September 2006

Riesling 101

Author: Krissy Cantelupe

For many years, Riesling has been known as “that sweet wine from Germany”, when really there are many Rieslings that are dry or semi-dry in style. Rieslings can also be found all over the world, including Australia, New Zealand, France, the U.S. (especially Washington State, North Carolina, California and New York State), and, of course, Germany. They do range from very dry to very sweet, but the sweeter ones are delicious with food and more difficult to drink by themselves.

From “Down Under”

In Australia and New Zealand, Rieslings are often drier and have flavors of fresh limes and lemons with a small amount of tanginess. As a fact, Australia originally had more of the Riesling grape planted than Chardonnay, until 1990 when Chardonnay finally caught up. These Rieslings are delicious to drink by themselves or with lighter foods such as shellfish, light pastas and poultry.


In France, Alsace is the place to grow great Riesling. These are extremely aromatic with a higher alcohol content than most (about 12%) and usually are bone-dry. One of my favorites is by Trimbach, which was established in 1626. The Trimbach Riesling is very dry with light pineapple and lemon on the finish. It is suitable for pork, poultry, and excellent with all types of sushi.


Germany is where things get a little more complicated. German Rieslings range from dry to very sweet, and usually you are able to tell from the label the level of sweetness. When reading the label, if you see the word “Kabinett”, then this is a drier style. If you see the word “Spatlese”, then this is semi-sweet. If you see the word “Auslese”, then this particular Riesling is the sweetest.

German Rieslings were meant to be enjoyed with food. The drier styles are perfect for pork, poultry and the meatier fishes (like swordfish); the Spatlese would pair well with fruits and cheese, but also some lighter desserts, and the Auslese is perfect to be served as a dessert wine or even with very spicy foods, such as Thai or Mexican.

United States

Finally, in the United States, Riesling is grown in various areas around the country. Surprisingly, some of the best Riesling grows in the mountains of North Carolina where the hot days and cool nights give the grapes a good acidity and nice balance. Shelton Vineyards has a beautiful Riesling which is very popular in Bluffton and Hilton Head Island. The owner has a house on the island and frequents this area often, while the vineyards are only five hours away, available for touring and tasting.

New York has many wineries growing Riesling, especially around the Finger Lakes of Northern New York. These Rieslings are on the sweeter side with a more rich concentration of fruit. California has quite a few properties also growing Riesling. These bottles are often labeled “Johannisberg Riesling”, or “White Riesling”. There are a wide range of styles from dry to sweet with citrus, pear, and apple being the dominant flavors.

The most popular location of Riesling in the United States is Washington State. The climate is very similar to that of Alsace and Germany, with the cool days and chillier nights. The Rieslings are usually semi-dry with hints of lush tropical fruits. A local favorite is the Hogue Riesling, which is also labeled as Hogue White Riesling. The Hogue property is enormous and also bottles a Late Harvest Riesling, where the grapes are left on the vine longer to retain more sugar, thus making it a perfect dessert wine.

Many wine columnists and forecasters predict a surge in Riesling because consumers are always looking for “the next and latest in wine”. Drop in to your local wine shop and try the Trimbach, the Shelton or the Hogue Riesling as a great alternative white wine for dinner tonight.

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