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Rhine Wines - California Wines

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The premier rhine wine grape of the world, responsible for the great German Rhines and Moselles, as well as for many other wines of the same order in Alsace, Switzerland, California, and elsewhere.

In Europe the grape is usually referred to simply as Riesling. In California it is called White Riesling to distinguish it from other grapes with a Riesling name. Some California growers call the wine Johannisberg or Johannisberger Riesling after some of the finest of all Rhine wines, those produced by Prince Metternich at Schloss Johannisberg in the Rheingau district of Germany. This custom, also practiced in some parts of Switzerland, seems slightly presumptuous and in California the correct name of White Riesling would seem to do sufficient honor to one of the state's truly great wines, while trespassing on no foreign glory.

White Riesling is a most refreshing wine, with a pronounced fragrance of bouquet and a rich, satisfying flavor. Napa, Sonoma, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties are best known for its production; some very fine ones have come from San Benito.

White Rieslings, like their cousins from the Rhine, vary between two extreme types, depending upon the vineyard location and the grower. There are the fresh and fragrant, pale green, delicate wines which should be consumed young. There are also the fuller-bodied, heavier, softer, fruitier, and darker golden wines, which are rich in sugar and improve with age in the bottle for a considerable time.

TRAMINER and GEWURZTRAMINER (Gewurts-tra-meener)

Well known in Alsace, France, this white wine grape is known in California as the Red Traminer on account of the red flush on its skin when ripening. It is generally considered to be the finest rhine wine type grape after the White Riesling.

The wines are fragrant and distinctly aromatic with a spicy scent and flavor. They are produced in Napa, Santa Clara, and Sonoma counties.

Gewurtztraminer, also spelled Gewurz-Traminer and Gewurz Traminer, is obtained from selected strains of the Red Traminer grape. Famed in Alsace, Gewurtztraminer is probably the most scented and pungent wine of Europe. A limited qauntity is produced in the Napa Valley and the tendency is developing in California to label as such the more aromatic and spicy of the Traminer wines.


This is the principal rhine wine type grown in California. It is known as the Sylvaner in Alsace and as the Franken Riesling in some parts of Germany. In California it is known under both names, but more correctly under that of Sylvaner.

The wines are of superior quality, fragrant, and fresh with a distinct and delicate aroma and flavor. It is bottled as a varietal in Napa, Santa Clara, and Sonoma counties. It is also used in the blending of the higher-quality California rhine wines and in the production of the better California Rieslings, under which name it is sometimes marketed.


The grape, actually the Chauche gris of France and not a true Riesling, yields in California a white wine of the rhine type, soft and pleasing, with a mild, spicy flavor. Its name is caused by the greycolored tinge which develops on the grapes as they approach ripeness.

Grey Riesling has attained a great popularity, especially in the last years. The best known comes from the Livermore Valley, but it is also bottled as a varietal in the Napa, Santa Clara, Cucamonga, and other districts. Additional plantings and production are probable, considering the great demand for this wine.


California Riesling can be one of a number of varietals or a blend of them. There are four California grapes with a well-known Riesling name or connotation: White or Johannisberg(er) Riesling, Sylvaner or Franken Riesling, Grey Riesling, and Emerald Riesling.

A wine labeled simply "California Riesling" must, by law, contain at least 51 per cent of wine made from one or more of the Riesling grapes listed above. This leaves a wide choice open to the producer. The result is that California Riesling varies greatly in character and quality, depending on the grapes used, the district of origin, and the grower.

Note: Riesling is sometimes misspelled and mispronounced "Reisling," presumably because of an erroneous impression that it sounds more Germanic.

Emerald Riesling

A recent variety, propagated by the University of California at its Agricultural Experiment Station at Davis, Yolo County. It is a hybrid of the White Riesling and the Muscadelle of California, derived from seeds collected in 1935 which bore grapes in the 1939 season.

The wine has a clean, fresh, tart taste, is medium-bodied and rates as a table wine of above-average quality. Production as a varietal has been limited; some is available, notably in the Evergreen district of the Santa Clara Valley.

GENERICS California Rhine Wine

The typical generic wine of this group. The wine so labeled is produced from a number of grapes and often from the same as those from which California chablis is derived, but blended in such a manner that a paler, drier, and tarter wine is obtained.

The best California rhine wines are the product of one or more of the Riesling grapes and then possess the aroma, character and flavor of the latter.

California Moselle

This term used to be popular to designate the generic California rhine wines and also to distinguish the softer, paler, and lighterbodied wines of that class. Some is still produced, but the name is more familiar as describing sparkling white wines of the carbonated type.

California Hock

"Hock" is an abbreviation of Hochheimer, a German Rhine wine at one time very popular in Britain. It was pronounced as "Hockamore" and became a class term to designate any wine of the Rhine type. The name is still used in California, but has almost disappeared.