The temperature has been below freezing in Pittsburgh for several weeks, but I've got Riesling on the brain. And since it's getting up to a near-tropical 60 degrees today before winter's chill once again envelops us this weekend, I figured I'd take advantage of that window to talk a little bit about this grape -- especially if you're not currently sold on it.
My husband's family has a tradition on Christmas Eve where they enjoy Riesling after Midnight Mass, and while shopping for the occasion last month, I couldn't help but think about all the times people had said to me, often in no uncertain terms, that they did not like Riesling. When asked why they had such vehement opposition to it, the response was almost always the same:
"It's too sweet."
Look, I've been there, too. Like these misguided-but-well-intentioned souls, I once shared that monochromatic vision of the Riesling grape, which is quite unfortunate. Sure, there is plenty of off-dry or sweet Riesling out there -- a lot of which is delicious! -- but there's more to the story, my friends. Although Riesling's basically synonymous with Germany (perhaps the Finger Lakes in New York, too, if you're in Pittsburgh), I'm going to venture farther afield this time around. Instead, I'd like to turn your attention to what I'll call the Double-As: Austria and Australia. Other grapes tend to dominate our perceptions of these two wine-producing countries, but both are churning out dry, racy, and exciting Rieslings that are worth checking out. (Note: if you aren't yet ready to leave the German nest, look for bottles with "trocken" on them, which signifies it's done in a dry style.)
Germany's neighbor is doing some pretty amazing things with Riesling. It's fair to say that many wine lovers probably think of Grüner veltliner when it comes to Austrian white wines, but I'm of the opinion that the country does Riesling right. Both Riesling and Grüner tend to be grown in the same regions, namely Wachau, Kremstal, and Kamptal, and here are a few that I think deserve some love:
Domäne Wachau Achleiten Smaragd Riesling 2015: Okay, so that's already a mouthful to say, but this is one truly delicious wine. The color is a bright yellow-green and the nose gives you aromas of apricots, white peaches, and a definite citrus note. You'll find all those things on the palate complemented by super-charged acidity that will make your mouth water and come back for more. There's also a pleasant minerality with this wine, too. Expect to drop $35-40 for one of these bad boys.
Weingut Weszeli Loiserberg Kamptal Riesling 2014: This past summer, I stayed at a hotel in Lower Manhattan with an amazing roof deck -- perfect for happy hour on a hot, sunny day. When I told my friends I was going to pour them Riesling, I saw their noses shrivel and a look of concern come over their faces. Once they took a sip of this, however, their eyes grew wide and chatter of, "Oh, this is a Riesling?" and, "I actually like this," began to grow. This is a great example of why I love Austrian Riesling: crisp, refreshing, bright, and full of peachy deliciousness that won't weigh you down. As an added bonus, it's only around $20/bottle.
Rudi Pichler Federspiel Riesling 2016: Bracing acidity is the hallmark of this wine with notes of limes, crushed rocks, and stone fruit to back it all up. Pair this wine with anything where a squeeze of lemon might brighten things up. Pricing for this wine is likely to be in the $30-35 range depending on where you are.
One of these days Australia's cool-climate grapes will get the love and attention they merit, and I'm glad things are trending a bit in that direction. Australia's Eden and Clare Valleys provide near-perfect conditions for the Riesling grape, and it's remarkable that such high-quality examples are coming from the same general area as the big 'ol Shirazes we all know so well (elevation is an amazing thing, y'all). Much like Austrian Riesling, Australian Rieslings are known for lip-smacking acidity and pure fruit flavors. Here are some goodies to try:
Pewsey Vale Individual Vineyard Selection Eden Valley 2016: This is, in a lot of ways, a pretty much textbook Australian Riesling. The nose and palate give you tart apples, limes, lemons, and a tiny bit of that trademark petrol funk that's Riesling's calling card. You'll only be out around $15-18 for a bottle, so this would be a great first look at what Australian Riesling can do.
Knappstein Hand Picked Riesling (Clare Valley) 2015: Lemon and lime notes are complemented here by a floral aroma (think white flowers) and, once again, bangin' acidity to wash it all down. Bargain juice at around $15/bottle.
Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2016: Alright, this one's going to set you back around $45, but it's worth a little splurge if that's normally above your limit. It's got all of that bright citrus you'd expect, but there's also something underneath after a little time in the glass -- a vaguely anise-y note that gives this wine additional complexity. The singing acidity in this wine also means you can pop this into your cellar for a few years and revisit it down the road. Which, of course, I'd highly recommend if you can manage that degree of restraint.
So, my friends, reconsider Riesling. Perhaps you've been burned in the past by sugary nonsense out of a blue bottle, but if you revisit this versatile varietal with one of the above wines in hand, you could be singing a very different tune once your glass is empty.
Have other dry Rieslings changed your mind? Let us know below!