How sweet it isn’t

Those who like their wine dry may thumb their noses at Riesling, but it’s not always as sweet as they think.

Spring is a time of rejuvenation, of starting fresh, and there is no fresher feeling than kicking off the season with a glass of Riesling. It’s one of the first wines of the new vintage to hit the shelves. It rarely sees any oak aging, so all its lively flavours are kept intact.

Now you’re probably thinking, Riesling is sweet and I don’t do sweet wine. But before you go all Chuck Norris and kick Riesling to the curb, let’s look at a few things. Yes, Riesling can be sweet — especially if you love German wines from the Mosel region and anything labelled Spatlese, Auslese and above in the German wine designations of sweetness.

But let’s give Riesling a chance to redeem itself. When I travelled to Germany, I discovered that many of the locals preferred their Rieslings much drier than you would expect; in fact, they export the sweeter stuff because that’s what people want and that’s what sells. This creates a dilemma: how will they know we want the dry if we keep buying and consuming the sweet?

Everybody says they drink dry wine, but they actually prefer sweet. In the wine classes I teach and the seminars I conduct, when I compare a sweet wine to a dry wine 90% of the room prefers the sweeter wine. I’m not talking a dry cabernet versus an icewine here — I mean pitting a seemingly imperceptible sweet wine, which contains 0.8 grams of sugar, against one that has 1.2 grams (on the old sugar scale, this would be the difference between a wine being labelled "0" and being labelled "1"). In addition, more sweet wines get higher scores on a per-litre basis than dry wines: fewer sweet wines (read: dessert wines) are made than dry wines, and more receive 90-plus-point scores. So let’s not pooh-pooh the wines we truly crave.

Here are a few wines I’d recommend to complete your Riesling experience, from sweet to dry and sparkling: Loosen Bros. Dr. L (Mosel, Germany); Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling (Ontario); and Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling (Ontario).

About the Author

Michael Pinkus


Michael Pinkus is a freelance writer based in St. Catharines, Ont.

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