Wine is a much-studied and beloved drink across the world, with ten thousand different wine grapes grown commercially today.
Riesling is a popular wine originating from the Rhine region of Europe (near the French/German border).
These days, while it’s still produced in Germany, France, and Austria, it’s also a popular vintage from Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.
Riesling is a versatile white wine that pairs well with many different meals. Because it varies so much, it can be difficult to classify! In this article, we’ll let you know if it’s a still or sparkling wine, as well as many other details such as:
- What causes wine to be sparkling
- Variations of Riesling
- Whether Riesling is considered dry or sweet?
- The best foods to pair with Riesling.
We’ll also go over some frequently asked questions! Let’s dive in.
Origins and Main Regions
Riesling is a very old wine, with written references to the vintage dating back to the 14th century.
It likely originates from a wild variety of grape found in the Rhine Valley region of Europe, which encapsulates the famous river and is primarily situated in Germany.
The region also borders Switzerland and France, as well as dipping into the Netherlands.
Today, Riesling is produced all over the world. It is the leading wine variety in Germany to this day. It is also produced in vast quantities in the Alsace region of France, and the Rieslings from this area tend to be higher in alcohol content than the German wines, as well as typically being aged for longer.
Riesling was brought to the United States by German immigrants and is grown across the country to this day, though it is not as popular as other varieties of wine.
More recently, it has also been grown with much success in Australia and New Zealand.
Taste Profile and Characteristics
Riesling is a versatile wine, which varies a lot based on vintage.
European Rieslings tend to be sweet and rich, with notes of honey, apricot, and nuttiness.
On the flip side, more modern wines such as those produced in Australia tend to be drier, sharper, and citrusy.
In general, as the wine ages it moves from a tart and fruity wine to a more complex, toasted, and deeply sweet flavor profile.
It also varies in color, from a light, almost-clear hue to deep gold. Some wine has been advertised as “red Riesling”, although this is slightly misleading; while this wine uses red-skinned grapes in its production, they are white wine grapes – meaning the Riesling is still not a red wine.
Riesling: Sparkling or Still?
What Makes a Wine Sparkling?
Sparkling wines are those with bubbles or a light carbonation. The bubbles are from carbon dioxide, which is generally eliminated during the fermentation process.
To add carbonation, most sparkling wines undergo a second fermentation process with the addition of more yeast and sugar.
This, along with creating carbonation, increases the alcohol content of the wine and leads to a stronger flavor.
If a winemaker is trying to keep things very traditional, sparkling wine can also be made without a second fermentation.
Instead, the wine is bottled before the fermentation is complete, meaning the gasses do not escape and are reincorporated into the wine.
However, as this process is tricky and costly, it’s normally only done on small-batch, high-end wines.
On the other hand, very cheap sparkling wines sometimes just carbonate a still wine the way you would a soda, though this generally lowers the quality of the drink.
Short answer: it can be either! Traditionally, Riesling is a still wine. However, some classically made Rieslings do have a slight sparkle due to the bottling process (the wine is generally not oaked).
Additionally, carbonated Rieslings have become more popular and widely available in recent years.
Variations of Riesling
Dry vs. Sweet Riesling
Dry Rieslings have all of the sugar removed during the fermentation process. This makes them highly acidic, tart, and medium-bodied.
Sweet Rieslings are made with grapes that are aged on the vine for longer, giving them a higher sugar content. They are very sweet, rich, and syrupy, and are often served as dessert wines.
In addition, there are many semi-sweet Rieslings on the market which are made with young grapes like dry wines, but have some sugar leftover after fermentation. This leads to fruity, fresh, and versatile wine.
Sekt: Sparkling Riesling
Sparkling Riesling, also known as sekt or Rieslingsekt, are wines that have undergone secondary fermentation and are carbonated.
They are generally made from dry or semi-sweet Rieslings, resulting in a strong, tart, and bubbly drink. Sekt is popular for celebrations or during cocktail hour.
Pairing Riesling with Food
Pairings for Still Riesling
Dry, light to medium-body Riesling pairs well with fresh dishes such as chicken, fish, or white pasta.
Semi-sweet Rieslings go really well with spicy dishes such as curries and many Asian dishes, as the sugar counteracts the spice and allows the flavor to shine through.
Sweet Rieslings are great alongside desserts, or light salty snacks such as cheese boards.
Pairings for Sparkling Riesling
Sekt is great on its own as a toast or aperitif. It also goes well with simple, delicious food, like strawberries, focaccia, or even french fries.
If you’re looking to serve it with a meal, try it alongside pasta, sandwiches, or seafood dishes.
Sparkling wines are generally very versatile, so don’t be afraid to experiment! Or, simply pour yourself a glass (or two) with your favorite meal.
No, Riesling is not always sweet. While sweet varieties of the wine are very popular, there are also dry and semi-sweet Rieslings.
It will generally say sparkling or sekt on the bottle if it is a sparkling wine. Additionally, sparkling wines usually have a larger, mushroom-shaped cork covered in foil at the top (like Champagne bottles).
Many complex white wines such as Chardonnay or Pinot Gris may be similar in flavor to Riesling. However, there is a lot of variety in flavor even between different Rieslings, and every variety of wine is unique.
Sekt is a German wine and is usually sweeter than other sparkling wines. It is also traditionally made using Riesling grapes. It has a more complex, fruit and honey flavor than many drier and tarter sparkling wines, like Champagne and Sava.
Yes, Riesling is a white wine. Though some wines are marketed as red Rieslings, this just means they are produced using red-skinned grapes, which are (misleadingly) still white wine grapes. Riesling can vary in color from close to clear to deep gold.
Traditional Riesling comes from the Rhine Valley region of Germany, and German Riesling is the most well-known. However, the French region of Alsace has also been producing Rieslings for over five centuries. More modern Rieslings, particularly from Australia’s Clare Valley and New Zealand’s Marlborough region, are also world-renowned.
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