This white wine originated in Germany where it continues to be the largest producer of Riesling. It comes in a distinctly shaped tall, skinny bottle and is commonly mistaken as a sweet wine only.
3 WAYS TO DECODE
The truth is that Riesling is made in quite a range of sweet to dry. It can be a bit challenging to figure out the sweetness levels from the wine label or wine menu, but here are a few tricks to help crack the code.
1) GERMAN DESCRIPTION
Riesling is categorized based on when the grapes are harvested. Each category requires a minimum level of sugar content in the grapes. Kabinett (listed here first) has the least amount of sugar required at harvest while Trockenbeerenauslese (listed last) has the highest sugar content required.
Kabinett, Spatlese, and Auslese can be made to the sweetness levels described below or can be made dry. Look for these terms on the label for extra clarity:
Trocken = Dry
Halbtrocken = Some Sweetness
Kabinett: Dry to off-dry (Dry means there is no residual sugar in the wine. )
The Riesling grapes for Kabinett are harvested early season before the grapes are truly ripe and while the sugar content is still low.
Spatlese: Semi-Sweet to Sweet
The grapes for Spatlese are harvested late season. At this point, the grapes are fully ripe and have high sugar content. These wines typically have a bit of sweetness compared to a Kabinett.
Riesling grapes for Auslese are harvested late season. Only extra ripe grapes are selected for this type of wine. This means the grapes will have concentrated flavors and high levels of sugar.
Beerenauslese: Very Sweet
Part of the late harvest which provides grapes with high residual sugar.
Trockenbeerenauslese: Super Sweet
You guessed it! Late harvest. High residual sugar.
2) SWEETNESS METER
Some Riesling wine labels have a sweetness meter that identifies how sweet or dry that particular bottle is. The best idea since sliced bread!
3) ALCOHOL CONTENT
This last method considers the alcohol content in the wine. The higher the alcohol content indicates the wine should be less sweet, as there is an inverse correlation between the amount of residual sugar to alcohol.
In other words, during the fermentation process yeast eats the residual sugar turning it into alcohol. The more sugar that’s “eaten” the higher the alcohol and the less sugar that’s “eaten” the lower the alcohol content.
Using ABV to determine sweetness levels:
ABV (Alcohol by Volume) 12%+ = Dry wine
ABV 11-12% = Off-Dry
ABV 10% = Semi-Sweet
ABV 8-9% = Sweet
These 6 countries are the biggest producers of Riesling. To explore this wine further, set up a tasting.
GERMANY: MOSEL, SAAR, RUHR
AUSTRALIA: CLARE VALLEY, EDEN VALLEY
UNITED STATES: NEW YORK (FINGER LAKES), WASHINGTON, OREGON
Exploring Riesling through tastings is a great way to familiarize your palate. And since there are a variety of sweetness levels within Riesling, it will help to experience and taste the differences between them. Keeping that in mind, I’ve put together 2 different ways to conduct this tasting. Tasting 1 recommends Riesling only from Germany with dry to sweet selections. Tasting 2 recommends dry Riesling from the top regions around the world.
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TASTING 1 – DRY TO SWEET
For this first tasting, select 3 German Rieslings that showcase the Kabinett (dry), Spatlese (semi-sweet), and Auslese (sweet) varieties. Taste them in order from dry to sweet.
These links will take you to the wine category specified on Wine.com:
FYI: Pay attention to the wine description because some will say 375ML half bottle. Just make sure you are selecting the size you want.
TASTING 2 – TOP REGIONS
For the second tasting, select Riesling from the top 4 producing regions. Select a dry Riesling from all 4 regions to give you a better taste comparison.
These links will take you to the wine region specified on Wine.com:
This region is known for making Riesling in the dry style. You can verify by looking for Alcohol by Volume of 12% abv or more.
Australia: Clare Valley and Eden Valley
To identify dry styles, look for Alcohol by Volume of 12% abv or more.
New York: Finger Lakes
Dry styles are identified as Dry on the label.
Whether you are actually doing the tasting or just opening a bottle, follow these 3 tasting steps. It will help you become familiar with the typical tasting profiles of Riesling or any wine. It’s one of the most important things you can do to lay that foundation of knowledge. But don’t worry about getting all of it just right. It’s really about taking in all of these senses to become more familiar.
Take your glass and tilt it over a white napkin or paper. Compare the color across all regions.
TASTING PROFILE: Range from pale lemon to a deep golden color. Some can even reach a deep amber color indicating lengthy aging.
Let’s see how aromatic Riesling is.
First, hold your glass at your chest and see if you can catch a scent.
Next, move it to your chin and breath in through your nose.
Then put your nose in the glass and take a big sniff.
What scents do you catch? Swirl the wine and then sniff again. What scents do you catch now?
TASTING PROFILE: An aromatic grape that you should be able to smell with the glass at your chest. It gives off floral and citrus notes.
Take a taste and swirl it in your mouth. What flavors do you taste? After you swallow, how long does the flavor linger and how would you describe those flavors?
Fruit: Range from citrus (lemon, lime) and green fruit (apple, pear) to stone fruit (peach) and tropical fruit (mango, pineapple).
Acidity (tart, crisp): High levels (cool climate-unoaked). Low to medium levels (warm climate-oaked).
Sweetness: Range of dry to sweet
Tannin (dry, bitter): None
Body (weight, mouthfeel): Light to Medium body
Alcohol: 8-13.5% ABV
Oak or Stainless Steel: Most mature in stainless steel. Some mature in neutral oak which affects the texture not the flavor of the wine.
EASY RATING SYSTEM
After you taste each wine, give it a rating using this easy rating system. Add notes to help remember what you liked or didn’t like about the wine.
3pts Good, but not great
1pt Not for me