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30 May 2024 | Randy Kemner


What if I were to tell you that most Riesling wines from Oregon, Washington, New York and California are dry?

What if I were to tell you that most Riesling wines from Australia, New Zealand and Alsace are dry?

Furthermore, what if I were to tell you that most premium Riesling wines imported from Germany are now dry?  And that their best vineyards are not being used to make sweet wines, but wines meant to challenge French Chablis.

Would you still avoid Riesling because it is “too sweet” for you?

During the past 30 years, German winemakers have been lamenting the fact that the majority their countrymen and countrywomen weren’t drinking their sweet Rieslings anymore, and set up several systems to regulate and promote their best Riesling vineyards as dry “Grand Cru” and “Premier Cru” sites for producing world class dry white wines.

Why not?  The minerality in German Riesling was not unlike the minerality in Sancerre, and Chablis.  Picking riper fruit and fermenting it bone dry would mean that the alcohol would be higher than traditional sweet Rieslings—12 to 14% ABV compared to 8-10% ABV for their dwindling number of sweet wines.  German winemakers could produce more conventional dry table wines from Riesling just by lengthening their fermentation.

This isn’t without controversy, but it’s now near-universal practice to make dry Riesling. And in Germany where arguably the finest Rieslings are produced, their hillside vineyards are stunning and frighteningly steep making them some of the hardest wines to grow.  All that work, all that craftsmanship and the reward is a new kind of wine.

Personally, the glorious pleasure of gently sweet Riesling had always put a smile on my face every time I drank a classic Kabinett or Spätlese.  But today it is very hard to find quality Rieslings that are still made that way.  The Rieslings of Germany’s Mosel Valley are anyone’s best shot, but even there, despite the pleading of St. Urban Hof’s winemaker Nik Weiss--“Sweetness belongs in the Mosel wine like the bubbles belong in the Champagne”—the premium wines of the last bastion of sweet Riesling are trending dry to suit contemporary international tastes.  Some of our customers, like Robert, have been complaining that dry winemakers “are taking all the fun out of Riesling.”

One person’s fun is another’s folly, as dry, not sweet Rieslings have captivated young sommeliers with their food-friendliness, puckery acidity, towering minerality and complexity of flavors and aromas that run from white flowers and green apples to soulful earthiness and notes of petrol.  They, better than most, know about Riesling’s versatility with food:  pork, ham, Asian food, lake fish in butter sauce, turkey, chicken and duck, sausages and choucroute.  No other white wine varietal can take on so many disparate flavors and come out shining.

Maybe best of all, the finest Rieslings are a fraction of the cost of the finest of other top noble white wines, save Chenin Blanc.

You wouldn’t know how the newest generation of dry Rieslings perform—how they smell and taste and feel, how refreshing they can be, and just how damn delicious they can be—unless you sample them.

The best way, of course, is to attend a well-chosen Riesling tasting, either at our store or a do-it-yourselfer at home with friends.  We can help you select a representative sampling of some highly regarded bottlings.  Short of that, you can just drink a few bottles from time to time.  We have them all over the store and will be happy to be your tour guide from Australia to Germany to Oregon.

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