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Riesling’s bad rap based on confusion

Riesling’s bad rap based on confusion

While living in London one of my friends in the wine trade enjoyed playing a bit of a prank on wine drinkers. During tasting events, when a novice would arrive at his table asking for chardonnay he would instead pour them a Riesling.

It was a manipulative maneuver, but it wasn’t done maliciously. My friend was simply trying to promote a varietal we both deeply love by tricking people into giving it a chance.

As desired, when the newbie was told of the switch we almost always secured another Riesling follower to our side. Who would have thought this grape could taste so heavenly?

As chardonnay continues to grow in popularity as America’s white wine staple, so does the confusion surrounding Riesling. The irony in this situation is that 100 years ago German Rieslings were more expensive than even the rare and finest Bordeauxs. Today Riesling may be one of the most underrated wines in the market.

I blame bad marketing for the American wine consumers’ confusion regarding this grape.

First there’s the bottle. Many think of cheap, sweet German wines when they see the flute bottle style.

Making matters worse are the confusing labels. At times it feels likes one needs a dictionary to decipher the label and an interpreter just to ask for the wine on a wine list.

A few years ago, in an attempt to make Riesling more consumer-friendly, the trade introduced a taste profile graphic on the back of some Riesling labels. It’s a simple scale of dry, medium-dry, medium sweet and sweet, with an arrow marking a particular wine’s position on the scale. It put us one step closer to simplicity.

With any luck this scale will help alleviate some of the confusion surrounding this often overlooked and underappreciated wine. Fingers crossed. For now, drink more Riesling.


  • 2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling, Washington (about $12 retail)


  • 2012 Gunderloch Diva Riesling, Germany (about $26 retail)

Riesling’s revival due to taste range

Riesling Hugel AlsaceOver the past few weeks I have eaten at several new restaurants around the state and smiled as I saw the tried and true Riesling on each of the wine lists. Just as I have rallied readers to get on board with the rose revival, I think it is time to include Riesling in my aspirations. Riesling is one of the oldest white wine varietals but continues to live in the shadow of the ever-popular chardonnay, pinot grigio and well, almost any other white wine.

We all know Riesling had an image problem in America, with most styles being thought of as simple and sweet wine. But today things are changing dramatically, with more and more wineries refining the taste profiles that range from lusciously sweet to very dry.

Trying to decide which country produces the best Rieslings would spark an endless debate. There are excellent versions made around the world. The only demand this grape has on the vineyard is the need for a cool climate. Known as the classic regions for this grape, (and generally the best expressions) are France’s Alsace, Germany and, though rarely seen in our market, Austria. Other places offering terrific and generally under priced Rieslings are New York’s Finger Lakes, Washington state and Australia’s Claire Valley.

As I have written before, the key to buying great Riesling is paying attention to the label. Kabinett being the driest and Auslese the sweetest. Beerenauslese, Trockenbeereanauslese and Eiswein are always a dessert-style, lusciously sweet wine.

If you still need convincing, Riesling is an extremely food-friendly wine. It works well with the flavors of most foods, which is why we are seeing it more and more on the premium side of wine lists in restaurants around Arkansas. Its classic partners are dishes with creamy sauces, veal and the spiciness and sweetness of Asian food. We all have different tastes, but my only experiences with Riesling and a not so good pairing was with some Mediterranean flavors like olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and rare beef.


  • 2011 Rudi Wiest Mosel River Riesling, Germany (about $15 retail)
  • 2011 Snoqualmie Naked Riesling, Washington (about $13 retail)


  • 2011 Hugel Alsace Riesling, France (about $28 retail)
  • 2011 Trimbach Riesling, France (about $27 retail)

Explore varietals to escape doldrums

When walking the long aisles of a wine shop, you’ve probably had moments of discouragement, not because of an inadequate selection of wines but from the humdrum feeling you experience reading the routine labels one after another — cabernet, cabernet, cabernet; merlot, merlot, merlot; chardonnay, chardonnay, chardonnay.

Every once in a while a snazzy label jumps out at you and for a split second you are drawn to the shelf, only to resume chanting the familiar “Cabernet … cabernet … cabernet.”

There is no need for the monotonous wine search when more than 150 different commonly grown varietals await your palate. For a head start on stepping out of the box consider exploring these refreshing summer favorites.

Snubbed almost as often as white zinfandel, Rieslings may be the most under-appreciated white grapes in the world. That’s usually because of the continued misunderstood image of all Rieslings as sweet, the cumbersome, confusing labels or simply because people have not explored the surprising and racy crispness of dry Rieslings.

In its youth it is crisp, light, apple-y and refreshing. With age, fine Rieslings take on aromas of petroleum (in a good way) and become richer on the palate.


  • 2010 Cupcake Dry Riesling, California (about $12 retail)


  • 2009 Spy Valley Riesling, New Zealand (about $24 retail)

If you enjoy New World chardonnay, you’ll love the unique taste of Viognier. Traditionally grown in France’s northern Rhone region, California’s Rhone Rangers are beginning to master this rich, perfumed grape. At its best it’s a dry, opulent, rich, mouthwatering wine with layers of aromatic flowers.


  • 2010 Yulumba Y Series Viognier, Australia (about $12 retail)


  • 2010 Bridlewood Viognier, California (about $23 retail)

Albarino is produced and grown in the Rias Baixas region of northwest Spain. The climate in most of Spain can best be described as hot, hotter and unbearable. This area offers much cooler temperatures and has an abundance of rainfall, all contributing to Albarino’s delicate, lively, aromatic characteristic. For centuries, its following was in the local Spanish market, but since its release to the rest of the world, it is emerging with cult status in limited quantities.


  • 2009 Martin Codax Albarino, Spain (about $14 retail)


  • 2009 Laxas Albarino, Spain (about $20 retail)