Off-dry riesling lands in the “medium dry” area, somewhere between a quarter of the way in and the halfway point. The bright fruit and touch of sweetness in off-dry riesling is the perfect match for foods that bring a little heat, particularly spicy Asian cuisine like Thai, Indian and Chinese. Don’t be scared away by the sweetness. Remember — that racy acidity will be there to keep everything in check. All you will encounter is the bright, fresh fruit of the wine, along with any other notes it might offer. But it won’t seem “sweet” in a bad way, any more than a piece of fruit’s sweetness is bad. Mouthwatering acidity is the key.
Drier styles of riesling pair well with shellfish and other light seafood, chicken and pork. Some of those drier styles are also great as aperitifs — wines that will not leave you searching for a glass of water after every sip.
Some labels will specify “dry riesling,” but on German labels “Trocken” means dry, and “Halbtrocken” means half-dry. If neither word appears, you might be looking at a wine with anything from a touch of sweetness to an all-out sweet riesling suitable for dessert.
The grape variety is believed to hail from Germany, and nowhere on earth is more of it planted. German rieslings come in the full range of styles, and some of the country’s most notable spots for it are the Mosel, Rheingau, Rheinhessen and Pfalz regions. The Alsace region of France, just across the German border (and once part of Germany itself), is famous for its dry rieslings. Likewise, Austria turns out dry, often medium-bodied riesling in the Wachau region.
In Australia, the Clare Valley and Eden Valley regions produce rieslings that are a study in fresh, tangy lime-citrus notes. New Zealand also produces a fair amount of riesling, and in our part of the world, Washington, Oregon, California and Michigan turn out the gamut of styles, as does New York, perhaps most successfully in the Finger Lakes region. In Canada, New York and Germany, among other places, riesling grapes are turned into the aforementioned rich, sweet, dessert-friendly icewine (aka “eiswein”).
Because of its high acidity, riesling is known for its ageability, a white wine that can develop in the bottle for years, often without requiring a huge outlay of cash. Some top bottlings, which can inch up the price scale, are able to age for decades. Considering the complexity and aging potential that riesling offers, it could often be reasonably considered a bargain — a versatile wine style that the most-experienced wine folks appreciate and love. Get past the myths and you will see for yourself.