Updated: Jun 9, 2020
German Reisling is served from the typical elongated bottle used for Riesling. In the background are the steep vineyards in the Mosel Valley in Germany.
The Riesling taste profile is made up of a unique combination of color, flavors, aromas, and structure. These elements are referred to as wine characteristics. Riesling has hallmark characteristics that will help you identify the wine by sight, smell and taste and you won’t even have to look at the bottle.
Each type of wine grape develops a unique combination of flavors and aromas. These flavors and aromas are influenced by things like their growing environment (climate and soil – aka terroir), the fermentation process (aka yeast converting sugar to alcohol), and maturation (such as aging in oak barrels).
As you will see, Riesling has quite a range of characteristics. It exhibits a wide range of flavors and the full range of sweetness levels from sweet dessert wine to bone dry. How early or late the grapes are harvested determines the sweetness levels. The early harvest of under-ripe grapes with low residual sugars means the wine will be dry. Late harvests will have full to overly ripe fruit with high levels of sugars and are used to produce sweet wines.
The color for white wine ranges from Pale Straw to Medium Straw to Deep Gold. Wine that has a pale straw color is from cooler regions. Wine with a deep gold color is from warmer regions, has been aged in oak, and/or is older wine.
Riesling Wine Color: Pale Straw.
Flavors & Aromas
Look for Fruit, Floral, Herbal, and Spice notes to identify flavors and aromas in wine.
Focusing on fruit, white wines come in a range with cool-climate wines showing more citric notes (lemon, lime, green apple, pear), to mid-range of stone fruits (peach, apricot), to warm-climate wines exhibiting more tropical fruit notes (pineapple, banana).
Spice notes like vanilla and clove come from aging in oak. Riesling matures in stainless steel tanks and not in oak barrels. You will not find these spice notes in Riesling.
Riesling Flavors & Aromas: Citric (lemon, grapefruit, apple, pears), Stone Fruit (peach, apricot), and Floral notes (jasmine, citrus blossom). This is a highly aromatic wine.
Wine structure is a combination of acidity (that sour, pucker sensation), sweetness levels, tannin (that bitter taste and drying sensation), alcohol levels (abv: alcohol by volume), and body (the heaviness of the wine — think skim milk vs whole milk).
Riesling Wine Structure: High acidity, no tannin, 8-13.5% abv, and light-body. Riesling is made across the full range of sweetness levels from sweet dessert wine to bone dry.
To identify if the Riesling is sweet or dry, look at alcohol content on the label. If the ABV is high then the sweetness levels will be low and vice versa. You can also look for ‘Trocken’ on the label which means the wine is dry. Find even more hacks with these Riesling Sweetness Tips.
Hallmarks of Riesling Taste Profile
The hallmark taste profile of Riesling is its aromatics, citric flavors, and high acidity.
Look for Riesling from these top regions: Mosel, Germany – Labeled as Riesling. Alsace, France – Borders the Mosel, Germany region and includes Riesling on the label. Expect Riesling from Alsace to be dry.
Learn more about the history, top regions, wine recommendations, and pairings with this Riesling post.