RIESLING: A NOBLE GRAPE WITH A ROTTEN REP

Riesling has a bad rep
Riesling has an undeserved bad rep

With Riesling you either love it or hate it.

Depending upon your taste in music, Riesling presents as the Barry Manilow or the Nickleback of wines.

Riesling may be the finest and most elegant white grape in the world.  In style it ranges from bone-dry to drippingly, lusciously sweet, from feather-light to rich and full-bodied. Riesling drinkers understand that the light, fruity style is best appreciated with appetizers or all by itself on a warm spring or summer day, while the more dry, full style is better with food, especially spicy or highly seasoned meals.  All Rieslings will have zippy acidity.

This wine, especially the German Riesling, is a fave of sommeliers and chefs because it’s the best white wine with food, period.   

Thai food and Riesling a match
A pairing of Thai food and Riesling.

How is Riesling different from other white wines?

Riesling is normally fermented in stainless steel and with no malolactic fermentation. Chardonnay, on the other hand, is often married with oak.  Riesling doesn’t require oak to bring out its character as it has a stimulating and refreshing acidity that keeps its aromas and youth – the grape shines on its own.  This is why you can find older Riesling wines that still taste fresh and young. Then there’s another style that takes advantage of the natural acidity of the grape, and as you move in that direction, the wine becomes more austere.

It’s ability to be made dry or sweet shows its versatility, which in many ways has been its nemesis. For many the range can be quite baffling.  

Calling any wine dry seems odd.  I mean, it’s wet, it’s mostly made from water and juice, so how can it be “dry”?  Dry means “it’s not sweet”. Sweet is an actual taste that you can tell immediately – where “dry” is more about the texture and tactile phenom you feel in your mouth.

Let’s bust some myths!

  • Riesling is always sweet.  Nope.
  • Riesling is expensive.  Sometimes, yet well priced Riesling is everywhere.
  • Riesling is a German wine.  Riesling is a grape grown in Germany, but also Austria, Italy and France, while the best values come from California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
  • German Riesling wine labels are impossible to read.  We have the trick right here…..
Decode German Riesling label
Decoding a German Riesling Label

Decoding a Riesling by its cover (label).

A big reason Riesling gets a bad rep is the labels are hard to decipher (if from Germany the world’s best Rieslings).  There’s a simple way to know what’s inside.  Each name indicates the ripeness / sweetness:

Kabinett:  This is Germany’s driest, light bodied Riesling. Kabinett works well with Thai, Hunan, Indian, Mexican, Middle East, Japanese, New Orleans style and seafood.  This also includes veggies and pork.

Spatlese:  Less dry.  Dances well with spicy meals as well as fruits; sweet seafood like lobster, crab, scallops; pork;  salty meat sandwiches like a Reuben, BLT and smoked meats and fish.

Auslese:  Great for hard to pair vegetables like asparagus and avocado. Good with salads, goat cheese, rich, creamy cheese, and dishes that are textured (i.e. scallops and creamy pasta).

Beerenauslese:  With this label you have entered the luscious, sweet category – pairs with desserts and fruits such as peaches, caramelized apples, apple pie, pastry desserts.

New world versions are generally in the middle and will pair with all of the foods listed above except the dessert style.  For that, try a Canadian or New York IceWine. In this version the grapes are left to freeze on the vine. Then they are harvested in the cold after midnight.  This style is eye-closing in its richness and sweetness.

FOMO?  Not if you step into the realm of Riesling and experience all of its versatility.

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Contributor:  Stacie Hunt, Certified Silver Pin Sommelier/AIS

Image credits:  Courtesy: drinkreisling.com, chehalemwinery.com, thewinecellarVA.com

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