Tasha Brandstatter on July 14, 2016 1 Comment Riesling — it’s the wine sommeliers adore and average drinkers tend to ignore. Why is Riesling so popular with somms and other oenophiles? Of course, there are many high-quality Rieslings, most of which are very affordable. And there is a romance to Riesling, as well: just like the Pinot Noir grape, Riesling is thin-skinned, finicky, and temperamental, only growing in tucked-away regions of the world and requiring a ridiculous amount of time and effort to produce a good wine. But beyond all that, the real reason this variety is the unsung star of white wines lies mainly in its versatility. One of the noble white grapes, Riesling is characterized by intense aromatics and acidity, along with a strong sense of terroir that makes exploring different variations of this wine a constant adventure. Rieslings can range from very dry to quite sweet and fruity, and the grape is even used to make dessert wines and liqueurs. Click Here to Shop For Riesling on Amazon But that’s not the only versatile aspect of Riesling’s personality. Thanks to its balance of sweetness and acid, it also pairs well with nearly any type of food. Traditional wisdom recommends something spicy, but don’t forget about savory dishes as well, like lamb, duck, sauerkraut, and roasted beef and chicken. And, if you’re looking to pair a wine with a Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese dish, Riesling has an almost peanut-butter-and-jelly-like affinity for Asian food. They just go together! Finally, while Riesling is typically enjoyed very young when its fruity aromatics are at their strongest, thanks to its sugar content it also ages remarkably well, making it a perfect purchase for wine collectors. 100-plus-year-old bottles of Riesling have received off the chart ratings, and there are still bottles of Riesling in Germany dating back to the early 17th century! While you probably don’t want to keep your Riesling for quite that long, you can safely store a bottle for five years, a decade, or even more. Be warned, though, that as Riesling ages it takes on a petrol or rubbery aroma. This is absolutely not a bad thing — it’s one of the characteristics of the wine, and something that signals a complexity and depth of flavor — but it can be a little off-putting to someone who’s not expecting it. Convinced Riesling has a shot at being your new favorite white wine? Here’s a quick run down of the numerous Riesling styles so you can pick the best one to fit the occasion and your taste buds. Dry and Semi-Dry As we’ve mentioned before, the American idea that this variety is always sweet is mostly a myth that started in the 1980s, when Germany exported a bunch of cheap white wine to the US. These wines were called “Riesling,” but were actually Liebfraumilch, a cheap blended table wine. In fact, a true German Riesling is not blended with other grape varieties, and is usually sold as a vintage. Most are either dry or semi-sweet, with strong minerality and aromas of lime, lemon, apple, and pear. These Rieslings are refreshingly acidic, constantly luring you into taking another sip. Riesling is a native grape of Germany and still the most popular wine made there, accounting for nearly a quarter of all domestic German wine. Since this variety needs to be babied, and the government quality standards for it are so high, most wineries make very small batches that they only sell locally. While it’s still true that not a lot of high-quality Rieslings are exported from Germany (not in comparison to the wines of France and Italy, at any rate), you can find a very good German Riesling at your local liquor store if you know how to read the labels. Labeling Look for wines marked Qualitätswein mit Prädikat or QmP. This means that the wine makers are in compliance with German quality controls and standards. If you want a dry wine, you’ll need a Kabinett Riesling. Kabinetts are made from the first Riesling harvest, when the grapes aren’t quite ripe, and therefore contain almost no residual sugar. If you’d rather have something slightly sweeter, look for a Spätlese, which comes from the second harvest when the grapes are fully ripe. You might want to keep an eye out for the word Trocken, which means dry, but as Kabinett and Spätlese both equate to dry anyway, this may or may appear on the label. You can also find domestic dry Rieslings from New York and Washington States. Just make sure they’re labeled as such before you buy. Semi-Sweet and Sweet Riesling harvested later in the season in Germany, as well as grapes grown in warmer climates, will produce sweeter wines. The flavor will lean more toward juicier stone fruits, such as nectarine, apricot, and peaches, and the aromas will be more herbaceous and flowery. Yet all these sweet, fruity notes should be well-balanced with acidity and body. If you love sweeter wines, then these are absolute must-tries. For German sweet and semi-sweet Riesling, look for the designation Auslese. Rieslings from Austria, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and California will also be sweeter than the drier German wines. Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese are VERY sweet, dessert-style Rieslings that come from grapes starting to rot on the vine. Eiswine Eiswein, or ice wine, is a wine liqueur native to Germany first invented in the late 18th century, entirely by accident. What happened was this: Schloss Johannisberg needed permission from the Abbey at Fulda, which owned their vineyards, to harvest their Riesling grapes. By some twist of fate, the order to harvest arrived extremely late in the season, so late that the grapes had begun to rot on the vine and they’d already had their first frost. Ordinary people might have given up on the harvest, but Schloss Johannisberg decided to make the most of it and produce wine with the grapes anyway. That wine — super syrupy and sweet, yet still with incredible levels of acidity — was the first Eiswein. These wines have the longest shelf life of any white wine on the planet, and can be stored for more than century without deteriorating. Germany is still the primary producer of Riesling Eiswein, but you can also find Riesling ice wine originating in Canada, New York, and Michigan. Red Riesling Just like Pinot has red and white grape varieties, so too does Riesling. The red Riesling grape is very light, and very obscure. Some think it’s actually an ancient ancestor of the white Riesling grape. Wine makers are only starting to experiment with using red Riesling grapes in their wines, however. The Rheingau winery’s Fritz Allendorf was the first, and remains one of only a few, to use it in their wines. But one never knows when it might catch on! Sparkling Wines Who loves sparkling wine? Only just about everyone. Like many other countries, the Germans have their own type of sparkling wine, called Sekt, which is made using the Charmat method. Just as with other sparkling wine producers, they use blends of multiple grapes in their wine, including Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris, but most especially Riesling! Unfortunately it’s very rare to find Sekt outside of Germany, but if you do spot it give it a try.