Lab Notes


Seeking a Perfect Tone: Discovering the Intricacies of Riesling

Here’s a story about a professional violinist that doubles as a story about one of the greatest wines on the planet: The violinist walks into an audition for a spot in a prestigious symphony orchestra. He pulls out his violin and starts to play, but the conductor stops him abruptly after only a minute. He says, “Thank you for coming in, but the sound just isn’t quite what we’re looking for.” The violinist replies, “Will you give me a second chance?” The conductor agrees. The violinist runs out to his car, returns with a second violin, and starts to play again. Once again the conductor stops him and says, “I appreciate the effort, but it’s still not quite right.” The violinist begs for another try, runs to his car to retrieve yet a different violin, and starts to play again. The conductor’s ears perk up and he says, “It’s getting there, but the tone is still a little dull.” A fourth time the violinist goes to his car and returns with another violin. This time, the conductor beams as the violinist produces exactly the tone and character he’s looking for. “Perfect,” he says. Riesling is among the world’s greatest—and most misunderstood—white wines. Riesling’s two defining characteristics are its natural acidity and sugar levels. This means it can be made in a sweet dessert style, a ripe and rich style, a bone-dry style, and a thousand styles in between. It all depends on where it’s grown and what the winemaker’s intention for the wine is. It’s no wonder that wine drinkers can become polarized by Riesling if they haven’t tried many: if you’re not a fan of sweet wines but the only Riesling you’ve tried has been a sweet one, what’s to stop you from thinking that all Rieslings are sweet—and why would you keep exploring a wine that you don’t like drinking? But Riesling begs for another chance—and maybe another, and yet another—until you find one that you fall in love with. It will sing different tones, depending on where it’s from: sharp lime zest from Australia; pungent slate and green apple from the Mosel; peaches, honey and white flowers from the Pfalz; lemon pith and lemongrass from Austria; ripe apple and pear from Washington. If you’re patient and adventurous enough, Riesling will light up your taste buds and make a lasting impact like no other wine can.

Author: Karina Roe



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