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Rediscovering Reisling - Lots of Great Reasons to Enjoy
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed September 2003. For more information go to

On the rare occasions when I think about it at all, I wonder why wines made from the Riesling grape aren't more popular outside Germany and the few other places where the variety thrives.

Riesling, after all, would seem to have all the characteristics to make it a hot seller in the American marketplace: it's light, quenching, fruity and slightly sweet...hey! That almost sounds like a soft drink.

What's more, it's usually relatively low in alcohol, making it a rational option when you want a glass for lunch. And it's one of the most compatible wines you'll find in terms of its affinity for a broad range of food. It's good with seafood, chicken, even pork; amazingly good with the vibrant flavors of Asian and Pacific Rim cuisines, and it's one of the few wines that really works with fiery fare.

What's not to like? Nuthin'. And yet I'm as bad an offender as anyone: I talk a good Riesling game, but I actually buy and drink the stuff maybe a half-dozen times a year.

The conventional wisdom holds that Riesling is a hard sell to people outside Germany because the labels are so difficult, and there may be some truth in that. Start with the naturally polysyllabic nature of German family names like von Bassermann-Jordan or Assmannshausen. Add tongue-twisting place names like Schlossbockelheim or Gimmeldingen, spice with some wine-law language along the lines of Gutsabfullung ("estate-bottled") and such grape variety names as the strangling Gewurztraminer or the amusing Scheurebe, and you might as well sing "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt" as try to ask for this stuff in an English- speaking wine shop.

But that explanation is not entirely satisfactory, as Rieslings from German-speaking Austria and sometimes German-speaking Alsace bear simpler labels, and those from Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. West Coast or New York's Finger Lakes and Ontario, Canada, are downright easy to pronounce. Moreover, even the Germans are starting to get the idea with many limiting the main label to relatively simple terms, placing the hard-to-pronounce bits in fine print on the back.

My personal Riesling resistance is based more on the simple reality that Riesling is different. It takes a paradigm shift, to use a current buzzword, to move over from the familiar flavor profiles of dry French and Italian table wines and their New World descendants to the entirely different style of Riesling.

But it's a jump worth making, at least for an occasional change of pace. And now's the time, with plenty of wine from the outstanding 2001 German vintage still widely available. (Vintage 2002 was more variable, as vintages from this northern-edge wine region tend to be, but there's excellent wine to be had.)

Finally, from the standpoint of value-hunting, bear in mind that popularity and price in wine tend to be inversely proportional. Until the world discovers Riesling, it tends to be priced deliciously low.


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