When people ask me about why riesling seems so trendy right now, my first answer is that it's delicious, and my second answer is that it's delicious with food. There isn't heavy oak or heavy alcohol to stand in the way of a happy match, and these wines tend to have a delicious herbal and mineral side that makes them a particularly fantastic partner for seafood, and lots of other dishes.
Want to try for yourself? We recently tasted through a few cases of riesling samples to select some favorites to recommend to you, along with suggestions for which foods they'll taste best with. So, what's for dinner tonight? And are you inviting us over?
Whet Your Appetite
The weather's lovely and you want to serve appetizers outside, maybe nutty aged cheeses, a light crab salad, loaves of bread dunked in grassy olive oil. The ideal accompaniment: Künstler Dry Riesling 2011 from the Rheingau. It's super-dry, clear and crisp, with a little fresh apple up front and a tart finish. It has a hint of herbal character that means it can carry through to the main course, too: whole grilled fish stuffed with herbs, or chicken roasted with lemons. It sells for $20 or less.
Another I love for under $20? Kerpen 2011 Riesling QbA, a mouthfilling wine with precise acidity and a long lingering finish. The wine's both leesy and slatey, with focused yellow fruit. Serve it with a platter of prosciutto, fresh basil, and curls of parmesan, or try little cherry tomatoes on goat cheese-smeared toasts.
The honey-scented Kruger-Rumpf 2010 Riesling Kabinett, Münsterer Rheinberg is a bit more weighty, with a tangy apricot nectar character, but opens up full of herb flavors: Thai basil first and foremost, and a little lavender. Serve with fried chicken, or a roast chicken rubbed with Herbes de Provence. It sells around $19.
Pair it with Pork
If the scent of a glass of riesling is going to seduce you, it's Gunderloch 2010 Estate Riesling Spatlese that'll do it. It's floral and gingery, with hints of apples and a waterfall of minerals. The wine comes together gorgeously, with ginger flavors cutting through the fruit, tangy skin-on green apple, lime leaf, and a prickle on the tongue. Pair it with pork belly, or sausages spiked with fennel.
Feeling Fishy? (Or Shellfishy?)
I'm a fan of the entry level Donnhoff estate wine, but Donnhoff Tonschiefer Riesling Dry Slate 2010 bumps it up several notches for about $25. If you're wondering what the "mineral flavors" wine geeks are always talking about taste like, drink this. It has a crisp dry snap, and a slight tonic-water-like edge that keeps it super refreshing as the fruit fizzles on your tongue. There's a lot going on here as this wine warms—you get a little barely-ripe pineapple under the mouthwatering tartness, a little yellow apple and fennel. It works deliciously with fresh goat cheese, but try it with linguine and clams, too—those minerals will be right at home.
Fry up those clams (or BYO to your favorite seafood shack) and pair 'em with 2011 Pfeffingen Dry Riesling from the Pfalz, which sells for around $18. It's an easy-drinking limelike spritzer of a wine infused with peach and blossom flavors, and a lovely, refreshing clarity. You'll guzzle it with fried seafood, though it would also be delicious with delicate shrimp har gow.
Von Winning Riesling 2011 from the Pfalz has a tartness that will leave you puckery, like sucking on a lime, but enough body to support it. It smells like a pitcher of limemade sipped on the playground blacktop, with prickly acid that will brighten up a platter of fish tacos. You'll find it for $19 and under.
Marinate a fillet of salmon or arctic char with miso and orange juice (I like this recipe from Bon Appetit.) Then open up a bottle of Hexamer 2011 Schlossbockelheimer In Den Felsen Riesling 'Porphyr', a tangy wine with cutting acidity (for serious, it nearly stings your tongue) but enough guts to support it. It has vivid apricot and tangerine flavors that are showstopping with your fish dinner.
Try These With Thai
Just a touch of sweetness (about 11 grams of residual sugar per liter, which would still count as Brut in Champagne) balances the Geil Riesling Bechtheimer 2011 Feinherb from the Rheinhessen. There's a rich, relaxed flavor at the core: cooked slices of tart plum and fennel spiced up with a buzz of acidity, cracked cloves, and star anise. There's a green character to this wine as well: if a mojito were made with tarragon instead of mint, it would taste like this. A safe bet would be serving it with sushi, but it would rock with Thai green curries as well.
Want to try entry-level riesling without shelling out the big bucks? You're likely to get a simpler wine, sourced from a variety of vineyards instead of offering focused flavors from one small hillside. But it can still be tasty! I've mentioned Selbach Riesling Incline and Dr. L Riesling from Loosen Bros before in my Budget Wine Wine Hall of Fame, both are great deals. Another option clocking in around 8 bucks: Clean Slate 2011 Riesling, a fruity, easy-drinking wine with a light peachy ripeness that's sourced from a number of vineyards throughout the Mosel. Try it with sweet-salty pad thai.
Thanksgiving in August
We're also fans of the budget bottle from St. Urbans-Hof, and again, the pricier option was a delicious upgrade. St Urbans-Hof 2011 Riesling Kabinett, Ockfener Bockstein sells for around $22, and clocks in at 9.5% ABV. It's a wine that kept us exclaiming yum! and balanced fresh-baked apple pie sweetness (with nutmeg and clove-like spice) with real freshness and bright acidity. I want to eat cider doughnuts with this riesling, but I'd also serve it up with an early Thanksgiving dinner—turkey, stuffing, cranberries and all—it could cope with all of that meal's many flavors.
All wines were received as samples for review consideration, only top wines after tasting were featured here.