Riesling – how sweet is it?

Riesling can be anything between bone-dry and lusciously sweet, but there is often little indication of this fundamental difference on the label.

An international group of Riesling producers called the International Riesling Foundation (IRF) have come up with a precise sweetness scale that winemakers can display on their labels for no charge. It shows a scale ranging from dry to sweet with a marker indicating exactly where the wine sits.

It’s an incredibly useful guide when buying Riesling and it also helps Riesling drinkers calibrate sweetness levels. I think that every bottle of Riesling made in this country should have this scale on their back label. Only about one-fifth of Riesling bottles carry the IRF scale (below).

Riesling scale

I’m part way through a Riesling tasting at the moment. I have 54 bottles of New Zealand Riesling waiting to be tasted. Only 11 of them have the scale, although wines are described as “Dry” which is also helpful.

Riesling drinkers should boycott producers that don’t display the IRF scale.

In the meantime, if you must buy a Riesling without the scale, alcohol level can offer a (rough) guide to sweetness:

  • Over 12% alc. – the wine is likely to be dry to medium/dry
  • 10-12% alc. – medium/dry to medium
  • Less than 10% – medium to sweet

Here are some wineries that do have the IRF scale on their labels (there are many others):

Central Otago





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