As another Summer of Riesling event is upon us, I take great joy in seeing how many of my favorite Bay Area restaurants are participating. Back in the days of my first wine bar, Hayes and Vine, our selection of 40-plus German wines — most were riesling — was considered very risky. But we liked them enough and found that if our customers would agree to a little taste, they often ended up glugging down a couple of glasses.
Things have changed dramatically on the riesling front in the past couple of decades, but there is still a misperception out there that riesling is automatically sweet.
Dry riesling has always been made in Germany, and now it is at its all-time highest popularity there. You might be wondering, "How can I figure out if the wine is dry or not when I can't really understand a damn thing on the label?" Just look for the word trocken, which means dry auf Deutsch.
Dry or not, riesling has immense flavor. In the way that albariño is dry but fruity, riesling can be as well. But often it is even more expressive. With German wines, the soil has a huge influence no matter what region it is from, giving the wine its unique character.
Although riesling is a grape for all seasons, there is a reason why this promotion is called the Summer of Riesling. When you are looking for an invigorating, mouthwatering wine, German riesling is second to none, and more often than not, the drier versions are the way to go.
Georg Albrecht Schneider Niersteiner Riesling Trocken, 2011 (Rheinhessen, Germany): Schneider's wines are way below the radar, but for those in the know — and now that would be you — they are a terrific value. Nierstein, in the northern Rheinhessen, makes wines that have an especially fragrant peach, nectarine and apricot character, this 1-liter vessel being no exception. Bright and juicy, it is a no-brainer party wine and a great way to turn others on to the joy of dry riesling. Suggested retail: $14, 1 liter
Leitz Eins Zwei Dry Riesling 3, 2012 (Rheingau, Germany): In 1985, 19 years after his father's death, Johannes Leitz, who was studying enology in school, took over the domaine and by the mid-1990s had brought it to the top of the heap in the region. Eins Zwei Dry is a new wine made from several vineyards and is meant for cheap and cheerful drinking. It's light and zesty with crisp green apple and citrus tones and floral overtones. Suggested retail: $15
Koehler-Ruprecht Riesling Kabinett Trocken, Kallstadter, 2010 (Pfalz, Germany): The Pfalz makes the flashiest wines in Germany, in part because its relatively warmer climate allows it to do so — and not just with riesling. Koehler-Ruprecht, one of the oldest wine estates in the country, makes wines that are more restrained and minerally than those made by some of its neighbors. Medium-bodied with tart peach, raw almonds and a hint of honey in the nose, it is delicious now but will continue to drink well for another five years. Suggested retail: $17
Some of these wines can be found at Arlequin Wine Merchant, Bottle Barn, Farmstead Cheeses and Wines, K&L Wine Merchants, Solano Cellars and Vintage Berkeley.
Pamela S. Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.