Pennsylvania Wine School: What is Riesling?

Chambour-huh? Vidal who? Need some help demystifying some of Pennsylvania’s most essential wine words? The PA Wine Land Post is at your service, schooling you on the grapes you need to know.

Varietal: Riesling (pronounced reez-ling)

Grown: Across Pennsylvania

Similar to: Gewürztraminer

Riesling is increasingly popular among winemakers in Pennsylvania. They have identified parallels between its native northern European climate and some of the state’s top grape-growing regions, including Lake Erie and northeastern PA.

The first reference to Riesling was made in 1435 — the wine was in the storage inventory of the high noble court of Count John IV of Katzenelnbogen in the Rhine region of Germany. The iconic white was carried by German nobility as they traveled across Europe, conquering and trading. Bottles spent time in their castles’ wine cellars, which led to the discovery that this varietal can get better with age.

Riesling is a chameleon. Its flavor profile shifts depending on the terroir, and the resulting wines can be made in a wide range of styles, from sweet to semi-sweet, to off-dry, to dry, to sparkling, to dessert. The one constant is high acidity.

Riesling can be described as crisp, juicy, floral, minerally, refreshing, complex, stony, waxy, oily, and/or fruity.

Some flavors you can expect in the traditional tall, slender bottle include citrus, green apple, peach, apricot, mango, guava, honey, rose blossom, cut green grass, and petrol.

While petrol, which can also be described as an aroma of kerosene or rubber, might not sound like a desirable trait, many actually consider this to be a sign of a fine Riesling. It’s the result of a natural compound called TDN that is created during the aging process. Corks absorb much of the TDN, so a screw cap Riesling will show much more of this trait.

Because of its aforementioned versatility, there is a Riesling for almost any meal. Rich or spicy dishes are especially excellent choices. Mild, salty cheeses or creamy plates of pasta taste sensational when cut with the wine’s high acidity. Meanwhile, if you choose a Riesling with even a little residual sweetness, it will both accentuate and balance highly-spiced cuisines such as Thai and Indian. Drier styles are great with fried food or simply-prepared fish.

Sweet and dessert Rieslings are classic alongside fruit-based pies and cakes, or as a foil to a meal-ending cheese plate. Funky, savory blue cheese in particular provides a powerful yin to the wine’s bright, sweet yang.

Below is a sampling of award-winning Pennsylvania Riesling wines from the 2019 Sommelier Judgment Day and the 2018 Sommelier Judgment Day.

(listed in alphabetical order)

Flickerwood Wine Cellars 2017 Riesling (Kane, PA)
Galen Glen Winery 2018 Riesling (Andreas, PA)
Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery 2017 Riesling (Breinigsville, PA)
Nimble Hill Vineyard & Winery 2017 Toczko Vineyards Riesling (Wyoming County)
Armstrong Valley Vineyards & Winery 2017 Riesling (Dauphin County)

Mazza Vineyards 2017 Riesling (Erie County)



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