Riesling is by far one of my favorite grape varietals but is often overlooked by casual wine drinkers. They wonder if it is sweet, or dry… or both?

In this quick guide, I will delve into the world of Riesling, explore its characteristics, and give you my “cheat sheet” on how to decipher and understand the information you may see on a Riesling wine label.

Riesling Wine Grapes near Rheingau, Germany

Riesling Wine Grapes near Rheingau, Germany

Aromatic Profile

Riesling wines are celebrated for their aromatic qualities, which can vary depending on the growing conditions and winemaking techniques. Common aromas found in Riesling include citrus fruits, such as lemon and lime, as well as floral notes like jasmine and honeysuckle. Some Rieslings also exhibit hints of petrol, which is a sought-after characteristic in aged bottles.

Acidity Levels

One of the defining features of Riesling is its zippy acidity. As a naturally high-acid grape varietal, this acidity contributes to the wine’s freshness and liveliness, balancing out the sweetness and making it incredibly food-friendly. Rieslings from cooler climates tend to have higher acidity levels, which add zing and energy to the overall taste profile.

Sweetness Levels

Riesling wines can range from bone dry to lusciously sweet, offering a wide spectrum of sweetness levels to suit diverse preferences. It is important to note that even off-dry or sweeter Rieslings can maintain a beautiful balance due to the presence of acidity.


Riesling is renowned for its exceptional aging potential. While many white wines are meant to be enjoyed young, Rieslings, especially those from renowned vineyards and exceptional vintages, can evolve and develop complex flavors over time. The high acidity and sugar levels act as preservatives, allowing the wine to age gracefully for many years.

Riesling Around the World

Riesling has gained international recognition, and different regions have put their unique spin on this remarkable grape variety. Let’s explore some prominent Riesling regions:

German Riesling

Germany is renowned for its exceptional Rieslings, ranging from crisp and bone dry to lusciously sweet. Mosel, Rheingau, and Pfalz are some of the top German wine regions producing outstanding Rieslings.

Alsace Riesling

Alsace, a region in northeastern France, is celebrated for its aromatic and full-bodied Rieslings. These wines often showcase vibrant fruit flavors and can be enjoyed both in their youth and after aging.

Australian Riesling

Australia’s cool-climate regions, such as Clare Valley and Eden Valley, produce Rieslings with intense citrus flavors, high acidity, and excellent aging potential. Australian Rieslings are known for their refreshing qualities and ability to develop complexity over time.

American Riesling

In the United States, the Finger Lakes region in New York is a prominent producer of Riesling. These wines exhibit bright acidity, expressive aromatics, and a range of sweetness. Whether you prefer a dry and crisp Riesling or a slightly sweeter expression, American Rieslings offer a wide variety of options. One of my favorite ” starter Rieslings” is actually the Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling, which is less than $12 on Wine.com and likely available at a grocery store near you.


Understanding Riesling Labels

To fully appreciate and select the right Riesling for your preferences, it’s essential to understand the information presented on the wine label. Here are the key elements to look for:


The label should indicate the region where the Riesling grapes were grown. Different regions often have distinct styles and characteristics. Some well-known appellations for Riesling include Germany’s Mosel, Alsace in France, and the Finger Lakes region in New York.


The vintage refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested. Rieslings can vary significantly from one vintage to another due to weather conditions, so it’s worth considering the vintage as it can impact the wine’s flavor and aging potential.

Alcohol Percentage

The label will display the alcohol content of the wine, usually expressed as a percentage by volume. This information can give you an idea of the wine’s body and overall richness.

Residual Sugar

Rieslings can range from bone dry to lusciously sweet, and the label often indicates the level of residual sugar. Look for terms like “dry,” “off-dry,” “semi-sweet,” or “sweet” to understand the sweetness level of the wine. Different regions do have different terminology and not all labels may list this as clearly.

Tasting Notes

Some labels may include brief tasting notes that provide insights into the flavors and aromas you can expect from the wine. These descriptions can give you an idea of the wine’s character and help you determine if it aligns with your preferences.

Quality Designations

In some regions, Riesling wines may have quality designations based on specific regulations and classifications. For example, in Germany, you might come across terms like “Kabinett,” “Spätlese,” or “Auslese,” which indicate the ripeness and quality of the grapes used.

How to read a wine label

Because of the diverse styles in Riesling, checking the label is the best way to determine what style to expect in the bottle. Here is a cheat sheet to get you started.

Country            Labeling Terms to Know
AustraliaClare Valley (indicating region)
Eden Valley (indicating region)
Old Vine (indicating wine made from old, mature vineyards)
Single Vineyard (indicating specific vineyards)
South Australia (indicating broader region)
Dry, Off-Dry, or Medium-Dry (indicating sweetness levels)
AustriaPrädikatswein (based on ripeness levels)
Qualitätswein (Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, etc.)
FranceAlsace (indicating region)
Alsace Grand Cru (indicating specific vineyards)
GermanyAuslese (select harvest, sweet)
Beerenauslese (berry select, sweet, made from botrytis-affected grapes)
Deutscher Wein (table wine)
Eiswein (ice wine, made from frozen grapes)
Kabinett (light, off-dry)
Prädikatswein (based on ripeness levels)
Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA)
Spätlese (late-harvest, medium-sweet)
Trockenbeerenauslese (dried berry select, intensely sweet)
HungaryAszú (indicating noble rot affected grapes)
Puttonyos (indicating sweetness levels)
Tokaji (indicating region and sweet dessert wines)
New ZealandMarlborough (indicating region)
Single Vineyard (indicating specific vineyards)
Dry, Off-Dry, or Medium-Dry (indicating sweetness levels)
United StatesAVA (American Viticultural Area)
Dry, Off-Dry, or Sweet (indicating sweetness levels)
Late Harvest (late-harvest, sweet)
Reserve (indicating higher quality)

Food Pairing with Riesling

Riesling’s versatility extends to its food pairing potential. The wine’s acidity, sweetness, and aromatic profile make it a fantastic companion for various dishes. Here are a few classic pairings:

  • Dry Rieslings: Pair with seafood, light salads, grilled vegetables, or sushi.
  • Off-dry Rieslings: Complement spicy cuisine, such as Thai or Indian dishes, as well as pork or poultry.
  • Sweet Rieslings: Enjoy with desserts, particularly fruity tarts, or as a refreshing accompaniment to spicy cuisine.

Don’t be afraid to expirament! Riesling is so versatile and you may find a unique pairing you love. If so, let me know in the comments!

AI Disclaimer: While AI technology assisted in structuring this post, all revisions, editing, fact-checking, and opinions are mine alone. I believe in leveraging tools to enhance our capabilities, but rest assured, this content reflects my human perspective and wine knowledge, ensuring the best content for your enjoyment. 
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