The Taster’s Guide to Riesling Wine

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

Riesling wine has a colorful German heritage and today, it has emerged as 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?

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

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 grape 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 to a chemical aroma similar to petrol/gas. Believe it or not, it’s these weird smells that wine enthusiasts go gaga over. Riesling is very high acid, almost to the level of a tart fruit juice like lemonade. Want to know the differences between dry and sweet Riesling? Read on!

How to Find A Sweet or Dry Riesling

Traditionally most Riesling wines are a touch sweet, especially from the bottom shelf. Not to worry though, you can find a ton of dry Rieslings, here’s how:

Dry Riesling

Riesling from Alsace, “Qualitätswein Trocken” German Riesling, Washington State Riesling labeled ‘dry’, New York State Riesling, most Australian Riesling from Clare Valley and Eden Valley

Off Dry & Sweet Riesling

“feinherb” German Riesling, Pradikat System Germany Riesling including Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA), base-model Riesling (less than $10), Sweet American Riesling.

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

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Diesel, Petrol, Lanolin
“Fridge Cold” 43 ºF (6 ºC)
Muscat, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Loureiro (Portugal), Torrontes (Argentina), Malvasia Bianca (Italy)
Rarely is Riesling blended with other grapes unless it’s a Liebfraumilch (Maiden’s Milk) or other cheap sweet table wine. Avoid getting tricked into buying `Piesporter Michelsberg’, `Niersteiner Gutes Domtal’, `Zeller Schwarze Katz’ (aka Black Cat ), `Kröver Nacktarsch’ and `Hock’


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 Zealand1,830 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 wine geek with a passion for meeting people, travel, and delicious food. You often find me crawling around dank cellars or frolicking through vineyards. Find me at @WineFolly