No, they’re not stupid questions.
You’ve got a good reason for thinking that. Especially in North America, it seems many people’s first go at wine was a $7 riesling – so sweet you might confuse it with maple syrup (that said, I guess I have seen Canadians drink that straight too). Nevertheless I see how that would scar you, especially if you down a whole bottle – would be one hell of a hangover!
See riesling is a great grape for making sweet wine, but it also makes brilliant dry styles, and everything in between. It can get a bad rap, but a great riesling is loved by critics and wine lovers all over the world.
HOW TO FIND A DRY RIESLING
Like biting into lemons lemons, eating rocks, and drinking petrol?
Me either (although I do love the smell of petrol stations, but let’s not linger on my weird, slightly worrying ways). But I tell you what, citrus, minerality, and petrol flavours are my JAM.
Not all riesling is quite this in intense of course, dry riesling can be beautifully floral and delicously fruity. So if you’re looking at venturing into dry riesling, great news, there’s plenty of it! Of course, the hard part is telling which kind you’re going to get when you pick up a bottle, but there are some tricks to help:
GERMANY AND FRANCE
Germany, and a place called Alsace in France make some of the world’s best riesling. If you’re looking for a dry-er style , look for the word ‘trocken‘ or ‘sec.’ If you’re looking for a good quality sweet style, it gets a little complicated, but WineFolly has a great guide to help you understand some key terms if you want to explore.
AUSTRALIA, USA & CANADA
You can rely on new-world (not European) regions to provide a description of the wine on their label, so give the back a scroll and in most cases you’ll figure it out.
In Australia, if you’re buying a riesling from Clare Valley or Eden Valley, you can be pretty confident it’s going to be on the dry side, with awesome citrus flavour.
There is also a system is being widely adopted called the International Riesling Foundation Taste Profile, which is mighty helpful. I’ve seen it most used in American wines.
If you just want quick tricks and are not too concerned how and why it tastes like that, stop reading now. If you want to go one step further, stay with me; this is why why you can’t just rely on looking up how many grams of sugar is in the wine.
Because sweetness can be deceptive
You know how thai restaurants include coconut cream for whimps like me who can’t handle too much spice? You add more cream, you taste less spice – even though the same amount of chilli is still in there.
Acid does the same thing to sweetness. The more acidity, the less you taste the sugar. It’s why lemon tastes good with sugar on pancakes!
Acidity is naturally present in grapes – as in most fruits – and the trick is balancing the acidity with the sugar. A wine with lower sugar could taste more sweet than a wine with more sugar, but high acidity.
Which is the great thing about rielsing, it’s so capable of going either way, and great winemakers can strike a beautiful balance between the two. So usually, when we talk about sweetness in riesling, it’s not just how much sugar is left in the wine, but how much sweetness you’re going to perceive when you taste it.
Personally, I love them bone dry, with citrus and high acid (so similar to biting into a lemon!) they can also have something we call minerality – like licking a rock – and with age, petrol/ gas aromas (weird I know, but so good!)
So if you tried someone’s $7 riesling 10 years ago, and haven’t gone back since; it’s time to try again. Trust me, there’s some great stuff out there – just use those key words and you’ll find something you love!