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Key grapes: Riesling

Ah! Riesling!

It’s the door opener for so many into the world of wine, then often quickly dismissed as “too sweet.” This is wrong, and we discuss it in the video.

There is nothing better in the world of wine than a great Riesling. And a great Riesling has the balance between sugars, acidity, and body to soar unlike any other wine.

It’s also what we call a ‘transparent grape’ meaning it shows terroir (sense of place) better than most wines. Minor changes in soil types, temperature, rainfall, sunlight, etc. show themselves in the wine. Riesling doesn’t like to be manipulated. The best Rieslings are from winemakers that have the guts to not interfere and can step back and let the wine make itself.

More links for learning

Here’s a great overview on the Riesling grape from the legendary Jancis Robinson.

The range of styles of Riesling is often revealed in the alcohol percentage. Below 10% alcohol, you can expect some sugar but hopefully some acidity to balance it out. Above 13% you’re talking a dry wine.

The Mosel Valley has much to offer the wine lover in terms of geography, great restaurants, and fantastic scenery. To get a sense of how extreme the winemaking can be in the Mosel, check out this video.

The incredibly steep Riesling vineyards of the Mosel Valley

In the Mosel, there are two basic types of soil: the blue slate, and the red slate. And as you can imagine, they make two very different styles of wines. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Blue/grey slate
The most common, and quite high in potassium which influences the vine growth. Makes for elegant, clear Riesling wines with aromas of yellow and white fruits such as green apple, peach and citrus (especially lime), floral notes and medium acidity.

Red Slate
Much more rare. Main ingredient is iron, which when oxidized makes for the red color. This makes for a more earthy and richer flavor. Red and orange fruits like strawberry, apricot, mango, and orange. Tropical and round.

One of my favorite producers, Dr. Loosen, makes a Blue Slate Kabinett and a Red Slate Dry Riesling. Depending on shipping and inventory factors, you may be able to get a bottle of each. Ask your wine merchant to look into them. You can also search a website called wine-seracher for the wines.

Here is more info on the slates of the Mosel at soilsomm.

A major force in German wine importing, Terry Theise, made a movie a while back and in the trailer for that movie you can get a good sense of the extremes of the soil and the vineyards in the Mosel Valley. In my opinion, what he says starting at about :22 is one of the most accurate and profound statements ever made in the world of wine.

Dry Rieslings are overlooked by many wine lovers, even though they are some of the best food pairing wines out there. In particular, we love the Rieslings from the Clare Valley in Australia, especially the wines of Jim Barry Winery.

One more AWESOME region for drier styles of Riesling (and some sweet ones too) is the Finger Lakes District of New York State! They actually have a long history with Riesling, and the story of Riesling in New York is pretty cool.

Another key region for Riesling is Alsace, France, which is well known for bold and dry styles of Riesling that are exceptionally good with food.

But one spot is starting to shine brighter than others when it comes to Riesling. It may come as a surprise, but Washington State is a serious contender for some of the best Rieslings in the world. They are made in a range of styles. The big dog producer in the state is Chateau Ste. Michelle (they actually control over 50% of the vineyards in the whole state) and while their Rieslings can be quite good, the smaller producers (under 5000 cases total production) are the ones to seek out. Two Mountain is one of our favorites.