Categories: Fresh and Crisp – Funky and Floral – Sweet
Riesling is perhaps the most misunderstood wine varietal and for good reason. Years of cheap, syrupy sweet Riesling flooded the U.S. market and were once quite in vogue. As U.S. wine producers entered the world stage and wine consumers became more informed and demanded higher quality wines, the sweet Rieslings got left behind. It took awhile before consumers discovered the many amazing, dry, crisp, fresh, acidic and world-class Rieslings that were being made. And today, many people are returning to Riesling after discovering the breadth of style, the fantastic food pairing options even for sweeter styles of Riesling, and the varietal is once again returning to favor. For DOMSOM, Riesling is perhaps the king of white wines!
Riesling favors cool to moderate climates and as it thrives in long growing season areas can produce an extremely broad range of styles. An aromatic varietal with high acidity, Rieslings can be consumed young, but also the best of the best can age for years creating amazingly complex wines with layers of flavor and aroma. Dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, sweet, late harvest, even ice wine are all styles the versatile Riesling grape can create with tremendous success.
Some of the best areas for growing Riesling grapes are impacted by “rain shadows”, a term we learned in Module 1 used to define areas protected by mountain ranges which prevent rain and storms from passing over them and result in dry, arid areas where this varietal can thrive. The best vineyards are in climates with warm, sunny days and cool nights called “diurnal shifts”. This allows the grapes to mature and grow during the warm days, but halts the process at night which preserves the varietal’s high acidity and freshness. Farmers and wine makers can influence broad ranges of wine styles based on the ripeness of the grapes.
Fermenting or aging Riesling in oak is extraordinarily rare. Exposure to oak can diminish the wines signature aromas and mask the high acidity for which it is best known. Expect to see Riesling aged in stainless steel tanks or glass bottles, which impart no aroma or flavor influence. Bottle aging can also make complex flavors and aromas wake from hibernation and make these already great wines even more magical.
Riesling is making a comeback and U.S. wineries are producing some amazing wines true to the varietal and true to the broad styles this grape offers to them. From appetizer to dessert, Riesling will enhance each course with its aromatic and fresh fruit flavors, high acidity balancing with varying levels of alcohol and its signature nose of gasoline (or as the Europeans prefer “petrol”) when aged.