Tasting Wine: The right riesling

After last week’s sobering column on wine pricing, I promised to bring the fun back. So here you go — fun, fun, fun with riesling in the sun.

Let’s just say it is a given that the best rieslings in the world are from Germany, with Alsace and Austria being close runners-up. While there are some really tasty rieslings made in parts of the United States and Australia, New Zealand might be a little more dialed in with the magic that is riesling, but I can’t say I know exactly why. There is soil variation from region to region, but South Island, where most riesling is grown, tends to be pretty cool, giving it a predisposition for grapes such as pinot noir and riesling.

I’ve been underwhelmed with New Zealand wine over the last couple of years but recently have tasted some that has restored my faith in the potential of this country. Some of the most impressive wines have been made from riesling. Here are three.

Dry River Craighill Riesling Amaranth, 2007 (Martinborough, New Zealand): Martinborough is the most southern wine area on New Zealand’s North Island, and climatically it is more similar to Marlborough, which is just across the water, than it is to Hawkes Bay. Dry River was founded in 1979 and purchased in 2002 by an American businessman and the late Reg Oliver of El Molino in Napa. Floral with green apple, pear flavors and underlying minerality, this is a vivacious wine. Suggested retail: $35

Pyramid Valley Riesling, Lebecca Vineyard, 2006 (Marlborough, New Zealand): Mike Weersing, a native Californian, attended viticulture school in Burgundy and worked in a half-dozen fantastic French and German wineries before he set out for New Zealand with his partner, Claudia. While he is waiting for his own vineyard to mature, Weersing farms parts of other vineyards to make wine. Picked at about the same level of a “spätlese,” this riesling has a creamlike character with bracing green apple, pear fruit and stony minerality. It has a striking resemblance to Rheingau riesling and will no doubt continue to improve over the next five years. Suggested retail: $25

Aurum Riesling, 2006 (Central Otago, New Zealand): Aurum was founded by Joan and Tony Lawrence in 2002, but they have left the winemaking up to the their son and daughter-in-law, Brook and Lucie, a Burgundy native. Both have oenology degrees and worked in Burgundy and Alsace, so they bring a wealth of experience to their production. Light-bodied with kefir lime, lemon, tangerine Life Savers flavors and a hint of kiwi, this is a fun and refreshing wine with just a tad of residual sugar. Suggested retail: $17

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

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