Fetzer Johannisberg Riesling 2003
Since 1968, Fetzer has stood by a simple philosophy: What’s good for the Earth is good for the grape, and what’s good for the grape is good for the wine. After Barney Fetzer launched his winery, he helped create the flavor profile that made Chardonnay the nation’s most popular wine variety, and Fetzer’s Valley Oaks Food and Wine Center anticipated the farm-to-table movement.
Fifty years later, the Fetzer collection is grounded in the character of American classics like Fetzer Valley Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon, Sundial Chardonnay and Shaly Loam Gewurztraminer—iconic wines rooted in thoughtful winemaking and a deep commitment to sustainability. Today, there’s still a delicious bottle of Fetzer to reach for on any night. These are wines that never compromise on flavor and never cut corners on quality.
Reaching up California's coastline and into its valleys north of San Francisco, the North Coast AVA includes six counties: Marin, Solano, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake. While Napa and Sonoma enjoy most of the glory, the rest produce no shortage of quality wines in an intriguing and diverse range of styles.
Climbing up the state's rugged coastline, the chilly Marin County, just above the City and most of Sonoma County, as well as Mendocino County on the far north end of the North Coast successfully grow cool-climate varieties like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and in some spots, Riesling. Inland Lake County, on the other hand, is considerably warmer, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc produce some impressive wines with affordable price tags.
A regal variety of incredible purity and precision, Riesling possesses a remarkable ability to reflect the character of wherever it is grown while still maintaining easily identifiable typicity. This versatile grape can be just as enjoyable dry or sweet, young or old, still or sparkling and can age longer than nearly any other white variety. Riesling is best known in Germany and Alsace, and is also of great importance in Austria. The variety has also been particularly successful in Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys, New Zealand, Washington, cooler regions of California, and the Finger Lakes region of New York.
In the Glass
Riesling typically produces wine with relatively low alcohol, high acidity, steely minerality and stone fruit, spice, citrus and floral notes. At its ripest, it leans towards juicy peach, nectarine and pineapple, while cooler climes produce Rieslings redolent of meyer lemon, lime and green apple. With age, Riesling can become truly revelatory, developing unique, complex aromatics, often with a hint of petrol.
Riesling is quite versatile, enjoying the company of sweet-fleshed fish like sole, most Asian food, especially Thai and Vietnamese (bottlings with some residual sugar and low alcohol are the perfect companions for dishes with substantial spice) and freshly shucked oysters. Sweeter styles work well with fruit-based desserts.
It can be difficult to discern the level of sweetness in a Riesling, and German labeling laws do not make things any easier. Look for the world “trocken” to indicate a dry wine, or “halbtrocken” or “feinherb” for off-dry. Some producers will include a helpful sweetness scale on the back label—happily, a growing trend.