Instead my thoughts turn to crisp and refreshing whites, wines that pair well with salads and fish, wines that delight, wines that excite.
So this week I suggested your wine of the week should be Riesling.
A week or so ago, I was dancing in France. I drank several bottles of Alsace Riesling. And one of my finest moments as a wine blogger came when I converted two of my vodka loving Polish dance friends to the joys of this amazing wine. It wasn't a particularly complex version. In fact it was dry, and available from Casino (in case you happen to be in France) in half bottles for under 3€ and full bottles for under 5€. I suspect this "Club des Sommeliers" is a Casino own brand, and I tasted a few other varietals in the range but kept coming back to this one. Although dry, it paired with main course and dessert. Oh how I miss the raspberry tarts! Sure it's not the most complex or best Riesling ever, but you can't argue with the holiday bargain.
Sadly we can't pick up a bottle in the UK for less than 5€ so I made the most of it while I was there, and will be doing so again when I'm back in France to dance next week. (Yes again!). In fact, getting a decent Alsace Riesling in the UK will probably set you back at least £10.
One of my more affordable favourites has been The Wine Society's Exhibition Alsace Riesling which comes in at around £12.50 a bottle and is made using biodynamic practices. I reviewed it last in November and the price has gone up since then, thanks to the tax man. There's also a decent example for £9.99 from Waitrose, but really great Grand Cru versions can cost considerably more, assuming your local wine store is good enough to stock them. They're worth it, trust me!
The first was Austrian, from Naked Wines. Landhaus Mayer 2011 is £10.49 to Angels and it is proof that Austria can produce more good quality whites than just their famous native varietal, Grüner Veltliner. It comes from the Niederösterreich region where a variety of complex and mineral rich soil types produce great examples of Riesling as well as the Grüner Veltliner, which makes up 44% of the plantings in the area.
If you're not accustomed to Riesling, you may find drier styles like this highly acidic, but that's what makes it great as an aperitif and a summer refresher. To explain the technical term acidity, it's what causes the feeling of your mouth watering like crazy (or not) after a sip of wine.
In case you hadn't noticed, I love this grape! And I really love that feeling of a mouth flood when I drink it. It probably stems from a Scottish childhood sucking on "soor plooms" and eating hedgerow gooseberries. No wonder my teeth aren't the best! If you like that tartaric acid sourness, you'll probably love a good dry Riesling.
I offered the wine blind to Mr Purple Teeth and asked him to describe it. "It's got a citrus aroma but doesn't taste of citrus. It's full on and zingy but doesn't overpower. It's got attack and vibrancy and makes your mouth water like sherbet. A perfect wine for a summer evening". He's been well trained, clearly, and I'm really enjoying his new descriptive skills. The flavours here are mineral, but although Riesling can taste of flint and slate, this one isn't too much in that direction. There's a hint of tropical fruit but mostly sharp green apple. It packs a punch. I paired it with a Sea Bass salad and it worked really well.
Marlborough is New Zealand's premier wine region with around 79% of the country's wine production. The area is definitely better known for Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling made up only 11% of the production in 2012. In fact, almost 85% of all wine exported from New Zealand is Sauvignon Blanc. And more's the pity when they can produce other varietals just as well.
Villa Maria is a family owned company and self proclaimed "most awarded winery in New Zealand". So you'd expect this to be a decent example of what this region can achieve. Again, this one has all the juiciness you'd expect from a Riesling. There's a bit more stone fruit to the flavour, and a bit less minerality, but it's still delicious and paired well with both strong Gruyere cheese, and also a chicken dressed with sun dried tomato. Tomato can be a wine enemy, but not Riesling. It's like a miracle grape that can match many of those difficult foods.
Mr Purple Teeth felt this one had a sweeter flavour than the Landhaus Mayer. Are there hints of acacia on the palate? Or is it a little more tropical pineapple? Certainly if you imagine the juicy acidity of a pineapple you'll be close, though there's none of the sticky sweetness.
This sense of sweetness led on to a long discussion about what makes wine sweet if it's not "sweet flavours".
Simply put, it's sugar in the wine. You'll most obviously taste the presence of sugar by dipping the tip of your tongue into wine...
Generally wines are fermented until all the sugar within the grapes is consumed and/or the yeast is killed off by the alcohol (generally around the same time except in some mega Zins). An easy clue (if your wine label doesn't make an indication of sweet or dryness): if your wine is showing up at around 8-10% alcohol, there's a strong probability it will not be fully dry. Of course, the world's sweetest wines can have a much higher alcohol content, but they're made in an entirely different way, and we'll cover that another day. After all, I have several stunning dessert wines in my fridge just longing for an excuse to be drunk.
Dr Loosen produces this light, fruity and refreshing wine from the mineral rich slate soils of Germany's Mosel valley. Although you'll still find the same acidity here as in the other examples, because the wine is much lower in alcohol and has a decent level of sweetness to it, it's much less noticeably sharp on the palate. If you've got a delicate palate or stomach, perhaps starting with this example will be a more gentle introduction to the delights of Riesling.
The predominant fruit flavour is one of lime, and there is of course some honeyed sweetness on the palate, although this is by no means a dessert wine. Wines lower in alcohol pair exceptionally well with spicy food, since chili heat accentuates the alcohol burning sensation, so, I chose to pair this with a spicy prawn, ginger and vegetable stir fry with many different flavours. It worked well and confirms my belief that if you don't know what wine to put with a food, try a Riesling.
The wine itself is fairly simple and lacks some of the oomph of the other wines we tasted this week, but it's considerably cheaper, if you buy it in the right place, so in value terms, this is a balanced wine, which will work well with Thai, Chinese, Japanese or even Indian food on a summer's evening. Because it's so low in alcohol compared to many wines these days, it's also fine as an afternoon party wine. One 100ml glass is less than a unit of alcohol so you'll still be able to enjoy the evening!
My quest for the perfect Riesling is not over. Although still believe in Alsace, I would drink all of these again. I also have two Hungarian Rieslings in my fridge from my friends at DiBonis, one being a dry mineral style and the other an Ice Wine, but you'll have to wait to hear about those.
After a week of drinking this delicious but highly acidic grape, I was ready to go back to a giant Shiraz, with all it's Purple Teeth and blue tongue side effects. So, it was off to the wine rack to find some of Barossa Valley's finest. As I'll be away dancing in France again next week, Wine of the Week will return in a couple of weeks. Thanks for reading. If you've enjoyed trying something new, inspired by Purple Teeth, do let us know.