Increasingly, bartenders are reaching for Riesling as a key ingredient in cocktails. The white wine, whose best-known offerings tend to hail from Germany, Austria and the Alsace region of France, can add refreshing acidity and nuanced fruit or floral flavors to mixed drinks.
But similar to the use of Sherry in cocktails, many bartenders are still coming to understand Riesling’s wide variety of styles, from bone-dry to sweet, or dessert-like to a palate cleanser. It can add nuanced flavor to drinks, depending on the focus of the cocktail.
Since the grape is grown around the world—including New World regions like Washington, Oregon, New York and Australia—that also means that a bar or restaurant can spotlight a specific country or region when desired.
Riesling’s high acidity and citrus notes allow many bartenders to use it either as a substitute for lemon or lime in drinks, or to supplement the flavors.
For example, at Washington D.C.’s Voltaggio Brothers, beverage director Bruce Cartwright uses Riesling to add backbone to a Cosmopolitan riff. The wine “gives a touch of extra acidity, an underlying floral hint, cuts the alcohol a little and gives a greater depth of flavor,” says Cartwright.
Others favor the wine’s complex aromatics, which can range from delicately floral to juicy stone or tropical fruits, to even smoky or petroleum-like. Mark Guillaudeu, beverage director at Commis in Oakland, California, built his 12:10 to Munster cocktail to amplify the grapefruit and floral fragrances he detected in a Riesling from the Nahe region of Germany.
The following cocktails feature Riesling as a key component. The recipes start with dry styles and work up to slightly sweeter/more robust types.
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Grapefruit, Pisco and Kabinett Riesling
Riesling and Tonic
Off-Dry Riesling Pineapple Spritz
Frozen Strawberry Riesling Cocktail
The Alsatian Riesling Swizzle