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Drinks: Close summer with German wines

What's the last German wine you tasted? Do you remember either a blue nun or a black cat?

For a long time, these images, and the taste of Liebfraumilch, defined German wine in much of the country. Even now, you don't see modestly priced German wines reaching the cashier with the speed of bottles from California and Italy. Maybe it's still the labels. You continue to find many with forbidding Old English typeface. And all sport those strict classifications.

But Germany produces some of the world's supreme wines, both dry and sweet, always defined by their elegance and finesse, always proving that ripeness is all.

Summer's twilight suits plenty of moderately priced, very good German whites, wines that are refreshing, bracing and versatile enough to go with lots of chicken and fish, spicy food, or a few wursts on the grill.

The 2009 Weingut Johannishof Charta Riesling ($23) is a peachy choice, with mineral notes. Very good with ham, chicken, Chinese food. The 2010 Schloss Saarsteiner Riesling Kabinett ($27) is neatly balanced, with vibrant acidity, and a foil for summer salads and Asian entrees. Try the 2010 Graff Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese ($17), an off-dry wine with hints of citrus. And the 2010 Undone Dry Riesling ($11), with its unstrung corset label, has crisp, upfront appeal.

If you want to veer away from riesling, consider the off-dry, litchi-driven 2010 Valckenberg Gewürztraminer ($14), a match for spicy cuisine, especially Asian, and barbecue, too. Clean, appley and dry: the 2010 Castell-Castell Silvaner ($18), made for grilled fish and grilled chicken.

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