Updated: Aug 6
It’s a common misconception that sommeliers, by virtue of tasting hundreds of grape varieties, have a love or appreciation for every grape variety we taste. Actually, many sommeliers who wax rhapsodically about certain varieties might trash other grapes with equal passion. However, there is one grape variety that is revered by virtually every wine professional I’ve known – riesling. In fact, the grape is so universally worshipped that it’s become an industrywide cliché to hear sommeliers recount the story of The Riesling That Changed My Life. I’m not immune to this, as you will see. For years I’ve preached the gospel of riesling to guests, friends, family – just about anyone who will listen to me drone on, but to this day I find it still takes a lot of coercing and evangelizing to open the minds to the glory of this noble, versatile grape variety. “Too sweet!” “Cloying!” “Ick!” are words I often hear and, I confess, these are words that were once uttered by yours truly when I was young(ish) and enologically naive. But I was disabused of this notion when a gentleman and legendary sommelier in Chicago served me a glass of German riesling at a multi-course dinner at his elegant restaurant. At first, I was skeptical, bewildered and a little perturbed. German riesling? Really? But I suppressed unpleasant memories of blue bottles, opened my mind and palate and was plunged into a new wine world that was mineral-laden, refreshingly acidic and surprisingly, delicately sweet. When I think about it now, it was one of the wine experiences that would eventually result in me being wrested away from a budding (foundering) film and television career and into a fascinating 25-year career in wine.
You’re probably wondering: what’s so great about riesling? For me, excellent riesling offers fruit flavors that span the spectrum from pomaceous to peachy to citrusy to tropical; bracing acidity that cleanses the palate and provides a counterpoint to the residual sugar, if there is any; low to moderate amounts of alcohol; and distinctive mineral highlights. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that not all rieslings are sweet. In fact, some of the greatest rieslings in the world are bone dry without a trace of perceptible sugar. It’s this variety of styles, from dry to lusciously sweet, that provides us with a full tool box of wines to pair with just about any dish imaginable.
Try as I might, my enthusiasm and passion for the grape still has not resulted in mass riesling pandemonium down at the local wine shop. But I will continue the fight the good fight.
Try these. You will thank me.
-Nathan K. Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, New York 2017
-J.J. Prüm Riesling Kabinett Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Mosel, Germany 2018 (lightly sweet)
-Prager Riesling Ried Achleiten Smaragd, Wachau, Austria 2017
-Dönnhoff Riesling Spätlese Norheimer Kirschheck, Nahe, Germany 2018 (moderately sweet)
-Domaine Weinbach Riesling Cuvée Théo, Alsace, France 2018 (dry)
-Clonakilla Riesling, Canberra District, Australia 2019 (dry)
* Let us know if you’d like for Vine Society to source any of these wines for you. Info@vinesociety.com