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Wine of the Week

A Great German Wine for an American Thanksgiving

Every year at about this time my phone begins to ring—or more likely these days, my inbox begins to ping—with requests for suggestions for Thanksgiving wine, the tone rising in urgency the closer we get to Turkey Day.

So both this week and next I will recommend two bottles that will do full justice to the great American bird. This week's is a luxury white, next week's a more modestly priced red.

German wines—and by that one can usually assume Rieslings, as they constitute 60 percent of production—do not enjoy much of a reputation in America these days, nor even much recognition. But while this is both unfair to, and unfortunate for, these diligent producers, it provides a tremendous opportunity for the adventurous wine fan, because they represent extremely good value.

I describe this week's Wine of the Week, the Zilliken Riesling Spätlese, Saarburger Rausch 1992 ($40), as a luxury wine, though given its extreme age, it is far from expensive. Slate gives German Riesling its unique personality, and when made well, as in this case, it does not have the cloying sweetness many people associate with Rieslings. If it were made from the more fashionable chardonnay grape, and came from Burgundy, it would cost three times as much.

This is an underrated German Riesling, however, so the quality/price equation is tilted most decidedly in the consumer's favor.

Lingering Lush Fruit

But forget equations. The wine is so decadently and intensely concentrated, so packed with ripe summer fruit flavors, one might almost take it for a sweet wine … until, that is, one gets to the dry, citrusy, aromatic, and impossibly long-lived finish. The haunting echoes of those initial impressions of lush, sweet/tart pineapple, licorice, peaches, pears, and lavender-infused Provence honey linger in the mouth, and memory, long after the last drop of the liquid has disappeared.

The floral qualities of May flowers on the front palate are wrapped in an oily, spice-tinged envelope of complexity on the finish, making it the perfect foil for the rich and gamy meat of the holiday bird. No one will fail to be impressed.

On a practical note, that vintage number, 1992, is not a mistake—it's a testament to both the longevity of great Riesling and how undervalued these wines are. And yes, it's still available—a quick search of reveals five U.S. retailers currently offering the wine, and that's far from an exhaustive sampling. This is a connoisseur's wine and definitely worth tracking down, as it will provide a memorable holiday experience.

When to Drink: Now

Breathing/Decanting: 30 minutes breathing helps

Food Pairing: Turkey

Grapes: 100 percent riesling

Appellation: Mosel

Region: Saar

Country: Germany

Price: $40

Availability: Limited

Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town & Country, the Robb Report, Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently artisanal editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes a twice monthly column to He is also a judge at the annual Critics’ Challenge wine competition.

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