Behind the Cork™ - Wine of the Week

2016 Amalaya Blanco ($12)

Amalaya wines was founded in Argentina in 2010 by Donald Hess of the Hess Family Wine Estates. The grapes are grown in the Calchaquí Valley in the eastern foothills of the Andes mountain range at altitudes as high as 5580 feet. This high altitude provides intense sun in the day and cool nights to produce concentrated fruit.

Amalaya Blanco is a blend of 85% Torrontés and 15% Riesling. It was cold-pressed, allowed to settle for up to 48 hours before being racked and fermentation started. After fermentation it was again chilled to prevent malolactic fermentation and then aged in stainless steel for up to 120 before bottling.

The Amalaya Blanco starts with fresh aromas of grapefruit and citrus and has bright, fresh, crisp and refreshing flavors with good acidity and just a hint of minerality. It is light-bodied with delicate flavors. Great to enjoy alone by the glass or with sea foods. 

Amalaya wines maybe relatively new to the wine scene, but Donald Hess of the Hess Family Wine Estates has got a very good thing going with this wine.  The label may say "Esperanza por un milagro" (the hope for a miracle) but none is needed with this one. And, as always here on Behind the Cork™ - Wine of the Week, this one's a great value! Give it a try!

Disclosure of Wine Sample Submission:  I received this wine at no cost for review. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Sample Provided by Donna White Communications

Alsace - Another Great Region for Riesling

Germany is the home of Riesling, and still produces nearly half the world's Riesling. But there's another region that is well-known for its Riesling and that's Alsace [Ahl-zahs] in France.

Alsace is located east of Paris, along the border with Germany. It should be no surprise that Alsace produces great Riesling since it was part of Germany from 1871 to 1919.

But while most German Rieslings tend to be sweet, the Rieslings from Alsace are not. The Alsace winemakers ferment all the natural grape sugar to produce a totally dry wine. Because all the grape's natural sugar is converted to alcohol during fermentation, Alsace wines are higher in alcohol. Typically, they are in the 11 to 12% ABV range versus Germany's wines that are less than 10%

The Alsace AOC also requires that a varietal wine contain 100% of the grape variety identified on the label whereas the U.S. only requires 75%. So, when the label says Riesling, you are getting 100% Riesling.

In another difference that unlike the rest of France, Alsace wines are labeled according to their grape varieties, rather than by the region where the grapes were grown. This give you a strong hint that the winemakers of Alsace are keenly focused on the grape and letting the grape tell the story. The winemakers are not looking to produce a wine with a certain taste. Instead, they are looking to the grape, and the land (terrior) to define the wine.  For this reason, you'll seldom see a blended wine from Alsace. Again, quite different from most wine regions in France.

The wines of Alsace are typically not produced in wood barrels, instead opting for stainless steel tanks, concrete vessels or foudres casks that impart little to no oak flavor.

A Riesling from Alsace is typically dry, with aromas that range from flowers and bright citrus (grapefruit and lemon) to peach, pear and spices.  The high acidity makes them very fresh and refreshing but remaining well balanced.

Riesling goes well with goat cheeses, seafood, poultry and pork dishes, and most spicy Asian dishes. Cheers!

German Rieslings and the Various Categories

German Rieslings can be a bit confusing. Last time we took a look at the basic styles of German wines.  Most notable was the German term "Trocken" that means dry (no residual sugar).  So, if you are looking for a German Riesling that is not sweet, "Trocken" is the word to remember.

In addition to the different styles of German wines, there are also different designations. The German word Prädikatswein translates as "quality wine with specific attributes" and is the top level of German wines. But, Prädikatswein range from dry to intensely sweet. Unless it is specifically indicated that the wine is dry or off-dry, these wines always contain a noticeable amount of residual sugar.

The different Prädikat (quality) designations used for German wine (wein) are as follows, in order of increasing quality, price and sugar level:

  • Kabinett (Ka-bee-nett) - These wines are dry to off-dry and the lightest and most delicate style of German Riesling. Picked early in the harvest, with low sugar content, it is often very low in alcohol.  Off-dry Kabinett wines have an alcohol content of around 7-8% ABV and dry Kabinett wines are usually around 10-11% ABV. These are light-bodied and refreshing wines.
  • Spätlese [SHPAYT-lay-zeh] - While this translates as "late harvest," these wines are made from riper grapes (more sugar), not necessarily those picked late in the harvest.  These wines can be dry to sweet with more body, richness and intensity of flavor. These are often more like a medium-bodied wine.
  • Auslese [OWS-lay-zeh] - These "selected from the harvest" grapes are from particularly ripe bunches.  These very ripe grapes have high sugar content and often exhibit some amount of noble rot (botrytis).  These have very concentrated, intense flavors and are considered medium to full-bodied wines.
  • Beerenauslese [BEAR-en-ows-lay-zeh] - These "berries selected from the harvest," produce a very sweet dessert wine also made from botrytis grapes. These wines are produced from low yields, are often aged for decades, and are always sweet. These wines are rare because they are not made from every harvest.  Often Berrenauslese is only made two or three time per decade.
  • Trockenbeerenauslese [TRAW-ken BEAR-en OWS-lay-zeh] - Here's that word trocken again. But this time it indicates the grapes have been dried on the vine before harvest. This drying process results in a super sweet, syrupy, wine. These are extremely rare. And expensive!

So, I warned you, finding just the right German Riesling can be a bit confusing. But if you make note of these key terms you'll be on your way to finding the ones that best suit your tastes.

Next time we'll take a look at another great region for Riesling, Alsace in France. Until then, Prost!




Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week


2015 Gerd Anselmann Pfalz Trocken Riesling ($14)

This German Riesling, from the region of Pfalz, is "Trocken" meaning dry (little to no residual sugar). So, while many German Rieslings are sweet, this is an example of one that, while having little to no sugar content, is not sweet yet still exhibits the sweet fruit flavors of green apple, citrus and peach. An excellent example of a dry German Riesling that has bright acidity. When well chilled, this is a wonderful wine to enjoy with cheeses or a lighter meal. 

The Basic Styles of German Wines

Germany, where Riesling originated, today produces nearly half of the world's Rieslings and ones that are considered the best the world has to offer. German Rieslings have bright acidity and equally big sweet fruit flavors of green apple, citrus and peach.

As discussed last time, Riesling can be a bit confusing, especially German Riesling. So, to start to understand German Riesling, there are a few things to know about German wines in general.

The first thing you need to know about German wines are the basic styles:

  1. Trocken is the German word for dry. On a wine label, it indicates a wine that is dry (little to no residual sugar).  If all you are looking for is a dry Riesling, Trocken is the one word to know.
  2. Halbtrocken translates as 'half-dry.' These wines are off-dry meaning they will have higher residual sugar and be a bit sweet.
  3. Lieblich or restsüß is a semi-sweet style
  4. Süß or Edelsüß is a flat-out sweet style of wine

The next thing to know is that there are two major categories of German wine: table wine and "quality" wine.

Table wine includes the designations tafelwein and landwein. These are inexpensive, light wines. They aren't very exciting, are not produced in large quantities, and account for less than 5% of Germany's production.

So, next time we'll move on to the good stuff - quality wine. Until then, Prost!