To borrow from Stephen Colbert, there is a "truthiness" about Riesling that unfortunately overshadows the truth. The truthiness is that Riesling is inherently sweet. The truth is that most Rieslings are so dry that the Garden of Eden would lose all its foliage if watered with a magnum. So let's start another conversation about Riesling, focusing on four things: balance, delicacy, complexity and sense of place.
We sometimes think of balance as one-dimensional. In fact, balance in wine requires a multiplicity of things—acids, sugars, pH levels, alcohol, magic dust—all in perfect alignment. And the cool thing about Riesling is that when one of these factors moves across the spectrum, the others shift to maintain equilibrium. There is no precise formula to measure balance; we just know it when we feel it. And what we feel with a glass of Riesling in our hand is what tightrope walker Philippe Petit feels every day at work.
Delicacy does not mean fragility or excessive sensitivity. Ultimately, the delicacy we yearn for in wine is a physiological rallying cry leading from one sip to a second. The palate should be so intrigued by what the wine has done to the taste buds that it cannot resist the opportunity to experience it again. With Riesling, one taste begs for another.
Complexity Put on your seat belt, because the journey through the various aromas and flavors of Riesling is a thrill ride that even Six Flags could not map out. Around every bend are citrus fruits, stone fruits, fruits that haven't even been named yet, coupled with floral overtones and buttressed by minerality that's like a quarry of boulders.
A grape's ability to express the land in which it's grown is one of the world's great mysteries (slightly below our fascination with Kim Kardashian). We recognize the existence of terroir when we line up five glasses of Riesling, from different places, and recognize the differences between them. That is Mother Earth screaming at us in liquid form!
Ultimately, the measure of truthfulness in Riesling is the happiness it creates. Your brain reels after every sip; your toes tingle so much you cannot put your socks on. As Ben Franklin famously said, wine is constant proof that God loves us. And with Riesling, we know God loves us absolutely.
Paul Grieco is co-owner of Hearth restaurant and Terroir wine bars in NYC.