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Rieslings on the menu at next wine tasting

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
May 21, 2003
The current issue of Newsweek magazine did a review of five different Rieslings. Since our May 29 wine tasting will be Rieslings, let me quote the lead paragraph from this review.
What more can be said about "this unjustly obscure grape" other than Newsweek is right. The Rieslings are a product of an unjustly obscure grape. These can be great white wines, but they're still relatively unknown and unloved in the United States.
We were particularly delighted to see this review because of the seven Riesling wines to be tasted three are German and two are from the 2001 vintage "(Germany's) finest vintage in 30 years."
One is Guntrum's Riesling auslese Oppenheimer Herrenberg. It is from Rheinhessen area of Germany. Another of the 2001s we plan to serve is Guntrum's Riesling spatlese Niersteiner Rehbach.
Don't worry. I'm going to unscramble what looks like gobbledygook above in a minute. Keep reading.
The third German wine is from J.J. Prum, one of Germany's most admired vintners. It is his 1999 Graacher Himmelrch kabinett.
One of the reasons German wine has fallen out of favor is because of the complicated names and the labels which tell you a great deal more than you really care to know. Frankly, they are difficult to understand. Let's try.
To put it simply, all wines from Germany are categorized by the amount of sugar in the wine. Grapes develop sugar as the growing season goes along. The later the grapes are picked the more sugar they contain. Therefore early pickings produce less sweet wines. Wines from later pickings are more sweet.
The commonest wine is the kabinett. It is a mid-picking season wine. Not too sweet. Not too dry. But also not as intense as the next step up, the spatlese category. Grapes classified in that category are picked later in the season when the grape has matured and developed more of a sweeter taste. The third of the commonest German wines is the auslese. Grapes which become auslese wine are picked later yet, but are still juicy enough to produce large supplies of the delicious wine.
There are two steps higher, the beerenauslese and the trockenbeerenauslese. They are very expensive and there is no wonder why. It is said that by the time the grapes are picked for a trockenbeerenauslese they have shrunk to the size of a pea. One man must pick a full day to harvest enough of these grapes to make just one bottle of a trocken.
Other descriptions found on German labels besides the overall taste of the wine is the grape variety, the producer's name and address, the vintage, the official proof number, whether the grapes were grown in Germany or another country and the alcohol content.
German wines trend to be less alcoholic. While American chardonnays average about 13.5 percent alcohol, German wines run about 9 percent.
Really outstanding German wines taste almost like a Granny Smith apple, tart but with a wonderful sweetness. We always warn about serving chardonnays and sauvignon blanc wines too cold because the flavors are masked. We prefer our German wines be served ice cold to enhance the crispness of that tart but sweet flavor. There isn't a better summertime wine on the market, although too many American consumers have not yet discovered that. Next week Meridian tasters will.
Their prices are generally attractive as well. These wines can be purchased in the $12 to $18 range and that's a bargain for the pleasure they bring.
In addition to the three wines already mentioned, we will taste three other Rieslings from California, the same grape but quite different from the German wines, and a truly great one from France's Alsace district, also different and also wonderful.
Next tasting
We need your reservations in order to know how many of these wines to purchase for the tasting. Please call 482-0930 to tell us you're coming. The tasting will be May 29 at Northwood Country Club and the general public is invited. You need not be a club member. The tasting starts at 6:30 p.m. and the charge for this seven-wine tasting is $25. If you like wine this is an adventure you really need to take.