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Riesling is grown in many places, but wines made from this noble grape reach truly glorious heights in only two: France and Germany. In style and flavor, alcohol content and sweetness, the wines of Germany’s Mosel and Rhine Rivers and those of France’s Alsace region are worlds apart. The Germans have always liked their wines on the sweet side, and the most famous German Rieslings reach almost subliminal heights, going from sweet to sweeter to sweetest, from Sp�tlese to Auslese, Beerenauslese (BA) to Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA). The formula is simple — but extremely difficult to achieve. At the end of the annual fall harvest, a handful of grapes are allowed to remain on the vines. The later you pick, the more concentrated with sugar the grapes become, until they reach the point where they are shriveled and moldy, indescribably honeyed. Still, some of the most perfectly balanced German wines exhibit only a hint of sweetness. These are called Kabinetts, and like all fine German wines, they age well. Few German wines, whether Kabinetts or TBAs, will be above 9 percent alcohol. Many are bottled at 7.5 percent. The best recent years: 1996, 1999, and especially 2001, which might be the vintage of the century in Germany. The French style is something else again: dry and higher in alcohol. The reason: The French bring the grapes to full fermentation, converting all that sugar into alcohol (12.5 percent and up). The greatest Alsatian Rieslings are often bone-dry, steely, thrilling in their acidity. In their way, they are every bit the equal of their German counterparts. And they have one big mark in their favor: Where most German wine is at its best drunk alone, Alsatian Riesling goes brilliantly with a wide variety of dishes — reaching gustatory heights when paired with freshwater fish. Alsatian vintages generally follow the lead of their German counterparts: While the 2001s are particularly lovely, 1996 and 1998 are both very fine. My solution to the Franco-German wine war: Start with a glass of Kabinett, move on to an Alsace Riesling with your meal, and finish with a few sips of Auslese. That’s what I call a workable peace plan.
Alsatian Dry Rieslings � 2001 Trimbach, $13 � 2000 Domaine Deiss “St. Hippolyte,” $22 � 2001 Domaine Weinbach “Cuv�e Th�o,” $27 � 2000 Hugel “Jubil�e,” $43 � 1998 Trimbach “Cuv�e Fr�d�ric Emile,” $38 � 1998 Trimbach “Clos Ste. Hune,” $107 German Rieslings (Dry to Sweet) � 2001 Zeltinger Schlossberg Kab. (Selbach), $19.50 � 2001 Bernkasteler Doctor Kab. (Dr. Thanisch), $35 � 2001 Scharzhofberger Sp�tlese (Van Volxem), $30.50 � 2001 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Sp�tlese (J.J. Pr�m), $37 � 2001 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese (Dr. Loosen), $38 � 2001 Graacher Domprobst B.A. (Richter), $92 (half)

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