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Nine vibrant, refreshing rieslings that make for perfect patio sippers

(Illustration: Jack Dylan)

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.

Dr. Bürklin-Wolf 2010 Estate Riesling
Dr. Bürklin-Wolf 2010 Estate Riesling
$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.
Cave Spring 2009 Estate Riesling
Cave Spring 2009 Estate Riesling
$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
Domdechant Werner Hocheimer Kirchenstueck 2003 Riesling
Domdechant Werner Hocheimer Kirchenstueck 2003 Riesling
$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
Henry of Pelham 2009 Off-Dry Riesling
great value indicatorHenry of Pelham 2009 Off-Dry Riesling
$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
Tawse 2010 Sketches of Niagara Riesling
great value indicatorTawse 2010 Sketches of Niagara Riesling
$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
Thirty Bench 2010 Riesling
great value indicatorThirty Bench 2010 Riesling
$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
Vollenweider 2008 Wolfer Goldgrube Riesling Kabinett
Vollenweider 2008 Wolfer Goldgrube Riesling Kabinett
$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
Willm 2010 Riesling Reserve
Willm 2010 Riesling Reserve
$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
Yalumba 2009 Y Series Riesling
Yalumba 2009 Y Series Riesling
$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.

  • Rachel

    You might be missing the best Riesling that Ontario has to offer, the Vintage 2008 and the 2010 Riesling from Organized Crime Winery. Is the absolute best.

  • Chris

    For once I agree with DL and would add that Australia as with every grape variety has led the charge in ruining wine for the entire globe, Riesling included. Small Aussie producers still produce great wines and their entire industry is slowly coming around to less mass produced garbage but they have hurt Riesling as they have everything else. It also doesn’t help that German wine labels, albeit the most informative, are indecipherable to the average consumer especially when written in Gothic Script. Ontario has a good climate for Riesling in general and there are many excellent examples out there. It is worth your time to drive to Niagara, get to know the producers and separate the wheat from the chaff. Some wines designated as VQA are made more in the Hardware store than in the vineyard/chais. Riesling deserves more general support and there are plenty of clonal plantings in Niagara that deliver a great wine without the “petrol” nose. Although personally that “petrol” nose is what I love about the variety.

  • Danielle Nicholls

    I tried the Niagara Riesling Flight at Crush Wine Bar the other day (Leaning Post, Hidden Bench & Charles Baker) what a great way to “crush” some lingering stereotypes about the quality of Ontario Wines!

    Rieslings are my favorite choice for fusion cuisine and multicultural spices so prevalent in Toronto. Leaning Post (2009) in particular had the peachy, quince flavors I love and a wicked sharp acidity (most definitely age-worthy).

  • wine

    Hey Chris, just so you know the petrol quality you love so much is a characteristic of a well made aged riesling and will start to develop a year or two after being bottled. I have enjoyed many aged niagara rieslings with that petrol quality you love so much. So to say Niagara can not produce wines with petrol quality is false.

  • Jenifer

    We have been serving Larch Tree Hill Riesling from Prospect Winery in BC for our Spring wine taistng menu at the Red Brick Cafe9, in Guelph, to rave reviews.People like a dry Riesling when introduced to a good one. Larch Tree Hill is a cool name but can’t compete with a name like Wayne Gretzky is he a German wine maker or something? The name is very familiar.