Riesling is the darling of the wine professional world and for good reason. But is Riesling a dry or a sweet wine?
Very few white wines have as much character, complexity and cellaring potential as Riesling, which is why it has captured the hearts of wine lovers all over.
Riesling can be grown in a variety of climates and wine regions, and as a result its characters can change depending on where it is grown.
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Is Riesling a Dry or Sweet Wine?
Unlike Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, the default for a Riesling wine isn’t always bone-dry, in fact a lot of Rieslings can be off-dry to sweet.
Traditionally, Riesling makes a sweeter style of white wine.
Riesling is a really interesting grape because it can make wines in so many different styles, which is why it’s important to ask whether your Riesling is a dry or a sweet wine.
In fact, because of Riesling’s tendency to cover the whole spectrum of dry to sweet, German Rieslings are labelled according to their sweetness, to help the consumer out.
Which is why when buying Riesling it’s important to check the label, or ask the wine seller for their guidance.
So when other white grapes tend to make dry white wines, why can Riesling come in so many styles?
What makes Riesling sweet?
Riesling Sweetness Compared To Other White Wines
Here's a chart of Riesling on a sweet to dry scale compared to other wines:
Why is Riesling Sweet?
Riesling is a wine with a lot of acidity, and in order to balance this out Riesling has traditionally been made in off-dry to sweeter styles.
There are 2 main reasons why Riesling is sweet:
- Reason 1 - One is that the grape itself ripens really well, producing lots of syrupy grape juice once picked and pressed. The more sugars present in the grape juice the sweeter the wine will be once fermentation has finished.
- Reason 2 - The second reason is that sweetness also depends on the choices made by the winemaker. Although fermentation is a natural process, it can be halted at any time. The earlier the fermentation is stopped, the more residual sugar leftover causing a sweetness in the finished wine.
Both of these factors mean that Riesling can come in a whole range of sweetness, which is partly what makes it such an exciting and fascinating grape variety.
So, sugar aside, what does Riesling taste like?
What Does Riesling Taste Like?
Riesling is an extremely aromatic grape, which makes it a really fun wine to smell and taste.
Although Riesling comes in many different styles, some tasting notes associated with the grape include lime zest, juicy nectarines and even the smell of petrol.
Riesling has a very signature scent.
Think really crisp slices of green pear, biting into a nugget of honeycomb or the heady aromas of jasmine.
It’s almost enough to make you wonder if you could wear Riesling as a perfume.
Read our article on whether you should chill Riesling to unlock its full aromatic potential.
What are the Characteristics of Rielsing?
Whilst Riesling may come in a whole range of styles, there are some characteristics that are typically associated with the grape. It’s useful to know them to help you differentiate Riesling from other varieties.
- Alcohol Levels - Rieslings tend to be low alcohol white wines, think 10% ABV or below.
- Sweetness Level - As we’ve discussed, Riesling can come in all levels of sweetness, from dry to dessert style, so it’s really important to check the labels.
- Acidity Level - There’s lots of lemon and lime acidity to be found in Riesling, which is useful to help balance out any residual sugar.
- Tannin Level - As with most white wines, there are little to no tannins to be found in Riesling wines.
- Body - Rieslings are often very light bodied wines, which compliment their perfumed aromatics.
So how do you know whether a Riesling will be sweet or not?
What are the sweet types of Riesling wine?
Sweet Types of Riesling Wine
Riesling can come in dry to off-dry to super sweet styles, so it’s important to know what makes a sweet type of Riesling and how to pick them apart in a wine aisle.
Luckily for us, Germany created a tiered, labelled system to help dictate where a Riesling falls on the sweetness chart.
Some sweet styles of Riesling include:
- Kabinett - A lighter, dry-off dry style of Riesling. If a Riesling is labelled Kabinett chances are its sweetness levels will only be mild.
- Spätlese - Spätlese means late harvest, which in turn means that the grapes have been left on the vines longer to ripen and create more sugars. This results in a richer style of Riesling that’s sweeter than Kabinett wines.
- Auslese/Beerenauslese/Trockenbeerenauslese - Auslese means hand selected, so any riesling with Auslese in the label is guaranteed to be a sweeter style of Riesling. This is because all of the grapes involved will have been hand picked to ensure optimal sugar levels in the finished wine.
Here's more Riesling wine varieties along with their sweetness / dryness level:
But how does riesling compare to other wines?
Is Riesling sweeter than Moscato, for example?
Is Riesling Sweeter Than Moscato?
Both Riesling and Moscato have reputations for being sweeter, white wines, but which is sweetest?
Riesling can make luxuriously sweet dessert wines, whilst Moscato tends to make lighter, frothier, sweet sparkling wines.
Whether one is sweeter than the other really depends on the Riesling involved which is why it's good to know your Riesling terminology.
So to really know whether your Riesling is sweeter than your Moscato it’s important to check the labels of the bottles involved.
If you’re unsure, ask your wine retailer, they’ll be happy to help and you’ll learn something about sweetness in wine in the process.
A win for everyone.
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