Sweet Riesling 2014

How do you know if a bottle of Riesling is sweet?

Check the front label.  If it doesn’t say “Dry," it is almost certainly sweet.

Isn’t this odd?  If “dry” can be on the front label, why not “sweet”?  Many wine drinkers love sweet Riesling.  Winery owners and tasting room managers have told me time and again that it's imperative to have sweet wines for visitors to taste and purchase.  Yet the word “sweet” almost never appears on the front label of a bottle of Riesling.

Why?  In essence, when it comes to Riesling, wineries are….. politicians.  They want to please everyone.  They suppose that using the term “semi-dry” will appeal to dry wine lovers while not putting off those with sweeter leanings.

But there is nothing “dry” about “semi-dry” Riesling.  It is invariably medium sweet.

Is it wrong to prefer sweet Riesling to dry?

Over the past decade, the cachet of “dry” Riesling has grown.  Many people think it is invariably superior, more sophisticated, better with food than Riesling with sugar.  

This is not true.  The quality of any wine depends on its intensity, harmony, and balance.  Sweet Riesling can work very well with dinner, if the wine has good acidity, concentration and balance.

The category “sweet Riesling” is quite broad.  It includes medium sweet wines, but also intensely sweet ice wine.  

When should you drink these wines?  Some are best sipped before dinner, as an aperitif (e.g. the Lafayette Reneau “Late Harvest”). Ice wines, on the other hand, are better after a meal, with or without dessert.  The Red Tail Ridge, Dr. Konstantin Frank and Fox Run are more flexible, fun to sip but also potentially good with food.

As a group, I cannot say these wines are very impressive.  One does wonder whether Finger Lakes wineries devote less attention to their sweet Rieslings than their dry.  Still, there are some nice wines here, well worth seeking out.  Additional bottles will be added to this review over the coming month.

Cheers! — Douglas

A word about these tastings: Each tasting note is based on a full bottle of wine (no tasting room notes or group tastings), sampled over a two-day period, most often with food.  All bottles are purchased from the winery or a wine shop. I do not accept “sample” bottles from wineries, nor do I have a financial relationship of any kind with any winery or the wine industry.  The views expressed here are my own, and I strive to be as honest and objective as a person can be.

© Douglas Hillstrom 2014