Riesling is regal. For me there is no doubt it is the greatest white variety. You can debate the reds, pinot or cabernet, but when it comes to great white wine only riesling is king. Yet in a bizarre twist of fate, the greatest white variety is not the most expensive. Vapid pretenders like chardonnay, viognier and sauvignon blanc routinely sell at higher prices. While there are wonderful rieslings coming from Austria, Alsace, Oregon, New York and Washington, the wines of Germany still dominate the category and they are staggering values. Easily the best wine values from any region or variety, German rieslings offer great wines at moderate prices, which is a rarity these days. The only thing holding riesling back is the bizarre resistance of Americans to wines with any sweetness. It's hard to think of a stranger problem in the land of Coca Cola and sweet chardonnay. On top of that, with alcohol levels topping out at around 12% and often much lower (see below) these are wines that not only taste wonderful at the table, but spare the headache the next day. With its almost perfect balance, if you don't like riesling, I have to think you're really not tasting what you're drinking.
If there's a bottle of riesling in the refrigerator it will always be the bottle I grab. Here are some recent rieslings I have really enjoyed.
Rheingau, Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz Riesling Spätlese, Wiengut Leitz, 2006 (8%) Screwcap finish - A brilliant wine with acidity and sweetness in perfect harmony. Seductive and addictive. Those that out-of-hand reject any sweetness in their wines are totally out of touch with their palates in my opinion. It's all about balance, not statistics. The fruit sweetness in this wine walks a tightrope of acidity. Really gorgeous.
Phalz, Forster Ungeheuer, Riesling Kabinett Trocken (dry), Weingut Lucashof, 2006 (12%) - A laser beam of a wine. Racy, mineral structure with haunting ghosts of ripe peaches. Fresh crab is calling.
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Alte Reben (old vines), Wiengut Albert Gessinger, 2004 (8.5%) - A perfect example of the almost spiritual aspects of fine riesling. High toned, intellectually challenging and touched with a precisely balanced sweetness. Each sip demands another.
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Kabinett, Estate Bottled, S. A. Prüm, 2005 (9.5%) - This wine is easy to find and reasonably priced. Why is anyone drinking low priced California chardonnay, which has about the same level of sweetness, with none of the acidity. Lush and fruity with racy acidity and that petroleum touch of a great riesling.
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Piesporter Gärtchen, Riesling Spätlese Feinherb (off-dry), Weingut Blees Ferber, 2005 (12%) - Feinherb may mean off-dry, but with acidity like this everything is relative. Simultaneously rich and delicate as only dry riesling can be. I kept thinking of fresh rainbow trout with every sip. Note that at 12% alcohol this is considered a full-bodied wine in Germany, but it's a ballerina by American standards. A Truly Fine Wine Selection
Rheingau, Riesling Spätlese Trocken, Weinguth Barth, 2006 (12%) Vino Lok finish - Want to confuse someone who has learned what Spätlese means by reading books? Just give them this wine No sweetness here as the electric acidity races through ripe, stone fruit flavors. How can a wine that smells and tastes so sweet be so dry? A Truly Fine Wine Selection