Filling the Gap

I lived on the eastern border of wine heaven for two years. A peaceful 15-mile bike ride along the level banks of the Main River brought me to Hochheim, Germany, where vineyards cascade down the cliff like a green apron round the hips of the town's miniature cathedral. In a Weinstube there, I could sit on a terrace as summer afternoon shaded toward sunset, sipping golden nectars from Hochheim and a dozen other towns and villages from the 20-mile stretch of vineyards called the Rheingau. Each wine better justified God's ways to man than any whiskey. I returned to the Northwest besotted with the wines of the Rheingau and looking forward to drinking them back home. I am still looking forward to it. It's even harder to find great Rheingau wines in Seattle today than it was 30 years ago, while other regions growing the Rheingau's signature riesling grape—Alsace, Austria, even Switzerland—have devoured so much of the market for dry white riesling that many sophisticated drinkers have never tasted wine from the region riesling came from. There are many reasons for the Rheingau's eclipse—bad wine laws, bad marketing, bad winemaking, sheer bad luck. Those who've tasted Rheingau wines usually come away with the impression that they're too sweet to drink with anything but dessert and too expensive to drink at all. It's hard to find importers who stock more than a token few Rheingauers, and those few are usually pricey dessert wines that only confirm the prejudice. An estimable exception is Stephen Metzler, who with his wife, Almudena de Llaguno, founded Seattle's Classical Wines from Spain in 1983, when "Spanish wine" was a virtual synonym for "cheap rotgut." That battle more than won, Metzler decided in 1996 to see what could be done to burnish the sadly tarnished image of the Rheingau. He found a partner in Georg Breuer, a grower and shipper based in the aggressively picturesque westernmost town of the Rheingau, Rdesheim. Breuer had made a name for himself as an advocate of radical change in the insanely complicated German wine-labeling system, where a consumer can be faced with a name like "Erbacher Honigberg Einzellagefrei Sp䴬ese Dr. Giebel Erben" and still have no idea whether what's inside is dry, sweet, food-friendly, professionally made, or even much good. To see just how heretical Breuer's is back home, consider how he labels two of his bottlings: "GB Riesling" (about $12) and "Montosa" ($21). But labels won't convince anyone; Metzler hopes that the contents of Breuer's bottles— dry, full-flavored, fragrant but solid, and built to last—can convince American wine drinkers to fill in a gaping gap in their wine experience that they don't now know is even there.

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