A wise person once told me “you start off drinking white wine, then you fall in love with red…and then you arrive at Riesling.” As majestic as that sounds, many people think they dislike the wine that this noble white grape yields because they’re expecting sweet. This is a misconception, as many of the world’s greatest Rieslings are dry.
Here’s what you need to know to find great value in dry Riesling….then you’ll have arrived!
Sweetness in wine is different than sweetness in a candy bar. As you chew milk chocolate, you are perceiving sweetness. Wine can’t be assessed for sweetness until after the sip is swallowed. What we taste as the wine is in our mouth is fruit. When I teach about wine, I stress the importance of the “end," or finish. The palate’s last impression of a wine helps the brain evaluate the structure, balance, and sweetness of the wine. So when you take your next sip of Riesling, concentrate on the finish….does it end dry (steely, minerally), or sweet?
Learning From The Label
While it’s true that Riesling has many expressions, you don’t have to choose dry Riesling blindly. Often new-world examples will say “dry” or otherwise right on the label. But when considering German Rieslings, look for the word Trocken. Don’t get confused by words like Kabinett, Spatlese, or Auslese— these words describe the level of ripeness when fruit was picked, not the dryness of the wine.
One of the fascinating, alluring characteristics of Riesling other than its distinctive acidity and complex flavors is the array of aromas it can possess. Great Riesling is prized by collectors for the way its aromatics develop as it matures for years in the bottle. Popping a bottle of Riesling, young or old, I love how I can simultaneously smell lime, wet stones, and even petrol on the more exceptional ones. It’s truly an adventure in a bottle!
The Global Riesling Roundup
Although this grape is thought of as a German superstar, Riesling thrives in the cool climates of many corners of the globe. Alsace is famous for their rich, unctuous bottlings, while the Clare Valley of Australia produces stunning, lean wines with piercing minerality. Austria’s are dry and colossally-textured. Taste a Riesling from the Finger Lakes region of New York, and you’ll swear you’ve been transported to Deutschland. Proust!
Here are some current dry favorites that won’t break the bank:
Heron Hill Dry Riesling '08, Seneca Lake, NY $13
Wakefield Riesling '08, Claire Valley, Australia $14
Joseph Cattin Riesling '09, Alsace, France $12
Helfrich Riesling '07, Alsace, France $12
Skyleaf Riesling '09, New Zealand $10
Tell us in the comments: Are you a fan of Riesling?