Riesling nerds tend to sigh when you mention Willi Schaefer; the tiny production, the beautiful flavors, the few bottles they've sequestered away in long-term storage. There's an elegance and polish to this wine that you don't see at lower price levels, but the excitement is still there. A fennel and elderflower note reminded us a bit of pastis, with blue-green, mentholated eucalyptus-like flavor as it opens up.
Summer of Riesling
It's as luscious as a dripping ripe peach, but as tart as one, too. It's a smooth, golden wine that's not cloying, with a delicate minerality that's woven through every sip, soft hints of slate and peach skin. If you're going upscale, serve with lobster ravioli in a light cream sauce. But the perfect pairing might be fried chicken and buttery biscuits.
These mineral-rich, low-alcohol wines are some of the most delicious whites we've ever tasted, especially in the $15 to $25 range. We tried about 45 bottles over the course of the past two months, paying attention to each wine and how it evolved in the glass. Want a cheat sheet? Here are a few of the highlights of our summer of riesling.
If you see it, buy it. The name of the winemaker is written quite small on this bottle (perhaps he's humble) but you can't miss the vineyard—Ürziger Würtzgarten, the 'spice garden' of the Mosel, known for its old vines on steep hills of slate and bright red sandstone. Wines from this vineyard tend to be spicy, and this one really captures that; it's roiling with flavor.
Have you ever tried wine from Michigan? This was my first, from Black Star Farms in Sutton Bay. (We've covered their cider before.) It's a fruit-driven riesling, with slightly perfumey flower-pollen notes and some nice slate on the finish.
This is such a pretty, glimmery wine. The flavor reminded us of baked apples stuffed with golden raisins and cinnamon sticks, balanced with a lemony tartness, a hint of Thai basil and juniper, and a very fine, silvery minerality. Young winemaker Matthias Meierer (son of Klaus Meierer) is a rising star of the Mosel. He's fresh out of school (he graduated from Geisenheim Viticulture and Enology University in 2005) and works a few days a week at Fritz Haag in addition to the time he spends at his family's 12.5 acre estate.
This Finger Lakes riesling may smell like a fragrant peach tart, but it tastes tart, with bright white grapefruit-like acidity that lingers. This is a crisp wine for a sunny day out on the water—the minerality reads as slightly salty, making this perfect for drinking with seafood salads or grilled calamari.
I'm not one to go for cute labels, but if you are, you may want to collect all three of these kitties (more images will be added each year.) The wine's the same in each bottle, though, and it's a solid QbA offering from the Middle Mosel in Germany, a slightly creamy, delicately mineral wine with a sweet-sour candy tang (like Runts or Sour Nerds.)
Sometimes a wine has a little peppery alcohol heat, or a hint of the slightly floral note of white pepper, but I have never tasted a wine with such a vivid freshly-cracked black pepper flavor as this. This wine is almost plush compared to the other Austrian rieslings we've tried lately, tart and slim but rounded with floral and vegetable flavors.
Dry (really dry) and front-loaded with powdery lemony notes and hints of bay leaf, jasmine, and tarragon that vanish in your mouth as you swallow. This is a compact wine, with minerality laced into an intensely tart acidity. The wine has enough body to support its taut, focused flavors; the question is, can your food handle it?
It takes awhile for the minerality and spearminty, resiny-pine notes to come out in this gently sweet wine; it's a bit less effusive and dynamic than yesterday's spätlese. Which isn't to say it's not pretty; this elegant wine has luscious Golden Delicious apple flavors and a mellow, honeyed core. Serve this wine with any creamy seafood preparation (try scallops with a saffron-infused sauce, or delicate lobster ravioli.)
This is wonderful wine. It's light and lithe for a Spätlese, with a creamy minerality. Sweet pear and applesauce notes (with flecks of vanilla bean) are balanced with tart, prickly acidity and hints of spearmint. If you're leery of sweet wines, this Mosel riesling may convince you that you've been missing out—it's deep in flavor but not overrich, detailed and complex and most importantly, balanced.
I was in my neighborhood wine shop yesterday, calculating how many bottles I could possibly shove in my too-packed fridge, when this wine caught my eye. I couldn't avoid it, really; there were stacks of Züm everywhere I turned. Was it a tremendously good deal (on sale for under $10) or did they just buy too much? My verdict: this Mosel riesling is a solid budget pick.
Wow—this one is a steal. This Urzig, Germany estate has winemaking history going way, way back; their entry-level qualitätswein is a seriously good value for around $14 (and sometimes less.) Bright fruit bursts forward in the first sip: ripe apricots and juicy tangerines. Mouthwatering tartness balances the fruity sweetness; it tastes a bit like a mouthful of orange and strawberry Starburst candies. This wine has none of the reserved, austere qualities of the drier budget rieslings; it's as gulpable as freshly squeezed orange juice, and at 8% ABV, it goes down easy.
A needles-and-pins sort of wine, full of buzzy acidity and lots of spicy ginger-chew-candy flavor. This vibrant Mosel wine is intensely fruity and concentrated, like apples two ways (the first tart bite of a Granny Smith, and the clove-and-cinnamon spiked applesauce you eat with pork chops.) It's tasty stuff, packed full of personality. Veins of minerality rise through each glass, and at the finish you're left with wet stones dissolving slowly in your mouth.
This off-dry wine from the Saar region in Germany is densely packed, like crab-apple concentrate (including the tannic skins.) The tanginess zings on the finish, though up front you mostly taste apricot jam and flinty minerals, with a balsam-sage note that might please fans of juniper-forward gins. The combination of acidity and minerality can read as almost bitter here; this is an angular wine, not a light, graceful, gauzy one.
At around $15 for the liter, this dry riesling isn't going to blow you away with complexity, but it's tart and refreshing, with a bright lime and green apple tang. It's made with hand-picked grapes from steep-slope Mosel vineyards. If you taste closely, there's a core of sweet-tart peach ring candy and a hint of minerality, but this is a guzzler, not a sipper.
This muscular dry Austrian riesling has an intense, tangy acidity: almost-aggressive lime and puckeringly tart plum flavors ride on the sweeping alcohol. But what's noteworthy is a charming floral quality; the perfumey chamomile notes in the core of this wine keep it from austerity.
A dry Austrian sparkler made from riesling, precise and stony. We tasted gravel and grapefruit pith—it's tangy but also a little bit bitter (some tasters were reminded of the peppery bite of arugula or endive.)
I think what many people don't realize about sweet wines is how bright and vibrant they can be—even refreshing. This isn't viscous tropical-fruit nectar, it's wine at once crisp and gently sweet. This Rheingau Spatlese smells a bit like fresh gingerbread, almost peppery. The fruit is pure and luminous: skin-on pears, yellow cherries, baby clementine segments, and a nice balancing green-apple tartness.
I wish I could say this riesling kicked ass (since that's what they're going for with the name) but for me it was so-so. There's a splash of tangy lemon-lime flavor and hint of nectarine, plus a little fizz on the tongue and a tart green apple bite.
There's a density to this wine, like a handful of spicy ginger chew candy with a spiky acidity tucked in, and loads of melted-pear flavor. It has the crispness of sparkling cider, and hints of cinnamon. Fruit and salt are in the forefront; this doesn't just remind you of salinity—it actually tastes salty. Think red Anjou pears wrapped in prosciutto.
This approachable Mosel wine goes for about $15, which isn't a bad deal. It works just fine with weeknight sushi or Thai food, adding a nice zip of lemon-rind acidity and a hint of classic flinty minerality.
I may not be man enough for this wine—this German riesling is for acid-lovers only. It's concentrated and tart enough to get your teeth tingling—think the sourest Granny Smith you've ever had, melted down.
Make some butternut squash-filled ravioli, drizzle them with brown butter and a grating of fresh nutmeg, and serve this wine alongside. You can thank me later. This Mosel wine is lush and rich but not at all cloying, balancing notes of crystallized ginger, cinnamon sticks, and cloves with veins of slate, yellow plums, peaches, and powdered sugar. It's kept lively and bright with delicate limelike acids.
This mouthfilling wine from New York's Finger Lakes reminded us of sweet mandarin oranges and creamy peach yogurt—it's super smooth on the palate, almost glycerine. This plump and fruity wine had nice hints of fresh basil, and a delicate pillow of lemon-chiffon acidity, but it could have used a bit more zing and minerality.
This wine is the result of a partnership between Washington's Long Shadow Vintners (founded by Allen Shoup of Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest) and Nahe winemaker Armin Diel. It's one of the nicest Washington State rieslings we've tasted.
This bright, fresh wine has a sweetness that isn't decadent or syrupy, just veils of spun honey layered over veils of minerals and veils of minty herbs. There's a buzzy acidity (we were reminded of Sour Patch Kids) and each sip lays soft petals of lemon-lime on your tongue, then a whirlpool of mineral water swirling over pears and rosemary, apricots and fennel.
I really enjoyed drinking this Rheinhessen wine, and I've seen other vintages go for $15 or even $11—keep an eye out. It's gently off-dry and fragrant, with hints of fennel and cardamom, fruit-and-pastry flavors like an apple turnover that showers you with powdered sugar when you take a bite. It's not the most complicated wine on the block, but it's just so pleasing.
At first sniff, you might think this Alsatian wine was going to be soft and gentle; there are hints of orange blossom and scented candles there. But focused, tart fruit trumpets forward with the first sip—it's a puckering mouthful, and bold if not quite medium-bodied at 12.5% ABV.
This wine is confounding. It begins with tart fruit, spice, and stone: apple peels, apple cider, and a mountain on ground cinnamon rest on a skeleton of minerality. I was reminded of lemons with cloves stuck in the peel, fragrant, spicy, but this lightly sweet, vibrant wine has a lot of savory in it; the baking spices are balanced with something earthy—miso, a bit of sweat, and, as importer Terry Theise notes, a hint of caraway. What is sourdough rye doing in this wine?
We've been exploring the world of riesling this month, and we've tasted some truly delicious, complex wines. Some were hauntingly mineral, and others offered a spark of electric acidity. But as we tasted mostly bottles in the mid-range, pricewise, we were also curious about budget options. Here are two we'd be happy to drink again.
From the Wachau. The scent reminded us of sage and stones, and the wine is full of the flavors of herbs and frilly lettuces, endives tossed in lemon. We tasted matcha and chives, tart green strawberries—this wine has a bite to it. As it opens up in the glass, muddled peaches and lime wedges, a splash of tonic and a mouthful of minerality.
This is such a pretty and refreshing wine, a wine that floats in beautiful balance of juicy fruit and flowers and super-low alcohol—it's just 7.5% ABV, but remarkably flavorful. Serve this wine on a hot day with lobster rolls or, better yet, fried chicken or fried clams.
If you filled a tea bag with apricots and gravel and let it steep, you might end up with this wine, shot through with lime, pear-scented and filled with green herbs, hints of flat leaf parsley and tarragon, tomatillos, fragrant meyer lemon and orange zest, spicy mustard seed, but mostly minerals, layers and layers of mica.
If you're accustomed to light, gauzy rieslings, this Alsatian wine might overwhelm. It's a powerful, supple wine, with some of the creaminess of, say, a Chardonnay, but the tartness of riesling that makes it food-friendly, and a bit of alcoholic heat at 13.5% ABV.
Here's how the story goes: the year was 1775. A messenger was sent to the owner of Schloss Johannisberg (the prince-abbot of Fulda) to get permission to harvest the grapes. The messenger was delayed by several weeks, and by the time he returned, the grapes were affected with noble rot. But the resulting wine was surprisingly delicious, and the winery began to experiment with late harvest dates.
At the recent Theise portfolio tasting, the Nikolaihof wines stopped me in my tracks—not just the riesling, but the Grüner and Gelber Muskateller as well. Sipping these wines, the buzz of the room blurred into the background, and the flavors washed over me: fruit and stones, flowers pressing through slate, herbs releasing their oils. So I've been hoarding this bottle, waiting for a night when I had a good long time to spend with it.
Organic and biodynamic, feral fermentation in very old oak barrels. This Mosel wine is clean as a whistle, with lots of lemon tea and crisp golden apple slices, hints of chive and little white blossoms, but this is not a super-floral wine, more green, with mint and basil flavors and limelike tartness ringing through.
Everything about this wine is delicate: feathery fruit, hints of radishes, apple skins, a delicate spritz of acidity, and as it fades in your mouth, gravel, river rocks, clover. It's not a show-off, not one for those looking for teeth-bleaching acids and wild mouthfuls of slate.
A month (or a summer) of riesling is a beautiful thing—there are wines made from this grape to satisfy almost any craving. But as much as I love the diversity of bottles we've been trying, this Mosel wine is one I could stock up on. This is a wine I could stick with and be truly happy.
For me, this mouthfilling Washington wine is all about finish. As you swallow, tart apples dipped in honey linger and linger, tumbling into mineral water. You can wait for minutes after each sip; sit with the bottle for hours.
Importer Dan Melia showed up at SEHQ with an open bottle of this lovely wine. But this is a bottle that says drink me now even if the cork isn't yet popped. Blauschiefer means blue slate, and this is one of those wines that's equal parts gossamer oyster-shell minerality and zingy tart fruit—it's all about the acidity, but the wine is still somehow soft and calm.
This Finger Lakes Spätlese-style riesling is so lively, so full of tangy, twangy acidity that your tongue curls a bit your your mouth. It's tasty stuff. Up front, this wine tastes like powdered sugar sprinkled on top of lemon bars, but it has a bright splash of acidity that draws you through each sip.
We've tasted Austrian wines that were cool as mountain pools—sleek and precise, sometimes sparse. This isn't one of those. It's elegant but welcoming, calling you quite literally to table. This is a wine for a roast chicken dinner, everyone gathered together—it's worthy of careful attention, but you might find yourself slurping it up out of sheer deliciousness.
From a cooperative in Northeast Italy, grown on steep limestone slopes. This is a powerful wine—the first sip is like sucking on an icicle. It's lean and chiseled, with a barbed acidity. A bit of a shock to the palate, with a core of gravel. Austere, citric, less tangy than dry, like freeze-dried limes and grapefruits. A tiny touch more sweetness might bring out the fruit more—this wine is dry as a desert bone.
This is where it gets decadent. You know you're in for it with the scent: musty honey, sunbaked apricots. If you must, serve with roasted parsnips and chicken, but you might wish you'd skipped dinner when the cheese comes out.
The word Smaragd means emerald—the category is named for lizards sunning themselves where grapes get ripe and flavorful. These ageworthy wines are required to be at least 12.5% alcohol—big, that is, for Austria. At best, these rieslings are focused and tart and deeply mineral—the vines have fought their way through primary rock and drunk up what's buried there.
From the steep slopes of the Mosel. At first sip, this wine smacks you on the lips a bit: "Do you like acid? Then I'll give you acid..." It's a frenetic wine, with an electric buzz of lime, fresh hot ginger, zingy like a super-tart margarita (or a 9-volt battery.)
It's July, and there's no time better than now to declare it Riesling Month at Serious Eats. Our bottles are gathered. Our fridges are stocked. We're gonna drink riesling all month long, and check back here every weekday to tell you about our adventures. But why riesling?