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by Staff Writer - R. Meoki | July 08, 2011

Before the Chardonnay wine became the most popular white wine on the market, Riesling was the most celebrated white wine. The way you pronounce Riesling is Reeee-zling. In the 19th century Riesling was considered the best white wine grape variety. Riesling is usually made to be a sweet wine, although it can also create a dry wine as well.

Riesling originated in the Rhine Valley in Germany, where it continues to flourish. It also does well in the neighboring Mosel region. German winemakers are selective about where they plant their Riesling and it accounts for only 20% of the total plantings. In the country, Riesling grapes grow well in the coldest growing climates and have found excellent homes in Austria, Alsace, Canada and in the Northern United States areas of Oregon, New York, Washington and Michigan. In California, Riesling lags behind Chardonnay in popularity and is not as commonly planted. An exception is the growing development of high quality Late Harvest dessert wines. So far, the Late Harvest wines most successfully produced are in the Anderson and Alexander Valleys. The Riesling that is made in California tends to be softer, fuller, and having more diverse flavors than a typical German Riesling. New York Riesling generally has a characteristic sparkling light body with a similarly light, mellow flavor. The wine can be lively though rarely robust, and ranges from dry to sweet. New York is also a notable producer of Riesling based Ice Wine. Riesling from the Pacific Northwest area ranges from dry to sweet, and has a crisp lightness that bodes well for easy drinking. Often there will be an easily detectable peach and mineral complex. Some Washington State winemakers, such as Chateau Ste. Michelle, are adapting German style Riesling production methods.

Riesling grapes take a long time to ripen and are picked at various times during the harvest. Depending on the stage of grape ripeness will correspond to the sweetness and alcohol levels of the wines. The earliest harvested grapes produce the lightest and driest wines which are categorized as Kabinett. The next stage up the sweetness ladder is known as Spatlese (late picked), followed by Auslese (hand-picked bunches).

Riesling is rarely mixed with other grapes. It can produce wines that range from bone dry and crisp to very sweet and complex. Riesling is one of the few white wines that have a long aging ability. Some Rieslings can last for more than twenty years. Unlike the Chardonnay which relies on the winemaker using interventions for its style, Riesling relies on nature for its diversity. The Riesling winemaker has two decisions to make. The first decision is when to pick the grapes and the second is how long to ferment the juice.

Riesling wines are often consumed when young, when they make a fruity and aromatic wine. Because of Rieslings combination of sweetness and acidity, it is an especially versatile wine with food. It works well with fish or pork and is one of the few wines that can hold its own again spicy cuisines like Indian, Chinese, and Thai. Whether you prefer a dry wine or a sweet wine, Riesling is the wine for you.

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