I remember the moment in 1995 when I became a Riesling convert. A friend at a tasting said, "Hey, put that down and try this." That was something forgettable (which I've duly forgotten); this was a 1990 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese. It was the only wine I'd ever had that seemed to sparkle without actually being sparkling, and truly illustrated Galileo's famous statement that wine is sunlight held together by water.
Riesling exists in a wide range of styles, from bone-dry to sweet, full-bodied to light. It thrives in cool-climate regions around the world—Germany, preeminently, but also Austria, France's Alsace, parts of the United States and Australia's Clare and Eden valleys. The following 19 bottles, chosen from 103 sampled recently in the F&W Tasting Room, are a great introduction.
Riesling Around the World
2005 Penfolds Reserve Bin Eden Valley Riesling ($18) From an exceptional year marked by warm autumn weather, this racy, quince-flavored, dry white from one of the country's largest producers demonstrates why Australian Rieslings are now attracting so much attention.
2005 Mr. Riggs Watervale Riesling ($24) The Clare Valley is Australia's premier Riesling region, and this white from up-and-coming winemaker Ben Riggs has all the hallmarks of the Clare style: firm, tight acidity, lime and lime-rind flavors and a refreshingly brisk chalky finish.
2005 Mesh Eden Valley Riesling ($25) A joint venture between Riesling star Jeffrey Grosset and Yalumba owner Robert Hill Smith, this zesty wine full of mouthwatering lime flavor comes from three blocks of old vines in the Eden Valley.
2004 Stadt Krems Weinzierlberg Riesling ($22) The Kremstal region produces balanced, bone-dry Rieslings with mineral and spice notes. This tart, stony bottling comes from a winery that, interestingly, is not owned by a person or a company but by the principal city in the area, Krems.
2004 Loimer Seeberg Riesling ($30) Scents of citrus rind and white grapes define this succulent Riesling from winemaker Fred Loimer, who's become one of Austria's most visible talents since taking over his family estate in 1998.
2004 Hugel Riesling ($18) The Hugel family's winemaking history stretches back to the early 1600s—generations of experience that show in Rieslings like this filigreed, white peach-driven bottling from their estate near the Alsace town of Riquewihr.
2003 Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile Riesling ($40) Made from grapes picked during the last few days of harvest, from 30-year-old vines overlooking the Trimbach family's winery, this dry white defines Alsace Riesling: powerful yet focused, with notes of candied citrus peel and a stony minerality.
2005 S.A. Prüm Essence Riesling ($10) Fourth-generation winemaker Raimund Prüm has been part of the movement to simplify German wine labels, especially on more affordable bottlings like this one. Its bold fruit flavors settle into a chalky, minerally finish.
2004 Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium Trittenheimer Apotheke Kabinett Riesling ($15) For German Rieslings, the word Kabinett refers to a specific level of grape ripeness; most Kabinetts show a touch of residual sugar, making them excellent partners to spicy food. This perfectly poised bottling, full of pear and green apple flavors, is a classic example.
2004 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken ($21) One recent trend in German Riesling has been toward drier styles, designated halbtrocken (half-dry) or trocken (dry). In this bottling from Riesling master Johannes Selbach, the ripe white peach flavors focus into a dry, refreshing finish.
2005 Villa Maria Private Bin Riesling ($15) New Zealand Rieslings, unlike Australian ones, are typically made in a lightly sweet style, and this citrusy, lively example, from vineyards in the Awatere and Wairau Valleys of Marlborough, is true to form.
2003 Chateau Belá Riesling ($16) A few years ago, German Riesling guru Egon Müller partnered with Slovakian winemaker Miroslav Petrech to produce this floral Riesling. The grapes come from an ancient vineyard on the banks of the Danube River, where vines have been cultivated since before the fall of Rome.
2005 Columbia Winery Cellarmaster's Riesling ($12) Mango and tropical fruit flavors and a juicy, moderately sweet finish define this tangy white from one of Washington State's oldest wineries, established in 1962.
2005 Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Riesling ($17) This new bottling from one of America's largest Riesling producers uses grapes from vineyards on Washington State's warm, dry Wahluke Slope to create off-dry (slightly sweet) flavors of cantaloupe and red apple.
2005 Trefethen Estate Dry Riesling ($20) Delicate white peach flavors and a hint of gingery spice define this composed, dry Riesling from Napa Valley's Oak Knoll District.