Riesling is a delightfully aromatic and elegant wine that too often gets overlooked. This wine’s bold and delicious flavor has remained one of the wine world’s best-kept secrets for the past few decades. But riesling’s popularity has been steadily growing as wine lovers everywhere begin to recognize riesling’s unique flavor and versatility. If you want a wine that’s refreshing and on-trend, riesling is your new best friend.
To help you find the perfect bottle for your tastes, we’ve put together this ultimate riesling guide. We’ll answer all of your most pressing riesling questions, from, “What kind of wine is riesling?” and the types of Riesling wine available to what foods riesling wine pairs well with. Find out whether Riesling is a dry or sweet wine and what occasions riesling is a good wine for below!
How Do You Pronounce Riesling?
Before diving into what kind of wine riesling is, let’s start with the basics of how to pronounce “riesling” wine. According to Merriam-Webster, you can pronounce riesling as “reez-ling” or “res-ling” with the emphasis always on the first syllable. Now that you can pronounce riesling, you’re ready to learn more about the details of the wine.
What Is Riesling Wine?
Riesling is a white wine made from a single type of grape originally grown in Germany. The word “riesling” also refers to just the grape in German.
Is Riesling a Sweet Wine, or Is Riesling a Dry Wine?
The white wine made from riesling grapes can be quite diverse. From dry to sweet, there are a great variety of riesling wines. Traditionally, riesling wine is sweet because the added sweetness is necessary to counteract the naturally high acidity of the grapes. This combination creates a beautiful balance of flavors.
While most riesling wines tend to fall on the sweeter side of the spectrum, many winemakers also produce bottles of dry riesling these days. Dry riesling is not as sweet and often appeals more to those who are partial to leaner-tasting wines.
How Sweet Is Riesling Wine?
As we just learned above, riesling wine comes in a variety of styles. But wine consumers often associate riesling with sweetness because the most famous German rieslings are remarkably sweet. The majority of riesling wines produced by other countries are either dry or off-dry. Nowadays, even Germany puts out many dryer-style riesling wines.
Although many people assume that all riesling wines are sweet, the flavor profile of riesling wine covers a wide range of possibilities. If you shy away from trying riesling because you don’t like wines that are too sweet, consider exploring the numerous dry riesling wines on the market.
Different Types of Riesling Wine
So when is riesling a dessert wine, and when is riesling a dry white wine? While having options is nice, the many different styles and sweetness levels of riesling can be overwhelming. Wine producers recognize the average consumer’s confusion or stress over a wine’s sugar content, so they created a breakdown of sweetness to help guide your selection.
Essentially, all you need to remember is that “trocken” means dry. Knowing this helpful tidbit allows you to choose a dry riesling or steer clear and grab a sweeter bottle. You can also look for other specific German phrases, like these:
- “Halbtrocken” means half-dry
- “Feinherb” means off-dry
- “Lieblich” means semi-sweet
- “Suß” means sweet
You can also rely on a bottle’s alcohol content to tell you whether the wine is dry or sweet. Typically, drier wines have a higher alcohol content than sweeter wines because a lower alcohol content means less sugar was converted to alcohol. Therefore, buying a bottle with a lower alcohol by volume (ABV) ensures you’re getting something sweet.
Along with regular riesling wine, you can also get sparkling riesling, which is an even brighter and more effervescent version of the already crisp white wine. As a highly acidic wine, riesling is exceedingly well-suited to being made bubbly. A sparkling riesling wine is refreshing and satisfying on a warm summer day.
What Is a Good Riesling Wine?
As a German wine, riesling gets broken down into different categories according to its quality. First, the wine gets labeled as a table wine or quality wine. Most table wine does not even make it out of Germany and accounts for very little of the country’s overall wine production. Quality riesling wine gets further broken down into two additional categories — “Qualitätswein” and “Prädikatswein.”
Qualitätswein is an improvement on table wine because it focuses on standards and excellence. To qualify as Qualitätswein, a riesling wine must come from one of the 13 designated wine-growing regions of Germany, collectively known as “Anbaugebieten,” and the specific region must be indicated on the bottle’s label.
These grapes are typically harvested at a lower ripeness and allowed to go through chaptalization, the process of adding sugar to the nonfermented grape juice to boost the wine’s alcohol content. A riesling wine must reach at least 7% ABV to be classified as Qualitätswein. In general, Qualitätswein wines range from bone-dry to semi-sweet.
Prädikatswein is a step up from Qualitätswein and refers to high-quality wines with specific attributes. This classification is reserved for Germany’s top-tier wines, whether they be completely dry, half-dry, semi-sweet or super sweet dessert wines. Prädikatswein wines must come from one of the approved German wine regions and are not permitted to go through chaptalization.
What Are the Best Riesling Wines?
While a Prädikatswein is the highest level of riesling wine, you can find a specific type of Prädikatswein to suit your taste in wine or a certain occasion. A Prädikatswein’s classification depends on the ripeness of its grapes at the time of picking, which directly affects the wine’s sweetness.
A bottle of Prädikatswein will fall into one of the following sub-categories according to the ripeness of its grapes:
- Kabinett: This type of riesling is the lightest style of Prädikatswein and comes from fully ripened grapes. Kabinett can range from dry to medium-sweet.
- Spatlese: Spatlese is made from ripe grapes picked during late harvest. This wine can also be dry to medium-sweet.
- Auslese: This riesling is made with specially selected bunches of very ripe grapes. While Auslese can be dry, it is most often semi-sweet or sweet.
- Beerenauslese: This kind of riesling comes from individually chosen overripe grapes that only produce sweet dessert wines. Most of the grapes used for Beerenauslese have achieved noble rot, which means a gray fungus called botrytis has concentrated the grapes’ sugars by sucking the water from them.
- Trockenbeerenauslese: This very sweet and rare riesling dessert wine is made from fully “botrytized” grapes. These overripe grapes create a complex and saccharine wine suitable for those with high-end tastes.
- Eiswein: This riesling wine uses naturally frozen grapes that produce concentrated, sugar-rich juices. The grapes need to be frozen on the vine and pressed into wine while still in a solid-state.
History of Riesling Wine
Riesling wine’s history goes all the way back to the Rhine wine region of Germany, which is where the first reference of wine was recorded by Count John IV of Katzenelnbogen in 1435. Since the first riesling grapes were planted, riesling wine has been a staple of German nobility. The high nobles of Germany would even take bottles of riesling with them on their conquests and business dealings throughout Europe.
Riesling wine’s popularity among German nobility resulted in cases of the coveted wine being stockpiled in cellars across the country. Like Chardonnay, riesling is one of those rare white wines that ages well and can be most enjoyed dozens of years after bottling. Because riesling wine does age well, it is perfect for storing in casks.
Riesling wine’s surprising ability to age well is largely attributable to its strong acidity and high levels of antioxidants. A vine of riesling grapes will retain a high amount of acidity even after reaching full maturity, producing an acidic wine with an excellent taste. Specifically, riesling wines made in a sweeter style do exceptionally well when aged for decades.
Although riesling wine was a hot commodity throughout history, it began to fade into obscurity gradually. By the 1980s, drier wine styles were in vogue and riesling had become a wine connoisseur’s secret. But an elegant and sophisticated gem of a wine like riesling can’t stay hidden for long.
In the 1990s, riesling started to rise in popularity again as wine lovers everywhere rediscovered the aromatic wine. By 1996, riesling had reclaimed its title as Germany’s most widely planted grape. These days, riesling wine remains highly regarded as a fine white wine suitable for classy occasions or sipping casually.
How Is Riesling Wine Made?
Riesling wine starts with riesling grapes, which is a type of grape that has an extraordinary resistance to cold. As a cold-resistant crop, riesling grapes are mainly grown in wine areas with cold climates. Riesling grapes’ resilience to cold temperatures doesn’t mean they don’t require particular conditions to produce the best results. But the grapes’ quality will not be impacted by the vine’s abundancy.
Because a riesling vine can withstand frost in the winter, its grapes ripen later than most vines. This slow ripening process allows the grapes to develop more intense flavors and an elegant aroma while maintaining their acidity. Once the grapes are finally harvested in late autumn, they can be used to make wine.
Riesling grapes are fermented like most wine varieties with a mixture of yeast and a bit of sugar to convert the grapes’ natural sugars into alcohol. After fermentation, nearly all riesling wines are immediately bottled. Select styles of riesling wine include maturation in a barrel. Over time, the riesling develops its character, defining its aromas and flavors as it ages on the shelf.
Where Does Riesling Wine Come From?
As the birthplace of riesling grapes and a cooler climate, Germany puts out what many consider the best riesling wines worldwide. The Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region, in particular, provides the perfect combination of chilly temperatures and sunlight. Although riesling grapes perform best in cold climates and sunny areas, the popularity of riesling wine has led to riesling grapes being planted around the globe.
Along with Germany, here are some of the world’s top regions for growing riesling grapes:
- France: Across Germany’s French border, riesling has become a primary product of the Alsace region. Most riesling wines from this region are medium- to full-bodied and contain minimal residual sugar. When the conditions are right, Alsace also bottles sweet riesling wines.
- Austria: This small European country is renowned for its top-quality riesling wines. While Austria produces rieslings in a range of sweetness levels, most of their bottles are either extremely sweet or dry.
- South Australia: Riesling grapes also thrive outside of Europe. In South Australia, riesling grows well in the Clare and Eden Valleys. The wines these riesling grapes produce are typically bone-dry.
- The United States: In North America, riesling grapes grow on both coasts. In New York, riesling has found a home in the deep glacial sections of the Finger Lakes region. Across the country in Washington, riesling wine is made in a dry style and celebrated for its ripe stone fruit flavors.
What Does Riesling Wine Taste Like?
The tasting experience of riesling starts with the intense aromas rising from your glass, even when the wine is ice cold. Riesling wine’s aromas are primarily orchard fruits, such as nectarine, honey-crisp apple, pear and apricot. In addition to refreshing fruits, other soothing scents like jasmine, honeycomb or lime zest may waft from your riesling.
Along with these subtle scents, you will also experience a more noticeable aroma, like petrol or petroleum wax. This distinct scent is due to a natural compound known as TDN that develops as riesling wine ages. Depending on your preferences, riesling’s signature petrol note may be a positive or negative attribute.
As far as taste, riesling wine has a high acidity comparable to the acidity levels found in lemonade. This acidity goes well with the wine’s typical citrus flavors and can be mellowed out by its floral undertones. Younger riesling wines — produced with unripe grapes — tend to develop more of the sour fruity notes like green apple, lime and lemon, along with flowery aromas like chamomile, jasmine, hawthorn and wisteria.
Riesling wine made with ripe grapes is filled with the rounder and subtler aromas of peach, pear, grapefruit, apple, apricot and other fruits. Sweet riesling wines will have stronger tastes of apricot and peach, while dry rieslings will have more intense notes of apple and grapefruit.
Some sweet riesling dessert wines, particularly those made with botrytized grapes, can develop elegant spicy aromas of ginger, cinnamon and anise. Riesling wines that are given more time to age and refine themselves often pick up hints of aromatic honey, honeybee wax and butter. While these sophisticated aromas may seem strange, they are surprisingly pleasing, offering a bit of extra style to the wine.
Vintage sweet rieslings also commonly include aromas of candied apricot, fruit jam, dried fruits, almond, walnut and moss. Although winemakers rarely age riesling wines in barrels, doing so can give the wine classic barrel aromas, including notes of toasted wood, vanilla and chocolate.
In summary, these are the most common riesling wine characteristics you’ll see:
- Fruit flavors: Riesling wines have a wide range of fruity flavors, including nectarine, apricot, peach, pineapple, apple, pear, lemon and lime.
- Additional aromas: Along with fruity notes, riesling has other flowery or earthy flavors like jasmine, citrus blossom, ginger, honey, honeycomb, beeswax and rubber.
- Aged flavors: An aged riesling will have a slight smell of petrol, diesel or lanolin.
- Alcohol content: The alcohol content in riesling wine is generally low, making it a pleasant wine to drink even in larger quantities.
- Acidity: Riesling wine usually has high acidity levels, giving it a crisper and more tart taste. Riesling’s high acidity also allows the wine to mature in its bottle for decades without going bad despite its low alcohol content.
How to Serve Riesling White Wine
As a white wine, riesling should be enjoyed at a “fridge cold” temperature — about 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Serving riesling wine cold but not too cold will lift the wine’s delicate aromas and acidity without muting its flavors. To achieve this balance, let your riesling sit in the fridge for about two hours and try to serve the wine directly from the fridge to your guests’ glasses.
What to Eat With Riesling Wine
Riesling is a great fine dining wine because it pairs well with virtually all food types. Although a glass of riesling goes with just about anything, this wine really shines alongside spicy foods. Riesling’s naturally high acidity refreshes the palate, while the wine’s residual sugar helps to tame potent spices.
While riesling pairs well with all sorts of spicy foods, the wine’s versatility makes it the perfect partner for a wide range of cuisine. Check out some of the most popular riesling food pairings:
- Meats: Duck, chicken, pork and bacon
- Seafood: Grilled fish, scallops, shrimp, crab and lobster
- Herbs and spices: Highly aromatic herbs and spices, including cayenne pepper, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, clove, turmeric, curry powder, shallots, basil, sesame and rice vinegar
- Cheeses: Mild and lightly flavored soft cow’s milk cheeses like mozzarella
- Vegetables: Roasted veggies with a natural sweetness, such as red onion, bell peppers, squash, carrots and eggplant
More specifically, here are some of the best riesling wine food pairing options according to the type of riesling you prefer:
- Dry: A dry riesling pairs exceptionally well with seafood and shellfish because the mineral notes in the wine blend seamlessly with salty, fishy flavors. Consider having a glass of dry riesling the next time you have salmon, swordfish, cod, sushi or other raw fish.
- Half-dry: A slightly less dry riesling wine matches flawlessly with chicken and other poultry and white meats. Soft cow’s milk cheeses, truffle cream and goat cheese also complement half-dry rieslings, making it a great wine to have with stuffed chicken, chicken Alfredo or risotto.
- Sparkling: In general, sparkling riesling makes an excellent aperitif. A fresh sparkling riesling goes wonderfully with sea finger foods, such as scallops, clams and mollusks.
- Sweet: A sweet riesling makes a stunning dessert wine, especially when enjoyed alongside a fruit-based dessert like strawberry shortcake or lemon tarts and cakes. Late-harvest rieslings that are particularly sweet also go well with sugary desserts like cookies and brownies.
In addition to pairing well with a wide variety of food, riesling wine is good for cooking. The wine’s delicate aroma of citrus fruits and flowers gets brought out even more by the cooking process. In particular, riesling wine stands out when making flaky fish dishes, baking sweet desserts or poaching fruit.
Shop Riesling Wine at Marketview Liquor
If you’re looking for a good bottle of riesling, check out the extensive selection of riesling wines from Marketview Liquor. We offer high-quality riesling wines from premier regions online and deliver orders right to your door, making your wine shopping easy and stress-free. Whether you’re interested in a bone-dry riesling or a sugary-sweet dessert riesling, you can find it at Marketview Liquor!