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Riesling wines: Perfect for Southern summers

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
June 11, 2003
It's one thing to talk about a wine based only on its vintner and the vintage year. It's quite another to discuss what was in the bottle after you have had the opportunity to taste it.
We have maintained on several recent occasions that summertime wines can, and should be, more than a bottle of white zinfandel or chardonnay.
There are some wonderful rieslings available in Mississippi and most of them are bargains. Two weeks ago at the riesling tasting, we had the opportunity to taste seven of them. They were made to enjoy during our warm Mississippi summers.
Riesling grapes are truly a classic German variety. They produce wines with tremendous fruit and the right amount of acidity for balance. Normally they are low in alcohol, although the American versions of the wine we tasted ranged from 12.5 percent to 13.5. percent. The German wines were both under 10 percent.
Riesling wines age well in the bottle. The sugar content gives them long life and it is not uncommon to taste a 10-year-old that still retains its youthful freshness.
About the grapes
Depending on the weather and the vineyard, riesling grapes occasionally develop a highly desired mold called "botrytis." In the trade, botrytis is referred to as "noble rot." It gives sweet wine a new dimension and the greatest wines from Germany usually show this characteristic.
The northeastern corner of France is the Alsace region. It is famed as a producer of dryer, less sweet, riesling wines.
In California, riesling has never been a high production wine but the overwhelming success of white zinfandels and their almost soda pop sweetness have forced a number of producers to turn to the riesling grape in order to be competitive.
Rieslings are far superior to the white zinfandels in quality but their prices are comparable.
Riesling tasting
The tasting began with an inexpensive California wine, the Firestone, priced at about $10. The wine had a nice roundness along with good depth of flavor, but it was a bit on the sweet side for my taste. It was, however, well received by the majority of tasters.
The wine had developed a bit of what the Germans call "spritzle" a light effervescence that tingles the tongue, a very desirable trait that almost creates a champagne-like effect.
Next on the list was a Washington State wine from the Hogue winery. A bit less sweet, but still a true riesling with a touch of the green apple taste that is common with this grape. It sells for about $9.
Kendall Jackson has made its reputation with the Vintner's Reserve chardonnay, low-priced but pleasant. Their riesling tasted much like their chardonnay with a slight difference in the blending. It did not suit my pallet because of the taste-alike nature of the wine. At $11 it is drinkable, but there are better wines available in the same price range.
Pick of the evening
One of the true favorites of the evening was the wine from Oregon's Elk Cove winery. I've never had a bottle of their wine that wasn't a true value and their riesling fits that description. Well-balanced, good depth of flavor, a nice long-lasting finish, the Elk Cove was one of the hits of the evening. At $14, it's a bargain.
The fifth wine was a riesling produced by the Hugel winery in Alsace. It should never have been fifth on the list. It was dry to the point of being austere. Coming out of four sweet type wines into this very powerful and crisp bottle was a mistake on my part. Served first it would have been fine, but served fifth ruined the wine.
If I were to buy another bottle of this Hugel, it would be to drink with oysters or other shellfish. Both always require high acid wines.
Guntrum winery
The last two on the tasting list were both produced by Germany's Guntrum winery. Wines from that country are picked in staggered lots, some early, some a bit later, some even later and some much later.
The longer the grapes hang on the vine the more sugar they develop and German wine laws require the vintner to classify his wines by their sugar content. The first wine served was a spatlese, roughly the third picking. It will always be sweeter than the first two, which are the qualitatswein followed by the kabinett designation, but not as sweet as the fourth picking auslese which follows.
The spatlese at $14 was excellent, but the auslese at $17 was magnificent.
All these wines are available in the state warehouse and your favorite package store can order them for you.
Our recommendations, the Hogue at the low end, the Elk Cove in the middle and the Guntrum auslese at the higher level. Chill them and enjoy them on your patio or at your picnic. Summertime is always fun. These wines will make it even better.

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