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Riesling: It's not just for Germany anymore

Grapes' multiple personalities run the gamut from shitty to amazing

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During the summer, sometimes it's hard to get excited about red wine. There's something about having to choke down a heavy, room-temp beverage that makes me flee to an air-conditioned wonderland and down a beer.

But give me a frosty, chilled glass of white and let the games begin. There are so many wines to enjoy in this overly sweaty season ... how about a tasty trough of Riesling?

When you hear the word "Riesling," do you wrench your face and say, "ewww"? After all, with the German stereotype of shitty, syrupy Rieslings and rampant sweet wine snobbiness, I'm not surprised people shun this highly underappreciated masterpiece. But there's a thirst-quenching dry side to versatile Riesling you should know about.

Riesling is the Sybil of grapes: Its multiple personalities run the gamut from amazing sweet dessert wines to refreshingly fruity food wines to dry, light-bodied everyday wines. Those who swig sweet will be pleasantly surprised by the crispness of dry Rieslings. Those who deify dry might be taken aback by how well the slight sweetness of a German Spatlese goes with spicy food.

Riesling has tons of history, just like Cabernet or Chardonnay. Rumor has it Riesling is indigenous to Germany, thriving within their bottles as early as the Middle Ages. The grape prefers cool weather, like that of Germany, and does very well in the "late harvest" and "noble rot" stages of vine maturation (methods whereby the grapes stay on the vine in order to concentrate their sugars, producing grapes for dessert wines).

In the stores, you'll find Riesling listed in several different forms, yet they are all one in the same. White Riesling is the "botanical" name for the grape, but marketing people have latched on to the grape's other name, Johannisberg Riesling. Follow the word and you'll be saved from disappointment.

Lots of countries are producing excellent Rieslings nowadays, with notably good values coming from Australia and Washington state. Non-committal prices (under $12) abound in these areas. Austria and Germany's better wines tend to run in the higher price ranges, but you can stumble across some good values there, too.

If you're one of the patient folk out there, Rieslings age well. The 2001 German vintage is supposed to be the best vintage since the 1970s, so snatch some up if you can.

The next time you want to reach for a cold one, grab one of those tall bottles of Riesling. You just might surprise yourself.

Recommended Wines:

Hogue 2000 Johannisberg Riesling ($8) : Apple and peach flavors perk up this pretty wine. "Off dry" (that's wine snob for slightly sweet) and perfect with anything spicy. Easy on the wallet.

Yalumba 2001 Riesling ($11) : Refreshingly dry and crisp. Check out the aroma on this Aussie bad boy -- it's so floral, it could be aromatherapy.

Rudolf Muller Deidesheimer Hofstruck Riesling Spatlese ($12) : Peachy keen, showing off slightly sweet and smooth flavors. Low in alcohol at 9 percent so you can drink it all day. Good with Asian fusion.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica 2001 Riesling ($17) : This Washington state beauty is friendly like an American, upfront like a German and clean like a Swiss. Absolutely yummy apricots and peaches with no lingering aftertaste.

Leeuwin 2001 Riesling Margaret River Artist Series ($22) : A gem from Australia. Tangy, citrusy and crisp with a nice, clean finish. This one could age a bit, but is wonderful now. Mmm, mmm good with curry of any sort.

Nigl 2000 Riesling Ried Goldberg ($35) : Smooth, peachy and steely. Higher in alcohol than most (13 percent as opposed to 11 percent), but you'd never know it. Worth the bucks.

Taylor Eason is a regionally based wino who studied the juice in France and Italy. Comments? E-mail corkscrew@creativeloafing.com.

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