Ask any wine pro ‘What is your favourite white grape?’ and chances are it’ll be riesling. Each year this is the Wine Champions blind tasting Society buyers most look forward to, so deep is our love for this much misunderstood grape. I’m amazed that we aren’t sporting JJ Prüm tattoos afterwards – rather like the cast of the Fellowship of the Ring and their ‘Nine’ (in Elvish) body art.
The cause of riesling is not helped by its myriad styles, confusing labels and the flute-shaped bottles that suggest sweetness and send consumers running. To dispel some myths and direct you down the path of riesling righteousness, here’s my guide.
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German riesling ranges from the very dry to the unctuously sweet, but all should have wonderful precision, refreshing acid and, typically, no oak influence. For an anyday dry style August Eser’s Oestrich Riesling ‘vom Löss’ 2020 from the Rheingau shows peach notes alongside mineral freshness. For a sweeter take then Dr. Loosen’s 2020 from the Mosel is sure to be a hit. For Germany’s finest dry styles look for ‘Grosses Gewächs’ on the label, a quality designation marking a top producer and site. Dr. Loosen’s 2019 Kinheimer Rosenberg GG from the Mosel shows power and concentration alongside piercing acidity. 'Kabinett', 'Spätlese' or 'Auslese' are traditionally sweeter wines. At the driest end of these, von Kesselstatt’s 2019 Niedermenniger Riesling Kabinett at around 30g/l sugar is citrus-led and elegant. Their Josephshöfer Spätlese 2018 goes up to 93.8g/l sugar and is packed with notes of apricot, orange rind and wet slate. It's delicious now but will age wonderfully.
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Across the border in Alsace things don’t get much easier. Whilst it’s hard to generalise, the wines are typically drier, richer and higher in alcohol and with a riper, often exotic fruit profile. Alsace’s Cave de Turckheim is a great starting block, and their Collection Terroirs 2019 shows tropical fruit and typically oily texture. is pure, fine and delicate now but will develop over time. For a taste of more mature riesling from a great vineyard like Schoenenbourg, look no further than Alsace Riesling ‘Grossi Laüe’, Famille Hugel 2012.
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Proving there’s more to Austria than grüner, riesling here is typically taut, mineral and dry. Start with Familie Mantler’s Niederösterreich 2021 then move west along the Danube from Vienna to Kremstal, where Stadt Krems’ Stein Riesling 2020 offers white peach and floral aromatics to the saline palate. Yet further west in the Wachau, try Domäne Wachau’s 2019 Ried Achleiten ‘Smaragd’ , a term given to the richest, weightiest wines that show great concentration and body, bruised tropical-fruit flavours and often a touch of botrytis complexity.
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Outside Europe, Australia has form on high-quality dry riesling with electric acidity and flavours of lime cordial and kerosene. Mac Forbes’ Spring Riesling 2021 offers this lime and elderflower character beautifully on a more approachable, rounder palate. The brightest stars shine in the Clare and Eden Valleys, the former typifying the 'lime cordial in a glass’ flavour and the latter a lighter body and more aromatic style. The Forage Supply Co. ‘Spliced’ Eden Valley Riesling 2021 is delicious and one that’ll age nicely, too.
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The New Zealand style is similar in purity but typically has more fruit weight, softer acidity and often some residual sugar. Prophet’s Rock’s Central Otago 2020 is dry but textured, with peach and citrus notes, good for at least a decade’s ageing.
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In the USA, Washington State’s Ste Michelle, the world’s biggest riesling producer, makes an elegant, easy-drinking, off-dry style – Columbia Valley Riesling 2020 – that goes supremely well with food. For a drier alternative, head south to Chile’s cool Casablanca Valley where Matetic’s Corralillo Riesling 2020 delivers zest aplenty.
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South Africa, not yet riesling central, is starting to turn heads with examples from the cooler Elgin region. Oak Valley’s ‘Stone and Steel’ 2021 balances a touch of sugar with tart green-apple acid and citrus blossom for a harmonious whole. Paul Cluver’s Estate Riesling 2021, also from Elgin, is in a sweeter style, with a mineral core and impressive structure that signal a bright future here for this noblest of grapes.
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Top tip: the lower the alcohol on the label, the higher the sugar (in theory!) and the sweeter the wine.
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