Riesling: Righteous, Rocky and Rocking

Another sommelier's darling that is oft misunderstood by the public as being a sweet wine. Yes, it can have a toothachingly sweet amount of residual sugar, but it is just often vinified dry, and always contains that telltale racy acidity, and harmonious balance. So what gives? What's the deal with Riesling??


Riesling grapes are small and tends to grow in compact clusters. Make no mistake, though these little babies are hardy, able to withstand frost,Riesling grapes pests, rots. In fact it thrives in cold climates where most other contenders would shrivel up and die. Riesling is, however, particular about the soils that it inhabits: well drained, sandy loam, and (predominantly German slate)

One of the reason that professionals love Riesling is its ability to transmit terroir. The type of soil may influence ripening time and ultimately flavor profile:

  • Blue Slate lends flavors of minerals & green apple.
  • Iron-rich Red Slate soils offer flavors of peach & smoke.
  • Volcanic Soils give off tropical flavors, redolent of mango and papaya. 

Another reason that wine makers love Riesling is that high yields do not decrease quality.

Not that we are ones to gossip but Riesling gets around. Riesling is the baby daddy for many grapes:

  • Kerner
  • Rieslaner
  • Muller Thurgau
  • Scheurebe (yeah we butcher the pronunciation of that one too).
Given it's penchant for reproduction, it often goes by aliases in different countries:
  • White Riesling
  • Weisser Riesling
  • Rheinriesling
Given it's studly reputation there are a number of grapes that like to cash in Riesling's caché:
  • Cape Riesling
  • Clare Reisling
  • Emerald Riesling
  • Gray Reisling
  • Welschriesling
  • Riesling Italico
  • Schwarzriesling


  • Riesling's Achilles heel is that it sometimes struggles to ripen fully, and sometimes winemakers must chaptalize wines in order for them to have sufficient alcohol.
  • Riesling is generally aged in stainless steel, to preserve it's inherent acidity, which also aids in its ability to age more than 20 years.

 Places It Is Happiest

Old World
New World

Germany: Riesling thrives in all of the 13 subregions or (Anbaugebiete), but it's most stellar appellation is the Mosel.

  • Because the Mosel is techincally too far north to grow wine producing grapes,vines are planted on steep slopes all facing south. The slate soils reflect heat and light as do the surrounding rivers.
  • Other regions of note:
    • Saar & Ruher (which were techinically part of the Mosel for years until everyone caught on that those were not *quite* as exceptional. the upshot is that they are still a killer deal.
    • Nahe: our favorite descriptions of wines from the Nahe (pronounced NAH-hay) region comes courtesy of the late great Steve Pitcher of the San Francisco Chronicle: "The general style of Nahe Rieslings borrows something from each of its neighboring regions -- the raciness, sleekness and slate minerality of the Mosel combined with the earthier, riper, nectar flavors of the Rheingau." 'nuf said1
    • Pfalz: We wish Pfalz-y could be an adjective: one sip and you will know what we are talking about! The loamier soils, warmer temparatures make for a wine that is a smoother expression of Riesling; one which speaks in soothing dulcet tones rather than piercing shrieks.


  • One of the four noble varietals along with Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer and Muscat
  • Dry, round and aromatic
  • Long growing season due to rain shadow from the Vosges Mounains.

Austria: Drier & fuller than their German counterparts, but equally mineral driven Subregions of note:

  • Wachau
  • Kamptal
  • Kremstal 
  • Vienna.

New York & Ontario (aka the Finger Lakes)
Dry wines are “green” with high acidity, but the region is most well-known for ice wines.

Washington: Once again old world elegance and new world fruit. The Riesling rocks here because it has the best of both. The styles range from dry to sweet, with predominant characteristics of peach and mineral.

California: Overall too hot for Riesling but thrives in certain micro-climates:

    • Santa Barbara (Firestone)
    • Monterey (Ventana)
    • Mendocino (Navarro and Greenwood Ridge)

Australia: Yes, Australia is far more well known for their taken on Rhone varieties, but they also produce stellar Rieslings. Styles range from boney dry to sweet. The flavor characteristics posesss tropical fruit, citrus pith, floral, racy minerals.

  • Eden Valley
  • Clare Valley: Grosset is one of our favorite producers.

New Zealand:

  • Thrives in the cool South Island


Common Descriptors

  • Color: Pale yellow to deep gold of botrytized dessert wines
  • Aroma: Petrol & kerosene (yes, we're sorry good Rieslings all smell like diesel fuel; once you know that you won't be able to overlook it for a while. Sorry... well, not really), apricots, peach, citrus peel, honey, floral, spice, lemon curd, ginger
  • Body: Light to full
  • Acidity: High
  • Alcohol: Low to medium
  • Residual Sweetness:  Bone dry to very sweet
  • Flavors:
    • Dry Wines:
      • Cool Climate: lean and reserved, green apple, citrus peel, white peach
      • Warm Climate: round and opulent, pineapple, mango
    • Sweet Wines:
      • Botrytis:  apricot, honey, raisin
      • Eiswine or Ice wine: lemon, baked apple, peach