08 May, 2010

Fear of Riesling?

Last night I met a friend for happy hour at the Loring Kitchen and Bar. It was my first time there and I loved it. They have a great wine list yet they don't ignore the beer either. I was in the mood for something new and different and I spied the Hugel & Fils Gentil. I was pretty sure this was French and since I don't know much about French wines I thought I would give it a try.

The wine list described it as a French Blend. I had a hunch that it might be Riesling so I asked the bartender what grapes were it in. She got an odd look on her face and said, "Well, it doesn't taste like what it's made of. It's Riesling but it isn't sweet, it's dry and minerally. I really like it and I don't like Rieslings."

It's too bad that Riesling has such a bad rap, mostly created by American Rieslings that are often cloyingly sweet. It's no wonder most people shy away from trying them. But in fact, Riesling is very flexible and makes wines is a wide variety of styles, from bone dry to dessert. They are typically very fragrant, fruity and minerally. They can also have a streak of acid in them that not only provides great balance to all that fruit, but makes them a mouthwatering partner to food.

So how do you find a dry Riesling? Here are a few tips:

1. Avoid anything labeled Late Harvest, Auslese, Beerenauslesen, or Trockenbeerenauslesen . These are made from grapes that are picked later and are therefore riper and more sweet. Typically these labels refer to dessert wines.

2. Look for the work "dry" on the label (or trocken on German wines). Many U.S. wine makers are labeling their Rieslings counter the expectation that it will be sweet.

3. Look for wines from cooler regions of the U.S. Both Washington and New York are making fine examples. In fact, Eroica from Chateau. Ste Michele of Washington never fails to impress fellow drinkers. 

4. Leave the U.S., figuratively, of course. Riesling is grown all over the world and does especially well in climates that are a bit cooler. Germany, France (Alsace) and Austria make wonderfully dry Rieslings. In Germany, look for those that are labeled Kabinett to ensure one that is drier. That said, Riesling is gaining ground right now in Australia despite the hot tempurature.  Look for those grown in the cooler region of Victoria.

So, how was the Hugel & Fils Gentil? It was delicious and perfectly refreshing. This wine is a blend of riesling, mucat, gewurztraminer, pinot gris and sylvaner. Pale straw in color, it has aromas of flowers, limes, green apples and just a hint of petroleum (which is characteristic of Riesling, by the way and not at all as off-putting as it sounds). On the palate it has all kinds of juicy citrus flavors as well as that streak of acidity and minerality. A perfect way to start off an evening. 


  1. Excellent writeup on Riesling. I love it and work with both the dry and sweeter styles when they are called for. I hae enjoyed the Salmon Run Riesling, a dry style from Australia. Chateau Ste Michelle just release a dry Riesling and Pacific Rim offers both. I think the US producers are realizing they that are losing to foreign competition who may the dry style because that is what the grapes used result in.


  2. Great tips there! We never fear a good German riesling on our house.

  3. I've been wanting to try Loring Kitchen and Bar for a while now. Also, the only wine Erik will drink is Riesling because it is sweet so I am going to try to trick him and get a dry Riesling and see what he thinks.

  4. I bought a Dry Riesling from Trefethen Family Vineyards for Easter and it was amazing. The dry riesling sells for $21 at Haskells, but they also have a "regular" riesling that my mom says is fantastic (neither of us are huge riesling fans) and sells for $4/bottle at Trader Joes. I plan to try that one next!