The recent dustup over Germany's Volkswagen-Audi playing free and loose with auto emissions happened to coincide with my re-acquaintance of a different feat of German engineering: Riesling. Nobody does it better, and Riesling doesn't foul the air we breathe.
In the autumn, when we're beginning to feel a slight chill in the air, that's when I return to Riesling. Not that it doesn't serve as a perfectly good spring and summer wine—or, all-year-round wine, for that matter. It's just that Riesling seems to work so well with fall flavors and dishes like grilled brats, choucroute garni, schnitzel, spaetzle and the like. Indeed, Riesling is so versatile and food-friendly that, when I once asked the French sommelier at the renowned 3-star Michelin Paris restaurant Taillevent what his favorite everyday wine was, he said "Riesling from Germany." Sacré bleu!
Last week, I wrote about the wonderful wines of Alsace, France, so this week I thought I'd cross the border into Germany and give its Riesling a little love. And there's a lot to love about German Riesling. For starters, the price: Whereas a high-quality French white Burgundy can set you back a car payment, German Riesling—even very good ones—can be had for $25 or less.
Let's dispense with the biggest Riesling myth: that they are sweet wines. Wines made from the Riesling grape can be sweet, but most aren't. Many are bone-dry (trocken) or "half-dry" (halbtrocken); when you see either of those words on a German Riesling label, you know you're in dry white wine territory. At the other end of the spectrum are indeed sweeter renditions of Riesling like eiswein and trockenbeerenauslese, but these are in the minority in terms of overall production of Riesling in Germany.
Twenty-two percent of Germany's vineyards are planted with Riesling. In the Rheingau, however, where you'll find some of the world's best Rieslings, that varietal makes up 80 percent of the region's vineyards. Sadly, the UDABC wine buyers here have, for whatever reason, deemed it unnecessary to carry a respectable inventory of Rheingau wines, favoring Blue Nun over world-class producers like Weingut, Franz Künstler, Leitz, Schloss Johannishof and the like.
Other Riesling-heavy regions include the Mosel, Rheinhessen, Baden, Pfalz, Württemberg and the Nahe. Look for Riesling wines from those winemaking regions and you can't really go wrong. If you'd like to get to know Riesling a bit better, here are a few good ones to try:
Selling at a mere $9.99, St. Urbans-Hof Nik Weis Selection Urban Riesling from the Mosel is a good place to start. It's rich and concentrated, with pretty peach flavors and racy, citrusy acidity. A third generation German winemaker, Nik Weis produces economical Rieslings that are some of the best bargains around. I really like this one when I'm enjoying rahm schnitzel.
For a couple dollars more, try Loosen Bros. "Dr. L." Riesling ($12.65). This German Riesling was honored as one of Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines in 2012 and 2008 and named "Best Value" and "Best Buy" by Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. But don't take their word for it. Uncork a bottle for yourself to discover the elegant style of a Loosen Bros. Riesling. It's a fruity wine, with an appealing minerality that I find makes it a good partner for fresh-shucked oysters.
Situated in the Assmannshausen, in the Rheingau region of Germany, the wine estate of August Kesseler produces high-quality, affordable wines like the luscious August Kesseler "R" Riesling Kabinett ($13.99). It's an everyday sipping wine at an everyday price, with the marked minerality common in Rheingau wines, balanced by apple and peach fruitiness.
Now's a good time to revel in Riesling. CW