Choosing the Perfect Riesling
From sweet to dry, from hints of lemon to undertones of apricot, Riesling wines encompass a variety of crisp and refreshing flavors. Because of the diversity associated with this historically German wine, many enthusiasts find themselves wondering which will best suit their tastes. Below, we’ll explore several factors to consider when making your choice, including dryness, region, and food pairings. Typically, Riesling wines pair well with strong Indian or Asian spices (especially spiced duck leg), but don’t be afraid to branch out and experiment! At New Castle Liquors, we have many Rieslings for you to try.
Sweet or dry?
While many people associate Riesling with a sweet, ripe fruit taste, bone-dry varieties are also quite popular in Germany and other places around the world. The level of sweetness—or dryness—depends on how ripe the fruit was at the time of picking, as well as the location of the vineyard.
If you’re looking for a sweet Riesling, try one from Germany or California. Exceptions will be labeled with “dry” or its German equivalent, trocken. For less sweet varieties, consider wines from the Alsace region of France, Austria, the Finger Lakes region of New York, Australia, or Washington. The labels will likely not tag these Riesling as dry, as nearly all varieties produced here are such. Many labels also include the International Riesling Foundation scale below, which elaborates on their sweetness.
Popular Varieties of Riesling (From Sweet to Dry)
This variety of Riesling, whose name means “selected harvest,” is crafted from extremely ripe fruit late in the season. Because of the specific grapes needed, it can only be produced in the best harvest years. Most varieties are quite sweet, although some may be fermented to obtain dryness. The intense flavors age well and pair perfectly with spicy Asian or Indian cuisine or, of course, German fare.
This wine also comes from fruit harvested later than the general harvest—though it’s not as ripe as that used in Auslese and is consequently slightly less sweet. This late-harvest wine is characterized by a high sugar content, which can produce both mildly sweet and rich, dry wines. Spätlesen typically taste of apple, pear and honeysuckle, though the high levels of acidity curb excessive sweetness. Consider pairing with rare venison or other red meats for a unique combination of flavors; it also pairs well with mild or aromatic cheeses, salads and soups.
Try it out: The Schmitt Söhne Riesling Spätlese – Intense & Fruity is a fully ripened Riesling with highly extracted fruit flavors of apricots and peaches coupled with enough acidity to give it a firm and juicy mouth feel.
Often considered one of the most refreshing varieties of Riesling, the Kabinett style boasts an intriguing history. Its name, which translates to “cabinet” or “a wine set aside in a cabinet,” speaks to its high quality, as it was often set aside for later sale. With grapes picked at an early point of ripeness, the wine is characterized by high acidity, floral aromas, and hints of slate and minerality; it is typically semi-dry. It pairs well with cheeses, fish and pasta dishes. Read more about Kabinett Rieslings here.
Want to try one of these medium-sweet wines? Pick up a bottle of Relax Riesling from the Mosel Valley region of Germany. Its fruity bouquet and intense flavors of apples and peaches make it refreshingly crisp. Try pairing it with seafood, poultry, oriental food or fresh salads.
Feinherb / Halbtrocken
These varieties are considered “half dry,” somewhere in between sweet and dry. A small dose of sweetness balances the acidity, resulting in intense flavors. You’ll often encounter hints of lemon, pear or pineapple. Try it with Thai or Indian cuisine.
Try it out: The Chateau St. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling is a perfect way to explore this category. This medium-dry Riesling from Washington features hints of lime and peach and goes especially well with fresh fruit, mild cheeses, crab and chicken.
With a literal translation of “dry,” this variety of Riesling is crisp and fresh with hints of citrus fruit and minerals. It has a much lower sugar content than other varieties of Riesling. Keep in mind that you might find an Auslese, Spätlese or Kabinett also labeled trocken, as those classifications refer to the ripeness of the fruit and can still be made into dry wines.
Try it out: Dr. Loosen’s “Red Slate” Riesling is a refreshingly dry variety from a small corner of the Mosel Valley that boasts red slate soil. Its floral, spicy, citrus blossom aroma is sure to please.
No matter which variety of Riesling you choose, it should be served “fridge cold” around 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Check out this video from VinePair.com for a few final details, and then go enjoy a glass (or two) of Riesling!