There’s nothing quite like the crack of a crisp riesling on a bright spring evening. That bolt of vibrant, citrusy acidity, followed by a flood of peach, pear, honey and wildflowers. But wait, what’s that odd scent—is it flint? Or diesel fuel? Riesling disciples use the term “petrol” to describe its unusual aroma. Although I would argue for the grape’s virtues—as a versatile food wine and as the world’s best cellaring white—riesling has never gained a mainstream following. Not just because of its idiosyncratic bouquet, but because attempts to mass-produce it on the cheap have often resulted in limpid, overly sweet wines. Recently, however, better rieslings have made in-roads on wine lists across the city, thanks in large part to the excellent bottles produced here in Ontario. The LCBO also carries many refreshing, off-dry examples in the over-$15 range that make superb patio sippers and offer extraordinary value—just check out the point-to-price ratios on the following bottles.
$20 | Pfalz, Germany | 90 points
The Pfalz area of the upper Rhine makes fleshy, sumptuous rieslings, and this vaguely sweet beauty from a great year exudes honey, peach and pineapple, with a hint of mint. The finish is dry and the length is excellent. It’s only available online, but well worth ordering for the cellar. www.thelivingvine.ca
$18 | Niagara | 90 points
For 25 years, Cave Spring has championed Ontario, with its limestone-laden soils, as a premier riesling region. The 2009 is lively and elegant, with petrol and mineral aromas knitted into flavours of yellow apple, honey and spice. It’s focused from start to finish, with excellent length. Vintages. LCBO 286377
$28 | Rheingau, Germany | 92 points
This golden oldie is creamy and sweet, with dried apricot, honey and toffee combined with beeswax and petrol notes. The flavours are pure and focused and extend for minutes on the finish—proof that riesling ages gracefully. Vintages. LCBO 931836
$16 | Niagara | 90 points
From 25-year-old Niagara vines, this is a sleek, harmonious and vaguely sweet riesling. Expect intense, complex aromas of apricot, honey, lemon, spice, mint and just a bit of petrol. Excellent length. Vintages. LCBO 557165
$18 | Niagara | 91 points
This one isn’t as subtle or mineral-driven as Tawse’s top-tier rieslings, but it offers immense value. It’s juicy and fresh, with plum, pear and grapefruit flavours, as well as vague petrol. Laser acidity balances the sweetness and ripeness of the 2010 vintage. A great patio sipper. Vintages. LCBO 89029
$19 | Niagara | 90 points
Thirty Bench, a tiny winery, specializes in bold, dry, mineral-driven rieslings. This one has a very generous nose of ripe pear, peach, lemon, flint and petrol. Despite being only 10.8 per cent alcohol, it’s filled out with the ripe fruit of the 2010 vintage. Try it with roast pork. Vintages. LCBO 24133
$22 | Mosel, Germany | 92 points
The slate-rich slopes along the Mosel river are ground zero for riesling. This light white (only seven per cent alcohol) is exquisitely poised and deep. It is sweet but dances across the palate on a spine of acidity and explodes with apricot, honey and lemon aromas. Vintages. LCBO 249730
$16 | Alsace, France | 87 points
Compared with rieslings from Germany or Niagara, Alsace’s are powerful, bone-dry and high in alcohol. This one is a typical version, with generous ripe honey and peach scents and a background of lemon and flint. The bitter finish drowns out some of the pretty aromas. Try it with pork, not as a patio sipper. Vintages. LCBO 11452
$15 | South Australia | 89 points
Riesling has deep roots in Australia, courtesy of 19th-century German immigrants settling in Barossa and Clare. This well-priced version captures all the essentials of the Aussie riesling style: dry, full bodied, mango fruit, lime-like acidity and plenty of petrol. It’s a great summer deck wine, especially with grilled shrimp or fruit salads. LCBO 212753
Scores: David Lawrason assigns scores on a 100-point scale. They reflect a wine’s overall quality.
A rating of 95 to 100 is outstanding; 90 to 94 excellent; 85 to 89 very good; 80 to 84 good.