With January comes new resolutions, and there’s one you should put on your list for 2016: drinking German riesling. Undoubtedly the Western European country’s most renowned grape, it often flies under the radar due to labels with a language barrier and the stigma that it’s amateurishly sweet.
Nothing could be further from the truth. German rieslings actually offer substantial variety, ranging from “trocken” styles—meaning dry—to “suss,” the sweetest. While the latter is profoundly distinctive for its delicate balance of residual sugar and acidity, the former can boast an energetic complexity of both body and texture. Both communicate a profound sense of place, transmitting the nuances of the country’s terroirs from the limestone soils of Pfalz to the Mosel River tributaries.
While the German labeling system puts Burgundy classification to shame, it shouldn’t stop you from savoring. The wines are organized by quality and region, as well as sweetness. To start, here are some words to know:
- kabinett: This is the lightest variation that can range from dry to off-dry.
- spatlese: These late-harvest rieslings are typically sweeter and richer than kabinett styles.
- auslese: Meaning “select harvest,” this bold style is the most ripe, sweet and expressive.
In addition to variety, German rieslings are also incredibly versatile. Try a dry style with simple seafood dishes, or use its structure to cut through a buttery cream sauce. Sweeter styles are better paired with spicy food—think Thai or Indian curries. Plus, plenty of Laguna restaurants offer a range of vintages to sip around town. Raise a glass to the new year with these five to try:
2013 Fritz Haag Riesling Trocken
This dry style produced by the Fritz Haag vineyard in the heart of Mosel boasts honeyed citrus notes with a stony finish, and is available at Sapphire Laguna. (949-715-9888; sapphirellc.com)
2012 Joh. Jos. Prüm Riesling Kabinett
Head to Driftwood Kitchen to try this off-dry wine, also grown in Mosel, which offers peach notes and benefits from the year it was grown: Wine Spectator’s 2012 vintage report says, “For Germany wine fans, seeking out fastidious producers will be crucial when the 2012s hit the market.” (949-715-7700; driftwoodkitchen.com)
2011 Zilliken Forstmeister Geltz Saarburg Rausch Riesling Kabinett
At Splashes Restaurant and Bar, this Mosel-grown wine is both tangy and juicy, with layered flavors of apricot and lime. (949-376-2779; surfandsandresort.com)
2012 Müller-Catoir Breumel in den Mauern
In the heart of Pfalz is the Haardt wine growing district, which produces complex and full-bodied rieslings such as this one, available at The Loft at Montage Laguna Beach. (949-715-6420; montagehotels.com)
2014 Clean Slate Riesling
Cultivated on the steep hills of the Mosel River Valley, this crisp and elegant wine draws minerality and a hint of spiciness from the slate soil in which it is grown, and can be sipped at both Watermarc and 230 Forest Avenue. (Watermarc: 949-376-6272; watermarcrestaurant.com: 230 Forest Avenue: 949-494-2545; 230forestavenue.com)
—Written by Kristin Lee Jensen