Truth be told, you should’ve been drinking Riesling all along. But unfortunately many people associate Riesling with being sweet, which can be off-putting to many would-be imbibers. And while some Riesling is produced to maintain higher levels of residual sugar, like all other varietals there are bone dry versions as well. Sweeter takes on the varietal are also highly-prized and are often the most age-worthy of white wines.
Dry or sweet, Riesling needs to be in your glass now.
One of the most highly-aromatic wines, Riesling originated in the Rhine wine region of Germany/Alsace in the first half of the 1400’s. As the choice wine of German nobility, it was stored in cellars throughout the country. Due to its high acidity and structure, it was quickly discovered to be one of the few white wines, like Chardonnay, that can age for decades. And like other noble varietials, produces wine that are extremely terroir-driven, yet still maintaining its inherent typical characteristics.
While most white wine is meant to be enjoyed soon after purchase, high-quality Riesling endures and improves over time. High-levels of a chemical compound called TDN, which can give the wine aromas of gasoline, also contribute to its age-worthiness, and is one of the signature characteristics of the wine.
All gas aside, Riesling is also known for its lovely floral and stone fruit aromas and flavors. Imagine blossoms and honeysuckle emanating from the glass, discover peaches and pears on your palate, and savor a refreshingly crisp finish. Because of its high acidity, dry, and even more so, sweeter Rieslings pair amazingly well with spicy food and Asian cuisine.
Those favoring a drier--that is, less sweet--style of Riesling should look moderate levels of alcohol or 11% ABV and above. Rieslings from the tiny French region of the Alsace tend to be dry, and their 51 Grand Cru vineyards produce some of the most sought after dry Rieslings on the planet. For a textbook example, try wine from the storied Trimbach Estate (Morganelli’s, $24.99) which has been making dry Riesling in the Alsace since 1626. Hailing from the Kremstal wine region where Austria’s most esteemed vineyards are located, Nigl Dornleiten Riesling (Gourmet Shop, $21.99) is another dry example of this noble grape.
If a more off-dry, or sweeter version of Riesling is preferred, seek out a lower level of alcohol or an ABV of 9%. The lower alcohol level typically indicates a higher amount of residual sugar that wasn’t fermented away during the winemaking process. The most well-known off-dry Rieslings come from the Mosel region in Germany where this grape is the most widely planted. Try the Selbach Kabinett (Gourmet Shop, $17.99) for a typical example of this varietal. For a New World expression, try Fess Parker Santa Barbara Riesling from California’s burgeoning Central Coast (Morganelli’s, $21.99).
This versatile grape can be just as enjoyable dry or sweet, young or old, still or sparkling, and can age longer than nearly any other white variety.
As a wine educator I am fortunate to be able to expose people to new flavors, styles, and regions. I help people discover new wines while helping them understand their own palate preferences. I also like to set the record straight, especially about widespread misconceptions I feel prevent people from fully experiencing their wine! Let’s finally put some of these wine myths in the cellar.