For many people, riesling still carries the connotation of sweet white wine. The truth is that many of the greatest rieslings, like some of those from Germany, are, indeed, made with varying degrees of sweetness (or fruitiness, as the Germans call it). But riesling can also be a first-rate dry wine that is an excellent food companion.
A good example of the dry style came my way recently from South Africa and is available in major U.S. markets through Cape Classics, a New York-based importer of South African wines.
It's the 2005 Rhine Riesling from the Buitenverwachting winery in the Constantia Valley just outside Cape Town, the reference to the Rhine an obvious tip of the hat to the German influence in South Africa. (When I tried to sound out Buitenverwachting in front of my kids the other night my 10-year-old, already showing a bit of attitude, asked, "You speak gibberish, Dad?")
The name is pronounced bay-ten-fur-vachk-ting, and is, according to Cape Classics’ sleek new brochure, Dutch for "beyond expectation" and is a nod to South Africa’s other major European influence. At least they haven’t tried to dumb it all down, as is the fashion these days, by inventing some cute animal name for themselves. That won’t be necessary, as the wine speaks for itself with its quality.
Indeed, South Africa has been reinvigorating and reinventing itself on the wine front since apartheid ended 16 years ago and the import of South Africa wines became lawful and politically correct in the United States. My feeling about them at this juncture is that the whites deserve serious attention, particularly chenin blanc, the country's most important white, as well as sauvignon blanc and, based on the Buitenverwachting example, riesling.
I opened the wine late on a Sunday afternoon while preparing dinner and keeping one eye on a football game. Hmm. Riesling and football? Well, yes, actually. The wine is light and refreshing and, at a relatively low 10.5 percent alcohol, a glass is not likely to cause dozing off on the couch.
Beyond an aperitif, it will work perfectly with simple fish and shellfish dishes such as broiled flounder or grilled shrimp drizzled with lemon. It calls to mind crisp green apple with notes of lime and orange and has a nice mineral touch, which I love in white wines. Fermentation and aging take place in stainless steel with no exposure to oak, helping to maintain the purity of the fruit and the freshness of the wine.
The price is right as well, suggested at $12 but probably a little less in some stores. If you have trouble finding it, go to capeclassics.com. It's time to discover the good white wines — and good values — from South Africa.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch