When you have made and sold Riesling for years you have to accept that some misconceptions just won’t die. How many times do I have to explain that not all Rieslings are sweet and that sweet wines are not lower in quality than dry wines. Unfortunately too many consumers have those ideas so central to their wine habits that they are missing the boat on the great vinous pleasures that Riesling wines bring. Indeed Riesling wines are amazing and one reason for their greatness is the ability Riesling grapes give to winemakers to craft a range of wines with different Residual Sugars (RS). RS is traditionally unfermented sugar that the winemaker has left in the wine by stopping fermentation. The fermentation can be arrested through several methods and sometimes it happens naturally. The secret of a great wine with RS is the level and quality of the contrasting acidity balancing the RS. For that reason Riesling wines are rarely put through secondary MaloLactic Fermentation (MLF) that remove the crisp malic acid (same than in apples) and can introduce lactic aromatics.
There seems to be classic levels of RS that are consistently made across regions, possibly because they serve certain winemaking necessities (early picking in cool climate regions for example) or perhaps because they are sufficiently different from one another that they cater to certain segments of consumers or occasions in the market place. The classic styles can be summarized into Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet and Sweet Rieslings as defined by the International Riesling Foundation. This is why Pacific Rim produces a range of Rieslings that we call our “classics” with which our goal is to produce benchmark styles for each one of those sweetness categories. Here is a quick summary of those classic styles:
Dry Rieslings: Also known as trocken in German. These wines should be no more than 9 g/L RS and above 12% ABV. They are mostly dry on the palate and are a good substitute to any dry unoaked white wine. They are common in Austria, Australia, Germany and Alsace. Our classic Dry Riesling is usually 7 to 8 g/L RS and it was the first of its kind made in the USA (1992). We also make an uber trocken/very dry Riesling from a single site called Solstice.
Medium Dry Rieslings: Often called Feinherb in Germany and Johannisberg style in the USA, they have between 10 and 25 g/L RS. They are the style most popular in the USA and often the reference point for most domestic consumers. Expect about 11.5% ABV. Our classic Riesling “J” fits that category at about 22 g/L RS and so does our Single Vineyard Wallula at 16 g/L for a single site expression.
Medium Sweet Rieslings: This style covers a large range of sugar from about 30 g/L RS to about 60 g/L RS and include the magical sweet wines of the Mosel and our classic Sweet Riesling (70 g/L RS). They usually come at lower ABV – between 8 and 10.5%.
Sweet Rieslings: Over 80 g/L RS are the place for Rieslings that have been obtained through the action of frost (ice wine and other cryo-extracted whites) or botrytis (noble wines). We produce all those styles with our ice wine (naturally frozen), classic Vin de Glaciere (artificially frozen) and our Noble Riesling.
Interestingly for Pacific Rim we have found that a mathematical pattern runs through what we believe are classic styles. There is a 3 factor that seems to work to find perfectly balanced styles that are differentiated in the market place and have different purposes. Follow my math: Dry Riesling at 8 g/L RS; times three gets to a Johannisberg medium dry Riesling at 24 g/L; times three gets to Sweet Riesling (Medium Sweet on the scale) at 72 g/L; times three gets to 210 g/L RS where Vin De Glaciere resides. Here you are Da Vinci code fanatics!
If you are curious and want to, once and for all, understand Riesling you can purchase our four classics as a package and taste that set of wines allowing you to explore the full range of RS. We’ll also include a copy of Riesling Rules, our indepth look at this amazing and versatile grape. Full of factual accounts, hard data, humorous anecdotes and delusional (likely Riesling-induced) hallucinations. And to make it even more irresistible we’ve extended our flat rate $9.99 shipping offer for this collection. This will be a fun exploration you can do in your PJs by the fire or by the pool. You might feel drawn to one style versus the other but each one has truly different applications and I invite you stay open minded. The Dry Riesling will be more appropriate as an aperitif, or with foods such as cold cuts, white meat, pork, sushi or fish. Riesling “J” will be glorious with wildly flavorful food such as Chinese or Mexican. Sweet Riesling is stunning with spicy food such as Thai or Caribbean. Finally the dessert style are great on their own, with light desserts (fruit salad and/or tarts) or with blue cheeses. Not that those are hard rules – they are just classic pairing for classic Rieslings and you can invent your own rules.