A World—New and Old—of Riesling

Food & Drink

I don’t herald too many of these wine varietal days, but when it comes to Riesling, I make an exception. It is one of the world’s noble grapes and the most versatile. “Noble grapes” are so named for their ability to express their location and terroir and among the six (the others are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc), Riesling is, perhaps the most transparent says sommelier Carrie Lyn Strong, owner of Strong Wine Consulting and an East Coast-based ambassador for Wines of Alsace, a quality production region “particularly known for its ability to translate its Grand Cru terroirs,” she says.

Riesling is made in numerous New and Old World regions: Alsace, Australia, Austria, all throughout Germany, New York State’s Finger Lakes, Oregon and Washington State to name a few. It is one of the most food-friendly and age-worthy wines, some capable of cellaring for decades. Though many consumers believe it to be a sweet wine (and Riesling does make delicious sweet dessert wines), for the most part, they are dry table wines—some searingly and excitingly so.

You won’t want to wait decades to drink these, though and if you need an excuse to start your Riesling discovery, here’s a case to consider:

Anthony Road Riesling 2020, Finger Lakes, New York. Pretty aromas of honeysuckle and tropical fruits that follow through on the palate with candied citrus. This is a slightly sweeter style of Riesling that pairs beautifully with Indian foods—chicken tikka and curries.

Appassionata Riesling GG 2017, Chehalem AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Appassionata is a passion project by renowned German winemaker Ernst (Erni) Loosen, said to be inspired by his great-grandfather’s Old World ways, and fermented in a 3,000-liter German oak cask. Harvested from 48-year-old organically farmed vines, this is a classic example with petrol and lemon notes, some biscuit-y notes from extended aging on the lees, apricot and deep floral notes. It’s both fresh and rich.

Canvasback Royal Slope AVA 2022, Columbia Valley, Washington. From the Duckhorn portfolio, this has a traditional petrol nose that leans toward the unctuous. On the palate, though, it’s clean and fresh with lemon theme—as in curd, compote or cooked Meyer lemon—and yellow apples. Aged in stainless and large oak casks. Pithy and snappy finish.

Chateau Ste. Michelle, Indian Wells Riesling, 2022, Yakima Valley, Washington. A fresh, dry wine with clean peach and apricot notes accompanied by some lemon tinges—drink on its own or pair it with spicy Asian or Indian food. Though is an enormous producer, it is a highly reliable performer that never dumbs it down and over delivers on the quality to price ratio.

Clean Slate Riesling 2021, Mosel. Straight forward, well done and serviceable with a lot of dishes. Lime/lemon citrus snap, good minerality, crisp, fun and does not disappoint. At 10.5%, you can enjoy this with numerous convivial occasions. Great democratic wine to serve at large gatherings.

Domaine Christophe Mittnacht “Terres d’Etoiles, 2020 Grand Cru Rosacker, Alsace. This comes from a pioneering biodynamic winery that makes a more modern style of Riesling, while staying true to its character. This is a nerve-y, clean wine full of mineral and acid tension, which calms down into an elegant and elevated wine with ripe orchard fruits (peach, apple) that lend a bit of softness and plush.

Domaine Maurice Schoech 2021, Alsace AOC. A friendly entry-level wine made by a family that dates its roots to the 17th century. Starts off with ripe peach then evolves to candied orange rind and ginger notes. It finishes dry, but since there’s a little more residual sugar on this, it’s a good match with spicy foods.

Domäne Wachau Riesling Federspiel Ried Bruck 2021, Wachau, Austria. Hailing from one of Austria’s most high-quality and revered cooperatives, led by master of wine Roman Horvath, any wine from this estate that specializes in single-site bottlings overturns people’s assumptions about cooperatives. This Ried Bruck Riesling is golden-yellow in color and offers a seductive flinty/smoky/mineral nose that immediately draws you in. On the palate, it doesn’t lose sight of its yellow-fruited profile. Rich but not overdone, enjoyable with many spring dishes.

Domäne Wachau Riesling Smaragd Achleiten 2021, Wachau, Austria. From one of the Wachau’s most iconic vineyards–terraces slopes that date to the 12th century—this is juicy and fully satisfying medium-bodied wine with direct apple and lemon tones. Despite its prestige and privilege, it’s immediately approachable, but if you waited a few years to drink, you wouldn’t be sorry.

Famille Hugel “Classic” Riesling 2022, Alsace. The label notes this is a wine of “finesse and frankness,” which is pretty much Alsace’s story as well as the story of this 13th-generation family winery. This is the family’s signature Riesling and a terrific gateway into the variety, delivering youthful citrus notes and orchard fruit flavors of apple, peach and pear.

Hillick & Hobbs Estate Vineyard 2020, Seneca Lake, New York. Classic petrol nose hinting toward glycerol. This is a medium-bodied rich wine with ripe fruits, cooked lemon curd, round yellow apples and mouthwatering acid. Savory notes add an elevated note at the end. A project from well-regarded “flying winemaker” Paul Hobbs.

Mount Langi Ghiran “Cliff Edge” 2023, Grampians, Victoria (Australia)

Fresh and tart: lots of lemon-lime and tart yellow plum and sour cherries all conspiring to make a lip-smacking, saline/mineral-driven wine. Though it sounds extreme, it is not: it’s balanced and elegant but does have lots of personality.

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