Why Riesling is a Zeitgeist Wine


Riesling could be eclipsing Chardonnay as a go-to white wine grape for wine drinkers. My definition of wine drinkers here includes folks who don’t drink wine on a regular basis, but know a few grapes by name when ordering at a restaurant or picking up a bottle for a special occasion. This says a whole lot about Riesling. Many perfectly fine indigenous varietal wines would love to join the American wine drinker’s lexicon, and so many of them should. The success of Riesling proves that it’s still possible to get some runs on the board even though we’ve been at this game for a very long time.

I’ve chosen to focus on Riesling from three key areas. I haven’t covered all areas where Riesling is cultivated, not by a long shot, but these selections represent the grape in a few different contexts which I think are important.
One of the reasons why Riesling attracts such a broad audience is its ability to manifest in very dry, to off dry, to sweet forms. You can usually find an indication of sweetness on the bottle. If you can’t, a helpful rule of thumb is hidden in the alcohol percentage. A sweeter wine may have a lower alcohol percentage (8% to 9%), while a drier style of Riesling will come in a bit higher – as much as 13%.

Riesling is an incredibly tough yet impressionable grape. Its wood is strong enough to withstand extreme cold. It's also highly sensitive to terroir, so sensitive that Riesling grapes grown within the same general area can produce completely different wines. This is the major reason why tasting Riesling from several different areas of the world is a fascinating and educational exercise. A geographically diverse flight of Riesling will prove to any disbeliever that terroir is a very real thing.


Most of us freely associate Riesling with Germany. Riesling is one of Germany’s oldest indigenous grapes. DNA tests show that Riesling is the child of Gouais Blanc, a prolific white grape of Eastern European origin. These days it’s very hard to find varietal Gouais Blanc, but its legacy continues on with the rise of Riesling. Novice Riesling drinkers may want to start with a few German selections. Don’t let the labels stump you. While they may look confusing at first glance, the rules around German wine labels are among the most coherent and strict in the world. The layers of designation are incredibly specific, down to the last vineyard row. When you put the energy into decoding a German wine label you are rewarded with a great deal of information about the wine in your bottle.

A few to try:

50° Riesling Rheingau 2014

Beeswax, honey and melon on the nose with touches of petrol and lemon zest. Full on acidity on the palate with tart lemon, peach and apricot fruit, a warming spice throughout and some grassiness and a hint of grapefruit towards the finish. Easy drinking and lively.

Sektkellerei Fitz KG Riesling Sekt Bad Durkheim Pfalz NV

This brings classic Riesling phenolics and lemon aromas on the nose. Full bodied and pure fruited with green apple and pear behind tart lemon and a wooded finish.

Weingut Kruger-Rumpf Riesling Trocken Nahe 2014

Floral lemon balm, wild blossom and honeysuckle aromas with green apple and light restrained petrol set against wet stone. Tart and zesty in the mouth with notes of pear, green apple, and citrus, loads of acidity and minerality and a clean lightly buttered finish.

Urban Riesling Mosel 2015

Lemon, sage leaf and green apple with honeysuckle and peach as well on the nose. This is classic and delightful, bursting with acidity to combat the soft sweetness on the palate, with fruit flavors of green apple, peach, lemon, tangerine and a clean, fresh zesty finish.
90 pts

Schloss Vollrads Estate Riesling Kabinett Rheingau 2014

Warm and fresh, floral and fruity aromas of apricot, green apple, rose petals and that classic Riesling petrol on the nose. Clean, zesty and approachable on the palate, this delivers a full acidity alongside lemon and grapefruit citrus notes that melt into the long finish where a creamy lemon pith mingles with a hint of pineapple and tangerine.
91 pts

Finger Lakes

Grapes have been grown in this glacial pocket of upstate New York since the 1850s. Lake Ontario and its surrounding fingers – Lakes Seneca, Cayuga, and Keuka – insulate vineyard areas from the extremes of winter and summer. This region lives with the threat of frozen vines, so an early ripening grape variety like Riesling is a natural choice. Nearby Cornell University has a fantastic winemaking program, so you’ll see a lot of top-notch graduates setting up shop in the region. Historically, Finger Lakes Riesling tends to be off-dry or sweet. That's starting to change as more winemakers are putting sweat into achieving drier bottles. The drier wines really let the terroir of this region shine.

A few to try:

Damiani Wine Cellars Riesling Semi-Dry Finger Lakes 2015

Clean clear and concentrated apple and pear aromas with beautiful spice. A truly well balanced wine on the palate, this has a zesty acidity, fresh peach and apple notes and a touch of sweetness and comes with a creamy mouthfeel and some oak spice towards the finish.

Fulkerson Estate Juicy Sweet Riesling Finger Lakes 2016

Minerally melon and lemon drop aromas. A bit thin on entry with sweet apple and peach flavors - off dry and soft.

Lamoreaux Landing Riesling Ice Finger Lakes 2014

Lightly savory aromas of concentrated honey and orange blossom. Focused, juicy and sweet on the palate with thick creamy mouthfeel and bright fruit notes of ripe apple, honeyed pear and clementine juice, this is pleasant and sweet.

McGregor Vineyard Semi-Dry Riesling Finger Lakes 2015

Light floral aromas. A nicely zesty acidity comes out of the glass and mixes with minerality and a stony, steely finish.


There’s more to Oregon than Pinot Noir. In fact there was a time when Oregon produced more Riesling than Pinot Noir, but consumer demand for the latter prevailed. Fortunately there has been a renewed interest in Riesling among the mostly family-owned wineries in Oregon. Riesling wines from Oregon rank high in aromatics with above average fruit on the palate. There has been a real effort by Oregon winegrowers over the last few years to establish Riesling as a key varietal. It’s working.

A few to try:

Anne Amie Estate Dry Riesling Yamhill-Carlton 2013

Floral petrol aromas with an undernote of baked green apple, honey and tart lime zest. In the mouth this is expressive with notes of elderflower, lemon and more petrol, fresh and fruity but displaying a creamy nutty finish that carries some peach and tropical fruit.

Trisaetum Vineyards Coast Range Estate Dry Riesling Yamhill-Carlton 2015

Mineral salinity, peach fruit and lemon zest bloom on the nose. This is gorgeous and elegant in the mouth, perfectly walking the line between Riesling sweetness, floral aromatics, minerality and refreshing acidity. It also brings a palate of fruit flavors - peach, mango, lemon and grapefruit, with a finish that's creamy and delicate with great length.
93 pts

Elk Cove Vineyards Estate Riesling Willamette Valley 2015

Lemon and petrol on the nose with soft wildflower notes and some tangerine. More citrus and petrol notes on the palate, good acidity, some sweet spice and ripe melon notestowards the finish, and a creamy texture throughout.

Brooks Riesling Willamette Valley 2015

One of the reasons why Riesling attracts such a broad audience is its ability to manifest in very dry, to off dry, to sweet forms. You can usually find an indication of sweetness of the bottle. If you can’t, just take a look at the alcohol percentage. A lower alcohol wine will have a lower alcohol percentage (8% to 9%), while a drier style of Riesling will come in as high as twelve percent.

Riesling is an incredibly impressionable grape. It is so highly sensitive to terroir that grapes grown within the same general area can produce completely different wines. This is a major reason to try a Riesling from several different areas of the world.

Lush and plump apricot and green apple aromas with floral hints and gentle oily Riesling aromatics. Freshly acidic on the palate, almost surprisingly so on entry with peach pear and mango fruit playing through the mid palate with lemon zest and a candied character towards the slightly nutty finish.

Brooks Riesling Bois Joli Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills 2015

Lightly savory aromas with light lemon fruit and a mineral edge. Presents a smooth and elegant off-dry palate of sweet spice and tangerine notes, a burst of acidity through the full bodied mid palate that leaves a tingling sensation behind with melon and papaya notes and a creamy memory.
91 pts

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