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BALZER ON WINE

Riesling on the Rise

February 17, 1991|Robert Lawrence Balzer

AT A RECENT SEMINAR during the World of Wines celebration at Laguna Niguel's Ritz-Carlton Hotel, four wine experts agreed that Riesling will be the white wine of the '90s.

"Riesling is the world's most undervalued wine, unparalleled in food-matching abilities," declared John Meredith of the Denver Post.

"White wines are 'user friendly' when they are off-dry," said Emmanuel Kemiji, master sommelier of the hotel.

But this prediction may not surprise Riesling (pronounced reez-ling ) lovers who have already discovered the Alsatian-style editions of this grape by Claiborne & Churchill California. Or the Washington state triumphs from Chateau Ste. Michelle, or the exciting new 1989 Reserve Dry Johannisberg Riesling-Schwartzman Vineyard wine from The Hogue Cellars.

And with the trio of Rieslings in current release from The Firestone Vineyard of Santa Barbara County, this variety is gaining a finer reputation.

Firestone 1989 Santa Ynez Valley Dry Riesling ($9). Wine maker Alison Green, who trained in viticulture and enology at UC Davis and apprenticed in Alsace, uses these golden grapes as an artist uses colors on the palette to bring beauty and complexity to the composition. The wine is essentially dry, with a modicum of residual sugar (0.7%). The fruit hints at apricot. But as a chilled elixir, this wine marries with a whole range of foods, from poultry to fish, even pasta Alfredo.

Firestone 1989 Santa Ynez Valley Johannisberg Riesling ($7.50). A most beguiling off-dry wine, with 2.7% residual sugar, enchanting the palate softly. Maybe a few clusters touched with botrytis cinerea went to the crusher, giving an added richness, but subtly. Well-chilled, the wine is nearly irresistible.

Firestone 1989 Santa Barbara County Selected 1989 Harvest Johannisberg Riesling (375 milliliters $12). Here is a luscious treat for postprandial sipping from your finest crystal. The grapes were fully botrytis-affected, resulting in the "noble rot" that brings pineapple, apricot and honey tastes to this fermented, hand-crushed wine. It has 19.4% residual sweetness.

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