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Purveyor of uncommon wine, spirits & beer.

Back to the Land: Half-in, Half-out

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3 Rieslings That Will Change Your Mind About Sweetness

Funny thing about Riesling, for decades wine geeks struggled to delineate the ethereal glories of the German dry style from the cloying sweetness of more popular stateside versions. And now the pendulum has swung. These days, any mention of one of the great off-dry Rieslings—white wines braced by an acidity so piquant that you barely register the soft residual sugars—a person is likely to wrinkle her nose or shake his head, no dice. But I'm here to say: they're missing out.

Whereas trocken (dry) Rieslings tend to be dominated by flavors like wet stone, tart citrus and green apple, halbtrocken (half-dry) wines are fleshier, with notes of stone fruit like peach, pear and apricot. That's a generalization, but one that can help put things in perspective. Don't let the slight sweetness fool you, the examples below are every bit as food-friendly as their drier brothers and sisters. And to be honest, the line between one category and the other can often feel a little arbitrary. The labeling as such has to do with mathematical percentages, whereas the "feel" of a wine has less to do with category than with the balance that it strikes.

Taste for yourself. And try as you can to leave those preconceptions at the door.

J. Leitz "Leitz Out" 2011 ($15)

Region: Rheingau, Germany

Joseph Leitz is no stranger to clever marketing. His signature "Eins, Zwei, Dry" is not only a nice little play on words, it's also a perfect entry point to a classic dry Rhein wine. So no surprise when he came out with a softer, semi-dry companion "Leitz Out." Another killer combo. Peachy with a kiss of lemon; it's just a touch sweet and balanced by a firm minerality.

Koehler-Ruprecht "Steinacker" Halbtrocken 2010 ($18)

Region: Pfalz, Germany

This offering really lives up to its namesake; Steinacker (stoney field) is the name of the vineyard from which this wine is made. The persistent mineral character is bracketed by an upfront pink grapefruit and a lingering, lush peachy ginger finish. The light footprint of residual sugar just softens the intense edges and helps integrate all the fruit aromas with the racy, mouthwatering acidity.

Clemens Busch "Vom Roten Schiefer" 2011 ($25)

Region: Mosel, Germany

Vom Roten Schiefer tells us that this offering comes "from red slate," as opposed to the gray slate that permeates the rest of the estate. The red slate soils lend a little more ripeness to the juice and therefore a more approachable wine at earlier stages of development. Tangerine and peach dominate the nose, while a smokiness and barely perceptible peppery spice underlie the fervent juiciness on the palate. This is a bit of an outlier due to the special makeup of the vineyard, and by outlier I mean special treat.