THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Any Riesling to attend a wine tasting


OK, so I borrowed that line from John I., the resident punster of Vino. But about a month ago, Kevin Toyama, lead sommelier at the Halekulani (2199 Kalia Road, Honolulu) arranged a wine dinner featuring German wines imported by Rudi Wiest of Cellar International and included Dr. Marcel Tyrell from Karthauserhof, Marcel von den Benken of Schloss Schönborn and Maximilian von Kunow of Von Hovel and Mr. Wiest himself. The Halekulani’s Executive Chef, Vikram Garg, designed a four-course meal with wines ranging from a 1959 Spatlese all the way up to a 2010 Riesling featuring sweet, off dry and dry wines. Of course, I HAD to attend this dinner!

German Wines
When you think of German wines, what’s the first wine that comes to mind? Blue Nun Liebfraumilch or Piesporter Goldtropfchen? I know that these supermarket versions may have initially turned you off to Riesling-based wines. They are too sweet, with no character. I actually started my wine fascination with Blue Nun  as a poor undergraduate, and paired it with Hickory Farms summer sausage. Little did I know back then, it was actually a rational wine and food pairing — the sweet and acid in the Blue Nun balanced the rich and salty qualities in the sausage. Of course, Riesling and German wines are so much more than Blue Nun and the bottles you find in the supermarket.

German Riesling
While young German Rieslings are usually dominated by sugar and acid-like domestic varieties, they usually have a pronounced minerality picked up from the rocky soil they grew in. However, when given several years of bottle aging, the sugar sweetness is eventually replaced with honeyed tones and caramelized fruit. And as the classification rises from Kabinett to Spatlese to Auslese to the stratospheric Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines, so do the richness and complexity as the wines age. Because these wines have abundant sugar and acid, they can easily last from 30 to 50 years, which means that the 2001 and 2003 Gunderloch TBAs we have in storage will peak well after I’m reduced to ashes.

However, not all Rieslings come with a full load of sugar. Alsatian and Austrian variations are usually harvested at the same ripeness as German Riesling grapes, but that’s where the similarity ends. These “cousins” of the German varieties are usually fermented dry, leaving very little residual sugar. They have the same minerality and complexity as German Riesling, but usually pair with a wider variety of foods due to the lack of perceived sweetness. But not all German Riesling is sweet. German vintners also produce Halbtrocken (half-dry) and Trocken (dry) Riesling, along with the usual sweeter wines. I find that the Halbtrocken or off-dry Rieslings pair with the widest varieties of foods, especially Southeast Asian cuisine, because the touch of sweetness tempers the chili pepper heat, while the solid acid helps cleanse the palate of the richness of the dish. The minerality in these wines also serve as a nice foil to the savory herbs like lemongrass, mint, basil and cilantro. Fortunately, residents of the 50th can sample an excellent off-dry Riesling bottled by Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya with their pho, sushi, pad thai or kalbi anytime they wish, as the CF label is available in restaurants and at retail. And as far as Trocken wines go, they are the perfect substitute to start a meal in place of Champagne as the bracing minerality and acidity stimulate to palate for the meal that’s to come. Which is how we started our meal.

‘01 Karthauserhofberger Eitelsbacher Riesling Auslese Trocken

Crab and Lobster Salad, Pirie Mango, Onion Seed Vinaigrette
‘09 Schloss Hallburg, Pinot Blanc
‘10 Schloss Schönborn, Pfaffenberg Riesling Grosses Gewäch


Chia Crusted Halibut, Artichoke Barigoule, Sauce Maltaise,
‘08 von Hövel, Scharzhofberger Riesling Spätlese
‘93 Marcobrunner Spätlese from Magnum

Poached Veal loin, Chickpea Puree, Roasted Tomato and Grapes, Fennel Jus
‘08 Fürst Klingenberger Pinot Noir
‘08 Schloss Hallburg, Pinot Noir

Strawberry Mouse, Pistachio Briton, Rhubarb Confit
‘92 Schloss Schönborn, Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen Riesling Auslese
‘05 von Hövel, Oberemmeler Hütte Riesling Auslese

‘69 Karthäuserhofberger Kronenberg Riesling Feine Auslese
‘59 Wegeler Östricher Lenchen Riesling Spätlese

The Riesling worked wonders with the crab and lobster salad with the fruit in the wine balancing the ripe mango with the sweetness balancing the sweet shellfish. Try a glass of off-dry Riesling with your next lobster roll! The halibut also paired nicely with the next set of Rieslings though my favorite (and favorite wine of the evening) pairing was the 1993 Marcobrunner, which had loads of petrol on the nose and had enough bottle aging so that the sugar sweetness turned more to a caramel-like richness. The 28th generation owner of Schloss Schonborn, Marcel von den Benken stated with his impeccable German accent that, “the chubby guy on the label earned his spot cuz he drank four bottles a day.”

The veal loin was paired with a duo of German Pinot Noir, which had enough finesse so as not to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the veal — I also love German Pinot Noir but that’s another column. The only course that didn’t pair perfectly with the wines was dessert — it’s not that either was bad, but I personally would have selected an off-dry Rose or Gewurztraminer with dessert. The evening ended with a pair of very well aged Riesling from the ‘50s and ‘60s and though the 1969 wasn’t showing very well, the 1959 was another of my favorites of the night. I also brought a bottle of 1976 Schloss Groenesteyn Kiedricher Wasserrose Riesling Beerenauslese that I shared with the rest of the table to end a great meal with great wines and great friends. So the next time you’re looking for a white wine that’s pairs beautifully with food, try that other white wine; Riesling.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at

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