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Wine of the Week

Schlumberger's Rich Riesling

Fashion matters in wine as much as it does in shoe styles or investment trends, so anyone seeking to enjoy great wine without plundering their pension fund would do well to bring a little counterintuitive thinking to their wine selection.

As even the most casual wine consumer knows, chardonnay is king these days, so wine from its home turf—the French wine region of Burgundy—has become unconscionably expensive (and it’s not always exactly cheap in its New World incarnations, either). Conversely, the other great white grape, riesling, has been in the doldrums for decades, and although it is enjoying a minor resurgence at the moment, it still has a long way to go to catch the ubiquitous chardonnay in the popularity stakes.

Of course, such disparity in demand leads to a similar imbalance in price, and this imbalance presents a golden opportunity for the savvy consumer.

Such thoughts occurred to me as I was savoring this week’s Wine of the Week, the Grand Cru Saering Riesling 2007 from Domaines Schlumberger ($32).

That one can enjoy a Grand Cru wine this good at this price is astounding, especially as a similar quality Grand Cru from Burgundy will cost you up to ten times as much.

Such is the power of fashion to distort the quality/price equation.

These vagaries of fashion might explain the wine’s unjustifiably modest price, but what makes it so good? Two things.

First, the vineyard’s limestone soil in the French region of Alsace is ideally suited to riesling. As Thomas Schlumberger, the Domaines’ export manager, explained to me, “the terroir makes the riesling really elegant, easy to understand. The reflection of these grapes is not lost by the terroir. Sometimes the terroir effects can overwhelm the grapes.” But not here.

The other key to the wine’s excellence is selection. Schlumberger goes on to say that “the most important thing to produce a nice riesling is to be really selective on the location where we are picking the grapes. In order to produce the Riesling Grand Cru we are only using the grapes coming from the steepest part, which is really only a few plots out of the total area. On top of that we also wait till the age of the vines is at least 12 to 15 years to start producing Grand Cru.”

Thus an extravagant 80 percent of the grapes are declassified and sold as simple Alsace AOC riesling. This ruthless selectivity results in such a superb example of Alsatian riesling at its best. Rich, oily, and precisely focused, it shows a refined delicacy while still maintaining its rapier-like focus. Its aromas of almonds and hazelnuts are offset by bracing grapefruit acidity all layered over a foundation of Rushmorian solidity.

Perfect with pork, the only question remaining is where, where is the choucroute garnie when I need it?

When to Drink: Now and for years to come

Breathing/Decanting: Half an hour’s breathing is useful

Food Pairing: Pork … and seafood, especially oysters

Grapes: 100 percent riesling

Appellation: Alsace Grand Cru

Region: Alsace

Country: France

Price: $32

Availability: Limited


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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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