I have been traveling in the past week with a dining partner who can not drink much. Rather than ordering a whole bottle, which would inevitably require leaving some behind so I could drive back to the hotel safely, I have been choosing several different wines by the glass over the course of the meals. I highly recommend this practice if you're in a restaurant with a good wine cellar and—the most important consideration—some interesting wines on the by-the-glass page.
Going by-the-glass instead of by-the-bottle lets you drink more wines, if not more wine. It's the vinous equivalent of a tasting menu. The portions may be smaller, but you get to eat several different dishes instead of plowing through a gigantic steak or a half chicken. I like to do that, too, but that's one great thing about America: We can dine the way we want.
One of the best aspects of this approach is the chance to see how several different wines perform with whatever you happen to be eating. You never know what discoveries you might make.
At the Grand Award-winning Patina in downtown Los Angeles, for example, I jumped at the chance to order a glass of Hauth-Kerpen Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett 1996, on the by-the-glass list for $17. I don't get a chance too often to drink a 12-year-old Riesling with a decent pedigree, so I snatched the opportunity. I ordered it as an apéritif, but liked it so much that I wound up getting a second glass to drink with the rest of the meal, alongside a few other wines.
Conventional wisdom tells us not to drink sweet wines with a meal, but I've never bought into that. As I have said in other contexts, anyone who sweetens his iced tea or has soft drinks with a meal has no right to complain about a few grams of residual sugar in the wine. And a good German Riesling with a few years' age on it doesn't taste as sweet as it does in its youth. This one, in fact, was soft and inviting, with a kind of lacy acidity giving the mineral-accented peach and almond flavors a lift.
The other glass on the table was holding Laroche Chablis 2006, bright, vibrant, zingy with acidity and alive with green apple and citrus fruit, and that river-stone minerality Chablis can deliver. Sounds like the perfect food wine, and it did taste just fine with our cold appetizers, a lobster salad and a spice-crusted tuna belly. But the Riesling did even better, wrapping itself around the food rather than pointing at it.
The Riesling also out-performed the Chablis and, a good red by the glass, Lafarge Volnay 2005, against a main dish of salmon in a lightly curried broth. Although the Pinot Noir tasted just great with a veal chop, the Riesling did its same wrap-around act with the meat that it did with the first courses.
I ordered another glass of the Riesling to drink with some goodies from Patina's redoubtable cheese cart. To me, white wines taste better with a great variety of cheeses than reds do, and sweeter wines best of all. The Riesling held up to a tangy goat cheese and a stinky Époisses, too.
On another occasion last week, I had a glass of lightly sweet, distinctly fruity Richter Riesling Mosel-Saar-Ruwer QbA 2006 as an apéritif before lunch at Water Grill, then ordered Brander Sauvignon Blanc Au Naturel 2007 to have with some oysters. Absentmindedly, I reached for the Riesling glass after a bite of a Totten Inlet Virginica from Washington, flavored only with a couple of drops from a lemon wedge. Conventional wisdom took another hit when the sweet wine actually tasted great with the oyster.
Victorian-era gourmets used to drink Sauternes with their oysters, which always seemed like a vile idea to me. I prefer dry, tangy, citrusy wines with oysters, hence the Sauvie on the table. But the Riesling's fruit character and natural acidity hit some kind of sweet spot. It was fun to go back and forth between the Riesling and the Sauvignon, both good, each different.
There is value in testing conventional wisdom. Who knew that sweet Riesling could be so versatile? Even with oysters?
Henry Kranzler — west hartford, ct — November 11, 2008 8:15pm ET
Jeffrey D Travis — November 12, 2008 8:48am ET
Kenneth J Kriz — Las Vegas — November 12, 2008 3:43pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — November 13, 2008 11:43am ET
Merlin — Zurich, Switzerland — November 16, 2008 2:23pm ET
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