For years, Riesling struggled with an image problem in America, no doubt because people didn't trust wines sold in bottles shaped like miniature stone towers. Fair enough. But the truth is, good dry or off-dry Rieslings are delicious, versatile wines that are terrific with food, playing lively apple, peach or citrus flavors against a zing of minerally acidity. The best Rieslings have an intense brightnessone sip should wake the most jaded palate.
Trying to decide which country's Rieslings are the best would spark an endless debate. Excellent bottlings can be found all over the planet. Old World Rieslingsthe most outstanding ones come from Germany, Austria and France's Alsace regionrange from bone-dry to quite sweet. New World Rieslings, like the terrific, absurdly underpriced bottles from New York's Finger Lakes area and from Australia's Clare Valley, are mostly dry and crisp or, if labeled off-dry, slightly sweet.
If you're buying a German Riesling, pay attention to the label. The terms Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese designate the grapes' level of ripeness at harvest. Often, but not always, they correspond to the wine's sweetness (with Kabinett the driest and Auslese the sweetest). Dessert-style RieslingsBeerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eisweinare always sweet.