How to Store Riesling: Know the Difference Between Aging Dry and Sweet Riesling Wines

How to Store Riesling

Ultra sweet Riesling lasts longer than most wines in your cellar because it has higher levels of residual sugar than dry wines. Photo Credit: Wikimedia CC user Tom Maack



 A few months ago, I got into a heated debate with my friend over which wines are more storage-worthy: sweet German Riesling or dry German Riesling? My friend was convinced that sweet Riesling is the only Riesling worth storing long term because it is the original expression of Germany’s terroir. He claims they have perfected the maturation of these bottles over the centuries, resulting in a more age-worthy wine. I disagreed. To start, Germany has centuries of experience making a wide range of Riesling styles, from syrupy to bone dry. Additionally, drinking habits vary by country, and American drinkers actually buy more sweet Riesling, on average, than their German peers. Many Germans prefer a mineral-heavy Trocken to an Auslese.

The reality is that both sweet and dry Riesling can be worth storing long term, but to encourage these wines to mature properly, you’ll need to know how to store Riesling according to the wine’s level of sweetness.

How to Store Riesling That’s Sweet

My friend was correct about one thing: the finest sweet Riesling will usually last far longer in a cellar than the finest dry vintage. That’s because residual sugar plays a major role in the wine’s development over time. Leftover sugar molecules change in flavor as they sit in the bottle, which can give a sweet wine more personality in its old age. Many wines “dry out” as they mature, so having excess sugar from the beginning protects the wine from becoming too dull when it reaches age 50.

But in my experience, the reason why many collectors choose to age their sweet Riesling for decades comes down to how the wine performs in its middle age. All Riesling styles have a striking primary fruit flavor in their youth, however, as the wine ages, this fruit goes through a dull phase–the fruit flavors soften before the wine has had the chance to develop its complex secondary and tertiary flavors. I’ve found that many dry Riesling vintages taste awkward and almost unpleasant during this dull phase, whereas sweeter vintages retain some of their original appeal.

Knowing that sweet Riesling will age longer, on average, than dry wines, and that their flavors are more consistent over time, it’s extremely important to store sweet Riesling professionally. There are two reasons for this. First, since your wine could potentially age for more than 50 years, you need to ensure that your storage conditions remain consistent over this long span of time, with almost no fluctuation in temperature or humidity. Professional storage can provide this stability. Second, when you go with a full-service professional storage warehouse, you can have your wine shipped directly to you whenever you want to drink one of your bottles. Sweet Riesling is one of the few wines that drinks well throughout its life, even in its “dumb” phase, so whatever storage option you choose, make sure you have access to your bottles at-will. It’s best not to store these wines under bond if you plan on drinking any of them before they hit peak maturity.

How to Store Riesling That’s Dry

Although sweet Riesling typically outlasts dry Riesling both in age and consistency, high-quality dry Riesling vintages, like those from Donnhoff or Grunhaus, are still worthy of a space in your cellar; you simply need to think differently about their storage. First, decide whether your dry Riesling is a wine that you want to age to its fullest, or crack open early. Since these wines tend to go through a dull phase, you may want to keep the bottles in a professional warehouse or at the back of your cellar until they’re fully mature so that you’re not tempted to drink them too soon. I’ve known many collectors who regret opening their drier bottles of JJ Prum too early. In this case, storing your wine under bond could also prove beneficial.

However, if you’re simply looking for a short term storage solution because you plan on drinking your Riesling in its youth, a basic home wine cellar will suffice. Make sure that your cellar temperature stays around 55 degrees, and avoid storing your wine longterm in a wine fridge that’s colder than that. Cold temperatures shut the maturity process down. You still want some of the flavors to develop while the wine is in storage, even if you plan on drinking the wine early.

Storing in One Location

The aging success of any Riesling depends on acidity levels, in addition to residual sugar. You might notice this lip-puckering acidity more in a dry wine, however, even the sweetest styles of high-quality Riesling will also have pronounced acidity levels. What this means is that Riesling is one of the most versatile wine varietals you will ever own–both dry and sweet wines have enough acidity in them to last for decades. With this fact in mind, you’ll need to have a storage method that’s as multifaceted as the wines themselves. You could store some of your young, dry wines in a wine fridge at home while you keep your rich, sweet Riesling in a wine locker, but you might also want to consider consolidating your Riesling collection and storing it all in one place.

Full-service professional storage warehouses will enter your bottles into online storage apps like VinCellar to make it easy to see which vintages you have in storage. You also won’t be tempted to open your bottles before they’re ready, but you’ll still have the freedom to pull your bottles whenever you like. I recommend buying and professionally storing a few cases of dry and a few of sweet 2015 German Riesling now, and slowly drinking your dry vintages while you wait for your sweeter wines to mature.

Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s best wine.

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