Notes on Riesling

I just returned from a riesling tasting and thought I'd share a few notes with you not only about the wines I really enjoyed but about riesling in general.

Riesling is one of the most enchanting wines in the world when made well. The grape is a native of Germany but is seen many places around the world where it has transplanted with amazing success.

Riesling is known for its very lacy supple flavors driven entirely by nuance and peripheral flavors rather than by power and heaviness. This is not to say that a riesling cannot be intense and rich; many rieslings can be very intense but have, along with this intensity, delightful complexities which make this grape one of the more sought after delights in the wine world.

Rieslings come in dry and sweet releases but are best known for the sweeter styles with many of the German rieslings sitting well under 12 percent alcohol. You can always tell if a riesling is dry or sweet by the amount of stated alcohol on the label. We are seeing riesling from Germany starting at about 7.5 percent alcohol with sweeter flavors and perhaps 2 percent residual sugar. The drier rieslings start at about 11.5 percent alcohol and stop at 13 percent alcohol, rarely going over this level.

The other main variable concerning well made riesling is the acid level of the wine. It is one thing to have a sweet and fruity riesling, it is yet another to have those same flavors with good acidity. Any wine lacking in firm acidity becomes a lackluster wine without structure or thirst-quenching flavors in the finish. Acid-deficient riesling, in particular, suffers greatly from low acid with a very flabby and non distinct flavor scale where the only thing sitting in the glass is sugar. All riesling needs a very distinct, clean acid level for the wine to show its best.

Let me list for you a few of my very favorite and I think classy rieslings:

  • From the Mosel river-2005 Rotien riesling — This is one of the nicest of the dry German offerings to date. The wine has expressed, tropical fruit, hint of dry mango and a lovely finish which goes on for quite a while. The wine has gobs of flavor which gets better and more pronounced as the wine sits in the glass. I love this wine on every level. About $35.
  • Oregon-Red Hawk vineyard — The 2009 vintage is a powerful, drawn, expressed riesling with delicious acidity, very elegant fruit and richness on the palate. This wine has a hint of vanilla and dry pineapple on the nose, a long silky finish and a terrific palate weight for a riesling. This is a very classy wine. $20.
  • Vitae Springs Vineyard, Oregon, 2007 riesling — This is a very sound, generous and well made riesling with achingly varietal flavors both in the nose as well as in the front palate. I really enjoyed the richness of fruit which lingers on the palate and the hint of spice both in the nose as well as in the mid palate. This wine was tasted with light cheese, fruit and unsalted nuts as a before dinner treat and it was very good. One of the very good things about this wine was its ability to remain fresh and elegant even while rising to room temperature during the dinner as I went back to it for a second time. This shows good wine-making and solid balance. Rieslings which can hold structure when less than really cold are a delight. About $30.
  • Spindrift Cellars 2009 riesling — Those of you following this column know that I really admire this winery and what it does to traditional varietals such as pinot noir, gewerztraminer and riesling. The 2009 riesling is impressive on every level. I love both the gewerztraminer and the riesling for their terrific freshness, clarity of varietal, length of finish and varietral nuances which are important for light, complex white wines. It is impossible to mask a poorly made riesling, everything is open to see, smell and taste and Spindrift wines have never disappointed on any level. This is a very professional winery giving the consumer the best bang for the buck. About $20 per luscious bottle.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at

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