Riesling gets a bad rap. Despite being one of the most complex grapes in the world, capable of slate-y minerality, palate-cleansing acidity and explosive sweetness, it often gets overshadowed by the buttery popcorn profile of California chardonnay or the grapefruit zing of Aussie sauvignon blanc. Historically, German and Alsatian rieslings have been the superstars here, but, when growing conditions are just right, new world growers are making their mark as well. At this time of year, when foods run the gamut from sweet to savory to spicy, riesling, like a gentle drill sergeant, is the wine that makes food be all that it can be. Here are five stellar picks from L.A. wine shops and restaurants that are both food-friendly and crowd-pleasing, essential elements of any holiday feast. Some are available only at the restaurants, but others can be found in local wine shops. If you are unable to find these bottles, trust the recommendations of the wine shop folk — they love riesling and are always ready to introduce it to customers.
5. Domaine LA
Courtney Kaplan at Domaine LA singles out the 2011 Brooks Bois Joli riesling from Oregon. Her reasons? Its flavors run pure and true thanks to the grapes being sourced from a single vineyard. More importantly, Kaplan says, "it's a knockout with fall flavors" because its "fresh and peachy with a good dose of minerality and just a hint of sweetness. It's an eye-opening example of the versatility and food-friendliness of this often overlooked grape." Kaplan suggests pairing the wine with spiced pumpkin soup or herb roasted pork. 6801 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; 213-932-0280.
Charles Kelly, co-owner of Allumette in Silver Lake is partial to the 2010 Premier Cru Hengst Alsatian riesling from Domaine Ehrhart. For Kelly, the Ehrhart "displays an elegance in winemaking that is hard to describe. Its acidity is of the kind that you would experience consuming a fine ripe apple. Its body is almost light, but — more. This wine displays none of the astringency typical (and beloved) of many rieslings. It's creamy, with a touch of spice, and truly beautiful, with great length." This is a go-to riesling with turkey, but pairs equally well with more delicately flavored foods such as seafood, poached fish and roasted root vegetables. According to Kelly, it's "a great compromise wine for carnivores and vegetarians on Turkey Day." 1320 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles; 213-935-8787.
At Eveleigh on Sunset, sommelier Dan Farr is pouring j.brix The Augur riesling from Santa Barbara County. The growing conditions — misty maritime-influenced mornings and warm days in SBC — have proven a compelling match for riesling's temperamental nature. Winemakers Emily and Jody Brix take a minimalist approach, using neutral oak barrels and native yeast for fermentation, allowing the wine to offer up a true evocation of its region. Brix is definitely a boutique grower, making small quantities of exceptional wine — there were only 49 cases of The Augur produced and Eveleigh has two of them. This one is worth the trip to the restaurant and, while $89 a bottle may seem a bit steep, it's not for the quality of the wine you'll taste. 8752 Sunset Blvd., WeHo; 424-239-1630.
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2. Manhattan Beach Post
Roses, white peach, mango, lime tree blossom, flint stone. These are the words that Jerry Garbus, general manager and beverage director at Manhattan Beach Post uses to describe the 2009 Markus Molitor Riesling Spatlese, Urziger Wurzgarten from Mosel, Germany. The Mosel is one of Riesling's most beloved regions, producing wines of bracing acidity and soaring sweetness depending on how the growth is controlled. A spatlese offers a higher level of perceived sweetness but, as Garbus points out, there is a "complex mineral structure with a vibrant and tensional acidity, full bodied, juicy and rich." This is a wine that will balance the savory notes of Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, but still temper the sour elements of cranberry sauce and other sides. 1142 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach; 310-545-5405.
A fine Riesling at a nightclub? Given the complex, artisan approach to cocktails at Honeycut, it's a no-brainer for GM Adam Weisblatt. His poetic — and precise — description shows how he feels about Weingut Keller's Riesling Trocken. As he explains, the trocken (which means dry), "provides the drinker with a lovely introduction to the mix of sunshine, river stones, and the changing of the season in the famous Rhienhessen region in Germany. White grapefruit, honey, green apple, fresh apricots, and rubber balloons (in the best way possible!) sing on the palate. "Although many people equate riesling with sweet wines, more and more dry riesling is being produced and exported around the world. The lack of residual sugar doesn't detract from the beautiful perfume of the wine. Even completely dry rieslings (trocken) can produce the illusion of sweetness, as the aroma can often be intensely floral, fruity, and honeyed." In stores, this trocken retails around $18.99, making it a deal in the riesling world. This would be the perfect riesling for your beer-drinking friends, who most likely would shy away from the usual sweetness of the wine. And if that doesn't catch their attention, the "rubber balloon" description is guaranteed party conversation. 819 S. Flower St., downtown; 213-688-0888.
Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book "Gin: A Global History." Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.