Get it right: Rieslings ain’t so sweet

I have nothing either good or bad to say about Rieslings — that very German, sweet white that I’ve really only tried in Germany — and which I completely and quickly forgot about. I mean, really. If I want an interesting white, give me a Sauvignon Blanc or even a white Bordeaux.

But ignoring the Riesling makes me a bit of a fraud (in terms of wine-column writing), and then there’s this nonprofit website,, dedicated to consumer education about Rieslings. The site, in my opinion, takes itself a bit seriously, but one can forgive it that, given that everyone needs to make their living, including Riesling makers.

While it’s true that Riesling’s roots are in Germany, today Riesling grapes and wines are produced in many countries and regions around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. Furthermore, Austria and Alsace, France, are long-time, well-respected names in Riesling worlds.

When shopping a Riesling, there are a few words to help sift through the sweet-or-dry mysteries of the wine. “Kabinett” on a Riesling label suggests a dry wine. A “spatlese” Riesling is also dry and “trocken” or “halbtrocken” Rieslings also tip to the dry or slightly off-dry side. These labels aside, know that the riper the grape, the sweeter the wine so wine shop staff can help separate the sugary from the sophisticated.

One other method for leaving the sweeter Riesling aside is to look for the Germany Mosel region printed on the bottle. Considered a benchmark of quality, Mosel wines are floral, light and delicate, with a low alcohol content. Made in an off-dry style, the wines bear an elevated acidity, due in part to the steep, south-facing slopes used in planting. More than 60 percent of the Mosel region is dedicated to the Riesling, so some of the best German vintners are experts at producing the wine, which is always a good thing.

It’s OK to tiptoe into Riesling wine drinking. There remains a bit of a bias against the wine; people like me often assume it’s going to be a sweet and cloying drink. But Steve at City Wine suggests newcomers (or re-visitors) to try any of these wines, all of which he suggests demonstrate the often unheralded sophistication of the Riesling wine. “Anyone who dismisses Riesling out-of-hand is doing themselves a great disservice,” he says. “It is one of Mother Nature’s triumphs.

“Describing Riesling as simply ‘sweet,’ is like calling the Sistine Chapel ‘just a church,’” he says.

“If we limit ourselves, for the moment, to kabinett (dry) German Riesling and the equivalent from Alsace and Austria,” Steve says, “we’ll find a cornucopia of aromas from pit fruits (peach, apricot) to citrus and floral notes, with acidity being high even as a slight sweetness is cleansed away, leaving no cloying tastes.

“With no wood treatment (what a relief) and lower in alcohol (8 to 12 percent), “Riesling is perfect for anyone looking for a refreshing (not fatiguing) drink of nature’s bounty,” he says. Ask for: German Kabinett, especially from the Mosel region or get one from Alsace, France.” 
You don’t have to tell me twice.

Word(s) o’ the Day

Spatlese, trocken, kabinett — All German words that translate as: late vintage, dry and cabinet, respectively and literally. However, in wine worlds, “kabinett” suggests a dry, not sweet wine.
One Winning Wine Tasting

Denver Food & Wine Classic “Grand Tasting”

On Sept. 12, food and wine enthusiasts can enjoy more than 400 featured wines, signature spirits and cuisine from more than 30 Denver restaurants at the Denver Food & wine Classic Wine Tasting. Hosted at Metropolitan State College of Denver, 7th & Lawrence Way, from noon to 4 p.m., the event will also host a silent wine auction, a Bourbon Barrel Room, and Chef Culinary Showcase.

Call Siobhan Blankaert at (303) 830-2972 or email for further information.

Coming Sept. 11

Didn’t you ever want to go far, far away and escape it all — and have wine and outdoor recreation be a part of the big, escapist scheme?

Turns out that it’s entirely possible. We’re going to look at how to get up-close and personal with the Mendoza region in Argentina — a place where vintners give visitors a personal tour — and where skiing or biking is part of the wine-culture pleasure.

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