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Rieslings dry and sweet are a hit at pool party

Summer fun inevitably means friends getting together enjoying light meals and similar wines. So when a vegetarian friend announced a pool party built around the theme of spicy Mediterranean-based cuisine, the challenge was set.

Baba ganoush, hummus, tomato-and-jalapeño salsa, pita bread and lots of fresh veggies to slip into a yoghurt and dill dip. And spicy?

Montinore Riesling Sweet Reserve

It’s not the searing hot of Thai or Vietnamese food but there were plenty of tongue and lip-warming spices and peppers to liven up the meal.

Thanks to having recently listened to Mark Oldman, author of “Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine, talk about pairing wines with hot and spicy food during the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, I was ready for the challenge. Spicy food calls for a low-alcohol wine with little or no tannin, said Oldman, recommending sparkling wines and still whites (Reisling, Gewurztraminer, Torrontes) and lighter reds such as pinot noir and carmenere.

“You want something a little bit sweet or sweet seeming,” Oldman told his appreciative audience. “Think in the terms of heat. Not too much alcohol or tannins and certainly nothing too expensive.”

By coincidence, I had just opened a box of wines from the good folks at Montinore Estate, the Forest-Grove, Ore., winery of Rudy Marchesi and found a selection of white wines perfect for the evening. There’s a fascinating story behind how Marchesi, the grandson of Italian immigrants, took over Montinore and built it up using biodynamic farming techniques to one of the stellar bio vineyards in the Willamette Valley and on the Left Coast. There’s a fine story about Marchesi in the Portland Oregonian here.

Among his white wines are the 2010 Almost Dry Riesling ($14, SRP); 2009 Pinot Gris ($16) and the 2009 Riesling Sweet Reserve ($16). The last one, because of its high residual sugar level (75 grams per liter), is found on the Montinore website under the heading “Dessert Wines” although it’s not as sweet as many dessert-type wines which may.

Oldman’s suggestion was to match sweet or “sweet-seeming” wines with spicy food, the sweetness in the wines off-setting the spiciness in the food. But he cautioned a sweet wine can become undrinkable without sufficient acidity to balance all the residual sugar and clear the palate.

Both the Almost Dry Riesling, with its slightest touch of sweetness and a citrusy, Granny Smith apple fruitiness, and the Pinot Gris, with highlights of melon, pear and apple, stood up well to the assortment of tantalizing dishes. They both had the body and the finish to marry well with the meal and both bottles disappeared well before their time.

The Sweet Reserve, though, was the crowd’s favorite, both during the meal and for sipping later around the pool as the moon rose. Dessert wines, as was noted, can be tricky to pull off, but Montinore white-wine maker Stephen Webber has managed to capture the essence of white flowers with flavors of tropical fruit and orange peel, well balanced by enough acidity to sparkle on the palate.

The fact it’s only 9.7-percent alcohol (the Almost Dry Riesling is 11 percent) makes it driver-friendly, too.

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