Riesling Wine: From Beginner to Connoisseur in 7 Steps




Are you a wine enthusiast who is looking to become a Riesling Connoisseur Have you been curious about Riesling but don’t know where to start? This post will help you become a Riesling Connoisseur in no time! We’ll break down the basics and the more complex aspects of Riesling wines in 7 easy to follow steps.


  1. What is Riesling?

Simply put, Riesling is a white grape variety that originated in Germany. It has since spread to other parts of Europe, Australia, and the United States. Aromatic, acidic, and light-bodied, it's one of the few grapes that can be sweet or dry, depending on the desired flavor profile. In Germany, its sweetness is determined by the amount of sugar in the grape's juice, while in other countries it can be affected by factors such as fermentation time and levels of residual sugar.

  1. What Do Riesling Wines Taste Like?


Though its flavor profile can vary, Riesling is typically characterized by notes of stone and tropical fruit, a crisp acidity, and a pleasant minerality. It has the power to age gracefully, sometimes even improving in quality through time. As a result, it's a favorite among wine lovers and has earned high ratings from critics around the world.


Because of its versatility and complexity, Riesling is one of the most diverse and food-friendly wines, making it a great choice for pairing with a wide range of dishes. From spicy dishes to fresh salads and even sweet desserts, aromatic Riesling can be a delightful accompaniment to any meal. In fact, the German Wine Institute recommends pairing Riesling with white fish, pork, and grilled vegetables for a truly exquisite experience.

  1. Picking out the Perfect Riesling


It can be intimidating for the uninitiated to wander into a wine shop and pick out the perfect Riesling. The sea of wine labels can be overwhelming, and the sheer selection can be daunting. Moreover, many people don’t know where to begin when it comes to learning the basics of Riesling or understanding the distinction between an off-dry, a semi-sweet, a dry, and a sweet bottle.


Fortunately, we’ve compiled an easy riesling wine guide that can help even the most apprehensive beginner pick out the perfect Riesling. Firstly, consider the style of wine. Off-dry and semi-sweet Riesling are fruity and have a balance of sweetness and acidity that can be enjoyed on their own or with food. Dry Rieslings, on the other hand, are typically citrusy, with a crisp acidity and a more mineral-like taste. 


Labels for Riesling tell a consumer what quality and sweetness to expect from the contents of a bottle.  The key classifications are (taken from Wine Folly site):


Qualitätswein This classification is determined by a minimum ripeness of grapes. Qualitätswein-level wines commonly use terms on the label to indicate the wine’s level of sweetness:

  • Trocken/Selection: A dry wine.
  • Halbtrocken/Classic: A “half-dry” or slightly sweet wine.
  • Feinherb: An unofficial term to describe an off-dry wine similar to Halbtrocken
  • Liebliche: A sweet wine.
  • süß or Süss: A sweeter wine.

Pradikatswein Pradikatswein Riesling wines are traditionally sweet and this quality-level is commonly used in the Mosel of Germany. The sweeter the grape, the higher the potential alcohol and/or sweetness in the wine. The classification also has a category for ice wine (aka eiswein).

  • Kabinett wines range in style from dry to off-dry.
  • Spätlese wines are rich and usually sweeter than Kabinett.
  • Auslese is even sweeter, where the grapes are hand-selected and have noble rot. 
  • Beerenauslese wines are much more rare because the grapes are basically "raisinated" noble rot grapes that create precious dessert wines (typically sold in half-bottles).
  • Trockenbeerenauslese are the most rare wine made from "raisinated" grapes that dried out on the vine.
  • Eiswein is made when grapes freeze on the vine and are pressed when frozen.

VDP Stands for “Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter” and represents both sweet and dry styles and is commonly used outside of Mosel. Dry Riesling wines with the VDP classification will be labeled as “Qualitätswein” and “Trocken” (“dry”) and can also be labeled with the ripeness terms from the Pradikat system (e.g. Spätlese, Auslese, etc).

  • Gutswein: (“house wine”) labeled with a proprietary, village or regional name and labeled “VDP”
  • Ortswein: (“local vineyard wine”) a wine from top vineyards labeled with a vineyard site name and “VDP.Ortswein”
  • Erste Lage: (“first site”) labeled with a vineyard site name and the logo, a numeral “one” next to a stylized cluster of grapes – embossed on the bottle or in the background of the labels, behind the name of the vineyard site. Labeled “VDP.Erste Lage”
  • Grosse Lage/Grosses Gewächs: (“great site”/”great growth”) designates the very best vineyards of Germany, within which the finest parcels have been narrowly demarcated. labeled “VDP.Grosses Gewächs” or “VDP.Grosse Lage”

TIP: The difference between VDP Grosses Gewächs (GG) and VDP Grosse Lage is GG will be dry.

The next step is to find a region and producer that suits your desired style of Riesling. Sweet Rieslings are typical from Germany, with the Mosel, Rheingau, and Pfalz regions producing some of the finest examples. For dry and semi-dry Rieslings, choose from French regions like Alsace and Jura, or from the mountainous regions of Austria, where the cool climate allows for excellent minerality.


Two Mountain Riesling 2022


It's also important to consider the vintage of the bottle, the year the wine was harvested.. Different vintages will produce different results, so it's best to research the particular vintage before making a purchase. Newer vintages tend to have more fruit-forward flavors, while older vintages have more acidity and minerality.


Finally, it's essential to understand the alcohol content of the Riesling you're considering. Generally, a dry Riesling will have an alcohol content of 11% to 13%, while a sweeter Riesling will have an alcohol content of 8% to 10%.


So, the next time you find yourself in the wine aisle, don’t be intimidated by the multitude of choices. With a little knowledge and research, you'll be able to find the perfect Riesling for any occasion.


  1. Serving and Storing Riesling Wines


Serving Riesling is best done chilled, though there is no universal consensus on the ideal temperature. According to an expert from the International Wine and Spirits Research Institute, cooler temperatures usually enhance Riesling’s crispness and bring out its mineral and fruit flavors best. However, with slightly sweeter Rieslings, a slightly warmer temperature can more easily allow the wine’s full flavor to be enjoyed. When in doubt, consult the label of the bottle – many will have temperature recommendations. 


Storing Riesling is also an important factor in getting the most out of its flavor and complexity. For short-term storage, the refrigerator is an ideal place. For longer-term storage, a cool, dark place with a constant temperature is most ideal. Letting the bottle sit upright, rather than laying it down, and in a corked wine rack, is the best method. This will allow the cork to stay hydrated, thus protecting the wine inside from spoiling.

  1. Wine Tasting: Riesling Smell, Swirl and Sip Like a Professional


Tasting Riesling like a professional isn't as difficult as you might think. With the right education and practice, you can become a great enthusiast and advocate  for the basic extraction methods of tasting and appreciating the complex flavors of this delightful white wine. Furthermore,it's important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to tasting Riesling wine. For example, some experts prefer to use the traditional "triangle test" where three glasses of Riesling are tasted and compared for their aroma, taste, and finish. Others employ methods such as blind tasting and aroma wheels to evaluate Riesling's flavor profile. 


No matter which approach you select, the core principles of tasting wine remain the same. Wines should be smelled to determine their aroma profile and then tasted to ascertain their complexity of flavors. Professional wine tasters use "flighting" techniques to sample a variety of wines to compare them. And finally, they use scoring systems to evaluate the overall quality of the wines they taste. 


To learn more about the basics of tasting Riesling, consider reading A Guide on How to Do Wine Tasting the Right Way. In addition to learning how to identify different flavor profiles of Riesling, you can gain valuable insights on the history of wine-making, the different grape varieties, and the laws and regulations governing wine production. Plus, you can network with other professionals in the industry and connect with experts who can offer valuable advice and guidance. 

  1. History and Origin of Riesling


Believed to have been first planted in the Rhine region of Germany in the 1400s, Riesling has gone on to be enjoyed by wine-lovers across the globe.


Riesling is an aromatic white wine grape, known for its balance of crisp acidity and fruity sweetness. Depending on where it is grown and how it is vinified, Riesling can vary wildly in terms of dryness or sweetness. While dry Rieslings are typically associated with the German and Alsace region, sweeter versions are often enjoyed from Australia and the United States.


While the exact origin of Riesling is unknown, most historians agree that the grape likely originated in Germany and was first planted in the Rhine region in the 1400s. Over the years, the grape has spread to many other wine regions across the globe, including France, Italy, and the New World.


Riesling has developed a reputation for being one of the most food-friendly and versatile wines. Its crisp acidity allows it to cut through fatty foods, while its natural sweetness can provide a perfect counterpoint to spicy dishes. Whereas some wines can be overpowering when paired with food, Riesling can bring a lightness to any meal and help to balance out bold flavors.


As a result, Riesling has become a favorite among sommeliers and wine-lovers alike. It has also been embraced by modern winemakers, who have pushed the boundaries of the grape by experimenting with new winemaking techniques and a range of styles. There's no doubt that Riesling will continue to delight us for centuries to come.


  1. Riesling and Food Pairings 


When it comes to Riesling, the options for food pairing seem endless. Riesling pairs extremely well with a variety of foods, allowing wine lovers to explore flavors, textures, and tastes that they may have never considered before.


For many, the idea of pairing Riesling with food can be intimidating – what goes well with this crisp, light-bodied wine? The answer is almost anything! With its natural acidity and lower alcohol content, Riesling is a great choice for pairing with bold dishes like garlic, spicy barbecue, and intensely flavored cheeses. It also pairs nicely with sweet dishes like fruit tarts, peach cobbler, and crème brûlée.


But the possibilities don't end there! Riesling can also be enjoyed with savory dishes like mussels, roasted chicken, and creamy pastas. The dry varieties of Riesling are excellent for pairing with vegetarian dishes like a summer veggie tart or a vegetable stir-fry.


When it comes to finding the perfect pairings for Riesling, the best approach is to experiment and try different combinations. A few tips to get started include: look for light dishes that won’t overpower the delicate flavors of the Riesling, consider the weight of the wine and the weight of the food, and also consider if the flavors match (for example, if the wine has notes of peach, try pairing it with something that also has a hint of peach).


Ultimately, the possibilities for food pairing with Riesling are endless. Experiment and discover your own personal favorites!

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