Late Harvest Riesling: Why You Should Try These Amazing White Wines

Late harvest Riesling is a popular type of wine because they have higher sugar content. While there are multiple kinds of late harvest wines on the market, this post will focus on Riesling. Before going further, let’s unpack the meaning of late harvest wines.

Late Harvest Riesling wine from Germany
Late Harvest Riesling Wine From Germany’s Mosel River Valley

What Is Late Harvest Riesling?

Depending on the location, wine grapes are harvested at different times in wine country. I previously discussed the question – “When is Grape Season?” – in a post. The definition of late harvest wines is simple. Late harvest grapes are usually picked 4-8 weeks after the other grapes are picked up.

Picking wine grapes later in the season has a few effects. First, wine grapes tend to develop higher sugar content and lower acidity. When the natural sugar level gets too high, the wine may become unbalanced. Fortunately, Riesling grapes have significant natural acidity. As a result, these late harvest grapes made a bottle of excellent rich wine. When you have rich wine to enjoy, it’s vital to take a moment to consider temperature serving questions like should Riesling be chilled?

Late Harvest Riesling Flavor

Before buying a late harvest Riesling from Washington State, Germany, or other northernly wine regions, you probably wonder how this wine tastes. This type of wine offers citrus flavors and honeyed sweetness. This level of sweetness means these wines pair effectively with dessert foods.

How To Serve Late Riesling Wines

For the best experience, Wine Folly suggests pouring late Riesling wines in dessert wine glasses. It is an excellent recommendation – let me explain why. These sweet wines are best sipped in small amounts. You are more likely to drink the wine slowly and in small amounts by drinking from a small wine glass.

Regarding wine serving temperature, aim to serve this wine at 45–55ºF (7–13ºC). If you are serving this wine in the hot summer months, you may want to use an ice water bucket to keep the wine cold. Keeping the wine in an ice bucket is less necessary in colder weather.

Tip: Wondering how to serve other popular varieties of white wine? Start with learning the answer to do you chill Chardonnay?

Late Harvest Wines vs Regular Harvest

Harvest timing has a significant effect on how late harvest Riesling tastes. Let’s break it down with three examples assuming you are making wine in a cooler climate like Germany, Alsace, or Ontario.

Regular Harvest Riesling

In a cool climate, the traditional harvest time for Riesling wine is August to September. The exact timing depends on the winemaking region and the objective of the wine producer. 

Late Harvest Wine

Adopting a late-harvest wine harvest schedule makes sense for wine producers who want more than a hint of sweetness. For example, Riesling Spätlese, a fully-ripened Riesling in Germany, is typically harvested in mid to late September when cool temperatures start to appear.

Some wine producers aim for an even higher level of sugar concentration. Some producers pick their wine grapes late in the follow in German winemaking. You’ll typically see this type of wine – Riesling Auslese – picked in November and December.

Ice Wines

Ice wines are the last significant type in this short guide to wine styles. These world-class wines are typically harvested as winter cold takes hold. Ice wines are often harvested in a cool climate wine country like Ontario in December or January.

Since ice wines require working in climatic extremes, they tend to be priced into the premium wines category. Ice wines cost more because they are more challenging to produce. It isn’t easy to select grapes that have frozen to the right level to make ice wine. Fortunately, these sweet wines are often worth the price. The high levels of residual sugar make these wines quite enjoyable.

Most wine drinkers drink dry wines, so trying sweeter styles takes an adjustment. It is usually best to pour yourself a small serving and sip the wine slowly over dessert.

Late Harvest Riesling vs Semi-Sweet Riesling

As you browse for different Riesling options, you may encounter various options like semi sweet Riesling. At that point, you’re probably wondering whether these wines are different. The key difference to keep in mind is residual sugar. Let’s illustrate this point with a few examples.

Late Harvest Riesling Sugar Content

Sperling Late Harvest Riesling

This Canadian Riesling wine from the Okanagan valley has 10.5% alcohol content and residual sugar content of 123.0 g/L. It is also interesting to note that the winemaker has a long-standing interest in working with Botrytis Cinerea, a beneficial fungus that contributes to sweeter wines.

Late Harvest Riesling 2019 (13 th Street Winery)

Produced in Ontario, this white wine has an 11.5% alcohol level and a residual sugar content of 86 g/L. As you can see, this wine has a dramatically lower sugar level than the wine mentioned above. This difference shows the limitations of relying too much on broad descriptions like “late harvest Riesling.” As you taste more wines, it is helpful to ask questions about sugar content to learn what you like.

Semi-Sweet Riesling Sugar Content

Pelee Island Lighthouse Semi-Sweet Riesling

In contrast to the sweeter style wines covered above, this Ontario wine has 12% alcohol content and a residual sugar level of 35 g/L. If you are trying to avoid concentrated sugar in your diet, a semi sweet Riesling might be a good choice. Also, you might find this guide to low sugar wines helpful.

Riesling Semi-Sweet Wine (Byland Estate Winery)

This 100% Riesling wine is described as semi-sweet. Yet, this white wine has an even lower residual sugar level: 20 g/L. The Niagara-on-the-Lake wine also has an 11% alcohol content. Also, you’ll notice flavors of apricot in your wine glass.

Tip: Wine bottle labels do not always list the sugar content in the bottle. Instead, you may need to look up the wine on the winemaker website. Whether you are looking for a producer of wine wines or standard table wines, most winery websites have detailed data available on their wines.

Food Pairings

1 Dessert and Fruit Pies

As a honey-like dessert wine, this white wine works well with fruity sweetness. In particular, try this wine with lemon cream pie or lemon pound cake. These food pairings work because the natural sweetness of the wine matches the fruity sweetness of the wine. Combining the lemony notes of the wine and lemon curd in a dessert, you get a great blend.

What if you prefer some variety? Apple dessert pairings are another great choice with Riesling. You might also try ordering (or making!) orange muffins—the citrus in the orange pairs well with the acidity in the wine.

2 Spicy Food

Aside from dessert options, other food pairings work well. In particular, spicy foods pair well with late Riesling wine. The sweetness of the wine does well to balance the dish’s heat.

Order a glass of late harvest Riesling for your next spicy Thai green dish. It might help you handle the spicy much better than downing glass after glass of water. In contrast, dry Riesling goes well with a Peking duck.

3 Late Harvest Riesling Cheese Pairings

No guide to food pairings would be complete without covering cheese pairings. In general, blue cheese is the best bet.

What if you don’t happen to like those cheeses? You can try many other kinds of food, including desserts and spicy foods. Riesling is famously food-friendly that works with many different foods.

The Best Late Harvest Riesling Wine Under $50

Ready to head over to your local wine shop and pick up a few wine bottles? Use this guide to find a few affordable wines from different countries.

German Wines

German Riesling is widely respected for a good reason – the country put Riesling on the map. Also, Germany has a refined system of classifying sweet Riesling wines. To find late harvest Riesling in the German wine section, look for the term “Spätlese” on the wine bottle label. Ask for the following wines

Joh. Jos. Prum Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese

With an average price of $47 per bottle, this lush dessert wine from the Mosel region of Germany is an excellent choice. Joh. Jos. Prum is widely considered one of Germany’s most important wine producers, so this is a great place to start your journey into German Rieslings. The flavor profile includes green apple, peach, and apple notes.

Schloss Lieser-Thomas Haag Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese

This German Riesling wine typically sells for about $39. Also, from the Mosel wine region, Schloss Lieser-Thomas Haag has earned an average wine critic score of 93 out of 100. The winery is exclusively dedicated to Riesling wine grapes. You benefit from a wine producer who profoundly understands what makes Riesling great.

Muller-Catoir Gimmeldinger Mandelgarten Riesling Spatlese

You can buy this late harvest Riesling for about $40-45 in the US. The winery has been in business since 1744. By pouring yourself a glass of this wine, you’ll be connected to one of Germany’s older wineries. The flavor profile includes notes of apricot, peach, and pear. Also, the wine offers notes of lemon and citrus.

American Wines

When it comes to wine produced in the United States, many people think of California wines. In reality, the US has multiple exceptional wine regions. For Riesling, northern states like Washington and New York are often a good starting point.

Hermann J. Wiemer Late Harvest Riesling

Produced in the Finger Lakes region of New York, this Riesling wine sells for under $30. It is also an excellent low alcohol option – it ranges from 8.6 to 9.3% alcohol content. Picking up a low alcohol wine is a good choice if you are concerned about drinking too much alcohol.

Ch’teau Ste Michelle Late Harvest Riesling

This Washington Riesling delights wine drinkers with peach and pear flavors. The acidity in the wine gives it enough balance to keep up with spicy Thai food. Ch’teau Ste Michelle’s other dry Rieslings are better known, so make sure you check them out.

Hogue Late Harvest Riesling

Produced in the Columbia Valley of Washington, this Riesling is available for less than $20. That makes it a good starting place if you are just getting started with this type of white wine. The wine offers peach and tangerine flavors.

Washington Hills Late Harvest Riesling (under $20)

This Washington State Riesling wine is an affordable way to explore late ripening table wine. The fruit aspect of this wine includes peach, apple and honey. Those who like orchard fruit flavors will find a lot to like in this 9% alcohol by volume wine. It’s also a screw top wine so it’s easy to enjoy.

Canadian Wines

Canada has a long history of producing top quality Riesling and ice wine in a cool climate. Compared to Europe, Canadian wine is not as well known internationally. That is significant because you can often get the finest dessert wines at a great price.

Cave Spring Indian Summer Select Late Harvest Riesling

Produced in Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula, this white wine offers 12% alcohol content and a variety of exciting flavors. You’ll notice oaky notes like caramel and chocolate from aging the wine in oak wine barrels. The wine’s fruity notes include apricot, peach, and pear. This Ontario wine has a fairly high sugar content at 96 g/L. If that is too high for your tastes, check out the next wine.

Pelee Island Winery Late Harvest Riesling

This affordable Canadian white wine sells for under $20 in Ontario. The light wine is considered off-dry, so it is a good pick if the sweeter wines are not to your liking. This late harvest Riesling goes well with lemon curd tart and grilled chicken. With 38 g/l in residual sugar, this bottle of wine is considered medium-sweet. With its 12% alcohol level, this wine can keep up with spicy dishes.

SpearHead Winery Botrytis Affected Late Harvest Riesling

Our guide to Canadian late harvest Riesling wraps up with this fine wine from British Columbia. Grown in the Kelowna area, this wine offers significant residual sugar (133 g/L) and an 11% alcohol level. The white wine earned significant recognition, including winning the silver award at the 2021 BC Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards.

Late Harvest Riesling Final Thoughts

Unlike sweet dessert wine, late harvest Riesling wine pairs well with a broader range of foods. This type of wine also tends to be more affordable than outstanding ice wines. This white wine is well worth trying for wine drinkers who enjoy ripe apricot and refreshing acidity (enjoy these wines at their best with this guide – How Long Is White Wine Good After Opening?). On the other hand, if you are looking for a traditional sweet dessert wine, tawny port might be the perfect wine.

This post was updated on August 9, 2022

Late Harvest Riesling: Why You Should Try These Amazing White Wines

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