Let Riesling be please

 Time to pick up on my favorite topic – Sweet vs Dry Riesling. I do not count how many conversations I have been part of where people HAVE TO give me their opinion about liking drier Riesling better than sweeter ones, or vice versa, or a version of that. Why do people like to pigeonhole themselves to ONE STYLE of Riesling is beyond my comprehension – yet they do it all the time. Well, folks, here is the news: you don’t have to have a favorite; you are authorized to like them all. Let me give you a piece of advice though, if you do not mind: Instead of freaking out about the Residual Sugar (or lack of) of your picture perfect Riesling, could you please focus on balance and pleasure.

You have to focus on balance because like most folks you probably do not care for monolithic beverages that can be a bit of a modern art statement (like a heavily oaked, low acidity Cab Sauv). First balancing act is the tension between acidity and sweetness – you need to be tricked: ya think it’s sweet, well – think twice – most important the wine never finishes sweet. Acid and Sugar are fun to play with and once you get it, you can’t get enough of this “trick me with sweetness” game. Second balancing act is the austerity of the wine – a tension between alcohol and phenolic content – a perfect wine will have the right amount of each so that it feels sophisticated but yet light and elegant (no high alcohol, dry bitter stuff please). Last balancing act are the aromas where youth and age are both present, where fermentation aromas and bottle bouquet play on one another. Check this out, out of all those important balancing acts (acidity-sweetness, alcohol-phenolic content, young-old aromas), sugar only comes once… Please do not reduce Riesling conversations to just sugar and STOP TELLING ME ALSATIAN RIESLINGS ARE DRY – they are not.

Pleasure is probably as important as balance in my mind. They are many sources of pleasure in wine tasting but the most powerful ones are not hedonistic pleasures (ie I like it or not), the most powerful are personal connections. I always like a wine more when I know who made it, why they made it, how they made it- I love context and wine without context is …. boring. When I taste a wine I have to learn more to make a call on its quality. How was the vintage, where are the vineyards located, why did the vintner choose to make this wine (for money of course, but there is always a deeper story that is worth seeking). The best wines I know are made by friends – just like the best cooking is either from my mom or my wife. You know what I am talking about, wine can talk to you on a deeper level than mineral water and if it does not talk to you at that level, then might as well drink vodka. Corollary: blind tastings are useless.

I don’t like sweet or dry Riesling – I like Riesling. I like Riesling because it is the only varietal that can play the full balance spectrum and that no one has pigeonholed into ONE MONOLITHIC STYLE. Riesling is the last varietal that can be free and different – let’s not fight over what it should be but let’s embrace it for what it brings to our ever more homogeneous wine world – Riesling Sherry anyone?

One Response to “Let Riesling be please”

  1. Chris from Seattle Says:

    Excellent points! I like to use the analogy that wine is like music-”you can’t like just one type”. Certainly there will be styles that you don’t necessarily enjoy. But just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not good. Tastes and styles are evolving all of the time. That’s what keeps it fresh and exciting.

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Contribute factual content, a personal tale, data or – possibly (Heaven forfend) – a sincere correction.  You’ll likely find your contribution in Riesling Rules Second Edition due to be published in winter 2008.