Dan Berger

One of the most interesting recent fads among wine lovers is dry riesling.

This wave of interest differs from a similar fad that arose about a decade ago when drier rieslings began to sell at retailers across the nation.

The wines that sold then were less sweet than those soft and simple white wines that had preceded the move toward more dryness. Today’s latest wave of interest in dry riesling really is for austerely bone-dry wines that demand to be paired with food.

The trend may not be visible at your local package store just yet, but importer Rudi Wiest asserts that it is evident most at high-end restaurants.

“No, they are not cheap, but sommeliers love them because there is nothing like them. And they go so well with food,” Wiest said.

Wiest ought to know. At age 80, he remains president of Cellars international, based in Carlsbad, one of the finest importers of German wines.

His excitement of the last few years has been not just about the sale of dry wines, but how remarkably dry the wines have become.

I am overjoyed by this latest craze since I have a large collection of older dry rieslings and it’s all due to Wiest’s guidance some 30 year ago. Back then he began speaking to me of the greatness of mature dry rieslings, prompting me to begin a new section in my cellar.

First a bit of background on the latest wines.

In Germany, the legal term for dry is trocken, which for decades could be seen on wine labels to indicate a dry wine.

However by German law, trocken wines could legally have up to about 10 grams of residual sugar (1 percent) and in some cases the wines weren’t completely dry. In the last three years or so, most producers in the fine districts, such as the Rheingau and the Mosel, realized that very dry wines had a growing constituency.

I recently tasted a series of excellent and lower-priced bone-dry rieslings and found a lot to like, especially when paired with Thai food, Indian curries and highly seasoned seafood dishes.

No, they are not for everyone. Such dry wines can be so austere that people who love the sweeter versions would be shocked. Wiest has found that higher-end restaurant wine buyers seem to truly appreciate the remarkable fragrance of minerals and slate, the midpalate explosiveness of flavor and the zingy bite of acidity in the aftertaste.

Where riesling once was generally sweet, today it is — at the highest levels — drier than many chardonnays.

The fact that restaurants like Manresa, the French Laundry, the Slanted Door, and Benu seem to love these wines is heartwarming to Wiest, who admits that he sells many of these wines in restaurants so pricey he cannot afford to dine there. Benu has six of the new German wines on its impressive list.

I asked Wiest if the almost complete lack of sugar in some producers’ wines was a turn-off to some wine buyers.

“It might have been years ago, but not anymore.” He said that one producer, Von Buhl, now makes a trocken riesling with only one gram of sugar. The wine is puckery dry, he said, and fabulous.

He said the word “trocken” is not merely “off-dry.”

“Today,” he said, “‘trocken’ means ‘really dry.’”

Wines of the Week (both priced in the $20 range): 2014 Fritz Haag Riesling Trocken, and 2014 Maximin Grunhauser, Mosel. The former wine has more of the mineral notes, the latter is a bit more floral, but both show a really crisp and angular finish. Best with food. And both will be better with two to three more years in the bottle. Both are screwcapped.

Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at winenut@gmail.com.


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