Rieslings from Germany have experienced an almost unprecedented run of strong vintages extending back to 1988, with 2001 and 2002 emerging as the twin peaks of excellence. The best of 2002, the vintage currently in stores, have a sprightly acidity and rich fruitiness, despite their low 8 to 12 percent alcohol content.

DRY VERSUS SWEET These days approximately two-thirds of Germany's wines are dry, and even a fine Riesling with notable sweetness is usually so well balanced by crisp acidity that it isn't cloying the way less-well-made sweet wines from elsewhere can be.

READING THE LABEL German wine labels provide a wealth of information, but they're notoriously complicated. For explication, try One quick tip: Except for the very expensive dessert wines, all German wines can be produced as dry, semi-dry or sweet.

German Vintages

2002 Great. Drink now or hold.
2001 Great. Drink now or hold.
2000 Very good. Drink now.
1999 Very good. Drink now.

10 Top Bottles

2002 A. J. Adam Dhronhofberger Tholey Riesling Spätlese ($38) Adam is only in his twenties, but he's produced a head-turning Mosel wine; it has a creamy middle and a rose-gardenia aroma.

2002 Dr. Bürklin-Wolf Gaisböhl Riesling ($48) A wow wine from Germany's largest family-owned (since 1597) wine estate. This gorgeous, dry Pfalz Riesling has aromas of licorice, apple, apricot and roses, with a lift of acidity.

2002 A. Christmann Riesling ($20) Thanks to wines like this one, with its intense fruit, refreshing acidity and lingering lusciousness, this Pfalz producer is gaining a dedicated word-of-mouth following.

2002 Egon Müller Scharzhof Riesling ($17) From a 200-year-old vineyard—one of the most famous in the Saar Valley—this dry wine has delicate, spicy notes of licorice, grapefruit and apple.

2002 Karl Erbes Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese ($16) From an extremely steep slope above the Mosel River, this 8 percent-alcohol wine has a juicy, floral and citrus character.

2002 Karthäuserhof Estate Riesling ($18) How dry is dry? This firm-bodied and racy but compact wine comes from an estate in the Ruwer Valley that has been farmed since Roman times.

2002 Sybille Kuntz Riesling Trocken ($18) Husband-and-wife team Sybille Kuntz and Markus Kuntz-Riedlin are two of Germany's most impressive young winemakers. Their Mosel Riesling is concentrated, layered, dry and priced very well.

2002 Dr. H. Thanisch Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett ($20) Made with grapes from a famous vineyard in Bernkastel, this soft, feminine, off-dry Mosel wine (with just 8 percent alcohol) has a full, ripe, floral aroma.

2002 Zilliken Butterfly Riesling ($17) Hanno Zilliken has made the label as simple as German law allows, but the elegant Saar Valley wine in the bottle is anything but. Medium-dry, with a taut leanness, it unfolds to reveal a full, fleshy wine with a clean finish.

2002 Van Volxem Saar Riesling ($20) From stylistic maverick Roman Niewodniczanski of the Bitburger beer empire, this Riesling is a surprisingly powerful wine with 11.5 percent alcohol and lots of everything—apple and pear notes, a touch of creaminess and lively acidity.