Riesling is one of the most historic of wine-grape varieties, with a documented written record that extends to the 13th century and a legendary history that goes back to Charlemagne's time. It's arguably one of the most "noble" of grapes. It makes an ageworthy wine of classic structure, wine that speaks of elegance and shows an uncommon "transparency" that clearly reveals the nature of the fruit and the stony soil in which it was grown.
I don't think this is Riesling's fault so much as my own, and it's not just about wine. Even when I know what I ought to like, I get more simple pleasure out of a Verdi aria than a Bach sonata, a poem by Whitman than a sonnet by Shakespeare, or, well, a red wine from the Rhone than a white from the Rhine. I know how to appreciate the intellectual and austere, but when I think nobody's looking, I'm a sucker for the lush and romantic.
But I keep trying, and recently reviewed two decent, affordable Rieslings. Challenging the myth that Riesling is "always" off-dry or sweet (it's not), both of these are bone-dry, and both actually gave me a glimmer of something that spoke to my heart as well as my head. Especially the Austrian wine, a balanced (and affordable) beauty that I would definitely come back to again.
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Freie Weingärtner 2004 Wachau Riesling ($11.99)
This clear, pale straw-color wine breathes lovely, minerally Riesling aromas of white flowers and musky melons and that intriguing slatey, clean-earth character that wine lovers describe as "petrol." Bone-dry flavors are consistent with the aroma, "rainwater" minerality and musky white fruit over a core of steely acidity. Tart citrus and melon and subtle minerality linger in a very long finish. U.S. importer: Vin Divino Ltd., Chicago (March 1, 2006)
FOOD MATCH: Perfect with the fried smelt featured in the March 2, 2006 30 Wine Advisor FoodLetter.
VALUE: You'll be hard pressed to find better white-wine value at this modest price: One of the bargains of the year so far.
WHEN TO DRINK: Absolutely delicious now, but my experience with Austrian Riesling suggests that it can gain richness and complexity for a decade or more, assuming pristine cellar conditions.
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Bonny Doon "Pacific Rim" Dry Riesling ($11.99)
This wine bears no formal vintage or appellation because it's made from an offbeat blend of grapes (harvested in 2004) from Washington State and Germany's Middle Mosel. It's a very light straw-color wine with a greenish glint of brass. Typical Riesling aromas mingle apple and piney notes with just a whiff oof minerally "petrol." Mouth-filling, dry and acidic, flavors follow the nose in a rather full-bodied expression of the grape. (Feb. 26, 2006)
FOOD MATCH: The offbeat back label(s) - cut out to resemble individual pieces of sushi, have the pictures on the inside so you see them swimming through the wine as you look at the bottle from the front (see photo in our Graphics Edition or in the online archive) - suggest its natural companion, seafood or fish. We put it to a more challenging test as one in a group of wines paired with a fiery Sichuanese dish, shredded beef with carrots and celery, where it fared surprisingly well. Riesling, in short, is one of the most versatile of wines for pairing with a variety of foods.
VALUE: Excellent value at this near-$10 price point.
WHEN TO DRINK: Ready to drink but certainly ageworthy. Riesling challenges Chenin Blanc in the small universe of white varieties that have much to gain from cellar time.
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The California Wine Club:
Bloomin' Big Wine Sale Starts Today! Save up to 70%
One of The California Wine Club's most popular events is its March Wine Sale - one of two truly big wine sales that happen each year. If you've never ordered from The California Wine Club, now is the absolute best time to do so. Great wine and great value can always be found with The California Wine Club, but this month, even those looking for the "under $10 finds" will find many wines worth pouring.
Click here to view the full list of wines on sale with savings of up to 70% off normal retail prices:
This Bloomin' Big Wine Sale ends March 31, 2006. You can order half, full or mixed cases, and all prices are F.O.B. Ventura California. We recommend ordering early to guarantee the best selection. Visit the Wine Store at www.cawineclub.com or call 1-800-777-4443. Be sure and ask about the "free gift offers."
Know someone new to wine? Why not mix a case of award-winning, hard-to-find California wines and surprise them with a fun and unique wine experience! (International wines are available too!)
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Friday, March 3, 2006