Riesling Rising

White Wine 201 would fail you if it didn’t mention Riesling. The thrillingly fine balance of sweetness and acidity of this variety can have “the inevitability of great art” in the best examples.

One 19th century traveler exclaimed, on tasting wine from the world’s oldest all-Riesling vineyard at Germany’s Schloss Johannisberg, that the wines are “beyond [our] powers of description.” Even if the bottles suggested here aren’t quite as complicated, they merit a tasting.

However, there is one characteristic of Riesling you may struggle to describe. Capable of offering up citrus, floral, musky and mineral aromas galore, it also has a smell that’s classically labelled “petrol” or what we’d call “gas”. You may find this too subtle at first, and, yes, balk at the idea that fuel could be welcome in your glass. But, once recognized, you’ll happily inhale it.

Domane Schloss Johannisberg planted its all-Riesling vineyard in 1720 and originated the late-harvest wines that are Germany’s top wines, so on the grounds of history alone, its off-dry Riesling 2006 ($27.95) is interesting. On the nose there’s peach, honey, mineral and petrol, the sweetness on the palate giving way to an uplifting, singing acidity and a longish finish.

From one of Canada’s oldest Riesling vineyards – though one only planted in 1986 – comes the Cave Spring Estate Riesling 2006 ($18.00). An intense and honeyed nose with the requisite hints of petrol, leads into a slight fizz on the tongue with wonderful off-dry apple and lime notes framed by a desirable thickness of texture.

Finally, the piercing lime acidity of dry Riesling is available in Thorn-Clark’s Terra Barossa Riesling 2006 ($14.95), from South Australia. Riesling’s a long way from its German birthplace here, but its petrol note and surprising beauty has made the journey.

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