‘Many think Rieslings are always sweet, but this is only half the story’
We Irish adore sweet things. Lemon sherbets, cream pies and the occasional treat of an ice-cream with sprinkles galore all excite our palate! When it comes to wine, however, the notion of a Thursday tipple with a smidgen of sweetness is not everyone’s cup of tea.
Personally, I love a fine glass of Riesling. It is my wine of choice recently, based on its quality, purity and value.
Originating from the Rhine region of Germany, Riesling is one of the most aromatic white wine grape varieties in the world. The wine comes usually in long thin bottles, as it had to be transported along the River Rhine to get the wine to market. The ships were smaller, and bottles needed to be slender to fit as many as possible in the hull. Shaking away the 1980s’ kitsch image of polarizing Piesporter and Blue Nun, Riesling is promptly becoming ‘the wine’ of the most discerning connoisseurs.
Many think Rieslings are always sweet, but this is only half the story. Riesling is transparent – expressive of the truth like no other grape. It is a true reflection of the vineyard, winemaker, and vintage, relying on its own purity and not oak barrels or other techniques. When we move from the sweet jar to the savoury, we can find bone-dry Rieslings in many regions of the world – most notably Alsace in France, next to the German border.
Recognised producers are Hugel et Fils and the familiar yellow-labelled Trimbach. Jean Trimbach, the chief winemaker whose family have grown wine since 1626, produces dry Riesling that is well known for its lemon zest, petrol aroma and mouth-watering racy acidity. Trimbach’s flagship Riesling, around €20 in good wine shops, is sensational with spice, Asian food and soft, delicate flavoured cheeses.
Rieslings from the Mosel region in Germany, for instance, exude a wider range of sweetness levels. This sweetness is sometimes indicated on the back of many Riesling wine labels. In Germany, Riesling can range from trocken (dry) to süss (extra sweet). Talented winemaker Eva Clusserath-Wittman, following in the footsteps of her father Ansgar, produces world-class Riesling with a subtle sweetness in Tritteheim on the Mosel.
So what happens if you don’t know if the Riesling you are buying is dry or sweet? Check the alcohol percent. If the alcohol percent is low (less than 10.5 percent), the Riesling is likely to be sweet (the extra sugars have not converted to alcohol). If the alcohol percent is higher (around 12.5 percent), the Riesling will most likely be dry.
Philip Dunne is Head Sommelier at Ashford Castle, Cong. Trained by the Court of Master Sommeliers, he is part of the team voted the Best Wine Experience in Ireland 2016 at the Restaurant Association Awards in Ireland.