If you’re a white wine lover, you may be wondering about the difference between Riesling vs Gewürztraminer.
These are two of my favorite aromatic white wines. And they both thrive in cool climate regions. But if you look closer, you’ll discover a lot of differences.
As a WSET Level 3 wine expert, I’m here to be your guide. Join me as we explore these popular white wines.
From acidity to alcohol to aromas, I’ll break down what sets each apart. Plus, provide tips on pairing them with the perfect dishes. And choosing the right one for your palate!
BTW, if you haven’t yet, make sure to grab my free Wine Tasting Planner. It has 20+ wine night theme ideas, including the exact ones I’ve used for my wine tastings. Plus, a timeline, food pairings, games, free printables, worksheets, and more. Get your copy here.
Riesling vs Gewürztraminer: Main Differences
In short, Riesling is known for its high acidity and lower alcohol levels. Gewürztraminer tends to have lower acidity but higher alcohol content. Flavor-wise, Riesling leans toward citrus and stone fruits, while Gewürztraminer brings intense florals, spices, and lychee notes.
Riesling is a pretty old grape variety, dating back to the 1400s. It’s actually the offspring of Gouais Blanc, the parent grape of other popular wines like Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.
It’s believed to come from the Rhine River region, which snakes down through Germany and into France’s Alsace region.
Back in the 15th century, Riesling was grown by monks in the area. But it really started taking off in the 1600s and 1700s.
There was a surge of plantings in Germany and Alsace. And by the 1800s, it became so popular that it was selling for prices as high as top-quality Bordeaux and Burgundy wines.
Then, World War 1 and 2 threw a wrench in things. Many of Germany’s vineyards were destroyed. And the surviving Riesling vines were made to overproduce, pumping out cheap sweet wines sold in those iconic blue bottles.
Thankfully since the mid-1990s, Riesling has made a major comeback. Now, you can easily find high-quality versions. And it’s become the wine that sommeliers and wine lovers can’t get enough of.
Compared to Riesling, Gewürztraminer (pronounced “guh-vertz-trah-mee-ner”) is a much younger grape.
Official records of Gewürztraminer winemaking date back to 1827 in Germany. But it’s believed to have come from Northern Italy near a town called Tramin.
The name comes from the German word “Gewürz,” meaning spice, capturing its unique, spicy character. And it’s a mutation of the ancient grape Savignon (aka Traminer), which is also the parent of Sauvignon Blanc.
Today, it’s found its home in France’s Alsace region, where it’s one of the four noble grape varieties that can be used for Grand Cru wines.
Gewürztraminer’s strong aroma and flavor might not be everyone’s cup of tea (or wine), but it has a dedicated fanbase. Its unique spicy and perfumed qualities, along with its versatility in food pairings, make it a favorite among wine enthusiasts who appreciate its unique character.
Differences in the Vineyard
Riesling thrives in a cooler climate. These vines are tough, surviving the harsh conditions of cold winters. Plus, they bud late, avoiding damage from spring frosts.
These grapes are also late ripeners. Growers often plant on south-facing slopes so the vines can get as much sun as possible.
But the good news is that Riesling’s naturally higher acidity means you can leave it on the vine longer. That’s why it’s often used for late-harvest wines like ice wine and noble rot wines.
In cooler climates, Riesling grapes tend to make wines with more green fruit and floral notes. Moderate temperatures and riper fruit bring citrus and stone fruit. But they can lose some of their delicateness.
Like Riesling, Gewürztraminer grapes do better in cooler climates. But in this case, it’s because they’re early ripeners. That means sugar levels can get pretty high in warm regions.
Cooler temps help slow down the process. This prevents Gewürztraminer’s floral characteristics from getting too overpowering. And alcohol levels from getting too high.
Now, Gewürztraminer also needs plenty of sun and not too much rain. That’s because it’s susceptible to all kinds of vine diseases (think mildew and rot).
The grape’s thick pink skins give wines a golden hue with hints of copper.
If you want to get nerdy, Gewürztraminer’s spicy notes come from terpenes. These organic compounds give it a perfumed fragrance. And the lychee-like aroma is from linalool.
Differences in Winemaking
Riesling is most often made as a single varietal wine, meaning it’s rarely blended with other grapes.
Because it’s an aromatic grape variety, the focus of winemaking is to preserve its crispness and intense aromas and flavors. Stainless steel is most commonly used for a cool fermentation.
But in Alsace, some producers still use the traditional large oak barrels. These have thick tartrate deposits from decades of use. So, they don’t add any flavors to the wine.
Malolactic fermentation (converting the malo acid to lactic acid) is almost always avoided, along with lees contact.
Riesling is super versatile. Historically, it was made in a sweet style to balance out the sky-high acidity. And it’s ideal for dessert wines like ice wine and noble rot wines. But these days, you’ll find many that are dry or off-dry.
Riesling is also great for making sparkling wine (again, naturally high acidity). And now you might even see it as a skin-contact orange wine.
Now, let’s dive into Gewürztraminer winemaking, which has many similarities to Riesling.
First off, you won’t often see Gewürztraminer as a blend. Although you might stumble upon some budget-friendly field-blend styles from Alsace.
Cool fermentation typically occurs in stainless steel tanks. This keeps things fresh and vibrant, preserving those lovely floral and spicy aromas. And malolactic fermentation is avoided to maintain what little acidity the wine has.
Some winemakers opt for a little extra skin contact to boost color and aroma complexity.
Gewürztraminer can range from dry to sweet, just like Riesling. And you’ll find dessert style wines made from grapes affected by noble rot.
However, the winemaker has to strike the right harmony between the sweetness and the grape’s lower acidity levels to ensure it the wine still tastes balanced.
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Riesling vs Gewürztraminer Taste
What does riesling taste like?
Riesling’s naturally high acidity makes each sip a mouthwatering delight. Its light body and low alcohol keep things crisp and refreshing.
Riesling wine can be made in various styles, from dry to off-dry, semi-sweet, or sweet, catering to all palates.
As an aromatic wine, Riesling packs a punch. You’ll get zesty citrus notes like Meyer lemon and lime, along with green fruits like apple and pear.
Riper versions bring stone fruit flavors like nectarine and apricot. And it often has some subtle floral notes, though it’s not as extra as Gewürztraminer.
Riesling is one of the most ageable white wines. Over time, it develops flavors of honey and toast. And even a unique petrol smell. This is thanks to a chemical called TDN. But don’t worry, it’s safe to drink!
What does Gewürztraminer taste like?
Unlike Riesling, Gewürztraminer has moderate to low acidity. Plus, because it ripens early, it can have high alcohol levels.
Now, let’s talk mouthfeel. This wine is typically full-bodied, often with a slightly oily texture.
When it comes to aromas, think intense floral vibes like rose petals and orange blossom. Plus, a distinct lychee aroma (a tropical fruit native to China). When grapes are allowed to ripen too much, this can be overpowering.
You’ll also get hints of sweet spices and ginger. And citrus flavors like pink grapefruit.
It’s a common misconception that Gewürztraminer wine is always sweet. The floral and fruit notes often make it smell sweet. But it can come in a range of styles, with many on the dry side.
Top Wine Regions
- Germany: Riesling’s homeland, where it’s the top grape. Regions like Pfalz, Mosel, and Rheinhessen produce Qualitätswein, typically dry, and Prädikatswein, which varies in sweetness based on must weight. Look out for Grosses Gewächs (GG), the cream of the crop.
- France: It’s the most widely planted grape in Alsace. Here, it’s all about dry Rieslings, although you’ll find some dessert-style wines. Most have high acidity and aromas of citrus and stone fruits. Expect a stony, steely character, with less floral notes than Germany.
- Austria: You’ll find Riesling in Wachau, Kamptal, and Kremstal. These are typically dry and medium to full-bodied, offering ripe, peachy primary fruit. But you’ll also see some sweet styles.
- Australia: Down under, Clare Valley and Eden Valley are known for Riesling. These wines are often bone-dry, with refreshingly high acidity and zesty lime aromas.
- United States: New York State’s Finger Lakes region has become famous for dry, mineral-driven Rieslings. Try ones from Seneca Lake wineries and Keuka Lake wineries. You’ll also find Riesling grown in the Pacific Northwest in Washington State. And in California’s cooler regions, like Monterey and Santa Barbara.
- New Zealand: The Kiwis embrace Riesling in regions like Gisbourne, Waitaki Valley, Wairarapa, Marlborough, Central Otago, Nelson, and Canterbury. Here, it leans toward a fruit-forward off-dry style.
- France: In Alsace, Gewürztraminer makes up a quarter of the vineyards and is one of the region’s four noble grapes. AOC-level wines are typically dry to off-dry. Grand Cru will have more complexity, concentration, and aging potential. Late-harvest wines (Vendanges Tardives) may be dry or sweet. And Selections de Grains Noble, made from botrytis-affected grapes, offer concentrated sweetness.
- Northern Italy: Gewürztraminer possibly found its roots in Alto Adige, at the foothills of the Alps. The higher altitude brings bright acidity and a more elegant, mineral-driven style. These are typically dry or off-dry.
- Austria: Gewürztraminer is grown in Styria and Burgenland. These are often made in a dessert wine style.
- Germany: In regions like Baden and Pfalz, you’ll find richer styles of Gewürztraminer.
- Spain: The Penedès region in Northeastern Spain, also home to Cava, grows a bit of Gewürztraminer.
- United States: Gewürztraminer is grown in California’s Sonoma and Monterey, along with New York’s Finger Lakes and the Pacific Northwest’s Washington and Oregon.
- Chile: In the southern parts, like Bío Bío and Itata Valleys, you’ll find fresh, fruity Gewürztraminers.
- Australia: While the climate can be on the warm side for this grape, some regions still experiment with Gewürztraminer.
- Canada: The cold conditions of this northerly country make it ideal for producing ice wines from Gewürztraminer.
Differences in Price
Riesling offers options for every wallet size. The price will vary by region, winery, and quality of the wine.
Under $10, most will be mass-produced in a sweet style. On the other end, you could splurge on premium Rieslings for upwards of $50. These will have incredible complexity and aging potential. You’ll most often find these from Germany and Alsace, France.
For the sweet spot, look in the $15 to $30 range. This is where you get the best bang for your buck, with wines that bring good balance, complexity, and concentration to the table. They can be found in Old World regions. But keep an eye out for gems from the Finger Lakes, NY, Australia, and New Zealand.
Gewürztraminer prices run the gamut. Budget-friendly bottles will usually fall in the $10 to $20 zone. These can be a great value, given it’s not as popular of a wine as Riesling.
Moving up to the $20 to $40 range, you’ll find excellent quality and more complexity. And if you’re feeling fancy, premium versions like Alsace Grand Cru or dessert-style wines can be had for upwards of $40.
Serving Temperatures & Glass Styles
How to serve riesling
Most Rieslings can age very well, thanks to high acidity and flavor intensity. But if you don’t have the patience to wait (or the cellar to store it), then they’re delicious in their youth too.
Serve Riesling chilled to a crisp 45 to 50° F (7-10° C). Grab a classic white wine glass to best savor its powerful aromas. And no need to decant. Just pour, sip, and enjoy!
How to serve Gewürztraminer
Given its lower acidity, Gewürztraminer usually doesn’t hold up over time. So don’t stash that special bottle and forget about it.
Like Riesling, you’ll want to serve it chilled at a refreshing 45 to 50° F (7-10° C). Although, you can go a little warmer due to Gewürztraminer’s fuller body. A white wine glass does the trick. And again, skip the decanting.
Forgot to put your vino in the fridge? Check out the secret of how to chill wine fast.
Wine and Food Pairings
riesling Food Pairing
Riesling is one of the most food-friendly white wines. With its lively acidity and range of sweetness levels, it’s a great match for everything from Asian food to apple pie.
And Riesling shines with spicy food! Cool down the heat of Indian and Asian dishes. And soothe the burn of cayenne pepper and Sichuan pepper.
When it comes to cheese, think soft cow’s milk varieties like brie. But stay away from the stinky kind.
It also works with hard-to-pair veggies like asparagus and Brussels sprouts. Or match the slight sweetness in squash, bell pepper, and eggplant.
For sweeter style Rieslings, go for fruit or citrus-based desserts like strawberry shortcake and lemon tarts. Or milk chocolate makes a good match too.
Gewürztraminer Food Pairing
Although not quite as food-friendly as Riesling, Gewürztraminer works with a variety of dishes.
It’s a Thanksgiving superstar, effortlessly handling all the different flavors on your plate. And you can save any leftover bottles of wine for Christmas. Because it’s also a great match for glazed ham.
Now, let’s talk spice. While sweeter styles of Gewürztraminer can handle spicy foods, it’s not quite the perfect match like Riesling. Especially higher alcohol versions that can increase that burning sensation. But Gewürztraminer’s spiced notes make it a natural choice for ginger-infused dishes.
When it comes to cheese, think soft and somewhat stinky. Munster is the classic pairing. But sweeter styles work with blue cheese too.
And when it’s time for dessert, Gewürztraminer doesn’t disappoint. Go for one with a little residual sugar and pair it with treats like pumpkin pie, sorbet, or baklava.
Riesling vs. Gewürztraminer: Which is Right for You?
Deciding between Riesling and Gewürztraminer comes down to your personal preference. And whether you’re pairing it with food (if so, see above).
If you’re into the zing of light, high-acid wines with that burst of fresh, fruity goodness, a youthful Riesling is your jam. But if you’re all about the honeyed complexity that comes with age, an older vintage is where it’s at.
Now, for the adventurous, Gewürztraminer brings a bouquet of perfume and spice. It’s got that moderate acidity, so it’s a bit gentler on the bite. And hey, sometimes, it’s good to try something a little different!
Check out these other wine comparisons, including Sauvignon Blanc vs Pinot Grigio, Prosecco vs Moscato, and Brut vs Extra Dry Champagne. And learn about other great white wines with the 10 best Spanish white wines.
Do you prefer Riesling or Gewürztraminer?