When I first drank Riesling, I thought of it as a sweet wine, but did you know that Riesling can also be dry?
Riesling is known as a highly acidic, fruity, and aromatic white wine. Let’s dive into some of the basics:
Likely originating from Germany and now Germany’s most planted white grape, Riesling has a high yield and produces better flavors when planted in poorer soil in cold climates. Throughout the world, it can be found on South-facing slopes — most remarkably on the slopes of the Mosel River in Germany, where the incline of the vineyards can get up to 65 degrees! The popularity, and notoriety, of Riesling started in the 1970s and 80s when Germany began to mass export sweet wine, much of which was Riesling. Germany’s reputation for sweet wines has been hard to shake and is sometimes referred to as the Curse of the Blue Nun, after Blue Nun wine, a cheap, sweet, and wildly popular wine throughout the 20th-century.
Regardless of the level of sweetness, Riesling is always a fruit-forward wine. Often smelling of apricot, peaches, nectarine, green/yellow apple, lemon, lime (Australian Rieslings are known for lime!), lychee, minerals (NY Rieslings are known for their minerality), jasmine, lavender, honeysuckle, and honey. Sweet Riesling can also have aromas of prunes, raisins, caramel, and maple. Rieslings are also known for sometimes having a petrol or diesel smell, which often comes from Rieslings in warmer climates. Finally, I often find they also smell of cat piss (but in a good way?).
Anywhere from bone dry to a sweet, syrupy dessert wine! The level of sweetness is completely up to the winemakers preference and is a combination of harvest time and how long fermentation continues. Grapes that are picked late in the harvest are more likely to be sweet, with some of the very sweet dessert wines having grapes affected with Botrytis, called the “Noble Rot.” Similarly, wines with a low level of alcohol are more likely to be sweet; for example a 9% ABV Riesling will be sweeter than an 11% ABV as less of the residual sugar in the grapes has been converted into alcohol. Typically, Rieslings from Alsace (France), Austria, and Australia are dry and United States are semi-dry. German Rieslings have a range of terms related to when the grapes are picked, but most important to know is that “Trocken” means dry in German so “Trocken” on the bottle would be dry and “Halbtrocken,” half-dry.
Both Dry and Sweet Riesling are great with food — especially fatty and rich dishes, and aromatic food. Slightly sweet Rieslings are also great with spicy or salty food as the sweetness provides a foil for the spice/salt. Avoid overpowering dishes with lots of pepper or red meat.
Riesling can age! Due to the high level of acid, it’s a white wine that can sometimes last up to 50 years! Dry Riesling especially becomes more floral and honeyed, with notes of butter, with age. Store at 50 degrees or lower to best preserve the wine.
Do you prefer a sweet or dry Riesling? I definitely am on the dry side.