The Reason to Drink Riesling: A Wine Taster’s Guide
Famously known as the iconic German varietal, Riesling is a white wine as diverse as its globetrotting ways.
This wine stands out with its expression, as its versatility lends to its unique and surprising flavors sought after by experienced wine enthusiasts.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about one of our favorite wine varietals.
What is Riesling?
Riesling is a white wine native to Germany and is known for its high acidity. It comes in a variety of styles ranging from bone-dry to sugary sweet.
The Riesling grape is white on the inside with pale green skin and medium size. It’s perfumey with incredibly flowery notes, so the wine naturally boasts powerful scents of chamomile and jasmine.
While the overall history of Riesling is a little murky, it’s believed to have originated in 1435 Germany when a Count purchased several Riesling vines. It grew steadily in popularity until the late 1700s when the Archbishop of Trier had all bad vines replaced with Riesling varietals.
Riesling bloomed into one of the most fashionable wines by the 1850s, outselling Bordeaux and Champagne.
Today, Riesling remains the most grown variety in Germany, specifically in the French region of Alsace.
Many countries like Italy, the United States, China, New Zealand, Austria, Australia, and others also boast significant Riesling plantings, making it a worldwide phenomenon.
What Does Riesling Taste Like?
Riesling is a juicy, acidic wine with a crisp taste and fresh citrus aromas. Because of its high acidity, it usually tastes best when rounded out with more sugar.
When young, Riesling exhibits various fruity and floral notes like green apple, pear, peach, grapefruit, gooseberry, honeycomb, rose, cut grass, and even tropical fruits.
Older Riesling, on the other hand, is famous for its unique petrol notes, leading it to taste like gasoline or even burnt rubber. This may sound off-putting, but it's actually a highly sought-after quality by experienced tasters. Rieslings are more likely to develop this burnt rubber taste in warm climates.
Aged Riesling may also bear more savory, complex notes than younger Riesling, like dried fruit, caramel, flowers, and even wavy earth flavors.
Its range of flavors begs the question, is Riesling a dry or sweet wine?
Is Riesling Sweet?
Like many white wines, Riesling has various sweetness levels ranging from bone dry to semi-sweet to sweet. There is also sparkling Riesling, known as “sket,” which has remained popular in Germany since the 1800s.
Riesling is incredibly sensitive to the terroir (soil) and climate in which it's grown, and due to its acidity, it has amazing aging potential for a lighter wine.
Let’s take a deeper look at the sweetness of German’s Riesling. It’s sugar levels have their own categories!
Different Styles of Riesling
While there may be just a few overarching sweetness categories, Germany has a specific system for classifying sweet wines.
Specifically, there are six sweet styles of Riesling:
A dry Riesling, this style is the most delicate with bright citrus, green fruit, and floral notes. This Riesling grape is picked during the regular harvest season.
Produced from late-harvest grapes, this is a bolder, sweeter style of Riesling with heavy citrus and stone fruit notes.
Harvested when overripe, this Riesling is incredibly tropical, with even more sugar than the last category.
If you thought things couldn’t get any sweeter, this style of Riesling is exposed to a fungus known as “botrytis” or “noble rot” on the vine in order to increase the grapes’ residual sugar levels. Noble rot is a grey fungus that thrives in moist climates and is a common strategy used to increase the sweetness of certain wines.
There’s even more sugar here with this category translating to “dry berry select harvest.” Not only are these grapes also exposed to noble rot, but they also raisin on the vine, adding even more sweetness.
6. Eiswein (Ice Wine)
This famous dessert wine is a staple in the German wine world and is by far the most well-known in the country. Also affected by noble rot on the vine, this wine boasts a whopping 200 grams of sugar per liter, which is a lot like sipping cotton candy if you think about it!
Now that we’re familiar with some of the most famous German Riesling classifications, let’s explore where else Riesling is grown.
Where is Riesling Grown?
After gaining fame throughout Europe in the early centuries, Riesling traveled worldwide. Here is where you can find the best Riesling today:
With all 13 of Germany’s regions crafting quality Riesling, it’s no wonder that the country boasts the most production of the wine.
German Riesling is known for its high acidity and pale green-yellow hues. With much of it grown along the Rhine River, the wine develops into a medium-bodied, low-alcohol sipper with green apple, lime, and peach notes.
In the Rheingau region, Riesling is fuller-bodied with lighter acidity. The wine is known for its strong mineral flavors in the Mosel region.
Riesling takes on a spicy, earthy taste in Germany's warmest regions.
Also along the Rhine River near Germany’s southwest border, France’s Alsace region is famous for producing aromatic Riesling with creamy textures, mineral flavors, and potent acidity. These wines are typically fuller-bodied and range from dry to semi-sweet.
A reflection of Austria’s rocky terrain, this Riesling is even fuller-bodied with pronounced herbal and floral notes, complemented by a mineral finish.
The United States is known for producing several different styles of Riesling. So, depending on where you go, these Rieslings might not even taste like the same wine!
If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington State produce dry, tropical Riesling with smooth mineral flavors.
Riesling found its way to New York’s viticulture around the 1950s. With over 85% of New York Riesling coming from Finger Lakes, the grape has become the state’s flagship varietal. The Riesling here is lean, crisp, and refreshing with zingy acidity and a slate, mineral taste.
With its hot climate, you might be surprised to find that Riesling was the most widely planted grape variety down under until Chardonnay boomed in the 1990s.
The Eden Valley and Clare Valley regions cater unique Riesling with oily textures and citrus notes.
If the older Riesling you’ve sipped tastes strongly of toasted honeycomb and lime, it’s likely from Australia.
Marlborough, New Zealand, is actually a great area for Riesling due to its cooler, breezy climate. Ranging from bone-dry to sweet and lush, this style is known for its prominent lemon, lime, stone fruit, and spice notes.
Best Riesling Food Pairing
Due to its range of tasting notes and sweetness levels, Riesling is a delightfully food-friendly wine.
With sweeter Riesling, consider pairing it with spicy food, as the sugar will curb the intense flavors. Thai and Indian curries are often recommended for a sweet Riesling pairing.
Light, dry styles of Riesling are best paired with shellfish, chicken, and fresh salads, while full-bodied Rieslings can handle heavy meat dishes like pork.
Let Riesling Be Your Guide
If you can’t wait to get your hands on an authentic German Riesling by now, we don’t blame you! For a fresh take on a true classic, try our 2022 Süßen Riesling. For a dry style, enjoy sipping our 2022 Modernist Dry Riesling.
With all its unique qualities, each glass of Riesling might taste different than the next, which makes it all the more exciting!
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