I know that many of you will be absolutely enraged by the various omissions and I’m looking forward to hearing from you with your lists and reasons why mine is just not acceptable. Please, bring it on! This list is not an end point but rather a starting point. Having a discussion about what criteria should be used for a list of this sort can only help us all build better lists.
My criteria are fairly simple. The wines have to be delicious and affordable! Yes, some of these wines touch $100 a bottle, but for the best example of any particular genre or style of wine, I think that is generally affordable. Look at it this way, you can get eight decent sized pours from a bottle. That means that a $100 bottle can be sampled with seven friends for about $15 a pour. To me, that remains affordable.
Enough about criteria, let’s check out the producers!
Photo courtesy of aivo2010 via Flickr/cc
I had to begin this list with German Rieslings, undoubtedly the greatest concentration of stunning Rieslings produced anywhere on earth. In order to maintain some intellectual honesty, I had to go with Helmut Donnhoff as my first producer since his wines are the most common Rieslings in my cellar.
It’s tough to describe the styles of many of these producers since they produce a broad spectrum of wines from fiercely bone dry to incredibly and opulently sweet. Donnhoff’s wines tend to be in a richer style, epitomizing the peachy fruitiness of wines from the Nahe. This is a warmer region for Riesling, so that richness of fruit may come at the expense of ageability. These should be considered mid-term agers.
Three wines that I tend to buy with some regularity:
Weingut Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett Nahe Germany $30
Weingut Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese $60
Weingut Donnhoff Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Spatlese $50
Joh. Jos. Christoffel
Continuing down the list of wine I have in my own cellar brings us to JJ Christoffel, a producer of wines that are relative values and show an approachable laciness that characterizes the best of the Mosel. Christoffel’s wines tend to be lovely on release and drink well for a decade, if not more.
There are two vineyards that make up Christoffel’s production: the spicier Urziger Wurzgarten and the earthier, more mineral Erdener Treppchen.
Two wines I enjoy:
Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Spatlese $30
Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Erdener Treppchen Riesling Auslese Mosel Germany $55
Joh. Jos. Prum
Of all the producers in my cellar, I wish I had more of the often impenetrable but ultimately profound wines of J.J. Prum. Prum uses plenty of sulfur to ensure the longevity of his wines, so in their youth they can stink a bit. Given time, like 10 or 20 years time, and they turn into absolutely magical bottles of wine.
Two wines I enjoy:
Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese $45
Joh. Jos. Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese $45
With Robert Weil we move into what might be a different house style, one that focuses on dry wines as well as the sweeter and even sweetest styles of Riesling. Wilhelm Weil is well known for his fastidious attention to detail. His wines exhibit that detail with a purity of style.
Three wines I enjoy:
Robert Weil Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken $35
Robert Weil Kiedricher Grafenberg Riesling Spatlese $55
Robert Weil Kiedricher Grafenberg Riesling Erstes Gewachs $60
I have to admit that I am a sucker for dry Rieslings. It’s something that is often hard to wrap one’s head around. One of my epiphanies with dry Riesling happened with, of all things, Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling. Before you faint and loose interest here, yes, this is Australian Riesling, but it can be phenomenal and embodies all that is great with Australian Riesling.
At their best, Australia’s Rieslings are wonderfully dry, complex and fruity yet soil-driven wines with the ability to age well for a pair of decades. They are also cheap, which makes socking away a mixed case every year or so a pleasure to do!
Grosset produces two distinct Rieslings, the better known Polish Hill ($48), which is all mineral and lemon zest, and the rarely seen Springvale Watervale, which shows more floral perfumes. There are also off dry and dessert style Rieslings, but I can’t recall ever trying them.