All About Riesling: The Most Versatile White Wine

glass of riesling with riesling titles

Riesling is one of the world’s most misunderstood and under appreciated wine grapes. (So is Chardonnay, but that’s another story.) This brilliant wine has unfortunately been associated with Germany’s mass exports of the 1970s and 1980s, or more recently with brands like Barefoot, and is typically assumed to be sweet. But while Riesling can make some of the world’s greatest sweet wines, there is much more to this high-quality, age-worthy grape variety than meets the eye. With a spectrum ranging from bone dry to sweet nectar of the gods there is a Riesling for every palate. The wines notoriously high acidity also makes it one of the most food friendly choices and a top pick of somm’s the world over.

Styles, flavors and aromas

Riesling aromas and flavors

It’s difficult to pinpoint a single, classic style because it is such a chameleon, depending on where it is grown. But that’s part of what makes it great; there truly is a Riesling wine for each and every palate. The one characteristic that strings together  is the grape’s super high acidity. Beyond that, Riesling can be light or full, dry or sweet, delicate or powerful.

Flavor Profile

Riesling: the aromatic, deliciously refreshing wine that tastes like the nectar of apples, apricots, peaches and pears and comes in the tall slender glass bottle. It is also known for its strong floral aromas. The common assumption is that all Rieslings are very sweet, and while most have at least a touch of sweetness, many Rieslings can be very dry as well. Whether the wine is dry or very sweet just depends on where the wine was grown.

Aromas

An early-ripening grape, it does better in cool climates with poor, well-drained soils like slate. In fact, when Riesling is grown in an area that is too warm, it can easily become overripe and flabby. Very aromatic, Riesling typically smells of ripe or tart peach and citrus, depending on the climate, with distinct minerality that often comes across as smoke, slate, black rock, or petrol.

Good Riesling wines can also age exceptionally well due to their high acidity and sugar contents. Over a decade or more they can transform into entirely new and dramatically complex wines, developing all kinds of secondary notes like honey, ginger, wax, nuts, and even mushrooms. Next time you buy a few, make a point to forget one or two in your stash.

Where Riesling grows

Germany continues to have the most Riesling vines, as it is grown throughout most of the country’s 13 regions. The central areas of Mosel, Pfalz, Rheingau, and Rheinhessen produce Riesling in both dry and sweet styles, often fine and delicate. Overall, German riesling tends to be low alcohol (8-9%), quite fruity, with a tingling acidity and touch of sweetness.

Sunny Alsace, once part of Germany, lies along the French border with Germany and Switzerland and produces both dry and sweet styles, though Alsatian Rieslings tend to have a broader mouthfeel to them. Compared to their German counterparts, Alsace varieties tend to be drier, more minerally, and aligned closer with the citrus spectrum of fruit flavors.

What to eat with Riesling

The wines naturally high acidity makes it one of the most versatile white wines around. Which allow it to pair with dishes light and rich, tart and sweet alike. Different styles  pair with different kinds of food, and it would be quite easy to devise an entire menu fit for Riesling. Drier styles pair well with fresh fish or salty, fried food, as the acidity easily cuts through the food, while sweeter styles fit well with fruit-based desserts. Off-dry Rieslings provide a nice partner for intensely spicy food as well.

Recommended Rieslings

We have rounded up some of our favorites listed here from driest to sweetest

2015 Karp-Schreiber Riesling Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett Trocken Mosel $15/bottle

Beautiful dry riesling with notes of green apple, lime blossom and rocky slate.  Crisp, bright acidity with lively fresh fruit on the palate and a steely, lingering finish.  A wine that over delivers for the price

2016  Dr. Fischer Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett Mosel-Saar-Ruwer $33/bottle

From under a slightly stinky veil of fermentative residues emerge site- typical scents of fresh apple and orange wreathed in their blossoms. A squirt of fresh lime reinforces the bright juiciness exhibited on a silken, buoyant, generously fruity and unapologetically sweet palate that alluringly perpetuates the wines oral perfume.

2006 Georg Albrecht Schneider Riesling Niersteiner Orbel Rheinhessen $38/bottle

Leafy, delicately earthy and bready notes in the fine nose of candied stone fruit with hints of coffee. More light milky coffee on the palate, touch of bread crust, hints of caramelized stone fruit and herbs, moderate acidity on the finish.

2006 Seebrich Riesling Niersteiner Oelberg Beerenauslese Rheinhessen $38/bottle

Sweet and slightly viscous in texture, this wine lacks some aromatic flourishes, sacrificing complexity for purity of its pineapple, apple and citrus flavors. Yet because of its balanced, crisp acidity, the wine still sings, finishing long and mouthwatering.

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