A Taste of Riesling’s Charms

Riesling is Germany’s most-planted grape variety and likely originated in the Rheingau. It is capable of making wines in styles that range from dry to sweet. Riesling is beautifully aromatic and so delicious, but the trick is figuring out if the wine will taste sweet or not. Today we’re tasting two Rieslings, both of which were provided to us as tasting samples.

I know I’m not the only wine lover who finds German wine labels confounding and therefore frustrating, in particular when choosing a Riesling. Terms like Kabinett and Spätlese indicate the ripeness of the grape at harvest, with Spätlese being the riper of the two. But, sweetness in wine is more a function of winemaking choices, like how long the winemaker allows fermentation to proceed, than ripeness alone. When you figure in that riper Riesling grapes will taste more fruity than less-ripe Riesling grapes and fruitiness can be perceived as sweetness the whole thing gets very complex.

So, what’s a wine lover in search of a bottle of German Riesling to do? You can look for terms like dry or off-dry on the label (these are sometimes added for the US market), hope against hope that the winery puts the International Riesling Foundation Scale of sweetness on the back label (not likely) or you can look for terms like Kabinett or Spätlese and match that with the alcohol level of the wine. In general the lower the alcohol level the sweeter the wine will taste. The one thing you can generally count on in German Riesling is adequate acidity to balance residual sugar in the wine, so it will almost always taste less sweet than it actually is by the numbers.

2016 Lietz Dragonstone Riesling, Rheingau photo
2016 Lietz Dragonstone Riesling, Rheingau

2016 Lietz Dragonstone Riesling, Rheingaupale yellow in the glass with aromas of ripe pears, yellow apples and hints of petrol. Generous flavors of stone fruit, baked pineapple and stony minerality taste sweet, but are  balanced by bright acidity that provides a clean finish of medium+ length. The wine has a bit of roundness in the mouth. 10% abv. SRP $17.99

Complex fruit flavors are evident from the instant I put my nose in the glass and the flavors followed through. For the wine geek: RS 42.3 g/L, acidity 9.6 g/L.

2016 Peter Lauer Ayler Kupp Fass 8 Riesling Kabinett, Mosel photo
2016 Peter Lauer Ayler Kupp Fass 8 Riesling Kabinett, Mosel

2016 Peter Lauer Ayler Kupp Fass 8 Riesling Kabinett, Moselpale yellow in the glass with crushed rock aromas. Complex flavors of white peach, pear, tart pineapple and citrus combine with interesting cedar notes in the background. Flavors taste sweet, but lively acidity keeps the finish, clean, very long and complex. The wine is round in the mouth. 8% abv. $23 average price on Wine-Searcher.

This is so delicious, complex and those hints of cedar in the background are absolutely beguiling. The aromas don’t give away the wine’s complexity. Love it. For the wine geek: RS 68 g/L, acidity 10g/L.

I have to say, both of these Rieslings are delicious with excellent complexity and a clean finish in spite of their sweetness. And the relatively low alcohol makes them perfect for the heat wave that is descending upon us. 

The obvious food pairing for these wines is a dish with a bit of spice, which will be cooled by the sweetness of the wines. But spicy food isn’t essential. Thanks to the brilliant acidity in both of these wines they will pair well with rich, creamy dishes and even grilled lamb burger, which is what I had for dinner on the evening I tasted these wines. It worked for me.

Cheers!

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