There are those who say riesling is the world's noblest grape: infinite in variety, versatile in food pairings, inspiring in its subtlety, so pure that winemakers almost never blend it with other grapes or age it in wood barrels.
Most of those people, unfortunately, are not Americans.
We don't understand riesling. Its labels are hard to read, its sweetness-dryness rules are hard to comprehend. We've heard it's sweet, and that scares us. We're not sure what foods it goes with.
Well, the best way to get past this is to practice. Practice drinking riesling. See which you like, which you don't. (It's not as if the homework is unpleasant.)
Sweet vs. dry
Here's an oversimplified but workable rule about sweetness to get started: The average table wine has an alcohol level of about 12 percent. That's the level you reach in fermentation when the yeast has turned all the grape sugars into alcohol.
• If a wine has less than 12 percent alcohol, there are some sugars remaining, and the wine will taste sweet. Sweet rieslings can be 11 percent, 9 percent, sometimes even 6 percent alcohol.
• If a wine has more than 12 percent alcohol, it will taste dry. Some dry rieslings reach 13.5 percent alcohol and more. These, not surprisingly, are powerful wines.
I've listed the alcohol levels in the tasting notes below, but you can find them on the labels.
• Sweet rieslings go well with spicy foods. The sweetness seems to sooth the palate for the next fiery bite. So they're great with Caribbean, Chinese, Thai, even Cajun dishes.
• Dry rieslings go well with creamy cheeses, chicken and fish with creamy sauces, grilled seafood, roast pork, risottos.
So get out there and practice.