Throughout the late 20th century, Riesling gained a somewhat tarnished reputation, particularly within the UK, as a consequence of the abundance of overly sweet, low-quality Rieslings being released onto the market. Over the past two decades, however, it has made a comeback – especially the dry styles of top-quality wines with ageing potential and great value. The high acidity and complexity of tertiary flavours in Riesling have led to it being a favourite among wine industry professionals, including Jancis Robinson, who hails it “the greatest white wine grape”.
To help you uncover Germany’s noble grape, this week we examine some iconic dry and off-dry Riesling MUST BUYs with WL scores above 95.
Top quality Riesling is now produced around the world, from the traditional regions of the Mosel and Alsace, through to Australia and South America. 70% of dry Riesling MUST BUYs scoring above WL 95 hail from Germany (25 wines), of which just over half (19 wines) are produced in the Mosel. The other German regions in the list comprise two entries from the Rheinhessen, and one each from the Rheingau, Nahe, and Pfalz respectively.
Austria achieves six entries on the list of Riesling MUST BUYs scoring WL 95 and over (18%), which all hail from Niederösterreich, while the Alsace and Australia’s Clare Valley both earn two entries respectively.
A Mosel Must – 2010 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel
With a WL Score of 97 at just £59 (per bottle in-bond), the 2010 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkapsel exemplifies the excellent quality-to-price ratio of JJ Prüm’s wines. Long considered one of the Mosel’s, if not the whole of Germany’s most revered estates, its Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard is situated on steep south-facing, blue slate slopes, resulting in its complex minerality. Scoring it 19/20 points, Wine Lister partner critic, Jancis Robinson recounts that the 2010 vintage of this off-dry Riesling “Dances out of the glass on the nose. Such delicacy and life! Racy”. This vintage is available to purchase from Lay & Wheeler, where a case of six starts at £330 (in bond).
An essential Alsace – 2008 Trimbach Riesling Frédéric Emile
Dating back to 1626, 13 generations of the Trimbach family have contributed to the estate’s winemaking, now considered one of Alsace’s top properties. Cuvée Frédéric Emile is a blend of two Grand Cru vineyards, Geisberg and Osterberg, that share complex soils of alkaline clay and limestone, producing a wine of intense minerality. Both sites benefit from evening winds (the Tahlwendala), which allow extended ripening periods. The 2008 Trimbach Riesling Frédéric Emile achieves a WL Score of 95, and is available to purchase by the case from Cru World Wines for £390 (in bond).
A need for Niederösterreich – 2013 F.X. Pichler Riesling Kellerberg Smaragd
Described by Jancis Robinson as “Big and opulent with some lychee flavours”, the 2013 was a notably good vintage for F.X. Pichler’s Kellerberg Smaragd. Achieving the best WL Score since 1995 (96), it showcases Pichler’s attempt to refine his style and prioritise purity of fruit and balance over power. Although the narrow stone terraces of the Kellerberg vineyard necessitate farming and harvesting by hand, this wine has an impressive quality-to-price ratio. At £34 (per bottle in bond), the 2013 vintage is also a Wine Lister Value pick, and is available to purchase from BI Wines & Spirits (by the case of 12).
A New World necessity – 2013 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling
Often coined one of Australia’s most renowned Riesling winemakers, Jeffrey Grosset’s Polish Hill plot was planted in 1996, following years of research into the effect of soil, rock, and altitude on Riesling. This eight-hectare plot is thus at 460 metres altitude, ensuring cool nights and longer ripening of its Riesling grapes. Planted in an area termed “hard rock”, the Polish Hill vineyard is situated on a crust of clay over slate, which, alongside the cool growing season, causes stress on the vines, resulting in smaller but more complex-flavoured grapes. The 2013 vintage achieves a WL score of 95, and is available to purchase from Lay & Wheeler for £50 (per bottle in bond).
See the full list of Riesling MUST BUYs here.
To many a wine expert, Riesling is amongst the world’s finest white wine grape varieties, perhaps thanks to its versatile nature. The aromatic grape does well as both a sweet and dry wine, to drink straight away or suitable for long-term ageing. This week Wine Lister looks at the top five Rieslings under £100 by Quality score, which all hail from Alsace or the Mosel.
Hugel et Fils’ Riesling SGN takes the top spot this week with a Quality score of 981. This phenomenal Quality score is in part the result of an average wine life of 24 years (compared to 13 years for the rest of this week’s top five). The Riesling SGN from Hugel is therefore perhaps justifiably this week’s most expensive choice, at an average price of £98 per bottle in-bond. Sadly, it might take a Christmas miracle to source this in time for next week’s festivities. An average of just 600 bottles are produced of this Wine Lister Hidden Gem each year.
Next is Domaine Zind-Humbrecht’s Riesling Brand VT with a Quality score of 970. Though in second place for Quality, it achieves this week’s best Economics score of 633 (and also this week’s best overall Wine Lister score) – despite only 18 bottles of it having been traded at auction in the last year. It is the short-term price performance that really boosts the Economics score – the price having increased by 17% in the last six months.
In third place is this week’s first German wine – Heymann-Löwenstein’s Winninger Röttgen Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel. It achieves a Quality score of 960, and at only £52 per bottle in-bond it is this week’s most affordable option.
The two remaining spots of this week’s top five share the same Quality score (949). Domaine Albert Mann Schlossberg l’Epicentre Grand Cru is this week’s second Hidden Gem. Its Hidden Gem status is confirmed by a modest Brand score of 255 – the lowest of the group, due to presence in just 1% of the world’s top restaurants, and being only the 3,797 most-searched-for of Wine Lister’s wines on Wine-Searcher.
Rounding off the group is the second Riesling from Germany, Dr. Loosen Erdener Prälat Auslese Goldkapsel. If you are looking for Quality look no further than its 2006 vintage, which achieves a Quality score of 975 at an average price of £44 per bottle in-bond (compared to the wine’s overall average price of £54 in-bond). Its excellent quality-to-price ratio earns it a spot as one of Wine Lister’s Value Picks – indeed, it is given high praise from Wine Lister partner critic, Antonio Galloni, claiming it to be a “…massive and yet somehow delicate auslese of stunning quality”.
Having dipped its toe in New World waters last week to look at Argentina’s best wines, the Listed blog now shifts its attention considerably further North, heading to the Alsace to consider its top five dry whites by Wine Lister score.
Whilst there was not much between Argentina’s top two wines, in the Alsace it is very much a case of the best and the rest, Trimbach’s flagship Clos Sainte Hune leading by 90 points with a score of 916. Its dominance is thanks to comfortable leads across each of Wine Lister’s rating categories. However, it is in terms of Economics that no other Alsatian wine can get close to it, its score of 804 nearly 120 points ahead of Zind-Humbrecht’s Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Riesling, whose score of 688 makes it the region’s number two wine in the commercial category. The Clos Sainte Hune’s economic clout is thanks to its higher price (over three times the average of the four other contenders to the Alsatian crown), and trading 2.6 times as many bottles at auction as the others over the past four quarters. As an aside, it is also by far the region’s most searched-for wine online, although its ranking as the 216th most popular wine on Wine Lister perhaps betrays a lack of public interest in Riesling and Alsatian wines in general. Sommeliers are more convinced however, with it featuring in 37% of the world’s top restaurants – which, interestingly, is not the best performance of any Alsatian wine. That accolade goes to its sibling Cuvée Frédéric Emile which manages to pip it to the post in this particular criterion (38%).
Trimbach isn’t the only producer to feature twice in this week’s top five, Zind-Humbrecht’s Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Riesling (826) and Windsbuhl Gewürztraminer (729) both making the cut. Despite being separated by nearly 100 points overall, they achieve similarly excellent Quality scores, the Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann Riesling leading by just six points (916 vs 910). There isn’t that much between the two in terms of economic performance either, with the Windsbuhl Gewürztraminer sitting 47 points below its stablemate (641 vs 688). Thus the real difference occurs in the Brand category, with the Windsbuhl Gewürztraminer unable to keep pace either in terms of the number of restaurants in which it features (5% vs 16%) or search rank (2,070 vs 928), resulting in a considerably weaker score (546 vs 791). This perhaps confirms that Gewürztraminer, regardless of the quality in the bottle, is a grape that is currently unable to excite either sommeliers or consumers – Zind-Humbrechts’s Windsbuhl languishing in fifth place across both Brand criteria.
The final wine this week is Weinbach’s Riesling Schlossberg Cuvée Sainte Catherine (675). Confirming the outstanding Quality of the Alsace’s top wines, across all vintages it achieves a Quality score of 900. Its overall Wine Lister score is dragged down partly by a lower Brand score (661), but for the most part by a weak Economics score (191). However, if you’re looking for top Quality at a reasonable price, then look no further than its 2014, which qualifies as a Wine Lister Value Pick. Available for as little as £30 per bottle, yet with a Quality score of 944 and predicted to be drinking well for another 15 years, it would definitely be worth seeking out a few bottles of it.
A glass of cold Riesling on a hot summer’s day hits that sweet spot between refreshment, satisfaction, and intrigue. Any one of Germany’s finest wines for Quality under £300 would definitely deliver those three things. Moreover, with an average drinking window of 16 years, and with global warming seemingly set to deliver increasingly high summer temperatures, stock up on them now and you will be rewarded with stunning wines for years to come.
It is perhaps revealing of Riesling’s under-the-radar nature that three of this week’s top five qualify as Hidden Gems, meaning that they combine excellent critics’ ratings with modest restaurant presence and online popularity. Moreover, many of Wine Lister’s Hidden Gems were picked out by the global fine wine trade in our Founding Members’ survey, underlining the perennial mystery of Riesling as the darling of the trade, despite struggling to spark wide-scale consumer demand. Interestingly the group’s three Hidden Gems are all Beerenausleses (BAs). Schloss Johannisberg Rosa-Goldlack, Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr, and Weingut Robert Weil Kiedricher Gräfenberg’s BAs, in spite of a phenomenal average Quality score of 969, achieve an average Brand score of just 398 – the result of being present in just 2% of the world’s top restaurants and receiving only 70 online searches each month on average. Demand for excellent sweet Riesling is clearly not there at present.
However, returning to the group’s fantastic quality, it is Egon Müller’s Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese that comes out on top with a score of 974. 2014 was its best ever vintage, with one of JancisRobinson.com’s critics, Michael Schmidt, awarding it 19/20 and heaping on the praise: “Our sensory perception is treated to an animating exuberance of exotic fruit and fresh raisins. Botrytis has been kept in check to focus on purity of expression rather than indulge in unctuous combustion”.
The group’s final spot is filled by Keller Westhofen Abtserde Riesling Grosses Gewächs (966). It is Jancis Robinson’s favourite of the five, achieving an outstanding average rating of 18.5/20 from Wine Lister’s UK partner critic. Tellingly, particularly in the context of the three BA’s lack of consumer demand, it is also the group’s most popular wine, receiving nearly 30 times more searches each month on average than the BAs. Consumers appear much more at ease with Riesling’s dryer styles.
Yes, that question: “which are better, Old World or New World wines?” Traditionalists may argue that the latter lack the prestige and quality of their Old World counterparts. Those with a preference for the New World might see these wines as better value for money, free of the price tag accompanying wines from famously exclusive Old World vineyards.
Wine Lister has compared the top 50 wines by Quality score from Old World and New. The average Quality score of the top 50 wines is 983 in the Old World and 948 in the New. Though both Worlds sit comfortably in the “strongest” section of the Wine Lister 1000-point scale for Quality, the price gap tells a different story. The average price for a top 50 ranking Old World wine is £2,114 per bottle – seven times higher than the average New World equivalent (£297).
The wine with the highest Quality score on Wine Lister is Egon Müller’s Scharzhofberger Riesling TBA, which achieves a wine level Quality score of 995, having fallen just one point shy of the perfect 1,000 point score for the 2010 vintage. Riesling’s quality proliferates in the top 50, with 16 entries across Germany and Alsace. The high critics’ scores are balanced by exceptionally high prices, with an average price of £2,509 per bottle.
Though the Old World Quality top 50 is in fact white wine dominant, red Burgundy is well represented, with 13 entries and an average Quality score of 983 at £3,164 per bottle. Even excluding DRC La Romanée-Conti’s remarkable price (£11,722 per bottle), Burgundy’s remaining 12 finest reds command an average price of £2,450 per bottle.
Champagne wins the price vs quality race for the whites, with an average Quality score across its four entries of 981 at £348 per bottle. Even more impressive are the five Port entries, with an average Quality score of 982 at £244 per bottle.
In contrast to the diverse set of regions represented in the Old World top 50, the New World list is dominated by California (with 40 out of 50 wines hailing from the region). These wines achieve an average Quality score of 948 at £315 per bottle – not quite as good value as the Champagnes and Ports, but seemingly better value than their red Burgundian counterparts.
Though there are fewer entries from Australia (seven in total), the New World’s number one wine for quality comes from the Barossa Valley. Torbreck The Laird has a Quality score of 984 points and a price of £427 per bottle. When comparing this to an Old World wine of the same score, the price difference is evident. Domaine Leroy’s Romanée Saint Vivant benefits from the same Quality score, but is nearly five times more expensive, at £1,975 per bottle.
Riesling is amongst the greatest grapes at communicating time and place. Top Riesling is not only one of the most ageworthy of all wines, it is also one of the most versatile grapes, delivering crisp lime-scented examples in South Australia, and heady, honied, petrol aromas in the Mosel. The top five Riesling brands are a good example of this. Despite all hailing from Alsace and the Mosel, they showcase at least some of the variety that can, at times, cause confusion (but don’t extend to the tonguetwisting trockenbeerenauslese or flummoxing fuder numbers).
Alsatian heavyweight Trimbach fills the top two spots with its flagship Clos Sainte Hune (939) and Frédéric Emile (884). Clos Sainte Hune is the only Riesling to crack the 900-point mark in the Brand category, thus ranking amongst the most elite Brands on Wine Lister’s database. Its lead is thanks to its popularity – it is searched for twice as frequently as the group’s second-most popular wine (Prüm’s Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese). It is in fact Trimbach’s Frédéric Emile that achieves the greatest level of restaurant presence of the group, appearing in 37% of the world’s top establishments, it just pips Clos Sainte Hune to the post (34%). Confirming Trimbach as darling of the trade, the next best wine in the criterion (Prüm’s Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese) appears in 22% of top restaurants.
Egon Müller fills the last two spots with wines from the famous Scharzhofberger vineyard – its Kabinett (850) and Auslese (848). It is interesting that it is the Kabinett that comes out on top in the Brand category, despite trailing its sweeter sibling by significant margins in the Quality category (820 vs 974) and Economics category (523 vs 806). It manages to do so thanks to a greater breadth of restaurant presence (21% vs 16%), despite the Auslese achieving greater depth with 3.6 vintages / formats offered on average (the best of the group).
It is worth comparing the performance of Riesling’s top brands to the grape’s top Quality scores. Whilst these five brands achieve an average of 880 in the Brand category, the top five Rieslings by Quality score manage a remarkable average of 990 in the qualitative category. It seems that it is in terms of consumer popularity that Riesling struggles. Trimbach’s Clos Sainte Hune – the most popular Riesling in the world – is only the 241st most popular wine on Wine Lister’s database.
Riesling seems doomed to be perennially underappreciated, perhaps due to its range of sugar levels, or maybe the complexity of the German classification system. Certainly its remarkable quality does not command the brand recognition it deserves. If we compare the average of the top five Brand and Quality scores of 100% Riesling, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc wines, it is clear to see that Riesling’s outstanding quality does not currently result in a corresponding level of brand strength.
We may have been glad to see the back of January, but it certainly wasn’t all blue. The first month of the year brought excitement to the wine world with Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s (DRC) 2015 release, and to Wine Lister with our first ever 1000-point Brand score. For much of London’s bustling City, the end of February means one thing: bonus time. The Financial Times’ February edition of How To Spend It already features the iconic DRC – below are some further ideas for wines to blow the budget.
Prices from our data partner, Wine Owners, are shown ex duty and sales tax (VAT) per bottle as averages across Wine Lister featured vintages.
- Krug Clos d’Ambonnay
While Dom Pérignon or Louis Roederer’s Cristal are more commonly associated with City celebrations, those in the know will be toasting with Krug’s famous Pinot Noir expression. With an average Quality score of 969 and a price of £1,367 per bottle for the latest available vintage (2000), a glass of Krug Clos d’Ambonnay is, in itself, cause for celebration.
- Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon
If you’re one of the lucky few on Screaming Eagle’s direct mailing list, congratulations. It is one of the most talked-about wines by the trade based on the results of Wine Lister’s proprietary Founding Member survey, and counts over 17,000 monthly online searches on Wine-Searcher. The average £2,593 price tag per bottle is therefore a small price to pay, if indeed you are able to get your hands on one of the 7,800 bottles produced each year.
- Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling TBA
Even harder to find is Egon Müller’s Scharzhofberger Riesling TBA. It breaks a number of records, including Wine Lister’s rarest wine (with an average of only 150 bottles produced per annum) and the highest ever average Wine Lister Quality score (995). Prices range from £5,848 per bottle to over £21,000 per bottle for older vintages.
- Domaine Leroy Musigny Grand Cru
The second most expensive of all French wines, let alone in Burgundy, is Domaine Leroy’s Musigny. At just over half the price of DRC Romanée-Conti, averaging £6,805 per bottle, its consistent quality is matched by impressive price growth, with a compound average growth rate of 26%. It featured in last year’s Listed blog, “the best wines money can buy”, which certainly still rings true.