beyond its German home, this noble grape is winning converts
all over the globe.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Richard
Dean, master sommelier and beverage director at The Mark
on New York’s Upper East Side, is hooked on Riesling.
How hooked? Let’s just say it’s verging on obsession.
For the fourth straight year, his summer wine list features
more than 100 different Rieslings by the bottle, glass or
taste. “Few white wines have such a range of personality,”
says Dean, “so why not put it on display?” Besides,
says Dean (pictured on previous page), “it gives us
a chance to do something different.”
Although much of Dean’s summer Riesling festival focuses
on German renditions of the variety, more than half of the
offerings come from other corners of the globe. A feature
in our February issue focused on Germany’s excellent
2001 Rieslings; now, like Dean, we pay homage to the traditional
European Riesling strongholds of Alsace and Austria, and
to such New World hotbeds as Australia and New Zealand.
And don’t forget the United States, where from coast
to coast you’ll find Rieslings ranging from bone-dry
Riesling likes to grow in tough places. Stand on the banks
of the Danube River as it flows through the gorge known
as the Wachau, and look up on the north bank. Steep cliffs,
almost sheer in places, are terraced out in seemingly inaccessible
rows. They are planted with vines, some Riesling, some Grüner
Of the 3,500 acres of vines in the Wachau, 300 are planted
with Riesling. Categorized into the Wachau’s three
richness levels (Smaragd, Federspiel and Steinfelder, in
descending order of richness), these minute quantities of
wine are the greatest Rieslings in Austria.
Christine Saahs of the Nikolaihof estate in Mautern, at
the eastern end of the Wachau, credits the climate for her
great grapes. “Before our harvest begins at the end
of October, the difference in temperature between day and
night is enormous. It can be over 80 degrees in the day
and down to 40 at night. This allows long ripening, and
gives us great fruit.”
Although there is some Riesling in vineyards around Vienna
and in the northern region of Weinviertel, most of Austria’s
plantings are centered in one surprisingly small area. “There
is a saying that the best Riesling grows between Spitz (at
the western end of the Wachau) and Strass in the Kamptal,”
says Willi Bründlmayer. One of the great names in Austrian
wine, he knows Strass well—it’s close to the
steep Zobinger Heiligenstein vineyard, where he has some
of his oldest vines. “The Riesling loves really poor
soil, almost back to the bedrock, and that’s what
you find here.”
The minerality of Germany and the creaminess of Alsace are
what Austrian Rieslings show best. They are great food Rieslings,
racy and fresh when young, yet full bodied and long lived—a
deeply satisfying combination.
93 Willi Bründlmayer 2001 Lyra Zöbinger Heiligenstein
Riesling (Kamptal); $48. Bründlmayer, one of Austria’s
most famed winemakers, finds that the lyre method of training
the vine gives much more concentration. That’s certainly
true of this rich, intense wine, with its powering acidity
and flavors of almonds, white currants and cranberries.
93 Franz Hirtzberger 2001 Steinterrassen Riesling Federspiel
(Wachau); $24. A beautifully elegant, focused wine,
full of racy, steely fruit, managing to combine fullness
with lightness and an intensely dry aftertaste. Hirtzberger’s
29-acre vineyard is in the western Wachau village of Spitz,
where the Rieslings are aged in large acacia wood barrels.
91 Nickolaihof 2000 Im Weingebirge Riesling Smaragd (Wachau);
$NA. Nickolaihof produces intense, full-flavored Rieslings
that age more quickly than Wachau Rieslings from further
west. This is a silky, creamy wine, full of white fruit
flavors, seared through with crisp acidity, enormously concentrated,
with a bone-dry finish.
89 Mantlerhof 2001 Wieland Riesling (Kremstal); $28.
Josef Mantler’s estate produces Rieslings from some
of the best local vineyards in eastern Kremstal. This is
a rich, soft wine, with exotic flavors of lychees and apricots.
The aftertaste is just off-dry, but still has a good steely
88 Domäne Wachau 2001 Achleiten Riesling Smaragd
(Wachau); $30. This bone-dry, poised wine is finely
structured with floral aromas and flavors. It opens deliciously
in the mouth, long-lasting and rich.
86 Wieninger 2001 Riedencuvée Riesling (Wien);
$NA. In a remote northern suburb of Vienna, Fritz Wieninger
runs his cellar from a house that also doubles as a heurige
(a wine bar that sells young wine). This young, racy Riesling
is crisply steely, light and fresh with a delicious tingle
One of the many curiosities of French wine law is that growing
Riesling is banned more than 40 miles from the German frontier.
The result is that Alsace is the only part of France that
can grow (what is regarded in official eyes) a “foreign”
great news from the growers in Alsace, even though it
is bad news for the rest of France. So long a point
of contention between Germany and France, Alsace is
now allowed to use its German grape varieties but must
treat them in a very French way. While German Rieslings
are light and often sweet, when not sipped with food,
Alsace produces Rieslings that are full-bodied wines,
fermented almost dry and are great with food, especially
Because of the wide range of soil types in Alsace, the styles
of Riesling can vary enormously. Some are warm and approachable,
some taste of apples and have brisk acidity; still others
are steely and elegant. Alsatian winemakers allow nothing
to come between the grapes, the soil and the finished wine.
There’s no wood and no malolactic fermentation when
the wine is being made.
“We are closer to Austria than to Germany,”
says Laurence Faller of Domaine Weinbach. “Our climate
is drier and warmer than Germany, which means we can get
our grapes to ripen easily. We want our Rieslings to be
dry, but with the high potential alcohol in some years,
the fermentation stops, which is why some Alsace Rieslings
are not quite dry.”
And there are some Alsatian Rieslings that are meant to
be sweet, including Vendange Tardive wines, and Sélection
de Grains Nobles, which may be sweeter and will certainly
be drier. They come from superripe and maybe botrytized
grapes, which means that they are similar to German Auslese
or Beerenauslese, although with higher alcohol. There is
nothing equal to the pure aristocratic breeding of one of
these late-harvest wines made from Riesling. But they develop
slowly; no Alsatian Riesling should be opened before three
years of age. Grand crus typically need five years in bottle,
and the late harvest wines need even more time.
Though wine enthusiasts can count on certain grand cru vineyards
in Alsace (such as Schlossberg, Altenberg de Bergheim, Furstentum,
Kirchberg de Ribeauvillé, Rosacker d’Hunawihr
and Schoenenbourg) for the area’s best Rieslings,
they can be expensive and hard to find. Below are some affordable—and
89 Domaine Weinbach 2001 Riesling Réserve Personelle
(Alsace); $18. Even Weinbach’s simplest Rieslings
are full of intense flavors. This wine is floral, with flavors
of white fruits along with a racy, crisp acidity. It is
complex and concentrated, but essentially dry.
88 Domaine Trimbach 2000 Riesling (Alsace); $18.
Two Rieslings produced by Trimbach—Clos Sainte-Hune
and Cuvée Frédéric-Emile—are
among the greatest in Alsace. But this much less expensive,
dry wine has some reflected glory in its pure flavors of
white fruits, mineral and lemon. It will age well over five
years or more.
87 René Muré 2001 Riesling (Alsace); $NA.
This wine comes from the négociant side of the Muré
business, which buys grapes from the hot, sunny slopes above
Rouffach, south of Colmar. The exposure gives this wine
a particular richness for the year, with aromas of citrus
fruits and apples. It is already ready to drink.
86 Kuentz-Bas 2000 Riesling Collection (Alsace); $NA.
This small merchant house is best known for its great Vendanges
Tardives. But at the simpler level, this Riesling Collection
is dry and fresh, with a great floral character, deceptively
light acidity and a subtly spicy aftertaste.
85 Léon Beyer 2001 Riesling (Alsace); $NA. Marc
Beyer has succeeded with a crisp, mineral style of wine
that can marry well with so many fish and seafood dishes.
85 Hugel et Fils 2000 Riesling (Alsace); $17. This
Riesling has refinement, elegance and is ready to drink
now and over the next four or five years. —Roger Voss
If there is one word that best describes the state of California
Riesling it is this: confusion. Why can’t Californians
even agree on what to call the grape? Is it Riesling, White
Riesling or Johannisberg Riesling?
Well, it’s all of the above. Traditionally, Californians
have called their version of Germany’s great white
grape either White Riesling or Johannisberg Riesling. (Grey
Riesling is actually another grape: Trousseau Gris.) The
Johannisberg moniker is a reference to the famous German
wine estate, Schloss Johannisberg, in the Rheingau.
Riesling was brought to California in the 1850s, first by
way of San Jose. In 1861, Napa Valley pioneer vintner George
Belden Crane planted his home region’s first Riesling
grapes in St. Helena, where his efforts were critically
acclaimed. Until Prohibition, the varietal was considered
to be among the top tier of California’s white wines.
After Prohibition, high-end Riesling became a rarity and,
by the 1980s, Chardonnay’s rising popularity led to
Riesling’s demise. The value of the grape plummeted,
and today little remains in the marketplace (as compared
to the amount of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc produced).
Though Riesling is generally better suited to cooler growing
regions, such as coastal areas of Monterey and Mendocino,
Napa Valley still has a champion of the varietal in Smith-Madrone
Vineyards. Located high on Spring Mountain, the winery has
grown Riesling for nearly three decades. Their 2001 Riesling
is the only one rated here at 90 points on the Wine Enthusiast
Unfortunately, most of the wines tasted for this article
were hardly exceptional. Few exhibited the refined, complex
character of the best German Rieslings. Perhaps it’s
not a fair comparison, considering Germany’s long
tradition with the grape and many producers. Riesling is
one arena where the Old World still has a solid upper edge
90 Smith-Madrone 2001 Riesling (Napa Valley); $17.
Crisp and concentrated flavors of apples, lime and minerals
are encased in fine acidity and drink steely and sleek.
The residual sugar is 0.7%, which is off-dry, but the acids
are so good, the wine feels dry in the mouth.
88 Greenwood Ridge 2001 White Riesling (Mendocino Ridge);
$12. Almost fleshy textured, the wine is broad on the
palate yet offers good acidity for balance. Grapefruit,
lemon, melon, pineapple, apple and herb flavors blend nicely
in a fine-tuned, elegant style. Fruit driven, but not overly
87 Handley 2002 Riesling (Mendocino); $12. A totally
refreshing blend of citrus, apple, peach and pear flavors,
all couched in bright textured acidity. The wine makes a
fine apéritif as well as a mealtime beverage. Off
dry, but hardly sweet, it’s crisp and fresh to the
87 Anapamu 2001 Riesling (Monterey County); $16.
Showing moderate body and made in a drier style, the wine
offers a hint of earthiness followed by pretty melon, peach,
herb and citrus flavors. Crisp and clean on the finish,
with a toasty, fruity hint at the end.
87 Maddalena 2002 Riesling (Monterey); $10. Full-bodied
and viscous on the palate, the wine is balanced by bright
acidity that gives it good focus. Peach, grapefruit, apple
and spice notes are followed by a lemony fresh finish. Quite
fruity in style and fairly sweet.
86 J. Lohr 2002 Bay Mist Riesling (Monterey); $8.
Bright, fresh, fruity and light bodied, with pretty peach,
apple and spice flavors that leave a crisp and clean finish.
Fairly sweet, but refreshing.
In the Pacific Northwest, consumers love their Rieslings.
Riesling is so popular up here that it attracts interlopers,
such as Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm, who makes “The
Heart Has Its Riesling” from Washington grapes.
“Riesling’s coming back in favor again,”
says John Bookwalter, whose Yakima Valley winery makes about
2,500 cases annually in a vivid, powerful style. “Five
years ago we could hardly give it away; today I have distributors
looking for more, particularly in the Washington style.”
The “Washington style”—juicy, vibrant,
off-dry and tart with ripe citrus fruits—is perfectly
expressed in the nation’s bestselling varietal Riesling,
Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Johannisberg Riesling. Though
more than 600,000 cases were sold last year, the wine is
still allocated. It seems that Washington simply can’t
grow enough Riesling to meet demand.
Neither can Oregon. “We are hoping for 50,000 cases
from 2003, but truthfully could easily handle upwards of
75,000 cases,” notes Tim Woodhead, marketing director
for Bridgeview Vineyards, the largest Riesling producer
in the state.
In its hard-to-miss blue bottle, Bridgeview’s Blue
Moon Riesling is a proven crowd-pleaser that’s even
edgier than the Washington wines. And it’s not alone
in Oregon; most Willamette Valley wineries make a few thousand
cases of Riesling, and sell every bottle.
The Pacific Northwest is truly Riesling country, from the
most northern Okanagan vineyards (in British Columbia) all
the way south to Bridgeview, which is just across the California
border in the southwest corner of Oregon. Though Washington
alone has more acres of Riesling than California—2,291
acres versus 2,049 acres (as of 2000)—toss in Oregon’s
600-plus acres and the Pacific Northwest grows nearly 50
percent more Riesling than California, even without counting
Idaho and British Columbia. And its popularity continues
to climb, with Riesling the cash-flow wine at tasting rooms
throughout the region.
There are subtle stylistic differences among the region’s
far-flung Rieslings, but they all seem to tie together in
terms of bright fruit, high acids and that touch of sweetness,
whether from actual residual sugar or the intense, ripe
fruitiness of the grapes. Cooler climates, extra hours of
daylight and significant temperature drops overnight help
to create the characteristic fresh, floral aromas, the bright
flavors of citrus and apricot fruit, and plenty of acid
zip through the finish.
89 Chateau Ste. Michelle 2002 Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling
(Columbia Valley); $11. Cold Creek may just be the best
Riesling vineyard in Washington; in this new vintage, fresh
scents of citrus and citrus rind open into melon and tangerine
flavors, set against a bit of lively spritz. The finish
is long and concentrated.
89 J. Bookwalter 2002 Johannisberg Riesling (Columbia
Valley); $8. Vivid, powerful and fragrant with lush,
floral scents. The lip-smacking fruit tastes of ripe orange
and citrus. Though it is made in an off-dry style, it retains
plenty of acid, which slices through the sweetness and makes
it fine for spicy foods.
88 Elk Cove 2001 Riesling (Willamette Valley); $12.
Great fruit is the story here. There are lovely scents of
honeysuckle and spice, and the fruit sets up a creamy, lush,
88 Willamette Valley Vineyards 2001 Riesling (Oregon);
$8. With its 11% alcohol, peachy fruit and finishing
crispness, this is an Oregon Rheingau, fleshy and refreshing.
87 Bridgeview 2002 Blue Moon Riesling (Oregon); $8.
Bridgeview’s trademark wine, in its standout blue
bottle. Quite tart, tangy and lemony, it jams the fruit
and acid together in a luscious, food-friendly style.
87 Covey Run 2002 Late Harvest Riesling (Yakima Valley);
$9. Despite the “late harvest” label, this
wine is not overly sweet. It’s pleasantly juicy, with
clean, ripe flavors of apricot and tangerine.
As the President of the United States might say, “My
fellow Americans, the state of the Riesling is good.”
Partly because of its reputation for withstanding the harsh
climates of Northern Europe, Riesling has been planted across
several northern states, most notably New York and Michigan,
and flourishes across the border in Ontario. Even North
Carolina has gotten aboard the Riesling train.
But just because Riesling is planted doesn’t mean
it is making great wine. New York’s Finger Lakes region,
with its steep hillsides and narrow strips of water, has
often been compared to Germany’s Rhine valley. But
with different soils and weather, and a viticultural tradition
that’s very recent compared to Germany’s, that
comparison is only superficial. Still, it is far and away
the country’s leading Riesling region outside the
West Coast—with one exception, the wines recommended
below all come from upstate New York.
Lakes Rieslings come in three basic flavors: dry, semi-dry
and dessert. Dry versions are often, but not always,
labeled as such, while semi-dry is the most common and
what you can expect in most cases if the label doesn’t
indicate otherwise. Ice wines, like those made by the
region’s northern neighbors in Ontario, are less
uniformly successful, in part because of milder winter
temperatures. Outside New York, Riesling’s performance
is spotty. But give it another four years. By then,
maybe the state of the grape will be “strong.”
90 Silver Thread 2002 Riesling (Finger Lakes); $13.
Although the aromas are sweet, oozing with pear nectar,
stone fruit, dried spices and apple blossoms, this wine
features only 1.5% residual sugar. It’s fairly big
for a Finger Lakes Riesling, with a slightly oily texture,
and comes across as being close to dry thanks to firm acids
on the finish. The only problem with this wine is its limited
availability. Best Buy.
89 Standing Stone 2002 Riesling (Finger Lakes); $12.
Atypically ripe, weighty and intense for a Finger Lakes
wine, with pear and peach notes buttressed by minerally
dry extract. The mouthfeel is thick and viscous and the
alcohol level a relatively high 13.1%, but it finishes long
and elegantly, with tongue-tingling acids. Best Buy.
88 Bedell 2001 Late Harvest Riesling (North Fork of Long
Island); $35/375 ml. It’s picked late, when the
grapes are superripe, then winemaker Kip Bedell puts them
in a freezer prior to crush to further concentrate the resulting
must. The result is a thick, gooey, unctuous dessert wine
with flavors of tangerines and honey.
88 Red Newt Cellars 2002 Riesling (Finger Lakes); $13.
Comes close to a Germanic style, with tight, lean citrusy
aromas and flavors balanced by green apples and pears. It’s
light and refreshing, never heavy or ponderous. Finishes
long and tart, full of fresh limes, with just a pinch of
sugar for balance. Best Buy.
87 Hunt Country 2002 Dry Riesling (Finger Lakes); $10.
This wine starts slowly, but a little bit of air really
loosens it up, yielding aromas of vegetable oil, apples
and spring flowers. In the mouth, it’s light in body
yet crisply flavored, with Granny Smiths dominating. Enough
floral elements persist on the palate to provide moderate
complexity. Best Buy.
87 Logan Ridge 2002 Riesling (Finger Lakes); $9.
On the sweet side, but it’s also crisp, with enough
zesty acidity to provide balance. Floral, appley and refreshingly
light, this is a fine picnic wine. A chalky note gives added
depth to the finish. Best Buy.
— Joe Czerwinski
Until 2000, wines labeled “Riesling” could either
be made from the grape of the same name, or were generic,
blended white wines. And until the Australian Wine and Brandy
Corporation mandated three years ago that 85 percent of
wines labeled “Riesling” had to be, well, Riesling,
the word was not always synonymous with quality.
Buying “real” Australian Riesling today feels
almost foolproof. The wines are typically dry, with white
stone fruit and citrus flavors, and a chalky, minerally
mouthfeel. Most retail in the moderate $10 to $20 price
range, with good quality overall. Of the 25 wines sampled
for this article, none received lower than an 85-point rating.
wines have always been the best reflection of the variety
and the site,” says Jeffrey Grosset, winemaker
and owner of Grosset Wines, whose Polish Hill Riesling
(91 points, $30) was the top Australian Riesling reviewed.
Grosset’s winery is in Clare Valley, a cool-climate
region 70 miles north of Adelaide that is widely regarded
as the epicenter of the country’s best Riesling.
The valley’s long, hot summer days are countered
with chilly nighttime temperatures that, the winemaker
explains, “helps retain the acidity in the fruit.”
Valley may reign as the country’s Riesling capital,
but Eden Valley, a subsection of the Barossa, and Frankland
River, in Western Australia, are also producing quality
bottlings. Yalumba’s Rieslings hail from Eden Valley,
as do Henschke’s 2002 Julius (89 points, $25) and
Penfolds’ 2002 Reserve Bin Riesling (87 points, $19).
Frankland River is home to Alkoomi (2002 Riesling, 88 points,
$17) and Frankland Estate, whose Cooladerra Vineyard Riesling
(89 points, $18) offers clean lime and grass notes.
In 2002, just under 9,800 acres of Riesling were planted
in Australia. In 1980, the figure hovered around 10,300
acres. Compared to Chardonnay, with nearly 54,800 acres
planted last year (and around 1,400 in 1980), Riesling’s
popularity has been sure and steady. But it will always
have a home in Australia.
“Riesling [in Australia] is the Barbie doll,”
says Jane Ferrari, winemaker at Yalumba. “It’s
the toy we’ve always had, and when we tire of the
other toys, we go back to the Barbie.”
91 Grosset 2002 Polish Hill Riesling (Clare Valley);
$30. On the nose, it yields a little sweetness, plus
some grapefruit and passion fruit; after a few minutes in
the glass, the passion fruit aromas are joined by kiwi and
other fresh tropical fruit. It’s a dry Riesling, with
strong lime and fresh herbal flavors, which makes the mineral
foundation seem drier and more racy. Finishes medium-long
with grapefruit and putty flavors. Drink now—2011.
90 Jim Barry 2002 The Lodge Hill Riesling (Clare Valley);
$15. Though it’s crisp and fresh in the mouth,
this wine has some weight to it. Starts off with a burst
of sweet fruit, and a limey, grassy streak carries it through
to the finish. Nose is fruity, with nectarine and mango
highlights. Editors’ Choice.
90 Leasingham 2002 Bin 7 Riesling (Clare Valley); $16.
Lively, with brisk acidity, the Bin 7 has lime, grass and
mineral notes and just enough viscosity to remind you that
it’s Riesling, not Sauvignon Blanc. Finishes long
and fresh, with sour apple flavors. Editors’ Choice.
90 Mitchell 2001 Watervale Riesling (Clare Valley); $19.
This is a lean, fresh Riesling with white stone fruit at
its core. Grass and mineral—even waxy—flavors
freshen up the palate, and floral and saffron notes waft
from the nose. Lemon rind and viscous sour apple flavors
linger on the finish.
90 Wynns 2002 Riesling (Coonawarra); $12. Well balanced
and medium bodied, this isn’t a zesty, acidic Riesling.
Instead, it’s rather feminine, with pretty sunflower,
honey and peach fuzz flavors swathed in chalk. The nose
has nice, waxy yellow melon and citrus notes. Delicate,
easy to find, and a bargain to boot. Best Buy.
89 Pikes 2002 Riesling (Clare Valley); $18. Tastes
and smells fresh and sweet, like freshly mown hay and nectarines.
The overall impression here is one of freshness, really,
from its crisp, summery flavors to its zippy mouthfeel.