By Bennett Traub
The Wine Country’s Riesling Sage
We love Riesling here at The Wine Country. If you've been a customer of ours for a while, you already know that. We love Riesling because if offers everything we love about wine in one variety: beauty, balance, complexity, mystery, a sense of place (terroir), and above all, a delicious drinking experience that brings people together.
Yet in commercial terms, Riesling remains the classic "tough sell.” Maybe too many people still remember their first experience with sickly sweet, banal wines like Blue Nun or Black Tower. Or maybe people think that ALL Riesling is sweet and think "I don't like sweet wines".
Whatever the reason, we think the main problem is that people haven't had the chance to really experience Riesling in all its diversity and brilliance. We intend to change all that in 2012. Introducing The Summer of Riesling, an all-out effort to share the beauty and diversity of Riesling with eveyone!
The Summer of Riesling began in 2008 at New York's famous Terroir Wine Bar in the East Village, as a single-minded attempt to get its clients to at least try a glass of Riesling instead of the usual Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, etc., etc. The promotion was a smash hit, so much so that a couple of years later the International Riesling Foundation, a world-wide organization dedicated to spreading the gospel of the beauty of Riesling, joined in and turned what was a New York City-only event into a nationwide celebration of Riesling. Over 500 restaurants, and 100+ wine bars and retailers are participating this year, and as a retailer with one of Southern California's best selections of Rieslings (especially German Rieslings), we're delighted to participate!
So look for a lot of Riesling at The Wine Country this Summer! The month of July is intended to showcase German Riesling, which only seems appropriate as Germany is the grape's birthplace and it's most important wine.
But great Riesling can be made in many countries and regions: Alsace, Austria, Australia, and of course the United States (and not just California, but Oregon, Washington, and New York, too) are major sources of Riesling in many different styles. And the diversity of styles is what we want to emphasize. Not all Riesling is sweet.
Let me repeat that: NOT ALL RIESLING IS SWEET!!
In fact, even in Germany, most Riesling sold is dry as can be! Riesling offers more diversity of style than just about any grape variety, white or red.
We want to spread the word, and encourage our customers to give these wines a try. So all Summer long, we'll have at least 3 Rieslings open in our wine bar refrigerator, available for complimentary sampling at your convenience. We'll make sure the samples represent a range of styles, from bone dry to just barely sweet or off-dry, to sweet wines that will knock your socks off. And look for tastings and events featuring Riesling as well. We might even sneak a an occasional Riesling or two into tastings of other wines, just to shake things up a bit.
To start, check out the diverse selection below, highlighting just a few of our selections across the broad range of Riesling styles, from bracing bone-dry versions, to medium sweet-yet-crisp classics, to unctuous dessert wines. And check into the store frequently, because many of these wines, and more, will be available for you to try in our Wine Bar all summer long.
Bone-Dry, Crisp & Savory
2011 Pfeffingen Dry Riesling
Dry Riesling is all the rage in Germany now, as wine-lovers there discover just how terrific the dry style works with modern food, and as an aperitif. Pfeffingen makes one of the best-valued dry Rieslings anywhere, and their 2011 takes it to another level. The wine is crisp, fresh, and aromatic, the perfect German dry Riesling, with hints of white peach and red delicious apple and a zippy backbone of acidity. This is a quintessential dry Riesling and would pair great with summer dishes. And the price is fantastic too.
$16.99 per bottle
2010 Trefethen Dry Riesling
Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley
The venerable Trefethen Winery in the heart of the Napa Valley has always made one of the best dry Rieslings in California, and the 2010 version is one of the best in years. From a cool vintage that was ideal for Riesling, the wine is perfectly balanced and dry but full of crisp apple-like fruit; the classic flavors of Riesling are fully developed and framed by a structure of perfect balance and surprising length. A very versatile and delicious white, perfect for seafood or casual afternoon sipping.
$19.99 per bottle
2010 Ravines Dry Riesling
Finger Lakes, New York State
Not all Riesling is sweet, and this brilliant wine from upstate New York demonstrates just how beautiful Riesling can be when vinified dry. This is pure Riesling, reflecting the stony minerality and crisp apple-and-lime fresh fruit character that just can't be found in any other varietal. There's none of the "petrol" notes sometimes found in dry Riesling, just pure Riesling character and great length. By way of comparison, this tastes more like a dry German Riesling than an Alsatian or Austrian version, but with its own unique character reflecting it's Finger Lakes terroir. This is the kind of wine New York State does exceedingly well--try it and see for yourself!
$18.99 per bottle
Off -Dry, Shimmering Fruit and Extraordinary Drinkability
2009 "Lenz" Riesling, Emrich-Schönleber, Nahe
The name “Lenz” comes from an old German word for springtime, which seems perfectly used for this delightful, refreshing wine. From one of the top three estates in Germany’s Nahe region, this fantastic wine is nearly dry in taste but is legally considered a halbtrocken (“half-dry”). Full of energy and zesty fruit that’s full of citrus, tangerine, green apple and white peach notes, with an almost saline crispness and a wet stone minerality that’s mouthwatering and utterly delicious! With only 11.5% alcohol, this is a compulsively drinkable wine that you won’t be able to put down until the bottle’s drained—really! It’s that good. Simply irresistible.
$23.99 per bottle
2010 Chateau Montelena Riesling
Potter Valley, Mendocino
Chateau Montelena is one of the most esteemed wineries in California, mainly on the basis of their outstanding Cabernets and Chardonnay. But quietly and consistently, they have made one of California's classiest Rieslings for many years now, and we think it's time people discovered this terrific wine. Very pure, crisp and fragrant, the flavors offer a kaleidescope of stone fruits, citrus, and spice. The winery's description notes "orange blossom and honeysuckle, along with ripe orange, lime, apricot, and white melon fruits, all accented with sweet clove and nutmeg spice tones", and we think that's pretty much spot-on. There's the faintest hint of sweetness which mainly serves to add richness and roundness to the bright crispness that defines this delicious wine. A great afternoon sippers, or a perfect match with fish or any kind of Asian cuisine. If you think Chateau Montelena just means cabs and chards, think again!
$23.99 per bottle
2009 Schäfer-Fröhlich Riesling Medium Dry
In a few short years young Tim Schafer has vaulted over much more established vintners to become one of the brightest talents in all of Germany. He uses natural yeasts and his non-interventionist, natural winemaking style has made him the darling of wine critics and collectors alike. I recently had the opportunity to sample his current off-dry release and found it wonderfully fresh and pure. With great Riesling flavors and expertly balanced acidity, the fruit is firm and the journey from fruity to dry in the mouth is seamless.
$26.99 per bottle
Fruity, Lightly-Sweet, and Delicious
2010 "Dr. L" Estate Riesling Dr. Loosen, Mosel
When you're hot and thirsty and in need of some much needed refreshment, a cool glass of soft, fruity, slightly sweet German Riesling is just the right drink at the right moment. Ernie Loosen, German wine’s greatest promoter, seems to be everywhere, forming a joint venture with Washington’s Chateau Ste Michelle, tending his own winemaking empire in the middle Mosel and speaking all over the world promoting the virtues of Riesling. Ernie’s basic Riesling is called Dr. L and it accomplishes just what it sets out to do. It is an enjoyable, fruit-filled, semi-sweet Riesling filled with scents and flavors of lime and other citrus fruits. It is not a wine for ageing; it is a wine to drink now. What it accomplishes so well is providing us with a quaffable, low-alcohol, fruity wine that is just perfect as an all-purpose Riesling. Let’s make some enormous salads! Let’s bring home some sushi! Barbecue some chicken! And pour me another glass. This entry-level Loosen Riesling made from non-estate fruit, but nonetheless from top Mosel vineyard sites, embodies all of the elegant and racy characteristics of the steep, slate-soil Mosel vineyards. The wine is incredibly weighty and delicious, and the price makes it one of the world's greatest wine bargains. Simply irresistible!
$11.99 per bottle
2009 Riesling Kabinett, Schloss Lieser. Mosel
Schloss Lieser is one of the rising stars of the Mosel. This is a textbook example of a German Kabinett, the lightly sweet and refreshing style of Riesling that only Germany can manage. 2009 was an excellent vintage in Germany, and the wines have a gentle and perfectly balanced nature that is a joy to drink. This Kabinett is a bit sweeter than “off-dry”, yet it’s full of crisp acidity and bright fruit flavors that work beautifully with food, and also tastes great as a late-afternoon quaffer. The low alcohol is a bonus, making it possible to enjoy this wine as an aperitif or with a light first course salad, and still have room for a nice red with the main course. Very versatile, and very, very delicious!
$17.99 per bottle
2010 Brooks "Sweet P" Riesling
Eola-Amity Hills (Oregon)
We've been carrying the excellent dry Riesling from Brooks for some time now, but I flipped when I tasted this fruity, "Spätlese-style" version. As the name suggests, there's some sweetness here, but also excellent acidity that gives the wine outstanding balance and real verve on the palate. Very German/Mosel in style, but with a unique and delicious character of its own, it's rare to find any domestic Riesling with this kind of freshness, purity, grace, and brilliance. Oregon certainly doesn't look like the Rhine, but this wine will take you there!
$20.99 per bottle
Medium Sweet yet Crisp and Refreshing Wines with Depth
2010 "Mosel Slate" Riesling Spätlese, Mönchhof
Mönchhof is one of the most popular German producers here at The Wine Country, and for good reason. Purity, precision, beautiful consistently outstanding quality, and good value make this our "go to" German estate. Their "Mosel Slate" is one of their best sellers because it's one of the most delicious, drinkable wines you can find. A Spätlese that offers medium sweetness with crisp, electric acidity that balances wine so well it matches perfectly with a wider range of foods that you might expect. Try it with any Asian cuisine, especially Thai or Vietnamese, but don't forget the kinds of foods the Germans eat: veal sausage, smoked fish or pork, cured meats. An incredibly delicious and versatile wine at a price that's way less than its quality!
$22.99 per bottle
2010 Graacher Dombrobst Riesling Spätlese
Dr. F. Weins-Prüm
This beautiful wine won The Wine Country's "Sweet Wine of the Year" honors in 2011, and while not a "dessert" wine, it has enough sweetness to enjoy alone as a delightful conclusion to a great meal. Yet the balancing acidity and refreshing zestiness of the wine would allow it to make a superb pairing with poultry, Asian cuisine, ham, pork, sausages or quiche. It's the finest Dombrobst in memory, with aromas of peaches and apricots, and flavors of ripe nectarines and tangerines. Fresh-tasting acidity rides through thsi wine all the way to the lingering finish. Aside from being a great value, at just 7.5% alcohol this outstanding wine is a remarkable achievement, and a pure pleasure to drink.
$26.99 per bottle
2010 Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese
Fritz Haag, Mosel
Since Oliver Haag has taken the reins from his legendary father Wilhelm, the Haag wines seem to be even finer and more powerful, without losing any of their fineness. This rare 2010 (due to the ultra-low yields this vintage) is from the finest part of the Juffer vineyard (an Erste Lage, or first growth), a steep slope of blue slate that looks down on the Mosel below. The wine exhibits a gentle sweetness, with a beautiful balance of its parts. Incredible.
$39.99 per bottle
Fully Sweet & Luscious—Dessert in a Glass!
2005 August Kesseler Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck Riesling Auslese GK, Rheingau
German Rieslings designated “Auslese” are always rich, sweet wines with great depth, richness, and viscosity. But this one’s really special. This is an Auslese GK, which means “goldkapsel”, after the gold foil around the cork which German producers often use to designate their finest and rarest wines. This wine is actually rich and sweet enough to be a Beerenauslese, but it’s still priced like a regular Auslese, making it an amazing bargain (most Beerenauslese cost well over $100 per bottle!). Incredibly rich, sweet, powerful and decadent, the wine has great intensity and length that seems to go on forever. Ripe peach, apricot, mango, pear, honey and apple pie flavors are very deep and powerful, yet there’s just the right amount of balancing acidity to keep the wine fresh and lively on the palate, never ponderous or heavy. This is a wine that’s so rich that it deserves to be served on its own, where it will be the dessert at your next dinner party that everyone remembers and talks about for a long, long time. Mind-blowing!
$49.99 per bottle
2007 Inniskillin Riesling Ice Wine
Niagara Peninsula, Canada
$69.99 per bottle (375ml)