Summer is officially here and with the longer days and rising temperatures, it’s the ideal time of year to break out a perfectly chilled bottle of Riesling. We’re not alone in our love for this classic grape; from coast to coast, wine bars and restaurants are switching over their wine lists to celebrate the Summer of Riesling, highlighting the gorgeous wines this great grape makes. Summer of Riesling is the brainchild of New York restaurateur and sommelier extraordinaire Paul Grieco, who first rolled out the event in 2008. In celebration of the versatile and oh-so-fabulous Riesling, Grieco debuted a wine list which only featured Rieslings in all its many styles. His goal was to challenge the common misconception that Riesling is nothing more than a sweet wine. By offering nothing but Riesling, guests at his wine bar, Terroir, were compelled to give Riesling another chance. Since then, it has spread like wildfire across the country, with many dedicating their summer wine drinking to the one and only Riesling.
You’ll know by now that Riesling is a sommelier favorite when choosing a wine to pair with food. Its crisp, high acidity makes it an excellent foil for richer dishes and sweet versions are just the ticket for taming spice when you decide to add some heat to your meal. Speaking of sweet, because it ranges from bone dry to unctuously sweet, there’s a Riesling to sip on for every occasion and persuasion.
From the first warm days of June to the dog days of September, slaving away in a hot kitchen is the last thing on our minds. Fresh salads, sprinkled with shrimp or smoked fish might be more your speed. With these dishes, you should be reaching for a dry Kabinett Riesling to quench your thirst. Kabinett comes from the German Qualitätswein classification which is based on ripeness levels. In this case, Kabinett falls on the lowest rung of the ripeness ladder and can be dry or slightly off-dry. If you’re partial to prosciutto or other cured meats, a Riesling with a touch of residual sugar will offer a delicious interplay of salty and sweet that is virtually irresistible. Germany’s cool climate yields ultra-light Rieslings which are ideal lunchtime (or brunchtime) wines. You get plenty of flavor in your glass: notes of crunchy green apple, citrus zest, tree blossoms, and white peach, but less of an alcoholic punch. Dry Kabinetts tend to hover around ten percent alcohol, so you can enjoy an extra glass guilt-free.
For other picnic fares like pesto pasta salads, grilled corn, or mac ‘n cheese with smoky bacon, you’ll never miss the mark with Riesling. Aged Riesling, which can come from virtually any Riesling producing country or region, is truly a thing of beauty., One which has started to show petrol notes will complement to perfection that hint of smoke from the bacon or char on the corn. You can successfully age a bottle of Riesling regardless of its place of origin, but the best candidates for aged Riesling come from Germany, France’s Alsace, and Wachau in Austria. Several Riesling characteristics like its high natural acidity, lower alcohol levels, and sugar levels (in either off-dry or sweet styles), mean you can expect these wines to age incredibly well. Because of these structural elements, Riesling can age for many decades. This is especially true of the sweeter styles, but a high-quality dry Riesling can be kept for several years and will continue to improve. You’ll likely find bottles that are a few years old on the shelves of your local wine shop. If you’re not keen to spend big bucks on an aged Riesling, you can look to Australia for smoky wines made from this grape at a fraction of the cost.
Fried chicken is a staple for summer picnics in the park and there’s nothing like a cold glass of Riesling to wash it all down. A richer style from Austria’s Wachau region will cut through the batter effortlessly. Austria’s star region is warmer than its German counterparts, so the grapes get riper and yield plusher wines with more stone fruit and ripe citrus aromas and flavors. The alcohol levels here tend to hover around 12 to 13 percent and up, which means a medium body that will complement the texture of your chicken. If you’re a fan of lashing hot sauce onto your fried chicken, head back over the border and to the sweeter side of the spectrum with a German Spatlese Riesling to offset the heat.
Heading out of the kitchen into the backyard? In Riesling’s native Germany, the noble grape is a go-to for pork. Take a tip from the Germans and try a glass of Riesling next time you’re BBQ’ing some hog. Your exact Riesling choice should hinge on the marinade. Add spice to your rub and you’ll want to lean towards the sweeter end of the scale. The same is true if you’re playing with Asian flavors like ginger, clove, and allspice. For German examples, opt for Auslese level sweetness and up. Auslese comes after Kabinett and Spatlese in the Qualitätswein classification. These wines are solidly off-dry, perfect for cooling the fire from a spicy dish. Otherwise look to Washington State’s Columbia Valley, a region home to every style of Riesling. Be sure to check the label to make sure you’re picking up the proper style. Washington Rieslings often have a kiss of residual sugar, but because there’s no set classification system like in Germany and Austria, reading the wine label will tell you if the wine is dry or off-dry. Most labels will denote the style, but another thing to look for is a lower alcohol content; in the case of Riesling, the lower the alcohol content (usually about 8 to 10 percent), the more likely the wine will be off-dry.
Summer eating is all about fresh fruits and vegetables, cold salads and pasta dishes, grilling, grilling, and more grilling. Would you believe that no matter how your menu looks, there’s a perfect Riesling out there for you? Its vibrant minerality and stunning array of aromas and flavors mean there are endless iterations of Riesling.
Here are some of our favorite Rieslings to sip this summer, hailing from Germany and some of the noble grape’s other global outposts. For a full guide on Riesling sweetness levels and other spectacular Riesling regions, check out our Introduction to Riesling.
Dry Rieslings for Salads and Shellfish
Nikolaihof Wachau Vom Stein Federspiel – A bright Riesling full of spiced pear, tree blossoms, citrus zest, and a savory minerality. $25
Dönnhoff Kreuznacher Kahlenberg Riesling Trocken Nahe – A delicate pale yellow Riesling bursting with
green apple, guava, and a smoky minerality, ripe $34
Kunstler Hochheimer Kirchenstuck Riesling Kabinett Trocken – Light and bright, with lemon and lime notes, crisp acidity, and a savory mineral finish. $18
Smoky Rieslings for Smoky Dishes
Albert Boxler Riesling, Alsace – Heady floral aromas, crushed rock, white peach and a hint of smoke. $40
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling, Margaret River – Loads of lime, lemongrass, white flowers, and a smoky minerality. $15
Off-dry Rieslings for Hitting the BBQ
Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington – Ripe tangerine and lime mingle with crisp apple and honeysuckle. $14
Monchhof Urziger Wurzgarten Spatlese, Mosel – Tropical fruits are balanced with ripe apple and lemon, tree blossoms and a slate-like minerality. $21
Dr Siemens Wurtzberg Riesling Spatlese Feinherb 2007 – White grapefruit and lime with subtle aromas of peach, honeysuckle, and pineapple.