Dry Riesling is the thoroughbred racehorse, the custom-tailored suit, the finely tuned engine of the white wine world. Once you’ve experienced the thrill of a great example, it’s hard to go back to quarter horses, shopping on the rack or a three-speed automatic.
With its distinct personality, Riesling will never fit into the “neutral white wine” category. Dry Riesling is all about freshness. It’s Riesling’s inherent acidity that gives it backbone, makes it a perfect counterpoint for many foods and illuminates its fruit spectrum, from powerful, zesty citrus, apple and ripe peach to pineapple.
Acidity is also what makes Riesling so refreshing, clean and bright. It may take getting used to, but once you’re hooked, you’ll look for that acid hit in every wine. Dry Riesling is always toned, never flabby.
Riesling prefers poor soils and excels where other varieties struggle. Usually made in stainless steel or used, large barrels, Riesling comes without the support of oak flavors and is prized for its translucent taste profile. Its strength lies in its depth.
Riesling evolved at the northern confines of viticulture, probably somewhere in Germany. Its buds can withstand hard winter frosts, and its late-ripening nature is well suited to sunny, cool regions. Wherever it’s grown—Germany, Alsace, Austria, Washington State, Australia, New Zealand or New York State—Riesling makes racy, distinct wines full of drive and life. —Anne Krebiehl, MW
Germany produces an array of dry Rieslings. By law, dry German wines labeled trocken have a residual sugar level of 9 grams per liter (g/L) or less. Even at their simplest, trocken wines offer zest, minerality and are easily quaffable. At their finest, they stand among the world’s best white wines. They’re powerful yet elegant, complex in flavor and deftly balanced in ripeness, alcohol and acidity.
Grosses Gewächs, or GG wines, represent some of the finest dry wines in Germany, as established by the VDP (Verband Deutscher Qualitäts-und Prädikatsweingüter), an association of elite wine estates.
By definition, all GG wines are dry, and as they’re considered the “grand cru” of German wines, they must be sourced from classified vineyard sites. The GG emblem makes these wines easily identifiable, but there are also non-VDP producers that make exceptional dry Rieslings.
As a particularly cool-climate wine region, the Mosel is better known for its sweet wines, but trocken wines have increased recently in consistency and quality. Even in their driest forms, Mosel Rieslings are spry and lean. Dry styles maintain the spine-tingling acidity and minerality (abundant notes of salt and slate) for which the region is famous.
Nahe often produces dry Riesling of deep fruit concentration, but also an electric acidity.
Dry Rieslings from the Rheingau often stand a steady middle ground. They’re firmly structured around acidity and minerality, but also boast lush, sunny flavors of peach, apricot and melon. On the palate, they offer suppleness and silkiness that’s offset by cool steeliness.
Grosses Gewächs, or GG wines, are considered the “grand cru” of German wines.
Rheinhessen, known for dry wines, is becoming Germany’s most talked-about wine region. Its Rieslings balance fresh stone fruit and blossom aromas with intensely rocky, Grosses Gewächs, or mineral ones. They can be quite creamy in mouthfeel, balanced by fresh acidity and herbal notes.
Southerly Pfalz is known for its opulent dry wines. Their intense ripeness can yield oiliness on the palate and a muscularity born of body and alcohol. —Anna Lee C. Iijima
Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt 2014 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen GG Riesling Trocken (Mosel); $50, 95 points. A standout among an excellent lineup of 2014 grosses gewächs from Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, this gorgeously textured wine is as light as a feather, yet with a distinctly luscious cling. Dry but pentratingly fruity, it contrasts ripe peach and grapefruit flavors against laser-sharp edges of acidity and minerality. Drinks beautifully now but should continue to please well into the next decade. American B.D. Cellar Selection.
Schloss Johannisberger 2014 Silberlack GG Riesling Trocken (Rheingau); $75, 94 points. Delicate whiffs of spice and pine lend depth to crisp-tart white peach and grapefruit flavors in this spry yet penetrating Riesling. Dry on the palate, it’s finely textured, as if etched by its acidity and stony mineral tones. It finishes with juicy, concentrated stone fruit flair. Drinks well now but should meld beautifully through 2024. Mionetto USA. Editors’ Choice.
Wittmann 2014 Riesling Trocken (Rheinhessen); $25, 93 points. Intense aromas of tropical mango and melon scent this elegant, slightly cream-textured dry Riesling. Sprays of white grapefruit and lime juice brighten the midpalate, extending through a long finish marked by zesty acidity and chalky, dusty mineral tones. Drink now through 2019. Loosen Bros. USA. Editors’ Choice.
Australia & New Zealand
There’s a serious case of sibling rivalry in this part of the world that’s not limited to rugby. I already anticipate the hate mail from Down Under for combining the two countries here.
Because of New Zealand’s more southern location, acids are high, and many of the country’s Rieslings offset that with residual sugar. Truly dry Rieslings are rare.
Rieslings in Australia are traditionally dry, particularly from the Clare and Eden Valleys. Most are linear and crisp, often with a youthful, zesty lime-sherbet edge to the flavors that works well with raw oysters. Western Australia also produces many fine dry Rieslings. —Joe Czerwinski
Plantagenet 2014 Riesling (Great Southern, Australia); $21, 92 points. Based on this example and a few other informal tastings, 2014 will be a top vintage for Rieslings from Western Australia. Aromas of lime sherbet and wet stone lead into a crisply focused palate loaded with citrusy tartness that lingers on the mouthwatering finish. Drink now with shellfish, and consider holding some for up to 10 years. Old Bridge Cellars. Editors’ Choice.
St Hallett 2014 Riesling (Eden Valley, Australia); $16, 91 points. This is appropriately austere for a young Eden Valley Riesling, offering crisp green apple and lime sensations backed by subtle grace notes of wet stone. The finish is long, mouthwatering and almost painfully tart, suggesting it will fare well in the cellar for up to 10 years. Distinguished Vineyards. Editors’ Choice.
Two Paddocks 2014 Red Bank Vineyard Riesling (Central Otago, New Zealand); $34, 90 points. Despite being labeled at 13% alcohol, this comes across as reasonably light in weight. Pleasantly dry in flavor, it boasts hints of citrus and wet stone. A silky feel marks the long, crisp finish. Negociants USA, Inc.
Alsace, a wine region in northeastern France, runs north to south in a narrow strip between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River. It extends 75 miles, from Strasbourg to Mulhouse. More than a fifth of Alsace vineyards are planted to Riesling, which thrives on south- and southeast-facing slopes.
Despite being in northern France, Alsace is one of the country’s driest and sunniest areas.
“Alsace vineyards, sheltered by the Vosges Mountains, benefit from a dry, long growing season that allows for perfect ripeness and a great acid-ripeness balance,” says Olivier Humbrecht MW, owner of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. “This allows us to make top dry Riesling wines.”
Despite being a rather compact region, never more than 10 miles wide, Alsace is a geological patchwork. Riesling grows on limestone, slate, marl, granite and sandstone.
“The diversity of soil formations also provides the largest panoply of soil expression in Riesling wine, making Alsace the most complex Riesling wine region,” says Humbrecht.
Winemaking in Alsace is traditional. Riesling is typically fermented and matured in large oval barrels called foudres. The wines often ferment for months, and can have nutty, earthy aspects.
Alsace Riesling usually is full bodied, robust and concentrated, especially so in riper vintages. It pairs well with the region’s hearty, rib-sticking food. Coq au Riesling is a popular local dish, a chicken casserole in Riesling with bacon, cream and mushrooms. Alsace’s imaginative avant-garde chefs, on the other hand, make dry Riesling sing alongside pan-Asian flavors.
Some of the best and most long-lived Rieslings come from delimited, historic and often steep single vineyards classified as Grands Crus. Look out for Steinklotz, Wiebelsberg, Sommerberg, Brand, Hengst, Rangen de Thann, Schlossberg and Vorbourg. If you can, choose bottles with some age to them. In contrast with many dry Rieslings, these wines are best when properly matured. —A.K.
Domaine Weinbach 2014 Schlossberg Grand Cru Cuvée Saint Catherine Riesling (Alsace); $62, 96 points. Faint notes of ripe pear are only hinted at on the nose but on the dry palate they open up into pure, textured, precisely drawn fruit. There is concentration and a heady, seductive lemon and pear perfume hovering over the concentrated, profound palate of wet stone and immensely pure lemon oil. This comes on light, delicate feet but leaves you with a deep, lasting and impressive memory of Riesling purity and elegance. Vineyard Brands.
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht 2013 Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru Riesling (Alsace); $120, 96 points. Subtle smoke hovers above earthy notes and the nose only holds the faintest suggestion of citrus. The palate comes forth with a vivid, leafy purity that suggests herbs, freshly turned earth and pure, lifted citrus. All we get right now are the flavors hovering above the core which is still firmly closed. A wealth of apple and citrus fruit is evoked which will awake with time, this is too young to be opened. Don’t touch before 2018 and then drink until 2030 or even beyond. This is dry, delicate and yet powerful with a supremely clean finish. Kobrand. Cellar Selection.
Domaine Ostertag 2014 Muenchberg Grand Cru Riesling (Alsace); $65, 95 points. Wonderful notions of ivy leaves, citrus peel and conifer greet the nose. The aromatic impression leads onto a slender, dry and fluid palate that still seems tightly coiled and closed. But those subtle aromatic hints and a concentrated, stony palate promise future pleasure. This will blossom into a perfumed marvel. Drink 2019–2030. Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant.
Riesling is consistently one of Washington’s most produced grape varieties. That’s no surprise, as Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of the world’s largest Riesling producers. While most wines from the state are off dry, there are plenty of quality dry examples to be found, including some terrific values.
“People often have the misconception that all Riesling is sweet but one of Riesling’s strengths is that it can be so versatile,” says Bob Bertheau, head winemaker at Ste. Michelle.
Bertheau says the winery has seen an uptick in dry Riesling sales of late: “Certain consumers are going to drier levels on all wines.” —Sean P. Sullivan
Figgins 2015 Riesling (Walla Walla Valley); $30, 90 points.
North by Northwest 2014 Riesling (Columbia Valley); $15, 88 points. Aromas of lime leaf and citrus lead to sleek, dry fruit flavors, speckled with lime notes on the finish. Pair it with shrimp ceviche.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 Dry Riesling (Columbia Valley); $9, 87 points. Bright aromas of lime, white flowers, pear and white peach are followed by bone-dry, lively fruit flavors. It’s a winner by itself but will also shine on the dinner table.
Only four percent of Austria’s vineyards are planted to Riesling, but it’s a grape of great importance. The surface area may be small, but Riesling is only planted in sites that are absolutely suited to its needs, resulting in wines of the highest quality.
Riesling’s heartland is Niederösterreich, or Lower Austria, and centers on the river Danube and the neighboring regions of Wachau, Kremstal, Kamptal and Traisental. The Danube flows west to east. Thus, it creates steep, south-facing hillsides that are ideal for Riesling, as are the rocky soils of weathered gneiss and schist. Some of the steepest vineyards have been terraced to make cultivation possible.
While Wachau and Kremstal vineyards face the Danube, the tributaries Kamp and Traisen create lateral valleys with slightly softer expressions. Austria’s deeply continental climate of icy winters and hot summers means that Riesling is planted in exposed, well-drained and stony sites, usually at considerable elevation.
“Several aspects coincide to give Austrian Riesling its particular style, which to me, is anywhere between youthful and vigorous, yet characterized by linearity, elegance and verve,” says Emmerich Knoll, who farms several world-class sites in the Wachau region. “Warm days help ripen the grapes, while cool nights synthesize aromas. Then there are our very mineral soils and the traditionally dry winemaking style.”
Austrian Riesling is usually bone dry and laser-sharp in acidity, which lends the wines great purity and precision, even thrill. Estate wines offer light-footed elegance, while single-vineyard Rieslings have immense depth and concentration.
Some single-vineyard wines from the Wachau also contain botrytized grapes that were concentrated by noble rot, but fermented dry. These are rather powerful and need bottle age. Traisental produces more delicate, tender Rieslings from its limestone soils.
Some of Austria’s single vineyards are world-renowned. Look out for Achleiten, Kellerberg, Heiligenstein and Steinmassel.
Austria’s clean-cut Rieslings find ready use and enthusiastic uptake in contemporary, global-influenced cuisines—its own transparent depth enhances food. Riesling is the traditional accompaniment for forelle müllerin, fresh trout dusted with flour and sautéed in butter. —A.K.
Emmerich Knoll 2014 Ried Kellerberg Riesling Smaragd (Wachau); $64, 96 points. Mandarin peel flirts with the aromatic zest of Seville orange. The concentration of flavor is immense and has the verve, drive and linearity of a jet-engine on on takeoff. The palate slows down the motion and captures the nuanced flavors of Seville orange—tinged green, bitter, juicy and tart at the same time. This will not reach its finish line for years but will provide racy enjoyment all the way. Drink 2018–2030. Circo Vino.
Malat 2014 Das Beste vom Riesling Reserve (Kremstal); $70, 96 points. The concerted impact of bergamot, grapefruit, tangerine and lemon is almost surreal—its headiness reaches long neglected memories of deep summer mingled with the freshness of the open sea. The intensity of spicy grapefruit and the skin of still-green Seville oranges transports you to utopian shores. That such flavor should come from grapes is one of nature’s unresolved, eternal mysteries. That this should shine in such a concentrated, slender wine is a marvel. Circo Vino.
Schloss Gobelsburg 2014 Riesling (Kamptal); $20, 93 points. Beautifully pure apple fruit plays on nose and palate. Citrus juice frames the fruit and heightens the freshness even more. If you like a slender, supercrisp style of Riesling, the purity of this will have you hooked. Skurnik Wines, Inc. Editors’ Choice.
New York State
In the Finger Lakes region of New York, Riesling is king. Vineyards ring the perimeter of deep, narrow lakes that moderate frigid winter temperatures. Glacial deposits of shale and slate provide an ideal growing environment.
Dry Finger Lakes Riesling can vary from intensely crystalline and spry, to those dense with peach, apricot and even tropical fruit flavors.
Long Island Riesling, while far less common, has shown promise in the hands of a select few producers. Dry styles, especially those made from unfertilized “virgin berries” increasingly seen in the region, exhibit ripeness and aromatic concentration that are particularly notable. —A.I.
Empire Estate 2014 Dry Riesling (Finger Lakes). Editors’ Choice; $18, 91 points. A promising start for Empire Estate’s first bottling, this perfumed dry Riesling is marked by lifted aromas of orange blossom and citrus peel. Concentrated tangerine and honey flavors have an electric vibe, balancing a nervous edge of lemon-lime acidity against a honed, steely polish.
Paumanok 2014 Dry Riesling (North Fork of Long Island); $22, 91 points. Juicy mango and yellow peach flavors are intensified by a mineral slick in this gorgeously textured wine. A jolt of lime on the midpalate gives edge to silky layers of fruit, exposing a lingering honeycomb finish. Complex yet light bodied and quaffable, it’s a new benchmark for Long Island Riesling. Editors’ Choice.
Keuka Spring 2014 Dry Riesling (Finger Lakes); $17, 90 points. Lime zest and grassy herb notes infuse freshness into this dry, light-footed Riesling. It’s particularly sprightly in feel, a crush of tart white grapefruit and pineapple flavors, but it penetrates long on the finish, accented by a kiss of citrus blossoms. Drink now–2017.