A Review of Sweet Moscato and Riesling Wines

Updated on March 30, 2016

Sweet Whites: The Entry Point to the Wine World

It has been my experience as a wine consultant that the fastest selling varietals are often the sweet whites, either moscato or riesling. Especially for new wine drinkers, sweeter wines are the easiest to drink. They are often described as the most "smooth." This implies that a wine with more residual sugar is much easier on a newer palette, not being very dry and having zero tannins (which can create the "dry mouth" feeling). These factors make sweet wines ideal as an introduction to wine in general, and excellent stepping stones into drier wine territory.

In this article I will be providing a breakdown of the two most popular sweet wines, moscato and riesling. In terms of levels, it is more common for people to start with moscato, as it is sweeter, and then move on to riesling when moscato wines have become too sweet. Let's get started!

Which Is Sweeter, Moscato or Riesling?

Moscato
Riesling
Sweeter. A good introduction to wines.
Less sweet than moscato.
Usually from the US or Italy
Usually from the American Pacific Northwest or Germany.
Flavor notes include peach, honey, citrus, and tropical fruit.
Flavor notes include apple and pear.
Styles include Moscato D'Asti, which is naturally carbonated, and still, or non-carbonated.
Styles include Kabinett (least sweet), Spatlese, and Auslese (sweetest).
Look for DOCG D'Asti from Italy for best quality.
Look for late harvest varieties for sweeter flavor.
A very common moscato. This D'asti wine is extremely easy to find and is relatively inexpensive.
A very common moscato. This D'asti wine is extremely easy to find and is relatively inexpensive. | Source
Source
The most balanced moscato I have come across yet. It is sweet but not to sweet, so you can experience more complexity of flavors than most moscatos.
The most balanced moscato I have come across yet. It is sweet but not to sweet, so you can experience more complexity of flavors than most moscatos. | Source

Moscato

Let's start with the most easily recognizable white wine out there: Moscato. This is the wine that most people start out with, in part due to its sweetness. It is very easy to drink, especially for those with palates not yet suited for dry wines.

Moscato grapes are grown all over the world, but you will most likely find wines from the United States and Italy dominating the market. The characteristics that define moscato are:

  • peach
  • honey
  • citrus
  • tropical fruit

When buying moscato, there are two styles to look for. The first, and most popular, is Moscato D'Asti. This wine is carbonated, like champagne, but has fewer bubbles than champagne or soft drinks. Think of it more as a gentle bubble. Unless specified as D'Asti, the wine is just regular "still," meaning that it has no bubbles or carbonation. When purchasing a D'asti style moscato, I highly recommend sticking with a DOCG wine from Italy. This designation indicates that is of higher quality than others and that the carbonation is naturally occurring, not added after fermentation.

Try pairing these wines with equally sweet dessert style dishes and fruits such as chocolate, cheese cake, strawberries, or chicken dishes with a sweet glaze.

Some well known and easy to find moscatos include: Cupcake (Italy), Barefoot (California), Chocolate Box (Australia). Chocolate Box is less sweet than most and my personal choice.

A typical German Riesling. Try it next to a Washington or California riesling for the best comparison.
A typical German Riesling. Try it next to a Washington or California riesling for the best comparison. | Source
Polka Dot Riesling out of Washington. A very inexpensive and excellent beginner wine.
Polka Dot Riesling out of Washington. A very inexpensive and excellent beginner wine. | Source

Riesling

Riesling is the next step down in terms of the sweetness levels on white wines. This makes it the most excellent choice when looking for a less sweet wine after your moscato has become just too sweet to drink. This is often a sign that the palate has become more mature and that you are ready for a drier and more complex wine.

Riesling is a white grape that is most often planted in Germany, however there are also large plantings in California, Washington, and Oregon, just to name a few. This grape varietal prefers cooler weather. It should be noted that the vast majority of wines available commercially in the U.S. from Germany will be rieslings.

The wine can come in many different levels of sweetness, or in some cases not be sweet at all. These will be noted on the label with the word "dry." This is the varietal that I usually refer people to once moscato wines have become too sweet. While riesling is actually very sweet, from a technical standpoint, it is much more balanced than moscato due to its very high acidity levels. The characteristics that define this grape are apple and pear.

German rieslings are my personal recommendation to people looking for a different sweet white wine. The reason for this is the way that German wines are classified, which is based on how sweet the wine is. The breakdown, from least sweet to sweetest:

  • Kabinett
  • Spätlese
  • Auslese

Naturally there are many other classifications, but these are the ones that you will see most often.

As for American rieslings, these are often grown in cooler climates. The ones from Washington are the most preferred in my experience. They tend to be medium-level sweetness but some producers make several different rieslings with different names. A few things to look for are:

  • Late harvest or sweet varieties, most often from Hogue cellars. These rieslings are sweeter and more comparable to the auslese designation.
  • Other vineyards, such as the Pacific Rim in Washington, have three different rieslings they produce, including dry, select, late harvest, or others designated by the varietal name.

If you are looking to try a riesling, consider one of the following choices: Chateau St. Michelle (Washington), Pacific Rim (Washington), Wilhem Bergmann Spatlese (Germany).

Which do you prefer?

Which varietal do you prefer? Moscato or Riesling?

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© 2014 Logan Arredondo

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