Riesling is a remarkable grape whose exceptional talent for making sweet wines has led it to be typecast by most wine drinkers. This variety of German origin is one of the top five wine grapes of all time in terms of pure quality potential, and it makes spectacular dry wines when fully fermented. But Riesling has unique superpowers that have led it to be made sweet more often than not. Riesling is unrivaled among wine grapes in its ability to thrive in cold climates, and there is no grape capable of making delicious, balanced, and shelf-stable wine at such low degrees of alcoholic strength. Before the advent of temperature control, the fermentation process that converts grape sugar into alcohol would often be interrupted by near-freezing cellar temperatures during harsh German winters. If partially fermented juice is separated from its yeast sediment at that stage, the resulting wine will be quite sweet with very low alcohol content. Few grapes can produce wine that is both shelf-stable and deliciously balanced below 12.5 percent alcohol, but Riesling can do so at levels as low as 8.5 percent. And because it is one of the only grapes that can, it’s rare for winemakers to make it into a dry wine the normal way. This is a crying shame, though, because Riesling can make dry wines of heartbreaking beauty, like this terrific example from Washington. Such wines combine bracing acidity with a captivating scent of apples and apricots and subtle accents of jasmine, all bound up with Riesling’s signature trait — a thrillingly long finish even in its value-priced wines.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley, Wash. $9.99 (regularly $12.99; sale price through May 27). PLCB Item #2506.