The Taster’s Guide to Riesling Wine

August 5, 2013 Blog » Learn About Wine » The Taster’s Guide to Riesling Wine

Learn the secrets of fantastic Riesling; its origins, its flavor profile, and some classic Riesling food pairings.

Riesling wine has a colorful German heritage. Today, it has emerged as one of the most collectible white wines among top connoisseurs around the world.

How does a seemingly vapid sweet white wine capture
the hearts of serious wine enthusiasts?

The Wine Taster’s Guide to Riesling

The taste of riesling fruit flavors by ripeness

The Taste of Riesling

Tasting Riesling starts in your nose–it’s one of the most aromatic varieties in the world. The primary fruit aromas in Riesling are nectarine, apricot, honey-crisp apple, and pear. Besides just fruit, you’ll often smell things like honeycomb, or even an odd chemical-like aroma that smells like petrol/gasoline. Believe it or not, it’s these weird smells that wine geeks get excited about. On the palate, Riesling has high acidity, similar to the levels in lemonade.

How to Find a Sweet or Dry Riesling

Traditionally, most Riesling wines are a touch sweet, particularly the wines in the value-priced categories. On the higher-end however, you can also find a great deal of dry Rieslings which have become something of a modern favorite.

  • Dry Riesling: Riesling from Alsace, “Trocken” German Riesling, most VDP German Riesling, Washington State Riesling labeled “dry,” most New York Riesling, and most Australian Riesling from Clare and Eden Valleys.
  • Sweet Riesling: German Pradikat Riesling (including Kabinett, Spätlese, etc), most value-driven Riesling (sub-$10) and Riesling labeled “sweet” or “feinherb.”

Riesling wine and grapes

Riesling Wine Characteristics

FRUIT FLAVORS (berries, fruit, citrus)
Apricot, Nectarine, Peach, Apple, Pear, Pineapple, Lime, Meyer Lemon
OTHER AROMAS (herb, spice, flower, mineral, earth, other)
Honey, Honeycomb, Beexwax, Petrol, Ginger, Citrus Blossom, Rubber, Diesel Fuel

Do you like Wine Folly?
Diesel, Petrol, Lanolin
“Fridge Cold” 43 ºF (6 ºC)
Muscat Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Loureiro (Portugal), Torrontés (Argentina), Malvasia Bianca (Italy)
Rarely is Riesling blended with other grapes unless it’s a Liebfraumilch (“maiden’s milk”) or other bulk sweet table wine. Avoid getting tricked into spending more for “Piesporter Michelsberg,” “Niersteiner Gutes Domtal,” “Zeller Schwarze Katz” (aka “Black Cat”), “Kröver Nacktarsch,” and “Hock.” These are mostly bulk wines and should be very affordable.


Hieronymus Bock (1498-1554)  German botanist. His 1546  herbal had 550 woodcuts by David Kandel. Lime Tree

The Wine of Medieval Times

Hieronymus Bock mentioned Riesling in his delightful graphic book Herbal written in 1546. By this time Riesling had already been mentioned in various estate record books for nearly 100 years under the name Rießlingen. Ampelography research points to the Rhine River region in Germany/Alsace as the birthplace of Riesling. The grape is a natural derivative of Gouais Blanc, an esoteric French grape that is grandmother to many of today’s most well-known wines including Chardonnay, Riesling, Petit Verdot, Chenin Blanc, and Muscadelle.
The best Rieslings grow along the Mosel River in Germany on steep south-facing hills. While most people think of Riesling’s sweetness, experts pick out a distinct flavor of slate rocks, which are the type of soil (if you can call it that) where Mosel Riesling grows.


Riesling Food Pairing

Think Spice. Because of Riesling’s sweetness and acidity, it makes the perfect accompaniment to spicy food. Strong Indian and Asian spices are a perfect match with Riesling. A classic pairing with Riesling is spiced duck leg.

Wine with Spicy Food
Riesling is the perfect match with spicy food and Asian cuisine. We know this because we tested it.

Want to see us test Riesling with 5-star spicy Thai takeout?


Chicken Icon

Meat Pairings

Duck, Pork, Bacon, Chicken, Shrimp, and Crab

Herbs Icon

Spices and Herbs

Highly spiced and aromatic herbs including Cayenne Pepper, Ginger, Clove, Cinnamon, Allspice, Tumeric, Madras Curry, Sichuan Pepper, Shallots, Soy Sauce, Sesame, Marjoram, Basil, Rice Vinegar, and Teriyaki Sauce.

Soft Cheese Icon

Cheese Pairings

Try it with less stinky and delicately flavored soft cow’s milk cheese and dried fruit.

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Vegetables & Vegetarian Fare

Roasted vegetables and veggies with natural sweetness including Coconut, Red Onion, Bell Pepper, Eggplant, Tempeh, Squash, and Carrot.

Mosel Riesling Vineyards in Germany

The sun hits the best vineyards late into the day in the Mosel. source


Only 89,000+ acres of Riesling planted worldwide.

Where Does Riesling Come From?

Egon Muller-Scharzhof Scharzhofberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese, Mosel, Germany

The Egon Muller-Scharzhof “Scharzhofberger Trockenbeerenauslese” (tba) sells for $3,000 for a half bottle. It has just 6.5% Alcohol.

Germany 56,000 acres
Pfalz, Mosel, Rheinhessen
Australia 10,300 acres
Clare Valley, Eden Valley
United States 9,000 acres
Washington State, California, Finger Lakes (10% of area)
France 8,700 acres
Austria 4,600 acres
New Zealand 1,830 acres
Gisbourne, Waitaki Valley, Wairarapa, Marlborough, Central Otago, Nelson, Canterbury, Waipara Valley

German Wine USA
Wine Institute (California)
Alsace Wines (pdf)
Finger Lakes Wine Alliance
New Zealand Vineyard Register (2012) pdf


By Madeline Puckette
I'm a certified sommelier and creator of the NYT Bestseller, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine. Find me at @WineFolly