Top Tips From The Wine Cellar: Not all Rieslings are ‘too sweet’
No wine variety suffers more stereotyping than Riesling. Both casual drinkers and experienced wine enthusiasts often pigeonhole Riesling wines as being “too sweet.” Not true.
Certainly there are mass-produced, cloyingly sweet white wines labeled as “Riesling” and ofteen seen in either “jugs” or “bags-in-boxes.” These flabby, uninteresting selections appeal to the sweet tooth but little else.
With just a little more effort, however, you can discover another universe of well-made, beautifully balanced, fresh Rieslings. While these wines cover a diverse range of finishes from sweet to completely dry without residual sugar, the key to quality comes when winegrowers preserve just enough fresh acidity to create precise wines with pleasing balance.
Well-balanced Rieslings make great choices for holiday parties and meals. The wines’ enticing, irresistibly fruity aromas will appeal to even the grumpiest wine snobs. And when properly balanced with uplifting freshness, Rieslings complement the full range of holiday appetizers from salty bites and spicy items to vibrant Asian flavors.
Try the following delicious bottles:
Fruity and off-dry Rieslings, with well-balanced sweetness
• 2017 Charles Smith Wines, “Kung Fu Girl” Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington State (PLCB Code: 7465; $13.99): In 2005, winemaker Charles Smith hit a chord with consumers with this whimsically named, easy-drinking, slightly off-dry Riesling. Today the wine sells well worldwide, and with good reason.
Light citrus and white floral aromas open to ripe apple and lime flavors with a light kiss of fruity sweetness. Zesty acidity adds balance through the refreshing finish. Recommended.
• 2018 Nik Weis, St. Urbans-Hof, Riesling Kabinett, Okfener Bockstein, Mosel, Germany (Available nationally on average for $23.00; See wine-searcher.com.) This classically fruity and delicate German Riesling comes from the famed Bockstein vineyard, a steep slope of hard slate overlooking the Saar River near the Mosel Valley. The site’s intriguing blend of full sunshine and cool winds creates ripe Riesling fruit with terrific, fresh acidity. Veteran winegrower Nik Weis captures the wonderful fruity balance by fermenting the grapes in stainless steel tanks with natural yeasts.
The wine’s enchanting floral and ripe peach aromas lead to ripe peach and citrus flavors. The wine’s dazzling freshness balances a fruity kiss of sweetness in the finish. This wine is a sheer delight and only 9% alcohol by volume. Highly Recommended.
Fruity and dry Riesling:
• 2016 Weingut Pfeffingen, Dry Riesling, Rheinpfalz, Germany (Luxury 75221; $17.99). Germany’s Pfalz winegrowing region has a dry and sunny climate that consistently provides ultra-ripe Riesling grapes with a solid core of freshness. This terroir enables growers to produce fruity, yet full-bodied, dry wines which, as wine writer Valerie Kathawala points out (see grapecollective.com), spearheaded Germany’s Trockenwelle (i.e., dry white wine craze).
In this case, Weingut Pfeffingen winegrower Jan Eymael’s delightful wine unfolds ripe citrus aromas with smoky hints. In the glass, ripe grapefruit and tart apple flavors balance with zesty freshness through the dry, fruity finish which lingers pleasantly. Highly Recommended.
• 2018 Galen Glen Winery, Fossil Vineyard, Riesling, Lehigh Valley, Pa. (Available online at galenglen.com; $16.99). This delicious wine comes from northeastern Pennsylvania where hundreds of millions of years ago a vast sea covered the landscape. The vineyard name come from the soils embedded with fossils of creatures that lived in the sea.
This charming wine offers classic lime, grapefruit and peach aromas. Fresh citrus and ripe peach flavors balanced by vibrant acidity carrying through the fruity, but dry finish. A precise, world-class Riesling from Pennsylvania. Highly Recommended.
• 2018 Weingut Heid, Riesling Trocken, Württemberg, Germany (Luxury 77612; $18.99): This tasty wine comes from a region in southwestern Germany better known for its red wines. But in this case, 10th generation winegrower Markus Heid uses organic viticulture to produce Riesling fruit with transparent, enchanting aromas and pure, ripe fruitiness.
Light elderflower and citrus aromas greet the nose. Pure, ripe grapefruit, quince and white peach flavors unfold in the glass. Bracing, crisp acidity balances the fruit through the clean, dry finish. It’s a lovely wine. Highly Recommended.
• 2014 Domaine Bechtold, Riesling Sussenberg, Alsace, France (Luxury 76916; $32.99): Winegrower Jean-Marie Bechtold tends vines on sunny slopes just west of Strasbourg in northern Alsace. He uses organic and biodynamic practices to maintain vibrant soils and naturally sturdy, healthy vines.
This wine’s golden color suggests the ripeness of the Riesling grapes. On the nose, ripe apple and honey aromas mingle with pleasant earthy nuances. Rich, concentrated flavors of grapefruit and apples unfold in the glass balanced by pronounced acidity and refreshing mineral notes. It finishes fruity, but completely dry and racy. This wine completely dispels the Riesling stereotype of having excessive sweetness. Recommended.