Updated: Aug 23, 2021
I am frequently told that Riesling is sweet. I have guests who chuckle when Riesling is mentioned, as if it is a faux pas to enjoy such a wine, this causes me great sadness. Indeed, sweet Riesling does exist, and it is a moderate amount of the Riesling produced out there, but if you want to try some of my favorite white wines on Earth, you would need to taste some Riesling. Let me begin by ensuring that you have been made aware that any grape can be fermented to dry... During fermentation yeast consumes the sugar in the grape juice, this produces CO2, and alcohol. If one allows the yeast to consume all of the sugar, the wine will be dry. If one allows the yeast to consume less of the sugar, the wine can be any varying degree of sweet. Dry Rieslings are a huge category of the Rieslings produced on Earth, but may require a little seeking out. I generally recommend starting in Alsace, France. Riesling in Alsace is dry, aromatic, weighty white wine. Riesling smells like apples, citrus, orange blossom, sometimes honey, and frequently bright fruit. No oak ageing is necessary.
Riesling can be a tricky little bugger, it enjoys a cool climate, but requires a relatively long hang time, on the vine, to develop enough sugar to allow it to sustain fermentation. Cool climates allow great acidity in the grape juice, and sugar allows potential body and alcohol content. This is why we see the grape produced in Germany, Austria, and Northern Italy with success along river valleys, where the waterways mediate the climate. Especially in Germany, Riesling is classified for quality based on the amount of sugar at the time of harvest. It can be a struggle to find your style if you are unaware of some German wine terms. From driest to sweetest German quality wines are classified Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, and Trockenbeerenauslese. Navigating these terms can make a Riesling study slightly intimidating. A German Riesling study is something I would be delighted to help with if you want support navigating these wines lets set it up.
That being said, I mentioned that my favorites are produced in Alsace, France in a very dry style, and labelled in English with French and German names. These are moderately priced, widely available in the states, and worth spending some money on. Riesling is absolutely ageworthy, and becomes a fascinating wine with a few years of bottle age.
Riesling is produced in the new world, as well. In Australia, Washington, California, and New York. New world styles are fuller bodied when sourced in warm climates, and are made sweet, demi-sec (half dry), and dry styles, and any level in between. If you have yet to find your preferred style of Riesling, I recommend starting with new world versions, they are often less expensive than European Riesling, and the bottles are covered in fewer foreign words. I enjoy engineering a class of either Riesling of varying residual sugar content, Rieslings of various amounts of bottle age, or Rieslings from varying climates.