Riesling: Will its time ever come?

GDP shares his 10 top Riesling list


Riesling is always the next big thing, even though it’s been overtaken by a slew of other hip varieties. A few great examples and thoughts on why they suffer.

This week I spent several hours tasting through several dozen bottles of Riesling. Riesling, as we all know, is one of those wines. We love it, we talk about it, sommeliers go gaga over it, and yet the marketplace doesn’t seem to care. Well that’s not really true, they do care about some—those that are cheap and sweet and those that come from hallowed ground, but what does the future hold for all the rest?

I love Riesling, usually in a drier style, so Kabinett-ish suits me just fine, though the dry Rieslings of Australia are my favorite wines from Down Under. Go figure. These wines remain value priced because so few people are buyers, and it’s not really from lack of promotion, though perhaps with the Australians, that may be part of the problem.

In all likelihood, Riesling is the poster child for the identity crisis we claim affects so many grapes. We do it for Syrah, claiming people don’t know what they’re getting in the bottle. It could be black and inky and brisk and savory, but so could Pinot Noir, right? I really don’t think that Syrah is such a fundamentally more difficult wine to understand that Pinot, so why the problems? And in truth, Syrah with all its potential fruity goodness and sweet edge, seems ideally suited to today’s marketplace. Ditto Riesling. I mean this stuff has always been sweet, so it’s not really even a change of style.

Thinking about it a bit more, that sweetness is of course part of the problem—Kabinetts sometimes drinking like Ausleses, rarely drinking like Kabinetts, with halbtrockens and trockens making thing even more difficult to decipher. I get the idea here, but I still don’t buy it. I can understand this accounting for some of the difficulty Riesling faces, but people go through the same issues with dry wines. They like one Pinot, then dislike the next. They work through a learning curve, often sticking to the first few wines they like, ultimately learning from their experiences. I’m still trying to wrap my head around why this is different for Riesling and would love to hear your view on the matter.

I took a look at the wines here on Snooth and drew up a list of the top Rieslings searched for to see what, if anything might be gleaned from that. In order the top 15 were:

Barefoot Cellars
Johann Falkenburg
Schmitt Sohne
Schloss Vollrads
Blue Nun
Black Tower
Washington Hills

As expected, there’s a lot of value priced wine here, along with some top names. But one thing struck me. With maybe one exception, these are all wines that one would characterize as sweet, not super sweet, but noticeably and decidedly sweet. There is no huge difference among the wines on that front. Nothing that should shock a customer’s palate and put them off Riesling for life.

If anything these wines are decidedly similar, and should afford the consumer the same selective opportunities they use to find their favorite Pinots and Chardonnays. So here I am, more confused than ever about the current state of riesling in the marketplace, but not yet complaining about it. I like the wines, and the prices, so trying to make them more popular seems a little counter-intuitive. I never thought my beloved Barolos could win a broad popular audience (talk about a tough wine to warm up to) and we can all see what’s happening there.

I’ll leave you with notes on the Top 10 wines I tasted this week. Curious to hear your opinions on them, if you’ve sold them, and how they’ve sold, as well your view on this whole Riesling conundrum. I’m not sure we can solve it, but I sure would like to understand it better!

GDP's Top 10 Rieslings

Wine glasses image via shutterstock

Top Rieslings

Alexana Riesling Willamette Valley Revana Vineyard (2011)
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Jim Barry the Lodge Hill Dry Riesling (2010)
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Pewsey Vale Dry Riesling Eden Valley (2012)
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Dr. Fischer Riesling Kabinett Ockfener Bockstein (2010)
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Georg Albrecht Schneider Riesling Spätlese Niersteiner Hipping (2011)
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Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Riesling Spätlese Wehlener Sonnenuhr (2010)
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Dr. H Thanisch Bernkasteler Doctor Riesling Kabinett (2010)
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Wittmann Riesling Trocken (2010)
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Nxnw Horse Heaven Hills Riesling Washington (2011)
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Balthasar Ress Riesling Trocken Von Unserm (2010)
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  • Riesling is not a sexy wine, which is why I think it has not gained much market traction. People don't want to show up to a friends house or a fancy dinner with a bottle of Riesling. I am ok with this though, because it keeps the price down. It is one of the easiest varietals to pair with food, which is why sommeliers love it. Like you, I tend to like the dry Rieslings, and I have recently fallen in love with the Trefethen Dry Rielsing. As long as the vineyards keep pushing to make good Riesling it is a win for the educated consumer that knows Riesling is a good varietal.

    Mar 01, 2013 at 5:58 PM

  • Snooth User: Saffredi
    729598 151

    For what it is worth, here are some of my favourite Riesling producers: Van Volxem (Saar, Germany), Dr. Burklin-Wolf (Pfalz, Germany), Hermann Donnhoff (Nahe, Germany), Fritz Haag (Mosel, Germany), Joh. Jos. Prum (Mosel, Germany), Reinhold Haart (Mosel, Germany), Willi Schaefer (Mosel, Germany), Schmitges (Mosel, Germany), Fred Loimer (Kamptal, Austria), Ludwig Hiedler (Kamptal, Austria), Schloss Gobelsburg (Kamptal, Austria), Emmerich Knoll (Wachau, Austria), FX Pichler (Wachau, Austria), Domane Wachau (Wachau, Austria), Prager (Wachau, Austria), Cave Spring (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada), ... Rieslings (and other wines) from these producers are present in my wine cellar. If you are looking for outstanding price value, easy-drinking Rieslings, try those from Schmitges (Mosel) :) From the other producers I mentioned above, I have to admit that I only have their top cuvées.

    Mar 02, 2013 at 8:28 AM

  • Snooth User: redstealth
    804364 15

    I think you can show up with a Riesling such as Eroica. The nice thing is that you can afford mucher higher rated wines with them. Eroica is rated as 93 or higher some years yet only costs $25, but can even be gotten on-line for under $15 on occassion. I saw this on the wine list for some prestigious restaurants here and in Newport for $43 and $59 respectively!

    Mar 04, 2013 at 1:51 PM

  • Do you mean "Selback "Selbach-Oster?

    Mar 06, 2013 at 10:22 AM

  • Snooth User: winedaddy
    1203186 29

    Really like the wines from St. Urbans-Hof{Germany). They even have an entry level Riesling simply called Urban. Its on the Kabinett level so on the drier side. Unfortunately I think people hear the name Riesling and automatically think of it as sweet. And by the way the Urban Riesling sells for around $10. Great value.

    Mar 07, 2013 at 7:42 PM

  • Snooth User: gigim
    919021 6

    I am partial to Darting Reisling Kabinett Durkheimer Hochbenn, Pfalz.
    To me it's just the right amount of dry, with just a hint of sweet. Very versatile and not extreme in price, usually around $18.

    Mar 12, 2013 at 8:04 PM

  • Snooth User: artisanvin
    1257701 19

    Surprised no one has mentioned Austria as a great place to find sold and consistent quality rieslings. Also the Northern Italian region of Alto Adige- WOW! I must admit my bipolar preference in either the European wine regions already mentioned plus least not forget Germany to the far reaching land of Oz with its best Rieslings coming from Claire or Eden Valley.

    Mar 13, 2013 at 9:26 PM

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