The Vintage Roots Guide to German Riesling Wines
When it comes to wine, Riesling wine can be a little misunderstood. It is often dismissed as an overly sweet dessert wine, but it actually comes in all levels of sweetness, from bone dry to unctuously sweet – and even sparkling!
Not only this, but some Riesling food pairings can be unusual and really different from other white wines, offering bold flavours that can match with some delicious and flavourful food.
So if you want to get to know Riesling a little better, take a look at our guide to this delicious and fragrant wine.
Where Does Riesling Come from?
Riesling is produced all over the world these days, but finds its origins from western Germany. Grown in any of Germany’s 13 wine growing regions, German Riesling is always distinctive, but can vary hugely in style as even within Germany there are so many different types of Riesling white wine!
From crisp and fresh dry wines to the luscious dessert wine, there is sure to be something for you.
The Ahr wine region is one of the northernmost wine regions in Germany, and is also one the smallest regions that produces Riesling wine. In this area, vines are located on steep slopes that can only be tended to by hand, giving the region a smaller output of wine than other parts of Germany.
This is the southernmost wine producing region and is located between the black forest and the Rhine river. This is also one of the warmest and sunniest regions of Germany and has more of a Mediterranean lifestyle.
Its varied landscapes mean that this region produces many varieties of German Riesling white wine, as well as some of Germany’s best reds.
Franken is located within Bavaria, where most of the vineyards are on hilly slopes. The German Riesling wine from this region has a more masculine taste and is mostly supplied to Germany itself.
The majority of wines from Franken are vinified dry and bottled in a squat green or brown flagon, also known as a Bocksbeutel.
This region boasts a pretty landscape of vines and orchards and only a small yield of wine. It’s for this reason that the wine is almost exclusively drank locally. The Riesling white wine from this region is fragrant and rich.
This is the region of steep terraced vineyards and some of the wine worlds most beautiful scenery. The clay soil produces German Riesling with a pronounced acidity, which is one of the defining characteristics of a Riesling wine.
In Mittelrhein, three quarters of the vineyards are dedicated to Riesling.
All the wines produced in this religion share a pale colour, light body and a light refreshing acidity. The steep salty hills in Mosel bring forth some of the finest German Riesling wine in the world and around 60% of all grapes planted in this region are Riesling.
Mosel is best known for its crisp and citrus Riesling grown on steep slate soils.
Saar and Ruwer
One of the biggest producers of Riesling, Saar and Ruwer is home to 1500 acres of Riesling vines. In sunny years, this region produces full bodied wines with a fine fragrance, acidity and depth.
Most of the German Riesling produced here is exported to countries all over the world.
This region boasts a peaceful landscape of vineyards, orchards and meadows, with occasional cliffs. Whilst the Nahe is a smaller region, it has plenty of soil types which produce a wide variety of Riesling white wine.
The steeper areas with volcanic or weathered stone and those with red, clay-like slate produce elegant Riesling wines with a flowery note.
This is Germany’s second largest wine region, but often has the largest crop and with almost one quarter of wines produced in this region being Riesling, it produces many popular and full bodied Riesling wines.
Rheingau is a religion rich in tradition and nearly 80% of it’s acres are planted with Riesling. The varied soils produce delicious and high quality wines and the finest wines from this region fetch high prices at auctions.
This is also the region that is credited as being the creator of Riesling red wine – a rare red-skinned clone of Riesling.
Wines from this region are often characterised by their soft, fragrant and medium body, with a mild level of acidity. Often described as having a depth and complexity that is second to none, the broad range of soils produce some of the best German Riesling wines.
The Saale-Unstrust region is one of the northernmost wine-growing regions in Europe and it is known for creating Rieslings that are mineral rich and of great finesse.
This region is the easternmost wine region in Germany and it produces wines that are almost always vinified dry (dry wines are often denoted as ‘Trocken’ on the label). The Rieslings from this region show remarkable depth and complexity, as long days of sunshine mean that the wines can develop the aromas of fully developed fruit.
This region is defined by its hilly countryside with vineyards and orchards located amongst forests and fields. Riesling is the leading white variety from this region and produced a wine that is more mellow and rounded than other German wine-growing regions.
What Does Riesling Taste Like?
Riesling is one of the most aromatic grape varieties and whilst they are mostly known as a sweet wine, there are many types of Riesling white wine that are dry and crisp as well as the sweeter types of Riesling wine.
The really defining taste in a Riesling comes from its very high acidity. This acidity is what stops the sweeter styles from becoming cloying, and also allows to the wine to age superbly – Riesling is one of the most long-lived of all wines.
We would recommend this fantastic Riesling for ageing, if you can wait that long to drink it…
Bee Blauschiefer Honigberg Riesling Kabinett
Any Riesling wine below 9% alcohol content is likely to be sweet with the lightest Rieslings having notes of jasmine and orange. Rieslings also offer other flavours, some with a more citrus taste or with notes of mango or pineapple.
What are the Characteristics of the Riesling grape?
Riesling is one of the best grapes at expressing a ‘sense of place’, meaning it can vary from vineyard to vineyard, and even from row to row within a vineyard! Many sweet Riesling wines use naturally frozen or botrytised grapes (affected with a ‘noble rot’ that sweetens and intensifies the flavours).
One of the more unique aspects of a Riesling wine is that it can have notes of petrol or diesel if aged properly, which may not sound very appealing, but is highly prized by conoisseurs.
A good guide to the sweetness level of a wine is to look for the German designation on the label. In order of dry to sweet, they are Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese.
Two other common terms are ‘Trocken’, meaning dry, and ‘Eiswein’, indicating a sweet wine picked when the grapes were frozen.
What Is a Good Riesling Food Pairing?
Often labelled as ‘Trocken’, these wines are citrusy and most similar to Sauvignon Blanc and they work exceptionally well with fish and ‘green’ flavours, such as lime or green chilli – Thai green curries are a perfect match.
Dry Rieslings, like this beautiful organic wine from Italy, also pair beautifully with many Asian rice dishes – cuisine that is notoriously difficult to pair with any other wine.
IGT Benaco Bresciano Riesling
Rich and Dry Rieslings
Full bodied wines like these are ideal for rich sauces and earthy flavours. Ideal for pairing with a winter stew, this wine is the ideal Riesling food pairing for warming and rich dishes such as roast pork. Alsace Rieslings are usually made in this style.
For a fragrant and dry wine, we would recommend this great German Riesling.
Beetle Riesling Trocken Qualitätswein
Lightly Sweet Rieslings
‘Kabinett’ on the label denotes a lightly sweet wine. The low alcohol in many off-dry Rieslings make them an ideal accompaniment for a light salad or something salty.
Great as a lunch wine that is light and easy to drink.
Medium Sweet Rieslings
This type of Riesling is great for spicy dishes, as it can stand up to the bold flavours produced by the heat. This means that Curries are ideal because the extra sugar counters the heat and the acidity provides a delicious balance.
‘Spätlese’ is the category used for this sweetness level.
‘Auslese’ can appear on the labels of sweet, but not dessert wines. Sweet Rieslings are ideal for dishes that combine sweet and savoury flavours. Honey roasted pork or chicken would be an ideal pairing for this wine.
Look for one of the many Riesling sweet wine brands that have a refreshing acidity.
This is a simple one and does what it says on the bottle. Dessert Rieslings, particularly eisweins/icewines, are ideal for pairing with a fruity dessert. Some people also like this type of wine as an accompaniment to a cheese course.
These can be labelled ‘Beerenauslese’ and ‘Trockenbeerenauslese’ and can cost hundreds of pounds per bottle, but will age for up to 100 years or more!
We feel that Riesling is a bit of a misunderstood wine and hopefully after reading this you might be starting to understand this beautiful wine a bit more.
You might even be ready to try some of the best wine that Germany has to offer and give Riesling a go. Pair it with fish, curries and all kinds of dishes and you won’t be disappointed… we promise.