Top Ten Summer Rieslings for Under $25

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Riesling has oft been dismissed as just another sweet white wine, but what many don’t know is it falls along a spectrum of flavors and levels of ripeness, like any other wine, and can range from chillingly bone-dry, with a razor-sharp acidity, to floral and delicate with a hint of salinity, to fruity, dense, almost botrytized (nobly rotten dessert wine grapes) in flavor, perfumed with the flavors of honey and fruit. It’s my personal favorite because of this variation, and I hope that after reading this, it will be your favorite, too.

I think of myself as the Riesling renegade. My goal is to make the world of wine—and your own palate!—more approachable by showing you some of my favorite wines. Today, I’ll give you my Top 10 Summery Rieslings under $25, along with tried-and-true dinner and dessert pairings for an exceptional meal.

I’ll touch upon Alsatian and North American Rieslings, but will mainly focus on German Riesling. German Riesling labels can be challenging to read and scan in a store. After all, which looks more fun for a party: the Clip Art-inspired Napa Sauvignon Blanc with a picture of a beachfront estate, or the wine that screams “SCHLOSSBOCKELHEIMER KUPFERGRUBE” in severe cursive like a bottled Ilsa the She-Wolf from the shelf?

Although it may seem scary, the inner contents are sweeter and more nuanced than many wines. Here are some tips and tricks for reading these labels and discovering which ones will best fit the occasion. You'll quickly see that these versatile wines are perfect for pairing with all sorts of food- backyard barbecue delights, Asian favorites, family dinners, and more!

Older German Riesling

First, you’ll want to know about how the wine will taste. In Germany, there are five designations for levels of ripeness and quality, called the Prädikat category. This separates the wines by their minimum must weight (the amount of residual sugar in the wine) requirements and the levels of alcohol in the wine. Kabinett Rieslings are likely one of the most common, and most affordable, rieslings you’ll come across in your selection. Processed from the main harvest, these are also the grapes that are used the earliest. Kabs (not to be confused with Cab, like Cab Sauvignon!) are typically drier and less sweet than their mustier counterparts, with, in the best cases, a laser-sharp acidity and in-your-face fruitiness. A Kabinett may be sweeter than a Spatlese from a particular producer or vintage, but these traits are typical of the norm.

If you're looking for a sweeter flavor profile, check out Spatlesen, the wines made from grapes processed later in the harvest. This later processing allows them to naturally dehydrate and can give them a sweeter, fuller flavor and mouthfeel. These can have traits of German dessert wines, but are not designated as such. However, I can’t think of a better send-off to a meal than a Spatlesen in many cases, so you can be the judge of that. These are also more cost-effective than designated German dessert and select bunch wines.

Auslesen, Beerenauslesen (BA), and Trockenbeerenauslesen (TBA), are the last three, and the sweetest, most carefully selected of the classification system. Auslesen wines can be dessert wine, and designate the wines which contain the best grapes from any particular year’s harvest. BA wines get into dessert wine territory. Grapes are left on the vines to shrivel and rot. Once they are harvested, they are processed into BA, a very sweet, very rich dessert Riesling. TBA is the sweetest, and easily the most expensive, of the bunch. The grapes that are not harvested for BA are left on the vine to further rot. Those wines will later be processed and made into an extremely concentrated dessert wine, often aged in 375 ml bottles as a small amount satisfies most. We will not be talking about Auslesen, BA, or TBA wines today, as they typically go outside of the $25 range.


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