Riesling wine is one of the most underrated and underappreciated in the world. In the U.S., it carries with it a stigma that deems it “too sweet,” which leads to the wine style being frequently overlooked.
However, Riesling is in fact a versatile white wine that comes in a variety of different styles, from sweet to dry, from light-bodied to medium-bodied. If you’ve passed on Riesling for your wine collection or if you’re a fan of the wine, this Riesling Wine guide provides you with everything you need to know about the variety, as well as a few brands that are worth your buck.
Let’s begin by talking about Riesling’s origins and what it is today.
The Origins of Riesling Wine
Riesling wine is said to have originated from the Rhine River region of Germany. The grape variety is green-skinned, and a cross between Gouais blanc and hybrid wild vine Savagnin grapes.
The first known mention of Riesling wines came about in 1435, where it was reported to be in the storeroom of Count John IV of Katzenelnbogen. It became popular among the German nobles at the time, and these nobles would bring the wine with them on their travels, introducing the drink to different regions around the world.
The grape variety was brought to the Alsace region of France in 1477 and to other regions of the world, such as New York and California, and Australia and New Zealand sometime in the mid 19th century.
Today, it is the most widely known grape variety in Germany, where the finest Riesling is known to grow in the Mosel Valley on steep south-facing hills. Mosel Riesling experts note a distinct slate rock flavor in the Riesling wine coming from this region, which is highly valued.
Notable regions where Riesling is grown today, apart from Germany, include California, Washington, Alsace in France, Finger Lakes in New York, and areas in Australia and New Zealand.
Riesling Wine Flavors
Riesling wine features tasting notes of apple, apricot, peach, and pear.
This late harvest wine is highly noted for its fragrant and rich floral aroma. Its primary flavors include orchard fruits such as the aforementioned apple, peach, pear, and apricot, but also hints of honeycomb, jasmine, and lime peel. When aged, Riesling can develop secondary flavors of honey, ginger, nuts, mushrooms, and petrol.
Riesling can be sweet or dry depending on the growing region. It usually has an alcohol level between 11 to 13% with no tannins and a high level of acidity.
- Cool Climate Versus Warm Climate Riesling
As mentioned, Riesling can either be sweet or dry depending on the region where the grapes are grown.
In warmer regions, such as the US, Australia, and New Zealand, Riesling can be slightly sweeter and less acidic. In colder regions, such as in cooler European countries, Riesling can be devoid of residual sugar, making it dry or semi-dry with a slight sweetness.
German Riesling tends to be lower in alcohol levels, ranging between 8 to 9% with obvious notes of tropical fruit flavors, high acidity, and having a taste of sweetness.
The harvest time can also have an effect on flavor, with younger grapes having lime and Meyer lemon flavors, while riper grapes can have notes of pineapple and apricot. Younger grapes feature a crisp and refreshing flavor while riper grapes offer a deeper, fruit flavor.
- Aged Riesling
Riesling is one of the very few white wines that have unique aging potential. Its flavor and quality improve with long-term aging. When aged, the wine’s high acidity ensures a quality aging potential brought about by the compound called TDN or trimethyl dihydro naphthalene.
Riesling that has been heavily aged contains a lot of TDN, which produces a unique scent that’s similar to petrol. While this may not sound appealing, wine enthusiasts actually value this aroma, as they consider it a sign of high quality. TDN can be off-putting for novice wine drinkers but it’s actually a highly-valued aroma among wine experts and connoisseurs, which makes aged Riesling much more coveted.
What makes Riesling stand out from other wines is its floral aroma, aging potential, and its unique balance of sweetness and acidity. A highly acidic wine, it leads to an enjoyable crisp flavor that maintains a balanced juicy finish.
4 Categories of Riesling
As mentioned earlier, Riesling can be sweet or dry, and there are actually 4 categories, which are:
1. Sweet Riesling
Most Riesling has some sort of sweetness but in the case of sweet Riesling, the sweetness is the primary feature of the wine. Sweet Riesling is best consumed between 10 to 30 years of age. German Riesling is mostly sweet.
2. Dry Riesling
Dry Riesling lacks residual sugar and is the least sweet of all categories. They are best consumed between 5 to 15 years of age. Rieslings coming from France, Australia, and the US are mostly dry Rieslings.
3. Semi-sweet Riesling
This category is a well-balanced Riesling with notes of sweetness and dryness. They are best consumed at 10 to 20 years of age.
4. Sparkling Riesling
Also Known as “sket” in Germany, sparkling Riesling is a popular staple in the country.
Riesling grapes have also been used in ice wines in Germany, Canada, and Austria. Ice wine is made from grapes that are left to freeze while still on the vine. Because of this, their natural sugars are concentrated, and when they are harvested, they remain frozen and yield a sweet dessert wine that’s fruity and deep with flavors.
Riesling and Food Pairings
Because Riesling has a good balance of sweetness and acidity, it pairs well with most kinds of food. Although it is noted for being a great match for spicy food, Riesling is a versatile wine with a wide variety of food pairing options.
- Spicy Food
Riesling has long been noted for being a great wine for spicy food, such as Thai and Indian cuisine, The high acidity and sweetness of the wine balances out the spiciness of these cuisines, and make for the perfect aperitif for these kinds of dishes.
Dishes with spices and herbs, such as cayenne pepper, turmeric, Allspice, soy sauce, sesame, basil, rice vinegar, teriyaki sauce, and others pair well with Riesling.
Riesling also goes well with pork, bacon, duck, chicken, crab, shrimp, seafood, and all kinds of white meat.
Riesling wine is not a usual choice for cheese pairing but varieties that are less stinky and delicately flavored such as soft cow’s milk and mozzarella can be paired well with the wine.
Roasted vegetables with natural sweetness go well with Riesling, such as eggplant, carrot, bell pepper, red onion, coconut, and squash.
- Sweets and Desserts
Sweet Riesling pairs well with sweet food items such as desserts and pastries.
5 of The Best Riesling Brands Worth Trying
Of all the Riesling wine brands in the world, these 5 are among the highly rated and best selling brands that are worth trying:
1. Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling
From Columbia Valley, Washington, the Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling features notes of apricot and grapefruit. It is easy to drink and rich with fruity flavors and aromas.
With an 11 to 12.5% alcohol level, it’s a refreshing wine with a palate-cleansing finish with more notes of minerality rather than fruit.
2. Hogue Late Harvest Riesling
Highly rated, this brand from Washington is best paired with pears and cheesecake. It has prominent notes of honey, honeycomb, tangerine, and enticing aromas of orange, peach, and lemon-lime. Secondary flavors include apricot, tangerine, and traces of minerality.
Made from Riesling grapes grown in the Columbia Valley, this light-bodied and semi-sweet, off-dry Riesling is a balanced wine with an 11% alcohol level.
3. Relax Riesling
Relax Riesling is made in Mosel-Saar-Ruhr, Germany in the Mosel Valley with its steep, sloping vineyards. It has been noted that this region produces the best Riesling wine quality and Relax Riesling is undoubtedly one of the highly sought-after wine brands in the world.
This wine is fruit-forward, with floral aromas, having notes of apples and peaches as well as hints of citrus. A light-bodied and semi-sweet wine, it is dubbed as America’s favorites Riesling, being the #1 imported Riesling brand in the country.
4. Modernist Dry Riesling
This Riesling wine has delicate fragrances of apricot, white peaches, and juicy pear. It’s made in the Rheinhessen region of Germany, where sweet wines are made in the largest wine-producing area of the country. The Modernist Dry Riesling is dry, slightly sweet, full fruit-flavored, while also remaining light and crisp with a 12% alcohol level.
5. SuBen Riesling Rheinhessen
This sweet Riesling is well-balanced with its flavors of apple, citrus, melon, and pineapple. It is also made in the Rheinhessen region, which is Germany’s largest wine-producing region in terms of vineyard area. The wine contains a 9.5% alcohol level, with a sweet and light body.
Riesling is an aromatic, fruity, floral, and refreshing white wine originating from Germany. Though often overlooked and underappreciated, Riesling is actually a versatile wine with plenty of variety that appeals to a wide range of palates.
Perfect to pair with spicy food, Riesling’s wide range of flavors and styles make it ideal as an aperitif, as well as perfectly pairing with most kinds of foods, such as roasted vegetables, soft cheese, white meat, and desserts. Often inexpensive, it is widely consumed by everyday wine drinkers but remains a must in any wine connoisseur’s collection. It is best served chilled, enjoyed on its own, or with food pairings.