Got Riesling? Here's Five Wine Cocktails You Should Try
Increasingly, bartenders are reaching for Riesling as a key ingredient in cocktails. The white wine, whose best-known offerings tend to hail from Germany, Austria and the Alsace region of France, can add refreshing acidity and nuanced fruit or floral flavors to mixed drinks.
But similar to the use of Sherry in cocktails, many bartenders are still coming to understand Riesling’s wide variety of styles, from bone-dry to sweet, or dessert-like to a palate cleanser. It can add nuanced flavor to drinks, depending on the focus of the cocktail.
Since the grape is grown around the world—including New World regions like Washington, Oregon, New York and Australia—that also means that a bar or restaurant can spotlight a specific country or region when desired.
Riesling’s high acidity and citrus notes allow many bartenders to use it either as a substitute for lemon or lime in drinks, or to supplement the flavors.
For example, at Washington D.C.’s Voltaggio Brothers, beverage director Bruce Cartwright uses Riesling to add backbone to a Cosmopolitan riff. The wine “gives a touch of extra acidity, an underlying floral hint, cuts the alcohol a little and gives a greater depth of flavor,” says Cartwright.
Others favor the wine’s complex aromatics, which can range from delicately floral to juicy stone or tropical fruits, to even smoky or petroleum-like. Mark Guillaudeu, beverage director at Commis in Oakland, California, built his 12:10 to Munster cocktail to amplify the grapefruit and floral fragrances he detected in a Riesling from the Nahe region of Germany.
The following cocktails feature Riesling as a key component. The recipes start with dry styles and work up to slightly sweeter/more robust types.
Jump straight to a recipe
Courtesy Mark Guillaudeu, beverage director, Commis, Oakland, CA
A Kabinett Riesling tends to be relatively light and ranges from dry to off-dry. For this drink, inspired by the Paper Plane cocktail, Guillaudeu prefers a Kabinett from the Nahe region of Germany, like Kruger Rumpf Münsterer Im Pittersberg. They tend to have “a pronounced grapefruit citrus note,” he says. It’s a quality he accentuates by mixing in fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice and pisco to reinforce the floral tones. Guillaudeu recommends a not-too-perfumed pisco, like an acholado or quebranta style.
About the drink name: “Given that the Riesling we use for the cocktail is from the village of Münster, the name seemed as organic as obvious.”
12:10 to Munster
- 1½ ounces Riesling Kabinett
- ¾ ounce grapefruit juice
- ½ ounce pisco
- ½ ounce Aperol
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- ½ ounce simple syrup
- Grapefruit peel, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake and double strain into coupe glass. Twist grapefruit peel over drink to express oils, then use peel for garnish.
Courtesy Morgan Weber, co-owner/beverage director, Agricole Hospitality/Revival Market, Houston
Trocken is the German word for “dry,” and Weber recommends the bone-dry Peter Lauer Fass 2 Extra Trocken Riesling for this cocktail due to its slightly floral notes. He plays up the latter characteristic with a floral tonic and hibiscus grenadine. A pomegranate-based syrup like Employees Only grenadine can be used in a pinch.
Riesling + Tonic
- 4 ounces dry German Riesling
- ½ ounce hibiscus syrup (recipe below)
- ½ ounce lime juice
- 3 drops orange flower water
- 3 ounces Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic
- Grapefruit peel, for garnish
In stemless wine glass or rocks glass, combine Riesling, hibiscus syrup, lime juice and orange flower water. Fill with ice, and stir until well-chilled. Add tonic water, and gently stir to combine. Twist grapefruit peel atop drink to express oils. Use peel as garnish.
Steep 1½ tablespoons dried hibiscus flowers in 1 cup hot water for 10 minutes. While still hot, add 1 cup sugar. Stir to dissolve. Let cool to room temperature and strain out flowers. Refrigerated, it keeps up to 2 months.
Courtesy Ryan Gannon, Beverage Manager, Cure, New Orleans
Feinherb is an off-dry (slightly sweet) wine style. Halbtrocken (“half-dry”) is a similar Riesling style. Think of these as the Goldilocks of Riesling: not too sweet, not too dry. That means that fruit notes come through, but they’re balanced by plenty of acidity.
In this unusual, tropical-accented variation on the classic Spritz Veneziano, pineapple liqueur takes a key role. It’s bolstered by a German Riesling that features plenty of juicy stone fruit and citrus notes—Gannon recommends Brand Feinherb Riesling. Sparkling wine adds the all-important effervescence.
A Fein Spritz
- 1½ ounces off-dry German Riesling
- ½ ounce pineapple liqueur, like Giffard Caribbean Pineapple
- 3 ounces dry sparkling wine
- Lemon wheel, for garnish
In large wine glass or double-Old Fashioned glass, combine all ingredients with ice. Stir to chill. Drop lemon wheel in glass for garnish.
Leia Pecotte, lead bartender, Tulio, Seattle
Opt for a ripe, medium-sweet Riesling (look for Auslese, Spätlese or “late harvest” on the label) to stand up to the bold, juicy flavors of strawberry and lime in this frozen drink. “Brooks Sweet P Riesling is the sweetest of the non-dessert Rieslings from Brooks, with rich flavors of candied citrus, honey and orange marmalade,” says Pecotte.
The Summer Fling
- 2 cups fresh strawberries
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 ounce lime juice
- 1 cup sweet Riesling
- Fresh strawberry, for garnish
Combine strawberries, sugar and lime juice into food processor or blender. Purée until smooth and pour into clean ice cube tray. Freeze overnight.
Place frozen cubes and Riesling in blender. Purée until smooth. Pour into wine glass and garnish with fresh strawberry.
Courtesy Paul MacDonald, bartender, Friday Saturday Sunday, Philadelphia
Another cocktail that showcases a dry Riesling style, fresh herb-infused vodka plays well with mineral and citrus notes in the wine. MacDonald favors Gustave Lorentz, made in France’s Alsace region. “The characteristic Riesling petroleum note is strong enough to shine through all the citrus and greenery in the drink,” he says.
If you don’t want to infuse vodka, substitute a gin that’s not too heavy on juniper, like Plymouth.
- 1 ½ ounces fines herbes-infused vodka (recipe below)
- ¾ ounce dry Alsatian Riesling
- ½ ounce lemon juice
- ½ ounce simple syrup
- Asparagus shoot or fresh herb sprig, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in Collins glass. Fill three-quarters of the way with crushed ice and stir rapidly with swizzle stick or long spoon. Top glass with additional crushed ice. Garnish with asparagus shoot or herb sprig.
In large mixing glass, use muddler or wooden spoon to gently crush ½ tablespoon fresh chives, ½ tablespoon fresh parsley and ½ teaspoon fresh tarragon. Add 1½ cups vodka and infuse for 24 hours. Remove herbs, and strain infused vodka through coffee filter or cheesecloth. Store away from sunlight.
- 1Grapefruit, Pisco and Kabinett Riesling Cocktail
- 2Riesling and Tonic Cocktail
- 3Off-Dry Riesling Pineapple Spritz
- 4Frozen Strawberry Riesling Cocktail
- 5The Alsatian Riesling Swizzle