or to taste,
plus a sprinkling for garnish
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish
1. Put the chickpeas, tahini, oil, garlic, and lemon juice in a food processor (or a blender for even smoother hummus), sprinkle with salt and pepper, and begin to process; add chickpea-cooking liquid or water as needed to produce a smooth purée.
2. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt, pepper or lemon juice as needed. Serve, drizzled with some olive oil and sprinkled with a bit of cumin or paprika and some parsley.
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”
Serves four as a side dish, about 15 minutes