I went on an Alsace tear recently, tasting my way through several dozen examples of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris (no Muscat yet, and not for any good reason). Along the way to falling in love with these wines (if you haven’t yet, you must, because they are like no other whites, and tend to be great values), I was reminded of something curious: I’ve never liked these varietals much from new-world sources. Pinot Gris, sure—as Pinot Grigio, it comes in plenty of harmless versions from all over. But Riesling and Gewürztraminer? I don’t have the kind of encyclopedic alcoholic experience to be able to claim that I’ve tasted the great range of these wines from the New World, so don’t think I’m trying to make an authoritative statement about them. I’m just saying that, in my limited exposure, they’ve never amounted to much. As often as not, they’re terrible. But suddenly I’m hitting some nice surprises. Both of these varietals can produce wines with a fabulous combination of floral fruitiness and firm acid: the kind of wines that drink well on their own, but also pair with foods that other wines shun. And to find that kind of unusual action out of Napa and Sonoma is surely a treat. One, a Gewürztraminer from Gundlach Bundschu, I’ve already covered; here’s another, a Riesling from the Three Thieves of St. Helena, California, the marketing-savvy guys behind those wine TetraPaks. This particular wine, labeled Firehose (they make a Gewürztraminer under this label too, also nice), is being explicitly positioned to enjoy with spicy food—the sample even came with a pack of hot chili powder and a recipe, to show off the wine’s prowess in taming culinary fire. And while this choice would doubtless shine in that setting, I liked it an awful lot with herb-grilled chicken. It struck me as the best example yet of how these varietals can deliver terrific, refreshing, low-priced wines.

2007 Firehose Riesling
Grapes: 88 percent Riesling, 12 percent what they’re calling “Premium White Varietals” (meaning what? That it’s a hash of other random stuff?)
Aging: N/A
Alcohol:12.8 percent (not bad)
Price: $9.99!
My Tasting Notes: Fruity and floral, but plenty crisp enough to be bright and bracing. There’s a lot to love here, a lot to savor on a hot night.

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