Your summer riesling doesn’t have to be sweet

Many consumers incorrectly think that all rieslings are sweet, while the white-grape variety actually includes a full range of wines. Krista Slater for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Many consumers incorrectly think that all rieslings are sweet, while the white-grape variety actually includes a full range of wines. Krista Slater for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In 2008, New York-based sommelier Paul Grieco of the Terroir wine bar created the Summer of Riesling. It was an aggressive takeover of the wine list that saw two dozen whites replaced with only rieslings.

Grieco is renowned for his anarchistic approach to wine appreciation, and it seems to have worked for him; the annual Summer of Riesling still is going strong. It has evolved to include a cruise of the East River (sold out this year), and the celebration has been observed at wine locations from Atlanta to Australia.

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Sommeliers love to recommend rieslings, yet they remain a hard sell, because many consumers incorrectly think that they all are sweet. Sweetness is not an inherent characteristic of this grape varietal. In fact, rieslings come in a full range of styles: from incredibly dry to sticky sweet, from still to sparkling, and from a star-bright light hay color to bright orange. The climate of the growing region and stylistic decisions of the winemaker are the main factors that determine how the wine will taste.

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As for those rieslings that do have some sweetness, is that so bad? German culture was very much a part of Krista’s upbringing, with frequent trips to Germany. For a very long time, “wine,” as Krista knew it, was riesling, and the riesling her family sipped was always a touch sweet. However, even in Germany tastes have been trending for decades toward a drier style of wine, and dry riesling can be found in many great wine regions, from France to Austria.

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Due to its high acidity and low alcohol, riesling is a refreshing partner for food, especially delicate fish presentations, as well as fried and spicy dishes in which the heat would be intensified by high-alcohol beverages.

Here are some rieslings, representing a range of styles, that we recommend:

Peter Lauer Barrel X riesling feinherb. From the Saar region of Mosel, Germany, this is a great introduction to the classic German style. It has just the right touch of sweetness, with intense acidity and freshness, like lemonade that has run over river stones. At only 10.5% alcohol, this is one to enjoy all summer long.

GD Vajra Langhe riesling. Dry, but delightfully floral — with notes of white peach — this riesling comes from a company more widely known as a producer of classic Barolo. This estate was integral in the cultivation of riesling in Italy’s Piedmont region.

Hager Matthias riesling terrassen. From the Kamptal region of Austria, this wine is bone-dry and mineral-driven, with pleasant notes of citrus zest and green apple. It’s a great example of the classic style of Austrian riesling.

J. Brix Sunrise Over Skin skin-contact riesling. A fun curveball from Santa Barbara, California, this riesling is fermented for seven days in contact with the grape skins, and then spends six months in French oak barrels. It is dry, but heady, with tropical fruit aromatics, a salty finish and a full texture.

The Slaters are beverage industry veterans and the proprietors of the Expat and the Lark Winespace in Athens.

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