Note: This is an article I wrote for the upcoming Eat Magazine I will be contributing to. For various reasons they have pushed back the release date making this column out of date. When it is released you will be the first to know. It was originally written in December to be published in February.
Because it is the height of summer, this month I am going to focus on what I think is the most important component in both wine and cocktails and is also a growing trend in the beer industry: ACID! Acid (or sourness) stimulates our taste buds and makes us hungry for that next bite or sip. Without it eating and drinking is boring. After all, what is a piece of fresh fish without a little squeeze of lemon juice to brighten its day!
SUMMER OF RIESLING
This is an event that began in 2008 when Paul Grieco launched Terroir, a wine bar in NYC with Riesling being the only wine offered by the glass. We in the trade have always loved Riesling but it can be a difficult grape for drinkers to understand, for example: if you were to look at a wine list or retail shelf the offerings of Riesling will range from the driest to sweetest on offer – often without any indication on the label.
2013/2014 is the third annual New Zealand Summer of Riesling and is being celebrated right up to the end of February throughout the country – a full list of participating wineries and outlets can be found at thier website. So why should we be celebrating Riesling? I decided to ask Angela Clifford, one of the ringleaders of New Zealand’s Summer of Riesling. She believes that “Riesling is probably the most versatile grape variety there is and lends itself to a non-traditional conversation about wine.” By non-traditional she means that Riesling, more than any other grape variety, challenges the status quo about why we drink wine, “you reach for a glass of Riesling for the same reason you reach for a margarita or cider”. For her, Riesling (like any wine) is about balance and she believes that this character of Riesling (often the balance between sweetness and acidity) is also attracting a younger drinker who are “are enjoying the journey of discovery with the variety,” because they haven’t “been exposed to the traditional concerns about the variety.”
Riesling (these are my words, not hers) is a gateway drug into the world of wine!
So, what is she drinking? She highly recommends Pyramid Valley’s Body Electric which is a slightly sparkling Riesling she describes as “crazy” and loves the fact that it further challenges our preconceptions about what Riesling should be. She also recommends Framingham’s Classic Riesling – hailing it as the best example of the kiwi style, describing its winemaker Andrew Hedley as “a bloody genius”. Angela is also “The Tongue” of Tongue in Groove wines from North Canterbury – her wines can be found at tongueingroove.co.nz.
Sour or wild beers are becoming more and more popular – these beers embrace the wild yeasts that most brewers and winemakers spurn (as they are unpredictable and can sometimes spoil beer or wine). This style originated in Belgium with the most famous being Lambic Fruit Beers and Flemish Red Ales. That said many breweries are experimenting with other styles of Sour Beer – one of my favourites is Rayon Vert an IPA from Green Flash in San Diego which undergoes secondary fermentation in bottle with the yeast brettanomyces which adds a rich, wild gamey tone as well as noticeable sourness. This beer is available at Cult Beer Store. For something more traditional look for the beers of Rodenbach , especially their Grand Cru. There are many Lambics available on the market, these are often made with fruit but can be cloyingly sweet – if you can find them the beers of Cantillon Brewery are among the best. These can often be found at Beer Cellar and Regional Wines and Spirits.
For something made closer to home; Hallertau in Auckland, 8 Wired in Blenheim, Mussel Inn in Golden Bay and Mike’s in Taranaki all make sour beers from time to time. One of my favourites is Hallertau Funkonnay – it is a lambic beer aged for two and a half years in old chardonnay barrels. It really pushes the flavour boundaries between beer and wine with wonderfully vibrant fruity and grapey/winey notes and a hint of oak from the barrel, all cut against by an intense acidity. It is delicious and awesome with rich dishes such as smoked or grilled sausages or pork. The thing I love about it most though is that it is rich and full yet wonderfully refreshing. They also make Porter Noir, a Porter made in a similar way but aged in Pinot Noir barrels.
If you are in Wellington or Hamilton, Black Dog and Good George (respectively) are making Berliner Weisse – a light, fresh cloudy wheat beer that originates in Berlin that weighs in at about 3% abv and has a burst of old fashioned lemonade like acidity. It is the perfect beer for a summer’s day.
GIN AND TONIC
What is summer without gin? Hot, wet and sticky. And that’s no fun! Gin and Tonic combines freshness with another one of my favourite sensations – bitterness. And today there are so many Gins to choose from. I am a huge fan of the new Broken Heart from Central Otago which is smooth, full and aromatic. It has enough flavour to stand up to the bitterness of tonic water. For something neat I go to Lighthouse from Wairarapa, especially their 57% black label edition which was crafted for Hawthorn Bar in Wellington.
Talking about Tonic there is finally some choice here so you don’t have to go for overly sweet supermarket brands. My two favourites are Quina Fina and Empire – both are made the old fashioned way using real Cinchona bark, the natural source of quinine which gives tonic its distinctive bitter taste. Quina Fina comes in cute 250ml bottles and is light, crisp and refreshing; they have also just launched a bitter lemon soda and an extra bitter tonic, both of which I will be drinking a lot of this summer – especially if I have to drive. Empire, on the other hand, is hand made in Hawkes Bay and comes as a syrup which you dilute in soda water and has a much richer fuller flavour.