I wrote earlier this summer that there were too many good Rieslings on the market to cover in one column, so here’s your second serving. The producers range from Australia to Germany to Washington State, and the styles from sticky sweet to dusty dry. Each has its appeal, though, and I think you could love them all (just possibly — like with your kids or your pets — in different ways).
Frisk Prickly Riesling 2012 is a naturally effervescent (i.e., not carbonated) Australian entry that’s frankly too sweet for me, but you may disagree. It has fragrances of honeysuckle and lime blossoms, with ripe pear and golden raisin flavors, a pinstripe of lemon zest running down the middle, and some toffee around the edges — possibly due to its 43 grams per liter of residual sugar. (It’s also distinctly grapey, especially as it warms to room temperature, which is actually kinda nice.)
It does manage a dry finish (leaves your mouth feeling clean, not syrupy). Even if I personally wouldn’t choose it, it was a good match (super chilled) for the hot spice in Mexican food. (The effervescence, in case you’re wondering, comes from bottling the wine at a very young age in cold cellars, so carbon dioxide produced during fermentation is retained in the wine. That’s how the Germans do it, anyway. They call this fizziness “spritzig,” and it may dissipate as a Riesling ages.) (9.5 percent ABV; available online, $12).
Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley (Washington) Dry Riesling 2011 was more to my liking than Frisk. The operative word is “dry,” printed on the front label and distinguishing this wine from Ste. Michelle’s other Rieslings. The wine is slightly spritzy on the tongue, which adds to the sensation of dryness, and there’s a hint of smoke in the taste. The back label says to expect “minerality,” but I got a more earthy quality, almost peaty.
As for fruit, the aromas are citrusy but the flavor highlight is kiwi. Other flavors include really fresh apricot (not quite ripe, certainly not dried) and honeydew melon (ditto on the ripeness). The color is extremely pale yellow; the finish long and bone dry. There’s a sweet/dry scale on the back label pointing almost directly at “dry,” which is a good call. This is a truly guzzle-able aperitif wine; the first glass disappears before you know it. (12 percent ABV; available online and in grocery stores; $10-$14, depending.)
St. Christopher 2011 Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese, from the gorgeous little town of Piesport on the Mosel River in Germany, is a sweet, grapey wine that is a classic example of the Riesling grape in action. It’s a “Pradikatswein,” the highest quality ranking awarded to German wines. You have a clue that it’s going to be sweet from the word “spatlese,” which means “late harvest.”
Late harvested grapes can be fermented to make a dry wine, of course, but your second clue is that this wine has only 8.5 percent alcohol, which means there’s a lot of sugar left in the wine that could’ve been converted to alcohol (a drier wine probably would’ve had a higher alcohol content, in other words).
Although medium-bodied and grapey, the St. Christopher is not sticky; it’s very clean and fresh. It has faint aromas of mixed white flowers. If you want to know what a ripe Riesling grape tastes like, it’s in this bottle. (Golden raisins come to mind.) The wine is a great contrast with spicy or salty foods — actually wonderful with black bean chipotle salsa and chips. You could also drink it with dry-cured black olives, salty ham, or German Thuringer sausage (no surprise). (Available online; $10.)
I bought Dachshund Riesling on a whim because I liked the canine on the label (oh, admit it, you’ve done the same thing), but this silly-looking wiener turned out to be winner. Of all the Rieslings I’ve tasted this summer, Dachshund reminded most of the wines I’ve drunk in Germany. Its classic young Riesling flavor teleported me back to those summer wine stands along the Rhein.
Dachshund Riesling comes from the Nahe region of the Rhein, a small area that’s not as well known as the Rheingau or other areas that have the actual word “Rhein” in their names. It’s a beautiful spot, though, centering on the town of Bad Kreuznach (“Bad” as in “bath” or “spa,” not as in the opposite of “Good Kreuznach”). Riesling and other grape varieties grow on rolling hillsides that slope gently down to the river; it’s a terrific place to go hiking. The Dachshund wine was commissioned by Sonoma importers Halby Marketing because they love wine and dachshunds — and apparently have some investable bucks.
Dachshund is an off-dry Riesling, not fully dry but certainly not as sweet as St. Christopher or Frisk. The low alcohol content (9.5 percent) is the label’s only clue to possible sweetness, but it’s deceptive because it exactly matches Frisk. There’s no sweet/dry scale, no descriptive German words like “Kabinett” (indicating grapes picked early), “trocken” (dry) or “halb-tocken” (half-dry) to guide you. (The residual sugar is 30 grams/liter, but you have to read the on-line factsheet to know.)
The wine has aromas of fresh-cut apple and white peach, with flavors of apricot, pineapple and lemon pie — with light body and mild acidity. It’s a lip-smacking yummy wine, fine by itself but also tasty with appetizers like humus, olive tapenade or cheese, or a Shrimp Louie salad. (Available at Red and White, Domke Market, World Market, grocery stores and on line; $10-$15. You know some of these folks are carrying it just because of the cute label, but it’s still very good wine.)
BTW, the fabulous Dr. Loosen “Dr. L” Riesling that I wrote about earlier this summer is available by the bottle or glass at Kitchen on George, and is perfect with their Duck Confit Spring Rolls. Drink up!