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Grape Varietals

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Riesling is one of the world's most elegant wines, yet its acceptance in America has long been hindered by the perception that it is always sweet. And in an era when many wine drinkers prefer dry wines, anything hinting at a specter of sweetness can easily be pushed aside. That's a shame, because many people are missing out on a great wine.

Flavors and aromas: Yes, the Riesling grape can make sweet, even very sweet, wine. And yet, it can be beautifully dry and off dry (just-sweet), too. No matter what level of sweetness, Riesling depends on a backbone of tangy acidity. Indeed, Riesling's steely tang is as much a part of its identity as its potential sweetness and its delicate array of mineral, floral, and citrus/peach notes.

Color: Rieslings range from pale yellow to yellow with just a hint of gold.


Prominent plantings: Rieslings from the Alsace region of France tend to be richer and fleshier, while their German cousins bring some sweetness to the party, along with mineral nuances. Washington state also is becoming a player in the world of Riesling. What virtually all Rieslings of the world have in common, however, is that they are unoaked, allowing lots of pure fruit to shine through.

Pairing with food: Riesling will flatter chicken, light fish, pork, and ham. Off-dry styles work urprisingly well with salsas, fruit sauces, and Asian fusion dishes.

Insider tip: When buying Riesling, how do you find the level of sweetness you like? The simplest way is to check the alcohol content on the label. Wine under 10% will be noticeably sweet; wine in the 10-12% range will be off dry, or subtly sweet; when over 12.5% the wine is dry but will still carry a sense of ripe, even honeyed fruit. 

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