Magazine article Sunset

Message on a Bottle

Magazine article Sunset

Message on a Bottle

Article excerpt

Western Rieslings warrant cracking the code

Funny how we "discover" a wine every now and then. A decade ago it was Merlot, until, with one movie ticket last fall, we learned that no serious wine drinker would stoop to that variety; Pinot Noir was the thing.

Lately I've been offered Riesling at every turn. It's an old grape with a great reputation everywhere but here. The French and Austrians make noble versions. But Germany produces the wine in spades; their Rieslings have long been models for makers worldwide. The trouble is, until recently, we've modeled them radier badly.

This great white wine-with orchard-fresh flavors of stone fruit, citrus, apples, and minerals-is made in many styles, from bone dry to very sweet. Alsatian and Austrian Rieslings tend toward the former. The Germans-never short on precision (my last name gives me a point of reference)-have no less than five designated levels of ripeness for Riesling that loosely correlate to sweetness: Kabinett, Auslese, Spätlese, and so on. You can know from the label what you're getting into.

Here, confusion reigns-dangerous, just as we're emerging from Riesling mediocrity. Recently I asked a server how sweet a Riesling on the wine list was. "How sweet do you like them?" he countered. I setded on dryish, appreciating that trend among Western makers. "This one would be way too sweet for you, men," he declared, and steered me toward a different variety altogether (a wine I knew was sweet). Feeling mutinous, I took my chances on the Riesling, a Trefethen from the Napa Valley. …

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