Talk to almost any Riesling producer and you will hear these wines are perfect for the Florida climate, lifestyle, and cuisine. In the next breath, you’re likely to hear the lament that not enough people in Florida drink them.
The stigma of Riesling has always been that the wine is too sweet. However, this is generally untrue. Riesling, which can range in style from dry to sweet, has much better balancing acidity than Moscato, the sweet wine that seems to be the darling of the moment. In fact, many Rieslings are technically drier than a California Chardonnay that was picked extremely ripe and aged for years in oak barrels.
Germany has long been the mother lode for the varietal, where slightly more than half the world’s Riesling is made, but there are some exceptional bottles from other parts of the world. What follows is the best of the rest.
Alsace: Ownership of this border region has shuttled back and forth over the past few centuries, resulting in German wines made in a French style. Because of the warm air trapped by the Vosges Mountains, the style of Riesling made there tends to be richer and more full-bodied than wines made in the region of the Mosel or even the Rhine. Start with an entry-level wine from a reputable producer such as Hugel, Trimbach, or Domaines Schlumberger, which will cost $20 to $25. For a glimpse of exactly how good things can get, check out the glorious Trimbach Clos Sainte Hune ($200) or the remarkable Grand Cru Clos Windsbuhl from Domaine Zind Humbrecht ($85).
Washington State: The Columbia Valley’s warm days and cool nights provide the perfect backdrop for making world-class Riesling. First among equals is Eroica ($20), a joint venture between Chateau St. Michelle and famed Mosel vintner Ernst Loosen. The wine is rich and assertive, with vivid fruit and crisp acidity. Looking for a real value? Try Hogue Cellars, either in the regular version ($10) or the Genesis bottling ($14).
The Finger Lakes: Experts often compare the climate of this AVA (American Viticultural Area) in central New York State to Germany’s Rhine region. The pioneer in this area was Dr. Konstantin Frank, a Ukrainian immigrant who founded Vinifera Wine Cellars in 1962. The Dr. Frank Dry Riesling ($18) is a reliable bottle. Other wineries to seek out include Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Ravines Wine Cellars, Red Newt Cellars, and Anthony Road Wine Co. They may require an Internet search, but they’re well worth it.
Australia: When Americans think of Australian wine, they tend to visualize massive, full-bodied reds such as Shiraz or GSM (Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre) blends. One of the country’s best-kept secrets is the stunning Riesling made all over South Australia, particularly in the Clare and Eden valleys. In the Eden Valley, north of the Barossa, Julius Riesling from Henschke ($40) and Bin 51 by Penfolds ($25) have the best pedigree. Other good bets, each priced around $14 to $17, include Pikes Traditionale Riesling, Clare Valley; Pewsey Vale Dry Riesling, Eden Valley; and the Yalumba Y Series, South Australia.
A note on food pairings: Many accessibly priced Rieslings make ideal companions for a late afternoon rendezvous around the pool, and are well suited to light appetizers or finger foods. As you ascend the quality scale, wines from cold climates are a great match for seafood dishes of all sorts, as the prominent acidity complements the flavors of fish or shellfish. The best examples pair with white-meat dishes of chicken, veal, or pork in complex sauces. Because of the high acidity levels, the top Rieslings age very well, and some of them—if purchased young and stored properly—can easily outlive their owners.