A Wine Lover’s Look At Riesling Grapes

The white Riesling grape is thought to have originated in the Rheingau region of southwestern Germany. It has been cultivated in Germany since the Fifteenth Century or even earlier. Riesling is the dominant grape variety in Germany. It is found throughout Central Europe, the Alsace region of northeastern France, California, Australia, and New Zealand.

In contrast to the popular misconception that Riesling wines are always sweet, Riesling varies from a dry, acidic wine, to a slightly sweet wine to a very sweet wine that can happen when grapes are affected by noble rot (botrytis) or frost. More than most other white varieties, the Riesling grape is very sensitive to its soil, climate, and growing conditions. Cool-climate Rieslings have a aromatic, delicate nose, while warm-climate Rieslings remind one of limes and other citrus fruits. The color varies from a very pale yellow with a slightly green and often brilliant tinge when young that evolve with age into a golden, honey-colored, possibly viscous wine. The taste varies from a crisp, acidic flavor when young to a rich, honey, spicy, toasty palate associated with the developed wine. Alsace Rieslings are often acidic and taste of minerals and fruit. German Rieslings are sweeter and more aromatic, in particular the late vintage and Eiswein (made from grapes that froze on the vine) styles of the Rheingau, which are usually golden colored, syrupy and very sweet. They taste of lime or tropical fruit.

You may enjoy dry or slightly sweet Rieslings with Edam, Gouda, or Monterey Jack Cheese, spicy Oriental food, Asparagus, raw Oysters, Pasta Salad or Pasta with Vegetables. Among the suggested pairings for late-vintage or Eiswein Rieslings are desserts, Blue Cheese, and Fruit Salad. Experiment, you may be positively surprised with the positive results.

I am quite a fan of Riesling wines. Over the years I have reviewed Rieslings from Canada, Israel, Alsace (France), Serbia, Australia (both South Australia and Tasmania), and Hungary. Let’s not forget Germany; about half the German wines I reviewed are Rieslings. Rieslings from many, many German wine regions, vinified in most levels of sweetness. (Remember that German wine classifications rely heavily on the level of sweetness.) I won’t pretend that I liked all of them. But in my mind, a fine, sweet German Riesling can be an excellent wine. Perhaps surprisingly, it can be paired with quite a wide variety of foods. We are far from the days of Black Tower and Blue Nun Rieslings, neither of which I cherish.

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