Thursday, August 28, 2014

My continuing quest for cheap, dry Rieslings

As regular readers know, dry Riesling is quite possibly my favorite white wine.  Many good, dry Rieslings are priced around $20 (or more), which puts them out of my "everyday wine" price range, so I'm always looking for inexpensive options.

First, it bears repeating that, contrary to popular belief, not all Rieslings are sweet.  There are various ways to tell whether a bottle of Riesling will be sweet, dry, or somewhere in between.  I wrote about a strategy for predicting the sweetness level of German wines here.  Even better is the International Riesling Foundation's sweetness scale, which some producers put on their labels.

My current favorite cheap, dry Riesling is Pewsey Vale from the Eden Valley in Australia (which I've mentioned before here).  It runs $12 - $15, which is a great value.  But there are several other dry Rieslings which are widely available and even cheaper!  So of course I had to try them.  

The title holder and the challengers:


The 2 "challenger" dry Rieslings both come from the Columbia Valley in Washington State.  The Pacific Rim Dry Riesling costs about $9, while the Chateau Ste. Michelle is around $8.  Incidentally, they both use the International Riesling Foundation's sweetness scale on their back labels (as does Pewsey Vale).

One difference between these wines jumps out right away - the different bottle shapes.  Chateau Ste. Michelle uses the traditional German flute, while Pacific Rim uses the common "Bordeaux" bottle.  This can indicate a difference in the style of the wine.  German-style Rieslings tend to be lighter and more minerally (less fruit-forward), while Rieslings from the "new world" of wine (outside Europe) tend to be richer and fruitier.  Sure enough, when I tasted them side by side, Pacific Rim was fruitier, while Chateau Ste. Michelle in the German-style bottle was lighter and leaner.

Here are the full tasting notes:

2012 Pacific Rim Dry Riesling
  • Color:  pale yellow
  • Aroma:  pungent citrus and rich apricot with mineral undertones
  • Palate:  high acid, flavors generally match aromas, slightly bitter and hot on the finish, medium body, 12.5% abv
2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling
  • Color:  pale yellow
  • Aroma:  bright lemon and peach with lots of earthy, mineral character, and a hint of the "petrol" quality that some Rieslings have
  • Palate:  high acid, flavors generally match aromas, medium body (but a bit lighter than Pacific Rim), 13% abv  (Though this alcohol level is higher than the Pacific Rim, this wine seems better balanced and integrated.)
Neither of these were bad wines, but they didn't blow me away.  I liked the Chateau Ste. Michelle a little better.  They're both a good value for the price, but I think in most cases I'd pay a few dollars more and buy a bottle of Pewsey Vale.  So Pewsey Vale remains my favorite cheap, dry Riesling, but I'll keep my eyes open for other potential contenders.  Please let me know if you have one to recommend!

A note on food pairings:  Rieslings are often paired with Asian and/or highly spiced foods, so I drank these with Baharat roasted cauliflower and Indian-spiced eggplant over pasta.  Please forgive my poor food photography...

The wines paired well with these dishes.  But don't forget that the Riesling grape originates in Germany, so Rieslings are a good choice with any type of German food as well, like sausage and sauerkraut, pork chops, chicken and dumplings, etc.

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