Does Riesling produce my favorite white wine?
I have always had a soft spot for Riesling. I suppose this love affair started during my Sommelier exams along with when I went on big tasting sessions. You see, at the end of a long day of tasting you tend to look for a beverage that is cold and refreshing, hence I would often search for a glass of crisp, dry, and refreshing Riesling, mmm... However this is not the only reason I am such a fan of this variety, Riesling shows a multitude of different expressions that truly showcases different terroirs as well as different sweetness levels. Finally, this variety is a Sommelier dream due to how food-friendly and how easy we can match up some of the more bizarre dishes we find in restaurants. Note: Off-dry Riesling loves spicy food!
So where is it grown?
Great question, since Riesling is a late budding and early ripening grape, it tends to excel in cool climates, if the climate is too warm then wines tend to turn out quite flat, lacking aromatics and acidity.
Alsace and Germany are the most well-known regions for growing Riesling, along with having the most diverse expressions. Australia, the U.S, New Zealand, and Austria also grow a good amount.
Aromas, flavors, and textures to look out for:
Citrus, orchard fruit, pears, apple, jasmine, nectarine along with steely notes, petrol, rubber, and honey depending on the style being produced. The palate tends to be racy and refreshing yet with low to medium alcohol and high acidity. Styles from bone dry to super-duper sweet exist.
Dry: I classify dry styles up to a residual sugar level around 12 g/L. These can be found in standard Alsace AOC (Not GC), certain German regions and classifications (VDP G.G and Trocken), New York, New Zealand, Austria (Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal) and Australia (Clare Valley and Eden Valley)
Sweet: These styles have a residual sugar content level of significantly above 12 g/L:
Germany ( Pradikatswein: Kabinet, Spatlese, Ausele, Beerenauselese, Trockenbeerenauselese, and Eiswein), tend to have levels up to and above 200 g/L. Due to global warming, Alsace G.C sugar levels have been creeping up with most hitting 30-40+ g/L. Some are drier, however, there is a lot of variability.
Dry Riesling tends to pair with most fish, poultry, and pork, think light simple dishes, Sushi always does the trick
Slightly sweet (Off-dry) Rieslings, such as a Kabinet, Ausele, or and off-dry Grand Cru from Alsace tend to pair well with a little spice such as most Asian flares. The sweetness helps to offset the spiciness in the dish.
Sweet Rieslings, such as a Trockenbeerenauselese which can have over 200 g/L of residual sugar are best paired with blue cheese or foie gras. Note: These wines can last for centuries if stored well!
The shift in styles:
In the last 10-15 years or so we have seen a shift in sweetness levels in both Alsace and Germany. Traditionally, Alsace was always known as the region with dry Rieslings, whereas Germany had a sweeter style. With global warming, the consumer pull, along with a change in the mindset of the younger generation of Germany winemakers, we are seeing a significant increase in drier German wines. The sweeter styles do still exist, however, these tend to be less found in distribution. With Alsace on the other hand we are seeing sugar levels creep up in their GC wines, and only on their Alsace AOC level do they have a maximum of 12 g/L.
A couple of regions which I believe best express Riesling:
Germany (Mosel, Pfalz, Saar and Nahe) - Germany has been on fire in recent years with passionate producers such as Peter Lauer and Okonomierat driving the future of Germany Riesling.
Eden Valley - Australia produces some of the most unique and underrated Rieslings around. These are bone dry and are everything I look for in a Riesling, styles seem to be very close between producers, so you tend to never be disappointed. Henschke, Grosset, and Hutton Vale Farm and those to look out for.
Some Rieslings which I have enjoyed Recently:
Henschke Riesling Julius 2017 - 94 points
This is a very serious Eden Valley Riesling, the nose citrus-driven with a palate full of zesty grapefruits, sharp lemon zest, and concentrated lime juice, all of these fruits combined along with fantastic minerality. Great balanced acidity with the length still developing however this has a long life ahead of this. Drink this now for the lively acidity, or wait 10-12 years for the marmalade flavors to develop either way, this is one of the top Rieslings in Australia.
Peter Lauer Unterstenberg Riesling Faß 12 2018 - 94 points
Aromas of ripe nectarines, peaches, citrus, gunflint, wet stone, and crushed mixed nuts. The palate was medium to full-bodied, rich and layered yet with fantastic freshness and minerality along with fleshy ripe stone, apricots, crushed wet stones. The finish was wonderfully precise, long and left the palate totally refreshed. This will drink fantastically over the next 10 or so years.
Weingut Willi Bründlmayer Riesling Heiligenstein 2014 - 93 points
Ripe stone fruits on the palate with good acidity. Notes of beeswax, honey, and this wonderful flower blossom after taste. This is a wonderful full-bodied dry Riesling. Straight and to the point. Well balanced with a long finish.
Pewsey Vale Vineyard Riesling 2016 - 93 points
This has a fantastic nose, notes of petrol, a little rubber. Little fruit on the nose, if anything maybe some Asian pear. On the palate, I found notes of Asian pear, lychees, a mineral flavor with wet stones, more earthy with a dry but elegant finish. The acidity on this is fantastic. I feel this can age a couple of years. Really enjoyed the non-fruit style of this Riesling, this is bone dry.
Hutton Vale Riesling 2019 - 93 points
Slightly off-dry Riesling from a tiny producer in Eden Valley which barely exports. Classic Riesling nose of green apple, lime juice, ginger, honeysuckle and melon. The palate was not bone dry, however crisp and refreshing, with freshly squeezed lime juice, lemon sherbet along with striking minerality and bright acidity, the finish was clean. At just over 10% Alcohol and less than $30 CAD a bottle this is a steal. Wow! So much character to this wine.
Ravines Wine Cellars Dry Riesling 2016 - 92 points
Aromas of Asian Pear, crushed stone, citrus notes, on the palate I found lime, tropical fruits and great wet stone characteristics along with eye-popping acidity.
Peter Lauer Ayler Riesling Faß 25 - 92 points
I am 100% enjoying these Peter Lauer dry Riesling, it certainly makes 'standard' Mosel wines look boring and flat. This is one of his entry-levels however with so much structure, focus, and precision, this puts German Rieslings on another level. Classic yellow apple, crushed stones, lime juice, and wet slate and the main aromas. The palate is focused, yet with bright acidity, good fruit concentration and a clean finish, along with a price of $30 CAD this is about as good as it gets at this price point.
Peter Lauer Schonfels Riesling Faß 11 Großes Gewächs - 92 points
A wonderful golden color, This came across completely different compared to the Fab 12. The nose showed a lot of smoky characters blended with flint, white pepper, and ripe orchard fruit along with tropical fruit. The palate tasted a little richer, spicier, and full compared to the Fab 12, with notes of pineapple, peaches, and apricots. The mid-palate had a great saline texture along with good concentration. The finish lingered and was spicy, this certainly would match perfectly with a slightly heavier dish or an Indian curry.
Riesling is on a revival in the last few years, and if you have not tried any of the above awesome dry Rieslings you are certainly missing out. Germany and Australia are where I am on the search, however, do not miss out on Austria or Finger Lakes, for other great expressions.