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Berger on wine: Try an older riesling

DAN BERGER,

One of the least appreciated wines in this country is riesling — and even less appreciated than younger bottlings are those with some maturity.

Perhaps wine’s most enduring myth is that white wines do not age, an adage proven wrong so often it’s clearly not true.

What’s so nasty about how this applies to riesling is that when properly aged, it can be one of the wine world’s greatest treats. I have collected rieslings for decades, and some of the most prized wines in our cellar are dry rieslings that are 7 to 12 years of age — and older.

The greatness of mature riesling was one of the reasons I became so fascinated with this grape variety in the first place, which eventually led me to join, and later become vice president of, the International Riesling Foundation, for which I created a sweetness scale now used on millions of bottles of wine around the world.

I am not alone in my love for mature riesling. Mosel Fine Wines, an independent website that focuses on rieslings from the Mosel in Germany, staged a 20-year retrospective tasting last year of 50 Mosels from 1996 and wrote, “The vintage still drinks beautifully well today. Its wines shine through racy freshness.” The wines were all 20 years old.

East Coast German wine importer Terry Theise (Skurnik Wines) and Californian Rudi Wiest (Cellars International) both frequently speak about the glories of mature riesling, as does small wholesaler Bill Mayer, whose East Bay wholesale company Age of Riesling has a portfolio with many older wines.

In our cellar, the best rieslings we have are German, followed by dry Australians and then close behind are New York rieslings. We also have a small amount of older rieslings from Michigan, Canada, Washington, Oregon, New Zealand, France (Alsace) and Austria.

And yet one of the worst examples of myth-making must be the old belief that the only good riesling is a young one.

This came to light last weekend when a good friend passed along a note that said the 2010 Pegasus Bay (New Zealand) Riesling was seen on the Internet being closed out for $10 a bottle in one Southern California wine shop. The current release of Pegasus Bay Riesling, 2014, sells for about $30 a bottle.

I haven’t tasted the 2010 in a few years, but for a 7-year-old riesling to be so summarily dismissed is sad and must be a product of the myth.

I began to think about who was to blame for this misunderstanding about the glories of mature riesling and realized that part of the blame must go to me. Perhaps I have not stated my beliefs strongly enough in this matter.

Although I have written about this subject many times in 40 years of writing about wine, I may have ignored the subject recently because I didn’t want to push the idea too heavily.

To be sure, liking older riesling is an acquired taste, but I see this not as a drawback, but as a non-arduous learning curve.

I see mature rieslings being closed out in retail shops so frequently these days that I wonder if others are at fault here as well.

One group I could point the finger at would be wholesale companies. Some of them view wine more by how many cases they have to sell than worrying about the stories that would sell them.

More than two decades ago in Southern California, a friend who was a wine buyer for a supermarket chain told me he had been offered some older rieslings at an absurdly low price. He said he knew it would be “a hard sell” to his customers. But he tested the theory and the wines sold.

He said the wholesale rep who offered him the deal said nothing about the potential greatness of the wine, only that it was being moved out to make room for the next vintage.

The retailer said the only thing the rep knew was that older riesling needed to be moved.

Older rieslings often are discounted deeply. Some may represent sensational value. My suggestion: don’t ignore them. Try one bottle to see if it delivers pleasure. It may represent a great bargain.

Wine of the Week: 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley ($10): This may be the greatest white wine value in America from year to year. Always blessed with wonderful blossom and pear aromas, this vintage has the added benefit of a trace of minerals. Though it says “dry” on the label, there is a bit of residual sugar, making it broadly appealing, especially with an Asian cuisine. Often discounted to less than $8 per bottle.

Sonoma County resident Dan Berger publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write him at winenut@gmail.com. He is co-host of California Wine Country with Steve Jaxon on KSRO Radio, 1350 am.