Riesling


Great wines possess a kind of intensity that flatters the nose and palate, as well as the imagination, with a comprehensive scope of sensation and character without burdening our faculties with any quality of the flamboyant or egotistical; they burn with a hard, gem-like flame — as Walter Pater bade us live — rather than self-immolating in the baroque furnaces of exaggeration and manipulation. Great wines exert a sense of finely tuned balance in addition to a paradoxical element of risk, at times almost playfulness, these qualities subsumed into the overall impression of integration, generosity and completeness. The models I look at today, both samples for review, as I am required to inform you by the Federal Trade Commission, exemplify such standards. Nothing links these wines except the fact that I tasted them on sequential days and that they’re beautifully wrought renditions of the grapes from which they’re made.

First, however, a comment on what’s called the “tasting note.” There’s a hue and cry in the recent press about the death of the tasting note; the tasting note is outmoded, assert its opponents, a relic of a time when wine critics were deemed authorities and their notes — typically involving Bordeaux Classified Growths, Burgundy Premier and Grand Crus and great German rieslings — regarded as sacred texts. Such notions, we’re told, are hopeless in the world of the Internet, instant reaction and analysis, the cohort-like animation of word-of-mouth, blogs, smart phones and hanging loose. I think that’s all fine and dandy. Certainly the tasting note as perfected by a magazine like the Wine Spectator — telegraphic, gnomic, superficial and pointed toward the all-important numerical score — seems unhelpful except to consumers primarily interested in the dynamic of that large, black, bold-face rating. Such punchy tasting notes bear the same relationship to the characterization of a wine in a full review as a capsule summary of a movie does to a review in The New York Times or The New Yorker.

If I may self-advocate here, I have been taking notes on wine for 30 years, and I use those notes to assemble not merely a review of the wine but a narrative that blends history, geography and intention with an attempt to get to the heart of a product, in detail and dimension. I want My Readers to take away from such a review a sense of where a wine came from, the importance of its origin in a place and time and climate, what it smells like and tastes like and feels like over passing moments and what its potential is for growth and development — and perhaps what foods it could profitably accompany. Much as I love the physical properties of many of the wines I taste every year, I also dote on a wine’s chronicle from vineyard through the hands of the winemaker to the bottle on your table. If any of you read this blog and utter a sigh and heartfelt, “Oh, there F.K. goes again, talking about vineyard elevation and late harvesting and oak aging,” well, you should be used to that by now, because you’re stuck with it.

It’s true that not all wines require or deserve such full-blown treatment; many of the products I mention on this blog are simple quaffing wines meant to be enjoyed without much thought, and there’s not a thing wrong with that. The wines that I find richly rewarding though and that capture my attention — as did the two wines under review in this post — seem valuable not merely because of their high quality and complex character but because they imply a narrative that extents into a personal, historical and geological past and into the future of possibility.

The first image above is from my wine notebook, actually a ledger, from 1986 and 1987; the second image represents a small portion of wine notebooks from about 1995 to 2005.
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The Villa Huesgen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2010 derives from steep vineyards that rise 100 to 200 meters above the Mosel River. The slightly fractured landscape lends the slate-impacted vineyard a faceted relationship to the sky, allowing the 30- to 35-year-old vines a multitude of exposures to sunlight as the day proceeds; the result seems to be an unusual degree of richness in the grapes, as well as a profoundly significant array of mineral elements. The estate traces its origin to 1735, when Johannes Huesgen (1697-1762) moved to the town of Traben-Trarbach in the Mosel region and began buying vineyards; in 1762, his son Johann-Wilhelm, with his mother and brother-in-law, founded a wine merchant business. Among the family’s most striking achievements is Villa Huesgen itself, one of the most famous Art Nouveau houses in Europe, designed by notable architect Bruno Möhring in 1904.

I don’t want to wax too poetical here or wade into the murky miasma of metaphor, but the bouquet and the flavors of the Villa Huesgen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2010 evince such a powerful perception of rain on dusty slate tiles, of damp lilacs, of the snap of gunflint and the mingling of crushed limestone and lime peel, of lemongrass and ginger, of quince and spiced pear that it remains with me vividly two days later. This marked intensity, however, while distinctly present in nose and mouth, is not the least overwhelming; rather it evokes an impression that’s almost poignant in its acuteness and its weaving of infinite delicacies into a fabric of strength and elegance. Close to talc-like in texture but enlivened by crisp and crystalline acidity, Villa Huesgen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2010, made all in stainless steel, is fresh and immediately appealing yet should age beautifully through 2018 to 2020. This, friends, is great riesling. 11.5% alcohol. We drank this wine with wholewheat linguine, roasted golden beets and beet greens, kale, leeks and Gruyere. Excellent. About $35.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Ca.
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The Wild Horse Cheval Sauvage Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Maria Valley, is the finest wine I have tasted from the winery in years. Director of winemaking is Clay Brock, and winemaker is Chrissy Wittmann. I don’t know to what extent the wine was a collaboration between them, but whatever the case, this is well-nigh perfect pinot. The grapes for the 2009 version all came from the well-known Sierra Madre Vineyard; previous vintages have been blends of several vineyards in Santa Maria, which, except for a tiny portion in San Luis Obispo County, lies within Santa Barbara County. Santa Maria, still largely isolated compared to wine regions farther north in the state, is cool climate, with its western-most area cooled even more by sea-breezes. It you ever stay in the vicinity, it’s wondrous to see the whole valley filled with fog early in the morning.

Wild Horse was founded in 1982 by Ken Volk; the winery and its vineyard occupy land above the Salinas River near Templeton, in northern San Luis Obispo County, in the Paso Robles appellation. In 2003, Volk sold the brand, the winery and the 64-acre property to Peak International, a subsidiary of Jim Beam Brands Worldwide. In 2007, Beam was swallowed up by the Icon Estates division of Constellation Brands. In January 2011, as reported in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Constellation decided to “cut back operations” at Wild Horse, shifting the cellaring of Wild Horse wines to Estancia Winery in Soledad and Gonzalez Winery in Gonzales. The crush occurs at the original winery, with the reserve wines still “processed” there. Few things stay the same in California (sung to the tune of “Welcome to the Hotel California”).

Wild Horse Cheval Sauvage Pinot Noir 2009 offers exactly what I want in a pinot from The Golden State, that is, an ineffable sense of tension, resolution and balance between elegance and energy, between spareness and vigor. The color is medium cherry-mulberry from stem to stern. Aromas of red cherries, cranberry and rhubarb are permeated by touches of cloves, hints of toast and licorice and, beyond all that, something fleshy, spicier and untamed, a bell-tone of wild berry and a hint of briers. This bevy of elements is not presented in a blatant fashion but rather as a tissue of subtleties and nuances exquisitely poised, dexterous and agile. The texture is supremely satiny, supple and lithe, a bit of window dressing on the stones and bones of the wine’s vibrantly acidic and scintillating earthy/graphite structure; it spent 14 months in French oak barrels. A few minutes in the glass bring in notes of blue plums, pomegranate, sassafras and fruitcake, with the latter’s attendant notes of dried fruit and spices. A refreshing 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $65.
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No snark today; it’s my birthday! So what I offer are eight wines that we have enjoyed at home recently, mainly with lunches or dinners or standing in the kitchen preparing meals, with no — all right, very few — quibbles. It’s an eclectic group: white, rosé and red; still and sparkling, originating in Germany, Hungary, France, Oregon, Sonoma County and Napa Valley. Prices range from $11 to $45; ratings go from Very Good+ to Exceptional. No technical notes and details; just heart-felt reviews designed to spark your interest and whet your palate. These were all samples for review.
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Count Karolyi Grüner Veltliner 2011, Tolna, Hungary. 12% alc. 100% grüner veltliner grapes. Very pale straw-gold color; bone-dry, spare, lean, subtly infused with green apple, lime peel and a tang of spiced pear and grapefruit; powerful strain of oyster-shell-like/limestone minerality, but winsome and attractive. 523 cases imported. Very Good+. About $11, a Raving, Cosmic Bargain.
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River Road Nouveau Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. The first California wine from 2012 that I’ve tasted. Lovely pale watermelon color; pure strawberries and watermelon in the nose; soft, supple, almost shamelessly appealing; hints of dried cranberries and mulberries, pert, tart, laced with limestone; touch of orange rind and plum skin; slightly sweet on the intake, but the finish is dry. 240 cases. Absolute delight. Very Good+. About $15.
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Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace Rosé (nv), Alsace. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. Radiant medium salmon-copper color; a constant upward swirl of tiny bubbles, glinting silver in the dusky pink; striking aromas of macerated strawberries and raspberries with touches of cloves, orange zest and lime peel; very dry, very crisp, heaps of limestone and shale; yet creamy, supple, lots of body and heft, almost chewy; a long spice and mineral-laden finish. Production was 2,500 cases. Delectable and more. Very Good+. About $25.
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Domaine Chandon Reserve Brut (nv), 82% Sonoma County, 18% Napa County. 12.5% alc. Composition is 80% pinot noir, 20% chardonnay. Medium straw-gold color with a touch of bronze; a surging whirlwind of tiny bubbles; very biscuity, roasted hazelnuts, spiced pears; lightly buttered cinnamon toast; ginger and quince and a hint of baked apple; heaps of limestone-and-flint minerality, very steely, quite elegant yet with robust underpinnings; long spicy, toast-and-limestone packed finish. Very classy. 2,046 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Cornerstone Chardonnay 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 100% chardonnay grapes. Pale straw color; pungent with pineapple and grapefruit aromas tinged with honeysuckle, lemon zest, cloves, damp limestone and a touch of mango; lots of presence, lots of personality; lively, crisp, refreshing; dense, talc-like texture, almost chewy yet taut, chiming with acidity and a vibrant limestone-and-flint minerality. Quite stylish and attractive. 166 cases produced. Now through 2014 t0 ’16. Excellent. About $35.
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Villa Huesgen Enkircher Steffensberg Riesling Kabinett 2011, Mosel, Germany. 10% alc. 100% riesling grapes. Pale straw-gold color; delicate, lithe and lacy, crisp as an apple fresh from the cellar and slightly bitter and bracing as apple skin; whiff of some dewy white flower like camellia, traces of smoke and ripe lychee, peach skin and apricot; smells like summer, what can I say? so lively that it’s almost pétillant, burgeoning quality of limestone and shale, hints of roasted lemons and pears, but all subsumed to a sense of elegance and refinement married to the power of fluent acidity and scintillating minerality. Production was 2,000 cases. Just great. Now to 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $40.
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Signorello Seta Proprietary White Wine 2011, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. 62% semillon grapes, 38% sauvignon blanc. Takes risks with oak but pulls off the feat. Light straw-gold color; spicy figs and pears, dried thyme and tarragon, greengage plums, roasted lemons, guava and ginger: yeah, quite a bouquet, in which you also sense, as ink seeps into the graven lines of the etcher’s plate, the soft permeating burr of oak and woody spices, as well in the body of the wine; yet boy what presence and tone, clarity and confidence; a few minutes bring in notes of white peach and gooseberry, something wild and sunny and definitive; crisp acidity, a modicum of stony minerality. 177 cases. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. A brilliant pinot noir; you want to hand yourself over to it. Dark ruby color with a slightly lighter violet-magenta rim; deliriously spicy and floral; black cherries, red currants and mulberries, just a hint in the background of something a little earthy and funky, very Burgundian in that aspect; super satiny texture but with a slightly roughed or sanded (as if were) surface — there’s a touch of resistance; a substantial pinot noir that fills the mouth, dense and intense; gains power as the moments pass; there’s an autumnal element: burning leaves, slightly dried moss, briers but overall gorgeous fruit. 200 cases. Among the best pinot noirs I tasted (or drank) in 2012. Now through 2016 to ’18. Exceptional. About $45.
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One of the criteria for the Wine of the Week, besides being a good example of a wine in its style, quality and price, is availability. Obviously it would not do to recommend a bottle to my readers as the Wine of the Week and conclude by writing, “Oh, by the way, only 137 cases were produced, so good luck, suckers!” As much, then, as I would like to have made the Morgan Double L Vineyard Riesling 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, a Wine of the Week, I could not in good conscience do that, considering the minuscule amount of the wine there is. If, however, you run across the Morgan Double L Vineyard Riesling 2011, do not hesitate to buy as much as possible. This is the second vintage for the winery’s venture into the riesling grape. The color is pale straw-gold; enticing aromas of ripe pears and peaches offer hints of lychee and apricot nectar and, after a few minutes in the glass, orange zest and orange blossom, lightly traced with cloves. The wine is clean, fresh and lively — no oak is involved — silky and supple, delicately sweet initially but succumbing to a cool bracing breeze of damp limestone and savory salt-marsh elements. Then, to complete the progress of its tasty yet spare citrus and roasted pear flavors, comes a finish imbued with flint and the slight bitterness of grapefruit pith and apple skin. 10.5 percent alcohol. The vineyard is certified organic. Winemaker is Gianni Abate. We drank part of the bottle one night with turkey and dressing and gravy leftovers and another night with pasta in a carrot greens-and-almond pesto with diced yellow peppers. Production was 210 cases; see, I told ya. Excellent. Abut $22, and Worth a Search.

A sample for review.

So, Thanksgiving is over, but the memory lingers on, at least in the form of this post about a wonderful riesling that we drank with that day’s ritual dinner. The occasion is a highly traditional, even ceremonial, but we try to cook a pretty much completely different meal every Thanksgiving, both of the sake of variety and for the challenge. On the menu this year: Clementine-salt glazed turkey with red-eye gravy; sweet potato-bacon-thyme dressing; mixed winter greens with shiitake mushrooms; bacon-crusted cornbread; and for dessert a bourbon pecan tart and a pear crisp. Now we’ve all read the recommendations from many wine critics, reviewers and writers this time of year about what wine to drink with the multifarious, many-faceted sweet-sour-savory Thanksgiving feast, and basically it distills to this advice: Drink what you like except for cabernet sauvignon and heavily oaked chardonnay, and zinfandel is great but not high-alcohol versions. Many writers advocate drinking all American wines for this American celebration, while other say (implicitly), “Who gives a crap what country’s wines we drink, just pick wines you enjoy,” and the truth is, Thanksgiving dinner is not a wine tasting, nor should it be an event where wine dominates the discussion. It’s all for pleasure and enjoyment.

I’ll confess that I followed the all-American wine trope for years, even serving the same labels: a riesling from Trefethen, the Ridge Three Valleys zinfandel blend and the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir, generally current vintages except for the Trefethen, which I like best about three years after harvest. This year, I decided to forgo the strictly patriotic route; after all, America is a country of immigrants, so why can’t we drank wine from Italy or France or Germany or anywhere on Thanksgiving. I stayed within the same grape categories, California of course for zinfandel, but Germany for riesling and France, specifically Burgundy, for the pinot noir. The roster: Weingut Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel; Ravenswood Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel 2009, Russian River Valley; Aloxe-Corton Les Vercots Premier Cru 2008, Domaine Tollot-Beaut. We were a small group, so we skipped from the riesling to the Burgundy, a wine to which I will return in a subsequent post. The point of this entry is to celebrate the quiet though complete achievement of the Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, a sample provided by the trade group Wines of Germany.

The village of Veldenz lies south of the Mosel river and the town of Mülheim in the Middle Mosel region of southwest Germany. In a south-running valley there, the vineyard of Elisenberg — hence Veldenzer Elisenberg, first the name of the village, then the vineyard — was presented to Franz Ludwig Niessen in 1813 in gratitude for his personal payment of 3,000 thalers to Napoleon to prevent the destruction of Mülheim and Veldenz. Elisenberg remains in the Richter family today; Niessen was a fifth-generation ancestor.

The year, 2010, was a short vintage, short, that is, in duration and in the quantity of grapes. Despite some difficult stretches, the year produced many excellent wines, filled with nerve and vivacity.

The Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010 is a pale but radiant straw-gold color; aromas of ripe apples, peaches and pears (with an intriguing back-tone of red fruit, say cherry or currant) are woven with notes of jasmine, flint and limestone and a hint of honey, all melded with utmost delicacy and finesse; a few moments in the glass bring up wafting touches of quince and crystallized ginger. This innate delicacy does not mean that the wine is fragile or ineffable, though, because there’s a great deal of tensile strength here, manifested in the prominent stones and bones of crisp acidity and limestone minerality that deepen, vitally and vibrantly, as the wine passes through the mouth. Lovely, tasty peach, pear and lychee flavors open to something almost exotic, like guava or star-fruit, mildly spicy and just slightly sweet initially, though from mid-palate back through the finish the wine is quite dry. That finish is slightly bitter with lime peel and grapefruit and is rounded by a final plunge into the limestone pool. 9.5 percent alcohol. Despite its exquisite character, this wine, well-stored, should drink beautifully through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About — unbelievable! — $19.

Imported by Langdon Shiverich, Los Angeles.

… Give it a try.

Our wine fridge tends to be filled with chardonnays, because we drink the sauvignon blancs, rieslings, chenin blancs, Rhone-style whites and such before chardonnay, because unless you know the producer and have had the wines before, you never know what you’re going to get. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s having to open three or four chardonnays to find one that’s drinkable while dinner gets cold. So, searching for a wine to accompany the soup that I’ll describe in a moment, I was rummaging through the wine refrigerator and happened upon a bottle of Höpler Riesling 2007, from Austria’s Burgenland region. “Hmmm,” I thought, “could this possibly be OK?”

Reader, it was better than OK. Of course you could be thinking, “But, FK, rieslings have the capacity to age well.” True enough in many cases, especially of the grander reserve-type rieslings from Rheingau, Rheinhessen and Pfalz, or from Alsace. This riesling, however, was an just a regular inexpensive riesling designed, it seems, for immediate gratification.

This Höpler Riesling 2007 offered a sort of dusky medium straw-gold color and exquisite aromas of lightly spiced peaches, pears and lychees with back-notes of jasmine, quince and ginger. Above, below and beyond all that, the wine felt like a shattering expression of pure and intense limestone and flint minerality borne by taut, throbbing acidity and a texture like galvanized talcum powder, all packed into a lithe, sinewy stones-and-bones finish. A slight trace of delicately over-ripe stone fruit and a touch of funky earthiness reveal the wine’s maturing state, but if well-stored — had you a bottle in the fridge — this could go another year or two. Excellent. Originally $16.

Not faring quite so well was the Höpler Guttenberg Gruner Veltliner 2006, which opened nicely, with notes of apple skin, peach and slightly honeyed and roasted apricot and sporting a silky smooth texture, but acidity flagged in the home-stretch, leaving the wine a bit saggy and loose from mid-palate back. Very Good. Originally about $18.

We drank the Höpler Riesling 2007 with a Pork, Kale and Sweet Potato Soup with Sizzling Rice, taken from the recipe in the October issue of Food and Wine magazine. This is a terrific Fall weather concoction, rich and savory and flavorful; it looks great too. A link to the recipe is here.

USA Wine Imports, New York. These wines were samples from a local wholesale house.

The mantra seems to be: “Wines of the Mosel are delicate and nuanced; wines of Rheinhessen and Rheingau are more earthbound.” As is the case with much accepted wisdom, there’s more than a little truth to this assumption, and yet here we have the Weingut Max Fred. Richter Mülheimer Sonnenlay Riesling Kabinett-feinherb 2011, from Germany’s Mosel region, that practically revels in the earthy, gravelly grounding that bolsters its more typical ethereal effects. There’s a fairly new term on the label. We used to see halbtrocken, meaning “half-dry,” indicating a wine that’s slightly sweet, primarily on entry, though usually segueing to a dry finish because of the crisp acidity and limestone-like minerality. We will increasingly see the word feinherb as a replacement for halbtrocken; though feinherb literally means “delicately bitter” — go figure — in the context of German wine labels it denotes a half-dry wine, which somehow is predicated as drier than “semi-sweet.”

What else is on this label? (Attention! Education Alert!)

At the top, the name of the producer, Weingut Max Ferd. Richter and just below that the name of the village where the estate is located, Mülheim. Since we’re reading top to bottom, next is a picture of the old building and below that the indication that the estate has been owned by the same family since 1680. Now we get to the heart of the information. The vintage is 2011, prominently displayed, but even more typographical emphasis is placed upon the village, the vineyard, the grape variety and the style of wine. Mulheimer Sonnenlay means that the grapes were grown in the Sonnenlay vineyard that stands in the village of Mulheim, or, rather, it occupies an area of a hillside just to the southeast of the town. This is not one of the vineyards that photographs so beautifully because its steep terraces hover over the river; that picturesque aspect was precluded some 250,000 years ago when the Mosel changed course slightly and left the hill high and dry. The name of the vineyard means something like “sunshine/slate,” and if there are two more important factors in the nurture of the riesling grape, that is to say sun and soil, I don’t know what they are.

Kabinett is an indication that this wine falls into the category of the theoretically driest of the German wines of superior lineage; see the term Deutscher Prädikatswein just below. Remember that the categories of these wines — Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese and so on — don’t refer to the sweetness or dryness of the wine in the bottle but to the level of ripeness at which the grapes were harvested, the factor being that the longer the grapes hang on the vine, the more concentrated and filled with sugar they will be. “A.P.Nr 2 593 049 03 12″ is the official approval number of this wine and gives the testing boards a code to track the wine in case issues of authenticity arise. Finally, in large letters, “MOSEL,” the name of the region.

And that’s your lesson today in reading a German wine label. Did I cover all the intricate points? Oh, no, that would require a complete post, and this is, after all, the Wine of the Week.

So, to get on with it, the Max Fred. Richter Mülheimer Sonnenlay Riesling Kabinett-feinherb 2011 offers a very pale gold color that almost shimmers with radiance. Aromas of lightly spiced peaches and pears with an overlay of lychee and petrol/rubber eraser are wrapped in a sheen of jasmine and an element of clean earthy/flint-like minerality. That earthiness, a seeming combination of light loam and limestone, provides the bass notes for the wine as it laves the palate with the certainly present but delicately modulated ripeness of those peaches and pears, a ripeness that the tongue perceives as initial sweetness that flows into a sense of increasing dryness as the bright and keen acidity and the vibrant limestone and slate mineral qualities dominate from mid-palate back through the airy, ethereal finish. 11 percent alcohol. A lovely riesling, charming and engaging, with a touch of seriousness, for drinking through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $21, representing Great Value.

Imported by Langdon Shiverich, Los Angeles. A sample for review.

We drink quite a few rieslings because the wines can be versatile, matching well with a variety of dishes. Primarily, we try rieslings with fish preparations but also with certain pasta dishes and risottos and with light meats like pork and (when LL is traveling and I’m cooking on my own) veal. The combination of crisp acidity, floral and stone-fruit scents and flavors, sometimes intense spiciness and an underlying earthiness that rieslings often embody — as well as a touch of initial sweetness — also bode well for drinking with moderately hot Indian and Southeast Asian fare.

Lately, we’ve had the Domäne Wachau Federspiel Terassen Riesling 2011, Wachau, Austria, at home with salmon and swordfish and a vegetarian pasta. (I was sent two bottles.) Made all in stainless steel — winemaker is Heinz Frischengruber — this sprightly riesling offers the palest of pale gold colors and a delicate bouquet woven of apples, peaches and pears, touches of jasmine and honeysuckle, hints of lychee and petrol (or rubber eraser) and a background of damp limestone. Sounds pretty irresistible, huh? By sprightly I don’t mean that the wine is effervescent but that it’s brisk, lively and vibrant and that these buoyant qualities animate the tasty and moderately rich flavors of pears and yellow plums — there’s a wisp of baked apple — but before you think that this all feels sort of exuberant, I’ll say that the wine is a tissue of nuances and that from mid-palate back it’s modulated by crystalline acidity and limestone minerality. A nicely balanced 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $13, a Terrific Bargain.

The intensely picturesque Wachau, a UNESCO Heritage Site, lies along the Danube between the towns of Melk and Krems. The “Terrassen” designation on the label of this wine refers to the steep terraced slopes that line the river. Wachau is the smallest of Austria’s vineyard and wine-producing regions and the most inland; the country’s wine areas are all in the easternmost part of Austria, primarily adjacent to the borders with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia.

Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago. A sample for review.

When Doug Meador left the Navy in 1971, he thought that he would return to Washington state and his apple orchard, but friends persuaded him to go to Monterey County and help them plant a vineyard, and that was that. In 1972, he purchased land in what is now the Arroyo Seco AVA — approved in 1983 — and founded Ventana Vineyards in the western hills of the Salinas Valley and south of the town of Soledad. The name means “window” in Spanish. This California wine pioneer and experimenter sold Ventana to a group of local investors in 2006, though he retained his other brand, Meador Estate. I visited Ventana recently and was particularly impressed by the product that I’ll make the Wine of the Week.

The Ventana Estate Riesling 2010, Arroyo Seco, offers a pale straw-gold color and penetrating aromas of petrol and lychee, lime leaf and lime peel, all supported by back-notes of grapefruit and limestone. The wine is notably crisp and lively, the merest tad sweet at the entry but achingly dry from mid-palate back through a finish awash with flint-and-limestone-like minerality. There’s nothing too spare or arid here though; for one thing, the nose opens to a lovely floral influence in the jasmine and camellia range, while in the mouth the grapefruit, spiced pear and (slightly) roasted lemon flavors nicely balance tartness with moderate ripe lushness. A very comfortable 11.7 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013 or ’14 as an attractive aperitif (perhaps with Pigs in Blankets on the side) or with braised veal, shrimp risotto or mildly spicy Southeast Asian fare. Excellent. About $22.

We are so damned eclectic here where our heads are bigger. Today, on this Saturday of the “Friday Wine Sips,” we gotcher rosé (er, not a great one, sorry), we gotcher sparkling wines, we gotcher white wines and we gotcher red wines. Your life will be complete. The countries represented are Germany, Spain, Portugal, France and Italy. (Remember, by the way, that all reports in the “Friday Wine Sips” are not favorable; we applaud for, and we warn against.) As for grapes, well, we offer verdejo, vermentino, pinot blanc, pinot auxerrois, chardonnay and riesling; we offer tempranillo, syrah, mourvèdre, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and a host of grapes that typically grow in the Douro Valley. What we don’t offer is much in the way of technical, historical, personal and geographical material; instead, these are quick reviews, some transcribed directly from my notes, others expanded a bit, and designed to be a rapid infusion of knowledge and direction. So, seek out, try, taste and enjoy, where I have recommended that you do so; for a few others, um, just avoid. These wines were samples for review. The order is rosé, white, sparkling and red.
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Valdelosfrailes Rosé 2011, Cubillas de Santa Marta, Cigales, Spain. 13.5% alc. Tempranillo 80%, verdejo 20%. Bright cherry-crimson color; pungent, pert, perky, strawberry and dried currants, hint of pomegranate, dried herbs and limestone; very dry, lip-smacking acidity and viscosity, austere finish. Doesn’t quite hold together. Good+. About $10.
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Emina Verdejo 2010, Medina del Campo, Rueda, Spain. 13% alc. 100% verdejo grapes. A confirmation of the theory that delicate, fruity white wines should be consumed before they lose their freshness. Not recommended. About $10.
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Prelius Vermentino 2010, Maremma, Toscana, Italy. 12.5% alc. Probably delightful last year but overstayed its welcome. Only in a pinch. About $15.
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Domaine Roland Schmitt Pinot Blanc 2010, Alsace, France 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely, soft but lithe, very clean and fresh, quite spicy; apples, lemons, pears, touch of yellow plum; vibrant acidity keeps it lively and appealing, while a few minutes in the glass pull up notes of jasmine and limestone. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $16.
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Domaine Mittnacht Freres Terre d’Etoiles Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. 12% alc. Pinot auxerrois 60%, pinot blanc 40% (can that be right and still be labeled pinot blanc?) Pale straw-yellow, like Rapunzel’s hair; entrancing aromas of camellia and jasmine, spiced pear and roasted lemon, quince and ginger; very dry, resolutely crisp, yet with such an attractive texture and balance, a sense of soft ripeness and sinewy limestone elements. Very stylish. Now through 2014 or ’15, well-stored. Excellent. About $19, Fine Quality for the Price.
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Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. 8.5% alc. Pale, pale gold; lychee and petrol, pear and pear nectar, lime peel and quince preserves, hint of jasmine, just deliriously attractive; but very dry, formidably crisp and steely; then a dramatic shift to apples, apples and more apples; the entry is quite ripely, kssingly sweet but resonant acidity and scintillating limestone-like minerality turn the wine dry yet still delicate from mid-palate through the finish. Now through 2015 to ’18. Excellent. About $23, Get It! .
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Antech Émotion 2009, Crémant de Limoux, France. 12% alc. Chardonnay 70%, chenin blanc 18%, mauzac 10%, pinot noir 2%. Pale copper-onion skin color; a fetching froth of tiny bubbles; apples, strawberries, lime peel, steel and limestone; touches of smoke and red and black currants, almost subliminal; orange zest; so damned pretty and charming; very dry finish. Very Good+. About $18, a True Bargain.
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Sekthaus Raumland Cuvée Marie-Luise Blanc de Noirs Brut 2008, Germany. 12% alc. 100% pinot noir. Pale gold; a constant stream of glinting silver bubbles; stimulating bouquet of roasted lemons and lemon curd, toasted hazelnuts, tropical back-notes, sea-breeze and salt-marsh, both generous and chastening; very dry, high-toned and elegant, lots of steel and limestone; yet that intriguing tropical element and a muted hint of leafy currant at the core. Really lovely. Excellent. About $45.
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Dow Vale do Bomfim 2009, Douro, Portugal. 14% alc. Tinta barroca 30%, touriga franca 25%, touriga nacional 25%, tinto roriz 15%, tinto cao 5%. Color is dark ruby; ripe and fleshy, warm and spicy; intense and concentrated black and red currants, plums and blueberries; heaps of briers and brambles and underbrush, coats the mouth with fine-grained tannins; lots of personality brought up short by a dusty, leathery finish. Drink through the end of 2012 with burgers. Very Good+. About $12.
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Prelius Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; spicy, tightly wound, chewy, mouth-coating tannins; black currants and plums, very spicy; decent basic cabernet with an earthy, astringent finish. Very Good. About $15.
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Chateau La Roque “Cuvée les Vielles Vignes de Mourvèdre” 2006, Pic Saint Loup, Coteaux du Languedoc, France. 13.5% alc. With 10% grenache. Deep purple with a tinge of magenta; lovely, lively, lots of tone and personality; dense and chewy, intensely spicy, exotic, ripe and fleshy but a slightly hard edge of graphite and walnut shell; plums, plums and more plums, hint of fruitcake (the spices, the nuts, the brandied fruit); a dry finish with earth, leather and wood. Now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $20, and definitely Worth a Search.
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Pierre Gaillard Domaine Cottebrune Transhumance 2007, Faugeres, Languedoc-Roussillon, France. 14.5% alc. Syrah 50%, grenache 40%, mourvèdre 10%. Dark ruby color; ripe, fleshy and meaty black and blue fruit scents and flavors, spiced and macerated; nothing shy here, huge presence, plenty of oak and lipsmacking tannins that pack the mouth, but succulent too, deep and flavorful; sea salt, iron and iodine, a whiff of the decadent but a decent heart. Put yourself in its hands. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $22.
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An interesting line-up of wines today, mostly white, but with one rosé and also including a sparkling wine from Limoux in France, made for the Toad Hollow label and imported by the winery. We’re start with the latter, move to the rosé and then do the rest of the wines according to price, as is my wont in these brief Friday Wine Sips. Three sauvignon blanc wines here, made in different styles; the knock-out and super-inexpensive rosé from the fairly obscure (at least to me) Bulles region in southeastern Spain; a so-so Soave, but cheap; one of Joe Bastianich’s sophisticated wines from northeastern Italy, and so on. Very little technical or geographical information, because I want the Friday Wine Sips to be immediate and spontaneous, and indeed they are transcribed pretty directly from my notes, though cleaned up a bit. Enjoy.

All these wines were samples for review.
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Toad Hollow Risqué nv, Blanquette de Limoux, France. 6% alc. 100% mauzac grapes. Pale gold color; mildly but delightfully effervescent; very clean and fresh; apple, stone fruit, Poire William, mango and cloves; quite sweet but with the tingle of acidity to dry it on the palate and produce a bit of an austere, slightly stony finish. Delicate and charming. Very Good+. About $16.
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Numero 3 Rosado de Monestrall 2011, Bulles, Murcia, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% mourvèdre grapes. Dusky watermelon color with a tinge of pale copper; pure strawberry, raspberry and red currant with a touch of peach skin and licorice; ripe, round and fleshy, satiny and almost viscous but tempered by brisk acidity and a muscular flexing of the limestone element. Not just alluring but sort of remarkable. Excellent. About $12, a Fantastic Bargain.
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ReMidas 2011, Soave, Italy. 12% alc. 100% garganega grapes. A simple, direct and pleasant Soave. Pale straw color; pears and tangerines, almond and almond blossom and a hint of camellia; a little spicy and earthy, crisp, pert and minerally; gets a bit diffuse from mid-palate back. Good+. About $10.
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Hess Select Sauvignon Blanc 2011, North Coast, California. 13.5% acl. Very pale, almost colorless; crisp, snappy, sassy, bags o’ limestone and flint with scintillating acidity; quite grassy and herbal, bursting with grapefruit and gooseberry, thyme and tarragon, celery seed, a hint of leafiness, a little fig; very dry, with a chilly, mineral-laden finish. A great summer aperitif. Very Good. About $11; you can’t beat the price.
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Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc 2011, Sonoma County, California. 13.8% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Ubiquitous on restaurant wine lists. Pale straw color; restrained, elegant, very dry; lots of grapefruit, particularly in the slightly bracing finish; lemon and lemongrass, a tang of celery seed and tarragon; you feel the partial barrel-fermentation in the spice and suppleness and a touch of wood from mid-palate back; a very pleasing combination of earthiness and bright, sunny leafy qualities; taut, measured, balanced and slightly yielding, it persuades me to a rating of Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2010, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy. 13% alc. 100% friulano grapes. Medium straw-gold color; very apparent, very bright; roasted lemon, baked pear, high tone of green apple; amazing texture and substance for an all stainless steel wine; quite earthy, bristles with spice and vibrant acidity; notes of candied grapefruit and lime peel, quince and ginger; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of lanolin and camellia; suave, sleek, loads of personality. Now through 2013, maybe into summer of ’14. Excellent. About $16, a Wonderful Price.
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Peter Lehmann Dry Riesling 2011, Eden Valley, Australia. 11% alcohol. Pale straw-gold; clean, fresh, light; apples and pears, lemon balm, grapefruit and lime peel; steel scaffolding on a limestone foundation; a tad dusty, with underlying earthiness; just a hint of petrol and lychee; nicely balanced among shimmering acidity, sheer minerality and juicy stone fruit flavors. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $17.
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Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand. 14% alc. Pale straw color, tinge of green; it does feel a tad unfettered, exuberant; mango and tangerine, smoky lemon and lemongrass; very clean, crisp and earthy; acidity and flinty mineral qualities practically shimmer with energy; notes of thyme and fig, a snap of celery and fennel seed; part used oak, part stainless steel, that hint of wood exerts itself in the finish, giving some gravity to a buoyant character. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $29.
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