The Best White Wine To Pair With Seafood? Dry Riesling, of course!
When I first wrote about Riesling some 30 years ago, it had little effect because most people had no interest in a “too-sweet, cheap white wine from Germany”— Liebfraumilch being the then omnipresent choice.
Over the years, and mainly in the last 10 or so, most sommeliers, wine directors and wine writers havepraised the best Rieslings — especially the dry style —as being among the most food-friendly wines in theworld. And results have now been seen — in 2009, according to Nielson’s, Riesling was the fastest- growing varietal in the U.S, beating out Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir!
In 2005, my wife and I toured the Finger Lakes Region in western New York. It was my first visit there since I attended the second annual Wine Educators meeting in Ithaca in 1979. On each occasion,the highlight of the trip was a visit to Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars.
Dr. Frank, a Russian immigrant, arrived in New York City in the early ’50s with $20 cash. He spoke five languages but none of them was English, so he took a job as a dishwasher — pretty menial start in the U.S. for a man who was a Ph.D. in plant sciences! Eventually, he made his way to the Geneva Agricultural Station on Seneca Lake.
At that time, the grapes used in New York for their well-known but mediocre sparkling wines included the native Catawba and Concord and French-American hybrids Baco Noir and Seyval Blanc — not exactly household names in Champagne. Gold Seal Winery had hired Charles Fournier from Champagne to upgrade their product, and he happened to meet Dr. Frank. After a four-hour discussionin French, Fournier hired Dr. Frank as his chief science advisor. Dr. Frank convinced Fornier that theycould grow vinifera grapes — Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, etc. — something that had been tried unsuccessfully in the northeast since Thomas Jefferson!
Dr. Frank had grown vinifera grapes in parts of Russia that were colder than New York. It took finding the right stock that could withstand the winters, which he did. Subsequently, in 1962, he startedhis own winery near the south end of Keuka Lake. His original Pinot Noir vineyard is now the second oldest in the U.S., and his winery has been named the greatest winery in the Atlantic Northeast five years in a row by “The Wine Report”. Dr. Frank died in 1985, and the winery is successfully operated today by his grandson, Fred Frank.
Although the Dr. Konstantin Frank Semi Dry Riesling is one of the best all-time matches with spicyAsian and southwestern cuisine (King Ranch Casserole anyone?), we will stick primarily with the Dry Riesling here. Entered in the 2011 Houston International Livestock Show and Rodeo, the 2009 DryRiesling garnered a Double Gold, Best of Class. The 2010, which is the current release, is just as good,having just received a 90, best value, from the prestigious Beverage Testing Institute. As an aside, the tiny production Bunch Select Late Harvest 2008 from Dr. Konstantin Frank won Best Sweet Wine, and a 9-liter bottle auctioned off for $35,000!
The 2010 Dry Riesling, which is available at Spec’s, exhibits unrivaled harmony of fruit, acidity and minerality from the Finger Lakes — now understood by many to be the best area for Riesling in the U.S. It is a perfect complementary wine with shellfish and almost any fish course. I have found the best meat course with dry Riesling to be pork!
Although just getting started in a substantial way in Houston, here’s where you can find (according to my contacts and those of Pioneer Import Company, the distributor in Texas), the 2010 Dry Riesling at some of Houston’s finest restaurants. Where I have dined recently, I have included my favorite dish with it:
Tony’s — Lobster Bisque and Crab Tower
Ibiza — Shrimp and Cornbread with Tasso Cream Sauce
Reef — Crab Cake
Benji’s — Calamari
Mockingbird Grill — Fried Oysters
Hugo’s — Crab Cake
Ouisie’s — Shrimp and Grits
Zelco — Pork Sandwich
Il Mulino (new, and yes, kin to the famous New York restaurant) — Risotto al Frutti di Mare
Also available at The Glass Wall, Hubbell & Hudson, Flora & Muse, O’Porto, The Queen Vic, Kata Robata, Crescent Moon Wine Bar, Woodlands Wine Company, Cellar 17 and Christopher’s World Grill (Bryan).
My other favorites from Dr. Konstantin Frank are the Semi Dry Riesling 2010, Gruner Veltliner 2010 and Fleur de Pinot Noir non-vintage, an earlier version of which was found to have “by far” the most resveratrol found in any wine analyzed in a famous resveratrol testing by Dr. Peter Creasy of Harvard.
Excellent New Releases
Guy Saget La Petite Perriers Sauvignon Blanc (Loire Valley) 2010 — From an 8th generation Loire Valley winery, fresh with surprising substance and complexity. Perfect with goat cheese and rice crackers. Also like the screwcap. $10.99
Lucien Albrecht Pinot Gris Cuvée Romanus (Alsace) 2009 — Prior to Columbus sailing the ocean blue in1492, Romanus Albrecht had started growing grapes for himself and future Albrechts—1425! Manually harvested with no destemming, whole bunches go into the press. Made from 100 percemt Pinot Gris, this wine expresses the rich yet dry power of the varietal — my favorite in Alsace, even over Riesling. Great weightand texture, this is the wine to accompany a steak entree if you always drink white. Perfect with roasted chicken in a cream sauce in June. Served with Foie Gras in Alsace. $19
Morgan Chardonnay Metallico Monterey County 2009 — Chablis-style with crisp, bright flavors. Aged for only three months in stainless steel (hence, Metallico) and no oak aging. Pretty color, bouquet and a stylish tropical note to boot. $19.99
Foley Estates Chardonnay Steel Sta. Rita Hills 2009 — Great match with Reef’s superb crab cake. Another instance of aging only in stainless (hence, Steel), this also has bright fruit flavors from nomalolactic fermentation. When the natural malic acid is just about perfect, why change it? Complexityand balance for those who wish to avoid oak in their Chardonnay. $27
Ravenswood Zinfandel Vintners Blend Lodi 2009—“…tantalizing aromas of black cherry, raspberries and blueberries, along with hints of oak.” Here is an example of a kiss of oak being beneficial. Best rendition of this wine I’ve experienced. Made by owner Joel Peterson, “The Godfather of Zin,” this has seemingly more color and richness than prior offerings. No-brainer for an under $10 pizza- and-burger wine. $9.99
Joffré Passion 4 Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 and Joffré Passion 4 Malbec 2009 (Argentina) — Very substantial entry-level wines from a well-known (in Argentina) winery. Complemented by Bar Annienachos with red chili beef, avocado and crème fraiche and tasted with Jimena Joffré on April 28. Either wine a good choice for a house red, and both excellent values. Joffré also makes a lovely Grand Chardonnay at $20. The 2009 Passion 4 Cabernet and Malbec–$11 each!
Nickel & Nickel Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Kelham Vineyard 2008 — “Dark, dense and concentrated, this Cabernet Sauvignon brings out the classic blackberry and cassis notes of Oakville. The texture provides a velvety thickness and weight that carries through its classic long finish.” A mouthful, but true. Also a hint of sweet tobacco in the nose. Excellent complement to a ribeye steak on June 26. Another great Nickel & Nickel, and from a vintage which is producing supple tannins for early drinking. $95