“We’re here to create a new identity for the grape,” says Laura Williamson, before launching into an hour-long Riesling tasting session on a recent Saturday morning. “Riesling Rocks!” is the first wine seminar of the weekend at Euphoria, a Greenville, South Carolina food festival that brings together Southern food and drink enthusiasts from all over the country. Williamson, a master sommelier, isn’t going to have to try very hard, since she has a group of Riesling-lovers ready to drink up, even though it’s before noon. But there’s always more to explore in the world of wine, and we have six glasses in front of us. We’re tasting Rieslings from four different countries, and while each glass of pale gold liquid looks the same at first glance, the wines taste vastly different.
Williamson—and every sommelier I know—is trying to convince drinkers that the cloying Rieslings they’ve had in the past are not all the grape has to offer. If your bottle is a sugary mess, try again—Rieslings are made in a wide variety of styles, from gorgeous acid pops to gently sweet sips. And since there are so many styles of Riesling, they pair well with so many styles of food—they cut through spice, work amazingly well with Thai food, and should have a place on your Thanksgiving table. So where to start? Here are a few things to know about Riesling and some bottles to try.
Three Things To Know:
• Rieslings work great as aperitifs.
Aperitifs are designed to stimulate the appetite, and Rieslings can get your mouth watering and make you ready to eat. Look for dry Rieslings with citrus notes. Plus Rieslings tend to be low in alcohol, which makes them a great glass to start your meal with.
• Acid, acid, acid
Just because a Riesling is high in residual sugar doesn’t mean it’s going to be incredibly sweet. The interplay between acid and sugar levels is important to Rieslings. The grapes hang on the vine for a very long time, which increases their tartaric acid, providing juicy citrus notes. Acidity makes Riesling refreshing and easy to pair with food.
• You can taste where they come from.
One of the best things about Riesling is its minerality—you can absolutely taste where the wine comes from. The Rieslings we drank came from a range of regions, and a different earthiness was present in each. The vines for L. Hiedler-Riesling Urgestein 2011, which comes from Austria, are grown in harsh soil, and there’s a smooth stoniness that comes through with each sip.
Three to Try:
• United States: Chehalem Dry Riesling 2010
We drank from driest to sweetest wine, and this Oregon wine was the first wine we sampled. There’s a delicate note of citrus at first, as well as peach and hints of grass–this wine smells like springtime. When you taste it, there’s a rush of acidity, which will make your mouth water, while the fruitiness lingers on your tongue.
• Austria: L. Hiedler-Riesling Urgestein 2011
This wine is a step up in terms of weight on your tongue, but peachiness and an almost tropical flavor keep it light. Limestone-heavy soil increases acid and as I mentioned above, there’s a stoniness to it. You’ll feel as though the wine is washing over smooth pebbles in your mouth.
Germany: Selbach-Oster 2010 Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken
“Halbtrocken” means “half dry,” and this wine is mostly dry with a hint of sweetness. This wine comes from the Mosel region, which produces flowery Rieslings, and this was the most delicate wine we tasted. Delicate doesn’t mean flat though—the wine is airy and ethereal and carries a punch of vibrancy, like biting into a green apple.