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Riesling Sweetness Levels: Understanding Your Wine’s Profile

Riesling Sweetness Levels

Last Updated on March 22, 2024 by Lydia Martin

Steering through Riesling wines’ sweet twists and turns doesn’t have to be tough. Now is the right time to get to know these delightful white wines better.

Riesling wines aren’t just tasty; they’re a bang for the buck! I’ve savored numerous Riesling wines out there, and trust me, understanding German Riesling sweetness levels should be your first step.

So, let me guide you through what Riesling is and how you can spot the sweetness from the medium-sweet wine.

What Are The Riesling Sweetness Levels?

Riesling Sweetness Levels: Pouring Riesling Wine on a Glass

The sweetness level of Riesling is divided into four categories: Dry Riesling, Medium-dry, Medium-sweet, and Sweet, which is particularly applicable to a German Riesling wine.

In short, a Riesling can range from bone-dry to slightly sweet wine (like Qualitätswein wines) to dessert-like sweetness, catering to every preference.

“Each sip of Riesling balances nature’s sugar with crafted perfection.” – Liquor Laboratory

And, as you may know, American Riesling has three labels: Sweet, Dessert, and late-harvest wines.

4 Styles of Riesling Wines & Their Levels of Sweetness

Bottle of Wine with Lamp on a Wooden Table

1. Medium-Dry Riesling

Medium-dry is a style of Riesling wine that’s approachable, with just enough sweetness level. It balances with the grape sugars-to-acid ratio of 1:2, delivering a blend of moderate sugar content and acid.

With crisp acidity, half-dry wines age well, up to 20 years, and can sparkle through the Charmat method.

Grape varieties for medium-dry Riesling wines are primarily from Germany’s wine regions Mosel and Rhine, the US’s Columbia and Willamette Valleys, and Australia’s Clare and Eden Valley.

2. Dry Rieslings

Dry Rieslings (also referred to as Trocken Riesling) are straight shooters – honest, upfront, and crisp.

With a residual sugar-to-acid ratio below 1, dry German Rieslings shine with high acidity and zesty citrus notes, aging gracefully for 5-15 years.

Some of the driest Riesling grapes hail from Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys, alongside Germany’s Mosel and Rhine, France’s Alsace, and the Columbia and Willamette Valleys in the US and Austria.

3. Medium-Sweet Riesling (Off-Dry Style)

Also referred to as semi-sweet wine, medium-sweet Riesling wine features heady aromas with a little more sweetness.

Medium-sweet Rieslings balance sugar with acidity in a 2.1 to 4 ratio and deliver tasting notes akin to their off-dry counterparts.

These cellar-worthy white wines, with the potential to age gracefully for twenty years, are notably produced in Germany, Austria, and the US.

4. Sweet Riesling

Sweet wines are the indulgent ones, rich and luxurious. Sweet styles of Riesling taste like decadent desserts oozing all the sugar from the grapes.

The Riesling label “Pradikatswein,” a table wine, traditionally leans on the sweeter styles. This German wine is categorized by grape ripeness at harvest, influencing its potential alcohol content or sweetness.

This label even includes a special designation for ice wine made from frozen grapes. Other wines in the sweet styles include:

  • Spatlese wine: The grapes are left on the vines longer to ripen and create more sugars, resulting in a richer style of Riesling wine, sweeter than Kabinett wines (the lightest style).
  • Beerenauslese: “Berry Select Harvest” yields a rare, concentrated dessert white wine from shriveled, noble rot grapes with high sugar and alcohol levels.
  • Trockenbeerenauslese: The raisinated grapes are “dry berry select harvest” and the rare wine (harvested at high sugar levels, 150-154).
  • Auslese wines: The grapes are hand-selected, assuring the Riesling wine is sweet due to selected grapes for peak sugar.

Riesling Wine’s Sweetness Compared

Glasses of Wine

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon stands firm, typically drier, proving a tart contrast to the Riesling’s sweet notes.

Riesling typically presents a broader range of sweetness, from dry to off-dry wine (similar to Chablis or Albarino) to very sweet.

Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris, often with a touch of sweetness, still tends to be more restrained than Riesling. The latter has a broader range of sweetness, while Pinot Gris is typically more subdued.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay, especially when oaked, can mimic sweetness with its buttery notes. However, it usually doesn’t reach the sugar and alcohol levels of a sweet Riesling.

Why Is German Riesling Sweet?

What makes Riesling sweet is its winemaking process, which can enhance or mute the levels of sweetness.

“Riesling is like Mozart’s music – sweet, complex, and brilliant.” – Hugh Johnson, Journalist & Author

Generally, there are two main factors making Riesling wine sweet:

  • The grape’s natural tendency to ripen into sugary juice
  • Winemaker’s decisions to halt fermentation, leaving residual sugar [1], while increasing the alcohol percentage

FAQs Related to Riesling Sweetness Levels

What are the different sweetness levels of Riesling?

Riesling wines can vary in sweetness, ranging from bone dry to intensely sweet. The sweetness levels are often categorized based on the residual sugar content in the wine.

What is “Trocken” Riesling?

“Trocken” is a German term meaning “dry.” Trocken Riesling wines are completely dry, with little to no perceptible sweetness. They typically have high acidity and showcase the grape’s pure fruit flavors and mineral characteristics.

What is “Kabinett” Riesling?

“Kabinett” Riesling refers to wines made from fully ripe grapes harvested at the normal picking time. These wines can vary in sweetness levels but are generally light and off-dry, with a balanced acidity and fruity character.

What is “Spätlese” Riesling?

“Spätlese” means “late harvest” in German. Spätlese Riesling wines are made from grapes harvested later in the season, resulting in riper fruit flavors and higher sugar levels. They can range from off-dry to moderately sweet.

What is “Auslese” Riesling?

“Auslese” translates to “select harvest” in German. Auslese Riesling wines are made from individually selected, fully ripe grapes with high sugar concentration. These wines are typically sweet and rich, with luscious fruit flavors and a honeyed character.

What is “Beerenauslese” Riesling?

“Beerenauslese” means “select berry harvest” in German. Beerenauslese Riesling wines are made from grapes affected by noble rot (Botrytis cinerea), resulting in intensely sweet and concentrated wines with complex flavors of honey, dried fruits, and botrytis notes.

How do I determine the sweetness level of a Riesling wine?

The sweetness level of a Riesling wine is often indicated on the label by terms such as “Trocken” (dry), “Kabinett” (off-dry), “Spätlese” (late harvest), “Auslese” (select harvest), “Beerenauslese” (select berry harvest), or “Trockenbeerenauslese” (select dry berry harvest).

On A Final Note

Riesling is a versatile wine that plays many tunes on the sweetness scale. From the dry wit of a Dry Riesling to the sweet serenades of its sweeter cousins, there’s a Riesling for every palate.

So, if you want to explore the white wine varieties, do not miss out on what Riesling offers. Whether you like bone-dry or sweeter wines, there’s always a Riesling for you!

References:

  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/2021/10/01/sugar-role-in-wine/
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/food/2023/jul/28/its-time-for-a-riesling-rethink-fiona-beckett
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