A Quick Guide to German Riesling

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Top to bottom: Wittmann 100 Hills Dry Riesling (Rheinhessen); Domdechant Werner Hochheimer Guts Riesling Trocken (Rheingau); Tesch Langenlonsheimer Löhrer Berg Riesling Trocken (Nahe)/Photo by Tom Arena

Riesling flourishes worldwide, but nowhere does it inspire as fervent focus as in Germany, its birthplace. Cultivated throughout the country’s 13 wine regions, it mirrors the fascinating diversity of local terroir. Bottlings can range from bone dry, or trocken, to delicately or even lusciously sweet, and can be featherlight or buxom, still or sparkling.

The Mosel is best known for slim, spine-tingling expressions, wafting of blossoms and apple, yet anchored by slate and steel. In the Rheingau, Riesling is often a bit richer, offering pristine apricot and white-peach flavors with a firm, stony undertone.

Kabinett and the intensely aromatic, honeyed late-harvest wines designated by degree of sweetness such as spätlese, auslese, beerenauslese or trockenbeerenauslese are historic to both the Mosel and Rheingau regions. Increasingly warm climates, however, have made fuller-bodied, dry-style wines nearly as commonplace.

Tradition Meets Evolution in Modern Mosel

Another patient of change, Rheinhessen was once largely associated with high-volume, often uninspiring wines. Today, it’s a hotbed of entrepreneurial winemakers focused on complex, elegant Rieslings.

Just south, sunny Pfalz produces fuller-bodied, typically bone-dry styles drenched in mango and citrus. The Nahe, west of Rheinhessen, boasts a range of soils that lend complexity and spice to nectarine and peach flavors in Rieslings that are mostly medium-bodied and dry.

Earthy, textural and often spiced, Franken’s dry, full-bodied Rieslings remain among Germany’s best-kept secrets.

Six German Rieslings to Try

Domdechant Werner Hochheimer Guts Riesling Trocken (Rheingau); $19. Luminous white peach and grapefruit are edged by lime in this characteristically rich yet steely expression.

Ökonomierat Rebholz Riesling Trocken (Pfalz); $24. Sun-kissed but pure, there’s a translucent nature to white peach and green plum flavors from Pfalz’s red sandstone soils.

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett Feinherb (Saar); $28. Tangs of struck flint and salt edge this electrifying Mosel wine.

Rudolf Fürst Pur Mineral Riesling Trocken (Franken); $25. Intense minerality and seductive earthiness typify dry Franken Riesling, with a thrilling li! of lemon and quince.

Tesch Langenlonsheimer Löhrer Berg Riesling Trocken (Nahe); $17. Dry and svelte, this juxtaposes bright yellow peach and lemon against subtly smoky, spicy nuances.

Wittmann 100 Hills Dry Riesling (Rheinhessen); $16. Echoing the gentle, rolling hills of Rheinhessen, this offers a fantastic introduction to its dry but lusciously fruity wines.

Published on July 2, 2020
Topics: Wine Basics