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Vine Lines: Riesling a great match for Thanksgiving turkey

I’ve always been confused by Rieslings.

And I’ve become even more so in recent years.

I used to be fairly certain that Rieslings were sweet wines that were highly regarded by fans of that varietal, and that was that.

But then I encountered "dry" Rieslings.

‘Wasn’t that a contradiction?’ I wondered. ‘Weren’t Rieslings, by their very nature — or at least by the history of their production — always sweet?’ And did the labels even specify whether or not the contents were sweet or dry?

So rather than confronting the problem head on, I stuck my head in the sand. Or rather, I just avoided the situation completely by simply not buying Rieslings at all.

I don’t generally like sweet wines, although thanks to wine and food festivals and the advice of a few chefs I really respect, I’ve had sweet Rieslings paired with all sorts of seemingly incompatible edibles, only to discover the pairing was magical. But I never had the nerve to attempt the creation of these matches on my own.

So in order to stretch myself, expand my food and wine horizons, AND to try and figure out how the heck to tell if a particular Riesling was sweet or dry, I reached out to those in the know about such things, and asked for help.

Even the experts had some difficulty explaining exactly what I should be looking for. I knew, of course, that German Rieslings labelled "kabinett" or "spatlese" indicated sweetness, while "trocken" usually meant the wine was dry. But some labels read "spatlese trocken" or "trocken spatlese," which complicated the issue for me even further.

Of course marketing departments aren’t required to put ‘sweet’ or ‘dry’ on their wines’ labels. And one person’s definition of dry may be another person’s sweet. As well, many folks profess to like dry wines, but really gravitate toward ones that are a little sweeter, and lots of wine purveyors don’t want to lose potential customers by labelling their wines with descriptors that might be construed as misleading or that might turn off a good portion of the wine-buying public.

Consequently, we’re left on our own to experiment. And I don’t like gambling with my wine. I’d like some idea ahead of time as to what to expect.

One way to at least attempt to figure out if a Riesling is sweet or dry is to check the alcohol content. Lower alcohol content let’s say seven per cent, for example is likely an indicator of sweetness, whereas a Riesling with 12 or 13 per cent alcohol is probably drier. But there are no guarantees.

German Rieslings are frequently sweet. And Canadian Rieslings, along with Australian and New Zealand ones, are generally drier than those produced in other countries. But ‘generally’ is the operative word.

While the whole thing remains a bit of a guessing game, if you stick with wines produced in cool climates that also have higher alcohol contents, you’re likely to get dry — or at least drier — Rieslings. (Incidentally, the varietal is pronounced REEZ-ling, as in cheese or bees, or REES-ling, as in peace and niece. Many folks often pronounce it RYES-ling, as in pies or buys. And that, according to experts and to the dictionary, is simply incorrect.)

Anyway, with the help of the good folks at Manitoba Liquor Marts, I’ve compiled a list of a few wines that should suit fans of both sweet and dry Rieslings. My mom likes Rieslings very much, and the chefs I know, as I mentioned earlier, frequently recommend that varietal with turkey.

So if you’re going for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, here are some possibilities for wine accompaniments. The first three are dry:

Selbach Dry Riesling ($14.34) from Germany, which is tasty and crisp

Truis Riesling ($13.95) from Niagara, especially the 2010 vintage

Mitchell Watervale Riesling ($22.15) from Australia. (This is the driest of the three and is supposed to be great with pickerel.)

For sweet Rieslings, try these two:

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Johannesburg Riesling ($14.49) from California

Hattenheim Schutzenhaus Riesling Kabinett ($19.76) from Germany.

When you’re purchasing wine, remember that whether a dry or a sweet Riesling would pair better with your holiday bird depends a lot on what you’re serving with it. And the consultants at the Liquor Marts should be able to steer you in the right direction if you tell them all of what’s on the menu, including especially sauces.

So here’s to a pleasant — and tasty — long weekend for all.

Speaking of pleasant and tasty, make sure to get your tickets soon for the upcoming Rotary Westman Wine Festival. The public tasting (which has sold out early in the last few years) takes place from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19 in the Victoria Inn’s Imperial Ballroom. More than 100 wines will be available for sampling tickets are $29.99 each and available at all three Liquor Mart outlets in Brandon.

Another great event, the Wine Festival’s Gala Dinner, is slated for two day prior Wednesday, October 17. The wine reception, featuring Cristalino Cava Brut from Spain, begins at 6:30, with dinner at 7 p.m.

As usual, the menu looks positively yummy, and so do the wines that are to accompany the food. The first course will be Sweet Potato Bisque, paired with Jackson Triggs Okanagan Estate Black Series Chardonnay from B.C.

Next up, Jumbo Shrimp Provencal, complemented by Masi Tupungato Passo Blanco Pinot Grigio Torrontes from Argentina, followed by Four Cheese Lobster Ravioli with Truffle and Brandy Cream Sauce, served with Whitehaven Pinot Noir from New Zealand.

A duo of lime and lemon sorbet will cleanse the palate, and then comes the main event: Beef Tornados Black and White, with Pink Peppercorn Demi and Béarnaise Sauces, served with Roasted Garlic and Parmesan Fondant Potato and a Grilled Vegetable Tower. Two wines will accompany the beef Pio Ecologico from Spain and Cellar No.8 "Eight" from California.

For dessert, look forward to a Duo of Vanilla Bean and Chocolate Supreme Cheesecake with Cappuccino Cream, powdered cocoa and spun sugar. The wine will be Chocolate Shop from Washington State.

If that doesn’t have your mouth watering by now, I don’t know what will! Tickets for the Gala Dinner are $125 each, and are available by contacting Tracy Baker at 204-724-6576.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 6, 2012

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I’ve always been confused by Rieslings.

And I’ve become even more so in recent years.

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I’ve always been confused by Rieslings.

And I’ve become even more so in recent years.

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