Sure, you could grab the classic Pinot Noir, whose cherry, spice and earth notes complement a deeply savory turkey or roast. But for something different, consider opting for Riesling — a classic white wine with a broad range of styles and expressions. German Rieslings, especially those from the Mosel, are often rich and honeyed, with distinct gasoline- or kerosene-like notes — that’s a class of compounds called terpenes. Some are intentionally made with the fungus botrytis cinerea, a.k.a. “noble rot,” which imbues wines with flavors of honeysuckle and beeswax. Wherever it’s from — Austria and Alsace have long Riesling traditions, too — the wines are bright, with varying levels of sweetness to balance their sky-high acidity, and can pair beautifully with stuffing, turkey, gravy and sweet potatoes. Most holiday fare, with its warming flavors and spices, can find a suitable Riesling since the versatile wine can range from sweet and lush to bone-dry and mineral.
The grape was once among California’s most widely planted grape varieties, reaching nearly 9,000 planted acres in 1976. Today, about 4,000 acres of Riesling remain in the state, according to the USDA’s Grape Acreage Report — with more than 1,500 of those coming from Monterey County, and 87 acres in Napa County. This is a relatively small crop when you compare it to the more than 91,000 acres of Chardonnay planted in the state. California’s renditions are all across the board stylistically, from Santa Barbara’s Austrian-inspired Tatomer Wines, whose Rieslings bear all the markings of diesel fuel, to lightly sweet, floral versions from Mendocino County by Navarro and Handley. Whatever your preference, here’s your guide through some Napa and Sonoma tasting rooms offering Riesling. —Urmila Ramakrishnan
(For more information on Riesling, read Esther Mobley’s 2016 article on the comeback of California Riesling, plus tasting notes.)
The Las Brisas Vineyard Riesling hails from Carneros. The winery itself claims to be the oldest continually operating winery in the area, and the midsize winery produces about 22,000 cases of wine a year.
2. Scribe Winery
The Riesling here comes from the estate on the southwest slope of Arrowhead Mountain. The dry and zippy wine spends six weeks in stainless steel for an extended cold fermentation. It’s also one of the most Millennial-friendly wineries in Sonoma.
3. Goosecross Cellars
As one of Yountville’s hidden gems, there’s a lot to try at Gooosecross. That includes Riesling. The wine is light with a slight minerality. The winery has been around since the 1970s, and it was purchased by Coors Brewing Co. in 2013.
4. Stony Hill Vineyard
The rare Napa winery that focuses on white wines rather than reds casts a supporting role for Riesling. This honeyed, floral version is good for beginners or those who have been Riesling-averse in the past. The vines themselves are more than 50-years-old. A visit here involves a quick walk around the bucolic property.
5. Smith-Madrone Vineyards
The 36-acre property produces barely sweet Rieslings that are both juicy and searingly acidic. The Smiths hold tastings themselves at a small table in the barn that functions as both the tasting room and the barrel chai. They’re big proponents of dry farming and sustainable practices. If you’re curious, you should ask them
6. Arista Winery
Crisp, citrusy and dry, the Riesling here is perfect for a summer’s day. The charming tasting room feels like a mix between a zen garden and Pottery Barn. Bring a picnic and linger over a glass at one of the tables outdoors after your tastings.
7. Stonestreet Estate Vineyards
Riesling is part of the mix here. so is Merlot. The seated tasting will allow you to study the mountain’s scape details. If the weather is nice, upgrade to a picnic lunch on the patio.