Riesling makes crisp, light-bodied wines of honeyed delicacy. Many people tend to think of Rieslings as sweet wines and are surprised when wine professionals refer to a wine made from Riesling as a dry or acidic wine. However, many Rieslings are low in alcohol, which itself tastes sweet at lower concentrations and creates a satisfying counterbalance for their acidity even when they have little residual sugar. These everyday Rieslings don’t display the syrupy sweetness associated with dessert wines (although many late-harvest Rieslings are among the most renowned dessert wines). Their evident acidity allows them to pair well with fish, vegetables and other light to medium-bodied foods. They are particular favorites with fried foods: fish and chips in Britain and schnitzels in Germany and Austria. The inherent sweetness of the variety is on particular display in the wines made in the Northern Rhine and Mosel river valleys in Germany, where official definitions of quality depend on the level of residual sugar. Many German and Austrian producers have offerings at escalating levels of sweetness, from Kabinett (the driest) to Spätlese and various categories of Auslese (the sweetest) and reserve their best grapes for the sweeter wines. These grapes will produce not only the green apple, lemon, lime and white peach type fruit flavors characteristically associated with Riesling, but also strong minerality and a certain hint of oiliness (a whiff of a scent surprisingly like benzene). Since Rieslings are prized for their delicate aromatics, they’re often served in small rounded glasses to minimize the amount of air contact once they are poured. The aromatics are improved with age, but decanting even a young Riesling would be controversial. The mineral qualities are emphasized and the residual sugar reduced in wines produced from Riesling in the Alsace region of France. These sturdier wines pair well with honey-glazed baked hams and various other fresh, cured or smoked pork products, as well as sauerkraut and onion tarts. There are many outstanding producers of Riesling in the Rhine and Mosel valleys and in Alsace. Notable Rieslings are also made in Austria and northern Italy and in South Africa’s Cape region. Good Rieslings are also made in the Willamette Valley in Oregon and the Finger Lakes region of New York in the United States as well as the Barossa area of Australia.  There are many variations on the name of the variety, most of which contain the word Riesling or something that sounds like it. Unfortunately, there was a time when producers in Australia and California used the name Riesling to refer to any fruity white wine, which gave the variety a bad name it may not yet have recovered from.

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