Let Washington State Riesling be your go-to for any cuisine
It's not easy being prepared with a wine to suit any dish that Chicagoland's food scene can throw at us.
Fruity red (such as a Barbera) is a must-have for spicy cuisine, from exotic Indian curry to Dad's three-alarm chicken wings. Spicy cuisine is also delicious with riesling.
For seafood -- crab, lobster, shrimp, salmon, sushi -- Chardonnay or sauvignon blanc are safe go-to's. Seafood is also delicious with riesling.
Silky red wine (like Pinot Noir) is the ticket for family-style turkey with cranberries or elegant duck breast with raspberry sauce. Poultry and lighter meats -- especially recipes with fruit sauce -- are delicious with riesling.
In fact, nearly every guide to pairing wine with food could end, " … also delicious with riesling."
The standard gripe against the grape and its wine is "It's so sweet!" In fact, riesling' more-or-less sweetness is key to its affinity with America's more-or-less sweet cuisine.
Riesling's acidity is the other essential, balancing into sweetness as firmly as Nic Wallenda on his tightrope leans into the Chicago wind.
Our next "Good Wine" will feature the trend to "trocken" (dry) wines in riesling's classic German homeland.
In this column, for those who prefer to drink American, we celebrate the flavorful, thoroughly enjoyable and -- every once in awhile -- statuesque riesling grown in Columbia Valley, Washington.
Riesling is one of Washington State's founding varieties, originally planted for the vine's hard wood, tough enough to withstand killing frost that limited agriculture in eastern Washington's Columbia Valley.
Now Washington ranks second only to California in wine production, with Washington riesling topping California plantings by about 2,000 acres.
It turns out that Columbia Valley and subregions Yakima Valley and Walla Walla Valley provide everything that riesling needs to achieve world-class status.
Plentiful sunshine for extended ripening and full complexity? Check. Columbia Valley offers two more daylight hours throughout the growing season than California vineyards.
Cool temperature to maintain riesling's brilliant acidity? Check. Columbia Valley's daytime temperature tops 100-degrees, but drops 40-degrees at night.
Well-drained soil for concentrated flavors? Check. Formed by ancient volcanoes and floods, Columbia Valley provides an ideal mix of fast-draining basalt, sand and silt over rich bottom soils.
Compared to the hypnotic purity of German riesling, Washington's growing conditions express riesling as fleshy, rich and ripe, not a Mozart fugue but a Roger Waters guitar solo.
Chateau Ste. Michelle leads in availability coupled with critical acclaim, including the entry-level "Columbia Valley Selection" (under-$10); the lush and concentrated single-vineyard "Cold Creek Vineyard" (under-$15); and "Eroica," produced in collaboration with Germany's famed Dr. Loosen Estate (see Ross's Choice.)
Riesling rules at Pacific Rim, with widely-available entry-levels in various sweetness levels (about $10), an organically-grown selection (at specialty grocers, about $15) and the complex and silky "Dry, Selium Vineyard" (under $15).
Riesling "Evergreen Vineyard, Ancient Lakes", Tempus Cellars (Walla Walla, Washington, USA) -- Pure riesling fruit and mineral aromas burst from the glass, with texturous peach and apricot fruit flavors building to a powerful and concentrated finish. With only 12.7 percent alcohol, the wine is still rich enough for grilled salmon, duck breast, Asian barbecued meats and the richest cheese. (Currently available throughout the Seattle area and from the winery, about $20; contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)
With plump fruitiness and smack of acidity, I prefer Washington riesling as an accent, a sip or glass with specific dishes, not as a meal-through accompaniment. But for a cocktail that simultaneously relaxes and revivifies the palate, and to complement the widest range of food that our food town has to offer, I recommend keeping a perpetual inventory in the fridge.
• Write to Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at food@daily herald.com.