10 reasons to give riesling another look
No other wine has been the object of such devoted campaigning, proselytizing and ardor as riesling.
What has been the result of all that fervor? Yawns, mostly.
According to Nielsen, retail sales of riesling in the United States have dropped over the last few years, though they shot upward over the first 2 1⁄2 months of the pandemic, outperforming sales of wine as a whole during that time.
Riesling seems to be one of those wines, like Loire reds, that do not move consumers in the way wine writers assume and hope, no matter how impassioned the promise that it takes only one sip to become a convert.
Perhaps it’s confusion: Is riesling sweet? Is it dry? How can you tell?
The glory of riesling’s versatility is paradoxically both a strength and a commercial weakness. Its capacity to make complex, thrilling dry wines as well as luscious yet refreshing sweet wines is unmatched. But in a world that prefers simple messaging, riesling’s spectrum of possibilities may be confounding.
This is compounded by a general fear of sweet wines. For too long in the mid-20th century, riesling was associated with cheap, bland German sweet wines like Blue Nun and Black Tower.
People seem more accepting of dry riesling, which is the predominant style around the world, even in Germany.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to discern which rieslings are dry and which have some degree of sweetness. German rieslings marked “trocken” are always dry, but not all dry German rieslings carry the designation.
Australian rieslings tend to be dry unless marked otherwise. This is also true of U.S. rieslings, most of the time. But occasionally I am surprised. If you’re in doubt, it’s worth doublechecking with a retailer or sommelier.
In the interest of championing the beauty of riesling, here are 10 moderately priced bottles of dry riesling, roughly $20 to $45, from around the world.
Hermann J. Wiemer, Seneca Lake Riesling Dry 2018; $19.99: Hermann J. Wiemer, an immigrant from the Mosel Valley, was one of the pioneering modern winemakers in the Finger Lakes and an early proponent of riesling there. Wiemer sold the estate in 2007 to Oskar Bynke and Fred Merwarth, who manages the vineyards and makes the wine. The Wiemer rieslings have always been more floral than mineral. Breathing in this wine is like inhaling a meadow full of flowers. It’s floral on the palate, too, with a touch of fruit and wet stones.
Dreissigacker, Rheinhessen Riesling Trocken 2018; $19.99: I tried my first Dreissigacker riesling last year and was won over immediately. The winery’s excellent higherend rieslings come from several limestone sites in Rheinhessen. This entrylevel bottle is from vines grown on loess and loam on gentle slopes. The wine, fermented and aged in stainless steel vats, is rich, fresh and balanced, with great acidity. It’s not particularly complex, but is full of pleasing citrus and mineral flavors. (Schatzi Wines, Milan, New York)
Dautel, Württemberg Riesling Trocken 2017; $21.96: Christian Dautel is part of a young vanguard that is bringing recognition to the Württemberg region in southwestern Germany. Dautel is better known for its red wines, which predominate in Württemberg, but this riesling is a beauty. It’s clear, pure, precise and energetic, with plenty of fruit and stony flavors. It’s made with minimal manipulation, from grapes grown on steep terraced slopes. (Skurnik Wines, New York)
Stein, Mosel Riesling Kabinett Trocken St. Aldegunder Himmelreich 2016; $26: Ulrich Stein’s wines are always fascinating. This one, from 75-year-old ungrafted vines, is no exception. It’s brisk and dry, complex, energetic and delicious, with lingering flavors of lime and wet stones. Stein favors steep slate vineyards, and has fought successfully to reclaim some that were abandoned because they were so difficult to work, leading one wine writer, David Schildknecht, to term him “more a David than a Don Quixote.” (Vom Boden, Brooklyn, New York)
Bründlmayer, Kamptal Riesling Terrassen 2018; $26.99: Bründlmayer is one of the best estates in the Kamptal region of Austria, just west of Vienna. This entry-level bottle is a blend from younger vines grown at several different terraced sites.
It’s easy to drink, maybe a touch austere in a good way, with aromas and flavors of pressed flowers, apricot and stones. (Skurnik Wines)
Heinrich Spindler, Pfalz Riesling Trocken Musenhang 2017; $28.96: Many moderately priced rieslings can be extremely pleasant, but lack depth and substance. This is not one of them. It’s rich and deep, fresh and incisive, with electric acidity. The Musenhang vineyard is a cool site high on a slope in the foothills of the Haardt Mountains of southwestern Germany, where the vines are planted on limestone and sandstone. (Schatzi Wines)
Koerner, Clare Valley Watervale Riesling Gullyview Vineyard 2019; $29.99: Koerner is the vision of two Australian brothers, Damon and Jono Koerner, whose parents owned an old vineyard in Clare Valley, north of
Adelaide. Instead of selling off the fruit as their parents had done, they used it to make wine. Now they get grapes from all over Clare and make a wide variety of wines, including this riesling. It’s fresh, with a gravelly texture and flavors that offer, as is the case with many Australian rieslings, the distinct impression of lime zest. (Little Peacock, New York)
Nahe Riesling Trocken Mineral 2017; $34.99:
This wine, a midrange offer from one of the
Nahe region’s leading estates, is called Mineral for a reason. The aromas are floral and herbal, but on the palate it tastes like stone and citrus, with an almost salty tinge. It’s dry and lip-smacking, pure, clear and energetic. (Petit Pois/Sussex Wine Merchant, Moorestown, New Jersey)
Keller, Rheinhessen Riesling von der Fels 2018; $37.99: Julia and Klaus Peter Keller are among the leading lights of German wine. They make G-Max, one of Germany’s most coveted rieslings and a true cult wine, along with exceptional singlevineyard rieslings, spätburgunders, as pinot noir is known in German, and a host of wines from other grapes. Their entry-level rieslings are excellent, but for my money the best value is Von der Fels, a rich, pure wine with chalky minerality and great clarity and focus. It’s wonderful now, and will be even better with a few years of aging. (Petit Pois/ Sussex Wine Merchant)
Weiser-Künstler, Mosel Riesling Trocken Enkircher Steffensberg 2018; $44.99: This is a fascinating and unusual bone-dry expression of the Mosel Valley. WeiserKünstler is a small, relatively young estate established by Konstantin Weiser and Alexandra Künstler in 2005. They have sought out small lots of riesling on ridiculously steep slopes. This bottle, from the Steffensberg vineyard, has an earthy breadth yet feels transparent, as if you are smelling and tasting the vineyard itself. This, too, will benefit from a few years of aging. (Vom Boden)
Though retail sales of riesling in the United States have dropped over the last few years, they shot upward during the early months of the pandemic.