The geometry of wine and multidimensional Riesling

The best wines of any grape are multidimensional. But with Riesling, people often get caught up only on sweetness. In fact, there’s other stuff going on, such as acidity and sometimes minerality.

This fact came up in Monday’s panel discussion at the “Riesling Fellowship” In New York City. Held for only the third time ever, the event switched to the US, the largest market by value for Riesling, after two sessions in the UK, the largest market for Riesling by volume. Many top Riesling producers from Germany, Austria, Australia, France, Canada and the US poured their wares at this Riesling-palooza.

In the panel on how Riesling ages, Kirk Willie of Weingut Dr. Loosen mentioned how he thinks of Riesling as a tetrahedron, a three-dimensional geometrical shape akin to a pyramid, with four triangular sides. Afterward, he elaborated that the sides correspond roughly to acidity, sweetness, alcohol, and intensity.

Nik Weis, of Weingut St. Urbans-Hof in the Mosel thinks of Riesling more as a parallelogram with the four sides being acidity, sweetness, alcohol and minerality. Ideally, they are in balance but if one predominated, then the parallelogram became contorted. He had another way for mapping the flavors of Riesling on overlapping axes of length (body, viscosity, alcohol, sugar), width (flavor spectrum), and depth (minerality and acidity).

Although it’s probably easy to overthink this, it is helpful to break down the Riesling into multiple aspects and get away from simply thinking sweet. What works the best of me is to think of it as a part of hanging mobile made up of a of shapes–tetrahedrons and parallelograms if you want!–representing sugar, acidity, alcohol, intensity, minerality and terroir.

Which shape is a Riesling for you? And which shapes would you associate with other grapes? I’m going with a big ol’ cylinder for Cabernet Sauvignon.

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7 Responses to “The geometry of wine and multidimensional Riesling”

  1. As long as there is Acidity to back the Sweetness tho I do prefer Kabinet Sweetness, and if it has a hint of petrol then bingo its the Riesling for me. Had a 93 Spatlese Riesling this Summer and MMMMMM was so good had it with the main course to with our dinner at Fuel Restaurant (the Sommelier/Owner has a Riesling Section on his wine list yummy)

  2. Personally, I like my riesling in two circumstances. First I like the majority of Kabinetts/Spatelese with some age 7-8 years or more when the petrol nose begins to dominate and the components are more integrated so the sweetness is there, but less pronounced.

    Second, the “Erstes Gewachs” or “Great Growths” which by definition are made “dry”, but still have a hint of residual sweetness in them. Love these wines and they allow for even greater food pairing as with the aged wines above.

  3. For whatever reason, I always visually associate Merlot with some kind of nebulous purple blob… but one that has legs and a face. So basically “Grimace” from McDonaldland.

    I’m sure there are a few rive droite producers who wouldn’t care to hear that comparison.

  4. @Jesse….love the anthropomorphication (geez, is that a word?) of Merlot…nice!

    I wrote about Finger Lakes rieslings not long ago, and was griping that so many people think the only riesling there is is sweet…drives me nuts when I try to serve it at a pouring and people put their fingers up in the shape of a crucifix. It’s got a bum rap, that’s for sure.

  5. WineWench – Agree strongly on Finger Lakes Rieslings, and yet I harbor some optimism. Instead of trying to mimic Mosel or Alsace, the best Finger Lakes winemakers (maybe a dozen out of the 106) are making electric, nearly totally dry Rieslings. In the long run I believe this will turn out to be a strong way to differentiate the region.

  6. What I like about the pyramid example as that it lends itself to an understanding of time’s effect on the different sides of the pyramid. Certain flavor profiles may erode, allowing greater strength to the other 3 faces.

  7. Could it be that the warm weather Rieslings (ie Australian) finished truly dry have redirected the consumer’s waning attention to this variety and its facets?


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