Riesling has been a tough sell in the United States since the 1970's, when mediocre, sweet Liebfraumilch wines like Black Tower became popular, and then fell out of fashion. Americans associated Riesling grapes with sweet wine, and that's somewhat understandable, because that's what we were fed.
Today Germany produces mainly dry wines from Riesling grapes, and based on my tasting experience, Germany makes the best Riesling wines in the world, hands down. But because American's still expect Riesling wines to be sweet, the Germans keep sending us sweet wine, most often labeled 'Auslese' or 'Spatlese' depending on the degree of ripeness and residual sugar left in the wine.
For a while there in the last decade it seemed like Riesling was still making some progress in the United States. I can only attribute that to the efforts of restaurant sommeliers and wine press. In recent years sales of Riesling have stagnated. That's a shame, because the bright,high acid, unoaked flavors of Riesling make it one of the most versatile food wines of all. Sure, there are floral aroms in Riesling that make it sometimes smell sweet (like flowers) when in fact there is very little residual sugar left in the wine.
If you're looking for a dry, racy, complex German Riesling these days, look for the terms, "Trocken" (meaning dry), or "Feinherb," meaning dry to off-dry witha few paltry grams of resudual sugar.
These wines are a few worth seeing out, especially given their reasonable sticker prices. Some are drier (less sweet) than others. Some have complicated names, but to a one, these wines will put 90% of domestic American Riesling to shame, and in that regard, they really impress. These are wines worth tasting, worth re-visiting, and believe me, once you have the right German Riesling, you may be starstruck. For the rest of your life. And I'm not kidding about that
These reviews represent what I found to be the best Rieslings in a shipment I recently received from Winesellers, Ltd., a prominent, thoughtful American importer of foreign wines.
Heinz Eifel 2013 Riesling Spatlese Mosel Valley ($15) Well, this one isn't exactly dry, but it is awfully good. Clocking in at a mere 7.5% alcohol, it has generous apricot, peach and yuzu flavors, and the racy acid of the wine goes a long way toward balancing it's natural sweetness, and that's something you don't often find in a domestic Riesling bottled this sweet. It would be a great match for spicy Indian or Thai food. (90)
Dr. Thanisch Riesling 2013 Feinherb Qba Mosel Valley ($20) Love it. It's razor-sharp and seems almost completely dry at 11% alcohol. There's an almost smoky, slate note on the nose, and the flavors are almost like those of a Champagne without the bubbles. with notes of white peach, lme, meyer lemon and tangerine. Absolutely delicious and has a terrific acidic cut to it that you just don't find much in dry American Rieslings. (93)
Dr. Pauly Bergweiler 2014 Noble House Riesling Mosel Valley ($12) This one's a little bit sweeter than I would normally prefer, but the quality is obvious from the get-go. It has pretty, focused apple and apricot flavors with bright acidity and a generally very likeable personality. It isn't tremendously minerally, but it's clean, fresh, has a touch of sweetness, and it really sings with a moderately spicy coconut curry dish. It also stayed fresh for a few days in the refrigerator after it was opened, and that's very much a function of the wine's brisk acidity. At this price it's an absolute steal. (90)
Dr. H. Thanisch 2014 Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett, Mosel Valley ($23) Just a lovely Mosel Riesling with the distinct nose of Mosel slate, green apple, unripe apricot and mango notes. It has just a slight hint of sweetness and great acidity. It has a real sense of place and a general class about it. I suspect it will age very well under the screwcap closure. Effortlessly classy and fascinating. (92)