When you hear the word Riesling what face do you make? If it’s the same face you make when you see someone wearing socks with Adidas sandal slides in public, then you’re not alone. Most people think of Riesling as a thick, sweet, headache-inducing wine that could satisfy any sweet tooth… And they avoid it like the plague. (I did too until I learned the truth). It’s probably because Riesling comes in a multitude of sugar levels and the German language does NOTHING to help that sitch (frankly, when there are Welschriesling Trockenbeerenauslese and Kabinett Scharzhofberger on a wine list, I don’t even want to attempt to pronounce those words let alone figure out which one has less sugar content).
Here’s where that stereotype is shattered.
Did you know that Riesling can be made very dry and racy?
(FYI racy = light and acidic; a tart, mouth-watering lemonade is racy compared to a thick, creamy milkshake). This is amazing news for those who shiver at the thought of saccharine sweet wine. Dry (aka not sweet) Riesling is a revelation and will change your life. Period.
BUT don’t be completely dissuaded by sweet Rieslings! When they are properly balanced, they will make your heart melt. AND they pair PERFECTLY with spicy Asian cuisine and sushi. **Put that in your back pocket the next time you order the spicy salmon or the dan dan noodles.**
If you can get past the vowels and look for a few keywords, you will be able to tell exactly how sweet a Riesling actually is. And it’s well worth it to do the extra work because Riesling is DOPE.
Here’s my little guide to dry vs. sweet Rieslings.
Keywords/labeling to look for:
- Austria: almost always super dry, light, and delicious (aka racy)
- Alsace, France: French Rieslings are also notoriously dry
- United States: will be labeled “dry” (tysm, America)
- Australia: most from the Clare and Eden Valleys will be dry
- Germany: Ok here’s where it gets difficult…
- Trocken = dry (but NOT Trockenbeerenauslese, that’s conflictingly very sweet)
- VDP (“Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter”)
- VDP has classification levels, from the village/regional level through designated, superior vineyards in Germany. They will designate sweetness levels.
- German Pradikat Riesling (in order of less sweet to positively saccharine)
- Kabinett (dry to slightly sweet)
- Spätlese (richer than Kabinett, but still slightly sweet)
- Auslese (sweet but not sugary)
- Beerenauslese (rare dessert wine)
- Trockenbeerenauslese (even rarer dessert wine)
- Eiswein (made by pressing frozen grapes, super super sugary)
For food that is sweet, err on the sweet side with Riesling. A piece of cheesecake and an Auslese would be perfect.
For food that is spicy, an off-dry (meaning not exactly dry, but also not overly sweet) could be perfect. Maybe a Kabinett Riesling or Spätlese?
For food that is fresh and acidic, consider a dry Riesling from Austria or Alsace. You never want the wine to be much sweeter than the food, or it will make the wine taste even more sugary.
PRO TIP: If you’re ever offered the chance to try a vintage (old) Riesling, DO IT. They age like Meryl Streep and are delightful (and expensive).