I’m not generally a fan of Riesling. When I drink wine, it’s usually red, for starters. And when I do drink whites, I like ’em bone dry, with crispness, minerality, and a bit of acidity. You’ll find me drinking Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, Viura (white Rioja), or Vinho Verde. I have a very low threshold for sweetness in wine, and Riesling is usually too sweet for me. But it’s good to try new things and venture out into the unknown every now and then.
My husband and I dined at the legendary DC restaurant The Oval Room last weekend during Restaurant Week. We started our evening at the bar, where I was craving something light and not overwhelming. Their “wines by the glass” section included a Riesling from the Finger Lakes region of New York, the 2013 Dr. Konstantin Frank Semi-Dry Riesling. Wine Spectator has been raving lately about Finger Lakes Rieslings, so when I saw this one on the menu, I figured I would give it a shot.
Riesling is native to the Rhine region in Germany. When shopping for Riesling, you’re most likely to see wines from Germany and the Alsace region of France, but bottlings from Washington State and New York are also quite common. As you can see from the locations where it is heavily planted, Riesling is a cool-climate grape. Wines produced from Riesling grapes can range from dry all the way to dessert wine. If you see “late harvest Riesling” on a bottle that means the grapes were left on the vines extra long to allow the sugars to concentrate (hence, the “late harvest” designation), resulting in a very sweet dessert wine. The late-ripening variety likes a slightly warmer climate, so late-harvest Riesling from California is not uncommon.
Riesling is often bottled as a stand-alone varietal, as opposed to being blended with other grapes. It is also generally not aged in oak barrels, as Chardonnay often is, so if an oaky Chardonnay is your idea of perfection, Riesling may not be for you.
Riesling is something of a specialty of the Finger Lakes region, and Dr. Konstantin Frank was one of the first vintners in the area, and the first to successfully plant Riesling grapes in the 1960s (which is old in terms of New York plantings). The 2012 vintage was “the best in recent memory” according to Wine Spectator, so if you see a Finger Lakes Riesling from 2012, you probably can’t go wrong. The 2013 vintage was a little more challenging and requires a more careful selection, but I blindly chose the 2013 Dr. Konstantin Frank, and it paid off!
This Riesling was a revelation, with wonderful fruit and just a hint of sweetness. I picked up notes and flavors of stone fruits: peaches, apricots, etc. It had a lovely finish and balanced acidity. It helped that it was served at the perfect white wine temperature (45 degrees F). The flavors really sing when the wine is cold.
The winery notes speak of orange blossom and lavender on the nose, with peach and mandarin orange flavors. They recommend pairing it with lightly spicy foods or dessert, which I would agree with. It has enough zesty fruitiness to offset a spicy tang, and it has that hint of sweetness that would match with a lightly sweet dessert. But I drank it as an aperitif, and it was delicious all on its own.
You can buy this wine directly from the winery for $14.99, or you can find it in smaller, specialty wine shops for a few dollars more. I couldn’t find it on the websites for Total Wine or BevMo, but wine-searcher.com shows it being readily available at a number of shops around the country. In DC, Calvert Woodley has it on sale right now for $15.99. Wine.com is currently sold out, but when they do have it in stock, it’s $17.99.
Whether you’re already a fan of Riesling, or just looking to try something new, I heartily recommend this one. Cheers!