Taste: Intense floral and fruity aromas with green fruit flavors of apple, grape, and pear, which can extend to citrus and stone fruit flavors, such as lemon, lime, apricot and peach, when grown in more moderate climates. Its natural high acidity and tangy minerality is offset by residual sugar. Develops great complexity with age and may display additional flavors of honey, toast and petrol.
Body: Light and delicate with a low level of alcohol.
Dry / Sweet: Generally medium-dry (sweet to taste) but can also be dry – check label or ask retailer. Alcohol level can be a good indicator – see note below.
Age: Requires about five years of bottle age to develop properly.
Other: Something of an acquired taste – exposure is needed to appreciate its qualities. Tends to be relatively low in alcohol.
Riesling (REEZ-ling) produces some of the world’s greatest white wines, but it is frequently overlooked. Part of the reason for this is that it can be difficult in youth, needing time to develop in bottle before its true character and finer qualities emerge. Another important factor is uncertainty concerning the level of sweetness of wines, as this is not always apparent from the label.
The grape’s homeland is Germany, where it has been cultivated for at least 500 years and possibly as far back as Roman times. It’s a cool climate grape that is at its best when it ripens slowly, as this allows it to develop its maximum flavor compound potential, while also retaining acidity. Consequently, the best Rieslings are grown on prime sites in cooler wine regions, such as Germany.
It has intense floral and fruity aromas with green fruit flavors of apple, grape, and pear, which can extend to citrus and stone fruit flavors, such as lemon, lime, apricot and peach, when grown in more moderate climates. The natural high acidity of Riesling enables it to age extremely well and so develop additional flavors of honey, toast and, believe it or not, petrol.
Riesling makes wines that range from bone dry (see dry Riesling in the Crisp style) to intensely sweet and, if bottles are not labeled correctly, this can lead to an unpleasant surprise. More so perhaps that any other wine, a greater level of consideration is required when purchasing Riesling. A well-informed retailer can make all the difference, so be sure to seek their advice.
In the Aromatic style it makes wonderfully delicate medium-dry wines whose crisp acidity and tangy minerality is softened by the sweetness of residual sugar. The best of these Aromatic wines are beautifully balanced with relatively low alcohol levels and a delicious range of delicate aromas and flavors. In Germany, they are usually classified as Kabinett (ka-bee-nett) or Spätlese (shpayt-ley-zuh). If you are not familiar with this style of wine you may need some exposure to begin to appreciate its qualities, but this effort will be well rewarded.
Note: It can be difficult to know if a bottle of Riesling is dry or medium-dry as this is not always stated on the label. A good indicator is the alcohol level of the wine – the lower the level the more residual sugar there is likely to be in the wine and therefore the sweeter it will taste. If the alcohol is below 11% (can be as low as 7.5%) the wine will most certainly be off-dry, could be medium-dry, and if it is above 13% it should be dry. Between these two percentiles it could be either dry or off-dry. At the other end of the spectrum, it is worth bearing in mind that mass produced jug wines can be sweet with a high level of alcohol.
In Germany, basic Rieslings are classified as QbA and are usually fruity with medium sweetness. Above this is the QmP classification for higher quality wines, which is largely based on the sugar content of the unfermented grape juice (but not the wine itself). This sugar content, in turn, relates to the ripeness of the grapes when picked. In ascending order of ripeness the classifications are as follows:
Kabinett: light in body and alcohol with high acidity. Generally off-dry to medium-dry in terms of sweetness, but can be dry.
Spätlese: more body than Kabinett with sweetness generally ranging from medium-dry to medium-sweet.
Auslese: more body and exotic fruit than Spätlese, with sweetness generally ranging from medium-sweet to sweet. This is the highest level that can be classified as a dry wine.
Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese: high alcohol, full bodied, intensely sweet wines made from grapes affected by botrytis or noble rot.
Eiswein: or “ice wine”, which is made from grapes that are harvested while frozen on the vine, is remarkably concentrated with great fruit purity and sweetness.
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