“Yo, I don't think we should talk about this.
Come on, why not?
People might misunderstand what we're tryin' to say, you know?” -Salt-N-Pepa
For the past 20 or so years, Riesling has been a bit of a taboo subject for consumers. With comments like, “Ew, no Riesling for me. It’s too sweet,” or “Germany? Don’t they only make sweet wines?” In recent years, there has been an attempt to revive Riesling by sommeliers, retailers, and wine geeks alike through events like the Summer of Riesling campaign. While a valiant effort, these campaigns failed to get one very important message across to the consumer: not all Riesling is sweet.
Don’t get me wrong, sweet Rieslings can be absolutely delightful. In fact, some of the most impressive, most ageable wines are sweet, dessert Rieslings such as Eiswein and Trockenbeerenauslese. However, sweet Rieslings aren’t appropriate in every situation. Let’s face it, sweet Riesling is not an easy, day-to-day drink for most people. The American palate is moving away from sweet and more towards dry. We want something drier, more high acid, more quaffable. Dry, high acid you say? Well, look no further than the magnificent Riesling.
Riesling is naturally very high in acid, and when made well can produced some of the most thirst-quenching, mouthwateringly dry wines in the world. Mr. Johannes Leitz, a VDP producer in the Rheingau, told me that most Germans don’t actually drink sweet Riesling. The classic German sweet wines, such as Dragonstone, have gone out of fashion in the country. The new generation drinks only dry Rieslings, while the U.S. import market picks up the sweet wines they no longer desire.
However, more and more dry Rieslings are making their way to the American market. Mr. Leitz says he has been gradually decreasing the residual sugar in many of their sweet wines at the demand of the American consumers. This is a relief for Leitz and other producesrs in the Rheingau, a region that helped pioneer regulations for higher quality dry Rieslings. More recently known for their sweet Auslese due to a climate that encourages noble rot, the Rheingau is now bringing back the complex dry wines that the region used to specialize in. One such way is through the designation Erstes Gewachs (which later became Grosses Gewachs), a designate that can only be used for quality dry wines made from VDP sites.
Below are some winemakers that are producing great dry Rieslings.
In the Rheingau, Johannes Leitz’s vineyards run along the steep slopes of the Rüdesheim area of the Rhineriver. Johannes’ grandfather acquired the vineyard after it was destroyed during World War II and nursed the vines back to health. The 2013 Leitz "Eins Zwei Dry" Rheingau Riesling Trocken (Dry) $15.99 is his entry-level dry Riesling that is harmoniously dry with a rounder, richer palate and notes of peach and nectarine. It’s perfect for those who don’t want the mouth-cutting high acidity, but still want a dry Riesling. Thier 2013 Leitz Rüdesheimer Riesling Trocken $18.99 is one of my favorite dry Rieslings, with notes of meyer lemon, orange blossom, pith and an underlying salinity that is reminds you of the ocean. The quality of this wine for the price is insane!
In in the Rheinhessen, where Müller-Thurgau reigns supreme, there is a small movement of young winemaker who are challenging the norm. One such young winemaker is Stefan Winter, one the newest elected VDP producers. He has turned around his family estate, making wines that are no longer ordinary, but extraordinary. While his family estate is quite large at 20 hectares, he keeps yields low, only producing 7,000 cases per year. He is pretty hands-off in the cellar and it certainly shines through in his wines, tasting nothing but the grape and the terroir. The 2013 Stefan Winter Dittelsheim Riesling (dry) $21.99 has aromas of honeysuckle, white starfruit and wet stone with very high, crisp acidity and flavors of lemon juice and petrol. This bottle is cellar worthy for under $25.
In the beautiful upper Mittelrhein, an UNESCO world heritage site, Dr. Randolf Kauer (a professor of Organic Viticulture at the Geisenheim University) makes wine at his family estate Weingut Dr. Randolf Kauer. He farms 3.5 hectares of vines on steep slate slopes which are certified ECOVIN and organic. The 2013 Dr. Randolf Kauer Oberweseler Oelsberg Riesling Spätlese Trocken Alte Reben $26.99 is truly terroir driven with aromas of lemon zest, orange blossom and pear, leading to a palate of tree-fruits, lemon and searing high, juicy acidity.
Lastly, the Mosel, known for its slate-riddled soils and steep, picturesque hills. While the region may be beautiful, the hills of the Mosel are difficult and costly to maintain. As a result in the 1980’s, many producers abandoned winemaking on these slopes. But Dr. Ulrich Stein loves these steep slate slopes and makes a wine that celebrates the terroir; Blauschiefer or Blue Slate. Blue slate is a perfect descriptor for the 2013 Stein "Blauschiefer" Riesling Trocken (Dry) $18.99. It tastes like licking slate, stones, and minerals. Extremely dry, insanely mineral driven, full of salinity, and reminiscent of Granny Smith apples. This wine is crazy complex for the price. It’s sourced from 80-year-old vines on a steep slope which require a lot of labor. I’m not entirely sure how they could be making money on this wine. It’s truly a steal.
Watch out for more Riesling posts to come...