The Best Budget-Friendly Rieslings

20 rieslings that won't break the bank

It’s not easy to find a great riesling under $12. It is a very particular challenge since producers can always rely on their favorite crutch, sugar, when producing rieslings. After working through over a case of value-priced rieslings, I was becoming a bit discouraged. Then, I hit on a series of wines from Washington State that made me take notice.

Washington is often overlooked when it comes to fine wines, though I don't know where that leaves Michigan and the New York Finger Lakes, who also produced solid entries for this list. It's undeniable that Washington seems to be emerging as a great source for riesling, though the marketplace has yet to take proper notice. This means that it remains a land of great values. Dive in and take a look at the complete notes from our value tasting in July 2012.

2011 Washington Hills Riesling WA 11.5 percent $10

Fairly sweet-smelling on the nose with apple fruit accented by hints of jelly candy that recall blackberries and lime. This is noticeably sweet though there is plenty of acidity to help keep it balanced, if not bright. This trades some brightness for richness of fruit and depth of flavor. It’s a bit of a fruit bomb, but I like the combination of orchard fruit with citrus and berry accents. Super fun to drink with a finish that is moderately long and continues the fruit flavor interplay, while layering on a nice hint of minerality. Bing Bing Bing, we have a winner. 88 points.

2010 Murphy’s Law Riesling Columbia Valley WA 12.3 percent $12

This smells of mineral and lime. A touch muted perhaps but distinctly riesling with a lovely base note of sweet/sour apple fruit. Bright and fresh in the mouth, this has a gentle sweetness that is well balanced by firm acidity, all wrapped in a rather lightweight, fresh package. The palate delivers light apple fruit with a mineral edge that rolls over the moderately long finish. This is a find at this price. 87 points.

2010 14 Hands Riesling WA 11.5 percent $12

Pretty on the nose with light notes of iris, lime pith, and some heather, honey tones. Medium-bodied and while lightly sweet, also light and elegant. I would like to see a little more acidity here but this does have a nice texture as it is. Delivers some gentle jasmine, apricot, and crab apple flavors. The finish is nicely clean and fresh with a hint of balancing bitterness and surprising length. 86 points.

2011 Standing Stone Vineyards Riesling Finger Lakes, NY 11.4 percent $11

A lot of dried fruit on the nose here lends this a toffee note with dusty, dried floral tones, and a hint of quince paste. This is very bright with huge acids throwing down on the modest sweetness. Raw and a bit untamed, there’s plenty of pithy fruit here along with under-ripe apricot and some fine suggestions of river stones on the back end. The body slams your tongue on the finish with the acidity. The finish is long and shows some sweet tea character. A lot going on, possibly too much for some folks, but I give this an A for effort. 86 points.

2011 Ch Grand Traverse Semi-Dry Riesling Old Mission Peninsula MI 12 percent $11

Honeyed lime and spicy herbal notes show up on the somewhat simple nose, along with hints of apple butter and toffee. This is fairly sweet in the mouth with good acidity keeping it lively, but the texture is a touch viscous and the flavors lean towards the treacly, dried fruit end of the spectrum. Hints of dried figs, mango, and a little strawberry note that pops on the back end and drives through the modest finish. It’s good in its style, just be prepared for sweetness. 86 points.

NV Ch Grand Traverse Select Semi-Dry Riesling MI 12.5 percent $8

Sulfur on the nose with late arriving herbal and lightly vegetal notes that hint at lime leaf. Weighty on the palate but well balanced and fairly fresh. This has a nice balance of sugar and acid supporting relatively simple apple and peach flavors, with a twist of bitter lime pith on the back end. The finish is a bit short with a nice pithy edge that lingers on the palate. A bit simple but well done. 85 points.

2011 Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling Columbia Valley WA 11 percent $10

Sweet, candied lime peel, apricot, and apple aromas are layered on the nose. Noticeably sweet on entry, this has fine acid balance lending a transparent feel in the mouth and taking the edge right off the sweetness. The result is a medium-bodied, lime-based, mid-palate with a touch of herb and apple peel complexity that extends over the moderately long finish. Nicely balanced and fresh if a touch simple, this checks all the boxes. 85 points.

2010 BEX Riesling Nahe Germany 9.5 percent $10

Quite soft on the nose. There are nice floral notes here along with a touch of spearmint and some earthy fruit undertones. This nails the sweet/sour interplay that makes riesling so attractive. There’s almost a roller coaster in your mouth of sweet citrus flavors cut by the acidity, which pops through the fruit every so often. Flavor wise, this is fairly simple, hitting the citrus buttons every so often but not delivering much more than that. I doubt people will mind much since this is like drinking adult lemonade. Really love the sugar/acid interplay here and I imagine many others will too. 85 points.

2011 Targovishte Riesling Bulgaria 12 percent $8

A little green on the nose and spicy with shades of pear peel, green tea, and lightly dried grass. This is pretty dry with just the faintest suggestion of sweetness balancing the acidity here. There are nice, fresh flavors of earthy apricot and apple peels on the palate along with a spritz of steely minerality that pretty much dominates the moderately long and almost salty finish. A rather interesting example with a lot going for it, but you have to love salty wines. 85 points.

2010 J. Lohr Bay Mist Riesling Monterey Co. CA 12 percent $10

Pretty floral and dried herb stem notes on the nose float over a base of green apple and melon aromas. This is soft and creamy in the mouth with plenty of sweetness. The acidity helps to add a bit of tension in the mouth, adding a nice candied citrus peel flavor that also shows a hint of underlying marshmallow. The finish is a bit short but does have a nice, bright finale that leaves the mouth fresh. A touch dull but should be very popular at this price point. 84 points.

Click here to find the other 10 recommendations for budget-friendly rieslings. 

— Gregory Del Piaz, Snooth