Holiday Rieslings 

Americans tend to take Riesling for granted, especially here in the Northwest, where most wineries offer a good one at a bargain-basement price. I've even had people reluctantly reveal that they liked Riesling, asking if that was all right especially sinse so many of them were a little sweet. Well, I like Riesling--always have, even the ones that are "a little sweet." In the world of wine, Riesling is one of the noble European grape varieties, ranking right up there with Chardonnay, Cabernet and Pinot Noir. It makes remarkably long-lived white wines ranging in style from bone dry to dessert sweet. And the fact that everyone from the jaded wine connoisseur to the anxious neophyte can enjoy them is a holiday plus. This was a closely rated category with a tie in the top three, so here are the panel's four favorites:

2005 Seven Hills Riesling, $9.99

Apricot, apricot and more apricot on the nose that lets a little pear, tropical fruit and vanilla through if you are paying close attention. The flavors are a balancing act between sweet and tart with lime and grapefruit playing against caramel and lemon custard. A lovely effort from this Walla Walla winery.

2005 Snake River White Riesling, $7.99

Floral touches of herb and spice with clover, jasmine, fennel and allspice lifting the fresh pear and apricot aromas. Could easily be mistaken for a German Spatlese, the lightly sweet stone fruit perfectly balanced by soft citrus. Offers a nicely complex flavor profile that includes ripe pear, green tea, vanilla and jasmine. A superbly structured effort from one of Idaho's own.

2003 Stoneleigh Riesling, $16.50

Opens with unctuous aromas of creme brulee, candied melon, peaches and clove. Crisp and clean in style with nicely balanced flavors that range from white peach to fig, all sprinkled with a touch of nutmeg. An elegant Riesling from New Zealand that has, with a couple of years of bottle age, gained subtlety without losing freshness.

2005 Villa Maria Riesling, $16.88

Aromas on the tropical fruit side, with floral hints of fig, pear, cloves and fresh basil. Zesty and dry in the mouth with green apple, crisp apricot and a light bit of spice on the bright citrus finish. Another top scorer from New Zealand, which shows that region isn't just about Sauvignon Blanc.

This week's panel: Fawn Caveney, Tastevin; Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-Op; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Idaho Wine Merchant and Kevin Settles, Bardenay

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