Is German Riesling Dry or Sweet? Uncover The Facts

Craig Paskett
5th April 2020

The answer is BOTH! The remarkable thing about German Riesling is that it can produce the entire spectrum of styles, from bone dry to sticky sweet desert wines and everything in between.

Due to the wide variety of Riesling styles, it causes considerable confusion and misunderstanding in the minds of consumers. The main one is that all German Rieslings are sweet. Over the past few decades it seemed that way as the US & UK markets were flooded with  “cheap and sweet” German factory brands. Dry Rieslings, also known as “Trocken wines” in Germany, have a long history and there recently has been a resurgence in a new generation of high-quality dry Riesling wines being produced.

At the same time sweeter style Riesling is still being produced in certain regions. These are produced in the cooler wine regions of Germany, namely the Mosel, Nahe and Rheingau. In this part of the world Rieslings high natural acidity is even more pronounced, allowing the winemaker to counterbalance the natural sweetness of the grape.

Riesling Vineyard Germany
Weingut Feth – Riesling Vines
Why Riesling Pairs Well With Food

The acidity of wine is the key when pairing with food. Riesling has the highest acidity of any white grape. It is the acidity that helps cleanse the palate between bites, holding its own against heat & spice and at the same time being able to cut through fatty foods. Both dry and sweet Riesling will be high in acidity.

Low alcohol content is a key factor in a wines ability to pair with a variety of cuisines and meals. The more alcohol there is in a wine, the more focus there is on your body’s reaction to the alcohol. This takes away from your experience with the food and wine. Typical reactions will be feeling hot, coughing, blotchy skin and feeling ill if you consume too much. Wines with alcohol content above 13% would be considered high. Riesling is a white wine with lower alcohol levels around 11% to 13%.

What Food Does German Riesling Pair Well With?

German Rieslings are known for pairing well with Chinese food, Cajun cuisine, Tex-Mex (with cilantro), roasted pork, roasted duck or goose, fresh seafood and Thai. Pair lighter, crisper and young Rieslings with delicate (or raw) fish. More substantial or aged Riesling with Asian food, chicken, salmon and tuna.

Riesling Taste Profile | Learn About Riesling
Design courtesy of Wine Folly
German Wine Regions That Make High Quality Riesling

In Germany there are 13 wine growing regions with varying soil types and climates that produce a wide range of Riesling styles, both sweet and dry.

  • Mosel – the best vineyards planted on its steep slopes with slate soils. The cool climate is mitigated by the Mosel river and the stony soils which store and radiate heat. While difficult to farm and harvest the Riesling grapes, the results are world renowned floral and green citrus wines with great acidity and steely minerality.
  • Nahe – Similarly steep slopes on the river Nahe, but a warmer climate and range of soils means the Rieslings’ have some riper characters and dry wines are more predominant.
  • Rheingau – Prestigious region which produces full bodied Riesling. Typical primary fruit will be peaches, with some of the best botrytised sweet Riesling coming from the Rheingau.
  • Rheinhessen – Not as well-known for Riesling but produces some of the fullest-body examples on the banks of the Rhine River.
  • Pfalz – A big German wine region with the most interesting development in recent years with younger growers seeking higher quality.
Buying German Riesling – Some Handy Tips

When you are looking to buy German Riesling you should use this rule of thumb. Rieslings with the word ‘Trocken‘ on the label will be dry style wines. If Trocken is not on the label it is likely that they will be a little sweeter. Savage Vines stocks a great selection of dry Organic Riesling in our online store. Shop our range below!

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