Debunking Myths about Riesling with…Stuart Pigott

At a recent tasting event we were struck by the amount of seasoned wine drinkers who still harbour a genuine prejudice towards Riesling. A legacy, no doubt, of the 1980s and the intervening years, where irresponsible winemaking and even looser restrictions resulted in a plethora of historically dry whites being made with too much residual sugar. Cloying, flaccid wines were passed off as Riesling - the noblest of all white grapes - and although the familiar Blue Nun and Black Tower enjoyed initial popularity - largely due to their inexpensive, crowd-pleasing medium-sweet style - the backlash was inevitable. German wines and Riesling, not necessarily one and the same, were guilty by careless association and both suffered as a consequence. Yet those pale imitators of yesteryear are no longer the norm and Riesling is in the throes of a long overdue renaissance. Increasingly prominent on wine lists and shop shelves, it is also perhaps the most beloved varietal within the trade; by winemakers, sommeliers and critics alike; the legendary Jancis Robison cites Riesling as "indisputably the greatest white wine grape in the world."

In an effort to convince you of this lofty acclaim and to dispel any perceived Riesling stigmas, we have sought out the expertise of Stuart Pigott, author of Best White Wine on Earth: The Riesling Story. By taking extracts from this unique guide by a passionate authority on the grape, we debunk a few commonly held myths about this beautiful white varietal…

Riesling is always sweet...

The Truth [extracts from Best White Wine on Earth: The Riesling Story]: Riesling isn’t always sweet; in fact it often tastes drier than Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio. However, even when it’s sweet, it’s a great food wine that can’t wait to get onto your dinner table and into your picnic basket.

The label usually tells you if a Riesling is dry or sweet, so it’s rarely a problem figuring out which wines are right for you. Look for the IRF (International Riesling Foundation) taste profile, and if there isn’t one, look at the alcoholic content. A Riesling with 12% or more alcohol is almost certainly dry, and one with 10% or less is almost certainly sweet.

Many older wine drinkers continue to regard Riesling with scepticism because of the grape’s Germanic origin. They are unaware of or ignore the fact that Riesling grapes grow in many places scattered around the planet, and they insist that this comes from the wrong side of the cultural tracks. Many of the same people continue to suffer from the misconception that Riesling is always sweet, for the simple reason that during the second half of the last century, it usually was. Today’s Rieslings are often either properly dry or at least dry enough to deserve a place on the dinner table. In fact they are extremely food-friendly wines.

Riesling is only made in Germany...

The Truth: Riesling is a very sexy white wine made from the grape of the same name that originated in Germany, where it’s still the most important wine grape. However, Riesling is now planted around the globe, and the second-largest planted area is in the USA.

This story begins with the simple observation that if you remove the prejudices, then Riesling often tastes better than other white wines. That would once have seemed like a daring claim, but since February 1, 2012 when I began working on this book and the accompanying blog (, I’ve experienced unprecedented excitement about Riesling in places as far apart in terms of distance and culture as New York, San Francisco, Sydney and Berlin. It caught me by surprise, because it wasn’t like that only a few years ago, never mind back in the 1980s, when I began exploring the world of wine and I firstly hooked up with Riesling.

It only makes one style…

The Truth: What makes Riesling really special, though, is the enormous diversity of white wines made from this single grape. Although they all have some family resemblances – most notably a breathtaking freshness and great food-friendliness – their range of aromas is wider than that of any grape. There are Rieslings of every gradation from bone-dry to honest sweet and from featherweight to super-heavyweight.

Nobody interested in wine could have failed to notice the global fashions for Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato, and Pinot Grigio of recent years. What these diverse grapes share is the way that each spawned an entire industry devoted to the mass production of technically correct, identikit wines that fill supermarket shelves around the globe. Good Rieslings are more aromatic and refreshing than “Industrial Sauvignon Blanc” or “Industrial Moscato,” but also more subtle and harmonious. They’re much livelier and have far more character than the majority of insipid “Industrial Pinot Grigios” – though some non-industrial wines from those grapes taste good to me too. But the fact is that Riesling tastes like nothing else on earth, and its praises haven’t been sung enough often or loud enough, hence the need for this book.

Good Riesling doesn’t just smell and taste great; it is also enormously refreshing compared with most other white wines and almost all red wines. Only good Champagne can match Riesling’s ability to invigorate with the first sup, delight with the second and fascinate with the third.

All German Riesling is sweet…

The Truth: When I first hooked up with Riesling in London back in the early 1980s, the grape was beset with problems. Many of these problems were crated in Germany, where the tradition for high quality Riesling had recently been eclipsed by the mass production of sweetish wines with names as kitschy as their taste: Liebfraumilch, Goldener Oktober etc. Often they contained little or no Riesling, but they eroded the image of German Riesling as an honest wine just the same. However, the worst problem was a motley crew of cheap and banal wines from a bunch of countries around the globe that were sold as Riesling although they were made from completely different grapes. Thankfully, that exploitation of Riesling’s good name has been eradicated through international agreements and “Riesling” on the label now means Riesling in the bottle. Most of those kitschy German wines have also vanished from supermarket shelves as wine fashions changed.

Riesling is too expensive…

The Truth: Riesling is a democratic wine you can afford. Sure, the most expensive white wine in the world is a Riesling but this is a rare exception. The great majority of Rieslings have friendly prices and are a great value for money. You can always find a really good Riesling for slightly more than 10 bucks or euros, and in some countries for a single digit price! Almost every Riesling your heart could desire is on the shelf for a two-figure price. It’s a special wine we can afford, instead of the fast track to financial ruin like some other wines.

Riesling producers a very limited range of wine styles…

The Truth: Riesling is an authentic wine that hasn’t been bastardised by corporate bean counters and marketing departments. It tastes of where it grew, who made it, and how the growing season was.

In a wine world dominated by smoke and mirrors, where standardisation of flavour is the norm, Riesling remains strikingly and deliciously original.

In regions as widely separated as Germany’s Mosel and Western Australia’s Great Southern, each vineyard has its own distinctive aromas. That diversity is unexcelled in the world of wine.

Often a joyful extrovert with hidden depths, Riesling sometimes has the Blade Runner steeliness of a secret agent or the in-your-face glamour of a vamp.

Best White Wine on Earth: The Riesling Story by Stuart Pigott, published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang (£15.99) is available to purchase at the special rate of £12.99 FREE P&P in the UK (international P&P charges will apply) (RRP £15.99). To order please call 01903 828503 and quote ref 50493.

Riesling grapes by Bernt-Rostad 
Six Delicious Riesling

Dandelion 'Wonderland of the Eden Valley' Riesling 2013 £10.99
Australia | Barossa Valley

Riesling expert Stuart Pigott believes this wine is “…among the best and the most original Rieslings that the state has to offer,” and a perfect balance between “racy and delicate,” and the 92 points it received from the revered Australian wine critic James Halliday would certainly support this. Extraordinarily precise with a clean fruit spectrum of crunch lime and stone-fruit flavours, including apricot, this stunning wine has a refreshing steely minerality, balanced with racy, slate-like acidity. An award-winning wine made by Bulgarian born winemaker Elena Brooks, whose Dandelion vineyards are a real hotbed for exceptional wines.

Leasingham Bin 7 Riesling 2013 £11.99
Australia | Clare Valley

“Australia is on a different Riesling wavelength than the rest of the planet,” Stuart Pigott writes in his book The Riesling Story - Best White Wine on Earth, and this is an outstanding example of the unique quality and aromatic freshness available from southern Australia’s Clare Valley; “the nation’s most important Riesling growing region”. Bedecked with awards and bestowed with endless critical acclaim, the Riesling grapes are left to ripen on the vine for as long as possible, giving this wine its abundant fresh lime and mineral flavour. Elegantly crisp with a cleansing minerality this is a scrumptious wine with great length and fantastic potential for ageing.

Riesling Kabinett Mosel 2009, S.A.Prüm £12.99
Germany | Mosel-Saar-Ruwer

There can be few names more highly regarded in the world of fine German wines than Prüm and this timeless Kabinett Mosel Riesling is a perpetual darling on the seemingly endless award’s circuit. Selected from some of their top vineyards in Wehlen, Graach and Zeltingen, located on steep, terraced slopes of classic slate soil, this beautiful Riesling combines the exemplary mouth-watering perfume and fruit of Middle Mosel Riesling with a refreshing and pronounced acidity. The conventionally low-alcohol levels associated with Riesling from this enduringly classic region, enables this wine to retain its youthful vigour and aromatic charm and at a smidgeon below £13 this really is an iconic wine at a very assessable price.

Paul & Philippe Zinck Riesling Portrait Range, Alsace 2012 £13.49
France | Alsace

Full of flavour and complexity and yet accessibly drinkable, the Riesling grapes for this deliciously dry Riesling come from the family-owned vineyards of Domaine Zinck, which are located in Eguisheim, the beautiful medieval Alsatian village, on the cusp of the Colmar and Vosges Mountains. Lemony with mineral notes, this is a full-bodied Riesling that is an excellent introduction to Alsatian Riesling because it will render you hankering for more.
Paracombe Riesling Holland Creek Vineyard 2010 £16.99
Australia | South Australia

A slightly more delicate style of Riesling compared to the Leasingham Bin 7 or the Dandelion incarnation, yet like the aforementioned this wine also earns plenty of critical acclaim. Beautifully clean and gracefully fresh, this wine exhibits dry, lifted aromas of pineapple, and limes and apples on the palate. A very versatile and delicious food wine, the steely, lengthy finish lingers long after the first taste.

Greywacke Marlborough Riesling 2012 £17.99
New Zealand | Marlborough

Made by the hugely respected Kevin Judd, founding winemaker at Cloudy Bay, the fruit for this stunning wine was sourced from mature vineyards in and around the Brancott Valley and the central Wairau Plains - an area noted for producing spectacular aromas – and the nose on this delicious wine is devilishly inviting. A bright, aromatic style with a palate that dances with a lively burst of lemon gelato – subtle sweetness and vivacious acidity skip in unison to produce a wine of finesse and tension, with silky floral highlights and tropical succulence. Well worth its price-tag and a fantastic example of New Zealand’s flourishing Riesling capacities.

Article first appeared in Under the Skin Magazine, Autumn Edition 2014. CellarVie Wines' quarterly print publication accompanies all orders on 


Written by: Ben Moss

Ben Moss 


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