The real reason consumers reject Riesling

It's not just that consumers identify it as "too sweet", says Roger Morris. It's also that it's not very food friendly.

Is there a reason consumers reject Riesling?
Is there a reason consumers reject Riesling?

We understand that all wines, as well as wine-and-food pairings, are a matter of taste. You like it, or you don't. Sometimes, our palates change with experience and age, and sometimes not.

That said, I'm puzzled by all those folks in the wine trade who love Riesling and would have it served at their funerals, and so can't fathom why rank-and-file wine lovers don't care enough for Riesling to drink or buy it with any regularity. And it's not just, as they generally complain, that “people think all Rieslings are sweet”. As we would say back in the homelands, these wine experts are barking up the wrong grapevine. 

Consumers may say something tastes "sweet," but often what they mean in the case of Riesling is that it’s too fruity (which is not the same as sweet, although it's close) and too fragrant for their noses and palates. Let’s face it, if someone were wearing Eau de Riesling as cologne or perfume to a wine tasting, we would send them to the washroom to hose off before taking a seat. So count me among those infidels who have not yet been baptized in the Rhine or the Mosel.

Don't get me wrong. I love sipping Riesling – bone dry or trockensweetenauslesen – but don't expect me to carry a glass of dry Riesling with me to the table or order a bottle in a restaurant. Whenever I have repeatedly tried to pair Rieslings with whatever I’m eating, I find myself wishing I had ordered something else, perhaps a Sauvignon or a Chardonnay or a Chenin or a Garganega – you get the idea.

For my palate, and I expect many if not most wine drinkers, Riesling is too often the precocious child whose parents think he is darling while the rest of us are edging toward the door. Its flavours and aromas, we doubters believe, clash with food. Trade people who love Riesling may not agree with this analysis, but the sales figures don't lie. Even among people who drink Riesling, I suspect they buy it by the bottle and not the case.

Of course, there are some dry Rieslings that go better with foods than others. For example, I have enjoyed at dinner delicious Rieslings, particularly from the Nahe and the Clare Valley which are low in fragrance but high in minerality (a topic for another hot evening). But, again, I would rather have had another white varietal with my food and sipped the Riesling solo. 

In recent years, many Riesling devotees have embraced sweet and spicy Asian food as being ideal pairings for Riesling. I find this development amusing in two ways. One is that the other folks in the wine trade who have also adopted Asian food are those who make sweet wines, such as Sauternes, and admit their wine is sweet. The other irony is that wine traditionalists love to point out, correctly I think, that wines evolved through the ages to match locally produced foods – Lambrusco with pork, red Bordeaux with beef and lamprey. So I have no idea how they explain the natural symbiosis between Riesling and pad thai.

Finally, some Riesling winegrowers – and Riesling wine associations – do themselves no favours in trying to define “dry,” not by the amount of residual sugar in the wine, but instead by the balance between sugar and acid, regardless of sugar content. By this way of thinking, if one wine has 3 grams per litre of residual sugar and another 30 grams per litre, and if that sugar is balanced by the correct amount of acid, both wines are equally dry! 

To me, a wine high in residual sugar and correspondingly high in acidity is simply a well-balanced sweet wine. But regardless of how we define dryness and sweetness in wines, if a Riesling producer markets a wine that has 20 or 30 grams per litre of sugar and slaps a “dry” label on it, can they fault wine drinkers for thinking all Rieslings are sweet?

Roger Morris


Pewsey Vale Vineyard

4 December 2019

Dear Roger,
As a specialist Single Vineyard Riesling producer from Eden Valley, we read your article “The real reason consumers reject Riesling” with interest.
At Pewsey Vale we demonstrate the versatility of the Riesling varietal through our collection – making an early harvest off-dry ‘Prima’ Riesling (23 Grams sugar), our classic Estate made Riesling and bone dry ‘1961 Block’ Riesling, along with a 5 year bottled aged’ The’ Contours Riesling. While they are all delicious on their own, these wines are all extremely food friendly and we generally only show them with several courses of food. They work wonderfully with seafood – a dash of the ‘1961 Block’ on some freshly shucked oysters instead of lemon juice is a favourite. They also work beautifully with Asian cuisine, complementing and diffusing the spice on the palate. And we enjoy a glass two of The Contours with seared scallops, duck or veal, or anything made with truffles!
Eden Valley Riesling has some of the characters of the nearby (90 minute drive) Clare Valley wines that you mention, but usually with a softer natural acidity. I hope we can convince you otherwise.
- Louisa Rose, Winemaker

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