When many people think of Riesling, a tall, blue bottle filled with sweet wine might pop in their mind. While this isn’t an entirely incorrect imagination of Riesling, this aromatic, versatile and often under-appreciated grape can be so much more.
Originally from the Rhine region of Germany, Riesling generally comes in a tall, slender colored-glass bottle, called either a Mosel or Alsatian bottle. While we might not know exactly why other intricacies of wine bottles came to be, the Riesling bottle history is fairly straightforward.
When Germany began to transport their wine down the Rhine River, the ships were much smaller and had less storage compared to ones that traveled across oceans. The bottle shape was developed so that they could pack more wine into what little storage space they had. And since the trip down the river wasn’t as rocky as the ocean, the bottles could be a bit more delicate.
The color of the glass was to distinguish where the wine came from in Germany. Green bottles came from Mosel and brown bottles came from Rheingau. In the ’80s, blue Riesling bottles came on the market to stand out from the traditional green and brown counterparts. While there are no official laws or regulations in the United States on the type and color of Riesling bottles, winemakers typically still bottle Riesling in the tall, slender bottle, for sake of familiarity.
Riesling was first planted in Oregon in the 1960s by Richard Sommer. And while Oregon’s grape planting has increased since then, Riesling makes up only around 2% of the state’s wine grape crop.
For those lucky enough to have tried the wonderful Riesling coming from Oregon, they know that it is are some of the “best the west has to offer,” The maritime climate and volcanic soil of Oregon, specifically the Willamette Valley, creates a wonderful environment to grow and produce Riesling.
TRAITS AND CHARACTERISTICS
The most common analogy wine experts use to explain “body” in wine is milk. Think of skim milk as “light-bodied” and whole milk as “full-bodied” Riesling is about as light-bodied as a wine can get.
Riesling can range from racy bone dry to extremely sweet, especially those labeled Late Harvest Riesling (a sweet dessert wine.) If accidentally purchasing a bottle of sweet wine is one of your greatest fears, don’t fret! Riesling is one of the most consistently labeled wines, with a scale that pinpoints exactly where the wine falls on the sweetness scale. Thanks, International Riesling Foundation!
Because (almost all) white wine is fermented without the grape skins, they don’t have any tannic characteristics. This is true for Riesling, who reports almost nothing on the tannin scale. Need a refresher on tannins? Check out our post on Pinot Noir and learn about the mouth-alerting texture of the wine world!
Riesling generally ranks towards the top on the acidic scale, having similar acidity to lemonade. The first sip might take your palette by surprise, but high-acid wine is extremely refreshing to drink.
Once you start to dig deeper into wine, you begin to understand how the traits and characteristics relate to each other. Body and sweetness are huge contributing factors to the alcohol level of a wine. A wine that is very light-bodied generally will have less alcohol, anywhere from 8-11.5%. A wine that is very sweet (and made with grapes that are picked late in the harvest season) can be higher in alcohol. And since Riesling can be both, be sure to read the label to ensure you are getting exactly what you want to drink.
TASTING AND PAIRING
Riesling is an aromatic wine filled with bright citrus, tropical and tree fruit notes. You can find anything from lime and Meyer lemons to pineapple, mango, and apricot in a glass of Riesling. It can also display amazing aromas of honey, ginger, jasmine or Thai basil, along with aromas that are super fun (but a bit weird) to find in wine like petroleum, chalk, and rubber.
The snappy minerality of Riesling lends itself to be drank with big, boldly-spiced food – think curry, cayenne, shallots, Szechuan peppercorns or cinnamon. It makes a great pairing with spicy Thai, Indian and Asian-flavored dishes.
When looking for a cheese to enjoy with your glass of Riesling, look for a soft, delicate cheese like triple creams or young and subtle mountain cheeses.
While there might not be large quantities of Riesling being produced in Oregon, it may be some of the best wine in the state. Find some of Oregon’s best Riesling here.