Not-so-sweet riesling still tasty

While German vintners have much to celebrate with the 2009 vintage, the marketplace is flooded with wines from 2007, which was also superb. German wines are often lumped together, but there is a lot of diversity — even among riesling, Germany’s most popular and important grape.

Let’s start with a little German Riesling 101, as this can be a confusing topic — particularly because of the informative, though difficult-to-decipher, labels. People still seem to think of German wines, and riesling in general, as sweet.

This is often the case, but not always — as dry rieslings are incredibly popular in Germany.

The word for “dry” in German is “trocken,” while “halbtrocken” means “semi-dry.” Trocken wines must have no more than 9 grams of residual sugar per liter and halbtrocken are limited to 18 grams per liter.

If a German wine has one of these labels, it must be at least a Qualitatswein bestimmten Anbaugebietes level — the second-highest designation for German wine — and many are Qualitatswein mit Pradikat (QmP), which is reserved for the best wines in the country. The degree of grape ripeness is indicated in QmP wines from earliest to latest: kabinett, spatlese, auslese, beerenauslese, trockenbeerenauslese and eiswein.

I have found that wine drinkers are often pleasantly surprised when they try a riesling that is not sweet. There are those die-hard German riesling fanatics who prefer wines that have some residual sugar, but most riesling fans are open to drier wines. I actually like a lot of the halbtrockens — especially those from the 2007 vintage, as they have a perfect balance of sugar, acid and alcohol.

Here are three of my favorites:

Graf von Schonborn, Schloss Schonborn Estate Riesling, Halbtrocken, 2007 (Rheingau, Germany): This historic estate has vineyards throughout the Rheingau (not to mention property in Franconia and Portugal), but the grapes for this wine come from the main estate, located in the town of Hattenheim. Light-bodied and crisp with Golden Delicious apple and mineral notes, this wine will tickle your senses. Suggested retail: $17

Weingut Wegeler Riesling Medium Dry, Pure, 2007 (Rheingau, Germany): Wegeler has holdings in both the Mosel and the Rheingau regions, but the original land, which was acquired by Julius Wegeler in 1882, is in the Rheingau. Pristine green apple and star fruit flavors laced with bright mineral tones, make it easy to see why it was named Pure. Suggested retail: $20

Weingut Heribert Boch Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken, Trittenheimer Apotheke, 2007 (Mosel, Germany): This small estate is run by Michael Boch, who took over from his father, Heribert, in 1989. Positioned on a steep slope, the Apotheke vineyard contains vines that are more than 100 years old. Exuding the slate mineral content of the Mosel, it has a host of floral component aromas, Granny Smith apples and an undercurrent of almonds. Suggested retail: $21

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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