07.09.2017 |

Episode #1 of the course Wine basics: Top ten wine varietals by Saffron Hickey


Welcome to Top Ten Wine Varietals! In this course, you will learn about ten popular wine varietals from around the world so you can choose and describe wine like an expert. Today, you’ll learn about Riesling.

Riesling (reez-ling) is a white wine grape native to Germany. This varietal creates aromatic, fruity wines with high acidity. It is rarely blended with other varietals due to its complexity. Riesling is favored by chefs for its ability to complement food. Although its popularity has been negatively impacted by oversweet versions lacking the signature acidity, many high-quality Rieslings are available internationally.


Major Regions

Germany’s cool climate and long growing season is most suitable for white grape varietals, of which Riesling is the most traditional and popular. The Mosel region produces a wide range, from light, fruity wines to rich dessert wines. The Rheingau region also produces high-quality Riesling with substantial acidity. Other major production regions include Alsace in France, Washington State and California in the US, and Clare Valley and Eden Valley in Australia.



Note: The scents and tastes people perceive in wine vary greatly depending on individual palates, production methods, climate, and more.

Sweetness: Riesling can be dry or sweet. Sweetness depends on the ripeness of the grape. Grapes harvested later create sweeter wines. Sweetness is also affected by the length of fermentation. Producers may interrupt fermentation earlier—before the sugars have fully converted to alcohol—for a sweeter wine or later for a drier wine. Riesling is also used to make dessert wines, through three methods:

1. Late Harvest: Grapes are left on the vine to become very ripe.

2. Noble Rot: A fungus “infects” the grapes, removing water content for a syrupy consistency.

3. Ice Wine: Grapes are frozen on the vine and then crushed.

Appearance: Pale gold to deep yellow.

Aromas and flavors: Peach, apricot, lemon, lime, pineapple, honey, golden apple, mineral. Less ripe versions tend toward citrus flavors, while riper versions lean toward tropical fruit.

Body: Riesling is generally light-bodied but sweeter versions can be medium-bodied.

Aging: The natural complexity and concentrated flavors of Riesling make it popular for consumption at a young age, but it is also suitable for aging. Aged Riesling can possess stronger mineral flavors and a petroleum aroma. Oak is avoided to maintain its aromatic, fruity qualities.


Food Pairing

Sweeter Rieslings complement spicy, aromatic foods, such as Chinese or Thai cuisine. Drier Rieslings pair well with light seafood dishes and cream-based sauces.


Selection Guide

Most Rieslings clearly state the level of sweetness on the label and often tasting notes. Mentions of acidity and traditional style indicate an authentically aromatic and full-flavored wine. For vibrant flavor, seek fresh vintages (younger than three years old). Check for oak aging, and be aware of how that alters the wine.

In addition, note the country and region. For a classic Riesling, consider a German bottle from the Mosel or Rheingau regions. Taking your personal preferences into account, look for these keywords:

• Trocken: dry

• Halbtrocken: off-dry

• Kabinett: light lower-alcohol wine, may be dry or sweet

• Spätlese: late harvest (sweeter)

• Auslese/ Beerenauslese: sweet wine affected by noble rot

• Eiswein: ice wine

Tomorrow, learn about the classic Sauvignon Blanc!


Recommended reading

International Riesling Foundation, 2016. All about Riesling. Washington: International Riesling Foundation.

Puckette, Madeline, 2013. The Taster’s Guide to Riesling Wine. New York, NY: Wine Folly.

Puckette, Madeline, 2015. Understanding German Riesling by the Label. New York, NY: Wine Folly.


Recommended book

Laloganes, John P., 2010. The Essentials of Wine with Food Pairing Techniques. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.


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