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Dry Wave

Author unpacks the myths and mysteries of Riesling

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For Riesling lovers, there is something disingenuous about the recent hue and cry for low alcohol wines, for wines of "balance," for food-friendly wines made from obscure, heritage white grapes of California. Hello—there's Riesling? They almost always fail to even mention the varietal.

"It tends to inhabit a world of its own," author John Winthrop Haeger told a group at a book event in St. Helena this past May. "Riesling is the 'something else' variety." Although it is the world's seventh most-planted grape variety, Riesling is one of the most misunderstood—at least in the American wine market, where the old stereotype that it's always sweet is as sticky as a Trockenbeerenauslese. Oh, and there's that little polysyllabic language problem it has, too.

To help untangle the myths of Riesling, Haeger wrote what is almost certainly the definitive book on the varietal currently in print in the English language. Riesling Rediscovered: Bold, Bright, and Dry ($39.95) was released this spring by University of California Press. Haeger, who lives in the Bay Area, is scheduled to appear at Cartograph Wines in Healdsburg on Wednesday, Aug. 10. A benefit for the Friends of the Sonoma County Wine Library, Haeger's talk is titled "Riesling Myths and Mysteries."

Unlike author Stuart Pigott's also informative, if more boosterish Best White Wine on Earth, Haeger's book focuses on the dry and nearly dry styles of Riesling, which he says now account for three-quarters of the varietal's German production after a movement that began in the 1970s, dubbed the "Trockenwelle," or "dry wave," shifted the industry to the dry style.

The book itself may sound dry, as it is a work of actual scholarship some 360-plus pages long, but fans of both reading and wine will enjoy Haeger's precise and fluid prose. The book explores the history of Riesling, from the dusty Medieval archives of German towns to the Sonoma Coast, and then profiles individual producers in Europe and North America.

The Aug. 10 event includes a tasting of locally produced dry Riesling. Although they may not be available at this particular tasting, several dry Rieslings that I recently enjoyed include Imagery Estate 2014 Upper Ridge Riesling ($26) and Horse & Plow's the Gardener 2013 Carneros Riesling ($30). The most assertive example I've tasted yet from this Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak vineyard, the Imagery boasts mineral oil and honeycomb over lime and lychee, South Australia–style. With an extra year to develop that enticingly floral bouquet I like to call "petrol blossom honey," the Horse & Plow comes from an organically farmed Robert Sinskey vineyard.

"Riesling Myths and Mysteries," Aug. 10, 5:30–7pm. $30. Cartograph Wines, 340 Center St., Healdsburg. 707.433.8270.

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