Riesling is made from an incredibly aromatic grape that is commonly grown in Germany, France, and the New World. The grape itself has a higher sugar content than many other wine grapes, and many wine makers chose to honor this quality by crafting their Rieslings to exhibit this sweetness. Alternatively, Riesling can be made in the dry style, with very little residual sugar left in the wine after fermentation. These wines can often seem sweet at first sip, where the aromas of bright fruit overwhelm the minerality, but finish crisp and dry as the actual flavor of the wine overpowers the aroma towards the end of a sip.
In Germany, where Riesling is one of the most common varietals, the cool, northern latitude climate gives these grapes a lower sugar content and a higher acidity. Because of this, traditional German Rieslings are usually on the dry side. Riesling grown in warmer climates, on the other hand, often have more sugar and flavors of peach and lime. These grapes lend themselves to the sweeter style of Riesling and can even be left on the vines late into the season until they dry out slightly, increasing the sugar content and creating a wine that is sweet enough to be a dessert.
Best Riesling Overall:
One of the most misunderstood varietals, Riesling is a wine with two distinctive faces. Some of these wines are sugary sweet, with pronounced flavors of peach and other tree fruit, while others are dry and crisp with high acidity and notes of apple. For the most part, these differences are caused by the climate the grapes are grown in, with drier wines hailing from cool, northern climates, and sweeter wines coming from warm, southern regions. Since both of these styles are true to the Riesling grape, we have included both in this list of the best Rieslings. Other factors we considered were wide availability, high ratings by critics, and performance at recent regional and international wine competitions. We favored wines from 2011 and 2012 because these were both excellent years. Since Riesling often benefits from at least a few years of aging, we also noted when wines should be kept in the cellar for a few more years.
A dry Riesling reminiscent of the German style of this aromatic wine, Penfolds Eden Valley Bin 51 Reserve Riesling '12 is an excellent wine that will continue to mature over the next 5 to 6 years. It's tart, acidic, and incredibly aromatic, with a touch of sweetness on the nose though it's not at all sugary. Since this is a dry, acidic wine, it will pair well with light fish dishes. Read Full Review
Grown in a mild climate and made in the off-dry style, Poet's Leap Riesling '12 is one of the most popular Rieslings with professional wine critics. This wine is layered and complex, with aromas of flowers, tropical fruit, and citrus, and flavors of honey, dried fruit, and white flowers. If you've got a bit of a sweet tooth, this wine is an excellent choice. Read Full Review
If you're looking for a Riesling with a crisp, dry flavor and not a hint of sweetness, Robert Oatley Signature Series Riesling '11 is an excellent choice. Grown in cool South Australia, this wine has lots of bold citrus notes, with lemon-lime on the palate and orange blossom and orange sherbert on the nose. The finish is incredibly crisp and doesn't contain even a hint of sweetness. Read Full Review
If you're looking for a classic, Old World Riesling, Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile Riesling '06 is a great choice. This wine hails from the historic home of Riesling. It's a dry wine with a pronounced minerality and a bold bouquet that has plenty of fresh fruit and honey. Since it's an '06, this wine is also at its peak right now and doesn't need any extra time in the cellar. Read Full Review
A predominantly dry Riesling with just a hint of sweetness on the finish, Eroica Riesling '12 is one of our favorites. This wine is incredibly aromatic, with a strong orange blossom nose. It's also very flavorful, with notes of stone and apple. Since it's on the acidic side, it pairs well with seafood, though the slight sweetness also allows it to pair well with spicy food, making it the perfect all-around riesling and the best of both Old and New Worlds. Read Full Review
Best Riesling Under $20:
For our list of the best Rieslings under $20, we selected wines made in a number of different styles, including the classic dry style of Old World Riesling, and the slightly sweet off-dry style of many New World Rieslings. If you have a serious sweet tooth, we've even included a late harvest wine that has lots of sugar along with the intensely citrusy aromatics we've come to love in a good Riesling. All of the wines on this list are well-regarded by critics and wine-lovers who love to get a good deal. These wines are also all easy to find at wine shops and large retailers, and come from 2011 or 2012 vintages, which were both excellent years.
An off dry wine that offers an excellent balance between sweet fruit flavors and acidic minerality, Columbia Valley Kung Fu Girl '12 is our favorite Riesling for under $20. This wine is incredibly complex and has big, bold aromas characteristic of Rieslings grown in warmer climates. Read Full Review
An uncharacteristically sweet German riesling, Heinz Eifel Riesling Spatlese '11 is an excellent semi-sweet wine. Great as a light desert or paired with an after-dinner cheese plate, this wine is smooth, sweet, and richly complex with flavors of both ripe fruit and clean mineral. Read Full Review
An intensely dry Riesling hailing from Washington state, Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Dry Riesling '12 is a well-balanced wine with mandarin orange on the nose and lots of acidity on the palate. It's ideal with oysters and at less than $10 a bottle, an excellent everyday wine that offers all the complexity of more expensive Rieslings. Read Full Review
Made by one of Northern California's premier winemakers, Francis Coppola Sofia Riesling '11 is an excellent wine that has won numerous awards in the past couple years. It has notes of spice, honey, lime, and stone and is well-balanced between acidity and a slight sweetness. Grown in the cool area around Monterrey, these grapes mature slowly and exhibit many of the qualities prized by Old World Rieslings. Read Full Review
Made in the off-dry style, Kilikanoon Mort's Block Watervale Riesling is a well-balanced wine with big citrus flavors and stunning aromatics. It's crisp and acidic with just a hint of sweetness, and famous as one of the most well-loved Australian Rieslings for under $20. With a great balance between residual sugar and tart acidity, this wine is excellent with seafood dishes and spicy foods such as Indian or Thai curry. Read Full Review