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Riesling is one of the three most popular white wine varietals and often one of the best bargains on restaurant wine lists. Riesling is grown in wine regions everywhere but is dominant grape variety grown in Germany. German Rieslings are considered the best made, with Alsatian wines nearly on par. Riesling is also grown very successfully in such diverse climates as Austria, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and many places in the U.S., especially the Fingerlake District of New York, Michigan, Washington, Idaho, Oregon and California.
Riesling is an aromatic grape variety with flowery, almost perfumed aromas and high acidity, making it one of the most versatile and food-friendly white wines available. It is also highly “terroir-expressive”, meaning that the character of Riesling wines is clearly influenced by the wine’s place of origin. Most Riesling, unlike Chardonnay, does not undergo malolactic fermentation. This helps preserve the tartness and acidic characteristic of the wine that gives Riesling its thirst-quenching quality.
Riesling is made in wide variety of styles, aromas, and flavor profiles. It can range from bone dry to seductively sweet in taste, with fragrances ranging from flowers, ripe peaches, tropical fruits, and mineral stone (such as slate or quartz) and, with time, the wine acquires a petrol or orange oil note that can be very pleasing.
Riesling’s versatility makes it an easy-to-pair wine and a perennial favorite of Sommeliers. Riesling is a versatile wine for pairing with food, because of its balance of sugar and acidity. It can be paired with white fish or pork, and is one of the few wines that can stand up to the stronger flavours and spices of Thai and Chinese cuisine. Serve chilled.
So how do you know what style of Riesling is in the bottle, especially if it is a German Riesling? These tips will help:
All German ‘Quality Wine’ (Qualitätswein) falls into one of two categories:
QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete) wines come from 11 specified winegrowing regions.
All wines carrying this rating are produced from approved grape varieties and have levels of ripeness that allow the wines made from them to reach a certain traditional level of taste and style.
QbA wines tend to be light, fresh and fruity and are produced to be consumed while young.
The finest German Rieslings carry a designation of QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat) on the label, meaning ‘Quality wine with special distinction’. QmP wines are certified at every stage from the vineyard through bottling and must come from a single district (subregion).
QmP wines are the highest quality wine produced in Germany. Wines having this rating carry one of six special attributes (Prädikat) on its label: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese (BA), Eiswein, Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA). See below.
QmP wines are classified into six designations, which are often considered levels of sweetness and quality. In fact, the classification is determined by how long the grapes are allowed to hang on the wine before harvesting, i.e. “hang time”.
The six levels usually coincide closely with sweetness or sugar level (see Brix) simply because the longer grapes are allowed to ripen on the vine, the more sugar they develop. The German QmP classifications, therefore, range from dry (Kabinett) to very raisin-sweet (Trockenbeerenauslese).
They can take years of bottle aging to reach their full glory but will finally yield a rich, sweet, luscious, honey-like wine.
Note that the German “Trockenbeeren” means ‘dry berries’ aka raisins (very sweet), not to be confused with “trocken” by itself, which means “dry” (not sweet).