White Hot Pours

German wines new to the area spice up the market

White Hot PoursOne of the ongoing debates among wineries, distributors, and retailers these days is about whether American wine drinkers are truly becoming so tired of chardonnay that they’re ready to jump to something new.

The death of chardonnay has been pronounced prematurely several times in the last 20 years, yet the grape remains the top-selling white wine overall in this country. Only the encroachment of pinot grigio a few years ago into the top position in restaurant white-wine sales has threatened chardonnay. That phenomenon, I believe, was not so much a reflection of changing tastes as it was the low price of pinot grigio from Italy against the increased cost of chardonnay grapes that California wineries were paying.

There is no doubt that American wine drinkers are becoming more adventurous, but not at the cost to chardonnay that some people see. Just look at stores shelves around metro Detroit. They abound with grape varieties and regional white-wine names more than ever: grüner vetliner, dry chenin blanc, gewürztraminer, pinot blanc, aligoté, muscadet, torrontes, silvaner, and even müller-thurgau.

One of the grape varieties that has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity is riesling, particularly the dry kind. Its reappearance in this country has been driven in part by burgeoning wine industries in New York, Michigan, and Washington, which have the best climates for growing riesling, and have been responsible for a New World interpretation of the grape in much the same way California did with the French red varieties of cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir.

What’s often overlooked in this riesling rehabilitation are German wines of the same grape, as well as others we already know here.

The wines of Weingut Janz are new to the Detroit area. They come from a fourth-generation winemaking family in Germany’s Rheinhessen area, and they make both whites and reds. All the grapes are grown on the Janz estate and, for quality and price, Janz wines are hard to beat.

Helga Janz-Wagner, who has set up an office in Dearborn, recently explained that her family used to make almost exclusively white wines, traditional and simple whites that went into the famed Liebfraumilch-labeled whites of the region. But more recently, they began following the New World model of making both whites and reds grown on their property, and they upgraded the quality.

In addition to rieslings, the Janz winery also makes whites from pinot blanc, bacchus, kerner, and sylvaner grapes, and red wines from pinot noir, dornfelder, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot.

All the Janz wines tasted were exceptional. Here are three particularly recommended:

2006 Janz Rheinhessen Riesling ($13): Charming, light, green-apple aromas, and a classic tight structure. Firm acidity, fairly complex, and well balanced. Definitely a food wine.

2006 Janz Bacchus ($13): Intriguing aromatics, notes of honeysuckle followed by citrus, mandarin, and apple on the palate, and a pleasant mineral crispness that follows into the aftertaste. A great summer apéritif wine.

2005 Janz Pinot Noir ($15): A light brick-red color, with a tangy, fresh tart-cherry flavor, and good acidity. Deceptive at first for the complexity and fairly full body that evolves on the back palate. A summer red for serving with grilled meats and fish.