Guide to Riesling

Many tend to think of a “wine lover” as having an appreciation for a bold Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, soft Oregon Valley Pinot Noir, fruity Australian Shiraz, or elegant French Champagne. Yet among these wines is one that seemingly does not fit: light, sweet Riesling. Riesling has a reputation in the wine community for being the wine that sommeliers love. What is it about Riesling that makes it so special?

Where is Riesling made?

Riesling originated in the Rhine region, which flows through Germany and the Netherlands. The regions most well-known for producing Riesling are the Mosel, Rheingau, Nahe and Pfalz regions of Germany and France’s Alsace. Today, other regions around the world––including wine producing regions in Austria, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Oregon, California, and Washington––also produce quality Riesling wine. Because Riesling is known for being exceptionally good at taking on the characteristics of the terroir, each of these regions will produce a wine that reflects the region’s soil. (For example, wines from Germany’s Mosel region will express minerality, which comes from the large amounts of slate in the soil.) This makes Riesling an exciting varietal to try.

Riesling Flavor Profile

Riesling can vary in levels of sweetness and is often made in either a “dry” or a “sweet” style. It can range in color from very pale yellow to golden straw.

In general, Riesling exudes fruit aromas of citrus (such as lime and meyer lemon), pineapple, and stone fruits (such as apricot, peach, and nectarine). The sweeter the wine is, the more it tends to have apricot/stone fruit notes, since these fruits have higher sugar contents than citrus. In addition, the wines tend to have aromas of honey, ginger, and (oddly) notes of petrol, petroleum wax, rubber, and diesel fuel. These petrol aromas come from an aroma compound called TDN (1,1,6,-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronapthalene) that exists to some degree in some Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but is most prominent in Riesling.

Riesling is best served quite cold (“fridge temperature” is the phrase most often used to describe the recommended 46 degree serving temp). Its sweetness and acidity make it the perfect pairing for spicy dishes found in Indian and Asian cuisine, as well as other aromatic dishes with cinnamon, clove, ginger, turmeric, curry, and cayenne pepper. Its acidity also makes it a match for meats with a higher fat content, such as duck, pork, and bacon. It also pairs well with crab and meaty white fish like sea bass.