Domestic Selection: Johannisberg Riesling, 1987; Freemark Abbey

Heads are bowed at the mere mention of Freemark Abbey. Odd­ly enough, the great rever­ence commonly bestowed upon this winery has not a thing to do with religious affiliation, but simply quality. Originally developed as vineyard land, circa 1875, the property changed hands several times before finally receiving its current esteemed name in 1939. Three partners: Charles Freeman, Mark Foster, and Albert Ahern (nick­named “Abbey“) co-conceived this very memorable moniker.

Subsequently due to a long slump in wine sales lasting through the 1950s, the winery fell idle. Then happily in 1967, a sev­en member partnership – which is still intact today – resurrected the venture. Through fabulous cellarwork and brilliant marketing, Freemark Abbey catapulted to the fore­front of American and international wine stardom.

Fortunately for us, Freemark’s Riesling has the singular distinc­tion of lying neatly within the WOMC price range; their four oth­er wines are all priced beyond the confines of our Regular Series. Therefore you have the opportuni­ty to taste this outstanding issue from one of Napa’s most stellar wineries at a non-stratospheric price. Good deal!

Too often the “J.R.” produced in California is a bit too middle-of-the-road, too blah, too lacking in commitment to be of much real interest. So, in steps, our selection presents quite a unique and perti­nent statement.

Johannisberg Riesling is the premier grape of Germany. It can be made into wine in a broad spec­trum of sweetness levels, the late harvest versions being true dessert wines. The grape is considered one of the two white noble grapes of the world because of ageing po­tential. The other is Chardonnay.

The wine exhibits a very, very light green-gold hue – the palest possible shade of chartreuse. A distinctive nose offers evergreen forest scents atop an insistent clas­sic base note of lush peaches. Structured as a “food wine” – more generous in body than its German counterparts – the wine finishes surprisingly dry. Ample acidity here suggests potential longevity. Caution: over-chilling will reduce one’s perception of this wine’s complexities.

Serve moderately chilled with fillets of either chicken breast or Alaskan cod, sauteed in butter with parsley, pine nuts and a squeeze of lemon.


Cellaring Notes: Drink now through 1990.

Reviewed by Larry Tepper

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