What is misunderstood?
Really, I think it is important to note that Riesling is often misunderstood in two nearly opposite directions. Both of these misconceptions stem from the grapes reputation for producing sweet wines. To be sure, there are a large number of sweet Rieslings produced. However, one of the beautiful aspects of Riesling is that fantastic wines are available that range from bone dry to syrupy dessert wines that are among the sweetest wines produced anywhere in the world.
All too often wine lovers are missing out on some wonderful wines that exist on the opposite range of their usual tastes on this wonderfully broad spectrum of sweetness. Dry wine lovers poo-poo sweeter Riesling, often believing it is only suitable for “novice” wine drinkers or those with unevolved tastes. Sweet wine lovers, meanwhile, may often be missing an opportunity to gently broaden their tastes to include dry wines.
Whichever camp one may be in, Riesling serves are a perfect “gateway wine” to open up an entire new world of tasty (and food friendly) wines. The key, with Riesling, is its’ high level of acidity. The balance between acid and sugar can vary to almost any degree and be complimentary of each other. Further, in case I haven’t made it clear already, wines are available all over this spectrum. This makes it easy to expand your horizons just a little at a time.
So, here is my challenge my fellow wine lovers of all shapes and sizes. Try a German Spätlese – preferably with some mildly-spicy Thai food on a hot summer night. Enjoy venturing into a whole new world! Cheers! Errrrrr…. or should I say Prost!
What is Riesling?
Riesling is a white grape varietal that first originated in Germany’s Rhine region. Aromatic and flowery to the point of having perfume-like qualities, the grape is characterized by its high levels of acidity that lend to its immense versatility. While commonly thought of as a “sweet” wine, Riesling is actually capable of producing wines which are dry, semi-sweet and sparkling as well. The grape is highly expressive of the region it’s grown in, taking in the terroir as few others can.
Since Riesling is usually not oaked and tends not to be blended with other grapes, it is considered by many to be Germany’s purest expression of white wine.
Expansion Throughout the World
While Riesling is by and large a German grape, its popularity led to plantings throughout the rest of the world over the years. Today, Riesling is considered to be the 20th most grown variety in the world at an impressive 120,000 acres worldwide. Significant plantings can be found in Austria, Italy, Slovakia, New Zealand, Australia and even in California and New York. Because of the grape’s ability to take on nuances of the soil in which it is grown, Rieslings from around the world can vary greatly from one another — especially in sweetness.
Characteristic Flavors of German Riesling
While it’s true that no two Rieslings taste identical to one another, there are a handful of characteristics that the wine is known for regardless of production area. In general, Rieslings tend to showcase high levels of minerality, which tends to give way to flavors of lime, lemon, melon and pineapple. Much of the balance between minerality and tropical flavors can be attributed to the dryness of the wine; drier Rieslings being more mineral-heavy, sweeter Rieslings leaning in the direction of tropicality. Because of the firm acidity found in most Rieslings, it’s possible to age finer varieties of the wine for many years — something not typical of most white wines.
A Food Wine Like No Other
There are countless wines that can pair nicely with food of all kinds, most of which tend to be on the dryer side. Food pairings are where Riesling shines, especially when you consider the wine’s clever balance of sugar and acid. A perfect fish wine, Riesling can also stand up nicely to roast pork or whole-roasted chicken. Where the wine truly shines, however, is in its ability to stand up to some of the world’s boldest cuisine — particularly Thai and Chinese. The spiciness of foods from these regions makes pairing them with wine quite challenging, yet Riesling showcases all of the qualities needed in a complement to Thai and Chinese cuisine.