Chris Wright is a native of San Francisco. He has been in the pursuit of all things beautiful for as long as he could remember, this is the very quality that has led him led him through an exciting career as a sommelier into his current position as the beverage director of Aqua Restaurant.
I am going to tell you a secretâ¦ but do you promise not to tell anyone? Some of the most profound, exciting, versatile, age-worthy wines in the world are also some of the most affordable and accessible wines to acquire. I'm talking about Riesling. To be more specific, the kind that grows along the banks of the Mosel River in a little country called Germany.
Riesling is made in many styles and many places in the world. However, really good Rieslings have several things in common. For one, they come from extremely cool areas that encourage a bright acidity, keeping the wine fresh and lively. They also tend to come from steeper slopes with well-draining soils that make the roots journey deep into the earth in order to find water. The best of these wines tell beautiful stories about where they come from. The worst of these wines have little or nothing to say to us.
Since Riesling is typically grown in very cool climates, the challenge lies in getting the grapes to ripen. In 1971, the Germans established a system to identify their wines based on sugar levels at the time the grapes are picked, called the Prädikat system. From driest to sweetest the order is: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eisewein, and Trokenbeerenauslese. The first three levels could all be considered table wines, while the last three are most definitely dessert wines.
It is the Mosel Valley in Germany where we find the world's most dangerously steep vineyards, covered in slate that sends the vine roots chasing water deep into mineral-saturated water tables. The wines produced here have a freshness and delicacy unmatched by any other wine in the world. Just from smelling the wine you may be attacked by white peaches and flowers, green apples or ginger, tangerine blossoms and lime. As the wines get older (and they can live a long time), they shed off their baby fat and reveal an aesthetically perfect body previously unimaginable. But it the brightness of these wines which keeps them from becoming heavy or cloying no matter how much sugar they might be hiding within them that is truly amazing.
With a naturally low alcohol, high acidity, and no oak, the food and wine pairings are infinite. These wines cut through foie gras like a Ginsu knife, and without carrying the extra weight of Sauternes. At the same time, they're perfect wines that won't interfere with the simplicity of a bowl of fruit or a salad. Let Riesling battle with your spiciest Thai food (the sugar is going to help) or have it like I do: by itself and all the time.
What do I get and where do I get it? Get on BART, your bicycle, in the car or whatever you want to use to take you to Pier 19. Inside this not at all commercial-looking pier you will find a place called Dee Vine Wines. The first time I found myself there I thought I had found the pirate ship in the Goonies. The place is stocked with beautiful Kabinett wines (which are a great place to start), largely under $20 a bottle, as well as the rarest and decadent dessert wines from the early 1900s, which might cost you slightly more. Look for wines from Fritz Haag, Egon Müller, Reinhard Knebel, Maximim Grünhaus, Willi Schaefer, J.J. Prüm or just ask anyone there, they won't steer you wrong. And to tell you another secret, these treasures can be enjoyed just as much with your cheese course as with your Cheerios. So fret not, drink up, and most of all, cheers!