Riesling keeps its balance

Riesling is the world’s most versatile wine. Its riveting acidity cuts through spicy Asian cuisine as easily as it balances meaty olives, cheese, and anchovies in this pasta salad. Riesling gets a bad rap because consumers think it is a sweet wine. Many, especially from Germany, are a touch sweet, but even with those wines, their sweetness is balanced by the grape’s inherent tartness. California Rieslings are more problematic because the warm climate there is conducive to producing very ripe grapes with lower acidity. Even the image of Riesling from Alsace, arguably the home to the best Riesling in the world, is deceptive. The tall, slender bottles are suggestive of German — that is, slight sweet — wines. In reality, these Rieslings are usually bone dry with enamel-cleansing acidity, perfect for these warm-weather salads.

American consumers should embrace wines from Alsace because they are named by grape name, as in California, as opposed to the customary, and confusing, French system of naming wines by where the grapes grow. We in New England do like these wines. Jean Trimbach, whose family has been making fabulous wines in Alsace for several centuries, notes that New England is their largest market in the United States.

A new entry to these parts, not to be missed, is Domaine Metz’s Rieslings. They make two, a regular Riesling from younger vines planted in a variety of vineyards, and one from a single vineyard, Fruehmess, whose vines are over 35 years of age. Older vines typically produce fewer, but more flavorful, grapes, which translates into more flavor-packed wine.

Metz’s 2002 Rieslings are both well-balanced, beautifully made, refreshingly dry wines. The regular Riesling shows pure mineral and stone fruit character that is the hallmark of wine made from this grape. The 2002 Fruehmess Riesling is a bigger, more intense version.

Domaine Metz, Riesling, 2002. About $12. Domaine Metz, Riesling Fruehmess, 2002. About $18. (Distributed by Atlantic Importing Company, 508-229-0014.) 

June 3, 2004.