Wines that appeal to young palates

German rieslings, chenin blancs do well in tastings



July 10, 2002|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN WINE CRITIC

How about a little respect for the wines that made people love wine in the first place?

Today's middle-aged wine enthusiasts might be swilling chardonnay and pondering the complexities of cabernet sauvignon, but chances are those are not the wines that captivated them when they were much younger.

Dry wines make up the vast majority of the wines raved about by critics, but for most people they are a gradually acquired taste. I've never heard of a wine enthusiast who was lured into the love of the vine by a piercingly herbal, aggressively acidic New Zealand sauvignon blanc - as much as I love such wines now.

In my own case, it was German wine - mostly semisweet rieslings - that first showed me what a delightful beverage wine could be. Enjoyment of drier whites and red wines came along gradually after that.

Today's wine critics tend to forget that they were once in their early 20s. If semisweet wines are reviewed at all, they tend to be treated with scorn.

Let me advance a revolutionary proposition: Sugar tastes good. And whether you're 21, 41 or 81, it's OK to enjoy a little natural fruit sugar in your wine. It does not make you unsophisticated. It does not mean you have a stone palate. Some of these wines are very well-made.

It's a bit of a challenge to turn one's palate back a quarter century and to evaluate wines from the point of view of a recent college graduate who's just beginning to realize that there's more to life than tequila shooters.

That's what I tried to do in a recent round of tastings, however. What I looked for were fresh, fruity, semisweet wines with good acidity - the wines I would have enjoyed at 21.

By far, the best performers were the rieslings, though there were also some impressive chenin blancs. The gewurztraminers tended to be either too dry, too flabby or too exotic.

To kick off the tasting, I chose as a reference point a wine that has been a rite of passage for decades for cash-strapped folks in their 20s: Germany's Blue Nun.

The 2000 Blue Nun, priced very affordably at $6, is not a wine I would choose to drink today, but it fills a valid niche. Its simple apple-honey flavors are appealing and it finishes cleanly enough. To me, it's too sweet to serve with dinner and not sweet enough for dessert.

There are some clearly superior German wines, slightly less sweet, that aren't much more expensive. If you are a wine-loving, affluent parent trying to convey your enjoyment of the beverage to a 20ish son or daughter, you might want to invest a few dollars more to introduce your progeny (and maybe yourself) to the truly complex delights of fine German estate wines.

Washington state has emerged as the best source of well-made, widely distributed riesling outside Germany. Unless the wine is explicitly labeled dry, you can safely assume it's semisweet.

Chenin blanc, one of the great white-wine grapes of France's Loire Valley, resembles riesling in its crisp acidity, lively fruit flavors and its excellent structure and delicacy. Like the German grape, it shows very well when made in a semisweet style.

In the Loire, chenin blanc is used to produce Vouvray in styles ranging from very dry to dessert-sweet. The typical Vouvray is semisweet, however, and well-made versions can be quite enchanting.

Chenin blanc has been out of fashion in California, but Washington state wineries have been picking up the slack.

Once a novice taster becomes accustomed to high-quality semisweet wine, it is a natural progression to drier wines. Chardonnay and pinot grigio are natural next steps in white wine, while Beaujolais is a good introduction to reds.

Of course, some people find that sweeter wine is what they prefer over the long run. If that's you, what's wrong with that?

Wine for young palates

German rieslings

2001 J. & H. Selbach Piesporter Michelsberg Riesling Kabinett ($9). Lightly sweet, crisp and with bracing mineral and apple flavors.

2000 J. & H Selbach Zeller Schwarze Katz ($8). Lightly sweet, with hints of apples, grapefruit and tangerine.

2000 J. u. H. A. Strub Niersteiner Bruckchen Riesling Kabinett ($13). A step up in concentration and complexity. Sweet, but suitable for spicy foods. Complex mix of apple, cherry, apricot and spice flavors.

2000 J. u. H. A. Strub Niersteiner Hipping Riesling Spatlese ($17). On the dry side for a spatlese, with penetrating mineral and spice flavors. Has something for both connoisseurs and beginners.

1999 Karl Erbes Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett ($12). Distinctive strawberry overtones of one of Mosel's best vineyards. Medium sweetness offset by blazing acidity.

1999 Karl Erbes Wurzgarten Riesling Spatlese ($15). Gripping flavors of strawberry, apple and honey. Some will find it too sweet for dinner wine.

Washington rieslings

2001 Covey Run, Columbia Valley ($7). Terrific value in semisweet white, with vivid baked apple, peach, pear and spice flavors.

2000 Hogue Cellars, Columbia Valley ($10). Lightly sweet, with baked apple, lemon and honey flavors.

California rieslings

2001 Kendall-Jackson ($10). Less sweet than most in this group, but complex, crisp and well-balanced.

2001 Geyser Peak ($10). Very spicy and definitely sweet, with nuances of citrus fruit, apple, peach, nutmeg and clove.

Chenin blanc

2000 Domaine de Vaufuget Vouvray ($8). Lightly sweet, but abundantly fruity, with hints of melon, cherry, peach and apple.

2000 Hogue Cellars, Columbia Valley ($9). Light touch of sweetness; crisp, spicy and honeyed.

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