Yet, if you talk to a wine expert they will tell you: Riesling is not just an important varietal — it’s one of the most important varietals. It oftentimes trumps chardonnay in the opinion of many master sommeliers. Why do wine experts think so highly of Riesling, while to the general wine-drinking population, it is little more than an afterthought?
My first thought is that in California, we think of a wine that has sweetness as a digestif — something to be served after dinner or with dessert. Thus, people treat Riesling as though it were a port or a late-harvest zinfandel. While some Rieslings are sweet, there are many dry ones out there, too. Even the sweet Rieslings are usually balanced by lots of acidity.
If a wine is sweet and low in acidity, it will seem out of sorts and cloying. Riesling has a natural acidity to balance what sugar may remain after fermentation. This balance makes Riesling an excellent food wine. One of the most famous pairings in the world is dry Riesling and oysters, although it can pair with most seafood. You will oftentimes see it on a sushi restaurant wine list, because it accents the raw fish beautifully.
Another plus about Riesling: price!
There is an ocean of delicious Riesling out there for $18 to $30 a bottle. Soif, Shoppers Corner and U-Save are all good spots to pick up bottles in this price range.
I feel obligated to warn you, there is also an ocean of poorly made Riesling out there in the $5 to $12 range. It is usually way out of balance and less than pedestrian. If you are going to try Riesling, don’t go ultra cheap. You will be disappointed.
That being said, you will see more of a difference between $10 Riesling and $20 Riesling than with any other varietal.
Some of the best wine I have ever had has been Riesling. In my opinion, it is the king of white wine, because of its ability to pair with food and its ability to age, and because its natural acidity stands out like no other wine. I have made many people converts with just a small taste of fine Riesling.
Some producers include Dr. Loosen, Leitz, Schlossgut-Diel and Joh. Jos. Prum. Trimbach is also a common label that produces noteworthy Riesling, among other white varietals.
My final words on the subject: Drink more Riesling! You’ll thank me for it.
Austin Twohig is a certified sommelier and partner in The Santa Cruz Experience, which conducts winery tours in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.