Weinangst Begone!

I've given uptrying to persuade people that the German language can be beautiful. If they can listen to Elizabeth Schwarzkopf or Marlene Dietrich and still think German's ugly, there's no hope for them. But I still have faint hopes that German wine can overcome the ignorance and prejudice that have crippled its broad acceptance by wine drinkers outside Germany. It's not German wine that people fear and suspect so much as German wine labels. If you're not fluent in German, it's a little terrifying to see a bottle coming at you with a handle like Gerhardt Hattenheimer Schützenhaus Riesling Kabinett. Recently winemakers and importers have done as much as possible to simplify labeling, but not enough. You can actually simplify things for yourself, though, because almost all you need to know is contained in just the last word or so of that mouthful of vocables—in this case "Kabinett." This is because German wines, rieslings and others, display an immensely wider range of natural sweetness than any other country's. And that's because German whites have so much natural acidity that they can sustain a sweetness level that would make most other whites cloyingly unfit to drink. So on a German label, you'll nearly always find a qualifying term indicating the degree of residual sugar remaining after fermentation. If there's no term at all, or if the term is "Kabinett," you can assume the wine is pretty nearly bone-dry. "Spätlese" means "late selection," and since grapes picked later in the season tend to be sweeter, it implies more sugar in the wine made from them. Yet higher degrees of sweetness are indicated by terms like "Auslese," "Beerenauslese," "Trockenbeerenauslese." Never mind what they mean; just count the syllables—the longer the word, the sweeter the wine. Enough theory: If you're inclined to learn how it all works out in practice, Ten Mercer restaurant in Lower Queen Anne is providing a great opportunity to do so on Thursday, Aug. 11, at a dinner pairing nine fine dry, off-dry, and sweet German wines with five complementary dishes and a cheese course. Helping diners appreciate each pairing will be German wine expert Rudi Wiest, proud owner of Cellars International Inc. of San Marcos, Calif., and of the domaine name www.germanwine.net. When he's finished with you, you still may not feel comfortable pronouncing "Gunderloch Nackenheimer Rothenberg Auslese," but at least you'll be able to ask for "No. 27, please, lightly chilled" and know what you'll be getting. rdowney@seattleweekly.com German Wine Dinner at Ten Mercer, 10 Mercer St., 7:30 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 11. $65. For reservations, call 206-691-3723.

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