Riesling has oft been dismissed as just another sweet white wine, but what many don’t know is it falls along a spectrum of flavors and levels of ripeness, like any other wine, and can range from chillingly bone-dry, with a razor-sharp acidity, to floral and delicate with a hint of salinity, to fruity, dense, almost botrytized (nobly rotten dessert wine grapes) in flavor, perfumed with the flavors of honey and fruit. It’s my personal favorite because of this variation, and I hope that after reading this, it will be your favorite, too.
I think of myself as the Riesling renegade. My goal is to make the world of wineand your own palate!more approachable by showing you some of my favorite wines. Today, I’ll give you my Top 10 Summery Rieslings under $25, along with tried-and-true dinner and dessert pairings for an exceptional meal.
I’ll touch upon Alsatian and North American Rieslings, but will mainly focus on German Riesling. German Riesling labels can be challenging to read and scan in a store. After all, which looks more fun for a party: the Clip Art-inspired Napa Sauvignon Blanc with a picture of a beachfront estate, or the wine that screams “SCHLOSSBOCKELHEIMER KUPFERGRUBE” in severe cursive like a bottled Ilsa the She-Wolf from the shelf?
Although it may seem scary, the inner contents are sweeter and more nuanced than many wines. Here are some tips and tricks for reading these labels and discovering which ones will best fit the occasion. You'll quickly see that these versatile wines are perfect for pairing with all sorts of food- backyard barbecue delights, Asian favorites, family dinners, and more!
First, you’ll want to know about how the wine will taste. In Germany, there are five designations for levels of ripeness and quality, called the Prädikat category. This separates the wines by their minimum must weight (the amount of residual sugar in the wine) requirements and the levels of alcohol in the wine. Kabinett Rieslings are likely one of the most common, and most affordable, rieslings you’ll come across in your selection. Processed from the main harvest, these are also the grapes that are used the earliest. Kabs (not to be confused with Cab, like Cab Sauvignon!) are typically drier and less sweet than their mustier counterparts, with, in the best cases, a laser-sharp acidity and in-your-face fruitiness. A Kabinett may be sweeter than a Spatlese from a particular producer or vintage, but these traits are typical of the norm.
If you're looking for a sweeter flavor profile, check out Spatlesen, the wines made from grapes processed later in the harvest. This later processing allows them to naturally dehydrate and can give them a sweeter, fuller flavor and mouthfeel. These can have traits of German dessert wines, but are not designated as such. However, I can’t think of a better send-off to a meal than a Spatlesen in many cases, so you can be the judge of that. These are also more cost-effective than designated German dessert and select bunch wines.
Auslesen, Beerenauslesen (BA), and Trockenbeerenauslesen (TBA), are the last three, and the sweetest, most carefully selected of the classification system. Auslesen wines can be dessert wine, and designate the wines which contain the best grapes from any particular year’s harvest. BA wines get into dessert wine territory. Grapes are left on the vines to shrivel and rot. Once they are harvested, they are processed into BA, a very sweet, very rich dessert Riesling. TBA is the sweetest, and easily the most expensive, of the bunch. The grapes that are not harvested for BA are left on the vine to further rot. Those wines will later be processed and made into an extremely concentrated dessert wine, often aged in 375 ml bottles as a small amount satisfies most. We will not be talking about Auslesen, BA, or TBA wines today, as they typically go outside of the $25 range.
The level of ripeness will definitely help you whittle down which wines you’re keen on. Because the German wine regions and single-vineyard sites are varied in style and flavor, this will be a brief and basic introduction to how to pick a region and what to roughly expect from that region. It’s not formulaic, although there is a degree of precision as the Germans are often wont to doGerman wine’s styles and flavors are consistent, but vary from one vintage to another, but this can serve as a rough guideline for getting you started.
Please let me know what else you like to drink! Are you a Riesling newbie, or a junkie like me? If you have favorite pairings, vintages, or producers, I’d love to hear them in the comments section.
Jess Watsky’s Top Ten Summer Rieslings for Under $25
1. 2010 AJ Adam Dhron Hofberg Kabinett (MSRP: $22) AJ Adam is one of my favorite new, young producers. This particular wine is bright and zingy in style, with a piercing acidity. We like this with seared duck confit and raspberry sauce.
2. 2007 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnehnuhr Kabinett (MSRP: id="mce_marker"5) 2007 has been one of the best German wine vintages of the decade. This also happens to be one of the best values. This is a citrus-forward, fruity example of a wine with a brightly acidic flavor and pleasant sweetness. Try this with grilled pineapple slices and sriracha-marinated grilled chicken.
3. 2010 Hermann J. Weimer Dry Reserve (MSRP: 19) This Finger Lakes producer rivals some of the best modern German producers today. The Wiemer 2010 vintage produced some austere, dry wines, with saline, acidic nuances of lemon rind and grapefruit best enjoyed with grilled balsamic-soaked plums and polenta for dessert.
4. 2010 Willi Haag Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett (MSRP: id="mce_marker"9) A classic producer, Willi Haag makes some of the sweetest, most approachable Kabs I’ve had this year. Green apples, slate, pineapple, and chalk are some of the dominant flavors in this one. Pad thai or chicken satay will go wonderfully with this.
5. 2010 Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Kabinett (MSRP: $24) Donnhoff is one of Germany’s most renowned and celebrated producers. The Oberhauser Leisteinberg site offers a consistent flavor profile and quality, with an expressive, light texture and aromatic flavors of mango, apricot, and minerals. Despite its levity, it holds up well to spicier dishes, so bring out the buffalo wings or spicy salsa and enjoy!
6. 2010 Fitz-Ritter Riesling Sekt (MSRP: id="mce_marker"5) What a way to spice up a casual occasion! This is one of my favorite wines of the year. It combines all the playful fun of bubbly wine with the depth of Riesling flavor. Try this with shredded chicken tacos and homemade salsa verde. Its spritely, spritzy citrus and brown sugar notes are sure to delight anyone.
7. 2005 Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Turckheim (MSRP: $23) This is an Alsatian wine from famed producer Zind-Humbrecht. Known for their quirky GC wines, their estate and site wines are just as fascinating and high in quality. The ’05 is honeyed, with a petrol nose and sweet finish. I like this with a brinier-flavored dish, like salmon and cilantro sauce.
8. 2010 Dr. H. Thanisch Bernkasteler Badstube Kabinett (MSRP: $24) If you’re looking for a drier wine with a more aromatic, floral set of flavors, this is the perfect Riesling for you. With an herbaceous, lemon-driven nose and orange zest and honey nose, this wine is blazingly acidic, but has a lot going on. This is great to cut the indulgence of a classic German dish, schnitzel and spatzle.
9. 2007 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese (MSRP: $22) With its Granny Smith apple flavors and brown sugar nose, this is a great wine from an exceptional vintage for you to introduce yourself to Riesling with. It’s a really easy, inexpensive drinker, so be sure to have a few bottles on hand. With a dish like tikka masala chicken enchiladas, what’s not to love?
10. 2007 St. Urbans-Hof Ockfener Bockstein Spatlese (MSRP: $23) Here’s one for the sweet teeth out ther3this is a maple-tinged, brown sugar-heavy wine. Very rich and sweet, could pass for a dessert wine. Try this with a honey-cumin crème brulee or a selection of harder cheeses and bread.
If you enjoyed this and would like to find out more about German Riesling and other quirky wines, visit Jess's wine critiquing and education site, Nobly Rotten. For snarky food writing, check out her other site, Foodette Reviews, for recipes, reviews, and more!
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