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Dry Riesling - Robin Seeks to 'Warm up' to the Historic Grape
Copyright 2006 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed March 3, 2005. For more information go to

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.

And yet...and I periodically confess with mild shame, I have a hard time warming up to Riesling myself. I can judge Rieslings in competition and score them fairly; and on the intellectual side of my mind, I can discern the characteristics that smite its fanciers with something akin to love. But I have a hard time feeling it in my heart.

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.

Freie Weingartner 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.

PRONUNCIATION: Wachau = "Vah-kow," with a throaty German gargle on the "ch" if you can do it. Riesling = "REECE-ling"

WEB LINK: The winery has an excellent, high-tech Website lavishly illustrated with photos. Unfortunately, it's entirely in German. Still, worth a visit.

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 - 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.

WEB LINK: Here's the producer's fact sheet on the 2004 Pacific Rim Riesling.

*Prices are those found at wine shops in Robin's Kentucky home and may vary depending upon your location and the retailer.


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