German wine is synonymous with world class riesling. Riesling is a German word with no translation. Riesling is riesling! Riesling is produced in every German wine region (“anbaugebiete”/on-bou-gi-bēt-ǝ/) in every classification (“qualitätstufe”) and every sweetness laid out by German wine law. Many Americans have the misconception that riesling is usually sweet, but most is not sweet. 64% of German wine in 2011 was either dry or semi-dry while 41% was in the driest category, trocken. In practice, riesling is where wine drinkers most commonly find wines of the different prädikats. One might even go so far to say that German wine law mainly contemplates riesling which is its great ambassador to the world.
Riesling is one of the few truly world class wines. Experts agree, and social movements have even organized to re-educate the American people on what they have been missing. Riesling is ultra-expressive of its terroir. So expressive, that riesling makers often label riesling bottles with the name of the specific vineyard tract (“lage”/log-ǝ/) where the grapes were grown to distinguish it from those grown nearby. Riesling gives strong clues in the nose and on the palate of its terroir and when it was harvested. That expressiveness is the result of the very finicky riesling vine which only reaches its potential in a narrow range of climate and vineyard conditions mainly found in Germany. For that reason, riesling is much rarer on the international market than less picky varietals such as chardonnay. The best riesling in the world comes from Germany.
The entire dictionary is open to describe the fruit tones riesling produces. Apples, pears, peaches, lemon and lime are probably the most common, but riesling also commonly has exotice fruit tones like mango and pineapple. Also common, particularly in later harvested and aged riesling, are massive honey, candied fruits, pine, and petrol tones. Minerality is common in riesling in the form of sea salt and occasionally even earthy or smoke tones. Riesling is also fortuitously a grape varietal that is susceptible to botrytis making for even more interesting and rare riesling wines.
Riesling’s body depends greatly on when it was harvested. Grapes harvested earlier in the year tend to have light to medium bodies while later harvested riesling can have the body of syrup. Oak is almost never used to produce riesling so wood tones are all but unheard of for it.
Perhaps the most notable characteristic of riesling, however, is its vibrant acidity. Riesling vines deposit sugar in their grapes at a relatively slow rate which enables them to retain their acidity better while building up sugar levels. Wine without enough acidity, wine tastes flabby and unbalanced. Good riesling is a balance between the acidity, profound fruit tones and sweetness. This gives the wine drinker a crisp and refreshing experience that is nothing short of thrilling. The total experience of riesling creates the same impression that beautiful German vineyards give on a summer day. It is bright with sunshine and cool with a crisp breeze of refreshing clean air.