Looking for a light and refreshing wine to usher in spring? Riesling is worthy of serious consideration. It’s not always top of mind for folks—a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc usually dominates the light and refreshing category. However, Riesling is considered one of the world’s greatest white wine grapes and with good reason; it’s fresh, versatile and incredibly food-friendly.
Riesling is grown all around the world and dates back to 1435 with documented vines near the Rheingau region of Germany. While Germany is the top producer with more than 50,000 acres under vine, it’s quite successful in Austria, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. U.S. production is dominated by Washington State with Oregon and New York showing up as major players too.
It is considered to be one of the most diverse wines as it relates to style. It can run the gamut from intensely sweet to bone dry and generally, most are produced in a dry to off-dry style. It’s a late-ripening grape and the key is to achieve balance between ripeness and acidity.
Compared to other grape varieties it is capable of producing complex flavors earlier and at much lower sugar levels. As a result, it can be grown in areas that are too cool for the others to fully mature.
With Germany as the largest producer, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of their classification system. German wines are categorized by the degree of ripeness measured in natural grape sugar upon harvest. These measurements are not an indicator of residual sugar levels in the finished product. The ripeness levels of the grapes at harvest also determine the wine’s level of quality which affects price and it can be an indicator of style.
There are six official categories or classifications of ripeness levels. In order of least ripe to most ripe they are as follows Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein.
The drier styles are perfect for springtime, so consider a Kabinett or Spatlese (Kab-uh-NETT or SPATE-lay-zuh) Kabinett being the lighter of the two and Spatlese (late harvest) being the fuller-bodied wine made with fully ripened grapes.
Riesling’s purity, with crisp apple flavors and mouthwatering acidity makes it a perfect partner on the table alongside a beautiful spring feast. It’s fantastic with ham or prosciutto, seafood, duck or smoked fish. A sweeter style of Riesling exhibits more peach and dried apricot flavors and is perfectly suited for spicy Asian cuisine, lobster or super creamy mac-n-cheese.
It really does mirror the diversity and brightness popping up all around us as spring unfolds. Cheers!