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Riesling is one of the wine world’s most misunderstood grape varieties. Wine drinkers often deride riesling as cheap, sweet and less highly regarded than other more fashionable varieties. These stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth.
Believe it or not, riesling is responsible for one of the most (if not the most) diverse spectrum of wines on the planet. Its wines are vinified in styles ranging from bone-dry to very sweet and in both still and sparkling formats. Couple that with the variety’s ripping acidity, flavor-packed juice and crazy ability to age, and you have yourself the potential for some seriously delicious wine. When we say this grape can do it all, we mean it.
Riesling finds its origins in the Rhine region of Germany. Today, the grape is cultivated all over the world, though its most notable homes include the Alsace region of France, Austria, Germany, Washington state and the Finger Lakes region of New York.
The final profile of a riesling-based wine depends on where the fruit is grown and the vinification techniques that the juice undergoes. Generally speaking, most rieslings are vinified varietally (not in a blend), and the wines rarely see hefty amounts of oak if any at all.
Like most grape varieties, riesling’s flavor profile is heavily dependent on the area of the world in which it’s cultivated, as well as the way in which it’s vinified. Wines made from riesling frequently show flavors of lemon, lime, tropical fruits, white flowers, jasmine, honey, petrol, matchsticks and/or wet slate.
Navigating the world of riesling can be tricky, but knowing a few key words goes a long way. With German wines, if you see the word “trocken” on the label, this means that the riesling is dry. “Halbtrocken” and “feinherb” denote off-dry bottlings, and “liebliche,” “auslese” (for the most part), “beerenauslese,” “trockenbeerenauslese” and “eiswein” designate sweet wines. If all else fails, simply ask your wine retailer or sommelier for some guidance, as they are likely to have tasted the wines and will have more in-depth knowledge regarding what a particular bottle is like.
Because of their extremely high levels of acidity, rieslings are some of the most food-friendly bottles on the planet. Salty bone-dry bottlings pair perfectly with smoked fish or salty cheese, while off-dry expressions come alive when sipped with spicy Mexican or Asian foods. And don’t forget to save a bottle of sweet dessert wine to savor after your meal.
These are six bottles to try.
Dr. Konstantin Frank Semi-Dry (New York, U.S.)
This legendary Ukrainian winemaker and oenologist first moved to Upstate New York back in the mid-20th century and is since credited with putting this hidden gem from the Finger Lakes region on the wine world’s radar. Although the dry riesling from his estate is quite popular, we can’t get enough of this semi-dry bottling. Expect notes of honey, ripe stone fruit and white flowers, all of which are balanced by pleasant amounts of residual sugar. This bottle is a real treat.
Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese (Germany)
For a cream-of-the-crop splurge, this Auslese riesling is where it’s at. Produced in Germany’s Mosel region, this outstanding wine shows flavors of sappy stoned fruit, canned pears, honeysuckle and candied ginger. Pair it with dessert dishes or simply make it the star of the show.
Peter Lauer Barrel X Feinherb (Germany)
This off-dry bottle of riesling comes from one of the Saar’s most legendary up-and-coming producers. Notes of ripe stone fruits (peach and nectarine), apple skin, sea spray and minerals dance on the palate and lead to a harmonious well-integrated finish. It pairs particularly nicely with a range of spicy Thai and Indian dishes.
Trimbach (Alsace, France)
Made by one of Alsace’s most renowned producers, this bone-dry bottle of riesling jumps with flavors of lime zest, white flowers, green apples and hints of petrol. Bright acid leads to a long, lingering finish. Sip it with cheese boards and salty olives for a delicious at-home happy hour.
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