Editor’s Note: This article was published in 2017.
Sarah Cyr, a sommelier and former co-owner of The Wine Cellar & Bistro, a onetime Columbia restaurant, is an expert on all things vino. Here is her pick for a superb spring white, written while her restaurant was still open.
Every spring, I have the urge to spring clean my house and my diet. When the comfort foods and holiday spreads of winter no longer sound appealing, I am drawn to lighter, cleaner fare. This is actually perfect because the first vegetables to be harvested from the garden are over-wintered greens and new spring greens.
Just like we did all winter, greens can continue to go into soups, sautéed vegetables mixes, and stir-fries, but I start craving more salad this time of year.
Instead of as a side dish or as a starter, spring is when I fill a big bowl with assorted greens, random vegetables, toss with dressing and nuts, and then enjoy for my entire meal. For me, a simple, spring green salad with vinegar and oil is easy to make and deeply satisfying.
As I assembled my giant bowl of greens yesterday, I thought about which wines I love to drink that complement the complexities of this dish. The greens themselves can be mild, spicy, peppery or bitter. Dressings can be sweet, creamy or sour. There is usually added fruit or cheese to add sweetness or creaminess. Then add in nuts or fresh vegetables for texture and color. And finally, prepared as a meal, salads are usually topped with a savory protein of fish, poultry or meat.
So unlike your typical meal, a salad can have extreme flavor variations, making it difficult to successfully match with a wine. Luckily, there is a varietal that is stunning with all types of salad. It is the underrated, underappreciated, dry Riesling.
I’m not talking about the typically sweet or semi-sweet Riesling. Dry Rieslings, specifically from Germany, are perfect spring whites. They are light, crisp, lively and refreshing. If you enjoy Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc and you haven’t tried dry German Rieslings, you should!
A good (dry) German Riesling will have racing acidity that makes your mouth water, yet it will be balanced with bright fruit notes that can handle powerful flavors and textures. With this wine, you can successfully pair a salad dressed with a vinaigrette that is fruity, sour, spicy, or even smoky. It will cut through creamy cheeses, toasted nuts, and fatty proteins. It will also freshen up buttery seafood or breaded anything, yet still match with fresh fruit, fresh or sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh or grilled asparagus. I can honestly say that very few wines have this ability, if any. Since this is one of my absolute favorite wines to drink and to pair with food, I have converted many red and white drinkers over the years to appreciate or even fall in love with the dry German Riesling.
The specific producer I recommend is not only delicious but is also perfect for spring cleaning your diet because they use organic and biodynamic practices. This means not only do they not spray chemicals or use chemical additives in their vineyard or in their wine (organic practices), but they also grow and harvest grapes in harmony with the rhythms of nature (biodynamic practices). Quite impressive. Great job by this fantastic German producer, Wagner Stempel.
For all you adventurous wine drinkers out there, try this Wagner Stempel Dry German Riesling and see for yourself how bright, clean and complex this white tastes. The flavors are so vibrant, they almost jump out of the glass. This is the type of wine that us wine geeks like to suggest, “has something to say.”
So pick up Wagner Stempel’s Riesling or another dry German Riesling, make yourself a giant salad, and enjoy the pair outside on your next warm spring day and see if this pairing “speaks” to you.