Kosher Rieslings are underrated, but they just keep getting better.
From the mid-1980s to the early-2000s, White Riesling (often known back then as Johannisberg Riesling) was one of the most popular kosher white wine varieties. And for good reason — the grape produces crisp, fruity, refreshing wines that make for particularly good spring and summertime sipping.
But by 2005, when I started writing this column, kosher Riesling’s popularity was on the wane, and in one of my first columns I tried to speculate about why that was so. I predicted that it would regain its lost popularity, but boy, was I wrong.
But even though kosher Riesling’s market share is surely smaller today than it was eight years ago, I can happily report — after a recent tasting of eight current releases — that its quality is better than it has ever been.
White Riesling has been cultivated for centuries in Germany and the Alsace. It’s a versatile grape, which can create complex, long-lived white wines with big fruit flavors and a wide variety of styles — from super-sweet dessert wines to bone-dry aperitifs. Today’s kosher consumer can buy both sweet and dry Rieslings of excellent quality.
The best wine in my recent tasting, and perhaps the best Riesling I’ve ever tasted, was Carmel’s Kayoumi Single Vineyard Riesling, 2010. Made from Riesling grapes grown in a vineyard located 2,300 feet above sea level in the Upper Galilee, this dry, crisp, medium-bodied, straw-colored wine has a rich and satiny mouth-feel. Look for flavors and aromas of lychee, apricots and apples, with hints of leather, spice, hay, and cream. Drinking well now, this wine should be consumed within the next 18 months.
Score A. ($22.95. Available at Skyview Wine & Spirits, 5681 Riverdale Ave., Riverdale,  548-3230).
Also excellent was Hagafen’s 2012 Napa Valley, Rancho Wieruszowski Vineyard, Dry White Riesling. Light- to medium-bodied, with a dark-straw color, this dry Riesling has a delightful bouquet of apricots, peaches, longans and citrus. Look for flavors of apricots, lychees and citrus, with an intriguing note of coconut. Crisp, well balanced and refreshing, this wine should drink well for the next three years.
Score A/A-. ($21. This wine will shortly be released in the New York area, but is currently available direct from the winery: www.hagafen.com,  424-2336).
Those seeking a sweet Riesling should try Prix Vineyard’s 2009, Napa Valley, Rancho Wieruszowski Vineyard, Reserve White Riesling. Made by Ernie Wier of Hagafen Cellars, this medium-bodied, luxurious, almost-dessert-wine-sweet, tawny straw-colored Riesling has a perfumed nose of kumquats, lychees, honeysuckle and honey, with a slight but pleasant whiff of mustiness. Look for flavors of apricots, lychees and honey, with a hint of spice. Drink within the next three years.
Score A- ($36. Available direct from the winery: www.hagafen.com,  424-2336).
The bargain of the tasting was Baron Herzog’s 2011 White Riesling. Made from Riesling grapes grown in Monterey County, this straw-colored, lightly sweet, medium-bodied wine has flavors and aromas of apricots, pears and apples, with a whiff of wild flowers and a hint of white pepper. Drink within the next 18 months.
Score B/B+ ($10.99. Available at Shoppers Vineyard, 875 Bloomfield Ave., Clifton, N.J.,  916-0707).
Riesling can be a very food-friendly wine, and its high acidity can make it a particularly good choice to go with spicy dishes. So the next time you’re looking for a white wine with a bit of bite, reach for the White Riesling.
Please note that White Riesling — the appellation Johannisberg is now reserved for wines from the Rhine — should never be confused with Emerald Riesling, a Riesling and Muscadelle crossbreed grape that is widely planted in Israel, which rarely produces wines of the same quality as White Riesling.
Wines were scored on an ‘A’-‘F’ scale where ‘A’ is excellent, ‘B’ is good, ‘C’ is flawed, ‘D’ is very flawed, and ‘F’ is undrinkable. Prices listed reflect the price at the retailer mentioned.
Fruit of the Vine appears monthly. For more food and wine coverage see The Jewish Week’s Food & Wine section at www.thejewishweek.com.