Your Guide to Riesling
Find the essential guide to Riesling: everything you need to know about one of the world’s most popular white wine grapes.
Flavor & Aroma of Riesling
Riesling is a highly aromatic grape.
Fruit flavors tend to be a mix of tree fruits (pear & apple), stone fruits (peach & nectarine), and citrus (lemon, lime & grapefruit). Their ripeness varies on vintage and region.
Soft floral aromas often back the fruit with notes of lily and jasmine.
Rieslings can have high minerality aromas, such as slate and crushed rock.
Some Riesling has aromas of candlewax, smoke, or petrol. With age, they may develop interesting flavors of honey or gasoline. Certain regions display aromas of baking spice and ginger.
Your Guide to Sweet vs. Dry Riesling
One of the biggest misconceptions about Riesling is that it’s always sweet. Many Rieslings can be bone dry. Even with a bit of residual sugar, Riesling is incredibly balanced due to its naturally high acidity. In blind tastings, we’ve found that many people rate off-dry Rieslings highly, whether they thought they liked sweet wines or not!
How to know if you’re buying a dry or sweet Riesling
Riesling is made worldwide, so there isn’t a go-to guide to know the contents in every bottle. However, as many Rieslings are from Germany, there are plenty of indicators that tell you what’s in the bottle. Read our post on German Wine Labels for more info!
Kabinett: Light & a kiss of sweetness
Spätlese: This will be more full-bodied and medium sweet
Aüslese: Aüslese isn’t necessarily dessert-wine territory yet, but it tends to be richer in profile and sweetness.
*Note that these sweetness levels are based on how much sugar is in the grapes at the time of harvest (aka must weight), so some winemakers may still vinify the wine to dryness.
Non-European wines are often dry, especially from Australia and the USA. It’s always safe to ask for help if you have it. French Rieslings tend to vary the most by vintage, so they require a bit more knowledge to know if they are sweet or dry.
Similar & Blending Varieties to Riesling
Riesling is a noble grape, and winemakers typically vinify it solo to show off the beautiful aroma, flavor, and acidity (but I’m not biased, LOL).
Some similar grapes sometimes make it to the party, often in the cheap German blends. Muller-Thurgau and Kerner often make it blends like Liebfraumilch, similar grapes such as Chenin Blanc, Muscat Blanc, or Gewürztraminer offer more intense aromas and complexity.
Riesling Pairings Guide
One reason why sommeliers LOVE Riesling is because of its versatility. Its range of styles and sweetness makes it an excellent choice for many tricky flavors and spices.
What to pair with off-dry Riesling
Spicy food: Spice is fabulous with Riesling, as the sweetness counterbalances the heat.
Cheese: Incredibly stinky or salty cheese is lovely with an off-dry Riesling. Try Munster with Alsatian Riesling!
Rich meats: Pork and Duck are richer white meats that stand well next to a full-bodied Riesling.
What to pair with dry Riesling
Herbs and Spices: Riesling’s aromas compliment herbs and spices nicely. Think baking spices, Indian spices, and Thai flavors.
Chicken, fish & shellfish
Vegetables that lean on sweeter flavors such as red bell pepper and squash.
What to pair with sweet Riesling
Cheese & Dessert: Riesling’s high acidity beautifully cleans the palate from decadent desserts and cheeses. Its citrus aromas play nicely with lemon or fruit custards.
22,636 hectares of plantings
Top regions in Germany
Riesling is rather ubiquitous in German viticulture, but Mosel, the Pfalz, and Nahe are the finest examples.
German Riesling Style
Mineral, pure, dry to very sweet, citrus fruit-dominant
Styles vary significantly between regions, vineyard plots, and producers, but German wine law requires extensive labeling to decode the bottle’s contents.
Top regions in France
Alsace, France’s white wine-dominant region along the German border, makes the most notable French Riesling example.
French Riesling Style
Rich, round & spicy
Despite its proximity to Germany, the Alsatian style tends to be fat and spicy, often with botrytis notes. Winemakers often let the vintage determine the sweetness rather than a deliberate winemaking decision.
Recent sweet vintages
Recent dry vintages
1,863 hectares total
Top regions in Austria
Serious examples can be found in Wachau, Kremstal, and Kamptal, though producers in other Niederosterreich subregions gain ground as the international respect for Austrian wine grows.
Austrian Riesling Style
Full-bodied, dry, and mineral
4184 hectares (the world’s second-biggest Riesling producer!)
Top Regions in Australia
Cool, high elevation Clare Valley and Eden Valley make the best examples. Tasmania’s cool and sunny climate is also noteworthy.
Australian Riesling Style
Dry, high-acid, and intense lime and fruit aromas.
Top Regions in USA
Washington: 4,404 acres
California: 3,831 acres
New York’s Fingerlakes
American Riesling Style
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to describe American Riesling, but they tend to be fruity and dry.
Synonyms to Riesling
Johannisberger (Germany and Switzerland), Moselriesling, Rheinriesling, Rhine Riesling, Rajinski Rizling, Renski Rizling, Rizling, Petracine, Gentil Aromatique