Riesling is an aromatic white grape variety most commonly grown in cool to moderate regions, like Alsace, France and Germany. Although it is generally associated with sweet wine, there are many dry expressions as well. In fact, Riesling is so versatile that it can be made from dry to sweet, fresh to aged.
The sugar levels depend on when the grapes are harvested and wine-making techniques. Riesling grapes picked earlier in the season produce a dryer and lighter style of wine than those picked later when the berries are riper and sweeter. Riesling is also susceptible to Noble Rot (a vineyard fungus), which causes the grapes to shrivel with concentrated sugar and produce a very sweet wine. As a result, many Rieslings are low in alcohol due these high sugar levels.
Rieslings that are harvested early will have green and citrus fruit flavors such as green apple, pear, lemon, lime or grapefruit. However, Rieslings that are harvested later have riper characteristics of stone and tropical fruit, like apricot, peach, mango and pineapple. Rieslings also have a notable floral aroma, which can be smelled as your swirl your glass. Many Rieslings are made for immediate consumption. However, those that age for extended periods of time also display tertiary and developed flavors of honey, petroleum and nuts.
Alsace, France (Usually Dry)
Riesling is one of the four noble grapes found in Alsace, France. Here, it is grown on extremely sunny slopes and land where it is able to adequately ripen and develop complexity. Although most wines here are dry, sweet wines are made from grapes that are harvested later in the season and have accumulated more sugar. The end product is aromatic wine with intense flavors of citrus and tropical fruits. Alsace also produces sparkling wine made from Riesling.
Germany (Dry to Sweet)
As Germany’s most planted grape variety, Riesling is produced in different styles: dry, off-dry, sweet, and very sweet. Wines produced in the cooler regions of Mosel are typically dryer and lighter in style than those produced in warmer regions of Pfalz and Baden. Throughout the region, Noble Rot is often used to further concentrate the grape sugars and produce very high levels of sweetness. Other times fermentation is stopped prematurely so that some sugars remain, leaving many German Rieslings to linger below 10% ABV.
Around the World
This grape is grown across the world at a variety of different sweetness levels. In Austria and Australia, it is typically produced as a dry style with aromatic citrus fruits and petroleum flavors. In Finger Lakes, New York, Riesling is usually dry with an intense citrus profile and perfume aromas. Canadian Riesling is often fruity and off-dry, with pronounced green and fresh citrus fruit flavors.
Dry Rieslings pair exceptionally well with spicy foods, like Thai dishes, noodles, and roasted chicken or duck with sweet/spicy sauces. It is often coupled with shrimp and oysters, especially those with hints of lemon. In fact, Riesling is often paired with Mexican food and other cuisines with noted lemon or lime influences creating a delicious balance. In addition, it compliments spicy arugula salads, feta and mozzarella cheeses.
Sweet Rieslings pair well with spicy and flavorful foods like braised pork, sushi and Asian cuisines. However, they also pair will sweet foods like desserts, pies, custards, creams and fresh tropical fruit.
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