Like White Wine And Red Wine, But Love Riesling


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!

Defining Sweet

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.

Nose Candy

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?

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  • Anonymous

    Great piece, Deborah! I had my first Riesling in in Switzerland about ten years ago and have been hooked since. To that end, do you have any Swiss wines–Rieslings or otherwise–that you recommend?nCheers,nCaroline

    • DG

      Wow, Caroline- you are bringing me back many years to when I did an internship in Switzerland. There were some beautiful local wines that I loved…but I seldom see Swiss wines in the states.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this. I had never heard of this type of wine but now I’ll order it.

  • Guest

    Is there a such thing as red rieslings?

    • DG

      Good question. Many white wines are made from red skinned grapes…but Riesling, is not a red skinned grape- so there is no red riesling.

  • Samoa

    Could we ever suggest an article for you to do?

    • DG

      Samoa,nOf course you can suggest an article. To be appropriate for LearnVest it should be focused on “financially smart”

  • Anonymous

    After reading that article you guys wrote on Sarah Palin, I need some riesling. LOL

  • Anonymous

    After reading that sarah palin article you guys wrote, i need a riesling. LOL

  • Mikacutler1

    This is a great piece and I love Riesling, even with spicy food.

    • DG

      Riesling is ideal for spicy food! I paired a bottle last night with my Thai style Sweet Potato Soup with Chorizo. First batch of the season…get ready for winter!

  • Thepourfool

    About a dozen people told me, ten-twelve years ago, that my palate would, inevitably, lead me to Pinot Noir; Burgundy, to be precise. I work in the wine trade and taste between 2500 and 3000 wines every year. I am no closer to Pinot – OR Riesling – than I was back then. Yeah, most of the truly transcendent Rieslings are dry and German. But some are also neither: Ste. Michele-Loosen “Eroica”, Longshadows, Pewsey Vale, etc., etc. I can think of at least a dozen without trying.nnColumns like this one do little more than reveal the preconceptions of the author, whose statement that wines “can’t be assessed for sweetness until after the sip is swallowed” is patent nonsense. That says that professionals, who taste and SPIT dozens to hundreds of wines at trade tastings never actually perceive the sweetness of the wines they’re preparing to sell. A more accurate statement would be “the FULL extent of the sweetness and it’s after effects cannot be….” That MAY be true but, in fact, the full extent and after-effects of the chocolate also can’t be adequately appreciated until after you swallow that. The retro-nasal passage operates the same on all esters that make their way up it, be it wine, chocolate, or cola.nnThe author’s having even written this is just another example of people foisting their wine prejudices off on less-knowledgeable wine lovers or novices, creating yet another wine myth of fungus-like tenacity. Tastes, as should be obvious to even the author of this piece, are INDIVIDUAL. There is absolutely, categorically NO guarantee that everyone’s tastes will lead them to either Riesling OR Pinot Noir. And the flat assertion that it’s inevitable (The “wise person” quote) is just one more form of wine snobbery that does far more harm than good.

    • DG

      Iu2019m sorry you donu2019t see the allure of Riesling (and Burgundy) that I enjoy so much I want to “spread the gospel”.rnrnThe beauty of wine is that it is subjective. The difficulty in writing about wine is deciding exactly what to highlight and what to play down- to educate the reader while keeping the editors happy with the length of the text.rnrnIn the case of this post, my focus was on the fact that most newcomers to wine say they don’t like Riesling because they think it’s sweet. My goal- to educate these young non-wine industry readers about how to access sweetness in wine and to make some broad strokes in educating about the varietal itself. My hope- these readers choose Riesling as a by the glass offering or as their weekend bottle to share with friends and come to their own conclusions.rnrnI taste at wine industry trade shows and consume wines from as many appellations as possible on a regular basis. While it’s true that there are so many other wine categories besides Riesling and Burgundy that are compelling and deserve attention, the article was meant to show Riesling in a positive light, beyond its normal expectations as simply a “sweet” alternative to other table wines- as many novices interpret fruit as sweetness. rnrnWhile it’s true- there are some poor examples out there of Riesling- this is true for all parts of life. Riesling and Burgundy have the potential to bring the taster to greater heights than other varietals.rnIn regard to the second paragraph, -”Swallow” is for the consumer. “Spit” is for the trade person. The two are equal in that they represent the point at which the wine leaves the mouth, leaving behind its sense of sweetness for the palate and olfactories to assess. If the article was meant to be read by the trade person, “spit” would have been used. Clearly, the article is written to the novice or curious imbiber, who needs to understand the full duration of a sip of wine, instead of drawing all conclusions about the wine from its mid-palate.rnrnAs far as making a guarantee that “everyone’s tastes will lead them to…Riesling”…this is an offering of enthusiasm to tell newcomers to the world of wine that they should not be intimidated to try new things while incorporating tools to assist these tasters in accessing what they drink. Clearly wine taste and preference is subjective, thus consumers should be encouraged to explore beyond what they already like.rn

      • Thepourfool

        “this is an offering of enthusiasm to tell newcomers to the world of wine that they should not be intimidated to try new things while incorporating tools to assist these tasters in accessing what they drink.”nnWould have been fine IF that was what you wrote. What you DID write was this:nn”A wise person once told me u201cyou start off drinking white wine, then you fall in love with redu2026and then you arrive at Riesling.u201dnnIt doesn’t say “MAYBE you arrive at Riesling”. It implies a predestined outcome of one’s wine journey. It invests the person who told you that with an overweening wine wisdom that, as people learn more and lore about wine, they usually come to find is just the musings of some other person with a preference. In my 18 years of selling, making, and writing about wine, I’ve encouraged people to think for themselves in choosing what they like. I’ve been trashed a hundred times for telling people that they do NOT need to be a lover of or even have an appreciation for French wine, California boutique Cabernet, or any other class of wine in order to be a true wine lover. I don’t lay preconceptions on others. Why do you?nnCustomers can, fairly easily, be encouraged to taste outside their comfort zones but they cannot – and shouldn’t – be yanked out of them altogether. I’ve frequently made the statement that having anyone – friend, friend of a friend, wine shop clerk, or sommelier – cristicize anyone’s wine choice is not the sign of an enlightened wine perspective but the sign of bad manners. If someone comes to me and says, “I love Yellow Tail Shiraz”, I will cheerfully order it and help them to their car with it. It’s not my place – nor is it yours – to foist off our tastes on anyone else. If you hadsimply said, “All riesling is not the sticky sweet crap you may have encountered and I think you may want to examine some of the better ones”, we wouldn’t be trading these messages now. Own what you write, Ms. Goodman. As for drawing fine distinctions between trade persons and consumers, you simply didn’t make that clear. Your statements were definitive…and inaccurate.

  • DG

    In response to Thepourfool’s second comment:nnAs people interpret books- or for that matter wine, you are free to interpret my writing any way you see fit. However, this Riesling post, like all of my wine posts, presents a wine topic, gives some details about the varietal or area presented and some bottle options that I advocate. nnI am not criticizing anyoneu2019s wine choices; Iu2019m offering readers options and my opinions that have been shaped over two dozen years of involvement in the wine trade. Iu2019m not imposing my taste on others, but in this case suggesting that Riesling is considered one of the noble grapes for a reason. If readers try this juice, and find they donu2019t like it- theyu2019ve invested $15 on the exploration and I believe experiments donu2019t fail. You always learn from a new experience.nnAs far as my opening statement about my wise friendu2026 How many times have I heard that u201cIu2019m going to love thisu201d movie, or restaurant, or booku2026and I end up hating it? That, my friend, is what makes horse-racing.nThank you for your thoughts, nDeborah Goldstein, Learn Vest Dining and Entertainment Expert.n

  • Freethemind

    In response to Thepourfool, I donu2019t think there is any controversy to speak of with Ms. Goldsteinu2019s Riesling article. I too have been in the wine retail trade for ten years, with numerous musings and some 30,000 tastes to my credit (I mention this not as an accolade, but to allow for readersu2019 perspective on my comments). In actuality, neither one of us has any business reading her articles, since we wonu2019t be learning anything we donu2019t already know. I sense that you may have u201cstumbled uponu201d her work with premeditated contempt in mind, but of course I could be wrong. But let me mention, nonetheless, that your assertions that DGu2019s take on Riesling, and on wine consumer trends in general, being somehow elitist or representing her desire to u201cyank them outu201d of their comfort zone, are horrendously misdirected. Quite to the contrary of your rage, I feel compelled to applaud her for being one of the first in the blogosphere to so brilliantly lay out the facts about Riesling using so few words. Your irreverent policing should thus be exposed as just that. Furthermore, in her responding to your comments, she has been patient and quite gracious, while she ought to be tearing into you for your feeble attempt to be our u201cvinous savioru201d. rnrnConcerning your supplementary feelings and retail practices, it is so disappointing to fellow trade people like me that all of the hard work we put into directing people away from the u201csucker juiceu201d and Consumer Reports articles about soulless national brands is being negated by your insistence on being u201crespectfulu201d and senselessly consistent. You are doing yourself and the unsuspecting consumer a brutal disservice by letting them walk out the door with Yellow Tail and not spelling out for them what you know to be true about these wines and their distributors. If youu2019re going to get angry, get angry at something worthwhile. Come to think of it, you might have a knack for political blogging. rnrnMy apologies to the other Learnvest readers who have had the misfortune of reading all of our negative trade banter.rn