Trivia question: If you should hear a conversation in which Person A asks, “Is this wine sweet or dry?” and Person B replies, “Yes and no” — and is correct! — what wine is being talked about?
There is really only one answer to this riddle. The wine in question is a Riesling from Germany.
The answer Person B gave is correct because of the way most German Rieslings are made, with a trace of residual sugar in theoretically dry wines. So the wines are both faintly sweet in the mid-palate and food-friendly dry in the aftertaste.
High acid is always a feature of German wines, both whites and reds, and in the last few years, laws governing the production and marketing of German wines have changed, in theory to make it easier for consumers to understand them.
In some cases, the wines have become a little easier to understand. But in many ways, the new German rules are still so confusing that it’s hard to explain why a term that once meant one thing no longer is being used, and new terms are now in place to explain what’s in the bottle. But without much consumer education.
In some cases, a term is used to explain why a wine costs so much. But this doesn’t say anything about the wine’s sweetness or dryness. And as much as I love German Rieslings, I’m still dealing with terms that are supposed to be helpful but aren’t.
Remember the term Auslese? Decades ago, I was told (in a wine education course at UCLA) that it was a term for late-picking of fruit and generally was used for sweeter wines.
Last week, we pulled out of our cellar a 2001 Franz Kunstler Riesling Auslese Trocken. It was sensational with dinner. And that’s because it was dry. The key word on the label was “trocken,” German for dry. So although Auslese usually means “sweet,” not every wine with that designation is.
I can understand the confusion if you should get a bottle of German Riesling that doesn’t say trocken but has the letters GG on the front label, and you find it to be bone dry.
GG stands for “grosses gewachs,” a relatively new term applied to certain wines by a century-old German organization, VDP, that refers to some vineyard wines that are dry. The attempt to denote special characteristics for certain world-class German wines and a parallel effort to designate which everyday wines are similar to designations that were well known in the past, and which represent new styles of wine, has caused confusion in the marketplace.
The other problem, of course, is the tongue twister names that are hard to remember or impossible to pronounce. This has left some wine lists so confusing that I can understand someone simply saying, “I’ll have a glass of chardonnay, please.”
What’s really sad is that some phenomenal German Rieslings have been made in the last several years from a series of excellent vintages. There is more fresh fruit than in the past, better balance, and amazing food compatibility with many of the drier wines.
Since few restaurant people understand all of this, (or any of this!) they stick with more common wines, even if Riesling would be perfect with their food.